Summary: This message focuses on Lamentations chapter 3, especially where Jeremiah pivots from all his sorrow and introduces hope in God's mercies and faithfulness.
Hope in the Middle of Despair
CHCC – November 6, 2011
The picture on the screen is a 1630 Rembrandt oil painting titled Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem. If you look in the background you see people fleeing a city that is in flames. Jewish tradition ascribes Lamentations to Jeremiah as an eyewitness to the fall of Jerusalem. Lamentations begins with the word “ALAS” (possible connection to the phrase “Oy vay!”)
This BOOK tells us about God’s faithfulness … but it doesn’t gloss over the evil and suffering that we have to endure here on earth. Lamentations describes just about every evil that people have ever had to endure: war and destruction, rape and pillaging, human trafficking, starvation, and even cannibalism … all of these are described and lamented.
• Chapter 1 describes the city’s destruction
• Chapter 2 explains God’s righteous judgment against Judah
• In Chapter 3 Jeremiah expresses his own personal suffering
• Chapter 4 focuses on the specific suffering of the Jerusalem’s citizens
• Chapter 5 gives a plea for God’s mercy
The book of Lamentations is a series of 5 dirges (funeral poems) that are read each year in mid-July on the anniversary of the destruction of the temple. Hebrew poetry is different from most western poetry which tends to rhyme at the end of lines. Hebrew poetry used alliteration at the beginning of each line.
If you look at the book as literature you see something interesting. The book consists of 5 poems, divided into 5 chapters. 4 of the poems consist of 22 verses each, using the Hebrew acrostic style.
If you could read it in Hebrew, you’d see that each verse starts with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet –aleph, beth, gimel dalith,he, Vav, Zayin, … and so on.
This is true for all but chapter 3 --- the central poem. Chapter 3 is three times as long --- 66 verses --- and uses triple acrostics (each letter is used 3 times in succession.)
It’s interesting that this 3rd poem is 3 times as long, and 1/3 of the way through it, you find the PIVOTAL verse of Lamentations.
To see the significance of this verse … which is at the center of the book … we’ll start with Lamentations 3:19-20:I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Then in verse 21, Jeremiah suddenly changes directions: Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. This is the “hinge” of the book, where Jeremiah’s thoughts take a sudden turn --- from DESPAIR to HOPE.
Today we’re going to focus on the verses in the middle of Lamentations --- because this is the central message of Lamentations: no matter how bad life gets, God can give us HOPE in the middle of DESPAIR.
Here’s where Jeremiah set his mind on hope. He wrote, Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope. Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his mercies never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Jeremiah 3:21-23
Jeremiah found hope because …
1. God’s mercies are new every morning
In the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah has been singing the blues. In fact, if you look at the first verse in chapter 3, he says, “I am a man who has seen affliction…”
It brings to mind that song from the movie, “Oh Brother, where Art Thou,” (sing) “I am a man of constant sorrows. I’ve seen trouble all my days …”
Maybe you’ve been singing the blues lately. Maybe you’ve wondered if God is really faithful. Have you ever felt like …
* God has forsaken you
* Everything you care about has been taken away
* You have no reason to live
* You’re in constant pain and you can’t find release
* You’re prayers are going nowhere
* No one understands your pain
* Your life is hopeless
If you’ve had any of those feelings, then you can empathize with Jeremiah. And you can learn from Jeremiah that’s it’s okay to be brutally honest with God. It’s okay to honestly express your feelings … just like Jeremiah did.
But it’s not okay to stay there. It’s healthy to express your true feelings to God, but don’t get stuck there!
I remember a woman years back who used to come to me about once a month … to rehearse her troubles. And I use the word “rehearse” on purpose, because that’s exactly what she did. Every time, she’d tell me the same set of complaints over and over and over again. She had her misery memorized where she could recite it the same way every time. I was young and inexperienced back then, but it didn’t take me long to realize that endlessly rehearsing her troubles wasn’t getting her anywhere!