Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. When the judgment of God falls, things we hold dear are often laid waste. The city of Jerusalem, with its temple, was sacked and looted by invading armies whose actions came in the plan and will of God.
From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Today we continue a series on the church in Babylon, unleashing the power of a spirit-filled witness. Pastor Lutzer, where in the Bible are we headed as you speak on mourning the destruction of a great city?
You know, Dave, I'd like to make a recommendation to all who are listening today. I think that at least twice a year, Christians should sit down and read the Book of Lamentations. No wonder Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet. Imagine seeing that gorgeous temple that was built by Solomon, stood there for a couple of hundred years, and now totally, completely destroyed. God is proving that buildings are not important.
It's people that are, and if He doesn't have our hearts, the rest can be under judgment. Would you consider helping us get the message of Running to Win to more people? Right now, we're in 20 different countries in three different languages, but we are expanding. Consider becoming an endurance partner. That's someone who stands with us regularly with their prayers and their gifts. Go to rtwoffer.com.
When you're there, click on the endurance partner button or call us at 1-888-218-9337. And now to the Book of Lamentations. When I taught preaching to young seminarians, I used to tell them that a preacher should think clearly, feel deeply, and cause his hearers to do the same. Today, I hope that we do indeed think clearly, but I also hope that we feel deeply. If you are not touched emotionally today, it may be because you've really developed a hard heart, maybe because of some bad experiences. Because today's message in one respect is very difficult.
It is intended to touch the emotions, but it's intended to do more than that, to show us the grace of God in the midst of the most awful devastation that we could describe. So at the end of the message, you will be given hope, no matter who you are, no matter what your problems are. You may be a drug addict. You may be going through a time of depression.
I promise you hope. But first of all, we have to look at a few texts. You know, there are different reasons why it is that cities can be destroyed. One reason may be because of natural disasters. We think immediately of Katrina. We think of New Orleans being destroyed largely. We think, for example, of Tuscaloosa and even Washington in the middle of the state of Illinois, where a tornado comes and basically destroys a town.
We can also think of times when cities are destroyed because of war. When Rebecca and I were in Belarus, we took a trip out to what is known as Ketchian. Ketchian, I wish I could take all of you to it, is a place devoted to the destruction that took place under the Nazis. What happened is the Nazis came and in retaliation, they decided to destroy 189 villages and to destroy everyone in those villages. So at Ketchian, what they did is they took the townspeople, about 145, forced them into a barn, and then they lit the barn. There was hay in the barn. And if anyone ran out of the barn, they shot them.
Seventy-five of the 145 were children. Today there's a monument where the barn is. There's a monument where the ashes were of all the dead.
And all of the, many of the names of the children are listed. Can you even imagine the devastation? But you know, there are other times when a city is destroyed because of the direct judgment of God. I think, for example, of the instances I mentioned, natural disasters and war, we could refer to those often as undeserved judgments. But when you get to Jerusalem in 586 B.C., that is a deserved judgment predicted by God. And it wasn't God just acting randomly from our standpoint. God was fulfilling his holy word. And if I might say it plainly, Jerusalem was getting exactly what it deserved. Now, for example, Jeremiah was preaching things like this.
Listen to his words. O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you? For a voice declares from Dan and proclaims trouble from Mount Ephraim. Warn the nations that he is coming. Announce to Jerusalem, besiegers come from a distant land. They shout against the cities of Judah like keepers of a field. They are against her all around because she has rebelled against me, declares the Lord. God is speaking. Your ways and your deeds have brought this upon you. This is your doom, and it is bitter. It has reached your very heart. Deserved judgment.
And of course, you know what happened. The last message I mentioned, the Babylonians came, destroyed the city, burned the city, took about 15,000 to Babylon, and you have huge starvation along the way. The suffering was unbelievable. All deserved.
Wow. Which leads me to the book of Lamentations. The book of Lamentations, and I want you to take your Bibles and turn to it. Would you turn, please, to the book of Lamentations. It comes after the book of Jeremiah, and it's important for you to have a Bible in your hands. You know, there are some Christians who come to church without their Bibles.
I have learned to love them because of the fact that many of them are my friends, and I've learned to love people whom I do not understand. All right? So I love you, and you have to love me, even though I'm going to needle you a little bit about not bringing your Bible if you didn't. But if you bring your Bible regularly, you say, Pastor Luther, I always do. But today I happen to forget it. Then you can find it there if you can find a pew Bible on page 685.
All right? Because you need the Bible in your hand. And the book of Lamentations is the book that we are looking at because Lamentations is five funeral dirges. It is elegies, that is to say, songs composed in a graveyard. The book of Lamentations exposes the heart of Jeremiah and the heart of God as he looks at this devastated city. Somebody has said that the book of Lamentations is really a cloudburst of grief. It is an ocean of sobs and a river of tears.
We'll get to it in a moment. Your Bibles are open. Notice that the chapters, except the middle chapter, all have 22 verses. Chapter 1, 22 verses. Chapter 2, 22 verses. Chapter 3 happens to have 66. Chapter 4, 22, 5, 22. What's going on there in the text?
In Hebrew it is actually an acrostic. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet and each of these verses in the four of the chapters refers and begins with another letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Now in the case of the middle chapter, chapter 3, what you have is, I understand that the letters of the alphabet are again used, but in each instance there are three verses connected to one letter.
So 3 times 22 is 66 and that gives you a bit of an outline of the book. I want you to understand that because Lamentations wasn't just Jeremiah walking through the city making random comments. It was really a poem composed of these five different laments. It was composed by him very carefully so that it could be used in liturgical worship so that the Jews were able to use it. They use it today at the Wailing Wall.
They use it on special occasions when they lament the destruction of Jerusalem and their history. Also it reminds us that God's destruction is from A to Z as we say. From the beginning of the alphabet to the last of the alphabet. Now I'm only going to introduce you to the first two chapters and then we're going to make some observations and I'm going to be giving you hope. But what chapters they are? Let me read a few verses of chapter 1. How lonely sits the city?
First of all I have to comment before I say that. I want you to visualize the city. Visualize the devastation that takes place not only when there's a tornado but when there's a fire that burns the city. So there you can see some of the dolls that the girls played with and you can see the toys that the boys had and they're all gone. They're all destroyed. They're all either dead or with their moms and dads on the way to Babylon.
Visualize your area. Visualize also the devastation that you are going through. Some of you may say this is the story of my life. If you're saying that remember I am going to give you hope but I want you to enter into what Jeremiah is saying and seeing. He's weeping not only of what happened but the good that could have been.
Wow. How lonely sits the city that was full of people. How like a widow she has become. She who was great among the nations. Verse 2 she weeps bitterly in the night with tears on her cheeks among all her lovers. She has none to comfort her. All of her friends have dealt treacherously with her. They become her enemies. Judah has gone into exile because of affliction and hard servitude. She now dwells among the nations but finds no resting place. Her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.
I'm skipping to verse 9. Her uncleanness was in her skirts that is to say she was filled with immorality. She took no thought of her future.
Isn't that America today? She took no thought of her future therefore her fall is terrible. She has no comfort. Oh Lord behold my affliction for the enemy has triumphed. The enemy has stretched out his hands all over her precious things for she has seen the nations enter her sanctuary. Those whom you forbid to enter your congregation.
What's going on there? Israel thought to itself. Judah thought to itself. We have Jerusalem and the temple and this is where the glory of God once came. There's no way that God is going to destroy us. We are his chosen people. We have God blessed Jerusalem as stickers on the back of every one of our chariots.
There's no way that God is going to destroy us. God says foreigners have entered into your sanctuary. Your temple is gone. Your temple is destroyed. You're going to have to learn to live without the temple.
We'll find out what that is like in a future message. Verse 11 all our people groan as they search for bread. They made their treasures for food to revive their strength. Oh Lord look and see for I'm despised. Now that's verses 1 to 11. When you get to verse 12 Jeremiah now personifies the city.
It is as if the city is speaking. Is it nothing to you all those who pass by look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow which was brought upon me which the Lord inflicted on the day of his spirit's anger and on it goes. Let me read a few other verses. Let's go to verse 16 for these things I weep my eyes flow with tears for comfort is far from me.
There's no one to revive my spirit. My children are desolate for the enemy prevailed. Verse 19 I called all my lovers but they deceived me.
My priests and elders perished in the city while they sought food to revive their strength. You'll notice what the priests and the false prophets were doing. If you can glance quickly to 214 your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions. They have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes but have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading. I preached about false prophets.
All kinds of visions you know of happiness and money and wealth but no exposure of sin wow. When you get to chapter 2 what you find is here that God over and over again takes personal responsibility for what happened for the destruction. Chapter 2 verse 1 how the Lord in his anger has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud. Verse 2 the Lord has swallowed up without mercy all the inhabitants of Jacob. Verse 3 he has cut down his fierce anger and in the midst of these verses it keeps saying he did this he did this. Verse 4 he has bent his bow like an enemy. Verse 5 the Lord has become like an enemy he has swallowed up Israel. Verse 6 he laid waste more than 30 times in this chapter.
God says I did it wow. You'll notice what Jeremiah says now in verse 11. My eyes are spent with weeping my stomach churns my bile is poured out to the ground because of the destruction of the daughter of my people. Because infants and babies faint in the streets of the city they cry to their mothers where's bread and wine and they faint like a wounded man in the streets of the city as their life is poured out on their mother's bosom. My mom and dad lived through World War I they were Germans but they were living in the Ukraine and my mother once turned away with tears in her eyes and told me what it was like to see a baby die because of starvation and hunger and how would they cry and cry and cry but there was no food even if the parents were there there was nothing to drink and eventually it would be a whimper and then they would cry no more and that of course is happening even around the world today because of starvation and hunger. God says this is what I did because you know what I hate sin and I hate your idolatry.
This takes my breath away. Now in chapter three he goes on to talk about his own sorrow and there's much there also that reiterates it but what I want to do is to take and just back off a little bit and ask ourselves the question what does this book mean for us I mean where does this take us as a congregation as a church as a nation so I'd like to leave some lessons with you and then refer to the text again in a few moments. First of all it's very clear that God can bless a nation but God can also destroy a nation. God said to Israel in Deuteronomy chapter 11 behold I put before you both blessings and cursing follow me and you get blessing if not and you will be destroyed in fact Deuteronomy 28 talks about all this everything that happened is foreshadowed in Deuteronomy 28.
There are scholars who have taken Deuteronomy 28 the judgments that God promised and they have put them up against the book of Lamentations and they've seen the parallels. God says you have a choice you know after 9-11 God was brought off the reservation and it was okay to say God bless you in the public square even our congress together jointly I think if I remember correctly saying God bless America of all things you know in the public square. God bless America signs were everywhere in fact there was a God bless America sign on a porn shop in Nashville everybody well of course we're better than they are God can bless America.
Now after he was used to kind of mop up after 9-11 God was put back on a shelf and said you can't intrude in the so called public square. What makes us think that God can only bless America? God may also judge America and the day may come I hope I don't see it I hope your children don't see it when God can if he wishes to destroy America because God says if I don't have your heart God bless America stickers as bumper stickers simply will not work. I mean I look at this and I'm incredulous I mean God these are your people you chose them I mean this is Jerusalem where you put your glory I mean don't remember the Shekinah glory coming after Solomon built the temple God says it doesn't mean a thing to me if I don't have your heart that's what God says.
So God can bless us I don't pray for justice for America I do pray for mercy because we have turned away from so much light and we continue to do so very deliberately and I could give you lots of evidence for that but I assume that you know what is happening in the world and in our government and so forth. Secondly God has various forms of judgment God has various forms of judgment you know you think back to Adam and Eve they had specific judgments didn't they? God says you can't go back into paradise and so he puts up the cherry of them to make sure that that wouldn't happen and then lo and behold sin enters into the world and they have the first very very dysfunctional family and Cain kills Abel so they've got a problem with one of their sons and the whole history of the human race ends. So there are some immediate judgments and then you think of the way in which the judgments begin to boomerang all throughout history. You know there's such a thing as sin having immediate judgments and some of you know about that don't you? Yesterday Rebecca and I were talking about someone who was hooked on drugs and how eventually they were found dead and and you know there are immediate judgments you know and and God says I'll rescue you behold I put before you as individuals both blessings and cursings. Some of you have to choose God and to choose that which is right because you have understood the unintended consequences of sin are very bad and they have long-term effects immediately and then long-term effects and sometimes God destroys a civilization or a city like he destroyed Jerusalem and sometimes that destruction is internal as is happening in America today with the destruction of our families and with the rise of hostility toward the Christian message there's no doubt that we are under some kind of a judgment. We are to be a people of God in a nation that clearly has lost its way. You know when I read this and I read the book of Lamentations a couple of times in the last few weeks I think to myself wow if God is willing to do this to Jerusalem the city that he loved says in the Psalms you know Zion is the place where I've put my name and I love Zion oh really well doesn't seem as if there's a lot of love lost here but if God is willing to do that temporally in this life I read this book and I say what must hell be like God has various judgments but beware you as an individual I talk both as a nation today but also use individual that sin has immediate judgments always and sometimes they accumulate to something very very catastrophic there's another lesson and that is this I'm just sharing my heart with you today that we should weep over our nation even as Jeremiah wept over his nation this is Pastor Lutzer this morning in my prayer time I was thinking of the United States I was thinking of the Church of Jesus Christ and all of the attacks that are coming against us we're divided for all kinds of different reasons politically racially issues regarding the pandemic what we need to do is to humble ourselves to repent and yes to weep I want to thank the many of you who help us get this ministry to thousands upon thousands of people I'm holding in my hands a letter from someone who says about 10 years ago my husband backslid but every day after church I would come home and turn on Pastor Lutzer it is through your ministry that he came back to the Lord well I have to smile at that because sometimes when wives turn on the radio to a sermon their husbands might not put up with it but in this case thankfully he came back to the Lord would you help us get this message to more people and become an endurance partner that's someone who stands with us regularly with their prayers and their gifts here's what you can do go to rtwoffer.com that's rtwoffer.com now when you're there click on the endurance partner button or if you prefer call us at 1-888-218-9337 as a matter of fact you can call right away 1-888-218-9337 you can write to us at running to win 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard Chicago Illinois 60614 running to win is all about helping you find God's roadmap for your race of life Jesus looked on Jerusalem and wept over the destruction he knew the Romans would soon bring centuries earlier Jeremiah wept when the city was destroyed next time on running to win do we weep for our nation soon to feel judgment for Dr. Erwin Lutzer this is Dave McAllister running to win is sponsored by the Moody Church
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