POPC Worship 3-26-2023.mp4 from Providence OPC on Vimeo.
Lamentations 3:31–39 (ESV)
31 For the Lord will not cast off forever,
32 but, though he 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.
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?
39 Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins?
Jerry Bridges says:
Someone has described life as like having a thick curtain hung across one’s path, a curtain that recedes before us as we advance, but only step by step. None of us can tell what is beyond that curtain; none of us can tell what events a single day or hour may bring into our lives. Sometimes the receding curtain reveals events much as we had expected them; often it reveals events most unexpected and frequently most undesired. Such events, unfolding in ways contrary to our desires and expectations, frequently fill our hearts with anxiety, frustrations, heartache, and grief.
The goal of our sermon this morning is to see from the book of Lamentations that God’s people will go through hard experiences.
And because we cannot change the fact that we go through painful experiences, is there a way that we can change how we experience them?
We can’t change our experiences, but can we change the way we experience our situations?
Or, to put it another way, what hope does Lamentations provide us that will get us through hard experiences?
I think the answer to that question is found in our passage this morning. And I think the answer is that God’s Character gives us hope.
That’s the main point of our sermon this morning: Purpose: God’s Character is Our Cause for Hope.
In order to see how God’s character is our cause for hope, there are three things that we need to look at this morning.
The first thing that we need to see is that:
1). God’s Mercy Gives Us Hope.
Jerry Bridges Continues:
Can you trust God? The question itself has two possible meanings before we attempt to answer it. Can you trust God, i.e., is He dependable in times of adversity? But the second meaning is also critical, can you trust God? Do you have such a relationship with God and such a confidence in Him that you believe He is with you in your adversity even though you do not see any evidence of His presence and His power?
It might sound like a strange question to ask, what hope does Lamentations give us that helps us to endure trying experiences?
The very title of the book means a song that you sing at a funeral. Jeremiah has been lamenting and mourning for two whole chapters.
It's even stranger that we look for hope in God’s character from Lamentations because Jeremiah describes God as like an enemy in this book.
He has bent his bow like an enemy, with his right hand set like a foe; and he has killed all who were delightful in our eyes in the tent of the daughter of Zion; he has poured out his fury like fire.
The Lord has become like an enemy; he has swallowed up Israel; he has swallowed up all its palaces; he has laid in ruins its strongholds, and he has multiplied in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation.
— (Lamentations 2:4–5 ESV)
God is described as an enemy who increases mourning and lamentation. That doesn’t sound like hope.
The last thing that we would need in the midst of suffering is more reason to cry and be sad. The context of chapter 3 is also seems very hopeless:
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 has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago.
(Lamentations 3:1–6 ESV)
In verse 8, Jeremiah describes God as shutting out his prayer even though he’s crying out to God.
We asked if we could look at God’s character in order to help us endure.
But Jeremiah says, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.” (Lamentations 3:18 ESV). So is Lamentations about hope or not?
Each section of Lamentations is grouped by certain themes, words, or parts of speech. So Lamentations 3:19-20 is what I would call a remember section.
Two lines start with the Hebrew word for remember (you’ve seen this word before in the name Zachariah).
But the third line 3:21 starts differently. Jeremiah says in verse 19 remember my affliction and then in verse 20 my soul remembers it.
Verse 21 more literally says, “but this I bring back to my heart and it causes me to have hope.”
This is such a real experience that we have today, that our hurtful experiences are very easy to remember just like 3:19 and 20 says.
We can very easily remember bad things, painful things, and hurtful things. But it's not very easy to remember good things that are helpful to us.
Especially when our passage describes God as an enemy and one who multiplies sadness.
What Jeremiah is saying is that his soul automatically remembers the pain.
He has to work to bring something positive to his heart.
What is it that Jeremiah says that he returns to his heart and it causes him to 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.”
— (Lamentations 3:22–23 ESV)
This causes a change in tone from Jeremiah. Now he talks about patiently enduring mistreatment in 3:24-30.
The way he experiences even insults changes. He even ends with a beautitude that Jesus mentions in Matthew 5:39.
“let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.”
— (Lamentations 3:30 ESV)
Jeremiah says in verses 24-30 that its good for a person to wait for the Lord and his salvation and be fine with insults and mistreatment.
When you stop and realize that God’s steadfast love never fails and that God remains faithful, then you can wait for the reality of our passage:
Lamentations 3:31–33 (ESV)
31 For the Lord will not cast off forever, 32 but, though he 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.
Our passage indicates that thinking about the covenant faithful love, which is what the steadfast love of the Lord means, causes us to hope.
And the way that God will demonstrate his steadfast love is that there is a promise that our misery will end.
There’s a point when the Lord will totally and finally ended our misery. The Lord will not exclude us from his permanent presence forever.
And our hope is caused by the revelation of God’s character in verses 31-33. Notice what it says:
Not only does it indicate that God is sovereign over our grief but the fact that he is sovereign over our grief means that he will have compassion.
Again according to his steadfast love. This is God’s covenental love. His faithful, loyal love.
Its the type of love that indicates God’s favorable involvment in our lives is permanent.
God does afflict. But God does not afflict or grieve us from his heart. We were told in Lamentations 3:21 that we are to take God’s love into our heart.
And that this will cause us to hope. Which means that we treasure God’s love, we value God’s love in our heart.
Knowing that God does not grieve or afflicts us from his heart means that it is not something that God delights in. He’s not in heaven enjoying our misery.
But it is something that God purposes. Charles Simeon comments:
If we see a husbandman prune his vine, or a workman chisel his stone, or a goldsmith put his gold into the fire, we are at no loss to account for their conduct, even though, to the eye of sense, it may appear severe: to improve the vine, to beautify the stone, to purify the gold, to bring forth from the furnace a vessel meet for the Master’s use, are, in our minds, an ample vindication of the apparent severity. Let us, then, conceive of God as wise, and good, and gracious, and as personally interested in our welfare; and then we shall never murmur at any of his dispensations; but shall say, under the most painful trials, “It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good.
Jeremiah tells us that even though God’s purpose for us is includes grief and affliction. It is such that it magnifies God’s mercy and comfort.
I’ve often heard people attempt to deny the existence of God by saying what kind of a God would allow bad things to happen to good people.
Of course ignoring the fact that there are no good people, what Lamentations teaches us is that in order for us to know God more fully,
We experience God’s greive and afflication so that we can know him in his comfort and mercy.
I think God would actually be cruel if he did not decree afflications because then we would never know God in his mercy and comfort.
And that would be a horrible existence.
2). God’s Justice Gives Us Hope.
Jerry Bridges in his book, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, a book meant to comfort those in their trials says this:
We must not lose sight of the fact that God’s wrath is very real and very justified. We have all sinned incessantly against a holy, righteous God. We have rebelled willfully against His commands, defied His moral law, and acted in total defiance of His known will for us. Because of these actions we were justly objects of His wrath.
The difficulty that we have to keep in mind with the book of Lamentations is the fact that Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed because of sin.
The lament that Jeremiah gives is as just much over the fact that the people sinned as it is over God’s sovereign freedom to afflict.
1:8 Jerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthy; all who honored her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness; she herself groans and turns her face away. 5:7 Our fathers sinned, and are no more; and we bear their iniquities. 5:16 The crown has fallen from our head; woe to us, for we have sinned!
— (Lamentations 1:8; 5:7, 16 ESV)
God’s people were rightly punished because they sinned against God. The tragedy that they experienced is as a result of God’s justice against sin.
There’s a huge problem of the fact that we just saw in our first point how God can be described as an enemy,
“He has bent his bow like an enemy, The Lord has become like an enemy; he has swallowed up Israel; he has swallowed up all its palaces; he has laid in ruins its strongholds, and he has multiplied in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation.”
— (Lamentations 2:4–5 ESV)
This is terrible news. Because the Bible teaches us that everyone has sinned in Romans 2:12 and Romans 3:23.
Its gets worse:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? [Will NOT inherit the kingdom of God] Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
— (1 Corinthians 6:9–10 ESV)
If you fall within those categories, then Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6 that you cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
That’s like saying you’re not going to be saved. The Author of Hebrews says it even more explicitly:
“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”
— (Hebrews 10:26–27 ESV)
This is terrible news knowing that we fall into one of those categories. So far the Justice of God is no cause for hope!
So how does the justice of God give us hope? There are few observations that I can make. Subtle, but I think they’re clearly in Lamentations.
Jerusalem was destroyed for Israel’s and Judah’s sin. In Lamentations three, Jeremiah identifies himself as the sufferer.
He identifies himself with God’s people in 3:42. But he heavily emphasizes his own personal suffering under God’s direct wrath and punishment.
There is no indication in Lamentations or Jeremiah that Jeremiah committed any particular sin that deserved punishment.
He also emphasizes in verse 39 a strange statement, “why would a man complain, a man who was left alive, about the punishment of his sin?”
Its a strange statement because it seems like a person should complain about their sin since it caused the judgement of the Lord.
What I think is that Jeremiah here writes in such a way as to show us of a man who suffers for the sins of the people.
And that a person shouldn’t complain about the punishment of their sins because the punishment is received by a righteous man.
That’s the reason why they are still a living man and not a dead man. This is also why I think the book of Lamentations is anonymously written.
Its anonymous here because this book ultimately gives us a glimpse at the true lamenter, Jesus Christ.
Lamentations is essentially an Old Testament depiction of Jesus’s suffering on behalf of the sins of his people.
It leaves the hope in the future of a righteous man who deals with the sins of God’s people by taking the sins upon himself as if they were really his.
The justice of God gives us hope because the justice of God dealt with our sin in a decisive fashion. The cross is justice and mercy.
So that the reality of our future is a hopeful waiting on God who is not angry with us, but who is pleased with us because his Son.
The real man of Lamentations 3. God’s justice gives us hope because God has definitively dealt with our sin and will permanently deliver us from it.
All because of what Jesus Christ has done. Part of the process of sanctification is going from the belief that suffering is our greatest problem,
to recognizing that our sin is much worse. In a way, our sin is the real suffering. But Jesus will take away both permanently some day.
Our hope increases when we know how good Jesus is at saving us from our sin.
3). God’s Sovereignty Gives Us Hope.
Notice again Lamentations 3:37-39:
Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins?
— (Lamentations 3:37–39 ESV)
Jerry Bridges notes,
In the arena of adversity, the Scriptures teach us three essential truths about God—truths we must believe if we are to trust Him in adversity. They are:
• God is completely sovereign.
• God is infinite in wisdom.
• God is perfect in love.
Someone has expressed these three truths as they relate to us in this way: “God in His love always wills what is best for us. In His wisdom He always knows what is best, and in His sovereignty He has the power to bring it about.”
What Jeremiah is talking about here is very similar to what Job said in Job 2:10. In response to his wife who argued that its better to curse God and die:
“‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” — (Job 2:10 ESV)
What’s absolutely amazing about Job is the fact that even in the midst of his suffering, where he’s not going to find relieve for 38 more chapters,
Job logically reasons that if we want to receive good from God, then it makes perfect sense and it is the right thing for us to also receive bad.
Jeremiah says virtually the exact same thing. He asks it in a rhetorical question, he’s assuming that this is known fact.
Is it not from the mouth of the most high that both good and bad come? All things come from the mouth of God.
So much so that this forms the basis of Jeremiah’s assertion in verse 37, “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?”
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.””
— (James 4:13–15 ESV)
James seems to have recognized what Jeremiah said. How can any person say something will happen if the Lord has not said that something will happen?
The judgment that just came on Jerusalem is because God said it would happen, not just because Nebuchadnezzar wanted it to.
When God sent Assyria to deal with Israel, God said “Woe to Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury!”
— (Isaiah 10:5 ESV)
This idea that God sends the warring nation is also confirmed in Amos 3:6:
“Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?”
(Amos 3:6 ESV)
Its been said before that evil is the absence of good and darkness is the absence of light. The bible teaches that both exist by God’s decree:
“I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things.” — (Isaiah 45:7 ESV)
There is an intense mystery in the fact that God is sovereign over evil and yet not its author. Either of sin or evil.
But the Bible is clear on both the absolute holiness of God and the absolute sovereignty of God over sin and evil.
So what are we to make of this? How does knowing God’s sovereingty over all things give us hope?
Based upon our context here’s several reasons why I think the sovereignty of God should give us hope:
For the Lord will not cast off forever
If its by God’s sovereign care, the Bible promises a point in which there will be a complete and total cessation of all things bad for us.
If its God who causes grief and affliction, God also causes compassion (v. 3:31).
Our first point also noticed that God causes affliction so that we can experience and know him in his comfort.
God in his justice has dealt with the source of our antigonism towards him: our sin.
If its from God who has compassion according to his covenental, faithful love, then we can be assured that all affliction comes with loving intention.
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
— (Genesis 50:20 ESV)
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
(Romans 8:28 ESV)
I’ve known Christians who have gone through periods of grieving who have developed a distain for Romans 8:28.
Because in the moments of deep pain and suffering trying to tell thim that God is working it out for good is difficult to swallow.
And I understand that and I think that the right theology wrongly or untimely applied isn’t typically helpful.
But I also want to make sure that we don’t loose sight of the preciousness of Romans 8:28 and Genesis 50:20.
How can you remind yourself of the fact that God is present with you and working all things together for your good in the moments when it hurts the most?
The Psalmists and Jeremiah have had the experience where it hurts really bad. And they question God’s nearness.
They even say things that seem theologically incorrect. Psalm 13:1, David even asks if God is going to forget him forever.
That’s not possible God is omniscient.
The things is, that the Psalmists and Jeremiah are not questioning God with any type of disdain for God or his promises or his word.
The reason why they can say those things is not because they are being theologically inaccurate, But God allows us to experience him this way.
But the only way that you can experience God in his distance is if you have spent the time experiencing God in his closeness.
In other words, the only way that its possible for someone to feel like God has abandoned them, in a real sense not a complaining sense,
Is if they know God and have spent time with him in His church and in His Word. When you truly know God in receiving good things from him,
It starts to make sense why you receive bad things as well. The Psalmists and Jeremiah do something important, though.
They remind themselves that when they experience God in ways that may not make sense or may seem like God is absent or aloof,
that God has set his steadfast love upon us, and promised to end our sin and our suffering.
And when you remind yourself of the character of God, you find the hope of enduring even the most difficult experiences.
Elihu told Job in Job 37:14 to consider the wonders of God. Then he explained some of the wonders of God to Job.
After he explained some wonderful things about God, God revealed how awesome he is in his sovereign, creative power.
He’s so sovereign that he’s sovereign over the most powerful creatures on earth and in the sea. He walks in the deepest parts of the earth.
And after he finished explaining how wonderful he is, Job still had sores with maggots in them.
His children and servants were still dead. He was still in conflict with his wife. But after considering the wonderfulness of God,
Then Job answered the LORD and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.””
— (Job 42:1–6 ESV)
Job says, in Job 42:3, after considering the wonderfulness of God, he says its too wonderful for him.
His experience of God, in terms of God’s revelation of himself, was too wonderful for Job,
His experience of God changed the way he experienced his suffering, even though at that time, his suffering had not ended.
God’s sovereignty teaches us that our suffering comes, but Peter reminds us:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
— (1 Peter 4:12 ESV)
And earlier he explained that suffering comes to them,
“so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
— (1 Peter 1:7 ESV)
Jerry Bridges closes our message this morning,
Rather than being offended over the Bible’s assertion of God’s sovereignty in both good and calamity, believers should be comforted by it. Whatever our particular calamity or adversity may be, we may be sure that our Father has a loving purpose in it. As King Hezekiah said, “Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish” (Isaiah 38:17).