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Righteous Living in a Doomed Nation, Part 6


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Loving like Jesus
Last week, we turned to Jesus for the fourth answer to the question found in Psalm 11:3 (If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?) as we examined what it means to lament for our nation. This week, we turn to Jesus and Paul to discover our fifth guideline: to love and bear reproach when the world hates us.

I must admit that when I taught the Sunday school lesson upon which this series is based, my fifth answer was limited to the loving part. I said that a righteous person living in a doomed nation needs to love like Jesus. After all, Jesus gave us this “new commandment” the night before He was crucified, and He stated that our ability to love people would be the mark of His disciples (John 13:34-35). Love is foundational to who we are and how we conduct ourselves; and love motivates us to endure when the world is against us (1 Peter 3:14). But upon further reflection, I realized that the two principles—loving and bearing reproach—should stand together.

 

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Righteous Living in a Doomed Nation, Part 5


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“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate.” Matthew 23:37-38

A Lament for His Nation
Jesus was a righteous man who lived in a doomed nation. Less than four decades after He uttered the above words, Judah would be destroyed by the Romans. And Jesus, as the God Man, knew it was going to happen.

Considering the purpose of this series, we now look to Jesus to give us our fourth answer to the Psalm 11:3 question: If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? Answer: We need to lament like Jesus.

What is a lament? It’s a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. It means to mourn deeply (and often audibly); to express sorrow, regret, or unhappiness about something. The Bible contains many passages of lament, such as the “How long?” psalms (e.g. Psalm 6, 13, 82, and 94), and a book devoted to the subject—Lamentations, in which Jeremiah mourns for Judah after she fell to the Babylonians in 586 bc.

While laments are often addressed to God by grieving human beings, Jesus’ lament in Matthew 23 is unique: it’s God sorrow over His unrepentant nation, including the prophecy of her coming destruction. Using a literary device called a synecdoche in which a part stands for the whole (Jerusalem for Judah), Jesus addresses the nation as her founding Lord and would-be protector: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”

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Righteous Living in a Doomed Nation, Part 4

Fight the Good Fight



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Fight the good fight of the faith. 1 Timothy 6:12a

[The writer of Psalm 11:3 posed this question:  If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? This series offers seven answers to that question. This week, we’ll look at the third:  Fight the Good Fight.]

No Hiding Allowed
In his dystopian novel Brave New World, Aldous Huxley depicted a population kept perpetually “happy” through the profligate consumption of a drug called soma. Feel sad? Take soma. Feel alone? Take soma.  Feel dissatisfied with life for whatever reason (or no reason) at all? Take soma. We remember, of course, that it was all a lie: soma could temporarily dull the pain of being human, but it could not sate the inner longing behind that pain. Soma could kill the body, but it could not produce true or lasting happiness—no matter how often or how loudly the lie was repeated by the state’s propagandists.

Huxley’s nightmarish vision of the future was built on a simple fact about human nature: some of us will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid what is painful and difficult in life.  Rather than face reality, we will seek an escape—no matter how destructive in the long run.

 

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Righteous Living in a Doomed Nation, Part 3


praying_with_bible_300x225When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? Psalm 56:3-4

[Godly believers living in a nation which has turned against God know that their nation is doomed unless a spiritual awakening comes to their land. Recognizing the anguish this causes God-fearing patriots, the writer of Psalm 11:3 posed this question:  If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? This series offers seven answers to that question. This week, we’ll look at the second: be trusting, not fearful.]

Do Not Fear
For years, I’ve heard the statement that the Bible contains 365 commands not to fear—one for every day of the year. While it’s a comforting thought, it’s evidently not true. According to the word search feature on my computer’s Bible program, the words fear, afraid¸ frightened and anxious appear about 600 times. However, once we add a negative qualifier (“fear not” ... “do not be afraid” ... “do not be anxious”), the number of prohibitions falls to just over 100—including these familiar favorites:

  • Isaiah 41:10 [Fear] not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
  • John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

  • Philippians 4:6 [Do] not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.


While we must put the 365 rumor to rest, 100+ commands is still a considerable number—which begs the question, “Why do we need so many?”  Because fear is a natural response to a dangerous world. And in that respect, some fears are actually good for us. For example, the fear of falling or the fear of pain can be beneficial because they encourage caution and keep us out of harm’s way. And, of course, the Bible commands us to “fear the Lord our God, for our good always” (Deuteronomy 6:24), and tells us that we ought to fear “not entering His rest” (Hebrews 4:1) by refusing to believe the promises of God.

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Righteous Living in a Doomed Nation, Part 2


EstherFor if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14)

[Last week, we considered how nations which turn their back on God come under divine judgment; and in light of Psalm 11:3, we asked what a righteous remnant of believers can do once it becomes clear that their nation is doomed.  This week, we’ll consider the first of seven answers to that question.]

Remember Esther
When the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke to Congress a few weeks ago, he mentioned a heroine of faith from Israel’s past, Queen Esther, who risked death by going before King Ahasuerus without his permission. In so doing, she successfully thwarted the plot by Haman the Agagite to annihilate the Jewish people living in the Persian Empire. Today, the Jews celebrate the festival of Purim in her honor.

In light of Paul’s words that the Old Testament was written for our instruction and encouragement (Romans 15:4), we too can learn from Esther’s story—especially two ideas gleaned from the passage quoted above. First, the phrase if you keep silent at this time reminds us that Christians are not saved to be silent. We are saved to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and His kingdom—no matter how unpopular that message may become.

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Righteous Living in a Doomed Nation, Part 1


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"Flight of the Prisoners" by James Tissot

Gather together, yes, gather, O shameless nation, before the decree takes effect -- before the day passes away like chaff -- before there comes upon you the burning anger of the LORD, before there comes upon you the day of the anger of the LORD. Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who do his just commands; seek righteousness; seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of the anger of the LORD.—Zephaniah 2:1-3

Judgment and Hope
For the past month, I’ve been teaching the Minor Prophets in my adult Sunday school class, specifically Nahum, Zephaniah, and Obadiah. You will remember that these men warned of impending national judgment—both against pagan nations like Assyria and Edom, and against the Jewish nation. The sins which brought about their ruin are familiar ones: idolatry, greed, corruption, abuse of power, exploitation of the poor and helpless, sexual debauchery, murder, violence, treachery, and cruelty. But their greatest sin (and the root of all the others) was their rebellion against the Lord (Zephaniah 3:1-2).

While Assyria and Edom suffered total annihilation, Judah’s fate was different. God offered His people a chance to escape the coming destruction by humbly repenting of their sins, seeking God’s forgiveness, and living righteously (Zephaniah 2:1-3). The prophets could not guarantee that every righteous person in Judah would escape death when the nation fell: they could only offer the hope that “perhaps” these individuals would become part of a godly remnant which would survive “the anger of the Lord” and later be restored (Zephaniah 3:17-20).

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