The Place of Bitter Tears

Dr. Rob Green June 23, 2019
Outline

3 benefits of bitter tears

Psalm 6:6-7 - I am weary with my sighing; every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears. My eye has wasted away with grief; it has become old because of all my adversaries.

v. 12 - Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; do not be silent at my tears.

I. Bitter Tears Can Motivate Us to Find Direction

Esther 4:1 - When Mordecai learned all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city and wailed loudly and bitterly.

A. Bitter tears help us see what is most important

Esther 4:8 - He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict which had been issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show Esther and inform her, and to order her to go in to the king to implore his favor and to plead with him for her people.

Esther 4:13-14 - Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”

B. Bitter tears encourage us to remain dependent

Esther 4:16-17 - Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa and fast in my behalf. Don’t eat and don’t drink for three days, night or day. My female attendants and I will also fast in the same way. Afterward I will go to the king, even though it violates the law. If I perish, I perish! So Mordecai set out to do everything that Esther had instructed him.

II. Bitter Tears Can Motivate Us to Admit Wrong and Prepare to Move Forward

Matthew 26:75 - And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Matthew 26:33 - But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” All the disciples said the same thing too.

A. Peter admitted his wrong

B. Peter also moved forward

Acts 2:22-23 - Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.

1Peter 5:1-3 - Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.

III. Bitter Tears Can Motivate Us to Remember That Only Our Future Will Be Fully Satisfying

Matthew 2:16-18 - Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.”

Jeremiah 31:15 - The LORD says, “A sound is heard in Ramah, a sound of crying in bitter grief. It is the sound of Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are gone.”

“Tucked into these wonderful promises is Jeremiah 31:15, the lone verse in this chapter that reflects the current grief surrounding the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles. Jewish mothers have watched their sons go off to battle, some to die and others to be carried away captive to distant lands….Ramah was six miles north of Jerusalem; departing captive from Judah’s capital had to go through it on the road to the lands of the northern invaders.” (Craig Blomberg, “Matthew” in Commentary on the New Testament Use in the Old Testament ed. D. A. Carson and G. K. Beale [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007], 9).

A. Bitter tears are part of life here and now

B. Bitter tears encourage us to long for the days when all will be made right

Revelation 21:4 - …and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.

Good morning. Thank you for being so generous with us and providing some time off. My family and I just returned from a vacation in Utah where … yes … we once again put Rob’s life on the line. Stephanie’s Facebook page has several photos if you would like to see the latest installment of our adventures.

A few weeks ago, we started thinking about the subject of bitterness. I believe that is a common experience for all of us. Our annual theme is Growing What God Has Given.

  • Since we know that Bitterness will be an obstacle to growth it is important to handle it biblically lest it prevent us from accomplishing what God has called us to do.

One of the first things we learned in our series Growing by Overcoming Bitterness is that the concept of Bitterness in the Bible involves three distinct ideas.

  • Pastor Viars explained that there is such a thing as a: (1) Bitter lifestyle. It is sinful and destroys the person who is bitter. I think we all had some knowledge about that type. We will study it more carefully in the weeks to come. (2) Bitterness is an issue of the heart. Since it is a heart issue, it is going to require heart solutions. Bitterness will not be easy to remove. You cannot take a shower and get rid of bitterness, you cannot get a good night’s rest and get rid of bitterness. A bitter heart requires a much deeper solution and again we will study that more in the weeks to come. (3) Bitterness describes a person’s circumstances. This might be the most common way the concept of bitterness is used in the Bible. To say that a person experiences bitter circumstances is to say that life is hard, oppressive, abusive, and discouraging.
  • Pastor Viars spoke about different types of bitter circumstances faced by God’s people. As one illustration, we saw the Egyptians treated the Israelites with cruelty and oppression. We needed to avoid the respond of saying nothing and avoid the response of gossip and complaining.
  • He also explained that God’s people lamented in the midst of those circumstances. No gossip, no silence. Rather, they offered an honest appraisal of their situation. Rather than being disrespectful, it was actually a statement of trust, it was an opportunity to make bold requests, and to praise the Lord for his work.
  • One more commercial … sometimes our English versions use the word bitter or bitterly when the OT and NT words for bitter or bitterly are not. For example, in Hebrew we find a phrase “he wept with great weeping.” In our English Bibles it will say “he wept bitterly.” Those verses are not included in my study. Just those that use one of the Hebrew or Greek words for bitter.
  • The concept of tears does not have to be only limited to physical tears streaming down your face.
  • It can be the tears of the heart from all the challenges that we face.
  • If you cry that does not make you less of a person … or less of a man. In fact, in light of Psalm 39’s warning about holding it in, crying might actually be good for us.

The first three messages of this series are focused on this third aspect of “bitterness.”

Our task today is to talk about The Place of Bitter Tears. This idea is similar to lament, it may even be part of a lament. But the Bible shows us that bitter tears are not just an emotional response to hardship; they are not only the crying out to the Lord for rescue … they are motivation for action.

This message is not primarily expositional. You know that when I speak I prefer to talk about one passage of Scripture one phrase at a time. This sermon will not lend itself to that philosophy. Instead, what I am going to attempt to do [God willing successfully] is perform one portion of a biblical theology on bitterness (the portion where we find bitter tears).

The difference between an exposition and a BT is that we are trying to bring together what many passages contribute to an overall idea or concept. This sermon required more work on my part and it will require more work on your part this morning. So let’s put our thinking caps on and get to this important subject.

I would like us to consider 3 Benefits of Bitter Tears.

I am concerned that the word “tears” has already turned off some of the men in the room. You were taught as a boy that men do not cry. You learned to “just deal with it.” Let me say two things about that idea:

(1) Some people are more emotionally expressive than others. Some people wear their emotions on their sleeve while others are more guarded.

Even if you are not a person who expresses your feelings openly, the concepts we are talking about today are as real for you as they are for a person who cries at everything.

(2) There are some things worth crying about. These tears are not coming from a cheesy hallmark movie. They are in response to the bitter circumstances that have come from the actions of others and living in a harsh world.

To make this point more clear… I take comfort from the example of King David. When I think of a man’s man in the Bible my mind runs to David. Yet listen to the words David wrote in Psalm 6:

Psalm 6:6-7 I am weary with my sighing; Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears. Psa. 6:7 My eye has wasted away with grief; It has become old because of all my adversaries.

David says he cries himself to sleep. Every time I read that I marvel. Why?

  • Because the first time we read about David he is tending sheep. He is so insignificant he was not even invited to the party. But as the story continues he is anointed king!
  • Then he travels to the front lines to visit his brothers … hears Goliath … hears the rumor about the rewards offered to the one who kills Goliath … and offers to kill Goliath. (1 Samuel 17:25; 26; 30)
    • After all … what more could a man need than a girl, gold, and tax free status for the rest of his life?
    • Everyone else is running away – even the normal tough guys. David is running to the battle.
  • Saul does not initially allow him to fight until he learns that David has already killed a lion and a bear. He grabbed it by its beard and killed it. (17:34-36)
    • Normally lion – human and bear – human interactions do not work out so well for the human without a firearm involved.
  • After he kills Goliath there is a new hit record … “David has slain his ten thousands.”
    • David is a savage.
  • Saul’s daughter wants to marry David, but David has no money, because Saul is a liar and a cheat. So Saul makes him an offer. Bring back 100 Philistine foreskins and we will call it even. (18:25)
    • You do not just ask for those …
    • David does not start a GoFundMe account …
    • He takes a bunch of thugs and they go kill 200 Philistines
  • After David becomes king he has a group of mighty men. One of those mighty men was caught in a battle with just a couple men (the rest of the men fled) and they defeated the Philistine garrison. He killed so many and fought so long that his sword was frozen to his arm. Could you imagine him going home that night?
    • Everyone has to sit on the same side of the dinner table … as he cuts his steak with his sword.
  • Verses 1-3 describe Mordecai’s response. Verse 1 tells us that he wept bitterly. In fact, (v. 2) he could not do his job. If the chapter ended right here is would be incredibly discouraging, but that is not what happens.
    • The tears did not lead Mordecai to give up … but to give him focus and direction.
  • What if he had a “God is sovereign moment so I don’t need to do anything?”
  • What if he has a “I cannot do anything about it moment?”
  • One could argue that everything we are talking about this morning does not happen without the bitter tears associated with our circumstances.
  • But getting a new outfit does not do the trick.
  • So Esther tries a different approach. She sends her personal assistant to Mordecai to find out what is going on (vv. 5-6).
  • Go to the king and beg for his mercy upon our people.
  • Go to the king, even at the risk of your own death, and plead for God’s people.
  • What was he crying about? … the bitter circumstances … all the sudden made it super important.
  • We also find that the crisis … accompanied with bitter tears … was also the fuel for solutions by concentrating on what was important and remaining dependent on the Lord for his work.
  • It is the crisis moments that often represent milestones in our life. They make us pause, they make us slow down. They make us re-evaluate our life and purpose.
  • If you are experiencing bitter circumstances right now then maybe God wants to use those circumstances to give you focus and direction.
  • Maybe you have been here … you have been around church people … you are enjoying the fact that they are nice people.
  • But God is allowing the bitter circumstances to drive you to focus you to give you direction that your next step is to place your faith in Christ.
  • God wants you to have courage and wants to bring about a different direction.
  • Let the bitter circumstances that have led to your bitter tears produce the change that God desires.
  • After Jesus is arrested Peter follows. It is in the courtyard that Peter denies Christ three times.
  • After the final denial he understands what he has done and weeps bitterly over his lack of faithfulness to Christ.
  • His tears were a reflection of his betrayal of the Messiah.
  • Paul persecuted the church … in the days following his conversion, people were very nervous around Paul. It was scary to think of what he might do.
  • Peter was the guy who openly denied Christ shortly after his arrest.
  • Sometimes the bitter tears come as a direct result of the cruel treatment of others and other times they occur in our responses to various bitter circumstances.
  • Either way it is possible for the tears to help us.
  • Pastor Viars has explained before about the man who led him to Christ and from that point on he was moving in the direction of ministry.
  • Pastor Aucoin wanted to be an astronaut and came to Purdue to study. It was here that God fostered a desire for ministry.
  • One day the conviction and guilt overwhelmed me. I was weeping bitterly for hours in the middle of the night until exhaustion brought sleep.
  • But those bitter tears did something else … they caused me to prepare for what God wanted. They caused me to open up my hands and give up my plan and my way and say “Lord, I want your will in my life. You tell me what to do and I will do it.”
  • One can only imagine a little child pulled from the arms is his or her mother taken outside and a sword run through them. One can only imagine the tears of the mothers in this situation.
  • It reminds Matthew of Jeremiah 31. While most of the chapter is positive (I will come back to that) verse 15 also acknowledges what is happening at the moment.
  • So why Rachel? Rachel died in childbirth many years before Jeremiah or Matthew.
  • Thus, in Jeremiah she personifies the grieving mothers watching their sons march away for the last time.
  • She personifies the grieving mothers in Matthew who had their little children killed by the soldiers.
  • There are some griefs, like the grief of the death of a child or the unknown happenings of a child, that never go away. That is okay. God acknowledges that.
  • The context of Matthew 2 is the preservation of Messiah who will make all these things possible.
  • The grief that never goes away is in the context of the coming promises.
  • Find direction
  • Admit wrong and Prepare for the future
  • Remember that only our future will be fully satisfying

If you were sitting at a dinner party talking about how awesome and strong and tough we are. David just sits there … I killed 200 Philistines in order to win my wife. There is nothing to say to that. You just sit there and announce … you, sir, have the floor.

Listen … why tell that biblical story? Because that David … the savage … is the same man who in Psalm 6 said he cries himself to sleep. It is the same man who in Psalm 39 [remember the Psalm about not holding things in?] who says in v. 12 “Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; Do not be silent at my tears.” Tears are not necessarily a sign of unbiblical weakness or manipulation.

Whether it is the quiet tears of our hearts or the outward tears streaming down our face, we will see that Scripture explains 3 benefits of Bitter Tears. Let’s begin by turning to Esther 4. That is on page 366 of the front section of the Bible in the chair in front of you.

I. Bitter Tears can Motivate Us to Find Direction

Esther 4:1 When Mordecai learned all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city and wailed loudly and bitterly.

The context is that Haman, a high ranking official, convinced the king of Persia that all the Jews should be executed on the exact same day.

As I was talking with Pastor Viars about this sermon he asked an interesting question … Would Mordecai have gotten to that point without the bitter tears?

Esther’s initial solution to the struggle is to send him clothes (v. 4).

Here is where the chapter gets very interesting. Mordecai responds to her personal assistant (vv. 7-8) with detailed facts about what happened to him, about the plan, a copy of the edict, and an order to give to Esther [a plan, direction]!

She responds with “Do you know what you are asking?” (v. 11) Are you really want me to go before the king? You understand that this could cost me my life.

Mordecai responds with his final plea … If the king does not relent then you will be killed anyway. If you are unwilling to take on this task, then you will have not fulfilled your purpose and God will have to pick someone else in your place (vv. 13-14).

The final verses explain her willingness to carry out the plan (vv. 15-17).

How does this story help us answer the question of what value are bitter tears?

A. Bitter tears help us see what is most important

Esth. 4:8 He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict which had been issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show Esther and inform her, and to order her to go in to the king to implore his favor and to plead with him for her people.

Esth. 4:13 Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. 14 “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”

Mordecai’s tears may have kept him from doing his job before the king (because you were not allowed to wear sackcloth … be in mourning around the king), but it did not prevent him from finding solutions to the difficulty being faced. It did not prevent him from thinking about what is most important.

On that day and in that moment the bitter tears were bringing focus to Mordecai’s thoughts.

But the focus and direction does simply come from our own wisdom. It does not just come our own abilities.

B. Bitter Tears encourage us to remain dependent

Esther 4:16-17 “Go, assemble all the Jews who are found in Susa and fast in my behalf. Don’t eat and don’t drink for three days, night or day. My female attendants and I21 will also fast in the same way. Afterward I will go to the king, even though it violates the law.22 If I perish, I perish!” 4:17 So Mordecai set out to do everything that Esther had instructed him.

The news about the plan was serious enough to evoke a crisis response --- sackcloth and crying and tears. But that was not the whole story.

I want to encourage you to do a quick scan of your life. Has the Lord ever brought you to the place of grief / bitter tears for the purpose of helping you find direction through what is most important and helped you realize just how dependent you are?

No one is born saved. We do not always believe. There is a time when we learn about ourselves and we learn about God. It may be that the bitter circumstances you are facing are meant to help you see your need for Christ.

If you know Christ then maybe there is something that God wants to change in you. It will seem as risky as going before the king.

Was there something to grieve over in Mordecai’s case? Absolutely. Did the grief lead him to wallow in self-pity? Absolutely not – it led to direction.

II. Bitter Tears Can Motivate us to Admit Wrong and Prepare to Move Forward

Matthew 26:75 And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Jesus had explained to his disciples that he would be betrayed, he would suffer, he would die, and he would rise again.

His disciples heard the words but struggled to understand. Earlier in Matthew 26 we find these words:

Matt. 26:33 But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” 35 Peter said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” All the disciples said the same thing too.

Peter was not alone. He was not the only one saying that he would follow Jesus to the end. The story, however, focuses on Peter.

A. Peter Admitted his wrong

His tears were not tears that he was caught. They were not tears that he was not as amazing as he thought he was. His tears were not from the fact that he lost some special status in heaven.

Peter did not just admit he was wrong.

B. Peter also moved forward

Have you ever noticed that both Paul and Peter --- arguably the two most important apostles --- both had a past that would seemingly eliminate them from the possibility of ministry?

Both of those things could have been crippling and ensured that they never had an effective ministry for the Lord. But God had other ideas in mind.

Peter becomes bold …

In his first recorded sermon … he says among other things

Acts 2:22-23 “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know — 23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.

Ouch … that is bold. Just so you know … YOU NAILED HIM TO A CROSS THROUGH GODLESS MEN. You are responsible. Three thousand respond to that message and are saved.

A few decades later he is a pastor to the pastors …

1Pet. 5:1-3 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.

Here is the point that I am trying to make … bitter tears can lead to God honoring action.

In this case, they help us admit wrong and look for what God has in the future. I want to tell you a little story.

On our website each of the pastors explained their conversion and their story into ministry.

God did something similar with me. But it was much closer to Peter’s story. The outward was right. My church taught me to avoid the filthy five, the nasty nine, and the dirty dozen. But my heart was still struggling.

Maybe God is working in your life right now to bring you to a place of admitting wrong and to preparing for what God has in store next.

Friends, do not allow the bitter tears to be wasted. They are for action. In Mordecai’s case they gave focus and direction. In Peter’s case they led to repentance and a willingness to follow the Lord’s will.

I would like us to consider one final truth regarding the value of bitter tears.

III. Bitter Tears Can Motivate us to Remember that only our Future will be fully Satisfying

Matt. 2:16-18 Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the magi. 17 Then what had been spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: 18 “A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE.”

You also notice that the all capital letters are not meant for us to scream those words, but to recognize that they are a quotation from the OT. Matthew 2:18 quotes Jeremiah 31:15 which says:

Jer. 31:15 The LORD says, “A sound is heard in Ramah, a sound of crying in bitter grief. It is the sound of Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are gone.”

Matthew is putting a whole bunch of things together here. In Matthew the setting is that Herod killed all the children 2 years old and younger.

Blomberg writes, “Tucked into these wonderful promises is Jer. 31:15, the lone verse in this chapter that reflects the current grief surrounding the Assyrian ad Babylonian exiles. Jewish mothers have watched their sons go of to battle, some to die and other to be carried away captive to distant lands….Ramah was six miles north of Jerusalem; departing captive from Judah’s capital had to go through it on the road to the lands of the northern invaders.” (Craig Blomberg, “Matthew” in Commentary on the New Testament Use in the Old Testament ed. D. A. Carson and G. K. Beale [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007], 9).

The grief of the mothers in Jeremiah’s day was very similar to the grief of the mother’s in Matthew’s day.

Rachel was buried close to Ramah. Her final words were words of sorrow. She personifies the grief of a mother.

This is an experience that people share today. Losing a child is a grief that never goes away. Time does not heal all wounds. It is true that life moves on and there are duties and responsibilities at work, church, with living children, and with personal care that cause us to place our focus on the moment. But grief is always just below the surface.

A mom who has lost a child is one picture, one memory, one moment from bitter tears yet again. While they are not hourly tears like their were at one time, and while they might not even be daily tears, they exist and they strike at any moment.

I have even heard of Alzheimer and Dementia patients who struggle to remember the events of 2 minutes ago speak repeatedly of the loss of child in war, to disease, or to accident. Even as one’s mind slips the loss of a child does not go away.

Comfort in these moments does not come quickly or easily.

I think there are two very profound elements here …

A. Bitter Tears are part of life here and now

I do not have shy away from them. I do not have to hide them. They are part of life.

B. Bitter Tears encourage us to long for the days when all will be made right

The context of Jeremiah 31 is the future days in God will make a new covenant with his people through the Messiah. They will be restored to their land, their sins will be forgiven, and God will bless them with peace and prosperity.

That leads us to think about the greatest promise of them all …

Rev. 21:4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

But this is something I have to wait for. I do not get this now. I must wait until it is time for the Lord to take me home. Therefore, it is something I can look forward to.

Friends, Bitter tears are part of life. We do not have to be afraid of them. We do not have to think that our manhood or toughness get called into question because of tears. It is part of the life we live.

But that does not mean that we wallow in self pity either. The Bitter tears motivate us to action. In the passages we have seen they motivate us to


Dr. Rob Green

Roles

Pastor of Counseling and Seminary Ministries - Faith Church

Pastor of Counseling and Seminary Ministries - Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries

MABC Department Chair, Instructor - Faith Bible Seminary

Bio

B.S. - Engineering Physics, Ohio State University
M.Div. - Baptist Bible Seminary
Ph.D. - New Testament, Baptist Bible Seminary

Pastor Rob Green and his wife, Stephanie, joined the Faith staff in August, 2005.  Rob’s responsibilities include oversight of the Faith Biblical Counseling Ministry, Chair of the MABC program, and teaching New Testament at the Faith Bible Seminary. He serves on the council board of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and as a fellow at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.

Read Rob Green's Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Green to Faith Church.