“The setting is Ohio State University about six or seven years ago in a huge lecture hall (approximately 1000 students) for a Calculus final.
Apparently this particular calculus teacher wasn't very well liked. He was one of those guys who would stand at the front of the class and yell out how much time was remaining before the end of a test, a real charmer. Since he was so busy gallivanting around the room making sure that nobody cheated and that everyone was aware of how much time they had left before their failure on the test was complete, he had the students stack the completed tests on the huge podium at the front of the room. This made for quite a mess, remember there were 1000 students in the class.
During this particular final, one guy entered the test needing a decent grade to pass the class. His only problem with Calculus was that he did poorly when rushed, and this guy standing in the front of the room barking out how much time was left before the tests had to be handed in didn't help him at all. He figured he wanted to assure himself of a good grade, so he hardly flinched when the professor said "pencils down and submit your scantron sheets and work to piles at the front of the room". Five minutes turned into ten, ten into twenty, twenty into forty...almost an hour after the test was "officially over", our friend finally put down his pencil, gathered up his work, and headed to the front of the hall to submit his final. The whole time, the professor sat at the front of the room, strangely waiting for the student to complete his exam.
"What do you think you're doing?" the professor asked as the student stood in front of him about to put down his exam on one of the neatly stacked piles of exams (the professor had plenty of time to stack the mountain of papers while he waited) It was clear that the professor had waited only to give the student a hard time.
"Turning in my exam," retorted the student confidently. "I'm afraid I have some bad news for you," the professor gloated, "Your exam is an hour late. You've failed it and, consequently, I'll see you next term when you repeat my course."
The student smiled slyly and asked the professor "Do you know who I am?"
"What?" replied the professor gruffly, annoyed that the student showed no sign of emotion.
The student rephrased the question mockingly, "Do you know what my name is?"
"No", snarled the professor.
The student looked the professor dead in the eyes and said slowly, "I didn't think so", as he lifted up one of the stacks half way, shoved his test neatly into the center of the stack, let the stack fall burying his test in the middle, turned around, and walked casually out of the huge lecture hall. “
If Jesus can use a conniving steward to make a point about how smart we should be in the use of our money, I want to use this illustration to make a point.
Each chapter in Lamentations has focused on one aspect of a difficult life. Chapter 1 spoke about “she” the ruin. Many are living a bummed out life. Some choice they have made or someone else made has hurt them and those they love.
Chapter 2 focused on the awareness of God’s judgment. The key word was “he.” We reap what we sow. This sounded like a meaningless platitude, but now we are living it, we see the ruin, realize it is our fault, and don’t know what to do. The Bible tells us to come to Jesus. The starting point for a new life is putting your faith in Jesus.
The key word in Chapter 3 is “I.” Jeremiah was depressed. He realized that with all the ruin around him, that his hope would need to be firmly placed in God. The key to dealing with depression was to take our eyes off the ruin, hope in God and wait. We suggested that you learn
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
The key word in Chapter 4 is “they.” The “they” are the enemies. They are the unreasonable calculus teacher. They are the ones who are after you and are very happy that you have gotten what they think you deserve.
Jeremiah highlights this, especially in
“Away! Unclean!” people cried at them. “Away! Away! Do not touch!” So they became fugitives and wanderers; people said among the nations, “They shall stay with us no longer.” The LORD himself has scattered them; he will regard them no more; no honor was shown to the priests, no favor to the elders. Our eyes failed, ever watching vainly for help; in our watching we watched for a nation which could not save. They dogged our steps so that we could not walk in our streets; our end drew near; our days were numbered, for our end had come. Our pursuers were swifter than the eagles in the heavens; they chased us on the mountains; they lay in wait for us in the wilderness. The breath of our nostrils, the LORD’s anointed, was captured in their pits, of whom we said, “Under his shadow we shall live among the nations.”
It was bad for Israel. People who once respected them now acted as though they were dirty or unclean. No one would let them stay in their territory or homes so they wandered. The Israelites looked for some nation to help them but no one stepped forward. The Babylonians came after them in the streets, followed them to the mountains and ambushed them in the wilderness. In verse 20, they had trusted in the king, called here the “Lord’s anointed.” They trusted that the king would guide them through the problem. The political system failed them.
Some of you either have been or are where Jeremiah was. The bill collectors are hounding you. The judicial system has either condemned you or let you down. Because of your actions, homes and places that you used to be welcome have locked the doors to you. They won’t answer your phone calls or answer your texts. You may be cut off from seeing your children or grandchildren. “They” are out to get you and are making life even more difficult for you than you think it should be.
You might have become a Christian during this time. You are now a follower of Jesus. You have recognized that you have sinned against God and owned up to your bad decisions. You are working on that new life. You struggle with depression, but you know that God can be a light of hope for you and you are pursuing that.
Yet there are those enemies. You know whom the “theys” are in your life. They won’t let up. What are you to do?
The answer is this:
sat down and ate when his enemies surrounded him.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
When you are working to change your life around, you have to ask this question, “Who is the most important person in my life?”
When you were heading in a downhill direction, the answer may have been that you were most important to yourself.
When you realized how bad you had done, the most important people were the ones you hurt needlessly. You desperately want their forgiveness and you want to be reconciled to them.
The Bible’s answer is that God needs to be the most important person in your life. When your enemies surround you, your first job is not to please them in hopes that they will become your friends, you first priority is to sit down at the table God has prepared for you in the presence of your enemies.
Please catch this. In the Old Testament, when you ate at someone’s house, it implied protection. When the men of Sodom wanted the angels to come out, Lot provided protection. When the men of Benjamin wanted to do harm to the prophet, the old man protected him. When you sit at God’s table, he provides protection from your enemies.
Your enemies may be able to take your house, your spouse, your children, your job, your money, and even your life, but they cannot take you. Your soul, the real you, is in the hands of God. God invites you to come and sit at his table.
Even though your enemies do not accept you, God accepts you. One way that guests were honored was to pour some oil over their head. If you didn’t, that was a form of insult. Simon did not do that when Jesus came to his house. If your faith is in Jesus, you are not only invited in, you come in as an honored guest.
Furthermore, your cup is overflowing. God has prepared a rich cup of spiritual blessings for those who trust Jesus. These spiritual blessing come to you no matter what might be in your past. Your enemies will bring up the past and throw it at you. When you sit at God’s table, he talks about the present and the future. You are forgiven. You have a new life. If anyone is in Christ, you are a new creation. The old has passed and the new has come. You are now in God’s family. You are seated with Christ in the heavenly realm. You have a future in heaven.
If God is with you and for you, you can stand against the world. God will help you to love your enemies and do good to those who despitefully use you. He will guide you towards any possible reconciliation. The new life will be different. Change will be required.
So what do you do with your enemies?
There is a new reality, a new relationship, now that you have asked Jesus to be your savior. If you put Jesus first, then you must initially ignore the demands of your enemies. Don’t do that the enemies ask you, do what Jesus asks you. Sit at his table, enjoy his food, listen to his voice and block out the demands of those who are not impressed with your “new life.”
Sometimes the demands of your enemies are what you should do. God wants us to pay our debts. It’s the loving thing to do. God wants us to apologize if we have done something wrong.
When we sit and eat with God, who has forgiven us, we realize that we need to swallow our pride and step up and take responsibility for what we have done.
Sometimes the demands of our enemies are not right. You so want their approval that you are willing to do things that you know are wrong in hopes that you will be able to restore the relationship. A man breaks up with his girlfriend because she won’t go to bed with her. She is deeply hurt by both the request and because she really likes the guy. He blames her for the situation. So what does she do?
The answer to that depends on whose table she is sitting at. If she wants to sit at his table, she does what he wants and gives in. If she is sitting at the Lord’s table, she does what Jesus wants and says, “no.”
When a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.
This is a proverb, so it doesn’t always work this way. But in a lot of cases, when you hold your ground on something that is obviously wrong, you gain the respect of your enemies.
When you pay your debts, when you ask forgiveness, when you take responsibility because you know that you are responsible, this pleases the Lord. It also has the potential to bring peace.
when you are in contact with your enemies.
Jesus wants you to love your enemies and to do good to those who despitefully use you. If Jesus goes with you, he will help you control your anger, your language, your attitudes and your actions.
You can listen to whatever your enemies say understanding the bottom line. The bottom line is that you will do what Jesus wants you to do, not what your enemies want you to do. If your enemies agree with Jesus, then you do whatever in the name of Jesus. If they disagree, you follow Jesus.
I want to leave you with the story of Daniel. Daniel was one of the people taken away from Jerusalem. He came to Babylon and was educated and elevated to an important position as a result of his high intelligence, character and spirituality.
Some of the Babylonians were upset that a Jewish slave was over them. They convinced the king to make an edict that everyone would bow down and worship the king as a God or be killed. When Daniel heard it, he opened up his windows, knelt down and prayed to the God of the Bible, just as he did any other day. He was caught praying to God.
The king was in a hard spot. He liked Daniel and didn’t realize the effect of his rash decision. He had to follow through.
Daniel was thrown into a den of hungry lions and survived. How did he survive? God was with him.
God shut the mouth of the lions and Daniel slept the night through.
Over the years there have been godly people who have been eaten by lions. God doesn’t always protect everyone from everything. But godly people, no matter what else they lose, always have God.
With God comes Jesus. With Jesus comes peace. That peace is what sustains us in the presence of our enemies.
Sit down! Sit down at his table! Sit down with God.