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Sermon by Billy Dempsey on Jul 29, 2018

Lamentations 3:19-27

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Let me ask you to open your Bibles if you will to Lamentations chapter 3. We’ll read together verses 19 through 24. We’ll talk about the first portion of that chapter prior to getting really into verses 19 and following. Before we pray and read that passage, let me just say a little bit about Lamentations. It’s not a book we really delve into much. It seems somewhat dark and foreboding and troublesome. It is a collection of five lament poems, all built around the events of the Babylonian conquest and destruction of Jerusalem. Now there’s a happy subject! Why would we not want to learn more about that? It’s hard, isn’t it? And then the Jews’ exile to Babylon.

Chapters 1 and 2, just to break it down for us a little bit – the horrors of Jerusalem’s fall to Babylonian forces in 587 BC. Chapter 3, where we’ll spend our time this evening – an individual’s account of his own experiences of those events and his responses to those events and his eventual return to trust in God. It’s a gritty chapter. We’ll see a great portion of it. It’s a gritty chapter. Chapter 4, Jerusalem speaks; continues to question the justice of what she has endured. But she admits her sin and she offers repentance. Chapter 5, the last of the five laments, is a community lament. Chapter 3 was an individual lament. The community of Jerusalem speaks in chapter 5 and Jerusalem cries out to God and casts all her hopes on Him. Really a community version of the individual lament in chapter 3. To put it another way, the community takes the advice offered in chapter 3 and responds favorably.

Confession of Sin

Ten times in these five laments there is admission of and confession of sin. Now that's important because throughout the ministry of Isaiah, throughout the ministry a hundred years later of Jeremiah, throughout the ministry of Habakkuk, there was an appeal to the nation – "Admit sin. Repent of sin. Confess your sin and your waywardness and your covenantal disobedience" – and always seemingly met with hardness of heart and stopped up ears and blind eyes. To be aware of that dynamic and to be aware of that kind of pleading from the prophets met with no response or indignant response, and then to see in the book of Lamentations ten times admission of, confession of sin is enheartening; a humble recognition that what the Lord did, He did in faithful response to repeated threatenings because of the undisciplined wickedness of His people.

Well, with that kind of overview, let me tell you my proposition. I have a proposition for this sermon! In other words, I want to tell you where I’m going to go with this sermon. I’m going to give you two points of outline. My proposition is this. There is no pit so deep that Jesus is not deeper still. There is no pit so deep that Jesus is not deeper still. Two points of outline. The bad news and the good news. Now that’s a profound outline! You’ll remember that. You’ll remember that tomorrow! The bad news and the good news. The passage we’re going to read is the good news, but we’re not going to talk about the passage until we get through with some of the bad news. But first of all, let’s pray.

Father, we thank You that Your Word speaks to us about You and about us and about our response to You. And so open our hearts, open our minds. Speak to us, overcome the weakness of the preacher and speak clearly to all of us gathered here. We ask You to do so in the name of our High Priest, our Elder Brother, and our Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Himself. Amen.

Lamentations chapter 3, verses 19 through 24:

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

 

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’”

The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.

The Bad News

Well, let's talk about the bad news and let's ground our passage here in exactly kind of what's happening in Jerusalem. It's been a horrible series of events. It's been a terrific fall and mass destruction and loss of life on an epic scale. Loss of innocent life, savagery, and brutality that those who survived the siege and the destruction of Jerusalem were witness to; of broken-heartedness, a brokenness of soul that really beggars the ability to describe what they saw, what they went through, and its effect. This writer who may be Jeremiah, who may not be Jeremiah; it may be Baruch, Jeremiah's scribe. It may be someone else. The style is somewhat different from Jeremiah's recorded preaching; nevertheless, this faithful scribe gives us something of his own response to what he saw and experienced as one living in the very crucible of the judgment of God. And that's really one of the reasons that this book is important and ought not be overlooked. We hear from someone who's living in the very crucible of the judgment of God. Of course, there's lament.

The other example we see of someone enduring the crucible of the judgment of God and the fury of God’s judgment is the Lord Jesus Himself enduring the poured out to the last drop judgment of God’s wrath for sin and crying out in lament, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” That heartfelt lament is really sort of spread out here in five different poems, but it’s asking the same question, “Why have you forsaken me?”

Generational Sin

Look at verses 1, 2, and 3 just to look through a little bit of chapter 3 and to kind of get a flavor for the bad news. Remember, this is God's response to the sin of His people, not just once or twice but for generations. It's finally come upon them as He has threatened many times, and this writer is responding really in poetic language to the horror of what he has seen and what he has seen the people of God endure. It's very personal for him. In this chapter, there are almost sixty references – first-person pronoun references. For you non-grammar types, that’s “I,” “me,” and “my.” “I,” “me,” and “my.” He’s dealing with this personally; he’s not dealing with this from an arm’s length. He’s not dealing with this as a scholar studying a subject. He’s experiencing this and his heart is pouring out on paper for us to see. Someone who’s enduring the crucible of the judgment of God.

No Relief

Look at verses 1, 2, and 3. "I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath. He has driven and brought me into darkness without any light. Surely against me, he turns his hand again and again the whole day long.” He’s saying, “There’s no relief for me here; I’m not finding relief. I find brokenness and heartbreak. I find weariness at every turn. I find darkness instead of light. I’m living day by day not just a little bit, but living day by day, even hour by hour under the wrath of God.” Look at verse 7. “He has walled me about so that I can’t escape. I can’t get away from it. I can’t turn away from these expressions of God’s wrath and His harshness and His anger. They meet me everywhere. Though I call,” verse 8, “I call and cry for help. He shuts out my prayer.” That’s the writer’s perspective. “God’s not hearing prayer from me. I can’t get through to Him. He’s not interested. He’s still angry.” That’s the feeling of the writer. “He has blocked my ways. He has made my paths crooked.” A vivid image in verse 10 – “He is a bear lying in wait for me; a lion in hiding. He turned aside my steps. He tore me to pieces. He has made me desolate. He has bent his bow and set me as a target for his arrows.”

Brokenness

We don’t have to go through the destruction of our culture to have that experience. Certainly, we know of families this weekend who are just as desolate, just as ruined, just as broken as this writer is telling us he is as he's responding to the harshness that he has seen from God. We have families who we are connected to who are broken and would describe, perhaps using some of the same words and images, after the loss of a loved one this weekend. And so it’s not just the loss of a culture or a city that we’re talking about here. It’s the worst contemplated outcome. We’ve all had worst contemplated outcomes to come our way. And in one way or another, perhaps the writer of Lamentations chapter 3 is telling our story for us. Maybe he’s giving words to our lament and our moan that we can’t give right now. He’s personally and deeply experiencing what it means to be caught up in the judgment of God. He’s personally and intimately telling us, “This is what brokenness, this is what brokenness for sin looks like. I’m truly, I’m truly at the end of any ability to hold on here.” In fact, he says it – look at verse 17. “My soul is bereft of peace. I have forgotten what happiness is.”

Calamity

You and I may know people who will say that will make that claim in the next weeks and months – "I have forgotten what happiness is. So I say, ‘My endurance has perished, so has my hope from the Lord.’” You may have endured calamity that makes you say those very same things or makes you feel that way, makes you feel like, “I am close to the very edge.” You may have endured calamity. You may have watched a family member endure that kind of grief and brokenness in calamity in the worst contemplative outcome. That’s where this man is. And that’s why I wanted to take time and walk through a little bit of these verses. We can’t appreciate the good news without having a mouthful of the bad news. We need to understand, we need to grasp the bad news and recognize how bad the bad news can really be. This man has not just had a bad day at the office. He's watched his world explode. You may feel that way at times too. "I'm watching my world explode. I'm watching everything that I hold dear slip away or speed away. It's vanishing before my eyes and there's nothing I can do." You may say, "My endurance has perished. I can't hold on anymore. And so has my hope from the Lord.”

That’s a bitter, bitter place to be and we dare not think lightly or make light of it. It’s, as he says, it’s gravel grinding in teeth. Is there a way out? Is there a hope? Is there anywhere I can turn when everywhere I look to turn is darkness and ruin and decay and brokenness in front of me? Where do I go?

The Good News

Well, it’s interesting. Verse 19 begins a turn in what he’s reporting to us, what he’s telling us about his response. He’s at the end of himself and he says to us – this is the beginning of the good news. He says to us really kind of in an imperative – “Remember my affliction and my wanderings. Remember the wormwood and the gall that I have described to you. And you have tasted some of it. You have read this book or if you’ve experienced this, you know. Remember the affliction that you’ve experienced. Remember my lot. Remember what I experienced. Remember how low I sank.” Then he says, “My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.” Calvin says something very interesting at this point in his comment on this verse. He says, “You know what? We can remember too much. It’s possible to remember too much. It’s possible for our trials to lie too much on our minds and we can think too much of the evils that have befallen us.”

And maybe this writer is close to that, but he turns again. Look at verse 21. “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” He says that he calls it to mind. It was there. This is not new information for this writer. It was there. It was there amidst the rubble of dead hopes and dying dreams. It was there in the middle of all of that. Matthew Henry makes an interesting comment. He says, “In his grace, God causes to return to our minds things we need to remember, things He’s planted in our minds and hearts against these very types of occasions.” “This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” Hope where just a moment ago there was no hope. What does he call to mind? “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.” Despite everything he sees and everything his experience is telling him at this moment, he remembers the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. That’s not verified by what I see, but that is God’s promise. That steadfast love.

Covenant Love

You know what that is? That’s that covenant love. The writer of this would have used the word “hesed” – God’s covenant love. His covenant making and covenant keeping love. It’s iron clad because he’s sworn by himself that he will take for himself Abraham’s offspring as His people and they will be His people. He will be their God. That relation will always be there. The steadfast love of the Lord. That steadfast love of the Lord that caused Him to reach into Egypt and redeem a nation for Himself. That steadfast love of the Lord that caused Him to keep them in forty years of wandering. Forty years of wandering that was a result of their unbelief! Yet, He kept them in that forty years of wandering. Their clothing didn’t wear out, their sandals didn’t wear out, and they had manna every day. Why? Because of hesed. Because of His steadfast love. It’s hesed that drove His Son to the cross, to finalize the fulfillment of all that had been symbolized and promised and portrayed to the people of God. This is what sin calls for and this is what redemption looks like. It was hesed; it was steadfast love that caused “Him who knew no sin to become sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Because Paul says in Romans chapter 8, “God, who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”

That’s hesed! That’s steadfast love! That’s covenant keeping, covenant making love. The hesed of the Lord never ceases. No matter how bad things are, no matter how horrible things turn in an hour’s time, no matter how many dreams are broken and how many plans lie and hopes lie ruined, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. Steadfast love is a promise. Mercy is God's pity moved to action upon us. We still have the truth of God's promise when we have nothing else and we have the tenderness of His pity; tenderness that is new every morning. Mercy that is new every morning. Feel the freshness of that. Hear the newness of that. My troubles carry over from day to day. In the morning I get up with the same troubles that I had tonight when I lay my head on my pillow. But what I will have tomorrow that I don't have today is a whole bank of new mercies. I'll have mercies that are new, that will sustain me just as they will sustain you tomorrow when tomorrow is today. And they keep us and God holds us and takes pity upon us according to His promise. He remembers us and pities us as we pity any small child with a skinned knee. Any child we see have a bicycle wreck in front of our house, what do we do? We run out there. “Can I help you? Let’s get up. Let’s dust off. Where do you live?” It didn’t matter what you were doing two minutes ago that was so important. I’ve seen sweet Debbie Dempsey throw down purses and car keys and papers and rush out into the street because there was a child that fell off the bicycle and was wailing like the world was coming to an end. That’s the new mercy of God that meets us in the morning before we ever begin to worry about the troubles that are waiting for us. The new mercies of God find us and wrap us and meet us before our worry-engine ever turns on. The new mercies of God are there because He seeks us in His mercy. That’s why the writer here says, “Great is your faithfulness.”
 

The LORD is Our Portion

Look at what he also says in verse 24. This is really important. We’re going to stop right here. He says, “The Lord is my portion.” Remember all this horrible bad news stuff we just had over here. He says, “’The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul. ‘Therefore, I will hope in Him.’” He’s living in a city burned; he’s living among rubble. He’s pulled together some kind of makeshift hovel for himself and his family. He's living hand to mouth. There is no market to buy bread. There is no place to go and buy a jug of wine to go with the bread. There's nothing. There's nothing. And he is scraping together what cover he can for himself and his family from the elements because the Babylonians pulled everything down that had been standing. And in the face of all of that, as he remembers the steadfast love of God and mercies that never come to an end that are new every morning, he's saying to us, "The Lord is my portion."

Matthew Henry says something very interesting. He says, “Portions on earth are perishing things, but God is portion forever.” What’s a portion? It’s what I have; what you have. What do we have? The writer of Lamentations 3 says the Lord is what we have, and “therefore I will hope in Him.” Think of all the places where we want to put our hope – our family, our career, our income, our marriage, our health, our sense of satisfaction in life – these are where we look to find our portion. And the writer of Lamentations 3 is saying, “Those are not enough. You’re made for more. You’re made for more. Those are not enough. The Lord is my portion, and therefore I will hope in Him. I will stay myself upon Him and I will encourage myself in Him when all other supports and encouragements fail me.” That’s what it is to hope in Him, to stay ourselves upon Him, and encourage ourselves in Him when all other supports and encouragements fail us.

Why? Because He is our portion and He will last. There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. His mercies are new, His steadfast love never ceases; His mercies are new tomorrow, brand new, as soon as our feet hit the floor. That’s a good God. That’s a good God and He gives good to us, His people. Let’s pray.

Father, we give You thanks that even in a book called Lamentations we find joy. We find fullness and we find completeness because of You. Thank You so much that we find the promise of new mercies, the promise of steadfast love met and seen fulfilled, demonstrated in the person and work of Your Son, Jesus. Would You remind us tomorrow as we get out and go about the bustle of the day and the bustle of the week that He’s our portion? Would You remind us that You are all we need as we get up and do life and go about life? Would You remind us that even if we see nothing but rubble around us, You’re our portion? You told Abraham You were his shield and his very great reward, and You are ours as well. Father, we give You thanks, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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