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Lamentations, Part 3: Hope in God's Faithfulness

October 25, 2020 Speaker: Daniel Nelms Series: Lamentations (Seven Weeks of Lament)

Passage: Lamentations 3

As we begin our time this morning, let’s read through Lamentations chapter 3.  This will be a larger portion of Scripture, around 42 verses.  This is the word of the Lord:

Lamentations 3:1–42

[1] I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath;  [2] he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light;  [3] surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long.   [4] He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones;  [5] he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation;  [6] he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago.   [7] He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy;  [8] though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; [9] he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked.   [10] He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; [11] he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate;  [12] he bent his bow and set me as a target for his arrow. [13] He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver;  [14] I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long.  [15] He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood. [16] He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; [17] my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is;  [18] so I say, “My endurance has perished;  so has my hope from the LORD.”  [19] Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!  [20] My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. 

 

[21] But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:  [22] The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;  [23] they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. [24] “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” [25] The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.  [26] It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.  [27] It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.  [28] Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him;  [29] let him put his mouth in the dust, there may yet be hope; [30] let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.  [31] For the Lord will not cast off forever,  [32] but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love;  [33] for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.  [34] To crush underfoot all the prisoners of the earth,  [35] to deny a man justice in the presence of the Most High,  [36] to subvert a man in his lawsuit, the Lord does not approve.  [37] Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?  [38] Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?  [39] Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins?  [40] Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD!  [41] Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven:  [42] “We have transgressed and rebelled, and you have not forgiven. (ESV)

 

            Week 3 of Lamentations is about hope in God’s faithfulness.  What we have here are two stories presented in this chapter of Lamentations – the author’s story, and God’s story.  The story of humankind can only make sense if heard and studied and considered beneath God’s story.  Our stories cannot be understood apart from it.  If we tried to do this, if we try and consider our narrative without God’s, without the Good News of Jesus, we will be found without meaning, and especially in times of challenge and immense trial, what purpose would we have to believe that any brighter future awaits us? 

            I want to visit Jerusalem’s story briefly, and remind ourselves that in context of this book of Lamentations, we are sitting with someone who watched Jerusalem burn and be conquered by the Babylonians.  As a citizen of Jerusalem, he also inherited the powerful stories of God’s previous salvation in Israel and his grand promises to them.  If we can just imagine this author sitting with a pen and a scroll, Jerusalem still raging with fire, flashing throughout his mind are all the old promises and stories he had received from his forefathers:

 

Abraham:  “I will make your family a great nation, and in you all families of the earth will be blessed.”

Moses:  “The LORD will establish [Israel] as a people holy to himself, as he has sword to you…. And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD…” Deut. 28:9-10

God speaking to David: “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.” 2 Samuel 7:16

The grand story of the Exodus from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea and countless other stories fill his mental space as he considers the current state of Jerusalem. This is the space where Lamentations was written.  It is also where the seeds of undying hope is born.  For within tragedy in our own stories, we inherit promises of God that give us reasons to hope that something greater does indeed lie beyond our current reality.  This hope is not easily received; often times you must fight for it. 

A current road map for this sermon:

1) We will look briefly at the author’s own story and get a little glimpse into his personal emotional state

2) We will then look at the hope he found in recalling God, his character, who he is, and why he can find glimmers of hope within such tragic circumstances
3) We will have honest look at ourselves, and our church, and a call to join the author of Lamentations in finding hope as Immanuel Church. 

Let’s look back at some personal statements from the author himself:

[1] I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath;  [2] he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light;  [3] surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long.   [4] He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones;  [5] he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation;  [6] he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago.

            As we see, we get a little glimpse into the story of the author, who tradition says was Jeremiah.  His story has been one of suffering, more accusations fly against God – that he has driven him into darkness, that God has turned his hand against him all day long.  His body is wasting away, and it’s God’s fault.  And on and on he goes.

            What is your story?  There is a good chance that none of you have lived in a city that has been besieged and burned and destroyed in front of your eyes.  But what is your story?  If you found the rare courage to speak aloud of the honest of your story, what would it be?

            We need to learn how to do this as a church, too, and I feel that this is a great challenge for this church.  I have a few difficult pastoral words for you as Immanuel, especially for those who have been here for a long time, and even if you are new here, I am speaking to you all as a man committed to the future of this church.  If this ship goes down I’ll sink with the boat.  So if I can ask permission to say a few more difficult pastoral words:

 

  • When I was hired on here at Immanuel, I heard from so many of you all the wonderful parts of Immanuel’s story, the grand and wonderful parts. It took months to learn the harder parts, and I still hear them more and more today.  The grand legacy of this church, as is the case with many historic churches with huge stories of past success in gospel ministry, can easily provide an ancient story to cling to, acting as a sort of blinders to our current one. 

Immanuel, we cannot relive the past, and I think as a church we need to learn to get our hearts and minds more out of the past and become much more invested into the present.  As the pastor here I think I’ve learned more about Immanuel in the 1970s and 1980s than I know about our current realities.  And there is more:

Every month I’ve been here thus far I’ve intentionally tried to spend time with more pastors, more local leaders and neighbors around this corner of the city, and as I introduce myself as the pastor here, the response is essentially always one of two:

- Not sure of where this church is, even from people who grew up here and live just blocks from the church (my barber from last week, for example)

- Or a recognition of the immense challenge we have before us to grow and change as a church (the response from a prominent non profit organization in the city)”

 

            Please know that I am not up here, enjoying saying these hard words.  I’m not interested in playing church politics, and trying to only cast the image of the church in a positive light at all costs.  I am only fully convinced that much of us here at Immanuel don’t really know the real state of our church because, we’ve been cut off in isolation from local churches for far too long, we’ve been separated from a church denomination for far too long, and we’ve been doing our own thing and our own version of ministry here for far too long without outside accountability and without outside relationships for the help and guidance and development of healthy church culture and even guidance in our church’s theological convictions for too long, specifically – I am afraid that our charismatic past as a church might have accidently given a feeling of self-dependency and self-sufficiency as a church for internal guidance alone without further external accountability from other churches – and I am trying to place these realities in front of you and say – these are massive contributing factors that have led Immanuel to its recent decline – and step one in change is seeing this, and knowing that perhaps your own understanding of your own church might not be accurate because of this church’s isolation from other healthy expressions of Jesus’ church.

 

Yes, this is a season of hard words, this is not fun for me, but Immanuel I’m here to pastor you in whatever means I can.  And I must try and speak as much truth as I can to your hearts, and lead how I must for the sake of Immanuel, whatever the cost may be.  There is a reason why in church revitalizations, a trend can often start of new pastors coming and going quickly, because they by necessity begin challenging age-old structural issues and try to re-aim the church towards a healthier future, and the biggest challenge for that church is accepting the need for this, and not clinging to how things used to be.

 

Yet, this is a sermon on hope, this will end as so as you will see, but in staying true to this chapter, this is how the author ends his personal narrative portion:

 

[16] He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; [17] my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is;  [18] so I say, “My endurance has perished;  so has my hope from the LORD.” 

            You might read this and say, well, our author here is finally defeated.  He’s done.  Maybe after the things I just said, you might be thinking, “well maybe this is a lost cause too.  What endurance do I have to see Immanuel through to any sort of brighter future after hearing what we heard? 

            But the author of Lamentations is not done, because God isn’t done.  Because the Gospel is actually true, and in the darkest of circumstances, hope still lies within, ready to surface and to take root.

[19] Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!  [20] My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.  [21] But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope

The Hebrew behind this phrase references a deep thought somewhere in his soul – something way deep in the caverns in here.  He looks deep.  The author says, my soul in my affliction is continually bowed down within me, I feel as if wormwood and gall has filled me!  But there’s something else in there as my soul is bowed down.  Something else lingers in there, even if I feel like I do not have hope, when my soul has been bowed down so low, another story is recalled. 

A story greater than my own.  A story from God himself about Jerusalem, about David, about our future as a people, and his future plans for this world.  So even though hope seems lost right now, I am still able to find hope for tomorrow.  The ashes of Jerusalem are not the final chapter – let’s look at the next verses, some of the most famous in our Bibles:

 

[22] The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; [23] they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. [24] “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” [25] The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.  [26] It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

 

            This word for steadfast word is unique, it is translated in various ways, like “lovingkindness” and the like – it refers to a love from God, a covenant love from God, that is NOT BASED ON THE RESPONSE OF THE RECEIVER.  It is a love from God that says I am committed to you!  Even if you are not committed to me!  My love rests on you, even if your love does not rest on me.  My hesed love, my steadfast love NEVER CEASES.

            His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning.  The morning hours are beautiful hours in my house.  The house is always quiet, the kids asleep, my wife and I wake up early while it is still quiet, we both camp out on the couch.  Piles of books lay all around us with pens and papers and Bibles, and we sit and we read, we pray, we write, we whisper this or that that we’re reading – and the day remains as a blank slate before us.  We do this for hours every morning because every single day is a new day, with new mercies from God that are never exhausted and I want continually explore these new mercies as the sun rises once again. 

            New mercies for a new day.  Immanuel, what happened in this church’s past has happened – but there are new mercies available for us.  As we MUST do the hard work of honesty concerning our current state, we look at tomorrow and say “God is committed to us in love.  He is faithful to us.  He has been, and he will be.”

            This idea of “new mercies” means that God has fresh, new mercies each and every day for you and I.  He is committed to you and I – and I want you to consider this.  We are going to sing at end of this service, “Great is your Faithfulness,” the old classic hymn that has been sung for so many generations, and in doing so we are publicly and corporately, together as a church family, recognizing that God is committed to Immanuel, he is committed to us, he is faithful to us, much more than we are faithful and committed to him.  I want you to feel the heaviness of such a thought, the weightiness of that – that the GOD OF THE UNIVERSE in an unthinkable fashion is committed to those he loves, to draw us ever closer to himself.

            His faithfulness to us looks like fresh new mercies every single morning because we need fresh new mercies every single day!  Mercy is given where it is needed, Jerusalem was in great need as it was on fire and in need of rebuilding.  Immanuel, this church is also in great need of mercy.  The new mercies of God in our lives and for our church can be likened to clean, fresh, spring water being poured into an old pitcher of murky water.  It cleanses us, flushing out the old and bringing in the new.  Jesus is always in the business of not pouring new wine into old wineskins and bursting them into destruction, but bringing new wine, and asking for us to provide new wine skins for his new work.

            There is no individual, or church anywhere, that reads of the faithfulness of God and the new mercies he provides and say, “nah, I don’t need new mercies, I’m good.”  No!  We need to be in an ever constant posture of humility to say, “Lord, if we need to change show us where!”  Especially if a church or a congregation is given a landmark event that reveals a grand need for change, which has happened here.  The only way this can work is to gain the posture of Jeremiah in this text as he continued on:

 

[24] “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” [25] The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.  [26] It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

 

            There is a another Hebrew word here that is unique – and it is the word ‘tov,’ what we translate as ‘good.’  For us in the West the modern conception of “good” are basic things that are agreeable, and not good are things that are not agreeable – like me as a born and raised guy from Georgia, growing up close to Atlanta, watching the Braves once again almost make it to the world series for the umpteenth time – that wasn’t good!

            Well, the word ‘tov’ in our Bibles mean so much more.  In the Old Testament, the word ‘tov’ is all that expresses the will of God.  I heard one author express it with the phrase, “Tov is when everything works out as it should in light of God’s divine plan.” 

            The LORD is tov to those who wait for him, for those who seek him.  It is tov that we wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. 

            We flourish the most when our steps are guided by the LORDs, when we wait for him before we move.  It is GOOD, it is TOV, that we recognize God’s salvation is always at hand, and that we wait quietly for him to act before we act.  This posture is a call to humility, to say “things are the way in which they should be when we allow God to guide us.”  It is a humble acceptance of a current reality, something that God has allowed to happen for his good purposes, and ultimately our betterment, and we must stop and pause and do the hard work of understanding, “What do you have for us in this, Lord?”  This is true congregationally for us, but this is also true for all of us who undergoes such challenging times.  We work with a basic assumption, even within the story of incredible and great pain, that God is disciplining us, because he is our Father.  Listen to the following verses:

Let him bury his face in the dust – there may yet be hope.  Let him offer his cheek to the one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace (NIV).  [31] For the Lord will not cast off forever,  [32] but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love;  [33] for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men. 

           
            We understand the author here as saying “Ok God, Jerusalem’s face is in the dust.  Let me eat the dust – there may yet be hope.”  This is a different posture than saying “Oh it’s all Babylon’s fault!  It’s so and so’s fault!  I know there was a rough patch in our story, but we’re JERUSALEM after all!  God’s most important city!  We just need to get up and keep moving, this is just another bump in the road.”

            No, he is trying to guide Israel in saying, “open your eyes to our current reality, you do need to be rebuilt, but there may yet be hope for a better tomorrow.”  In their case, the enemy was still against them, and the author says “OK, here’s my cheek, go ahead, this is where we are at right now.  Even if for a time, we feel as if we are cast off from the LORD, he isn’t going to do so forever.”  The New Testament has a very similar call to allowing the Lord to discipline us when necessary.  The author is Hebrews had this to say:

Hebrews 12:7–11

[7] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? [8] If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. [9] Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? [10] For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. [11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (ESV)

 

The author here has hope because he is recognizing Jerusalem’s immense trial as not a full rejection of God, but rather a discipline from him.  In other words, after so many warnings from the prophets that he sent to Jerusalem, calling out their wrong doing, he is saying “OK, this must happen.  I need you to rebuild my city in my likeness, for I am not casting you off, but I am giving you new mercies for a new beginning.” 

            “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?  Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come? “ 

            Let’s leap forward to the fulfillment of all this author is talking about.  Let’s leap forward in our process of lament as Immanuel, and I want to look at the Empty Tomb of Christ.  This will not be the last time we do so, as week 7 of this series is going to essentially be an Easter service, but more on that soon.  The reason why the Old Testament or Torah is not sufficient on its own is that Jerusalem fell because of sin.  Calamity occurs everywhere because of sin.  You and I are sinners.  There is no perfect church anywhere in this world because people are involved.  Because of sin. 

            The Empty Tomb is the ultimate promise of the Faithfulness of God to this world, and to our church, and to each of us.  It is an event, witnessed by hundreds of people, God’s way of showing this world that he is going to ultimately reverse everything that is wrong in this world, everything related to sin and death will forever be done away with once and for all.

            But there is an interesting statement in Revelation 21, when the story of this future time is told when heaven meets earth, Jesus says to the apostle John “Behold, I AM making all things new.”

            His future work is not only for the future.  The resurrection event is not just a promise for the future.  The giving of the Holy Spirit to us is his seal that is our guarantee of this inheritance, but moreso, the resurrection POWER of God is available to you and I right now.  Listen to these words as found in Romans 8:11 -

Romans 8:11

[11] If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (ESV)

 

            This is a promise.  No one is ever beyond the new mercies of God.  No church is ever beyond this because the Spirit of God is present in us, the SAME SPIRIT THAT ROSE CHRIST JESUS FROM THE DEAD.  The Spirit that dwells in us literally rose a DEAD MAN from the grave.

            The future of Jerusalem wasn’t easy as they returned, and their future looked very different from their past.  But they labored on the premises of the promises of God, they labored within that hope, and their hopes were proven to be true, as their labors eventually helped to carve the path for Jesus the Messiah to come and bring new wineskins of salvation to this world.  God has plans for this church – his plans are larger than ANY of us realize.  His plans for this church are BIGGER than we will ever imagine, because the fact that we are gathered here this morning, the fact that family after family has sat with me and said “you know after all that challenges that happened here, after much prayer God told me to stay” – so many of you have that testimony – I want to CALL YOU ALL right now to see Immanuel as God sees it, see it through the lens of the Holy Spirit, see it through the lens of the resurrection, of the faithfulness of God and say, “God isn’t done!  He isn’t done with us after all!”

            Great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see.  It’s a new morning, Immanuel.  New mercies we need to see.  May we sing this out with all of our might before God in prayer, asking that he may indeed fulfill his promises to us, his will for us – let us pray. 

More in Lamentations (Seven Weeks of Lament)

November 8, 2020

Lamentations, Part 5: Remember

November 1, 2020

Lamentations, Part 4: Idolatry

October 18, 2020

Lamentations, Part 2: God's Relationship to Good and Evil