I’m going to assume two things of everyone here.
First, that during school you were (or are) perfect angels. Never the troublemakers. Always the innocent, well-behaved bystanders.
Second, that you’ll relate to this experience…
You are just there, doing what the teacher wants, as white as snow…but the other kids in class are talking, horsing around, and otherwise not lending to a conducive learning experience.
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
And then the teacher has enough and punishes the entire class!!!
But you weren’t doing anything wrong! You were that perfect angel! Why should you be punished too?!?!?!
My guess is that if you haven’t personally experienced that at school, you have otherwise…perhaps at work when they add or complicate a process because other bozos cannot be trusted, or when the government passes a law to restrict your freedom because others cannot be trusted with that flexibility, and so on…
Do you relate?
Hold that thought!
Anybody here ever read Lamentations? That book was part of my “read through the Bible in one year” plan this week.
We do not know for sure who wrote it, although it might be Jeremiah.
Regardless, let’s just assume that Judah, at that time, is a classroom.
Do you think that the writer would be one of the troublemakers…or an innocent, well-behaved student.
The latter, right?!
What about basically the rest of Judah?
Troublemakers with a capital T. So bad God had to do something.
How did that work out for the writer?
3 I am the man who has seen affliction
under the rod of his wrath;
2 he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
3 surely against me he turns his hand
again and again the whole day long.
4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away;
he has broken my bones;
5 he has besieged and enveloped me
with bitterness and tribulation;
6 he has made me dwell in darkness
like the dead of long ago.
7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
he has made my chains heavy;
8 though I call and cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer;
9 he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;
he has made my paths crooked.
10 He is a bear lying in wait for me,
a lion in hiding;
11 he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces;
he has made me desolate;
12 he bent his bow and set me
as a target for his arrow.
13 He drove into my kidneys
the arrows of his quiver;
14 I have become the laughingstock of all peoples,
the object of their taunts all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitterness;
he has sated me with wormwood.
16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
17 my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the LORD” (Lamentations 3:1-18).
How are things going for the author of Lamentations?
So bad that his “hope for the Lord” “has perished.”
Because of something he did?
No. Because of something the class did.
You might say that in the war started by the devil and initially joined by Adam and Eve in the garden, this writer was collateral damage.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he was sinless, but clearly the punishment he is feeling from the Lord was the mainly the result of the crimes of others, not his own.
Although generally less obvious, this is true for you and me too. Yes, we sin, and we suffer various consequences from our own failings, but much of the bad we experience on this planet is God allowing sin to play out. In many respects, sin is its own punishment, in that it naturally leads to pain and despair.
And if the world had chosen God, I can promise you that we wouldn’t be having wars or STDs or even hurricanes.
God is punishing us by giving us what we humans want. Freedom from Him.
And freedom from Him means freedom from His protections and His wisdom.
Just praise God He hasn’t stepped back completely.
Then the collateral damage would be incalculable.
But are “collateral damage” and natural consequences of our own sins the only reason we suffer? Paul had something to say about that to Timothy:
10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived (2 Timothy 3:10-13).
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”
Or, as Jesus warned:
16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household (Matthew 10:16-25).
Not only will you suffer because of collateral damage…
And because of the natural consequences of your own sins…
You will suffer specifically because you desire to live a godly life. Because you follow Jesus.
I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. 2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you (John 16:1-4).
Your faith may even cost you your life.
But, notice a couple things Jesus also stated. In what we just read in John, He “said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that [He] told the to you.”
When things get bad, don’t despair. Jesus gave you a heads up!
Also, from what He said in Matthew we know “the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
What a promise! No matter what happens, if you stay with God, He’s got you covered! Or, as Paul so beautifully shares in Romans 8:37-39:
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Experiencing collateral damage from the sins of others will not separate you from the love of God.
As an adopted son or daughter of God, your own sins will not separate you from the love of God.
Persecution you experience specifically because you are a child of God will not separate you from the love of God.
Nothing will (or can) separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That is because…
21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
We cannot be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord because, in the ultimate case of the innocent suffering for the sins of the wicked, Jesus was made to be sin.
The worlds’s sin.
That we might become the righteousness of God.
And He _chose_ to be the ultimate collateral damage!
Which brings us back to the writer of Lamentations. After he listed all the horrible things he was experiencing, he wrote this:
19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him” (Lamentations 3:19-24).
Jesus chose to die on the cross so that you would never be separated from the love of God.
He promises if you endure all the suffering, fair and unfair, you will be saved.
He has proven Himself trustworthy.
And, like the author of Jeremiah…
Hope in Him.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
Hope in the Lord.
Great is His faithfulness.
Hope in Jesus.
He will not disappoint.