1st intro- I can remember as a child walking in the playground and observing the newly laid asphalt. But on that spring day I saw a rupture on the smooth surface of the playground. A little seedling beneath the black-top and had actually lifted the asphalt so that the tiny plant could merge into the sunlight.
What a miracle of God’s creation! But it serves to illustrate the power of hope. Yes, God will give you hope in the midst of despair that will lift you into the light of blessings, just as surely as He gave that little seedling strength to push through the heavy asphalt.
Today we’re going to look into God’s word and learn more about this hope.
2nd intro- The Book of Lamentations was written by the Prophet Jeremiah at a time when God’s people, the nation of Judah, had lost everything. The Bab. Under Nebuchadnezzar had overrun their country, besieged the holy city of Jerusalem, and now had sacked it and destroyed it. They were a conquered and humiliated people.
The Lord had warned them. In fact, He had sent this same man Jeremiah. The people blamed Jeremiah! Unpatriotic, not a team player, thrown into a pit.
Still, Jeremiah loved his people. “Weeping Prophet”. Now, seemingly, the worst had happened. The Book of Lamentations records the feelings of these people (and especially the prophet) suffering under God’s chastisement. It starts out, “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow is she, who was great among the nations! The princess among the princess has become a slave!”
Jeremiah cries out in Ch. 1 vs. 12: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Behold and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which has been brought on me, which the Lord has inflicted on the day of His fierce anger.” Jeremiah forcefully describes the suffering and anguish that the people’s sins have brought upon them in Chapter 4:
“The tongue of the infant clings to the roof of its mouth for thirst; the young children ask for bread, but no one breaks it for them “and in Chapter 5: “Our skin is hot as an oven because of the fever of famine. They ravished the women in Zion, the maidens in the cities of Judah. Princes were hung up by their hands, and Elders were not respected. Young men ground at the millstones, boys staggered under the loads of wood. The Elders have ceased gathering at the gate, and the young men from their music.” (5:10-14)
A very grim picture indeed! But how many of us-if we are honest –can see the same pattern in our own lives. We reject or ignore God, go our own way…. Or maybe we’re more like Jeremiah. Suffering largely because of the sins of others (but we are all sinners)
And in the midst of all the suffering, the injustice, we begin to despair. We ask,” Is there any Hope?”
You see, God put this book of Lamentations in the Bible for a purpose. It might not be a very well-known book of the Bible. You almost miss it when you’re paging thru the Major Prophets. But it has a message. And one of the greatest messages this book is HOPE IN THE MIDST OF DESPAIR.
Let’s read a selection from Lamentations 3:19-41. What can we learn about HOPE in this passage? (Biblical hope, not just a wishy-washy emotion. Hope based upon God’s character and promise.
1. Hope flows from God’s mercy and faithfulness (Vs. 22-24) Here we find a recognition that it’s all because of His Peace. Not because of our goodness. We deserve only punishment. “Though the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.”1) God’s “Mercy” (also “Compassion” we gain insight into God’s Heart of Love. His desire is not for us to be destroyed, but to be saved. “..Not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9) 2) God’s “Faithfulness” God is faithful- He is true, reliable, and keeps His Word. It is upon this quality of faithfulness that all of God’s promises are founded- including the promise of salvation, the Gospel itself we can trust in Our Lord and what he says. V.24 expresses a personal faith in the Lord. “The Lord is my portion, says my soul, Therefore I hope in Him”. In this statement we see that word, HOPE. Hope in the midst of despair! The second thing that we learn about Hope in this passage is…
2. Hope Builds Godly Character (vs.25-32). It enables us to live right, to become the kind of person God wants us to be. Tell me, what was your reaction when we read these verses? (Does it sound wrong?) Certainly goes against our normal way of thinking! “Let him put his mouth to the dust?” We want everything now. Life, freedom, youthfulness are glorified in our culture. But God has a different perspective. He teaches us to humble ourselves, to submit; to endure hardships, for the sake of glorifying Him. God looks at the long-term picture. “There may yet be Hope” The end result for the one who submits himself to the Lord will always be mercy. (re-read vs.31,32) Let us learn to submit ourselves to the Lord, even in the midst of suffering, so that He can build goodly character in us.
3. Hope affirms God’s justice. (Vs. 33-36) We see that one of the things God does not approve of is OPPRESSION of others. You see, God allowed the Babylonians to overrun Jesus, but it was only to be temporary, a chastisement for their sin. Those who perpetrate injustice will be punished. When we reach out to help the poor and disenfranchised, when we take up the cause of the widow and orphan and homeless we are affirming the justice of God. This is why over and over in Scripture the Lord calls on us to help the poor and to speak out against the injustices in society that are oppressing them. Look closely at verse 35 “before the face of the most High” That should make every oppressor tremble. All injustice flies in the face of Almighty God! You see, when we lose our spiritual moorings and forget about the basic justice of God in society, then it’s easy to fall into despair and to give up- or just to go along with the flow. But true hope affirms God’s justice in society. And the 4th thing we learn about HOPE in Lam. 3 is that….
4. Hope leads us to repentance. (Vs. 37-41) God is in control, and He is right in what he does. Just as the people of Judah had to acknowledge that the problem was with them (and not with the Lord), so we too must recognize our sin. We deserve whatever punishment He gives us-in this world or the next. Then God calls on us to examine our ways (v. 40a). Yes, it is painful. But we must face what we see when we look at ourselves in the mirror of God’s holy word! This is what we call confession of sins. “If we confess our sins…” (I John 1:9) And then the Invitation- to turn back to the Lord (v. 40b) Yahweh-covenant keeping name of God. We turn to the Lord because there is hope of forgiveness in turning to Him because He is faithful. We turn to Him because of His promise that He will receive us back. Read Lam. 3:55-57. God extends His offering of mercy to us today, just as he did in Jeremiah’s day. All forgiveness flows from the cross. Believe on the Lord Jesus today, and you too can discover hope in the midst of despair.
Yours In Christ,
Reverend Ray Redlich