Written Sermons & Bible Studies

Lament and Hope: Finding Light in the Darkness, Return to God (Repentance)

During the season of Lent, we are exploring Lamentations. In Chapter 3, we see the people of Israel seeking comfort from their sorrow, loss, and distress. They are lost and despondent. God feels far away if not totally absent.

In the Jewish faith in 580 BC, the temple was the center of worship of Yahweh. People came from all over Judah to attend the many religious festivals held in Jerusalem. Sacrifice was given at the temple. A faithful Jew centered their whole relationship to God around the Temple of Solomon. The temple housed the Ark of the Covenant. God dwelled in the Temple.

Yet, God destroyed the temple without regard for the structure or for those who worshipped him. The Ark of the Covenant was taken away by pagans. The Ark that had been with the people since Moses was gone. It has not been seen since the Babylonians took it. Everything that the people knew of worshipping Yahweh was destroyed. The hardest part to accept was God’s disregard for both the Temple and the Ark of the Covenant. Neither held any significance for Yahweh.

In Lamentations 3, we hear the poet’s lament of losing God’s guiding light.

Lamentations 3:1-3

I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
2 He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
3 indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.

To understand why God destroyed the place of worship, we need to know about the writers of Lamentations. I talk about the poet, but the Book of Lamentations was likely written by several priests and scribes. The book describes the destruction of Judah and the temple and lays the fault with the nation of Judah. Yet the priests were its leaders. As I look at the destruction of Judah, I see a corrupt priesthood. They used the temple as a source of power and wealth. God destroys the temple and the Ark not to demonstrate God’s presence leaving Jerusalem. God destroys the temple and the Ark because they became a source of human power, wealth and abuse. I see a similar condemnation of the temple leaders and priestly culture during the life of Jesus.

Luke 19:45-46 (NIV)

When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.

In 70 A.D., the Romans would destroy the Temple again and it would never be rebuilt. History repeats itself.

In Lamentations, I see God stating emphatically, I am not the temple, I am not the Ark, I am not the priests, I am not the scribes, I am not the King, I am not the city. I am God.  “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” “Return to Me.”

Long before the destruction of Judah, King David would write Psalm 23. It gives a strong image of God as a shepherd who cares, protects and provides for the sheep.

Psalm 23:1

The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.

In Lamentations 3:2, the poet describes feeling like God drove him away and now he walks in darkness and not in light. I imagine that as people from Judah left Jerusalem and spread across the globe, they experienced darkness. They had a hard time seeing any light.

In Lamentations, we see a reversal of this powerful role of God as the people’s Shepherd. In Lamentations, the unnamed shepherd leads the sheep into darkness. In my interpretation of the passage, I see the religious and political leaders of Judah as the bad shepherds who lead the people into darkness.

As I look around the Christian landscape today, I sadly see the same picture I see in Lamentations. I see religious leaders who do not take their role as shepherds guiding the flock to light with a fear of God and God’s wrath.

As Christians, we know Jesus as our Good Shepherd.

John 10:11-13

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

Pastors and churches are responsible for pointing people to Christ for their care, protection and provision. We should be alarmed when church leaders abuse their role and hurt people.

As I have spent time around people of faith, I have met too many that were injured by churches. Some have served in ministry. Others have been members. We saw the fall of Hillsong, New York. Then Hillsong International. Recently, the founder of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City has experienced allegations of abuse. In Chicago, Willow Creek’s leader faced scandals of sexual abuse. Mars Hill also had allegations of leadership abuse. Locally, a prominent church leader in Austin just fell in disgrace.

Spend much time around religious organizations and human power, wealth, corruption and abuse surface. Certainly not all; many faithfully do the work of Christ. It is also not limited to large churches. One of my mentors ministered in the wake of abuse in smaller churches.
Why do I bring this up? Because God was not the temple, the Ark or the Priesthood. God didn’t need any of those in 587 BC to be God. God didn’t require any of those to be the people’s Shepherd. The people of Judah would scatter around the globe. God was there with them. They had no temple, no Ark and no priests, but they had God.
Today, Christ is not some mega church or small neighborhood church. Christ is not some celebrity pastor or small church shepherd. Christ is not our version of church. Christ does not need the “church.” The church needs Christ.
We have been singing, “I Speak Jesus” for some time now. Our church needs Christ. We need Christ. As a church, we bring healing and life only when we “Speak Jesus.”

For those injured by a church or a pastor, Christ did not injure you. A prideful or abusive person injured you. A corrupt institution injured you. Christ did not injure you. It is in Christ that you will find healing. “Return to Christ.”
On the one hand, as for me, I strive to be your shepherd. I work to be faithful to my Shepherd as Christ’s hired hand. But it is not me who is your shepherd. Christ is your Shepherd. Jesus gave his life that you may be saved. Look to Christ.
The poet of Lamentations tells the people of Judah the same message. With no earthly temple remaining, with no earthly vessels of faith surviving, with many of the priests dead, the poet tells the people to look to God.

Lamentations 3:22-27

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
Our hope is in Christ. Our forgiveness is in Christ. Our healing is in Christ. Our salvation is in Christ. “Return to Christ.”

Lent invites us to “Return to Christ.” It is a season of repentance. In old English, Lent means springtime. It is a season of renewal and new life. As we prepare for our renewal and new life on Easter Sunday, Lent is a time of acknowledging our shortcomings, and seeking God’s forgiveness. We lament and prepare for the revival of our life and the healing of our wounds. We call out to God in our suffering, we grow closer to God and learn obedience in our faith. We turn to God in prayer and petition that we may be heard.

In Ancient Israel, Ezekiel tells the people of Judah to rid themselves of all offenses to God and to seek God in prayer and repentance. 

Ezekiel 18:31-32

Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

We see Jesus seeking God with prayers and petitions before his death on the cross.

Hebrews 5:7-10

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

Here is a story of the journey of a man named Thomas as he returns to Christ.

Thomas, once a strong believer, saw his faith crushed when his long-time pastor was credibly accused of sexual misconduct. He had looked up to this pastor as a godly person. He felt like he grew from the biblical teachings on all areas of life. He admired the pastor’s marriage and family, which he held up as a model in his mind. The pastor seemed to know the right way to live. The pastor’s sin and hypocrisy fell very hard on Thomas. When he thought about how the pastor’s family must feel, he felt nauseous. He stopped going to the church, because even entering the building filled him with disgust. The connection he once felt with Christ was obscured by the disappointment he felt toward the pastor. News of other church scandals and controversies left him more disillusioned. He found himself questioning his faith.

As Lent approached, Thomas thought about how meaningful the season had been for him. Lent marked a time of personal reflection and focus on Jesus’s journey to the cross. He decided to observe it, hoping to find peace. As Thomas thumbed through his bible for a Lenten devotional, he stopped on Lamentations 3:40-42:

“Let us examine our ways and test them,

and let us return to the Lord.

Let us lift up our hearts and our hands

to God in heaven, and say: ‘

We have sinned and rebelled

and you have not forgiven.'”

The verse called him out of his spiritual lethargy and lament. It called him into a heartfelt repentance. Thomas realized that his faith had become more about the external—about churches and leaders—than about the internal journey with Christ. He sought Christ in the wrong places. Christ was not in structures and systems but in his own heart.

In that moment, Thomas felt a deep urge to “return to Christ.” He used Lent as a springboard for this return. He dedicated time to prayer and reading the Scriptures. He focused on his relationship with Christ. He sought forgiveness for his own failings. He began to let go of his grievances.

As Easter dawned, Thomas found himself transformed. The journey through Lent brought him back to Christ and renewed his spirit. He learned that faith was not found in a leader or in a place of worship. Faith was about one’s personal, often imperfect journey with Christ. Returning to Christ, Thomas found healing, forgiveness, and eternal salvation.

Preparing for Communion

As we journey through Lent together, Lord guide us so that we may come before you with humble hearts. We have wandered, and we’ve sought You in the wrong places. Lord, we thank You for unwavering love that calls us back to You. In faith we seek you alone.

As we reflect in preparation for communion, we ask for Your grace to examine our ways, to recognize our failings, and to embrace the forgiveness that You freely offer. Teach us to seek You in the quiet of our hearts, where Your Spirit dwells.

As we prepare for the resurrection joy of Easter, renew our spirits, Lord. May our journey back to You be filled with the light of Your love, guiding us to live out our faith with integrity and compassion. Help us with the lessons of this Lenten season. May we bring them into our daily lives.

In the name of Jesus, our Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for us, we pray,

Amen.

About Pastor Tim

Tim Holmes

Senior Pastor

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