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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Lamenting and Repenting
Text:Lamentations 5:19-22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Repentance
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-05-14
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 80:1,8                                                                                         

Ps 42:2,3

Reading – Lamentations 5:1-22; 2 Corinthians 7:1-12

Ps 102:1,5,6,7

Sermon – Lamentations 5:19-22

Ps 60:1,2,5

Hy 14:1,9,10

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, this is lamentation: tears run down your cheeks; your eyes are red and puffy; you moan a little, sigh or sob. In earlier times and another culture, you would’ve put sackcloth on your body and ashes on your head. And whether with sackcloth and shrieks, or tissues and tears, the people of God have always grieved.

In the book of Lamentations we find a record of Judah’s grief and sorrow. The occasion for this poem of tears was the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem. Sometimes this short book is called the “Lamentations of Jeremiah.” That’s why it’s placed right after Jeremiah’s prophecies, for tradition says it comes from Jeremiah’s hand. In fact, he’s known as “the weeping prophet.” For instance, we hear him pray in Jeremiah 9:1, “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people!” Jeremiah had prophesied all this devastation, and then he saw it happen. And this is no arms-length account: this was his people suffering, his city and nation. It was his pain too.

Most of Lamentations is an acrostic, like Psalm 119 is. That means that in each chapter, the first word of each verse begins with consecutive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, twenty-two letters long. And in Lamentations 3, the alphabet is gone through three separate times. What is the point of this structure? It could emphasize how this is the fullest possible statement of grief; we’d call it the “A to Z” of sorrow—like Jeremiah wants to cover each and every aspect of this tragedy. This pattern might also show that his emotions weren’t out of control, though they easily could’ve been. Sticking to a certain structure gave a sense of focus to his grief.

He sees that the blame for this disaster must fall on God’s sinful people, yet he affirms that God hasn’t rejected them forever. Those are the two keynotes of the book: sorrow for sin, but in the midst of sorrow, a sure hope in God. That’s a message for Christ’s people in every time and place which I preach to you from Lamentations 5:19-22,

The broken people of God lament and repent:

  1. in our deep misery
  2. with our one hope
  3. to our eternal King

 

1) in their deep misery: It’s a broken people that Jeremiah speaks on behalf of in this book. They’re broken, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. He writes this when that terrible destruction was fresh in everyone’s mind. And as it is sometimes, the pain of the past was almost too much to bear.

We know from the book of 2 Kings that Nebuchadnezzar marched against Jerusalem with his entire army. For about two years he besieged the city, not letting anyone in or out, as the famine within became worse and worse. By the end, in the terrible desperation of severe hunger, the unthinkable took place; Jeremiah writes, “The hands of the compassionate women have cooked their own children; they became food for them” (Lam 4:10).

Finally—mercifully, you might say—the walls were cracked open. Judah’s army tried to flee, but they were slaughtered near Jericho. And as the Babylonians overtook the city, many citizens were cut down. The survivors were dragged away to exile: princes, elders, priests, prophets and common people alike. Nebuchadnezzar plundered everything, then ordered the city burned. Jerusalem’s walls were knocked down; the gates destroyed; the land left desolate.

And worst of all, the temple of the LORD was destroyed. The magnificent golden temple built by Solomon had its pillars broken, its precious metals stripped, and its valuable furniture and tools carried off. Then the temple too, was set ablaze. This was the greatest sorrow of all: the house of God was demolished, the atoning sacrifices no longer offered.

Looking back on what happened, the trauma has hardly decreased since that day. Raw anguish runs through the book. And all this suffering now erupts for a final time. Jeremiah and Judah cry out to God, “Why do you forget us forever, and forsake us for so long a time?” (5:20). Because far more terrible than mothers eating their children was the thought that God had left his people, forgotten them. For the land that God promised is desolate, the city He chose is ruined, the house where He dwelled is full of wild animals. You can only conclude: God too, is gone.

That’s the larger issue beneath the surface: the question of Israel’s status as God’s people. If they no longer had the land—the land that was promised already to Abraham, and then delivered so powerfully to the Israelites in the time of Joshua—if they no longer had God’s blessings in the land and temple, were they longer his people? “Our inheritance has been turned over to aliens,” they grieve in 5:2.

It seems that they have sunk into a deep pit. The last verse is very sombre, “Unless you have utterly rejected us and are very angry with us” (5:22). It’s like Jeremiah is suddenly struck by just how high is the cost of human sin—how can anyone hope to pay it in full? He realizes again that God can’t stand it when his people sin—so how can sinners ever live in covenant with him? Can the LORD’s anger really be turned away?

Jeremiah certainly wasn’t the first child of God to agonize like this. The Israelites often had occasion to lament, for their world could be a very tough place. Life wasn’t all milk and honey, but full of pain. There’s even a whole genre of writing in the Old Testament called “laments.” There are funeral laments, and psalms of lament (like Psalm 44); there are the tearful laments of those who suffer (like Job), and angry complaints against the wicked nations. Common to these laments are things like short cries of pain, urgent petitions and questions to God, and requests that enemies be judged—a lot of which we see in Lamentations.

I wonder how much God’s people lament today? We all prefer a happy psalm, a cheerful hymn. The grief of this book appears difficult to relate to. Judah’s suffering had turned them into animals and then into slaves—by contrast, we look pretty respectable, and we’re far from being broken to that degree. Yet is life really easier for God’s people today? Has the world improved so much? Is there no longer a need for lamentation?

When you listen to people for a while, you realize that there is suffering and pain today, and that it can even seem unrelenting. Brothers and sisters will echo Lamentations 5:15-17, “The joy of our heart has ceased… The crown has fallen from our head…Our heart is faint…Our eyes grow dim.” Children of God will ask along with Jeremiah: “Is there an end to it, or is God just going to keep pouring it on?”

After struggling with grief or worry or trouble for many months, a believer can begin to wonder about the mercy of God’s heart. Is He really a God of compassion, or does He sometimes like to grind people into the dirt? And then the question can become very real: If it seems we no longer have God’s blessings, does that mean we’re no longer his people? Life can feel that way.

In Judah’s deep misery, Jeremiah first wants to make sure they hear what the LORD is saying. If they missed the point of this, then it all was for nothing. They had to see their own part in this hardship, for they had fallen in love with false gods, and they’d turned for help to foreign nations. They thought they were secure just because they had the shiny temple. But how wrong they were: God had good reason to reject them!

And again we can ask: Have the people of God really changed? Is our character any better, our hearts more reliable? Among us sin still has a deeply-rooted place. Do you notice how we confess our sins in prayer after hearing the Ten Commandments, each and every Sunday? We need to do that. Just like we need to do that throughout the week. Individually and together, when it comes to sin we have much reason to lament.

We lament our personal sins. Why can’t I do for that person what I know to be right, even when I know it so clearly? Why do I find it so hard to resist temptation, and I just give into it again? We can start to loathe ourselves for our failures. We can feel like God must be running out of patience with us. If our conscience is alive to the Holy Spirit, then sin is painful.

Notice too, how Jeremiah’s lament is communal—he’s speaking on behalf of God’s people. That teaches us about lamenting as a congregation, and particularly grieving our sins and shortcomings collectively. What does communal sin look like? Well, are there brothers and sisters that we as a community have failed to reach out to? Have we forgotten to share our hope in Christ with those outside the church? Have we as congregation put too much value on the wrong things, or have we become lukewarm, or become rote and mechanical in worship?

We lament sin, and how universal it is. Sin, that tireless generator of suffering: as we struggle against the constant pull of temptation; as we battle illness; as we live with tensions and conflicts; even as we stand at the graveside. It’s a broken world, because it’s a sinful world. Even sins that we didn’t commit have a way of damaging us. Listen how the people complain in 5:7, “Our fathers sinned and are no more, but we bear their iniquities.” There are people in this congregation too, that have been deeply affected by other people’s sins—they’ve been sinned against, they’ve been hurt, and they must live with the results.

And what is the point of all these lamentations? Jeremiah is asking: What do you do with your tears? Where do you go with the consequences of sin, whether the results of your own sin or of others? How do you come to terms with a broken world, with a broken spirit?

And in this book, there’s one consolation that remains. The temple might be gone, but deep down the people know that the LORD is still present with them. He’s there, for throughout the book, Jeremiah and Judah are seeking God in prayer: “Remember, O LORD, what has come upon us” (5:1). Notice that after everything, they still know where to look: to the LORD. That teaches us. When there are tears, we know where to bring them. When there is pain, we understand the LORD is still there in his love!

In this way this book points ahead to Christ. Isaiah called him “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Think about how much our Saviour lamented. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, about to be destroyed again. He wept for those who rejected him. He wept when Lazarus died, for He was so stricken by the offense that is death. He came and shared in every human suffering, and then went even further. For He wept in Gethsemane, and then as He hung on the cross, He cried out to God, “Why do you always forget me? Why do you forsake me so long?” Christ was broken, rejected, and thrown into the Pit. He revealed sin’s true misery, but He also unveiled its marvelous answer. For He gives us our one and lasting hope.

 

2) with their one hope: A lot of people say there’s nothing like a good cry; apparently a person often feels better, having shed a few tears. We said that God’s Old Testament people often lamented, but it was lamenting for a good purpose. They would also include confessions of sin, confessions of trust, and vows to serve God again.

Consider again the difficult question in verse 20: “Why do you forget us forever, and forsake us for so long a time?” Laments often have challenging questions like this, but it’s not an accusation that God has literally forgotten his people. For to “remember” in the Bible means to bring to mind something important, and then to act upon it. That’s why the call for God not to forget is immediately connected with a prayer for God to take notice (v 21). In a situation that seems hopeless, these questions are the beginning of hope.

Jeremiah knew that God said the exile would have a limit: it would be seventy years long. Even this time of suffering was under God’s mighty rule. And that’s true in general, isn’t it? The LORD says there’s always a fixed limit to the hardships of his people—it’s not going to last forever, and it also won’t destroy us.

This is how Jeremiah can still call on God in faith. Judah isn’t so broken that she cannot seek the Lord. No, this is their request, “Turn us back to you, O LORD, and we will be restored; renew our days as of old” (v 21). Restore us!

That made me think about the companies today that specialize in “property restoration,” after a fire or a storm. Such companies would’ve done a good business at Jerusalem, rebuilding charred homes, the toppled walls, the demolished temple. God’s people pray for restoration, but not firstly for this physical kind. For they also say: “Turn us back to you, O LORD.” They knew that broken walls and abandoned homes are only external. Renewal must start within. For the Lord is seeking the heart of his people—our faith, our love, our devotion, our worship.

Notice how they pray, “Renew our days as of old!” Sitting in exile in Babylon and remembering the beautiful setting of Jerusalem among the hills, they might’ve settled for nostalgia: “Remember the good ol’ days?” But they’re not calling God to make everything just like it once was. Much as we’d like to, we can never back the clock.

Rather, they look back on what made the good times so good—those times under Moses and David and Solomon. Then, they were flourishing in obedience. Then, God was blessing them because they were serving him. “Renew those days,” they pray, “Grant that we may serve you like that again, and that we may receive your good gifts.”

This is our one hope, that if God will renew our heart, then we can return. Yes, if we repent, and there is transformation. For that’s the key question of Lamentations, we said: What do you do with your tears? Where do you take your sins? In themselves, tears over sin mean little. We might confess our transgressions every morning worship service, 52 Sundays a year—but what happens with that communal confession? What do we do with it?

Personally, too: when we’re confronted with the ugliness of our sin, or when it suddenly hits us just how often and how proudly we’ve rebelled against God, we can be very remorseful. For a while, we can feel broken in our guilt. We might even cry. But true repentance isn’t just puffy eyes or a heavy heart. We need to change! We need to put our sin away from us, and take steps to fight against it.

Think of what Paul teaches us in 2 Corinthians 7:10, “Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” He says there are two kinds of sorrow for sin. There is the sorrow you feel because your sin caused some unpleasant results for yourself; similarly, there’s the sorrow that you were caught. This is a sorrow that quickly fades.

In fact, it’s one of the easiest things to regret our sin in the moment—“I probably shouldn’t have gotten so mad. I was wrong to watch that video. It would’ve been better if I had done my devotions this morning instead of sleeping in again.” We feel bad, but do we do anything different the next time? God says that this is the “sorrow of the world,” and it only produces death.

But then there’s the sorrow for sin that moves you to repentance, to take action and change your ways. As Paul points out to the Corinthians, “Observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication!” (v 11). When the Corinthians sinned against God, and then repented with tears, he knew that their sorrow was real, because it was followed up with action.

That’s what we must do: don’t just lament, but repent. Pray every day for revival, as Judah did when they said: “Turn us back to you, O LORD, and we will be restored!” Beloved, make that your own prayer, when you ask God every day: “Forgive me in Christ, and fill me with his Spirit more and more, so that I’m made new. Help me now to kill my sin, and to bury it forever! I want to walk closely with you, to be your faithful servant and humble child. For Christ’s sake, draw me back to you!”

Pray for restoration, and work for restoration. This is what shows that it’s real, when we strive to put right the things that are wrong. Facing up to our sins as individuals, as families, as married couples, as church, means that we must also be prepared to get to work. Confess your sin to someone who can help you. Ask forgiveness from those you have wronged. Or if you realize that you’ve left a mess behind you—a mess in your relationships, a mess in your family—try to bring harmony again. Work for restoration! Then the King will bless you.

 

3) to their eternal King: When Judah fell, her king fell too. King Zedekiah had fled Jerusalem with his army, but the Babylonians gave chase and caught them. The army was wiped out, and the king had to watch as his sons were murdered; then his eyes were plucked out, and he was bound and taken away.

Zedekiah wasn’t a great king, yet Judah had still looked to him with expectation. That’s because God said that a son of David would sit on the throne forever. So as long as one of his sons was around, there was hope! But now even the mighty seat of David was sent crashing to the ground. Jeremiah laments in 4:20, “The anointed of the LORD was caught in their pits.” So much for their king, and so much for their future.

But now in this last chapter, Jeremiah and the people are able to take a different perspective. “You, O LORD, remain forever; your throne from generation to generation” (v 19). Do you notice that mention of God’s throne? Even with Solomon’s palace destroyed, God is King. Even with the glorious temple destroyed, God is on his throne. Whatever shakes this world gives no bother to the one who made it. He reigns forever, in wisdom, power, and holiness!

It’s the eternity of God, it's his authority and might, that inspire these last verses of hope for restoration. Beloved, that’s always where hope begins: with God, and who He is. The character of God is only the foundation of our confidence, for He remains the same: “You, LORD, remain forever.”

That makes me think of the passage that gleams like a diamond right in the middle of all the darkness of Lamentations, chapter 3:22-23, “Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Why are we not consumed for sin? Why do we have hope in the midst of sorrow and trouble and calamity? Because of the Lord’s great love, his compassion, his faithfulness!

Though sin wrenches apart this world and hinders our faith, we may look to our eternal King, to the one who sits on David’s throne. Jesus Christ once suffered for our sin; now He reigns over all, and He grants rich blessings to all the citizens of his kingdom. He never changes in his mercy and his compassion. From year to year, from generation to generation, He bestows grace on all who seek him.

So every day, lament your sins, and bring them before the King! Every day, do the hard work of repenting from sin, and then bring your guilt to God in Christ. It’s humbling to keep on crawling back, to keep on begging for mercy—but how certain is the Father’s response. If we are genuine, our great King will never turn us away, but He’ll forgive and restore.

It’s just as the “weeping prophet” Jeremiah says in another place. In Jeremiah 31 he’s speaking about that great day of the new covenant, when God will come near to his people in an amazing new way. And he prophesies of that day, “Then the LORD will turn our mourning into gladness; He will give us delight instead of sorrow” (Jer 31:13).

Mourning becomes gladness, because in Christ, there’s an answer for our lamentation. He “will wipe away every tear” from our eye, and He’ll make possible that day when “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying,” and no more pain (Rev 21:4). Christ alone can take away our misery and restore our joy. This joy begins now when we turn to Him, and it continues forever!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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