We are at war! We have the best commander leading us. We will suffer through trials. We need to grow. Through His prophets, apostles and teachers, The LORD admonishes His people the times are upon us: to 'Sigh and cry', 'Do not pray for them', and 'Esteem others better than ourselves'. These compatible admonitions only come as a result of: Knowing the Word and Mind of God, Preparing for the times ahead as He implements these admonitions, and Learning to live peaceably with all men as much as we are able with the same gentle humility of our LORD and Commander .
Sigh, Cry, and Esteem by Craig Clark, Pastor Freeland, Michigan January 14, 2023
On December 3, I gave a message titled, Band of Brethren. In that message I talked a little about the trials we have faced over the past few years and discussed a bit about why we face those trials.
I thought I would begin today by reading a few excepts from the conclusion of that message.
Earlier I read the Publisher’s Summary of the book, Beyond Band of Brothers, The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters. I want to read just the first sentence again.
In war, great commanders lead soldiers into hell to do the impossible.
There is no greater commander than Jesus Christ!
He is the Captain of our Salvation and we cannot ask for a better leader. He knows us better than we know ourselves.
And, He calls us His friends and brethren!
... It is through being at war, suffering through trials; especially when we face them together, with our brethren; that we can grow. Individually and collectively!
I then read 1 Peter 5/8-11.
1 Peter 5:8-11 NKJV Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (9) Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. (10) But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. (11) To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
I think it is important to keep these things in mind:
- We are at war!
- We have the best commander leading us.
- We will suffer through trials.
- We need to grow.
With those things in mind, I thought I would share with you two things that I want to grow in as we move forward.
Sigh and Cry
The basis of the first thing is found in the book of Ezekiel. Please turn to Ezekiel 9. We are going to look at a bit of prophesy here.
As you turn there, I want to read part of what I wrote in the note I sent out a week ago.
This week most of the world celebrated the beginning of a new year. Unfortunately, all we have really seen is more of the same. People don’t agree on much; they celebrate their rejection of God’s laws; and, there is much sadness everywhere you look. In the news, this week, there was a story of a man who drove his car off a cliff with his wife and children in the car and another story of a man who killed his wife and children before taking his own life. As Bill noted in his email and Rich in his reply, the world is filled with darkness. We know that the true light can overcome the darkness, but we are not to the point where Jesus is going to return, yet. We long for that day!
Sometimes, I think that we get to the point where we ignore some of the mess around us. Everything we see, read, or watch is filled with evil. So, at least in my case, I just try to ignore those parts.
I become numb to it all. After all, we know that things are bad and going to get worse. We read the prophesies, after all.
And, then, there are things like the article I read last Saturday morning about a school shooting that took place earlier in the week. A 6-year old student shot his teacher!
Truly, this world is filled with darkness!
That brings us to the first thing I want to grow in.
- Sign and cry over the abominations that are done.
As I mentioned earlier, the basis for this is found here in Ezekiel 9.
We are going to begin reading in verse 1, as I want to put some context around what this is all about. We will read verses 1-7. I should mention that we are going to be jumping right into the middle of a prophesy that God shared with Ezekiel, beginning in the previous chapter.
Ezekiel 9:1-7 NKJV Then He called out in my hearing with a loud voice, saying, "Let those who have charge over the city draw near, each with a deadly weapon in his hand." (2) And suddenly six men came from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with his battle-ax in his hand. One man among them was clothed with linen and had a writer's inkhorn at his side. They went in and stood beside the bronze altar. (3) Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub, where it had been, to the threshold of the temple. And He called to the man clothed with linen, who had the writer's inkhorn at his side; (4) and the LORD said to him, "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it." (5) To the others He said in my hearing, "Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity. (6) Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women; but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary." So they began with the elders who were before the temple. (7) Then He said to them, "Defile the temple, and fill the courts with the slain. Go out!" And they went out and killed in the city.
To get a better sense of what is taking place here, I want to read a bit from the Beyond Today Bible Commentary on this chapter.
The writer with the horn is instructed to mark the foreheads of those who "sigh and cry" over the abominations and idolatry around them. The sighing here is not just a brief exhalation of disappointment. It is an utter groaning of spirit—deeply grieving and feeling anguish over what is happening. Jesus likewise said, "Blessed are those who mourn" (Matthew 5:4). This does not mean an absence of any joy and happiness in life. Rather, it means regular and heartfelt sober reflection on the state of the world.
Of course, those who are truly grieved at the sins are those who follow righteousness. That does not mean they are perfect, but they strive to do God's will. They mourn over their own sins as well as over those of the world around them. They groan over the pain and suffering human beings inflict on one another through their sins. They are indignant and outraged at injustice and blasphemy against God and His truth. They constantly cry out to God to intervene. …
I want to read a bit more from the commentary, but before we do that, let’s read what Jesus says in Matthew 5/4. It was referenced in what we just read.
Matthew 5:4 NKJV Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.
While this certainly fits with what we are talking about, I also think it is important to read some of the other verses around this one, because they all go together.
Let’s start with the previous verse, verse 3:
Matthew 5:3-12 NKJV "Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
And, then, since we already read verse 4, we will continue with verse 5.
(5) Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. (6) Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. (7) Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. (8) Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. (9) Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. (10) Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The idea is that we should be striving to be all of these things. They all represent what a Christian should be. And, if we do exemplify these things, we will be filled with righteousness, obtain mercy, and be sons of God, and be with God, in God’s kingdom.
Part of that is that we should mourn – or sigh and cry – for the abominations that are done in the world.
Let’s go back to the Beyond Today Commentary and read a bit more of what it says about Ezekiel 9.
God says to begin with His sanctuary—the elders before the temple then being the actual starting point (Ezekiel 9:5-6). This clearly hearkens back to the abominations portrayed in the previous chapter.
The place to begin correction is always with those who should know better. In the early days of the tabernacle, Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu disobeyed God and were destroyed by fire (Leviticus 10:1-2). The precedent continues throughout time. The apostle Peter explained that "judgment must begin at the house of God" (1 Peter 4:17). This he said of God's New Testament Church. And in fact, the Church may well be the "sanctuary" of Ezekiel 9:6, at least in type. …
If the sanctuary in Ezekiel 9:6 is meant to portray the Church of God on some level … then the indication is that punishment would apparently fall first and foremost on apostates from God's truth. This would have to mean that the temple abominations of the previous chapter apply in part to such apostates—… possibly indicating the great falling away from God's truth foretold by the apostle Paul (2 Thessalonians 2). Moreover, there are degrees of responsibility even within the Church. The apostle James stated, "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment" (James 3:1). So the "elders before the temple," the first to be judged in Ezekiel 9:6, may well be apostate elders of God's Church. Paul sternly warned Church elders that savage wolves would rise up from among them (Acts 20:17, Acts 20:29-31).
It appears that those who do sigh and cry are marked for protection. But, I should also say that not all of those who follow God will be protected from the persecution that is prophesied to come.
In fact, later in Ezekiel we see that is the case. Let’s read a few versed from Ezekiel 21 next.
Ezekiel 21:1-7 NKJV And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, (2) "Son of man, set your face toward Jerusalem, preach against the holy places, and prophesy against the land of Israel; (3) and say to the land of Israel, 'Thus says the LORD: "Behold, I am against you, and I will draw My sword out of its sheath and cut off both righteous and wicked from you. (4) Because I will cut off both righteous and wicked from you, therefore My sword shall go out of its sheath against all flesh from south to north, (5) that all flesh may know that I, the LORD, have drawn My sword out of its sheath; it shall not return anymore." ' (6) Sigh therefore, son of man, with a breaking heart, and sigh with bitterness before their eyes. (7) And it shall be when they say to you, 'Why are you sighing?' that you shall answer, 'Because of the news; when it comes, every heart will melt, all hands will be feeble, every spirit will faint, and all knees will be weak as water. Behold, it is coming and shall be brought to pass,' says the Lord GOD."
The sighing and crying is not necessarily for those who will be killed, but for the cause that leads to it. That being, the disobedience to God and unwillingness to repent and truly turn back to God.
Do Not Pray for Them
I think this is explained pretty well in the book of Jeremiah. I want to read some things from a couple of chapters there to illustrate this. We are going to start with Jeremiah 7.
Jeremiah was prophesying at roughly the same time as Ezekiel. Ezekiel had been taken into captivity. Jeremiah remained in Judah. I am not exactly sure how much overlap there might have been. I think Jeremiah’s prophesies began a bit earlier, as he did prophesy during the reign of Josiah, while Ezekiel’s first prophesy came after some had been taken captive.
Jeremiah 7:1-20 NKJV The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, (2) "Stand in the gate of the LORD's house, and proclaim there this word, and say, 'Hear the word of the LORD, all you of Judah who enter in at these gates to worship the LORD!' " (3) Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: "Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. (4) Do not trust in these lying words, saying, 'The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD are these.'
God tells Judah that if they will turn back to Him, He will let them stay and He will come back and dwell with them. However, there were false prophets telling them that God will not destroy His temple in Jerusalem.
In essence they don’t need to do anything different from what they were doing and they would be okay.
(5) "For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, (6) if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, (7) then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.
The implication is that they were doing everything wrong and needed to repent and do the right things.
(8) "Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. (9) Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, (10) and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, 'We are delivered to do all these abominations'?
Doesn’t that sound a lot like what we see in the world today?
How many of you have heard of DEI? DEI stand for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. It is replacing “Equal Opportunity” and is the new buz in organizations, businesses, and communities. The idea is that we will be better organizations, businesses, and communities if we embrace DEI. And there are some good things with it.
However, it is not the answer to the world’s problems. In fact, in some ways it is the opposite.
We just read that God condemned Judah for being accepting of other ways of worship. You, “walk after other gods, whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations.’”
We cannot please God by being accepting of the things He is disapproving of.
(11) Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it," says the LORD. (12) "But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I set My name at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel.
God tells them to look at the example of Israel – what they did, and what He did to them.
(13) And now, because you have done all these works," says the LORD, "and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you, but you did not answer, (14) therefore I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to this place which I gave to you and your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. (15) And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brethren—the whole posterity of Ephraim.
I think this next part is directed at Jeremiah.
(16) "Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me; for I will not hear you. (17) Do you not see what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? (18) The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger. (19) Do they provoke Me to anger?" says the LORD. "Do they not provoke themselves, to the shame of their own faces?" (20) Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, My anger and My fury will be poured out on this place—on man and on beast, on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground. And it will burn and not be quenched."
They have been told to repent – over and over again. God sent prophet after prophet to let them know what would happen if they did not turn back to God wholeheartedly. And, now, after rejecting all the warnings; prophesies; and continually worshipping false gods, they still believe that they are okay because God’s temple is still there.
God says, don’t pray for them, I will not hear!
Turn over a few pages to Jeremiah 11. We see this admonition repeated.
Jeremiah 11:9-14 NKJV And the LORD said to me, "A conspiracy has been found among the men of Judah and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. (10) They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers who refused to hear My words, and they have gone after other gods to serve them; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken My covenant which I made with their fathers." (11) Therefore thus says the LORD: "Behold, I will surely bring calamity on them which they will not be able to escape; and though they cry out to Me, I will not listen to them. (12) Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry out to the gods to whom they offer incense, but they will not save them at all in the time of their trouble. (13) For according to the number of your cities were your gods, O Judah; and according to the number of the streets of Jerusalem you have set up altars to that shameful thing, altars to burn incense to Baal. (14) "So do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them; for I will not hear them in the time that they cry out to Me because of their trouble.
God tells Jeremiah, again, not to pray for them. He has had enough and is going to bring destruction upon them.
There is one more place that God tells Jeremiah the same thing. Jeremiah 14.
Jeremiah 14:10-12 NKJV Thus says the LORD to this people: "Thus they have loved to wander; They have not restrained their feet. Therefore the LORD does not accept them; He will remember their iniquity now, And punish their sins." (11) Then the LORD said to me, "Do not pray for this people, for their good. (12) When they fast, I will not hear their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I will not accept them. But I will consume them by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence."
I want to go back to the beginning and remind you what we are talking about. I said that there are two things I want to grow in as we move forward. The first of those is to “sigh and cry over the abominations that are done.”
Before we move on to the second thing I want to grow in, I want to raise a couple of questions.
- Why does God tell one prophet to “sigh and cry” while, at roughly the same time, He tells another of His prophets, “Do not pray for them?”
- Can we heed both admonitions at the same time?
- Did Jeremiah “sigh and cry” after being told not to pray for them?
I am not going to answer these now. But, we will come back to them.
Esteem Others Better
For now, I want to talk about the second thing that I want to work on.
And, at first, it may seem that these two things are incompatible. That’s why I thought I would raise the questions I did.
So, what is the second thing I want to grow in?
- Esteem others better than myself.
We are not going to spend nearly as much time discussing this one, because I think it is a bit more straightforward. It is something we all understand. The basis of it comes from the letter Paul wrote to the Philippians in Philippians 2.
So, let’s turn there and read what he wrote.
We will read verses 3 and 4.
Philippians 2:3-4 NKJV Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. (4) Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
There is a lot in the bible about humility; being humble. But, this application of it is not always easy for us. To consider others better than ourselves.
We all have talents and abilities. God has given them to us. So, no matter how well we do something; how good we are at it; it doesn’t make us better than others.
That is especially true when it comes to our calling. We only understand the truth because God has opened our minds. Sure, we have a part to play; a small part; we need to agree. “Yes, I will follow you and obey you.” But, it is only because of our calling that we can understand.
That does not make us better than others.
In the next verse, we are told to “let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” We are going to read that in minute, but before we do, I want to look at just one verse where Jesus tells us what His mind was like.
So, hold your place here and let’s read what Jesus said in Matthew 11/28-29.
Matthew 11:28-29 NKJV Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (29) Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
“For I am gentle and lowly in heart.” We know that. We experience that. He came to this earth to die for our sins!
Back to Philippians 2. This time we will pick up beginning in verse 5.
Philippians 2:5-8 NKJV Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, (6) who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, (7) but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. (8) And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
If this is His mind, we have no excuse! We, too, need to humble ourselves, and become obedient to the point of death – to do all we can to help in the process of saving others. We cannot do it, but we can assist God in fulfilling His plan.
Let’s turn to John 17. There is a verse here that I think is important to keep in mind with what we are talking about. This is something that Jesus said in His prayer to the Father that last Passover evening He spent with the disciples.
John 17:15 NKJV I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.
I think, sometimes, we want to be able to just go away from the mess of the world and live together with others who believe in and follow God, as He wants us to. But, that is not what we have been called to do.
There are lots of reasons for that. We are not going to explore those today. But, there is one passage that I do want to look at in this regard. It is something that Paul wrote to the Romans. I think Paul understood the role we play in the world.
Paul leaned humility. And, in the end he knew he set himself on a journey that was probably going to lead to his death. Yet, he was determined to preach the gospel to everyone, everywhere he possibly could.
In Romans 12/18-22, he provides us with advice we can live by today.
Romans 12:18-21 NKJV If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. (19) Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. (20) Therefore "IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM; IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP COALS OF FIRE ON HIS HEAD." (21) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
It doesn’t matter what happens to us; what we go through; what we face; whether we deserve it or not; We need to do whatever we can to get along with others; to esteem others better than ourselves.
It just might make a difference to them someday.
That’s the second thing I want to grow in – to esteem others better than myself.
So, we have talked about two things that I want to grow in. Sighing and crying over the abominations that are done.
Ezekiel 9:4 NKJV and the LORD said to him, "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it."
And, esteeming others better than myself.
Philippians 2:3 NKJV Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.
At the same time we talked about sighing and crying, we also looked at the instruction God gave to Jeremiah to not pray for those who he was prophesying about.
Earlier I asked three questions:
- Why does God tell one prophet to “sigh and cry” while, at roughly the same time, He tells another of His prophets, “Do not pray for them?”
- Can we heed both admonitions at the same time?
- Did Jeremiah “sigh and cry” after being told not to pray for them?
I should probably add a 4th question as we wrap things up.
- Can we “sigh and cry” and “esteem others better than ourselves: at the same time?
Are all of these things compatible?
The answer is “Yes!”
What are we really supposed to sigh and cry over? It isn’t what the people are suffering through or will suffer through. It is the fact that they continue to do what does not please God and will not repent. It is the circumstance that they are bringing upon themselves.
The suffering; the destruction; could be avoided, if they would just repent. We see the same thing is going to happen in the future. In Revelation 9 and 16, multiple times it says that even though they were suffering because of their disobedience they “did not repent.”
There does come a time, when we should not pray for people. If they refuse and/or have not intention of turning to God, He will not hear those prayers.
At the same time, we can mourn over the situation the world has brought upon itself through disobedience and unwillingness to repent.
I think that is what we see with Jeremiah. He did sigh and cry, while not praying for them. A whole book is devoted to that – Lamentations.
As for “esteeming others better” I think we have already covered how we do that, even for those who have no idea about what God’s way is all about.
We are to live peaceably with all men, as much as we are able. We are to be like Jesus Christ, who died for all of us. He has a plan that includes all of us!
These are the things I want to grow in. I hope by sharing them with you, that it will help you to think about where you are at and what things you want to focus on in the next year or so.
Passover will be here before we know it! It is never too early to examine our lives