Tag Archives: Lament

God’s People, part 211: Jerusalem

Read Matthew 23:37-39

“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!’”  (John 8:58, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Jerusalem-2013-Aerial-Temple_Mount-(south_exposure)Part 211: Jerusalem. When I look at the United States of America, the country from which I am from, I find myself in lament nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, I take great pride in being an American and I love my country dearly. I really, really do. My father served this country in the Army over in Vietnam and is paying the price for his service. Yet, he would never take back his service. While, I did not serve in the military, I come from a family where mostly everyone did.

So, I come from a family that is deeply rooted in this country and I grew up being proud of it. I have a deep respect for America and for those who have sacrifice so much to serve it and to make it a place of freedom and opportunity. In fact, it is out of this love for my country that my lament comes. When I look around today and see the deep, ever intensifying division, my heart sinks. There is social discord on just about every level imaginable.

Looking at all of this, I have thought to myself that this is not the America I grew up in. Yet, the more I reflect on that statement, I am beginning to realize that it is untrue. This is the America I grew up in, we just did a better job at hiding it. These divisions we see now are not divisions that sprouted up over night; rather, they are divisions that have been brewing behind the scenes and now, following a few significant triggers, they are now exploding all over the place. So, I find myself in lament.

To lament is to passionately express grief or sorrow. In our Scripture reading for today, we see Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem. Like how I feel about my country, Jesus had a love for Jerusalem, like any good Jew would have. This was the city of his ancestor David and was the center of Jewish worship. This was a city with much history and glory, a city to which people from all around the world came to visit.

Yet, the leadership in Jerusalem were corrupt and their hearts were hardened. They didn’t care about those suffering underneath them. They didn’t care about those affected by their rigid laws and their calloused attitudes to those in a much weaker and vulnerable state than they were in. All that they really cared about was maintaining the status quo so that they could keep ahold of the power they had acquired.

Even if that mean consorting with the Romans, they were willing to do what it took to keep themselves at the top. Of course, they claimed that they were looking out for the safety of their people, and they no doubt fooled themselves into believing that; however, Jesus saw their hearts and the hearts of those who came before them. This was the same city that through Jeremiah into a cistern, the same city from with the wicked kings of Judah’s past had allowed idolatrous temples to be built for the worship of foreign gods, and the same city that had put countless prophets and people of God to death. What’s more, they were about to do it again in putting Jesus, the Son of God, to death.

Friends, it is out of a love of one’s country that one laments the evil found within it. We often think that patriotic loyalty means a blind acceptance of one’s nation without any questioning of the powers that be. This, however, is not patriotic loyalty, it is merely a toxic form of nationalism that put one’s nation over and above God and all that is good and right.

Let us be challenged by Jesus lament over Jerusalem and let us look with Christ’s eyes at our own countries. No matter where you are from, you live in a country that sometimes gets it right, and other times gets it wrong? In what ways, and over what things, should you be lamenting. More importantly, what are you willing to do about it? Jesus’ marched into Jerusalem and offered himself up as a sacrifice for the world’s sins. While we can never do what Christ did, we can offer ourselves up for Christ and for the Christian witness in our world. I pray we all have the strength and courage to do so.

“Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.” – John Wesley

Lord, help me to see things clear enough to lament the wrong I see, and give me the courage to stand against such things in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

God’s People, part 93: Joel

Read Joel 2

“’In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out My Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.’” (Acts 2:17 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Joel_-Michelangelo--58b5ce175f9b586046cfa311Part 93: Joel. As with the previous prophets, this devotion cannot really be focused on any character flaws the prophet might or might not have had. We know very little about Joel. Scholars are not even entirely sure what period the prophetic book was written in. As such, I am going with the traditional dating of the book the pre-Exilic time of the first Temple. With that said, please note that some scholars believe that it was written in the post-Exilic time of the Second Temple.

So, instead of focusing on the prophet himself, I am going to focus on the prophecy and on the character flaws of Judah (as a people) that led to the woes described in the Book of Joel. This is happening because there is zero biographical information given about the prophet in the book itself and I cannot begin to make character flaws up where they may or may not have existed. Prophets exist to hold the people accountable and to turn people back to God. Thus, the flaws that existed in the Kingdom of Judah are what led to Joel having to prophesy in the first place.

Joel is a rather short book that consists of 3 chapters (in the Christian Bible) or 4 chapters in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible). It is the same exact text, word for word; however, the Christian compilers divided up the text into 3 chapters, whereas the Jewish compilers divided it up into 4 chapters. Keep in mind that, when these scrolls were written, there were not originally divided up into chapters or verses.

In Joel, the prophet laments the fact that Judah has experienced a great locust plague and severe drought, which affected Judah’s agriculture, farming, and even the supplies for agricultural offerings in the Temple. Joel also compares the locusts to God’s army, being sent by God to punish Judah for their sins. This comparison has led some Hebrew scholars to interpret the locust plague itself metaphorically, rather than literally. In this interpretation, the locusts are the enemy kingdoms that are constantly “swarming” and attacking Judah.

Following the lament, Joel calls Judah to national repentance in the face of God’s judgment. Joel proclaims that God will one day redeem Judah and will restore prosperity to the land. He also prophesies that one day God will pour out God’s spirit on all people (a clear prophecy of Christian Pentecost where the Holy Spirit entered and empowered Christians). One day, God’s justice will reign supreme and the enemies of God will perish and Israel will be justified!

How does this relate to us? Being that this is directed at the kingdom of Judah, let us look at “us” as a people. Keep in mind that I am writing in the United States of America, and so when I say “us” I am referring to the U.S.A. With that said, this can be applied to any nation or kingdom.

Let us look at our own nation. We are a people that perpetually claim our own greatness and we look to God in prayer and in song for God’s blessing. Yet, are we a godly and righteous nation? Are we just? Are we a people who mirror the Kingdom of God, or a people who mirror the world? I think, if we are honest, we will find out that we are a people who fall quite short of God’s standard.

We idolize other “things” above God. Don’t believe me, go into a house of worship on Sunday morning and see how many people are there. Worship attendance is declining because people are finding meaning in other things, whether they be sports, work, televangelists, or even sleeping in. Whatever we prioritize are ultimately what we worship.

In the last couple of decades we’ve declined from a people who prided itself as a melting pot of diversity to a people who are calling for “walls to be built” so that we can keep “those people” out. In a neighboring community to my own, this manifested itself in a high school basketball game where the “white” people in the audience booed at the Hispanic/Latino players and shouted, “Build that wall” and “go home.”

I could go on and on, but we have fallen far from where God has called us. How can we expect God to bless us when we are not honoring God? How can we expect good to come out of our actions when our actions are evil? Joel’s lament and call for national repentance is not just written for the people of Judah; rather, it is written for us as well. Of course, this message is NEVER popular, but I pray that people heed it and that the heart of our nation turns back to God.

There can be no forgiveness for those who don’t believe they need any.

Lord, forgive me for the part I have played regarding injustice. Turn me back to you and guide me so that I have the strength to stand up for what is righteous and just. Amen.

The Beatitudes, part 3: Mourners

Read Matthew 5:4; Luke 6:21b

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” (Psalms 34:18 NLT)

black-and-blue-lament-e1468181738718Jesus continued his bestowal of blessings, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The words rang out and filled the ears and souls of the multitude of people gathered around Jesus that day. There was much to mourn in their day and age, there had been much to be grieved over. Under the weight of such suffering, there wasn’t a single soul among Jesus’ followers who hadn’t been in some state of mourning or another.

Whether rich or poor, whether powerful or weak, whether a person of status or a peasant, all were in a state of grief over the travesty of being subjegated to the Roman Empire. Sure, there were some who had much to gain from Rome’s presence. The High Priest, Caiaphas, and his whole priestly family benefited from Rome. According to Flavius Josephus, Annas (the same Annas who took part in Jesus’ mock trial) was appointed High Priest in 6 CE by the Roman Governor Quirinius as the first High Priest of the new Roman Province of Iudaea (aka Judea). He served in that role until he was deposed by the Roman Governor Gratus in 15 CE and was replaced by his son, Eleazar, in 16 CE. In 17 CE, Gratus deposed Eleazar and appointed Annas’ son-in-law, Joseph son of Caiaphas (aka Caiaphas) as the high priest.

There were others who also had much to gain. Herod, an Idumaean Jew, and his family gained power under Rome, as did those who supported Herod’s agenda of Hellenizing Judea (aka the Herodians). Yet, even they were not without their mourning for, under the Roman boot, no one was truly free to do as they pleased, not even Herod. Following Herod’s death, Caesar Augustus refused to give any of his children the title of king, but appointed three of his sons as governors. Herod’s son Archelaus, though willed by his father to be king, was eventually deposed by Augustus and the regions he ruled (Samaria, Judah, and Idumaea) were consolodated into a new Roman province of Iudaea (aka Judea) and placed directly under Roman Rule. Antipas and Phillip both kept governorship of their regions, but the tension between them and Rome was thick.

So, yes, many had much to mourn over in the days and years Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth, and no doubt, everyone has something to mourn about in our day and age as well; however, Jesus was not merely speaking to those who mourned in the physical sense, as it is often misunderstood. Jesus was, in actuality, speaking to those who mourn in both the physical and spiritual senses.

Without doubt, by using the phrase “those who mourn”, Jesus is referring to the poor. This can be evidenced in Luke’s literal interpretation of this famous beatitude (Luke 6:21b). With that said, I would once again caution anyone from rushing to the judgment that Matthew is “spiritualizing” Jesus’ words. First, it is more than likely that Luke was written after Matthew, not beforehand. Thus, chronologically speaking, it would be more likely that Luke “literalized” the words of Jesus found in Matthew, and even that’s just as unlikely. Second, since the mysterious Q source of Jesus’ sayings has never been found, only speculative (and not empirical) claims can be made regarding what Jesus was actually recorded as saying. Without empirical evidence, there’s no reason to believe that either Matthew or Luke are detracting from what Jesus said, but more or less expounding upon it.

Lastly and most importantly, Matthew’s text (regardless of the points above) does not exclude the literal poor, but most certainly includes them when mentioning those who mourn. Blessed are they who mourn because of the greed, the corruption, the power, and oppression of the wicked, for they will be comforted. Also included in this group of blessed people are those who mourn and lament because of how far wayward God’s people had gone as a result of greed, corruption and abuse of power. Blessed are those mourners for they, too, will be comforted when God’s Kingdom finally and fully reigns on the earth.

What’s more, as will be seen later in the beatitudes, the mourners are not merely those who are helpless and voiceless against injustice, but those who stand up against it and face the consequences of doing so. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. The question for you is, which one of these are you? Are you one of the poor and helpless who mourn? Are you one of those who mourn and lament over injustice and stand up against it, or are you one of those who our Lord (Matthew 23; Luke 6:24-26) declares a series of woes against? Challenge yourself to earnestly reflect on this, not only this week, but always.

“Good God, if our civilization were to sober up for a couple of days it’d die of remorse on the third.” – Malcom Lowry
Lord, as I mourn the way this world is, empower me to follow you and change it. Amen.