Sunday, 26 July 2020

Acts 4:1-22: ‘One God, one people, one message, one mission’

A minister got up at the conference of a particular domination and declared ‘God has given us many religions but only one world.’  The next year he went even further saying that ‘in the twenty-first century one of the questions we are going to have to ask is “who is God?”’  Compare that with Peter’s words.  Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.  Unlike that minister Peter firmly believes in the uniqueness of Christ.

In Acts 4 the believers face opposition.  Their situation is not easy.  But let us be inspired as we see them respond with faithfulness and bravery.  As we look at this morning’s reading, I hope that we will be challenged by the conviction and courage of Peter and John and that like them we will be compelled to step out in mission. 


1.  Conviction:  Hold firm to the truth with Conviction

I know a man who loves the chorus, ‘Peter and John went to pray, they met a lame man on the way; he asked them for alms and he held out his palms, and this is what Peter did say . . .’

That song highlights the events of Acts 3, which provide the background for the chapter we are studying.  There Luke records the healing of the cripple at the temple gate called Beautiful.  That event attracted a crowd and Peter used the opportunity to give an evangelistic talk.  But not everyone was impressed.  The temple authorities break up the meeting and put Peter and John in prison.  These religious leaders were Sadducees—a religious and political group who did not believe in a future resurrection from the dead.  Their focus was here on this world and in this world they collaborated with the hated Roman authorities to get positions of power.  They were disturbed that the disciples spoke of resurrection and they were worried about the influence the disciples had over the people.

But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.  Isn’t that encouraging?  The meeting was broken up and the speakers were put in jail.  But the number of Christians continues to grow.  All over the world the church grows despite opposition.  Think of the growing number of Christians in China .  In our own society influential people may oppose what we teach but God still uses our message to draw people to himself.

  So Peter and John spend the night in the cells and the next day they are brought before seventy-one members of the Sanhedrin.  The authorities point to the man who was formerly lame and ask, “By what power or what name did you do this?”  Peter responds with incredibly brave and faithful words.  He tells the Sanhedrin that they crucified the Messiah.  He declares that there is only one way to God and that Jesus is that way.  He states that to reject Jesus is to reject God.

Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  To be honest it makes sense.  The religions of the world contradict each other.  For example we believe that there is one God, Hinduism teaches that the divine is impersonal and approached through many lesser deities; Buddhism technically doesn’t have a god.  Every other religion seems to place an emphasis on deserving God’s favour, the gospel teaches grace—that God forgives sinful people on the basis of what Jesus achieved on the cross.  If God has given us many religions then he has left us to wander blindly in confusion.  But we are to hold firmly to the conviction that God has revealed himself in the pages of Scripture and uniquely the person of his Son.


2. Courage: Pray for the Courage to speak the gospel

I don’t know about you but I would not consider myself an especially brave person.  I don’t know about you but I have kept my mouth shut at times when I know I should have spoken.  I don’t know about you but I have found myself in situations where I have not known what to say.  So what was the key to Peter speaking the truth with such clarity and courage?  We read that he was filled with Holy Spirit as he spoke. 

So as we plan our evangelism we need to pray.  At the beginning of each day let’s pray that God would fill us with the Holy Spirit that we might share the gospel with boldness.  Before we go in to our workplaces pray that we would know what to say.  When we are meeting up with unbelieving friends or family, let’s pray for courage and wisdom.  Before we teach Sunday school or take a kids’ club gather the other leaders together and pray.  For we need to be filled with the Spirit if we are going to have both courage and wisdom. 

When the members of the Sanhedrin saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.  They were ordinary people, who spent time with Jesus, and now were being used in extra-ordinary ways.H

We can see many examples of this courage in the history of the church.  Such courage comes out of a life that is depending on God in prayer.  In the late eighteenth century a bright and attractive fourteen year-old girl called Marie Durand was brought before the authorities and charged for her faith. She was a Huguenot (a Calvinistic group).  She was asked to renounce her faith.  But she would not comply.  Together with thirty other Huguenot women she was put in a tower by the sea—for thirty-eight years.    Instead of saying the words j’abjure (I renounce) the inmates scratched on the wall of the prison tower ’reister’ (‘Resist’).  This inscription is still visible today.


3.  Compulsion:  We are to be compelled by a burning heart

We need to remain firm in our convictions about the gospel.  We need to pray for the courage to speak the truth with boldness and wisdom.  Finally, we are to be motivated by an inner compulsion.

The authorities ordered the apostles to withdraw so that they could consider what to do.  “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it.  But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.”

When Peter and John are recalled and told not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus they replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God …”  One early Methodist preacher, John Nelson, was brought before an official and asked to state the offence for which he was imprisoned, he replied: ‘For warning people to flee the wrath to come, and if this be a crime I shall commit it again, unless you cut my tongue out; for it is better to die than disobey God.’

“… For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”  ‘We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard’ (NLT).  Why not?  What was compels these men in mission?  How were they so motivated in evangelism?  J. John writes, ‘You and I need to walk in intimacy with God, our hearts ablaze with the love of Christ.  Then we will find that evangelism happens as a by-product – an overflow of our burning hearts.’

Their evangelism comes as an overflow of burning hearts.  They live to share the good news about Jesus.  They won’t simply take the opportunity when it comes along; they are actively looking for the opportunity.  How everything would change if we were to grasp the joy of sharing our faith.  We not only rob others when we keep the gospel to ourselves, we deny ourselves great pleasure. 

In 1909 J. Campbell White, Secretary of the Laymen’s Missionary Movement, said, ‘Fame, pleasure and riches are but husks and ashes in contrast with the boundless and abiding joy of working with God for the fulfilment of his eternal plans.  The men [and women] who are putting everything into Christ’s undertaking are getting out of life its sweetest and most priceless rewards.’

 

Conclusion

J. John writes, ‘a missionary is not someone who crosses the sea; a missionary is someone who sees the cross.’  We ought to look at the cross and be people of conviction.  Jesus would not have died there if there had been any other way for people to be reconciled to God.  ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Cor. 5:21).  This message is fantastically different from what any other religion teaches.  We believe our message is exclusive in the fact that there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved; but we are inclusive in seeking to share this good news with all people.

If we are to have the courage to share this good news we need to pray.  Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in a way that left the Sanhedrin amazed at his courage and with nothing to say in reply.  Pray for people, pray for opportunities, pray for courage to speak and pray for the wisdom to know what to say.

Monday, 13 July 2020

Acts 2:14-41: ‘Peter preaches Christ’

Joel Osteen claims that he communicates on television with more people than anyone else in the world on any given day.  He is the pastor of America’s largest church.  He has written a best seller called ‘Your Best Life Now.’

On one occasion Osteen was having a meal with Ravi Zaharias and his wife. 

Joel explained to Ravi that he had been talking with a leading Muslim scholar and had been amazed at how much they agreed on.  Ravi says that his wife almost chocked on her food with shock.

So, Ravi looked at Osteen and asked, ‘they don’t have the Bible (thinking that the New Testament is lost); they don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God; they don’t believe that he died on the cross; they don’t believe that he rose again from the dead; they don’t believe that he is coming again as king, do you think that there is a difference between what they believe and we do?’

Ravi later pointed out that in Osteen’s book, ‘Your Best Life Now’, there is not one mention of the cross.

If our message doesn’t centre on the cross of Christ, then we will inevitably become confused about the good news of God.  The Holy Spirit will cause us to speak about Jesus.


The Holy Spirit will cause us to speak about Jesus

The risen Jesus had told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem until he sent them the Holy Spirit.  Then he ascended to heaven on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out on a hundred and twenty disciples with tongues of fire.  Peter now stood up to address the people of Jerusalem.

“Fellow Jews and all you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.  These people are not drunk, as you suppose.  It is only nine in the morning!  No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, you old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those last days and they will prophesy’ (2:14-17).

Peter tells his listeners that a new era has arrived.  These are ‘the last days’.  But these last days have not come out of the blue.  Hundreds of years earlier God had promised a time when he would pour out his Holy Spirit on all his people.  In the Old Testament some of God’s people—like certain prophets and kings—had were given the Holy Spirit some of the time, but now all of God’s people are given the Holy Spirit all of the time.

There is some debate among Christians about the idea of being baptised in the Holy Spirit.  Is baptism of the Holy Spirit something that happens when you become a Christian or is it a secondary experience?  Good people disagree on this issue.  My understanding is that baptism of the Holy Spirit happens when we become a Christian.  While the initial one hundred and twenty disciples were Christians first and then received the Holy Spirit as a later experience, I think that their experience was unique.  There are a couple of similarly unique experiences elsewhere in the Book of Acts and we will look at them each in turn.  You see, the hundred and twenty had become Christians before the Day of Pentecost.  But from the Day of Pentecost on, it seems that people are baptised in the Holy Spirit when they become Christians.  Peter seems to say this to the crowd in Jerusalem when tells them, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (2:38).  Baptism in the Holy Spirit seems to be associated with being converted.  Similarly, the apostle Paul speaks of baptism of the Holy Spirit as something that every Christian has experienced, explaining that we were all baptised with one Spirit so as to form one body (1 Corinthians 12;13a).

This baptism in the Holy Spirit is about God’s presence within.  In Eden, Adam and Eve had enjoyed God’s presence, but that was lost when they rebelled against him.  God’s presence was with his people in the cloud and the fire as he led them in the wilderness.  His presence was signified by the descending of the cloud of the Shekinah glory in Solomon’s temple.  Now Christians are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19).  We have God’s presence within us.

The Holy Spirit within us is a missionary.  He causes us to speak.  He causes us to prophesy.  In the book of Acts we will see people with an amazing gift of prophecy, that enables them to foretell events about to take place in the future, but that was not given to everyone (1 Corinthians 12:29).  So the prophecy that is spoken of here seems to be a reference to a more general proclaiming the good news about Jesus.  Like we see in verse eleven, when the hundred and twenty disciples were declaring the wonders of God.  Unless we are quenching the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, he will cause us to speak about Jesus.  The Holy Spirit will cause us to speak about the cross.



The Holy Spirit will cause us to speak about the cross

Having explained about the pouring out of the Holy Spirit Peter now teaches Christ-crucified.  Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs … This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him’ (Acts 2:22-24).

Peter uses the Old Testament to show that Jesus is the Messiah who had to die and rise from the dead.  The story of the cross stretches from eternity past to eternity future.  In a later letter the same Peter will explain that Jesus was chosen to be our redeemer before the creation of the world (1 Peter 1:20).  In heaven the redeemed of God worship the lamb who was slain (Revelation 5:12).  In his gospel, Luke shows the risen Jesus showing two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus that the Old Testament had foretold that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day (Luke 24:46).  It was this crucified and risen Jesus, now exalted to the right hand of God, had received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and poured it out on the Day of Pentecost (2:33).

In his book, ‘The Cross of Christ’, John Stott writes, ‘it was by his death that he wished to be remembered.  There is then, it is safe to say, no Christianity without the cross.  If the cross is not central to our religion, ours is not the religion of Jesus.’

What do your friends think you believe?  Why not ask them to give you one sentence that sums up Christianity?  They may talk about being a good person and doing your best.  It is cross-less Christianity.  It is only when the cross is examined that we are confronted with the holiness of God, the awfulness of sin, the beauty of God’s self-sacrifice and the how God can show mercy to wicked people without compromising his justice.


The Holy Spirit draws people to repentance and faith

Look at how the crowd respond to the preaching of the cross.

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “brothers, what shall we do?’

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus christ for the forgiveness of sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is of you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call’ (2:37-39).

On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was not only working among the one hundred and twenty, he was working among the three thousand who were being brought to faith.  Jesus promised that when the Holy Spirit came, he would convict the world about righteousness, judgement and sin (John 16:8).  He is the one who raises the spiritually dead to life.

Ask the Holy Spirit to convict your friends of their sin (John 16:8).  Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the words to say (Luke 12:12).  Ask the Holy Spirit to enable them to understand the message of the cross (1 Corinthians 2:13).  Ask the Holy Spirit to raise the spiritually dead to life.

Conclusion

So, last week, as I was writing this sermon, I decided to look through Joel Osteen’s tweets, to get an idea of what he preaches.

This is what I found:

I was thirty-seven tweets in before I came upon a reference to the cross. I was thirty-seven tweets in before there was any mention of Jesus. There was no mention of the Lord's return or life beyond the grave. The only sin he seemed to be concerned about was that of talking negatively to yourself. If Osteen was all I had to go by, I would have to assume that the only reason Christ died for me was to show me how special I am.

What he did emphasis was a superstitious fear of the power of words. He said the God tells me I am strong and talented (I am having trouble finding the Bible reference for that one). He seems to think that God's greatest concern is that we would fulfil our destiny (with no reference to what that destiny is). It is all about fulfilling your potential.

I have to conclude that Osteen is either culpably ignorant of his Bible, both Old and New Testaments, which point to the cross, or that he really doesn’t care about the eternal well-being of his hearers.

Compare that with the apostle Peter, who is not ashamed to speak of that day when ‘the sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the glorious day of the Lord’ (2:20).  Peter warns and pleads with his hearers to ‘save yourself from this corrupt generation’ (2:40).  He holds out the gracious promise, ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (2:21).

May God give us the same clarity and love as we hold out the Word of life.   

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Friday, 26 June 2020

Restore us to yourself, O Lord (Lamentations 5)




Background

So, we have reached the end of the book of Lamentations.  It has not been an easy book.  The people of the southern kingdom of Judah had persistently rebelled against God.  God had sent prophets like Jeremiah to call them back to himself in repentance.  But the people listened to religious teachers who told them what they wanted to hear.  These false teachers had a theology of peace.  They said, ‘look, the temple is in Jerusalem and so there is no way that God will destroy this city.  There will be no day of judgement.’  Then the day of judgement arrived.  The Babylonians surrounded the city for three years as its inhabitants died.  Then they breached the walls and took the people into exile.  It is worth noting that what took place was foretold in the book of Deuteronomy.  But there is hope for us.  Deuteronomy may have spoken of the curse for disobedience, but we know that Jesus has taken that curse upon himself.  For Deuteronomy said, ‘cursed is anyone hung on a tree’ (cf. Galatians 3:13).  Jesus hung on that tree as he died on the cross for the curse due to our disobedience so that, in Christ, we might enjoy God’s blessing.     

There were some very positive verses in the middle of chapter three.  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (3:22-23).  What amazing words to come out of Jeremiah’s mouth, given that he is looking at the devastation caused by God’s judgement!  Even when life is hard, we must remember that steadfast love of God.  He will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according the abundance of his steadfast love, for he does not willingly afflict the children of men (3:32-33).  In fact, we can look beyond any circumstance and remember that this is how we know what love is: Christ lay down his life for us (1 John 3:16).

So how will the short book end?  Let’s see.

Remember God (1).

Remember, O LORD, what has befallen us; look, see our disgrace (1).

In this closing chapter the people of Judah plead for God to restore them.  The people begin by asking God to remember.  When I think of God remembering my mind is brought to the book of Exodus, when the people were in slavery in Egypt.  During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help.  Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.  And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  God saw the people of Israel—and God knew (Exodus 2:23-25).

What does it mean to ask God to remember, after all he does not have a problem with his memory?  It is a call for God to do something.  It is a call for God to act in line with his promises.

One of the things that we learn when we study the book of Lamentations is that when we are down and out, we are to approach God with raw honesty.  Jesus asked, ‘Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him”; and I will answer from within, “do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed.  I cannot get up and give you anything”?  I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.  And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you’ (Luke 11:5-9).

What are the people asking for?  They want God to see their disgrace.  God had entered into a relationship with the people of Israel and Judah.  They were supposed to be a holy and special people.  But they have sinned.  They have not being holy.  They were supposed to be a blessing to the nations.  God has judged them and now they lie in ruins.  Things can’t stay like this.  How can God’s love and goodness be shown to the world when his people lie in rubble? 

We look at our own sin and we think of the disgrace.  We want to be like Jesus, but in so many ways we are not.  We are crushed by the fact that oftentimes habitual sins like lust and pride disgrace us.  We struggle with bitterness and we find it so hard to forgive.  ‘Remember our disgrace Lord and change us from within.’  We pray for holiness, for we are to be God’s holy people, and everything else is a disgrace.

Get real (2-18)

Verses two to eighteen recall the woes that they have just experienced.  They have lost the Promised Land.  They have become fatherless, and their mothers are like widows.  They are enduring economic hardship.  There is mention of terrible sexual crimes.  All the joy has gone from their hearts.  ‘They were homeless and hounded; horrified and hard-pressed; heart-broken and hopeless.  When they prayed for the disgrace to be removed this is what they meant’ (Lee McMunn).

Why would you bother recalling all the bad things that have happened to you?  Why tell God these things, for he already knows?  It because they are not running from reality, they are facing reality.  We aren’t simply to try to forget the terrible things that have happened to us, we bring them to God.  We don’t have to pretend things are rosy when they are not.  We are to be real with God.  But that does not mean that we stop and wallow in self-pity.  We are asking God to do something about it.  When we fall again to that same temptation, we tell God about it, and we ask God to change us from within.  When old bitterness resurfaces, we don’t hide it from him, but ask him to give us more grace.  Where do you need to be real with God, acknowledging that things are not as they should be, and asking him to come to the rescue?

Ask God to restore (19-22)

In verse nineteen the people move from their plight to focus on God’s character.  But you, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures for all generations.  Our only hope is when God is true to himself.  We appeal to the God who is slow to anger and abounding in love.  We trust the God who does not treat us as our sins deserve but according to his loving kindness.  The God who shows faithfulness to a faithless people.  The God who loved us before we loved him and promises to keep loving us to the end.  The God who has put a new heart in us and inclines us to follow his ways.  God not only has the ability to help us, he has the desire.

They want to be saved from their disgrace.  They want to be restored to God.  Restore us to yourself, that we may be restored.   Note that it is God who needs to work if people are to be restored.  We pray for our non-Christian friends and neighbours that God would give them spiritual life.  We pray for those who are living the life of a prodigal that God would bring them to their senses.  We pray for ourselves, ‘create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a steadfast spirit within me’ (Psalm 51:10).

But what do we make of the last verse—unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us?  Will God restore them?  Will his anger be turned away from them?  There seems to be uncertainty for the generation that Jeremiah belongs to.  One preacher explains, ‘I think this is a great ending for an Old Testament book.  As we read it, we are being reminded that this cannot be the end of the story.  It pushes us to read on as we ask, is there a happier future?’

The truth is that there will be dark days ahead for the people of Judah.  They will endure years of exile.  But has not given up on them.  In the days of Ezra and Nehemiah there will be a return and restoration, but that restoration seems incomplete.  The story is not finished there.  The Promised Messiah will come.  He will turn people back to God.  He inaugurates a new covenant where, I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.  And I will be their God, and they will be my people (Jeremiah 31:33).  God turns us back to himself.  Why haven’t you packed in your faith?  Because he has kept you from falling.  Why can’t you be content when you are distant from him?  Because he works within you to will and to act according to his good pleasure.  Why do you run home to him when you realise that the pleasures of sin bring emptiness and pain?  Because he will never stop drawing you with chords of love. 

But we know that in this life we will not be perfect.  We lie to ourselves if we say that we have no sin (1 John 1:8).  We are now forgiven and there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  But we still struggle with temptation and sin.  We are still waiting for the day when full restoration will come.  Jerusalem was destroyed, but there is a heavenly Jerusalem that awaits the Lord’s return (Revelation 21:1-4).  On that day we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).  God’s people will be fully restored.  There will be no more disgrace.  God’s people will perfectly reflect God’s glory.  In the meantime, we purify ourselves as he is pure’ (1 John 3:3).

Saturday, 20 June 2020

God is good and angry (Lamentations 4)


‘God is good and angry’ (Lamentations 4)

A Scottish minister met a man who had grown up in a nominally Christian home, but who had converted to Islam.  The minister asked the man what had made Islam so attractive to him.  The man explained that in the church that he had attended they only ever spoke about the love of God.  They never mentioned the holiness of God or the justice of God.  This young man wanted a god who could promise him that justice mattered.  The irony was that in that church’s attempt to make God more attractive they actually put someone off him.

Sadly, unlike that Muslim, most people do want to ignore talk of the judgement of God.  That was certainly what Jeremiah found.  He warned the people of Jerusalem that if they did not turn to God in repentance there would be a terrible day of judgement.  The people chose not to listen to him.  Instead they listened to those false teachers who told them that God could never destroy the city that was home to the temple.  The false teachers said everything was okay.  There was no need to fear God.  There would be no day of judgement.

Then the day of judgement came.  The Babylonians surrounded the city for three years and its inhabitants starved to death.  After that, the city’s walls were breached, and the place was ruined.  Its inhabitants were killed or enslaved.  Most of the survivors were taken into exile.  In this morning’s readings Jeremiah looks at the ruins and tries to process what has happened.      

God is good and angry (1-11)

What does Jeremiah see as he looks around?  He saw the ruins of the temple scattered on every street.  But it is not only the precious gems from the temple that have been toppled, the children of the city—worth their weight in gold to their parents—lie broken.  The people had become heartless.  Mothers had no longer fed their children.  The children begged for bread, but no one gave them any.  People had even cooked and eaten their own children. 

This suffering is not just for the ordinary people of the city, the rich princes, who had fair skin because their privileged lies shielded them from the sun, and whose bodies were perfectly healthy and well formed, are now unrecognisable.  Their skin in shrivelled on their bones, it has become a dry as a stick (8).

Those killed by the sword are better off than those who die of the famine (9a).  At least they died instantly.

Why has this happened?  This happened because God is good and angry.  This is God’s judgement.  The punishment of my people is greater than that of Sodom (6a).  Sodom was overthrown in an instant, but Jerusalem’s suffering has been drawn out.  The Lord has given full vent to his wrath; he has poured out his fierce anger.  He kindled a fire in Zion that consumed her foundations (11).

The fact that God is good and angry might not seem like good news to you.  The book of Psalms tells us that God is a righteous judge, a God who displays his wrath every day (Psalm 7:11).  However, anger is not the essence of his being.  His anger is an outworking of his love and holiness.  He is angry because wickedness should make a loving and holy God angry.  He is not like a grumpy old man who is angry for no reason.  His anger is his reasonable, settled opposition to all that is evil.  He patiently calls people to turn to him and be forgiven.  But if we spurn his grace, we will face a day of his fierce wrath.

Love warns (12-16)

Jeremiah looks at this city, that has experienced the judgement of God, and he blames the religious leaders—the prophets and priests.  Jeremiah had called the people to repent, but the people had listened to religious leaders who had told them exactly what they wanted to hear.

I am frustrated with my attempts to speak to my friends about Jesus.  They know that I call myself a Christian, but I am not sure they know what I believe.  Some of them think that I am just trying to be a good person.  I want them to realise that I am simply a forgiven sinner and that without a living relationship with Jesus they will take the punishment for their sin in hell.  These are not easy things to talk about, but we have not fully shared the gospel with people until they hear the warnings as well as the promises.

I read an interesting approach that one man takes.  Instead of asking them the usual question, ‘why do you think God should let you into heaven?’, he turns it around and asks his friends, ‘why do you think that God should let me into heaven?’  His friends reply by saying that he is a good guy.  They point out that he is a pastor.  He then explains that the Bible actually teaches that he has been guilty of all sorts of evil and that he deserves to be separated from God for all eternity and punished for his sins.  But that Jesus took the punishment for his guilt on the cross and freely accepts anyone who turns to him in repentance.  Why not ask one of your friends if they think you are going to heaven?

Look what happened false teachers.  The people rejected them.  They had persecuted those who had tried to tell the truth, and yet no they find themselves rejected.  The day of God’s judgement will be terrible for those false teachers who refuse to believe and teach the gospel.

Beware of false saviours (17-22)

As the Babylonians surrounded the city, the people of Jerusalem looked in vain for the Egyptians to come and rescue them.  They climbed into their towers and watched for that nation that could not save them.  The Egyptians did not come.  They had placed their hope in a false saviour. 

We are in danger of placing our hope wring place.  Why should God let you into his heaven?  If you reply, ‘because I am a good person, I go to church, I have never been in trouble with the law, I pray’ or anything else that depends on you, you are too are trusting in false saviours that will be no use on the day of judgement.  The correct answer ‘because I have put my hope in Jesus who has taken the full weight of my guilt upon the cross’.

Zedekiah was their king.  He was a king in the line of David.  He had been captured trying to flee the city.  The Lord’s anointed, our very life breath was caught in their traps.  We thought that under his shadow we would live among the nations (20).  He would soon have his sons executed before him, just before his eyes were gouged out.  Then he was taken to Babylon along with the majority of those who had survived the siege.  Zedekiah could not save them, but another Son of David would come in power and mercy and save his people.

We might read the terrible judgement of this chapter and think that it is over the top.  We don’t deserve what they experienced.  Without Jesus we will actually face something far worse.  Without Jesus we will face an eternal punishment.  But is that really what we deserve?  An ancient and godly Archbishop of Canterbury called Anselm explained that the reason we find God’s anger hard to fathom is because we have not yet considered the weight of sin.

Think of it in terms of the eternal value of the one that we have sinned against.  I sit here by a window.  I can see on that window a little smudge from where I crushed an annoying fly.  No one is going to report me to the police for crushing a fly.  Lying beside me is my dog, Charlie, he is worth more than a fly.  If I was to get up and start beating him, I hope you would report me, and the authorities might come and give him to a better home.  Now suppose I leave this room, go into the kitchen and start beating my wife Caroline.  I hope that I would not only be reported to the police but that I would receive a prison sentence.  Caroline is worth more than both the fly and the dog.  Now continue this line of thought and think of the infinite worth of God.  We have sinned against the author of life.  We have rebelled against his infinite holiness.  We have thrown off his loving rule.  We do what he has forbidden.  When he sent his Son in love to this world, we pinned him to a cross and watched him die.  Our hostility to God’s infinite goodness and love certainly deserves an eternal punishment. 

The closing verses are addressed to the nation of Edom.  They had delighted in seeing Jerusalem destroyed.  They had no compassion or pity.  Yet while Jerusalem’s punishment had come to an end theirs had not even begun.  

Conclusion

Turn back to the book of Deuteronomy, which was given through Moses before they entered the Promised Land and you will read of the curse that would befall Israel if they turned their backs on God in rebellion, including the fact that they would eat their own children (28:52-57).  On fact the book of Deuteronomy pronounced a curse on anyone who did not keep all the works of the law.  The truth is that we are helpless to make ourselves right with God.  But in his great love for sent his Son not for the self-righteous but those who will admit that they are sinful.  ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a cruse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”’ (Galatians 3:13).  He has taken the punishment that we deserve that we the guilty might enjoy all the blessings of being right with God.

It might go against what the self-esteem movement teach, but some of the most emotionally healthy people I know are also those with the greatest awareness of their personal failings.  They don’t feel that they have to justify all their actions.  They are happy to admit that they are flawed.  They don’t excuse anything they have done.  They will tell you that there are things in their hearts that would not like you to see.  You see, their confidence is not in themselves but in the cross of Christ.  They know that he is willing to accept even the worst of people, and they have no problem counting themselves among that number (1 Timothy 1:15).  They know that when Jesus said from the cross that ‘it is finished’ (John 19:30), which meant the full price of all their past, present and future sin was paid.  Jesus says, ‘he who has been forgiven much loves much’ (Luke 7:47) and they have some grasp of how much they have been forgiven.  They feel secure because Jesus promised that he would never drive away anyone that comes to him (John 6:37) and the letter to the Romans assures us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1).

Look at Lamentations 4 and see something of what our sin deserves.  Look at Lamentations 4 and remember that Jesus experienced an even more dreadful punishment on the cross.  See Jesus drink the cup of God’s holy anger.  Hear him calling us to repentance and life.  Delight in the fact that we have been rescued from judgement and can shelter in the shadow of God’s anointed.