Do You Have Persistent Faith? On Luke 18:1–8

Dear Reader, if you are new here, or are looking for answers immediately, please follow this link to our Start Here page: The Start Here page is designed as the beginning point of this website, to which these further posts correspond. Thank you, and may “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14, NIV).

The following sermon, preached on October 16th, 2016, asks a very difficult question. Do you have persistent faith? Please click the play button on the audio widget below to listen to the sermon.

(Note concerning the audio: we apologize for poor audio quality! Thank you for your understanding.)

The text follows below.

(Note concerning the sermon text: the sermon text reflects the actual manuscript and was written to be spoken colloquially, not academically. It may contain grammatical errors such as run-on sentences, or special notation, etc. Thank you for your understanding.)

Luke 18:1-8 says:

“1Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’ ”
6And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

This is the Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

OK, here we are, in a passage popularly known as the Parable of the Persistent Widow, but, perhaps the section is remembered best as a lesson concerning faith’s persistence. In this passage we see Jesus telling a parable picturing this confrontation between a dishonorable judge, and a widow. The widow, who is earnestly and rightly seeking justice, simply will not take no for an answer—so this is instructive for us, too. But, there is more to the parable than just this. This parable is also a tale concerning the imperative, in the life of any believer, for persistent prayer. Prayer is powerful. So we’ll talk more about prayer in the coming moments. Finally, when we get towards the end of this Scripture, Jesus starts talking about God, and Jesus is saying, that, yes, God is absolutely responsive to the plight of the faithful and their prayers, but also that our life—the lives of you and I, this morning, today—before Jesus, the Son of Man, returns, this will indeed pose a huge, huge challenge to our faith, requiring this persistence that the parable is getting at. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith”? —So this is what we are talking about this morning—that, in the parable, just like in our lives, we must be vigilant, we must not give up, because things are going to be tough, but look what Jesus says: this judge is unjust; and if even an unjust judge can carry out justice, just imagine what God, the loving and righteous God who invented justice, so to speak, is going to do. Good stuff. So let’s get into this parable.

Well when we begin to talk about the great justice of the loving God, I believe we often hit a snag here: one of the hardest things to wrap our minds around as Christians is that there is actually injustice, wickedness, or evil, in the world. This is extremely upsetting, especially when you are personally experiencing it. Well we have to look no further than right here in our own passage for such injustice. We find in verse 2, “a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.” Well, some things never change, right? We find here—just like we find today, sometimes—a judge who cares nothing about justice, about God, or about people.**The parable starts out grimly, like Jesus wants us to start thinking critically about God’s great justice and love, in a world of evil, where even those who carry out justice, are themselves corrupt.

Well, with these questions in mind, the parable moves forward: a widow, of all people—perhaps the most powerless member of society in Jesus’ day, and maybe even in our own day—**the widow displays the most power, because she persistently never gives up, verse 3; and in the words of the judge, verse 5, “she keeps bothering me.” In other words, She has great faith… she never stops. Already we begin to get the picture that somehow our faithful persistence is the answer, in fact, to the question of injustice, to the question of evil, and of how can God be just and loving in a world full of evil: the answer is intertwined with our persistent faith in God, God, who is infinitely loving and just.

Well—Verse 1 tells us that this really is the case. “Jesus told his disciples [this] parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up,” v. 1. This is the way we too must be in our lives today, because, persistence in faith, is, in fact, the answer to injustice, because God. Jesus is saying that, though the odds are incredibly stacked against us in this world where there will be corruption, we too should always pray and not give up like the widow, because God is God. Because God is the just One, and God actually does bring justice for His children who cry out to Him day and night, verse 7, so therefore we must not, never ever, give up. This parable is not about our own power to keep going, or even about the widow’s persistence, prominent though it is—**this parable is actually about God, and God’s acting. God is the one who works in us and through when we go to Him in prayer—it’s not as if our prayer, or our power, is what changes things, it is God’s power, the Spirit, God himself, who changes things when we pray, and when we act. Really, this is all about God’s power, with the characters and the parable itself simply being tools used to speak the truth about God by Jesus. Because God is infinitely loving and just, we are always supposed to pray and never give up because, even if we die in this life, God will bring justice and His love will cover the whole Earth, even as the waters cover the sea, and Christ’s resurrection, and the Spirit living in us, is the real-life revelation of this promise, even right now, today, and it is what the world will look like in the future: God’s victory. The answer is that because God wins at the cross, and at death, we should never give up and always pray. Amen.

Let me tell you a story at this point, and it has to do with our widow in the parable facing this injustice, this corrupt judge—facing evil in her life. There was once a man named David Hume, and Hume was and is an extremely important skeptic philosopher of the 18th century, from Scotland. His writings were and continue be very influential. He often tackled theological problems, as is a favorite pastime of many philosophers. Hume wrote, “Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent […He is not all powerful]. Is he able [to prevent evil], but not willing? then he is malevolent[, evil]. [Or,] Is [God] both able and willing [to prevent evil]? [If He is, From where,] then, [does] evil [come from]?” In other words, Hume is asking—and I am sure the widow may have been thinking the same thing—that if God is able and willing to prevent evil, if God is all powerful, if God is all knowing, and if God is all good, then why in the world, is there evil? This, is the question I am sure that the widow is asking, even as she fights for her justice despite the odds.

Now, on a personal level, we too might think—many of us have probably thought this, and it is not a bad thing to think this way, by the way—that if God were truly good, and if God were truly just, these bad things even in my very own life—like, how I was cheated, or, how I was hurt, or how I was unfairly convicted of wrongdoing—these things that should have never happened to me: “Why didn’t God do something to stop this evil thing from happening to me to begin with?”

Well, to begin to answer, to set a foundation for our answer, in our passage Jesus promises that justice will be granted, and justice will be done. If even an unjust judge grants justice, then won’t God, “see that [His children] get justice, and [get it] quickly.” Jesus asks, “Will He [God] keep putting them off?” verse 7. Well, Absolutely not, God will not keep putting us off like the judge does in this parable, God is always acting, and God even sent His own Son to die for us, and pay the ultimate price, which is God’s ultimate action for us, and in our behalf, and even now today, we have the Spirit living in us. But to get back to the question, why did God not stop this evil thing to begin with, let’s press on, now that we have the clue and foundation that justice will be done answering what ever evil did in fact transpire.

Notice in our passage this morning, that there is an important assumption being made evil. In verse 7, when Jesus asks, “will not God bring about justice [. . . to those who] cry out?”…the assumption is, that evil is already happening, to everyone, which is why God’s children are crying out to begin with. So, where does this assumption of evil come from? Why does the widow have a plight to begin with? This is like the same question—“Why did God let evil happen to begin with to me.” Well, God’s Word gives us the answer. Evil exists in the world, like the corrupt judge in our parable, because of the wickedness of human beings. In other words, evil is not from God, but from sinful human beings. In Romans 5:12, Paul says, “ sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” … Sin is the evil in the world— As Paul says, “sin entered the world through one man,” Romans 5:12, and importantly not, “sin entered the world through God.”

So why did evil happen to me, or this widow, to begin with? Well evil happened to begin with because humans beings chose it, over God, and they sinned. It’s the same reason bad things happened to you and to me, to the widow in the parable. We human beings, creatures created by God with the capacity to and for true love, and therefore, the choice not to love, because true love cannot be forced—or else it is not truly be love—we chose not to love, we sinned, and we hurt each other. We disobeyed God, and we messed up. And ever since we messed up, day by day, and nanosecond by nanosecond, God has been working to call us back to Him, at every moment, second by second, even sending His own Son to die on the cross for us—why? Because God will never, force us, force us, to come back to Him—This is why we have the Bible, why we have the Old Testament, why we have the story of Israel, the Gospel, and Jesus Christ, who fills the Old Scriptures with meaning, and even this parable, and what it’s getting at, because God will not force anyone to love Him, because then it is not true love. This is why we must have faith, Believe in the Son, and that faith must be persistent faith, true faith, because what is faith if not a true love for God? In verse 8, this is why Jesus asks, “when the Son of Man comes—even though, God does so much for us, giving us every good thing we’ve ever had, even dying for us, in a brutal death—will he find faith on the earth?” when the Son of Man comes, Luke 18:8, will he find faith on the earth?”

This is what Jesus is saying: Will you be persistent in your faith, through the power of God, even though this world is evil and full of sin, and these bad things have happened to you? Will you stand firm until the end in His Power, even having been robbed, having been cheated, and having been hurt, or hurting others yourself? Will you continue to believe in God, and love Him, and pray to Him, and do good, do justice to others, be missional, even when justice has not been done to you, or when an accident, or when a natural disaster, hurts or you, or your loved ones? The question is, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find that you were faithful here on the Earth?” Verse 8. God will deliver justice, definitely, because God has the final word on death, as the resurrection of Christ, and His Spirit in us, proves. But will you believe in it? That is the question. **

As we come to a close this morning, the point of all this is that God is not sitting quietly, in the meanwhile, while you are getting unjustly treated—The Son of Man, Jesus Christ Himself, is coming back to Earth. Right now, we live in time, when things are the way they are, because God has given us these last days, as an act of love and mercy and opportunity—the reason why we are all alive right now—is to repent and find God, and lead others to God, in order to the live the life, that is truly life, that God desires: the greatest good for us. God has given all human beings, on the Earth right now, a last, final chance, for our aching hearts to hear the Spirit calling, and turn to Jesus Christ. That is why we live right now, in a time, where bad and evil things happen, where accidents happen, and where confusion abounds. But, the Son of Man is coming back. And sin and evil and death will be gotten rid of, and it will be more than just gotten rid of, by the way, everything will be entirely made new, so that we can’t even imagine what God has in store for those who love Him—it will be so good compared to the corrupt justice we’re used to, it will just blow us all away. In Revelation 21:5 “he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

The question in the last verse of our Scripture today contains this promise: All things will be made right, every injustice fixed, and everything created good, so that God is all in all, when the Son of Man comes, but….but…Jesus asks, When he comes, will he find that you, yes, even me, was I, were you, faithful to Him, and his death, and his promise of returning, were you faithful and persistent and prayerful, and missional, to the very end, despite evil? When Jesus comes back onto the Earth, will he find faith on the earth? Do you have persistent faith? That is the question I want to leave us all with this morning.


Sermon on 2 Timothy 2:8-13: Paul’s “Three Points and a Poem”

Dear Reader, if you are new here, or are looking for answers immediately, please follow this link to our Start Here page: The Start Here page is designed as the beginning point of this website, to which these further posts correspond. Thank you, and may “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14, NIV).

The following sermon, preached on October 9th, 2016, speaks into Paul’s Gospel, and how he lays it out for Timothy, and for us. Please click the play button on the audio widget below to listen to the sermon.

(Note concerning the audio: we apologize for poor audio quality! Thank you for your understanding.)

The text follows below.

(Note concerning the sermon text: the sermon text reflects the actual manuscript and was written to be spoken colloquially, not academically. It may contain grammatical errors such as run-on sentences, or special notation, etc. Thank you for your understanding.)

2 Timothy 2:8 says,

“8Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. 10Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
11Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; 12if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; 13if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

OK. This morning we are talking about the Gospel as we learn about it, here from 2 Timothy. Of course we can all read the fourfold Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but we can also read about the Gospel in different ways, like from Paul, here in 2 Timothy. And this is important for all of us, because what Paul does in his letters, is situate the Gospel within theology to help us understand the Gospel even more. And it’s always better when we can understand the Gospel in deeper ways. So that’s what we’re talking about this morning, same as our passage; knowing the Gospel in deeper ways from 2 Timothy as Paul says it—and not just with the head, by the way, but necessarily with the heart, and it is, of course, the Spirit, who works a deeper understanding of the Gospel in us.

OK so here we are, in the middle of Second Timothy Chapter 2, and Paul starts off by making a sermon easy for us. What do I mean? Well Paul lets us know that “my Gospel” has three critical factors. I’m referencing verse 8, where Paul says, “my Gospel.” Verse 8 contains three critical factors. So, what we’re going to do is focus on these three critical factors. What are they? Factor number 1: Jesus Christ. Remember Jesus Christ, Paul says first. And well this factor is basically, a given right, or you could say that Jesus Christ, is a point all to himself. So that’s point number 1. Factor Number 2: Jesus Christ raised from dead. Jesus being raised from the dead is critical to Paul’s Gospel. And we’ll spend a lot of time on this point. And, lastly, Number 3: Jesus Christ descended from David [x2? “this is my gospel”]. And so, with these three points or factors, Paul is saying, this is my gospel, this is, the Gospel, so we, too, are going to focus on these three things this morning, The Gospel in 2 Timothy.

Now, to start us off, we need to know a little bit about the context of this Scripture, or any Scripture for that matter. Why are we reading about these three factors of the Gospel to begin with, and why is that itself important? Well, as it turns out, this letter situates Paul at the end of his life. Paul has been imprisoned by the Roman Empire, and was now literally in chains for the Gospel, like a criminal—says verse 9—so, Paul is seeking to strengthen and encourage Timothy, for him to work in the Church as a leader. So the first thing Paul does here, is emphasize the Gospel: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel” (v.8). And so, Paul breaks down the Gospel into these three points, because they are the extremely important points of the Gospel, and Paul, at the end of his life, must pass on the critical factors of his Gospel, and continue declare the good news of Jesus Christ through Timothy, so that, eventually, one day, even all of us today here right now, know this very Gospel, and we are saved by God through Christ. So that’s why it’s important here and for all of us.

Ok so that’s a bit about the context, let’s talk about Gospel factor number one, Jesus Christ. Well, to start us off on this point, I have some sad news. I believe that today, in our American Christianity at large, we have largely lost sight of factor number 1, the true person of Jesus, and who Jesus really was. This is a problem. Here’s a story about this. I remember growing up, I had a certain friend who was with me all throughout Sunday School, for many, many years. We grew up in the Church together, and one day we were at a service, and the pastor was talking about how, in the Gospel, Pilate placed a sign above a Jesus when he was being crucified, writing there “King of the Jews,” in John 19:21. Well, Suddenly a look of realization washed over my friend’s face, as if the very light of eternal truth had dawned on him. He looked up and said to me and all of our group of friends: “I get it now. I just realized something that I never realized before! Jesus was a Jewish person. King of the Jews! Now it all makes sense. Jesus was a Jew!” XD. And we all thought this was pretty funny and we gave him a hard time after that, because it is common knowledge in Scripture, that yes, Jesus was and is a Jewish person, a descendent of David in fact, point #3, but more on that later. But, you know, upon reflection, people don’t actually think about Jesus as he really is in Scripture… instead we use our own conception of who we think Jesus is, and this is a problem. And yes, I myself have a confession to make. Growing up, I always thought that Jesus was a caucasian person—Yes, I have seen the paintings. Jesus was a white man with a nice trimmed beard, trimmed much nicer than mine, of course, with blue eyes, or blue contact lenses at least, and he always wearing a white robe with a blue sash, and don’t forget designer sandals. This was the picture of Jesus for me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, this is Jesus still for many of us.

Well, point number one, Jesus was not white, beautiful, or rich. Jesus was actually a poor, peasant, Jewish person. And I’m not trying to offend anybody when I say these things of course—I’ve noticed that sometimes people get offended by this, when we start calling Jesus what Scripture says he is, a poor peasant—but this is the necessary truth of the Gospel. Jesus was poor; Jesus was born in a manger, Luke chapter 2. He was born in a stable, surrounded by farm animals. Jesus, even from birth, is not rich, and he never became, a rich, privileged person. So Paul is saying, that this poor Jewish peasant man is the one person that Paul (also Jewish, by the way) has been beaten, imprisoned, and is facing death for—and this is all because of point #2. Factor number 2. Factor #2 tells us that this poor person, remember Jesus, was much more—…that he was, in fact, the very Son of God, poor though he was. So right now we’re going shift, and begin to talk about factor #2, Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.

So let’s talk about #2, Jesus Christ raised from the dead. Well first let me tell you something interesting about celebrating Christ raised from dead, aka Easter. In the book titled “Storytelling: Imagination and Faith,” author William J. Bausch, writes: “In the Greek Orthodox tradition [of Christianity], the day after Easter was devoted to telling jokes. . . .[Cool! The day after Easter is joke day! The jokes were meant to imitate] the cosmic joke that God pulled on Satan in the Resurrection. Satan thought he had won, and was smug in his victory, smiling to himself, having the last word [with the death of Christ]. So he thought. [But] then God raised Jesus from the dead, and life and salvation became the last words.” =]. Jokes on you, Satan, because Christ is raised from dead, Amen?

So this is point #2 in verse 8. And because there really is a lot more to it than simply telling jokes, good though jokes may be, Paul goes on to explain point #2 largely with a “trustworthy saying” in verse 11. Verses 11 through 13, the end of our passage, is a “trustworthy saying,” and its function is to emphasize especially this point #2, Christ raised from dead. So right now I am going to talk about this trustworthy saying in order to explain point #2, Christ raised from the dead.

OK, so, Verse 11, the trustworthy saying, “If we died with him, we will also live with him”— see how Christ being raised informs this saying already. Paul, here, is actually talking about baptism, believe it or not. Baptism! Baptism, is extremely connected to Christ being raised from the dead. In fact, Paul is talking about here, what he says in the book Romans, quote “We were . . . buried with him [Christ] through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” End quote, Romans 6:4. So here in Second Timothy, Paul is saying what he says in Romans, that baptism, having been buried with Christ; under the baptismal water—and then being raised up out of the grave, where Jesus was, out of the water, and into the new resurrection life of Christ—into the life of the Church, as it were, this is what it means to live for God, or to live with him, as our trustworthy saying is saying. It’s not that baptism saves us, it’s that baptism transforms us, by God’s grace, into the people who live now, presently, in the body of Christ, to and for God. So this is very important, to point #2.

OK, now, after this, and these build on each other, the next verse, verse 12, says, “if we endure we will also reign,” verse 12, meaning that, even as Christ reigns, now that he has been raised (point #2), and us too with him in baptism, so will we reign, if we have the Holy Spirit in us, because then we are living in His same resurrection-reigning life right now, so that’s the logic. If we live like Christ, being buried like Christ, we will reign like Christ. And by the way, that’s why it says next, “If we disown him, he will also disown us;” this is just saying the same thing—only more starkly, “if we endure we will also reign”…but if we do not endure, in other words we disown him, we will not reign. So, again all of this, coming from Christ raised from dead, point #2.

Next, verse 13 says, “13if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself,” meaning that, even if we give up on God—if we are struggling and we lose our faith, and we are faithless, in this journey—God will still be God, and point #2, Christ was raised from the dead. Even if we lose our faith, God will not give up on us; God will never give up on us, God never gives up! BUT, God will not force us to love him, if we do not endure or disown him, because love cannot be forced. God never gives up, because Christ, was raised from the dead, and God gets the last word, so God can’t disown himself, but as Paul says, “If we disown him, he will also disown us.”

So all this is point #2, Jesus Christ raised from the dead. It is a huge point, and it is really too much to talk about all at once even though that’s what I have been trying to do, and I think that’s why Paul gives us a shorter, “trustworthy saying.” There is just so much to it, that Paul gives us a guide in a saying format.

OK, Well, we’ve talked about Jesus Christ, we’ve talked a lot about Jesus raised from the dead, using our trustworthy saying, and we’ve come to our last point here, factor #3, which is Jesus Christ descended from David—this is my gospel. Let’s talk about it.

Does anybody like to read the genealogies in the Bible? Your faces betray you. They tell me just how much you enjoy, you know: He was the father of him, father of him, father of him…or… he begat him begat him begat him begat him, you know, it just goes on and on! Check out first Chronicles chapter 1, you’ll find a genealogy that goes on for 10 chapters! We always memorize John 3:16 but why don’t we memorize the genealogies, right? 
 Jesus Christ descended from David is a very important factor that Paul gives us. But what does it mean? Well the 100% human Jesus, born of the virgin Mary, of course, was not the Son of Joseph, Mary’s fiancé-husband but rather, Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is 100% human, yes, and 100% divine, so, What are we talking about Jesus, when Paul says, “Descended from David?” Well, in the ancient world of 1st century Judaism, when Jesus was born, and in the tradition of the Hebrew people, the first born son has all the claims of inheritance to his father’s property, or lineage, you might say. And who was Jesus’s Father? Well, God, but, who was Jesus’ “legal father” on Earth? It was Joseph. Take a look at Matthew chapter 1. You will find there, in Matthew chapter 1, a genealogy of Jesus, that Joseph is descended from Abraham, and David, all the way to being married to Mary, who gave birth to Jesus. So in fact, we learn, in Matthew 1:1–17, the genealogy of Jesus, that the first born legal son to Joseph and Mary, inherit the lineage of Abraham, and King David. Jesus Christ descended from David.

Now, the point is that this Jesus is the one who fulfills the story of Old Testament Israel, and King David, and literally inherits the prophecy of God promising that a descendant of David would rule forever. Jesus is the one, raised from the dead, descended from David, who is, truly, the coming king, and He is the king even, of course, over death, when he defeated death by His being raised from the dead by the power of God.

And I want to begin to come to a close this morning, now that we’ve covered our three points, and just mention one thing that I have not mentioned yet. Paul says, he “endure[s] everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory,” v. 10, and what’s he talking about? who are these elect? Well, the elect are the people who have a saving faith in Christ that God enabled them to have, by the power of His Spirit. When Paul’s Gospel is declared, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with three points—three points and a poem—this communication of the Gospel is what God uses to work in the hearts and minds of people, to bring them to Christ. That’s Paul is passing this along at the end of his life—the Gospel is the power of salvation, it’s God’s power—and we don’t know how the message of the Gospel is the tool that the Spirit uses for people to come to God, but it is just what happens, and why Jesus tells us to go and make disciples. The most important thing in this life, in our life—why Paul is chained up, and saying what he is saying, is the Gospel, because it is the power of salvation. And you know, if you are feeling the Spirit leading you this morning, through the power of God, come to Jesus, and if you already know the Lord, come even more to Jesus, that is why Paul is doing all of this, that we too “may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.”

Sermon on Lamentations 3:19-24: Question God!

Dear Reader, if you are new here, or are looking for answers immediately, please follow this link to our Start Here page: The Start Here page is designed as the beginning point of this website, to which these further posts correspond. Thank you, and may “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14, NIV).

The following sermon, preached on October 2nd, 2016, speaks into the eternal consequences of our actions. Is it OK to question God? Does God shine through in our darkest moments? Please click the play button on the audio widget below to listen to the sermon. (The audio can also be downloaded below, as a podcast.)

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Download this episode (right click and save)

The text follows below.

(Note concerning the sermon text: the sermon text reflects the actual manuscript and was written to be spoken colloquially, not academically. It may contain grammatical errors such as run-on sentences, or special notation, etc. Thank you for your understanding.)

Lamentations 3:19–24 says, 

“19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. 20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. 21Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

The Book of Lamentations. I said that Lamentations is a special book in the Bible; that’s because it is the only book in Scripture that consists solely of laments, or poems, that express grief or sorrow, often towards God. Right here in the middle of the Book of Laments, is where we find our passage this morning. And, because we’re in the middle of Lamentations, the book, or of the whole lament, you could say, we find Scripture at one of its darkest moments. But, At the darkest point imaginable, Scripture begins to focus here on the one thing that all of us too can cling to when things get very, very ugly, in our lives, and we ourselves are in the middle of lamenting. Right at the very darkest moment, Lamentations turns its attention to none other than the very goodness of God, and the Lord’s compassions—the only thing that remains good when everything else is crashing in=and then, God, God Himself, reveals His glorious goodness to us. So that will be the focus of what we are talking about this morning—the same focus as the passage itself—how God reveals Himself to us at the darkest moments.

OK, to start us off here, in verses 19 and 20—well, why are we reading sad things here? “My soul is downcast,” v. 20. Well we know it’s a lament, but in the context, we are actually reading the despair of when the city of Jerusalem lost, quote “all the treasures that were hers in days of old. When her people fell into enemy hands, [and] there was no one to help her. Her enemies looked at her and [even] laughed at her destruction”—Lamentations 1:7. So talking about the context— this passage is the destruction of Jerusalem, and its temple, and the resultant exile of God’s people, into the enemy country, Babylon. So this lamenter is a person who is really, rightfully lamenting—and, it is OK to lament or question to God—the Bible is full of it. Often times we think it is wrong to question God, but in fact the Bible actually encourages it, because all truth comes from God, and if we seek God with all our heart, we will find God, because of God (Jer 29:13)—why? Because God’s compassions never fail.

OK. So that is a bit about the context. Lamentations is sad because the people of God lost everything that there is to lose on this Earth.

So, now what I want to do is to share a story, because with this story, my hope is to communicate what we’ve been talking about— How God breaks through for us in these times of great tragedy, and really reveals the Gospel, His goodness, to us.
It’s a story about a man who had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for, essentially, his Christian writings, which influenced and touched many many people. As we will see, these writings were the result of his lament, and questioning God, and when God revealed Himself in deep ways to this man. The man’s name was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: a difficult, but, fun name, for all of us to remember this morning. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a Russian novelist, and like I said, became Christian—but he became a Christian in the Soviet Union, at a time when his country was strictly opposed to Christianity. And so this is what Solzhenitsyn ends up writing copiously about—The Soviet Union hating Christianity.

As a young man, Solzhenitsyn witnessed terrible war crimes in the fight against Nazi Germany—he was a captain in the Soviet army fighting with the Allies against Germany. And what he saw there, and what he could not stop—the war crimes—forever darkened him. These were crimes committed against innocent German people, and they were crimes committed by his own comrades, and not by the Nazi enemy. The crimes are so disgusting that I cannot speak them from this pulpit. And so, because of this, God began to wake Solzhenitsyn up to the evil of the world, and Solzhenitsyn began to criticize the Soviets, for their anti-Christian policies. So in 1945, after the war, Solzhenitsyn paid the price: He was unfairly imprisoned in a forced-labor camp where he was (obviously) forced to work, as a miner and a bricklayer, for over eight years. And, even after this, he was subsequently exiled with a lifelong sentence, close to the border of Russia, all because of his protesting on Christian-moral issues. Solzhenitsyn’s life was crashing down.

So, here he was, in exile, almost like God’s people of old, in our Book of Lamentations, and this is where he too lamented: his soul became deeply and utterly transformed, by God, in lament, because he sought God, and God enabled Him to do so, and he found, because of God. This is what Solzhenitsyn would say about everything in his life, and the revolution in his country Russia, after he would go on to change the lives of countless others and win the Nobel Peace Prize, because of the Gospel: Quote “…While I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen…: [The old folks would often say:] “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our [Russian] revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, [repeat: 60 million killed, by anti-Christian Soviet Union], I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; [and] that’s why all this has happened.” End quote.

When people forget God, and the world crashes down, what if we all did what Solzhenitsyn does, and what the Lamenter does in our passage this morning? What if we sincerely and directly lamented to God? What if we questioned God, seeking God in our despair, and what if God breaks through, and reveals His goodness to us, and changes us forever, like Aleksandr?

Well this is exactly what happens in Verse 21 of our passage, where we read:“ Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” In a world where God seems forgotten because everything is wrong, the author of Lamentations, looks to the Lord, remembers the LORD—and God reveals His goodness: the fact that God’s compassions never fail. This is extremely powerful—it is the most powerful moment in the Book of Lamentations—and I’ll say it now: this will also be the most powerful moment in your own life. When you put God, when we put God, first, despite of, or because of, terrible, terrible tragedies or situations in our lives, and God breaks through—this will be the most powerful moment of our lives.

And often times the question is: “How can God exist, if evil, or if disgusting behavior, happens in our world? How can God exist if human beings are allowed to do truly terrible things? God must be evil if God lets all this happen.” Right? Have any of you heard this? These are the kind of things we appropriately should be asking, like Solzhenitsyn, like the Book of Lamentations, shows us that we should be. We should all be questioning God—meaning seeking God during times of despair in our lives—because God’s compassions never fail. Jesus, the Son of God himself, does this—My God my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15:34)—yet not my will—Jesus prays in Gethsemane—but yours be done (Lk 22:42). The point of the lament is to grow closer to God in our questioning, because God reveals more of Himself to us: when we seek out God as even He enables us do—and He does enable us—so will God, and the Gospel, begin to break forth, like we see in our passage, because His compassions never fail.

So, why does evil exist—and is it the case that God allows evil to happen—big question mark? In other words, why is there a lament in which God can reveal Himself deeply? God’s Word is quick to answer us on the question of evil. The answer is that God is holy and God is love: God cannot sin, or cause sin, or evil. Some theologians, by the way, are mistaken; they’re wrong, when they make God the sort of sovereign cause of all sin. Why are they wrong?—well because God cannot be a sinner, or one who causes sin—because God cannot be sinful. What people have done to other people in this world—what bad things people have done to you in your own life, and in my life—these are things done to people, by other people, and not things done by God. This is why we grow closer to God in lament for what people, or death in the world because of sin, have done. All people have sinned, says the Bible, Romans 3:23, and death came through sin, Romans 5:12, so death and sin are not from God, but from people, human beings: which is, by the way, why Jesus, the Word, had to become flesh, in order to condemn sin in the human being, and more on that in a moment.

Now what about God allowing evil to happen? This is a certainly something we should question in our lament, so that God will work deeply on our hearts. I can tell you about it but you won’t really know until God works on your heart, you see. Well, God does not just let evil happen. God does not just let bad accidents happen, either, by the way. Every single second, nanosecond by nanosecond, God is doing everything to prevent evil from happening. How do we know? Well it’s in God’s word. First let’s look in Lamentations, our own context this morning, chapter 3, verse 33: God quote “does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone.” End quote [x2]. And there’s way more. In the next book after Lamentations, in Ezekiel 33:11, God says “As surely as I live … I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” End quote. The point is that God takes no pleasure at any death, not even the wicked! 2 Peter 3:9 similarly says, God “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” All throughout Scripture, there is just way too much, for us to not know that God is doing everything to stop evil, nanosecond by nanosecond.

Then why does evil still happen? And again, these are lament questions that I can answer, but only God can reveal Himself deeply to you so that you understand everything more deeply. Answer: well let’s look at our passage. Our passage says, “great is your faithfulness,” in verse 23. Many of us know that “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” is a hymn that we often sing here. It is a Hymn based on this very verse here in Lamentations. Thomas Chisholm, from Baldwin Kansas—believe it or not, nearby here—wrote “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” as a testament to God in 1923. He was a sickly man his whole life, which prevented him from doing anything, really. And though he had every reason to be bitter over a lifetime with a crippling disease, morning by morning, he was still overwhelmed by God’s love and graciousness to him, which inspired him to write the song we know today, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” from Lamentations.

So the question is, is it the case that God allowed these bad things to happen to the writer of the hymn, Thomas Chisholm, or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, or the author of Lamentations? Well the answer is, again, something I can try to explain from God’s word, but really something that God must work in your own heart as you seek Him deeply. Answer: we live in a complex world, where we cannot possibly understand everything. There is an interplay between God, good and evil, sin and salvation, heaven and Earth, the Spirit living in me, the Son of God made flesh raising from dead—all these things are way too complex for us human beings to ever understand. This is essentially the answer God gives Job, at the end of the book of Job, Job chapter 38: We live in a complex reality, where there is a God, whose ways are far above our ways, and thoughts far above our thoughts. But when we feel completely forsaken by God, and everything evil and terrible has happened to us, listen to the same words of Jesus himself—My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me? And yet, the Gospel, Great is Thy faithfulness, Jesus is raised from the dead—Jesus answers this question, and says, death does not have the last sting anymore.
Jesus is the answer to the question, because terrible things happened to him, God Himself in the flesh, and yet, by the power of God, He was raised from the dead, to end the cycle of death, to defeat this death, and to pay and guarantee, with the Holy Spirit, for you and I, that yes, we will do the very same thing, through Him, and not just only at death, but right now, because the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, is living inside of us, says Romans 8:11. It’s the Spirit of the Risen Lamb, the Risen Christ. And, the Spirit and power of God raising Jesus from the dead, this is, the message, and Gospel, of Lamentations, and sermon this morning. The ultimate realization of when, in the middle of the greatest lament and tragedy in the history of humanity, when it appears that Satan, sin and death have defeated God himself on the cross, God breaks through, and Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! Amen, hallelujah, thank you Jesus.

And I want to end this morning on this note. This is the message of our passage. God drives out the darkness in our lives. God stops it—God puts an end to it. God’s love drives out fear, depression, sinfulness, death, you name it, and God makes beautiful, His love, in the middle, right in the very middle, of the lament. And whatever you’re in the middle of in your own life, right now, this morning, saved or not saved, God can break forth, because his compassions never fail, and He wants more and more of you. If you are questioning God…good. Don’t give up. The enemy wants to keep you from God, but God defeated the enemy, way back at the cross, so don’t give up.