Hell of a subject

lamentations FBThis past Sunday at our church we started a new sermon series on the book of Lamentations. The title of this series is “Hell of a subject” because Lamentations teaches us about the wrath or “fierce anger” (1:12) of God, of which an eternal hell is the ultimate expression.

We don’t often hear about the wrath or fierce anger of God, let alone about an eternal hell.  Most people would say something like, “My God would never do that!”   Rather than worshipping and serving the God of the Bible, most people worship and serve the God of their own making, who, not-surprisingly, has all the same opinions as themselves.   Lamentations will help us.  Lamentations gives us a small foretaste of the wrath of God. 

Lamentations tells us that the work of evangelism and missions is urgent and crucial, because the fierce anger of God is a reality. There is an eternal hell and the gospel is God’s good news about Jesus and how we can be saved from God’s wrath.

The gospel is not how you can improve your life, or be rich, or be healthy, or be successful, or be happy.  The gospel about how you can be saved from the coming wrath of God.

We are not sure who wrote the scroll of Lamentations, but we are sure that the book was written by someone who personally experienced the destruction of Jerusalem by the fierce, unbelieving Babylonian army in 587 BC.   It was a terrible time for those living in Jerusalem.  The Babylonian army besieged Jerusalem for 18 months.  Food supplies ran out, there was starvation: children went hungry, babies had no milk, and there was death and disease.

Finally, in 587 BC the Babylonian army broke through the city’s wall and invaded.   It was like an ISIS invasion of a city in Iraq.  Israel’s army had fled at night with the king, but they were caught.  The king’s sons were executed in front of the king, then he was blinded and carried off in chains.

Meanwhile in the city, the people who survived the siege and subsequent slaughter were marched off on a 1000-mile journey by foot into exile to far-off Babylon, leaving only a few, poor survivors behind in the stricken land of Judah and the devastated Jerusalem.  The city walls were pulled down and the majestic temple of God was destroyed.  

Lamentations gives us a small, foretaste of what it’s like to experience God’s fierce anger.

A lament is a cry, a complaint, a deep groan of anguish.  And there is good reason to lament because ch. 1 is a picture of hopelessness.

Horror 

In ch. 1 the author is horrified by the events surrounding him.  It is a shocking state of affairs: Jerusalem lies in waste from invasion and conquest. The author is horrified that Jerusalem, the city of God, is in ruins and its people slaughtered. Jerusalem was once full of people, now it’s lonely – likened to a widow. There is sorrow, pain and weeping.   Jerusalem was meant to be the great City of God where people of all the nations came to hear the word of the Lord, but now she is a widow.  Jerusalem, the city of God, was supposed to rule over the nations, but now the nations are ruling over her – and she is a slave to Babylon (v1).

Jerusalem has none to comfort her (this is repeated 5 X in the chapter).  Even God does not comfort her.  Her friends and lovers have betrayed her. She has not remained faithful to the God of the Bible, she has lovers, i.e., she has worshipped and served the gods of the nations. She has been an unfaithful spouse and committed spiritual prostitution and adultery (v2).

Jerusalem is a picture of the world today.  People trying to find their joy in things other than God. 

Judah the country and Jerusalem the city has gone in exile, as God promised they would if they forsook him and served other gods. Just like Adam and Eve they were removed from God’s place. They were meant to have rest, but now she has no resting place (v3).

The roads to Jerusalem were meant to be filled with laughter as people made their way to the great festivals at the temple.  But now the roads mourn and are empty. Instead of leading the festivities, the priests’ groan because the temple of God is in ruins (v4).  

The virgins are afflicted –  literally “dragged away”-  the soldiers have abused and raped the young women (v4).

V6 says that “all her majesty has departed”.  God was her majesty. God himself has departed.

The once grand princes are now starving like malnourished deer and tried to flee the Babylonian army but couldn’t (v6).

In the surrounding cultures, a woman caught in adultery would be publicly shamed by pulling her skirt over her head in public.  Jerusalem has been publicly humiliated for all the world to see (v8).

V11 says that they who were supposed to be blessed are now despised.  

Notice in ch. 1 how no-one escaped this tragedy, all were swept away in this wave of horror: the priests, the elders, the virgins, the children, the daughters, the princes, indeed all the people – no one escapes.

This is a picture of utter hopelessness.  It is a picture of hell.  Loneliness.  Weeping.  Groaning.  None to comfort, not even God.  Captivity.  Friends become enemies.  Mourning.  Humiliation.  Despair.

Never say, “I want to go to hell because all my friends will be there and we’ll have a party.” There are no friends in hell.  Hell will be dreadful beyond comprehension.

The hammer-holder

Who has done this?

The short answer is Babylon, but the long answer is much more shocking.

V5 says, “Her foes have become the head; her enemies prosper, because the Lord has afflicted her.”

The Lord who should have been Jerusalem’s defender, is now her afflicter and attacker.

“Is it nothing to you, all you 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 fierce anger.” (v12)

“All my enemies have heard of my trouble; they are glad that you have done it.  You have brought the day you announced.” (v21)

God had bought that Day of Judgment and wrath that he promised.  God had done this.  Behind the hammer of the Babylonian army, was the hand of God striking down in his fierce anger.

You may say that your God would never do this, but the god you’re referring to is an imaginary god; like Pokémon.  The God of the Bible says he will bring his judgement, and wrath, and hell.  The Babylonian attack was just a very small foretaste. 

The hammer-holder and the nail 

Why has God done this horrific thing?

“because the Lord has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions (v5)

The people of Jerusalem had transgressed God’s law, they’d missed the mark, they’d disobeyed God’s good word; just like Adam and Eve and all of their descendants – including me and you.  

“my heart is wrung within me, because I have been very rebellious.” (v20)

Why has God acted in his fierce anger?

Because people have rebelled and God by rejecting his Word and transgressing his good commandments.  

The only hope that ch. 1 leaves us with is that the Great Day of God’s wrath has not yet happened. But it’s coming and it is certain.

Lamentations 1 says BE AFRAID. BE VERY AFRAID.

Ch. 1 is a warning.

Did you know that Titanic had multiple warnings before she hit the Iceberg? Yet, the captain kept the ship going full-speed ahead.

If you do not belong to Christ, there is a hell awaiting. It is a place of loneliness, of weeping, of groaning, of mourning, of no friends, of humiliation, of despair, of death, and of none to comfort – not even God.

But it has not come yet.  There is still time.

And the gospel we proclaim is this: God so loved the world that he sent Jesus.  Jesus died on a cross to experience the loneliness, the weeping, the groaning, the mourning, the humiliation, the despair and the death, that should be ours because of our rebellion and transgressions.

There were none to comfort Jesus and even one of his friends became his enemy.

Jesus experienced the full-fledged wrath of God so that all who trust in him don’t have to.

We are saved from God’s wrath by faith in Jesus.

Have you put your trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour?

Have you felt the magnitude of your sin and cried out to God to save you?

Have you wept for your transgressions and flung yourself on the mercy of God in Christ?

Christian, do you care for a loss world around you, marching headlong into the wrath of God?

Lamentations tells us there is still hope because hell has not yet come.