6-Week Series: Against All Odds

Sermons

Summary: God is good, and all things work together for good.

HOPE AMID HOPELESSNESS

Lamentations 3:19-26

It is all too easy to forget that these words of hope and encouragement have been drawn out of the midst of the Book of Lamentations. Jeremiah penned these among the ashes of Jerusalem, a city once known as ‘the joy of the whole earth’ (Psalm 48:2; cf. Lamentations 2:15). They are a kind of turning point at the very heart of the piece.

Psalm 73:15-17 is a similar turning point. Asaph encloses his Psalm in an assertion of God’s goodness to Israel (Psalm 73:1), and how good it is to draw near and trust in the LORD God (Psalm 73:28). However for Jeremiah and ‘Daughter Zion’ (Lamentations 2:1) there was no longer any earthly sanctuary to resort to (cf. Psalm 73:17).

The resolution of the whole Book of Lamentations, its dirges and complaints, is found right here, in the middle. Jeremiah has just concluded that ‘my strength and my hope is perished from the LORD’ (Lamentations 3:18); shakes himself down at the remembrance of his affliction and misery, “the wormwood and the gall” (Lamentations 3:19; cf. Lamentations 3:5; Lamentations 3:15); and purposely recalls to mind (Hebrew: “this I cause to return to my heart”) a reason, or reasons, to hope (Lamentations 3:21; Lamentations 3:24; Lamentations 3:26). When our soul is similarly brought down to the ground (cf. Psalm 44:25) - as Jeremiah’s was (Lamentations 3:20) - we need to ask ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul?’ and encourage ourselves, ‘Hope thou in God’ (Psalm 42:5; Psalm 42:11; Psalm 43:5).

What do we do when our world is falling apart, when life is crumbling around us? We each have to face certain inevitable crises which we share in common with the whole of mankind. There are also the avoidable crises, brought on by our own selves through sin and failure. What happens when the heavens seem as brass to us, as if our prayers are reaching no higher than the ceiling? What do we do when even the Church seems set to rip herself apart with contention, anger and personality clashes? Well, what can we do? We anchor our hope in nothing less than Christ our God, His blood, His righteousness!

“This I recall to my mind” (Lamentations 3:21) again echoes Asaph’s ‘When I thought to know this’ (Psalm 73:16). Both are examples of what the Apostle Paul calls ‘the renewing of your mind’ (Romans 12:2). The reasons for hope follow.

First, “It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed” (Lamentations 3:22a). The Hebrew word translated “mercies” is “hesed”, and speaks of God’s steadfast love, His covenant mercy. The fact that “we are not consumed” is based in the unchangeability of God (cf. Malachi 3:6), “because His compassions (they) fail not” (Lamentations 3:22b). This speaks of God’s longsuffering and grace, as in the Name by which He announced Himself as He stood with Moses in Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:5-6).

God’s mercies are such that we are called to their daily recollection: “new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23a). We should raise up our Ebenezer, like Samuel of old, and remind ourselves that ‘Hitherto hath the LORD helped us’ (1 Samuel 7:12), and sing with renewed vigour, “Great is Thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:23b).

I was amazed to discover that this word translated “faithfulness” is actually the Hebrew word “Amen”! It speaks of trustworthiness and is used by Jesus to preface some of His sayings: ‘Verily, verily’, or ‘truly, truly’. What is left in no doubt in Jeremiah’s mind - despite the fall of Jerusalem, Temple and all - is the utter dependability of God (cf. Hebrews 10:23)!

Second, we have hope in the fact that we can call the LORD “my portion” (Lamentations 3:24; cf. Psalm 73:26). This was originally the prerogative of the Levites (Deuteronomy 10:9), but such a relationship with God is now made possible to all through our Lord Jesus Christ. Christianity, after all, is not a religion but a relationship!

Jeremiah came to the same assertion as had Asaph: “the LORD is good” (Lamentations 3:25a; cf. Psalm 73:1). To whom is God good? To those who “wait for Him” (Lamentations 3:25b; cf. James 5:7). In Hebrew the verb ‘to wait’ shares the same root as the seemingly perished ‘hope’ of Lamentations 3:18. To whom is God good? To “the soul (that) seeks Him” (Lamentations 3:25c; cf. Isaiah 55:6).

Third, we hope for the fulness of our salvation. “It is good,” continues Jeremiah, that a man “should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD” (Lamentations 3:26). Your confidence will have a reward (Hebrews 10:35-37), so let us ‘hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1:13). Amen.

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