2008-07-20am Lamentations 3 Great Is Thy Faithfulness
Did you notice the change in tone in this chapter? You probably noticed that it is longer, but did you notice that there was a difference in attitude?
The heart-wrenching cries, the sobbing, the raw pain has subsided. It is not as though the pain and suffering has lessened, rather, it is as though the body has started to recover, Jerusalem is starting to see through the pain, she is starting to see beyond the misery that remains just as real, but she’s pulling herself together.
Isn’t that similar to our experience?
The pain comes, and it is all you can do just to survive the pain, or the sorrow, or whatever it is. No matter what the situation, there’s a period of mourning, you mourn the lost hopes, the lost dreams. For a time, you simply exist. You barely function, you go through the motions. Life is just a blur, and afterward, you can barely remember what happened. One moment you’re at this place, then you’re at another place, and you can’t remember going from one place to the other!
But that stage doesn’t last forever. Eventually the tears dry up for a time. Your emotions get spent. You’re able to think and process what has gone on, and what is going on, and you’re starting to think about what will go on.
You move from reacting to the situation to actually contemplating the situation. You can stop and take stock.
And that’s precisely what Jeremiah is doing. That’s what Jerusalem is doing.
First Jeremiah contemplates again, the horrors that they’ve suffered. He lists what has happened. But there’s a difference here. This time, as he recounts the experience, he also includes his own experience, his own suffering. And as he does so, there’s the realisation of what has happened, and why.
This is from the Lord. No, Jeremiah wasn’t surprised by what happened. He’d been preaching about it for years. But even when you expect something painful to happen, even when you know that someone you love is going to die, even when you know that it will end their suffering, no matter how prepared you are, the reality of it still comes as a shock.
That’s what the first two chapters were like—describing the shock of the reality of Jerusalem’s destruction. God really did remove His presence from the Temple and he allowed its annihilation. God followed through on his promises. The judgement came, just as He said it would.
God is faithful. He is faithful to his word. If he promises curses, curses come. Though he might hold back his punishment for a time, though he might allow a righteous person grace, and therefore hold back on his wrath, he will do it. But when the time is right, as it was for Jerusalem, his promise came true. The destruction happened.
And in this chapter, we see the truth of this. No more is Jerusalem wailing against the evil nations that abandoned her. No more is she begging for relief from her oppressors. No more is she crying out for help from the unmoving witnesses.
No, she’s realised that her calamity is from God.
God is the author of her destruction.
And pain, oh such pain, pain inflicted even on God’s prophet Jeremiah. No, he did not escape the fall of Jerusalem unscathed. Here the author of Lamentations gives voice to his own suffering. God punished everyone, including the righteous! Did Jeremiah turn from God? Did Jeremiah serve other gods? Did Jeremiah give out false prophecies? Did he tell people what they wanted to hear? No, he consistently did his job. He told the truth. He told people what would happen if they neglected their God.
But the people did not heed his warning, and they suffered the consequences. And Jeremiah suffered the consequences as well!
Do not be surprised when calamity comes upon you! Of course, we know that Jeremiah wasn’t perfect, but still, he tried to serve God as best as he could! And yet, he suffered! In essence, God punished him in the same way that God punished the rest of Jerusalem!
What can we draw from this? What purpose, what sense can we make out of this?
It shows us that we’re not individuals! We’re a part of the world! We’re connected to the world! It is not an-us versus them-mentality! We’re not simply the good ones, the ones in the know, the ones in here, superior because we’re in church, and to hell with the rest of them.
No, we’re still out there! We’re still in the world! We’re attached to it, we’re connected to it! Therefore, we ought to care, we ought to be concerned that those people out there, the people who do not know the truth, are going to hell! And no matter what, that causes us pain! Not simply the pain of that knowledge, but also the pain and suffering of this world also comes to us. Like Jeremiah, we cannot escape it!
Now, we will not go to the same destruction as them. We will not experience the final punishment that the lost will. But we will go through fire. We will be tried and tested. We will not be zapped out, or excluded, or spared pain and suffering simply because we’re in the know. It does not work that way.
God does not discriminate with his justice. God does not discriminate with his discipline.
That’s what this is. This is discipline. God is breaking, humbling his stiff-necked people. He’s reminding them of who He is, and who they are.
Who are they to talk back to God? Who are they to argue and complain? God’s staff, his wooden spoon, if you will, has come against them, harshly, but not too harshly.
Listen to Jeremiah’s words in verse 19-26. “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’ The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
We do well to remember our pain and our sorrow and our suffering. We do well to remember that all this is from our Father’s hand. And though it is bitter pain, it is for our good.
For we are not consumed. We deserve to be consumed. In light of God’s holiness, we have none. We have nothing to stand on. We deserve what we’re getting. And yet, even at the moment of realising the magnitude of the suffering around him, the harshness of his own suffering, Jeremiah is yet able to see that there is hope. That God, even in his wrath, even in his anger, even in His justice is compassionate and merciful.
That even there in the smouldering, defenceless, wounded city, Jeremiah was able to turn his eyes upon God and see God’s great love. For if God did not love us, he would destroy us. If God did not love the people in the world, he would have destroyed the world. If God did not love our neighbours, our friends, our poor ignorant fellow earthlings, this planet, this universe would be no more!
God loves greatly. He is incredibly patient. He is longing for the salvation of many! His compassions are limitless. They will not run out. Even though Jerusalem, Judah, Israel, the whole world sins heinously, no amount, no number of sin can ever amount to more than God’s compassion. His compassion is never ending!
Every morning is the reality of God’s compassion, his faithfulness. Every morning is the fulfilment of God’s promise to Noah. “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Genesis 8:22).
“The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.”
Nothing could shake Jeremiah’s hope. He remained steadfast in the Lord. Even though he rightly could have said, “I’ve done nothing wrong! I’ve served you faithfully, even though I despaired and it was miserable for me! Why have you brought this destruction even on me? Aren’t I worth anything to you? Couldn’t you have spared me a bit?”
Jeremiah makes no such complaint! The Lord is his portion. What is wealth compared to the Lord? What is health compared to knowing the Father in Heaven? What is life, even, in comparison to the magnificence of the Lord?
Everything comes from God.
Therefore, let us always turn toward God. In our pain, our sorrow, let us turn to God. In our wealth, our health, our privilege, let us turn to God.
Let us echo the words of verses 40-42, “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven, and say: “We have sinned and rebelled and you have not forgiven.”
And let us hold onto this truth: “O Lord, you took up my case; you redeemed my life” (Lam. 3.58). And that’s precisely what the Lord has done for us through Jesus Christ. We are redeemed, we are forgiven, by His blood. Amen.