TEXT: Lamentations 3 (ESV)|
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
It’s good to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And one thing I want you to know — and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first time with us or if you’re worshipping at our North Main campus — one thing I want you to know is that God loves you and I love you too.
And we’re in week three of a series we’re calling Finding Jesus. And in this series I want you to see that you can read and understand all of the Bible — because the whole Bible is telling one story — the story of Jesus. And once you know the one story the whole Bible is telling — it becomes easier to understand some of the places in the Bible you may have avoided in the past.
Here’s another way to think of what we’re doing. Think of reading the Bible like exercise. Running a marathon starts with a first step. And then a second. And then a third. And so on. It starts with walking, then jogging, and then running a quarter mile. You have to build up to running a marathon. And understanding the Bible is similar. There are steps you can take to better understand the Bible. But it all starts with opening it up and reading it.
Now I’ve been asking you to bring a physical Bible with you during this series and here’s why. According to a study that came out last month — by Barna research — 90% of people in the US who read the Bible use a physical Bible. That’s 30% higher than digital Bible reading. And — in knowing this — it seems to make sense to have you bring the Bible you’re reading throughout the week with you to Gateway so I can show you — in the Bible you read all week long — what we’re looking at. That way you can take notes, circle words, or make highlights so when you’re reading your Bible — you’ve got things from our time together to help you throughout the week.
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
So let’s open our Bibles to the book of Lamentations. We’ll be looking at the third chapter of Lamentations together today as we continue in our Finding Jesus series.
And, if you’re a guest with us, something we like to do at Gateway is let you ask questions. So if you have a question during the sermon, you can text your question in to the number printed on the bulletin or you can submit it on the Gateway app.
OVERVIEW OF LAMENTATIONS
How do you respond to the evil in our world and the suffering it produces? Throughout history, men and women have written book after book on the issue of evil and suffering. Every generation has wrestled with the idea of evil and suffering. From the academics in universities to the mom who wonders where her family’s next meal will come from — one thing we can all agree on — is that there is evil and suffering.
And — if we’re honest — evil and suffering are really hard to understand. From mass shootings to racism, children going without food to abusive dictators — even things like car accidents that take the lives of those we love or military veterans who return from war with PTSD. We struggle with why evil and suffering exist.
Now many people use evil and suffering against God. “If God is good, then He must not be all-powerful because evil and suffering exist,” they say. Or “if He’s all-powerful, He must not be good.” But — in actuality — our questions don’t trap God like we think they do. In fact, these kinds of questions reveal more about our heart than they force God into a corner. Here’s why.
Suffering has a way of helping us see what’s ultimate in our lives like nothing else. Suffering helps us realize what’s really most important to us — not just what we say is most important when life’s going our way — it reveals what we value most.
And in the Bible, we find the answer to our why question — why does evil and suffering exist? And the Bible tells us that evil and suffering are a result of sin. That though many of us are moral, productive, and kind people — none of us are without sin. And we don’t like the Bible’s answer to our why question because it confronts our natural inclination to blame something other than ourselves for the suffering and evil in the world. We want to look outside of ourselves for the reason why things are the way they are, but the Bible forces us inward.
The Bible’s brutally honest with us — which is refreshing in a way — as culture and other religions seem to agree with us — the problem’s out there. But the Bible is refreshing not only because it challenges our tendency to blame others — but it also gives us a reason to have hope in this world of evil and suffering. And it’s this hope that we’ll discover today.
If you want to know what the book of Lamentations is about, here’s how one pastor has summarized it: “Life is hard; God is good.” That’s the book of Lamentations in a nutshell. Life is hard; God is good.
Life is hard, right? Some of you don’t know this yet, but life can be brutal. Just here in our congregation, we’ve got broken marriages, people fighting cancer, people struggling with addictions, and numbers of your children who’ve given up on the Christian faith. We’ve got a middle school aged boy who’s got open-heart surgery plans in the near future — that wasn’t on his family’s radar a few weeks ago. We’ve got young parents whose baby girl has more heart surgeries in her future. We’ve got a husband trying to hold on to hope while he watches his wife suffer with an illness that’s killing her. And the list of suffering goes on and on and on.
One writer captured a truth well in his words, “I walked a mile with Pleasure; she chattered all the way; but left me none the wiser, for all she had to say. I walked a mile with Sorrow; and not a word said she; but, oh, the things I learned from her; when sorrow walked with me.”
When sorrow becomes your companion, will you learn from her? Will you have reason to be hopeful when this world throws suffering your way? If you’re in the thick of suffering right now — be honest — do you have hope? What Lamentations tells us is there is reason to have hope even in sorrow and suffering. Why? Because though life is hard; God is good.
Now what does this book’s title mean, Lamentations? It comes from the word lament. And a lament is “a song of mourning or sorrow...caused by bereavement, personal trouble, national disaster, or the judgment of God.” So when you think of a lament — we’re not thinking “happy go lucky songs” about the good times of life — we’re thinking biblically truthful songs about the sorrows and sufferings of life.
Now our book isn’t the only place in the Bible where we find lament. There are 150 psalms in the Book of Psalms. Fifty-nine of them are laments. Now the book of Psalms is essentially the hymnal of the Old Testament and more than a third of it are songs of mourning or sorrow. Now compare that to what you hear on K-Love or the songs sung in churches on most weekends. Somehow we’ve lost sight — at least here in the US — we’ve lost sight as Christians that expressing sorrow and mourning is OK — it’s not a sign of spiritual weakness — lamenting is biblical. And — often — when life slams us — we don’t know what to do because we haven’t been taught how to lament — we haven’t spent time in the psalms with David — or time in the book we’re looking at today — an entire book about how to mourn and grieve when life is hard due to the evil and suffering in our world. And when we don’t know how to lament — when life gets hard — we get angry. Angry at God. Angry at others. Angry at ourselves. And our anger never produces hope.
Now the book of Lamentations is a collection of five poems or songs. And it’s actually a literary work of art in the Hebrew language — so let me tell you what’s going on in the Hebrew because the artistry doesn’t come across well in our English Bibles. Lamentations has five poems and each poem is an acrostic of the Hebrew alphabet. What does that mean? That means that each new verse in the poems begins with a new letter of the Hebrew alphabet. There are 22 letters, so each chapter — each poem — has 22 verses.
Except...chapter 3. Chapter 3 is the pinnacle of the book, so instead of an acrostic poem — chapter 3 is a triple acrostic. Each Hebrew letter doesn’t have one verse — but three. So the third chapter has tripled in size to 66 verses. The author’s trying to scream at us — THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT CHAPTER OF THE BOOK!
So who’s the author — who wrote this book? Jeremiah wrote it. Now there are some who’d disagree, but the common consensus is that Jeremiah wrote Lamentations.
Now we learned a lot about Jeremiah last week when we looked at the book of Jeremiah. He was a prophet who was alive during the destruction of Jerusalem. The Jewish people had abandoned God — they did what was right in their own eyes — and suffered the consequences of their choices, which was the invasion of the Babylonians and the destruction of Jerusalem. Jeremiah saw the destruction of the Temple and God told Jeremiah to tell the people that this was His judgment — God’s judgment — upon them. So don’t fight — don’t resist the Babylonians — but repentance would be a great choice to make.
And do you know what happened to Jeremiah because of this message? The people put him in jail. In fact, Jeremiah spends most of his time in some sort of dungeon or prison. Instead of repenting of their sin — instead of owning the fact that the reason for this evil and suffering was just as much in them as it was out there — instead of listening to God through Jeremiah — the people threw him in prison. Which is a good reminder to always be aware of how you respond to God’s Word. Do you repent or do you silence the messenger?
So, let’s look at our passage — Lamentations chapter 3 — and because this is such a long passage, I’m going to read straight through it — pausing every now and then to give a comment or two. Let’s begin in verse 1.
“I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath (even though God’s judgment is on all the people — suffering is being talked about in a personal way. And get this — even though Jeremiah’s been faithful — he suffers with the people.); 2 he (that’s God — now look at all of the things God is doing to Jeremiah — He...) has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; 3 surely against me he (God) turns his hand again and again the whole day long. 4 He (God) has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he (God) has broken my bones; 5 he (God) has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; 6 he (God) has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago. 7 He (God) has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he (God) has made my chains heavy; 8 though I call and cry for help, he (God) shuts out my prayer; 9 he (God) has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he (God) has made my paths crooked. 10 He (God) is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding (I just want to pause and ask you — when you think of God — what do you usually think of? Most people say ‘love.’ What about a bear or lion waiting to maul you? One pastor described what’s going on as, “God’s the predator and Jeremiah’s the prey.” That doesn’t sit well with us, does it? Because we see evil as out there — not within. But if evil is in us — part of us — then this picture of God begins to make sense.); 11 he (God) turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; he (God) has made me desolate; 12 he (God) bent his bow and set me as a target for his arrow (now God’s an archer and Jeremiah’s the target). 13 He (God) 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 (God) has filled me with bitterness; he (God) has sated me with wormwood. 16 He (God) has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; (and notice what this does to Jeremiah. He says...) 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." (Life is hard for him. And he’s to the point of thinking all hope is lost.) 19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! 20 My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.
Are you encouraged yet? Don’t you want to put these verses on your coffee cup so you start your morning off right?
A few weeks ago, my two boys and I had a guy’s getaway. We went down to Columbus to go to COSI and then the next day we went north of the city to go on a hike. Now we had talked about the trip — we made the plans together — I gave them options of places we could visit — I wanted them to have a say in what we were going to do. So we get in the car — and I kid you not — not 10 minutes into the trip — Caleb — my 12 year old — he was 11 at the time — so we’ll chalk this up to him not being as mature as he is now that he’s 12 — Caleb asked, “Dad, where are we going?” And — of course — I’m thinking, “Are you kidding me?” But I decided to ask a few questions.
“What do you mean where are we going? Didn’t you pack stuff for the trip?”
“Don’t you remember us talking about the trip?”
“So where are we going Caleb?”
“Dad, I don’t know, that’s why I asked.”
Now when you’re a kid, you get used to getting in the car and going wherever mom or dad take you. And if things at home are healthy — the child trusts their parents — they don’t have to worry about where they’re going — because they’re with someone who loves and cares for them.
But then we grow up. And after enough “life is hard” moments, we shift from trusting to needing to be in control. And even as followers of Jesus — when life gets hard we can so want to get our lives back in control that we don’t even trust God. And that’s a bit of what Jeremiah’s expressing here. He’s using “raw, real, I’m in pain and life isn’t fun right now” language.
And — remember — God put this in the Bible — the Bible is His book. Yes, He used human authors, but He told them what to say. So He could’ve left this part out if it offended Him — it’s no accident that these words are here — because God has Lamentations in the Bible so we can learn something about Him. And this is what we learn. Look in verse 21.
21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: 22 (And I want you to appreciate the shift here — another Bible translations reads, “But there’s one thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope” — so there’s a shift to hope in these verses — they’re the only verses of hope in the entire book. Three verses ago he was hopeless — but now — in the midst of suffering, this is what Jeremiah remembers — this is how he finds hope. He remembers that...) The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end (Do you know that God’s love for you will never end? Unlike everyone else you’ve ever met — yourself included — God’s love for you isn’t based on your performance. It’s not based on an audit of your life. It’s not based on what you do. God’s love for you is based on what Someone else has done for you. And when you begin to understand what it means to be eternally loved by God — you’ll desire to respond to His love by obeying Him — you’ll want to do good things because He loves you — not to get Him to love you.); 23 they (God’s mercies) 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. (It’s good to learn at a young age that life is hard. It’s good to learn that this world isn’t the heaven we long for. It’s good for a young person to learn that though pain and sorrow and evil exist — God — is — good.) 28 Let him (a person) sit alone in silence when it (sorrow) 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 (God) 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.
Jeremiah continues with more truths about God and us.
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? (Yet Jeremiah knows why this sorrow has come upon Jerusalem.) 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. 43 "You have wrapped yourself with anger and pursued us, killing without pity; 44 you have wrapped yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can pass through. 45 You have made us scum and garbage among the peoples. 46 "All our enemies open their mouths against us; 47 panic and pitfall have come upon us, devastation and destruction; 48 my eyes flow with rivers of tears because of the destruction of the daughter of my people. 49 "My eyes will flow without ceasing, without respite, 50 until the Lord from heaven looks down and sees; 51 my eyes cause me grief at the fate of all the daughters of my city. 52 "I have been hunted like a bird by those who were my enemies without cause; 53 they flung me alive into the pit and cast stones on me; 54 water closed over my head; I said, 'I am lost.' 55 "I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit; 56 you heard my plea, 'Do not close your ear to my cry for help!' 57 You came near when I called on you; you said, 'Do not fear!' 58 "You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life. 59 You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord; judge my cause. 60 You have seen all their vengeance, all their plots against me. 61 "You have heard their taunts, O Lord, all their plots against me. 62 The lips and thoughts of my assailants are against me all the day long. 63 Behold their sitting and their rising; I am the object of their taunts. 64 "You will repay them, O Lord, according to the work of their hands. 65 You will give them dullness of heart; your curse will be on them. 66 You will pursue them in anger and destroy them from under your heavens, O Lord."” (Lamentations 3:1-66 ESV)
FINDING JESUS IN LAMENTATIONS
Now in this series, each week I’m showing you a way to find Jesus in the whole Bible because the whole Bible is about Him. So finding Jesus is the goal — “how does what I’m reading point me to Jesus” — that’s the question we should always be asking when we read our Bible. And here’s a way that Lamentations helps us find Jesus.
In the midst of lamenting — Jeremiah finds hope. But where does his hope come from? Does it come from Jeremiah thinking about how awesome he is? No. Does it come from Jeremiah gaining some kind of control over his situation? No. Does his hope come from the hardships going away? No again. When life was hard for Jeremiah, where did he find hope? He found hope by remembering — so what does he remember? He remembers who God is.
And as he thinks about God, Jeremiah starts listing attributes — or characteristics — of God. In verse 22 Jeremiah remembers God’s love and His mercy. In verse 23 he remembers God’s faithfulness. In verse 25 God’s goodness. In verse 32 God’s compassion. In verses 37 and 38 that God speaks. In verse 39 that God judges. In verse 56 that God hears. In verses 59 and 60 that God sees. And from verse 61 to the end that God is just. These are all attributes of God — individually they describe an aspect of God — and together they give us a better understanding of what we mean when we say “God.”
And the Bible is full of these attributes of God. For instance, God is independent — meaning — contrary to popular belief — God doesn’t need us. Speaking to people who had misunderstandings about God, Paul says, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:24-25 ESV)
God’s independent. He doesn’t need us.
God’s unchanging — He doesn’t change. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17 NIV)
God is eternal — He has no beginning or end. “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Psalm 90:2 ESV)
God’s omni-present — He’s everywhere. He’s omniscient — He knows everything. He’s wise. He’s truth. He’s patient. He’s holy. He’s righteous. He’s jealous. And He’s wrathful. Those are just a few of the attributes of God we find in the Bible.
And all of these characteristics — all of these attributes — point us to Jesus because we find all of God’s attributes in Jesus. You can take any one of these attributes of God and follow it straight to Christ. One quick example to show you how to do this.
A hymn — based on Lamentations chapter 3 — is the song “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” The title comes right out of verse 23. And notice how the hymn is saturated with attributes of God.
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father, — from verse 23 — God is faithful.
There is no shadow of turning with Thee; — from James 1:17 — God doesn’t change.
Thou changest not — Thy compassions, they fail not — Lamentations tells us that God’s mercies are new every morning — God is compassionate.
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be — from everlasting to everlasting He is God.
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided —
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!”
The faithfulness of God is a beautiful thing. It gives hope. It’s an anchor for the soul when life is hard. And it’s a thread in Lamentations that leads us to Christ. For in speaking of Jesus, the apostle Paul wrote, “The saying is trustworthy (that’s Paul’s version of “you can bet your life on what I’m about to say” — ), for: If we have died with him (Jesus), we will also live with him (there’s no resurrection without death; no living for Jesus without dying to yourself); 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he (Jesus) remains (what? He remains...) faithful — for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:11-13 ESV)
Jesus is faithful. Always. Without exception. It’s part of who He is — it’s one of His attributes. And when you see the faithfulness of God in the Bible, let that point you to Jesus — who is always faithful. And every time you see the love of God, or the power of God, or the justice of God, or the mercy or kindness or wrath of God...let them drive you straight to Jesus “for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” In Jesus we find all of God’s attributes because He is God.
And this is especially important to remember when life is hard. When life will be hard isn’t up to us — we don’t get to say, “If I’m going to have a hard time, how about next Tuesday between 2 and 3pm?” — that’s just not how life works. But we can prepare for the hard times. How? By knowing who God is. By studying His Word and learning more about His character — growing your understanding of who He is so that — when hard times come — you’re ready to fight for hope by remembering who the God is you worship — so that when life gives you reason to mourn — you mourn with hope. How are you preparing for hard days that are sure to come?
Yet there’s one other connection to Jesus that I don’t want you to miss. Jeremiah is lamenting because of the destruction happening to Jerusalem. The people have disobeyed — they’ve rebelled — and they’re getting their just judgment.
Hundreds of years later, Jesus walks through a rebuilt Jerusalem. As God promised, a day of hope would birth out of the darkness — Jerusalem would be rebuilt. And as Jesus walk through a rebuilt Jerusalem — as He walks among a people who were once again abandoning God — and were about to reject God in the ultimate way — by killing Him on a cross — Jesus laments over the city of Jerusalem. He says, “"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! (Think of Jeremiah’s life and the hardships he faced as a prophet of God.) How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings (notice the tenderness of Christ — the mercy — the desire for a close relationship with the people who are rejecting Him. And he says though I want to be close...), and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate.” (Matthew 23:37-38 ESV)
Another judgment is coming for the city of Jerusalem. Houses will be desolate again. Destruction will come. The Temple will be destroyed. The city will burn. God’s judgment is coming — for the people have rejected Him yet again — and this time they’ll go so far as to murder Him.
But notice the compassion of Jesus. Notice His faithfulness. Notice His tender care — how He desires to gather the people in His arms — to hold them close — to let them experience His compassion and mercy.
And the words He said to the people of Jerusalem are words He’s saying to you today. Jesus is saying to you, “How often I’ve desired to gather you in my arms. How often I’ve desired to hold you close. How often I’ve desired to let you experience My compassion and mercy. And yet you were not willing. When life is hard — you’ve run for control — instead of to Me. But because I cannot deny who I am — always faithful — I’m here for you. With my arms open wide. Ready to give you new mercies for today. Ready to shower you with the eternal love I’ve always had for you.”
How will you respond to Jesus and His words of hope to you? He cannot deny who He is. Even when we are faithless — great is His faithfulness towards us. Life is hard — but thank God — Jesus is good. Let’s pray.
PRAYER OF APPLICATION
Heavenly Father, thank you for Your eternal love for us. Even though we don’t deserve it, could never earn it, and often reject it — You cannot deny who You are — and You love us. Help us to respond to Your love.
Jesus, thank you for Your faithfulness. When we run from You, cheat on You, chase after other things that we foolishly think will give us something only You can give — You never waiver in Your faithfulness to us. What a gift we have no right to — but a gift You give us nonetheless.
And God, I ask You to give us a desire to know You better. Help us to grow in our understanding of who the Bible tells us You are, so we’re prepared to trust that You are good — when life is hard. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.