Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
In the wake of any national disaster you inevitably here people ask, If there is a God, why is there such terrible suffering? People look around at destroyed homes and buildings and the loss of life and suffering and they can’t believe that a good God would do this or allow this. But as we noted last week, that way of thinking is based on at least two incorrect assumptions: The first is that God can only be a good and kind God and the second is that we human beings are good and do not deserve to suffer.
And we began to see that those two assumptions are false last Sunday with the help of a woman we called Lady Zion. In Lamentations the city of Jerusalem is personified as a noble woman and Jerusalem is also called Zion in the Bible. So we called this woman Lady Zion. And in various ways Lady Zion teaches us three things in the poems of Lamentations. Can you remember what they are?
- She teaches us that man is really, really bad.
- She teaches us that God is really, really angry.
- And she teaches us that grace is really, really powerful
And last Sunday, as we considered the first of the five poems of Lamentations, we read about the destruction of Jerusalem. And we saw that the destruction was deserved because of the great wickedness of the people of Judah and Jerusalem over many generations. And we noted that as nations and as individuals we too commit bucket-loads of sin today, both in terms of what we do and what we do not do and our internal motivations and desires. So the first assumption behind the If there is a God, why does He allow suffering question?, which is that man is basically kind and good, is incorrect. Man is in fact really, really bad.
But as we come to chapter 2, the focus changes to the other assumption behind the If there is a God, why does He allow suffering question?, which is God can only be a good and kind God. In chapter 2, we will again read about the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people. And we will again see that man is really, really bad. But the main truth explored in chapter 2 is that God is really, really angry.
So in the second poem of the five in Lamentations, a Retold Tale of Destruction Reveals the Extent of God’s Wrath. While God is a good and kind God, He is also just and a God of fierce wrath; when it comes to sin, God is really, really angry.
Now, chapter 1 divided into two main sections: We heard from a Narrator who described Lady Zion and we heard from Lady Zion herself. But chapter 2 divides into three main sections: We again begin with the Narrator’s description of Lady Zion’s grief, in vv1-10, and we end with the grief-stricken cry of Lady Zion herself in vv20-22. But in between, in vv11-19, we have the grief-stricken cry of the Narrator as he stops describing and starts crying out himself. So these three sections will be our main headings today – the Narrator’s description of Lady Zion’s Grief, the Narrator’s Grief-Stricken Cry, and then Lady Zion’s Grief-stricken cry.
So first of all, we see that God is really, really angry with sin, as we consider the Narrator’s description of Lady Zion’s grief.
- And as we scan our eyes through verses 1-10, we see a very similar description of destruction and devastation to that of ch. 1.
- In v1 we read of the “splendour of Israel,” in v2 the “habitations of Jacob” and the “strongholds of Jerusalem” and “the kingdom and its rulers,” in v3 the “might of Israel,” in v4 “all who were delightful in our eyes,” and in v5 the palaces and strongholds. So vv1-5 describe the ruins of the palaces and the strongholds of the royal family that have been smashed to smithereens.
- In v6 we read of the “meeting place” and the “festival” and “Sabbath” and “king” and “priest,” and in v7 of the “sanctuary” and the “house of the Lord.” So vv6-7 are describing the temple and worship life of Jerusalem, which has been utterly “laid waste.”
- In vv8-9a the focus is on the wall and the gates that once surrounded Jerusalem and gave her protection from her enemies. But the walls and gates lie in broken ruins.
- In the centre of our city stands the Christchurch Cathedral. The spire is gone and there is very obvious damage but there is enough structure left for it to be recognizable and even in the opinion of Jim Anderton and friends for it to be rebuilt. But Jerusalem and its palaces and temple and walls were just a pile of rubble.
- The focus of vv9b-10, however, changes from the buildings to a group of people. We read about kings and princes and the Law and prophets and “the elders of the daughter of Zion.” Those whose calling it was to teach the people and lead the people and judge the people are either dead or taken into exile – they are “among the nations,” there is “no vision from the Lord,” they sit in silence and in sackcloth.
- You see, at this time in Judah’s history God-fearing prophets and judges and priests and elders were few and far between. For the most part they were corrupt and greedy and idolatrous and immoral and unjust.
- Back in Jeremiah 18, the Lord told Jeremiah to warn the people that disaster was coming unless they repented. So he did. And the people’s response? “They said, “Come, let’s make plans against Jeremiah; for the teaching of the law by the priest will not be lost, nor will counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophets. So come, let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says.”” Did you catch that? They didn’t like what Jeremiah was saying. And as they reasoned it: There was more than one prophet in Judah, so they didn’t need to pay too much attention to this one.
- And one quick observation in relation to this point is that we make that same mistake today when the elders confront us about our sins and we don’t like it so we tell ourselves that Dovedale isn’t the only church with the Bible and we move to a church where people give each other and their sins a bit more space and the overall tone is a little bit lighter and nicer and more positive…
- But do you remember the words of Galatians 6:7 that we referred to a couple of times last Sunday? “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” So now, “her prophets find no vision from the Lord. The elders of the daughter of Zion sit on the ground in silence; they have thrown dust on their heads and put on sackcloth.”
- Having ignored the true word of the Lord, they have had the word of the Lord taken from them. Wisdom in Judah is as much a pile of rubble as the palaces and temple and walls.
- And as we scan our eyes through verses 1-10, we see a very similar description of destruction and devastation to that of ch. 1.
- And we don’t have to plough through the whole poem to see that this came about because God was really, really angry as a kind of hidden meaning or a possible interpretation, do we. It is as plain as the nose on your face.
- Just look at the very first line of the very first verse: “How the Lord in His anger has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud.” Lady Zion lies in ruin and rubble because the dark cloud of God’s furious anger hangs overhead. It is the wrath of God at her wickedness that has brought all this destruction and devastation upon her.
- And to see just how fierce and furious the cloud of God’s wrath and judgment is, let’s walk through vv1-10 again and take note of the point that the Narrator is hammering home, which is that God is really, really angry with sin.
- We see it at the end of v1 where we are told that all this happened “in the day of His anger,” in the middle of v2 – “His wrath,” in the beginning of v3 – His ‘fierce anger,” at the end of v3 where He is described as burning, a “flaming fire,” and “consuming,” in the beginning of v4 He is “like an enemy,” in the middle of v4, “He has killed,” and the end of v4 speaks of “His fury,” in the beginning of v5 he is “like an enemy,” again, in the middle of v5 He has “laid in ruins,” in the beginning of v6, “He has laid waste,” and at the end of v6 – “His fierce indignation,” and in the middle of v8, He “did not restrain His hand from destroying…” God is really, really angry with the sin of the people of Jud and Jerusalem.
- And this should not surprise anyone who has read Leviticus 26, as we did, earlier. For there God told Israel that if they broke His commands and refused to listen to His warnings and repent that He would curse them and bring upon them exactly what is described here.
- And think also of the Ten Commandments where God says that He is “a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me.”
- And if you know the story of Israel you will know how patient God was with the people, beginning with the journey to the Promised Land and through the time of the Judges and the Kings. He was unbelievably patient with their sin.
- But Psalm 7:11 says, “God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses His wrath every day.” He is not a benign, cosmic teddy bear who can just wink at sin and say, “Whatever.” He is really, really angry with sin and with sinners. He must be; He has to be as a holy God.
- And as we go from the OT to the NT, contrary to what many professing Christians believe, God doesn’t become a gentler and kinder God who just loves everyone. That’s why we read Hebrews 12 earlier, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” God was and God is really, really angry with sin and with sinners.
- So the destruction of Jerusalem teaches us that God is a righteous judge who will not leave the guilty unpunished.
- Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death; guilty sinners, which is what we all are, deserve the punishment of eternal death.
- Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” One day, Jesus is going to return to this earth to judge all mankind. And all those who are stubborn and unrepentant sinners are going to be banished from God’s presence to the place of fire and darkness and agony and loneliness that is hell, for all eternity.
- Jesus spoke of this in Matthew 25 when He said that on that Day “He will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
The abject destruction and devastation of Jerusalem, that came about because of the anger of the Lord, gives us a hint of the total despair that awaits unrepentant sinners in hell because of the anger of the Lord. Jesus spoke about hell and judgment more than any other topic!
But Jesus ends His discourse in Matthew 25 with these words: He says, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” What does He mean? Is it possible to escape from the hell that we all deserve? Could it be that despite fact that we are really, really bad, and that God is really, really angry with sin and with sinners, we may yet enjoy eternal life?
- Well, this leads us to our second heading, which is the grief-stricken cry of the narrator in vv11-19.
- As we hear this description of the destruction of Jerusalem, it is very easy to imagine ourselves watching a TV news report. And up ‘til now the screen has been filled with pictures of ruin and rubble and bloodshed, with the narrator’s voice describing what we are looking at. But as we come to v11, it is as though our Narrator can no longer bear just to stand off to the side and describe what he see, so great is his personal grief. So now he swings around into view and his face fills the screen and we hear him tell us how this is affecting him as a Jew Himself and perhaps even a resident of this once magnificent city. For notice how he speaks in v11 of “my people.”
- And we see that he has been weeping and that he has been physically sick as he describes his “bile poured out to the ground.” And it is especially the death and devastation that has come upon the children that has so upset the Narrator, “because infants and babies faint in the streets of the city.” And at the end of v12 as we read of their lives “being poured out on their mother’s bosom,” he tells us that infants are dying at the very place where they ought to receive the nourishment they need from their mothers.
- And as I read these words I was reminded of those TV appeals for donations that we sometimes see from places like Ethiopia, with malnourished infants pressed to the empty breasts of their skin and bone mothers. It is so sad.
- vv13-19 then, are a sorrowful lament at the destruction that has come upon Lady Zion.
- In v14, the Narrator recognizes the damage caused to lady Zion by false prophets.
- vv15-16 describe the mocking and scorn of the surrounding nations.
- In v17 he acknowledges that all this has come about exactly as the Lord said it would to generation after generation after generation. “The LORD has done what He purposed; He has carried out His word, which He commanded long ago.” The Narrator knows the first part of Leviticus 26; God has only done what He warned He would do if Israel stubbornly refused to obey or repent.
- But do you remember how Leviticus 26 finished? We read these words, “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers … so that I … brought them into the land of their enemies–if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity … I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God.”
- And the Narrator knows this part of Leviticus 26 as well!
- And he knows that while God is a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation,” He is also a God who shows “love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments.”
- And he knows what God says in Ezekiel 33:11, “As surely as I live … I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked would turn from his way and live.”
So knowing all this, the Narrator now calls on Lady Zion to repent.
- Notice his question at the end of v13, “Who can heal you?” It is just a brief sentence, just a few words expressed as a question. But it directs Lady Zion’s attention to the only one who can restore her and bring relief and rescue – the Lord.
- So from v18, the Narrator appeals to Lady Zion, “Arise, cry out at night … pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord. Lift your hands to Him for the lives of your children.”
- And what we have here, people of God, is a demonstration of evangelism.
- The Narrator knows that Lady Zion is a sinner. He knows that God is really, really angry with Lady Zion’s sin. He knows that Lady Zion deserves God’s judgment.
- But He also knows that God is a forgiving and merciful and compassionate and loving God who delights to forgive the repentant sinner!
- And such is the Narrator’s love for Lady Zion in her misery, he comes to her with the solution – confess your sins! Repent of your sins! Look to the Lord for deliverance!
And there is a very important lesson in this for you and me. You see, much that passes for evangelism today goes something like this: God loves you and He has a perfect plan for your life if you will just accept Jesus into your life. You will be healthy and wealthy and all will be well with your marriage and then after that you get heaven!.
But that is not the appeal of the Narrator is it! He cries out, Repent before it is too late and God utterly destroy you!
And again, don’t fall for the clap-trap about a gentler NT God. In Acts 17, Paul speaks to unbelievers at Athens. But his message is exactly the same. He says, God created all mankind. And as His children, “we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead.”
Evangelism is telling people that they are really, really bad, and that God is really, really angry with sinners, but that God’s grace in the Lord Jesus is really, really powerful!
Brothers and sisters, you know that the person in the house over the fence from yours and the workmate in the cubicle next to yours or in the smoko room or the student at the desk next to you or in your netball team is a sinner.
And you know that God is really, really angry with them and their sins. And you know where they will go if they do not repent.
And you know that the only way to escape the judgment of God is to repent of your sins and believe that Jesus came to die on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. You know that all those who believe in Jesus shall not perish but shall have eternal life.
The question is: Do you love them enough to tell them who can heal them? Do you love them enough to cry out to them, Please, Lift your hands to Jesus and repent, for your sake and for the sake of your children? Because that is the gospel that dying sinners need to hear.
- So the grief-stricken cry of the Narrator is a call to tell sinners the truth about sin, judgment, and salvation in Jesus Christ. But lastly and very briefly, we must look now at the grief-stricken cry of Lady Zion.
- And as we consider her response to the appeal of the Narrator, we can only conclude that Lady Zion has not yet come to the place of true repentance.
- Yes, she calls on the Lord, as we see in v20, but it is only to draw His attention to her suffering and to ask the Lord how this can be: Should women eat the fruit of their womb? … Should priest and prophet be killed in the sanctuary of the Lord?
- And in v21 her words have a ring of accusation to them rather than the humble acknowledgement we saw from the Narrator: “You have killed them in the day of your anger, slaughtering without pity.”
- And as v22 ends, she even calls God her enemy. She says, “You summoned as if to a festival day my terrors on every side, and on the day of the anger of the LORD no one escaped or survived; those whom I held and raised my enemy destroyed.” In effect, she is saying to the Narrator, how can I pray to the Lord? He is my enemy who has done this to me. As one commentator says, “It is an agonizing and unresolved ending to the chapter.” Lady Zion has not yet come to see that she is really, really bad, and that she deserves God’s anger, and that her only hope is God’s really, really powerful grace.
- In Ephesians 6:2, Fathers are warned not to exasperate their children. And one of the ways we fathers and mothers can be guilty of this is inconsistency – we let something go one day and then we punish it the next, or we punish one child for doing something but not the other. But sometimes we also make the mistake of handing out a big punishment for what really is a small misbehaviour, or a child gets punished for something they did not even know was wrong, or worse, that they did not even do. These are some of the ways that parents can exasperate their children, which means that the children feel themselves to be the victims of a huge injustice! Have you ever felt like this, boys and girls? Well, at the moment, Lady Zion feels exasperated by God. She thinks God has been unfair with her. She cannot yet see that she deserves the angry judgment of God?
But what about you? If some sorrow or tragedy or injury or illness were to come into your life today, would you be upset with God? Would you think it unfair of God? Would you shake an angry fist at God for treating you thus? Or would you humbly acknowledge that you are a sinner who actually deserves God’s wrath and judgment? Now listen carefully, this is not to say that every sickness or sorrow is a direct punishment of God. The story of Job makes that very plain. That point is that we are not innocents who do not deserve any kind of suffering. We are all sinners who deserve God’s judgment in this life and the next.
We ought to say what the Psalmist says in Psalm 38. Sing 38:1-3, 10, 12 As a song of confession. We recognize that we deserve the wrath of God. We confess our sin. We call on the Lord to deliver us as our Saviour. We look to the Lord Jesus Christ. Remain seated.
One Day we will all stand before the Lord Jesus on the throne of Judgment. And on that day there will be no exasperation! There will be no one who thinks God is unfair and unjust. Everyone will know that they are really, really bad and that God has every right to be really, really angry with them and their sins. But one group of people will have recognized this before the return of Jesus and repented of their sins and believed in Him for the forgiveness of their sins. So He will stand before them as their beloved Saviour. The other group though will have recognized this after Jesus has returned which is too late. And He will stand before them only as their Judge. Which is it for you?
Sing 338 – Day of Judgment – Unrepentant sinners should fear that day as a terrible day. But we need not fear it if we have confessed our sin and believed in Jesus as our Saviour. Instead we long for that day because on that day the LJ will say, “Come near, ye blessed, see the kingdom I bestow, you forever shall my love and glory know.”