The Agora
The Lamentations of Jeremiah

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The Ecclesia in the Lamentations

In our previous section, we examined some of the verses that prophetically portray Christ in the Lamentations. We know that the sufferings of Christ are a pattern for us. We should never contemplate these sufferings dispassionately, but rather we should enter as intimately as possible into their spirit.

Paul spoke of himself as suffering on behalf of the brethren at Colosse -- for which they rejoiced (Col 1:24). He spoke also of both himself and the Colossians "filling up that which is behind ('completing that which is lacking' --RSV) of the afflictions of Christ... for his body's sake, which is the ecclesia." It seems an extraordinary, even an impossible idea -- that Christ's "perfect" sacrifice is still lacking something! Yet it is true. We, who constitute the "body" of Christ, must fill up the measure of the crucifixion of the flesh with its lusts and desires. We, the "body", must finish what Christ the "head" began!

"For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation ('comfort' -- RSV) also aboundeth by Christ... (and if) we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer... and our hope of you is steadfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation" (2Co 1:5-7).
We the apostles, says Paul, suffer because Christ our Lord and Master suffered. And we suffer because we know it is the only pathway to the comforts, the consolations, of his kingdom. And so, Paul continues, 'we set you, the believers, a pattern for your own lives. We desire that you will follow in our steps -- not because we enjoy seeing your afflictions -- but rather because, for you as for us, the cross must precede the crown, and it is only through tribulation that any of us shall become as our Lord and enter his kingdom'.

Why else must we endure trials as followers of Christ?

"For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Why, we felt we had received the sentence of death..."
How could a merciful God, Who knows and even controls all our circumstances permit a man like Paul -- or any other child of His -- to fall into such distress?

"... But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead; He delivered us from so deadly a peril, and He will deliver us; on Him we have set our hope that He will deliver us again" (2Co 1:8-10, RSV).
Such a paradox, and yet it is true! Our weaknesses help us draw closer to an All-powerful God; our failures bind us more tightly to One who is all-victorious!

"And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2Co 12:9, 10).
We can scarcely leave this example of Paul without considering one further passage:

"But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death" (Phi 3:7-10).
Saul the Pharisee was an accomplished man, "righteous", ambitious, proud. He had intelligence, wealth, and an exalted position -- all at a young age. The world was his! But all those things that were "gain" to him, all the "pluses" on the balance sheet of his life, all these he gladly threw over -- so that he might follow Christ. For Paul the Apostle, there came to be only one ambition in life: "to know Christ".

But surely (one may ask) this Paul, with 30-odd years "in the Truth", already knew Christ? So why does he express his desire in such a way -- "that I may know Christ"? It is because "knowing Christ" is a lifetime's goal; there is no plateau where the traveller may safely stop and pitch his tent! To "know" Christ is to know the power of his resurrection, which is, as one brother expressed it, "the moral and spiritual implications of Christ's death and resurrection". To "know" Christ is to be made "conformable to his death", being buried with him in baptism, and then ever after being dedicated to reproducing the life of Christ in one's own life, in putting to death the lusts of the flesh. To "know" Christ is to be a partaker of his sufferings -- this is true and Biblical "fellowship"; it is not easy, but it is the only worthwhile goal of all human existence: "to know Christ and the fellowship of his sufferings".

Accepting this as our challenge in life, is there anything in the book of Lamentations that exhorts and encourages us along that way?

The Judah of Jeremiah's day was a nation that appeared to worship God. They pointed to their services in pride -- their deeds of "righteousness" were numerous. But their hearts were not in that worship! It was all a vain show and a pretence!

"Trust ye not in lying words, saying ye are the 'temple' of the LORD... Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; and come and stand before Me in this house, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations? Is this house, which is called by My Name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?" (Jer 7:4, 8-11).
They were thieves, because they stole service from God. They spent time and money on that which catered to their own lusts, and justified it all by standing periodically in the Temple and "singing" their own righteousness. What hypocrisy! What vanity! What blindness! But are their shortcomings so much greater than ours, that we can afford to feel confident with the comparison?

"Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me, that I am the LORD which exercise loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD" (Jer 9:23, 24).
Judah was materialistic, infatuated with "the world", ever seeking more and more money, more and more pleasure, more and more power -- "children" in their "playpens", oblivious to the impending storm. The time of testing came for God's ecclesia, in the days of Jeremiah, and they failed.

We will fail also, when our time of testing comes, if we have not used these peaceful, prosperous times to study, to pray, to work for God, and to prepare ourselves for what is surely coming on the earth.

Can we sec ourselves -- the Ecclesia of God -- in Lamentations?

1:2:         "She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: Among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: All her friends have dealt treacherously with her. They are become her enemies.''

Who are our "lovers" and "friends"? What do we trust in? Our bank accounts? Our homes? Our retirement plans? Our insurance policies?... Or God?

Israel trusted in Gentile alliances, and thought they would give her security. But they deserted her. And when it was too late, she discovered God had deserted her too!

"Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth... Seek ye the kingdom of God... sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Luke 12:15, 31, 33, 34).
Israel's Gentile alliances had been her undoing. We must guard against similar alliances (2Co 6:14-18). Perhaps the most insidious of such "unequal yokings" are those that masquerade as prudence and diligence in business, and "commendable" ambitions to "get ahead" in education and material things and work promotions. All of these can dull our spiritual sensibilities as surely and quickly as alien courtship and marriage, or the grosser forms of "worldliness" -- because they too force us to become more a part of this world than we need be.

2:10: "The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground, and keep silence: they have cast up dust upon their heads; they have girded themselves with sackcloth".

A sorrowful picture, of mourning and despondency. We are reminded of a recent circular letter, signed by a number of English brethren, lamenting the apathetic attitude of the brotherhood. This apathy is reflected, they say, in Bible reading decline, lack of campaign workers, lack of personal witnessing, ever-increasing materialism, declining contributions to the work of the Truth, and falling standards in dress and entertainment. What can be done? Is it already too late? When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on the earth? A "storm" is coming, that will sweep away the "refuge of lies", the "houses" built on the shifting sands of materialism, and the pseudo-disciples who cry, "Lord, Lord".

3:19-21: "Remembering mine affliction and my misery... my soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope."

Perhaps our salvation--as a community--will only come through the afflictions of the last days, which are even now looming on the horizon. Trials and afflictions, financial set-backs, and even persecution might accomplish for us what peace and prosperity have not -- that is, humble repentance and rededication and trust in God alone, before it is too late.

3:22: "It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not."

The trials, when they come, will not be for our destruction, if we repent. The trials will serve to turn us back to God, as we in our weakness and ineptitude recognize the only Source of hope and trust.

His compassions then will be like the manna in the wilderness, "new every morning" (v 23). When our bank accounts and our careful plans for tomorrow have all failed, then we may really learn how to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread", and how to say, "If the Lord will, we will do such-and-such." When the very fabric of our society begins to crumble, and there is literally no place to hide, then--if not before -- we may learn to say, with sincerity: "The LORD is my portion... therefore will I hope in Him" (v 24).

3:27: "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth."

All these lessons must not be lost on the young, especially. When we are young, we can lay the solid foundations that will sustain us in the years ahead, when trials and hard times and illness will come (Eccl 12:1). But if we squander the opportunities of our youth, we have no guarantees -- there may be no second or third chances.

3:31-33: "For the LORD will not cast off for ever: But though He cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. For He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men."

We may be assured that God will cause us grief to chasten us -- so that we might examine, and then amend, our ways. When that chastening comes, will we submit and learn thereby, or will we instead complain? "Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?" (v 39).

We are even now "alive in Christ" (Eph 2:13; Gal 2:20). We are even now God's children, and our future will be wonderful beyond imagining (1Jo 3:1-3). How could we, of all people, ever complain, even in the midst of trials -- which, as Paul says, are no more than light and momentary afflictions (2Co 4:17)?

5:1-4: Is it far-fetched to suppose that, in His mercy, God might bring such reproaches on His Ecclesia before it is too late? Loss of homes and wealth, break-up of families, destitution... But the flesh's failure can become the Spirit's successes. And if we as God's children need the lesson reinforced that we are still "strangers and pilgrims" on the earth, with no permanent dwelling-place, and no "fine prospects" in this wicked generation -- then, most assuredly, God will see that it is done.

Jeremiah's assistant, Baruch, provides an interesting example. Baruch was a faithful servant of God, but (like us?) he was not above a bit of petty grumbling. His complaint (and remember, every complaint is really a complaint against God!) went like this:

"Woe is me now! For the LORD hath added grief to my sorrow;
I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest" (Jer 45:3).
Baruch was very much like most of us. He wanted to have his cake, and eat it too. He wanted to see God's purpose fulfilled in the earth, but he wanted a good measure of personal comfort in the meanwhile. In short, he wanted God and "mammon"! God's answer to Baruch was blunt:

"Behold, that which I have built will I break down, and that which I have planted I will pluck up" (v 4).

Do you think, God said, that everything in this age should minister to your comfort? I have greater purposes to accomplish, and you are just one small piece of a large operation. Do you expect that I'm going to shake the foundations of your world, and topple all worldly institutions, while you escape unscathed?

"And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the LORD: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest" (v 5).
So it will be for us, brothers and sisters. We live at the end of an age, on the brink of a volcano. A time of testing is coming, to prepare us for Christ's return, and to teach us that we can place no trust in anything around us, but only in God. Do we seek "great things" for ourselves in this crumbling world? It is already too late. Let us pray God to spare only our lives.

Do we seek comfort now? It is a delusion. Do we somehow have the idea we can recline in our easy chairs and stare at our wide-screen color televisions, until the limousine comes to take us away to the kingdom? It is not to be, and the sooner we are rid of such fantasies the better!

"And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkedness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man" (Luke 21:34-36).
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