Lately, we’ve been going through the book of Lamentations in our high school group for Wednesday nights. I know this isn’t a common choice, but it was voiced by the kids, and I thought it would be a good month or so. For those of you who are familiar with the book of Lamentations, let me take a moment to set the scene.
The prophet Jeremiah was called to preach to the Southern Kingdom of Judah in a time where their hearts and allegiance was removed from the Lord. The Norther Kingdom had already been hauled off by Assyria, who then grew more and more incapable of enforcing their empire. Babylon comes up on the scene, and overtakes Assyria to become the big bully on the block. They grow in power and seek to conquer the world. Nebuchadnezzar leads a charge through the land of Israel, and they cry ‘uncle’ and are made a vassal state. When Nebuchadnezzar finds more opposition than he was expecting in Egypt, he returns home for a year to reload. During this time, Israel makes the tragic mistake of yielding allegiance to Egypt, which didn’t make Babylon happy. Nebuchadnezzar comes back, sieges Jerusalem, eventually captures it, destroys the Temple, walls and gates, and hauls King Zedekiah off to Babylon.
During this time, Jeremiah is called to preach a call to repentance to his nation, but is told at the beginning that they won’t listen and he’ll find opposition everywhere. God promises to deliver him, but its a pretty grim picture. Jeremiah preaches his message and finds somewhat of an audience with Josiah before he is killed in battle, but nothing after that. He was turned on by his people and false prophets decried him. He was mocked, beaten, thrown in jail, left for dead, and accused of treason for telling Zedekiah to surrender to Babylon because God had raised them up to punish His people, Israel.
One would expect Jeremiah to react like Jonah. To walk out of the city and wait for the wrath of God to consume it. But that isn’t what happens. There is a reason why Jeremiah was called the weeping prophet. Listen to how deeply affected Jeremiah was by his people’s sin:
“My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out to the ground because of the destruction of the daughter of my people, because infants and babies faint in the streets of the city.” Lamentations 2:11
“My eyes will flow without ceasing without respite, until the Lord from Heaven looks down and sees; my eyes cause me grief at the fate of all the daughters of my city.” Lamentations 3:49-51
“Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people.” Jeremiah 9:1
Jeremiah was personally afflicted by his people’s rejection of God’s words. When he preached, it was not with the primary of condemnation, but with correction and restoration. I pained Jeremiah to see his people move so far from arms of their covenant God. It is also interesting to see how often he lumps himself in with Israel, not content to just take pot shots from a distance, but to share in the misery.
As I was preparing to preach through chapter 3, I realized a large shortcoming in my own heart. I could use a lot of Jeremiah in me. I have found that it is really easy to sit back, see the moral decay in our country, and say, “Wait until you see what’s comin’ at you.” It’s been easy for me to watch the news and see people who promote wickedness like its admirable and think, “Wait until they come face to face with the righteousness of Jesus Christ.” I realized that my heart isn’t broken over the moral depravity of my country.
And I don’t think I’m alone. When Prop 8 passed here in California (Gay Marriage Ban), I was afraid for what the evangelical response would be. I imagined Christians seeking to rub the victory in the face of a crushed segment of society. I foresaw evangelicals coming off as snobs and elitists, being more proud over their temporary political victory, thinking they have dealt a blow to the “gay agenda”. The problem with that thinking is that the victory is more preserving the institution of marriage than being ‘anti-gay’, and it ends up alienating and severely offending people in need of God’s grace and redemption.
What we need is less true believers sitting back, waiting for God to consume Sodom and Gomorrah, and more believers weeping for the people’s rejection of their Creator. I realized I need more Jeremiah in my perspective and less Jonah.