Would you turn in your Bibles to Lamentations, chapter 3. I’m having us turn to a unique book in the Old Testament, that records the fall of Jerusalem in the exile, the most horrendous catastrophe in Israel history up to this point. Prophet Jeremiah is the poet here who is overseeing the death of a nation, his nation. As there is a death of a nation, there’s also a living God who is greatly at work. It’s a lot like the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ book, the Tale of Two Cities. “It was the best of times, it was a wast of times, it was an age of wisdom, it was an age of foolishness.” So, we see in this book. So, I am having us turn here for two reasons:
First of all, it is one of the most significant passages in all Scripture on the faithfulness of God to His people.
But there’s a second reason and it’s this: Christmas is over with. We have just celebrated. For many people, it represents a season of hope, but let me add that it represents that doesn’t last very long. It would seem that many people, Christmas after Christmas, grow a bit more cynical. “Yeah, Jesus was born.” “But so what? I mean, the angels aid over the skies in Bethlehem, ‘Peace on earth, goodwill towards man.” But it sure doesn’t seem like I am seeing a lot of peace in nations, or good will shown from one person to the next. It seems that December’s hope get eclipsed by January’s harsh reality.
After talking with many this season, many people and families are dealing with pain and the depression that comes with a lost one in their past. Just looking back on the year of 2018, we find that there is a deadly trend. Danville, a city I live near, just became the most dangerous city in the state, having the nation’s 10th highest murder rates. 80 thousand people died from the flu last year. A quarter of a billion Christians faced major persecution in 2018. I was reported in 2018, that over 3000 were killed, 1,252 abducted, 1,020 sexually violated, and 793 churches were attacked. In our own nation there is a growing racial and gender divide sparked by events that have happened. About about this past week, the state of New York legalized the murder of your child up until the minute of their birth.
So, somebody would look at that and then read the Scripture where the angel said, “Peace on earth, goodwill towards men!” And say “What’s wrong with this picture?” It would seem that everything is wrong. But we have to understand that what we place on Christmas cards, is not what the Angels really said at Christ’s brith. They proclaimed a somewhat different message, “On earth peace to men on whom God’s favor rests.” Very different meaning, right!? “On earth peace to men on whom God’s favor rests.” In other words, that the promises to you in he midst of all of the bad stuff that is going on around you.
Here we are in Lamentations, and we are going to read verses that proclaim some wonderful things. But I want to give you the setting. The year was 586 BC. This means nothing to us Americans, but everything to the Israelites. It was like their September 11th. The nation has just died. The Babylonians have come and have taken over the city, and burned it. Thousands upon thousands of people were dying in the streets of Jerusalem as Jeremiah was writing about what he saw. People where running into the city for protect. But there was no food. Sickness spread quickly. The temple was burned. It got so bad the prophet writes in this book, that some of the parents became cannibals. And Jeremiah, like a war correspondent, is recording what he sees and hears in the book of Lamentations. Here is Jeremiah lamenting, as if in a funeral.
If you are familiar with the book, you know when you get to chapter 3, things went from bad, really bad, to worst. But suddenly, we come to these the verses, which are an island of hope in an ocean of despair. A bright light in a dark room. We come to these verses, beginning with verse 21 of Chapter 3, the prophet writes:
21 This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.
22 It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
24 The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.
25 The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.
26 It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man that he bear the yoke sin his youth.
28 He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.
29 He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.
30 He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach.
31 For the Lord will not cast off for ever:
Lamentations 3:21–31 (KJV)
Last week we discussed how we are not to meditated on the past, the end of one year. But if you remember, I ended with what we are to recall to mind. That’s when I have you part of our Lamentations passage. As we now look ahead, the beginning of a new year, we live in uncertain world. Like I said last week, the future is often uncertain and that is why we run to our past. Living in an uncertain world, I want to give of a few things you can rely on.
Here’s the first: There is mercy in the midst of mayhem. Verse 22 tells us,
“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.”
As I said, this is the only bright spot in the book. If you are not familiar with the book, you might think it’s just as cheery as these verses. It’s not. These verses just read are like diamonds find in a mine of coal. Prophet Jeremiah can see through the smoke of judgment and he focuses on God’s mercy. He says, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed,” that is, we are not utterly destroyed or crushed. This is a incredible statement, because Jeremiah is seeing death and destruction all around. He chooses to say, “You know what, this is not the end. It’s just the start of something new. We may be down, but we are not out. We are not completely crushed or complete wiped out, all all the other nations at the time of Babylonians. God has been merciful to us, It is not the end!
Every person, including you, will face mayhem, confusion, hardship, heartache, suffering, battles, storm - Mayhem. I don’t care how old you are, but you are still adjusting to the fact that a lot of things happen that you never planned for. One of the greatest sufferers, Job, said “Man is born to trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward" (Job 5:7). Another author you known and you are familiar with his beautiful psalm, Psalm 23, remember it: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil" (Psalm 23:4). Though you walk though the valley. No, you won’t be airlifted, or medavacked from the mountain peak to mountain peak. There may be mayhem this year, but there will be mercy in the midst of it.
I want you to consider and even look at the word in your test: “mercies.” That is a word that is used 250 times in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word, is chesed (Kheh’ed), It means loyal love or covenant love. And here’s what that actually means. It means that God made an agreement with you, and that he will act in love and mercy towards you because of the agreement that he made with you, despite the wrong you have committed. That is what it means.
So rather focusing on the great grief that you are experiencing, maybe you need to focus on the great God in the midst of the great grief, and his great love, his mercy and compassion towards you. C.H. Mackintosh wrote “Ten thousands mercies are forgotten in the precise of a single trifling moment.” How often have I seen that among believers. “God is good, I am in love with God, I trust the Lord…” Then one small inconvenience happens and they are not questioning if there is a God. One bad moment, and ten thousand mercies are forgotten about. I say we need to start drawing out the trimming moments with God’s triumphant mercy. Here’s a prophet looking a destruction, and he finds a reason to say God is good.
Here is a second certainly: God’s resources will match your requirements. God’s provisions will be there to match whatever need, whatever is required for you to survive. Look at verse 23.
“they are new every morning” says the prophet. What’s new? God’s mercies, his compassions, they’re new every morning. And then he pauses. “Great is your faithfulness!” I just want us to understand how significant this is. This is like somebody standing at Ground Zero after September 11th, 2001, and lifting their head up and going “Great is God’s faithfulness.” See, that is how bad it was in Jerusalem.
Here is what Jeremiah is saying, whatever the day throws at you, God will match it. Whatever requirement you have, whatever need you have, God will match it with his resources. Every single morning this New Year, whatever you need to get through that day, that week, that month, there will be fresh supply of God’s convent love and God’s loving compassion towards you. But here’s the catch, it’s sort of like manna. Do you remember manna in the Old Testament? Do you remember there was a catch with God for giving them mana. They had to do something— What? They had to gather it every single morning. God said, “You got to get out there and get it every day, If you try to collect a bunch of it for a few days, it will go bad. So every day, you have to go out and demonstrate that you dependent on me every morning, every morning, every morning.
Well, God’s mercies are like that. They’re new every morning. You got to gather them every morning. I am going to challenge us, that this new year you give your mornings to God. You spend some time with Him, and you adjust sights, you glance you life by some time in his Word and in prayer. That’s how you start your day. You say “I’m not a morning person.” Get up just a little earlier. “I don’t have time.” Get up just a little earlier. “But I am not good in the morning, go to bed earlier or drink a pot of coffee! Give your mornings to God. Try it. Try to gather the manna every day and receive during that time what you will need for that day. Whatever it will bring you.
Jeremiah says, ““Great is your faithfulness!” I have always marveled at this text. Because to say this is a declaration based not on what he sees, hears, smells, or what he is experiencing, but it is based on what he knows. What he sees is fire. What he is smelling is the corrupted and rotted flesh of humans. What he is hearing, is the cities of women and children being massacred. That is what history tells us. That’s what he is experiencing. And yet, the prophet makes a statement not on what he sees, but on what he knows, the faith he has, the knowledge of God that he has. “Great is your faithfulness!”Paul went so fare as to tell Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:13 “13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”
“In all that has happened to us, you have remained righteous; you have acted faithfully, while we acted wickedly.” (Nehemiah 9:33)
Nehemiah went to say,
“Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
He is faithful, but we don’t always notice it, do we? We are the kind of people who live in the shadows rather than noticing what’s not in the shadows. We noice the black on the white sheet, but not all the white that is left on that white sheet. There is a great story about Thomas Chisolm. He lived in the 1800s. He was born into poverty. He was born in Frankln, Kentucky. Uneducated, but he desired to be in the ministry. He eventually was set apart into ministry. But because he was very poor health, we only could minister for one year. That’ all. He couldn’t keep up. So whatever energy he had left, he spent it in the insurance industry, selling insurance to people. So he had a dream. It was fulfilled for a year, than it was gone. And yet, this is what he said, “I must never fail to record the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant keeping God.” God kept that promise. Thomas went on to write 1200 poems and hundreds of songs, one of them is based on this text. Here’s the lyrics:
“Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my father;
there is no shadow of turning with Thee.
Thou changes not, Thy companions fail not;
as Thou forever will be.
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand has provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness unto me!”
Did you know that there are 7,487 promises in the Bible that God made to man. That’s right, someone sat down, and counted all the promises up. 7,487 promises. That will most certainly get you though your tomorrows’ sorrows. It is time that we start focusing and noticing all the times God keeps a promises: “Another there. Another here. I ate this morning. I could get gas today. I could pay the electric bill again. I Got to hug that person again.” Whatever that might be, it’s he great faithfulness.
So, there is mercy in the midst of mayhem. God’s resources will match your requirements.
Here is the third and final thing to meditate on: Delays don’t always mean God’s denial. Look at verse 25:
"It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord."
Now in this text that we have read from verse 21 to 31, there is a word that occurs five times. It’s the word “hope” and the word “wait,” and they always go together. Jeremiah is waiting in hope. “Wait” and “Hope”— these are the words of a man anticipating some answer from God at some but in the future. It’s like “This is bad, but we’re not done yet, not over yet, I am still hoping and I am still hoping.” Now you know that Jeremiah predicted what happened in this book. Did you know that in the prophecy of Jeremiah, the book before Jeremiah, the book that bears his name, he spent 40 years, running around telling the people like Paul Revere “The babylonians are coming! The babylonians are coming! The babylonians are coming! This place is going down!” For 40 years this was his message, and not one listened or repented. And now they day has happened and now he is watching it like a war correspondent. He is recording it all. But he made another prophecy in his book of Jeremiah, He said that there is coming a day where the city that is destroyed, Jerusalem, will be restored, “After seventy years of captivity in Babylon, you will come back to this city, God will restore you and you will rebuild.” So the words “Wait” and “Hope” now make sense here. He is a guy who expects God to answer. At the same time, he gives room for God to answer. “Lord, I expect you to answer, but I am giving room for you to answer at your time in your way” That is waiting, my friends! I am not good at waiting. I will make a confession for you. You are not either. We are told not to wait in our culture. But we need to wait.
God's people are not asked to deny their emotions and but voice their protest to vent their feelings and pour it all out before God. The book ends with something of a paradox, Jeremiah acknowledges that God is the eternal king of the world but also the Israel circumstances makes them feel like God is nowhere to be found. So the final words of the book leave this tension totally unresolved. It asks “unless you've totally rejected us..” and the book ends. Jeremiah doesn't offer a nice neat conclusion. Much like our own experiences of pain and suffering. But we must wait for the conclusion. Much like a movie. The director will add a creative pause. He will build it up. There will be suspense and desire. There will be tension in the film, but no resolve yet. But eventually there will be a place at the end, there is resolve.
What this means for you and I is that we start recognizing and looking for God’s mercy in the midst of mayhem. We start grabbing ahold to his resources in the midst of our requirements. And it also means that when we don’t get what we want, when we wanted, we say “That’s okay, God. You will answer it. I will wait and hope in you, because you are saying to be ‘Not now.’ Not now was an answer that my parents use to give me.
It’s time to let go, and allow God. This year let go. And as you are looking up, as you find yourself in a pit despair, and you are looking up, that’s the best place to look, because your outlook is determined by your up-look. And as you look up and you remember God’s mercies and you say, “God is faithful,” you keep lookin up at Him and anticipating God will answer and that God will work, in his way at his time. Because if you don’t, you sink back into that muck and mire of the past. Say, “Great is your faithfulness.”
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." (2 Corinthians 4:8–9)
Paul counted all the ways God was faithful to him.
Friends, "Count them!" Count all the ways He has been faithful to you in the past. Write them down. This year, record all the ways God is being faithful to you. Don’t forget it!
“those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength." (Isaiah 40:31)
I must tell you the Lord is our portion. This is a very special statement, for the Israelites and the priests of Israel, for their portion to be the Lord, it was special. When the Lord’s gave the 12 tribes of Israel land to inherit, and pass down through the generations, the family of the Levites and Aaron where told they had none as the priests of Israel. They didn’t have land, livestock or fields. But the Lord did say, “I am your portion.” Meaning all of the offerings brought into the temple, were theirs to partake, the grains, meat where there’s to get through the day. Only holy priests had this privilege. So it is with us today. If you have been added into the holy priesthood, and stand alive in Christ, as you have died with Him at the occasion of Baptism, you partake of the spiritual provisions. If you have not yet been added to the holy priesthood, the church, it is time to dedicate yourself to partake of the Lord and his blessings that are his to give.