Faithlife Sermons

Real Love

Lamentations  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  18:22
0 ratings
REAL LOVE Lamentations 3:34-66 July 25, 2021 I want to start today with a short, hypothetical situation. Two men. On the left is Joe. Joe is 35 years old, married with 2 children, completed college, and works a steady job with state social services. Every day Joe tries to make the world just a little bit better for people who are really struggling with life. Joe is a Christian. He was raised in a Christian home, made a commitment to Jesus at an early age, attends church faithfully, and does his very best to practice his faith as he understands it. On the right is John. John is also 35. John has never been married, but he does have 3 children with 3 different women. He does not publicly acknowledge those children, or support them financially. John started college but did not complete it. He was disenrolled after 1 semester for never attending a class. He kept taking his parents money for 2 more years, telling them school was going great. John is currently unemployed. He is waiting for Texas to legalize marijuana, and then he's going to be rich. John is an atheist. He has never had anyone explain God, or Jesus, or faith to him. All he knows about religion he learned from watching HBO documentaries on the radical, hate-filled, church in America. God, knows and loves, both Joe and John. Both of these men are of infinite worth to him. And, God knows exactly how to save John. All he has to do is let both men suffer. He can cause Joe to lose his job, go bankrupt, and be publicly humiliated. Joe will have to move in with his in-laws (does not get along with his mother-in-law), and apply for unemployment. If this happens, Joe and John will meet waiting in line, and will develop a relationship based on their mutual suffering. Over the next 5 years, John will become impressed with how Joe keeps a positive attitude, and is continually hopeful about his future. Joe doesn't give up on God just because his life fell apart. Eventually, because of this suffering friendship, John will make the decision to accept Christ. Will God let his good and faithful servant, Joe, endure unfair and undeserved suffering just to save John? John who doesn't care about God at all? Yes. Yes he will. That truth makes you and me uncomfortable. What we want to hear, is that if we do everything right, everything God asks of us, our lives will be problem free. We want our lives to be just about us, and our relationship with Jesus. I don't want my life to be unfairly impacted by the sin of others. But, God's perspective is different. God says over and over, I will allow - and even encourage - a little suffering right now, to accomplish a great and long lasting good. That's hard, isn't it? Now, most of us are familiar with the concept of short term suffering for long term gain. Run a mile every morning, and you will live a longer, healthier life. Suffer now, reap a lasting reward. Knuckle down in school, study hard now, and you will have more options and opportunities throughout your life. Suffer now, reap a lasting reward. And, we're comfortable with that as long as we make the decision what suffering is acceptable. It feels unfair for God to negatively impact my life, for someone else's gain. God's perspective is - your entire life is a short little time. Eternity with me in Heaven, that's long lasting and important. The Psalmist writes, "Psalm 103:15 (NLT) Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die." From God's perspective, if you suffer your entire life - but achieve eternal salvation - that is an easy choice to make. Before you think that God is a hypocrite, or God casually plays with the lives of people, consider the case of Jesus. God willingly sacrificed the very short life of Jesus - to save you and me. The Apostle John writes, "1 John 4:10 (NLT) This is real love-not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins." John says letting the innocent suffer for the sake of the lost, is the ultimate act of love. When you became a Christian, you signed on to love the lost. Poem number 3 in Lamentations, chapter 3, is written from the perspective of an old man left behind after the fall of Jerusalem.1 And, what makes this poem so different from the other 4, is the old man's decision to look beyond what is happening in just this moment. Last time he focused on what God had done for him in the past. God has shown me love, and care all my life. Does that all go away just because I'm uncomfortable now? He makes the decision that God is good, all the time. And, all the time, God is good. How different is your life, if that is your starting point? If you begin with the assumption God is good, how does that color your understanding of everything that happens to you? Today, the old man continues his thoughts. And, his focus today is on God's holiness. Which is something you and I tend to lose sight of. For almost 100 years now, American Christianity has pushed this idea of Jesus as your buddy. Jesus is a great guy. Jesus is one of the boys. Jesus was just like you and me. And, one of the lessons we need to take from the old man is a proper perspective. Jesus is God. And, God is holy. Ancient Hebrew had no superlatives. You couldn't say God is the most holy. Instead, relationship was shown through repetition. If something is holy it is holy. If something is more holy, it is holy, holy. If something is the most holy, it is holy, holy, holy. Holy, holy, holy, Lord God, Almighty. Did you know that hymn is about acknowledging God's awesome holiness, righteousness, and power? That hymn draws a line between us and God. If the lost are here, and the saved are here - God is somewhere a thousand miles above us. He is so holy. Sin, is completely unacceptable to our holy God. You and I are comfortable with sin. Hey, sin happens. What are you going to do? Well, for God, sin is unacceptable. And, the old man realizes this truth. So, if God has to take drastic action, and send suffering on the innocent, that's understandable. We all want to be saved and spend forever with God. We cannot be with God if we are tainted with sin. So, something has to happen, to take away our sin, allowing us to reap the long term benefit. That's not God being mean. That's God being holy. In the Ancient Near East crushing your enemy under your foot was a common motif.2 On the left is Assyrian king Naram-Sin. He has a foot on the throat of his conquered enemy. On the right is the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep II. You can see he also has a foot on the head of an enemy. This was a universally understood image of victory, and complete domination. In the Bible, particularly in the Psalms, it speaks of God making someone or something his footstool. That is the Biblical equivalent of these images. In our text today the old man says - I expect you to crush sin under your foot. You are God. You are holy. You cannot tolerate sin. It must be crushed. And, if you have to take drastic action to accomplish this - I get it. It doesn't make you bad. It makes you holy.3 Consequently, even the hard, difficult, bad things that happen in our lives come from a good God. Even when punishment rains from the sky, it comes from a good God.4 That's my decision. I deliberately choose to see trials as a gift from God. Doesn't mean I like them. Doesn't mean I look forward to them. But, when they come, I will not blame God for abandoning me. Or, being mean to me. I choose to see hardship as God loving a sinful world. Now, before we go overboard with what a saint the old man is - he struggles just like you and me. In the last 15 verses he does a continual flip flop.5 You are holy, and suffering to save the lost is just fine with me. Wait, no it isn't! Please crush my enemies. If I'm suffering because other people are sinners, then punish them. Punish them hard. No. No. Love is more important than punishment. Save the world, and if I have to struggle, that's alright. No, on second thought - let the wicked be destroyed. Ruin their jobs. Ruin their marriages. Ruin their health. Leave me alone and get busy with the people who are in love with sin. At one point he shouts out punishing me, for their sin, is outrageous. Until he settles on a final thought. You know what's outrageous? Grace.6 Who could blame God for deciding humanity is a failed experiment. I tried to love people. I gave them chance after chance. And, they continually turn their backs on me. They find other things to worship. They create wood and stone gods to worship instead of me. They worship their own accomplishments. They deny I even exist. This was all a mistake. Time to throw everything in the dustbin and start over with something else. The old man realizes - outrageous, is that God still loves us. Outrageous, is that after so many disappointments, God still reaches out to us. Outrageous is what God is willing to do, to save my soul for all eternity. This is 500 years before Jesus. The old man has no idea how outrageous grace will be. There is a form of Hebrew poetry, where you say negative things - but they have a positive and hopeful impact.7 It's called precative perfect. The final verses of chapter 3 are written in this style. An example would be saying something like; I'm such a klutz, I can't walk 10 feet without tripping. It's because I don't pay attention to where I'm going. So, that's my New Year's resolution. There is not a positive sentence in that statement. Yet, the overall tone is hopeful. The old man finishes his poem by asking God to be the source of his hope. Life is hard. When we embrace sin and abandon God, life becomes even harder. And, that often means the innocent must suffer for the sake of the lost. My mind understands. But, my heart has difficulty embracing this truth. Some days I love you God, and I'm ok with your holiness. Do to me what you will, and save the lost. Some days I really want to see the wicked suffer for their sin, and just leave me out of this mess. Lord, God, help me with my attitude. Man, I get that. I waffle and flip flop every single day. Some days I'm like - hey, suffering is the hallmark of a Christian. We are not called to easy lives. We are called on to bring Christ to a fallen world. And, that comes with messy, unfair, suffering. On other days I'm like - I pray, I read my Bible, I do my best to love God and be nice to people. So, how about you cut me some slack? You know what I should say? Jesus - what you suffered was the most unfair thing anyone has ever suffered. But, you did that willingly, because you love me. I talk about loving you. You showed your love for me. Real love. Your grace is outrageous. And, I will do my best to see life from your perspective. As difficult as this is, I will count it joy when suffering comes my way. Or, at least, I will try. 1 Raymond B. Dillard & Tremper Longman III. An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 309. 2 NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 1326. 3 R. C. Sproul, general editor. New Geneva Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1249. 4 Norman Gottwald, New Interpreter's Study Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 1148. 5 Miriam J. Bier, "We Have Sinned and Rebelled: You Have Not Forgiven," Biblical Interpretation, 22 no. 2 (2014), 146-167. 6 Paul House, Lamentations (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 309. 7 Iain W. Provan, "Past, Present, and Future in Lamentations III 52-66: The Case for a Precative Perfect Re-examined," Vetus Testamentum, 41 no. 2 (April 1991), 164-175. --------------- ------------------------------------------------------------ --------------- ------------------------------------------------------------ 2
Related Media
Related Sermons