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WHAT KIND OF ROADWAYS AND ENTRANCES DO WE LIKE?

A SERMON ORIGINALLY DELIVERED AT
THE FEDERATED CHURCH OF ATHENS

8 OCTOBER 1995

By Frank L. Hoffman, Pastor

SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES:

Exodus 20:4-6
Lamentations 1:1-12
            3:19-38
Matthew 7:13-14

Very few people really want to be alone all the time.

Sometimes the pain and suffering we see in the world causes some people to retreat away from what they encounter.

Even though they really don't want to be alone, they find the solitude and peace better than the strife and heartache they get around other people.

A few others will take a stand against the evil in the world, and try to make a difference; but they face much ridicule in the process, for where they stand is a lonely place.

But by far, the vast majority of the people will go along with the crowd in order not to be alone.

And in order to have peace of mind, they begin to harden their hearts to the pain and suffering and evil acts around them.

Our preparation verse for this morning, Matthew 7:13-14, addresses this last group of people.

13. "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it.

14. "For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.

Jeremiah was a very lonely person.

He was one of those people who made a stand for what he knew to be right.

He saw the destruction that the people of Judah and Jerusalem brought upon themselves, and he mourned over the loss.

He cried out loud to God and anyone else who would listen and who could feel the same pain in their own hearts that he suffered in his heart and soul.

The whole of the Book of Lamentations is the recording of this cry of anguish, and of the assurance of God's promises in the midst of Jeremiah’s suffering when he viewed the destruction of Jerusalem.

Let’s begin by looking at the first 12 verses of chapter 1.

1. How lonely sits the city

That was full of people!

She has become like a widow

Who was once great among the nations!

She who was a princess among the provinces

Has become a forced laborer!

2. She weeps bitterly in the night,

And her tears are on her cheeks;

She has none to comfort her

Among all her lovers.

All her friends have dealt treacherously with her;

They have become her enemies.

True and lasting friends are loving people.

They will never lead you astray; in all that they do, they will seek the best for you.

And in times of trouble, they will be with you; they will not leave you or forsake you.

Jeremiah knew that the so-called friends of Judah and Jerusalem were only fair weather friends.

But the children of God would not listen to God, but sought these false friends instead.

Now Jeremiah is crying over the destruction they have brought upon themselves by turning away from God and trusting in the people and practices of other nations.

3. Judah has gone into exile under affliction,

And under harsh servitude;

She dwells among the nations,

But she has found no rest;

All her pursuers have overtaken her

In the midst of distress.

4. The roads of Zion are in mourning

Because no one comes to the appointed feasts.

All her gates are desolate;

Her priests are groaning,

Her virgins are afflicted,

And she herself is bitter.

5. Her adversaries have become her masters,

Her enemies prosper;

For the Lord has caused her grief

Because of the multitude of her transgressions;

Her little ones have gone away

As captives before the adversary.

6. And all her majesty

Has departed from the daughter of Zion;

Her princes have become like bucks

That have found no pasture;

And they have fled without strength

Before the pursuer.

The people, in their search for answers other than those from God, forgot the basic Ten Commandments and what God told them of Himself (Exodus 20:4-6).

4. " You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.

5. "You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,

6. but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

Over and over again, Jeremiah kept trying to make a stand for God, that the people might repent and return to the Lord their God, but they would not listen.

Thus, they received the curse rather than the blessing.

But once the people have lost everything, they remember what they had when they served the Lord their God.

7. In the days of her affliction and homelessness

Jerusalem remembers all her precious things

That were from the days of old

When her people fell into the hand of the adversary,

And no one helped her.

The adversaries saw her,

They mocked at her ruin.

8. Jerusalem sinned greatly,

Therefore she has become an unclean thing.

All who honored her despise her

Because they have seen her nakedness;

Even she herself groans and turns away.

9. Her uncleanness was in her skirts;

She did not consider her future;

Therefore she has fallen astonishingly;

She has no comforter.

"See, O Lord, my affliction,

For the enemy has magnified himself!"

Because Jeremiah lives in Jerusalem, he is suffering the same loss as the other people.

In essence, Jeremiah is suffering doubly: first, spiritually, because he feels the pain of God over the loss of the people; and secondly, because he is suffering the same physical loss as the people around him.

10. The adversary has stretched out his hand

Over all her precious things,

For she has seen the nations enter her sanctuary,

The ones whom Thou didst command

That they should not enter into Thy congregation.

11. All her people groan seeking bread;

They have given their precious things for food

To restore their lives themselves.

"See, O Lord, and look,

For I am despised."

12. "Is it nothing to all you who pass this way?

Look and see if there is any pain like my pain

Which was severely dealt out to me,

Which the Lord inflicted on the day of His fierce anger.

If we are truly children of God, we should be feeling much of this same pain today; for most of the people today, who claim to be children of God, are walking along the same broad road to destruction as did the Israelites at that time.

And if we need a better example than Jeremiah, then think about the example set by Jesus Christ.

They even crucified Him in their rejection of the salvation He brought.

If anyone was in a lonely place, it was Jesus; for even in His most trying moment, His disciples all ran away.

What would we have done?

Let’s be honest with ourselves.

And then consider what kind of stand we are making today.

Do we see only the evil and lose hope, or go along with it?

Or do we see beyond it to the promised restoration of God, as Jeremiah did (Lamentations 3:19-38).

19. Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness.

20. Surely my soul remembers

And is bowed down within me.

It is here, in the midst of all his pain, that Jeremiah lifts up his spiritual eyes and looks beyond the physical.

21. This I recall to my mind,

Therefore I have hope.

22. The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,

For His compassions never fail.

Even for those He is afflicting.

23. They are new every morning;

Great is Thy faithfulness.

24. "The Lord is my portion," says my soul,

"Therefore I have hope in Him."

What does our soul say to us?

25. The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,

To the person who seeks Him.

26. It is good that he waits silently

For the salvation of the Lord.

27. It is good for a man that he should bear

The yoke in his youth.

28. Let him sit alone and be silent

Since He has laid it on him.

29. Let him put his mouth in the dust,

Perhaps there is hope.

30. Let him give his cheek to the smiter;

Let him be filled with reproach.

Do we have the patience to do this?

Do we have the spiritual conviction to do this?

Is this what we are doing today?

It should be, if we know the ways of the Lord our God.

31. For the Lord will not reject forever,

32. For if He causes grief,

Then He will have compassion

According to His abundant lovingkindness.

33. For He does not afflict willingly,

Or grieve the sons of men.

34. To crush under His feet

All the prisoners of the land,

35. To deprive a man of justice

In the presence of the Most High,

36. To defraud a man in his lawsuit—

Of these things the Lord does not approve.

37. Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass,

Unless the Lord has commanded it?

38. Is it not from the mouth of the Most High

That both good and ill go forth?

Let me give you an example of how both good and ill can come from God by the way we act.

Let's assume that the power of an airplane's engine is the power of God, and that we are traveling at full power.

If we wish to go down, all we have to do is use less power, and we will go down.

But if we want to go up, and we are already at full power, we can only pull up the nose of the plane, but then the plane begins to fly slower, just as not everything with God goes quickly.

We have to keep our focus on the final results.

But let's say that the reason we had to climb was to avoid a high mountain before us.

If we were only intent on going fast, we would hit the mountain, even though the power of God was with us.

So, if we are willing to slow down and climb, we will miss the mountain.

But again, some people are in too much of a hurry, so they pull up on the nose of the plane too much, and lo, the plane starts to descend again.

The harder you pull back on the plane’s yoke, the faster it falls.

This happens when you get on the back side of the power curve, just as we can get on the back side of God's power curve, by trying to get ahead of Him, or by doing things counter to His rule book.

This is when we must allow ourselves to go on faith.

If you want to climb under these circumstances, you must push the plane’s nose down, so that we once again get enough forward speed to cause us to gain lift.

Thus, with God, we cannot go faster or stop or give up because we don't like the way God is leading us, because all of these choices could lead to our crashing, as happened to the people of Judah and Jerusalem.

On the other hand, we cannot ignore the evil in the world around us, for it is like a vast mountain before us that continues to grow.

And no matter how hard we try to avoid its realities of pain, suffering, death, and destruction, and climb over them, we will eventually crash into them.

But if we take some of our God-given power and redirect it to ending the pain and suffering of humans and animals alike, and the destruction of our environment, we will find that the mountain of evil before us is getting smaller, and we are no longer in danger of hitting it.

We have to learn to follow the rule book.

The One who wrote it will guide us to a safe landing.

This road might not be the broadest, but it’s surely the safest, and it's the only one that leads to heaven.

Amen.

Your Comments are welcome

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