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Author:Rev. Andre Holtslag
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Congregation:Reformed Church of Dovedale
 Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand
 dovedale.rcnz.org.nz
 
Title:Great is Thy Faithfulness
Text:Lamentations Lamentations 3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Faith Tested
 
Preached:2017-07-17
Added:2017-06-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

New Testament Reading: Philippians 3:8-4:7

Song before the Sermon - Great is Thy Faithfulness

Song after the sermon - Be Still My Soul

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


Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

Some of you will know that the hymn When Peace Like a River was written after the author’s four daughters died by drowning.  And there are many other hymns that were also written in the wake of a single, major, traumatic event.  But the hymn we sung earlier, Great is Thy Faithfulness, is not one of those hymns.  It was written by Thomas Chisholm.  He spent many years living and working as a life insurance agent.  But he struggled with health issues, sometimes more and some times less, until he eventually died at the ripe old age of 94.  So Chisholm’s life was one of ‘ordinary’ or ‘every day’ struggles, we could say.  But while he was away from home on a missions trip one time, he sent some poems to his good friend, William Runyan, a relatively unknown musician.  And Runyan found the poem based on Lamentations 3:22-23 so moving that he decided to compose a musical score to accompany the lyrics.  And so the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness was published in 1923 as a celebration of God’s faithfulness over a lifetime. 

  But while the words of vv22-23 will be know to some of us because of the hymn, most of us probably don’t know much about this book of the Bible.    

  • Lamentations is a collection of 5 lament poems about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians around 600BC. 
  • And those of you who were present for the first two sermons will know that so far we have heard from the poet, whom we have called the Narrator, and a woman who represents the city of Jerusalem, whom we called Lady Zion
    • Well, we wont hear from Lady Zion again in Lamentations.  But the man speaking here in ch. 3 is probably our Narrator from ch’s 1&2.  And a very good case can be made for this man being the prophet Jeremiah.  And I will explain why in a moment.
  • So, the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile led to great suffering and sorrow for the people of Israel.  And out of that suffering arises the despair and the very difficult Why, Lord? questions that we encounter in these verses.  And we dare not, for a moment, minimize the despair we encounter here.  For whether it be in the wake of a single, major, traumatic event, or because of the more ‘ordinary’ struggles of life, every Christian encounters times when he or she struggles to understand why the Lord has brought a particular circumstance into his or her life.  Indeed, some of you may have come to church today with that very question weighing heavily on your heart.

So as we turn our attention to this chapter, we will read about personal suffering but also we also read about the steadfast love of the Lord that never ceases.  So here in the third of the five poems of Lamentations, A ray of hope shines out of the dark pit of despair.  And we shall see this as we consider the five sections of this poem, where we see that Hope fades, Hope remembers, Hope instructs, Hope cries, and Hope pleads.

  1. So first of all then, in vv1-18, we see that Hope fades.
    1. At the end of ch. 2, the Narrator had called on Lady Zion to confess her sin to the Lord.  But Lady Zion was not ready to do this.  She still saw God as her angry enemy.  So as we come to ch. 3, we see the Narrator change his approach somewhat.  And basically what he does is to speak of his own personal experience in the past as a lesson to the current situation of himself and the people of Jerusalem. 
      1. And this is why we think it is Jeremiah who writes these words, as I said.  In Jeremiah 37, Jeremiah was suspected of being a deserter, so he was beaten and put in a dungeon for “many days,” before being released.  And so, in v2 and v6, we read of a place of darkness.  In v7, we read of being walled about and heavy chains.  In v9 we read of being trapped, as it were, by “blocks of stones.”  And then in Jeremiah 38, because the people and the king did not like what Jeremiah was prophesying, they cast him into a well or a pit.  We read that he was “let down by ropes.  And there was [mud] … in the cistern … and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.”  So again, a place of darkness would be a fitting description of that cistern.  And v53 speaks of being “flung alive into the pit” and v34 of water closing over his head. 
      2. Now all of this happened in the period leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.  Jeremiah was hated by the King and the people; he was very much a lonely and despised voice.  And there were many times when it seemed that he was certain to be executed but it did not happen.  So, it is quite possible that our Narrator is none other than the prophet Jeremiah who is recalling what happened to him back then.  
      3. And it seemed to him then that God had abandoned him.  His prayers, as we see in v8, seemed to be unheard and unanswered.  It even appeared to Jeremiah, as we read in v12, that God was using him for target practice.  Things seemed so bleak and hopeless that we read in vv17-18, “I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is; so I say, “My splendour is gone, and all that had hoped for from the Lord.” 

         Have you ever felt like that?  Target practice?  Hopeless?  Not an uncommon place for believers to experience.

 

  1. And so, hope fades.  But that is not the end of the story because as we come to vv19-24, we see that hope remembers

 

  1. But to help us understand the significance of vv19-24 for you and me today, we must first note one more thing from v18.   And it is the last word of v18, which is? “LORD.”  And because it is in capital letters, we know that it is the special covenant name of God that the Narrator uses; it is the name by which God revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush.  God said I AM WHO I AM.  I am the unchanging, everlasting, faithful God of covenant mercies.  It is the name of God by which He revealed Himself to the people of Israel as a symbol of His close, personal presence with them.  So we could call it His ‘relationship name.’
    1. Sometimes a Father might have a special name for his daughters that makes no sense to anyone else but it has to do with the closeness of their relationship.  Well, that gives us some idea of how special LORD was to the Jews.  
    2. And so, even as hope fades for the Narrator, even as his own strength and commitment ebbs away, he preaches to himself just by using the special relationship name of the Lord. 
    3. And you know, you can do this to yourself, people of God; you must do this to yourself, when it seems to you that hope in God is pointless. 
    4. You see, no matter how bad the Narrator’s circumstances were, and no matter how bad your circumstances are, there is one whose circumstances were far worse than those of any other human being, past, present, or future.  And that person is Jesus.  He suffered unspeakable anguish of body and soul – cruelty, torture, insult, and the eternal wrath of God.  But while you and I are guilty sinners who actually do deserve to suffer, He was sinless and did not deserve to suffer at all.   But He willingly chose to suffer so that we might have eternal life.  And he has a special relationship name too.  It is Immanuel – God with us.  Jesus is Immanuel. 
    5. So when you read a part of the Bible like Lamentations 3:1-18, by all means see your own situation described for a short while, but ask the Spirit of the Lord to quickly turn your attention instead to the suffering and sorrow of your Saviour and Lord, Jesus.

 

  1. And this is what our Narrator does, by faith, in vv19-24, as hope remembers.  In vv19-20, he briefly remembers his own situation.  But then in v21 he ‘calls to mind’ something else. 
    1. And that phrase, “call to mind” is very instructive.  It is an active choice.  He chooses to meditate on something else instead of his own situation/circumstances. 
      1. And we find this idea used often in Scripture.  The fourth commandment has to do with the Lord’s Day.  In Deuteronomy the commandment to observe the day is given and then a reason to do so is given.  Do you recall how the reason is introduced in Deut. 5?  “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt.”  And quite obviously this was not about a trip down memory lane or sweet reminiscing of the good ol’ days for Israel.  This was an active calling to mind; a deliberate replaying of the horrible truth of slavery in Egypt as motivation to observe and delight in the rest and freedom of the Lord’s Day. 
      2. Earlier we read from Hebrews 12:2.  There, struggling Christians are told, “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith…”   Turn your gaze from yourself and your circumstances to Jesus; fill your thoughts with Jesus.

 

  1. But let’s listen to our Narrator remembering.  I am sure you have heard the Hebrew word Hesed mentioned before.  It is translated in v22 as “steadfast love.”  It is the word that best describes the faithful love of the LORD toward His people, Israel.  Every verse of Psalm 136 ends with this refrain, “His hesed/steadfast love endures forever.”  So our Narrator remembers this truth; he remembers this attribute or characteristic of God.  The steadfast love of God toward His people endures forever. 
    1. Now, in v55 we see that our Narrator called out to God when he was in the pit and the Lord heard his cry and came near and redeemed his life.  So our Narrator had personal experience of God’s steadfast love and mercy. 
    2. So he wants God’s people to remember the many times that they had experienced God’s steadfast love and mercy.
    3. And you and I also, if we were to take out a sheet of paper and a pen, could surely build up quite a list of the times when we personally experienced God’s steadfast love and mercy.   Some of you might remember the hymn – Count your Blessings

When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done. 

And the fact is, for the believer, the compassions or mercies of the Lord are new every morning.  Sometimes they are the mercy of physical healing or relief or provision in this life.  But even death begins the morning of eternal life with our Saviour in heaven!

 

  1. This is the encouragement we receive as hope remembers.  And it leads in to vv25-39 where Hope instructs.

 

  1. And the instruction of the Narrator is aimed firstly at the people of Jerusalem.  He wants them to make good use of the circumstances of hardship that they are experiencing.  But his instruction is just as necessary for you and me today.  So as we scan our eyes over vv25-30, we see a repeated call to patience and reflection and endurance in the face of trouble. 
    1. Our Narrator wants God’s people to know that it is spiritually useful to endure times of hardship, like times of injury or illness or injustice or insult. 
      1. Our Narrator experienced the steadfast love of the Lord, himself, most deeply when he was in the pit. 
      2. The Apostle Paul experienced the sufficiency of the grace of Christ most when the thorn in his flesh was not removed. 
      3. Thomas Chisholm, who wrote the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness, experienced that truth most in his frequent times of illness. 
      4. Robert Browning Hamilton has a poem that goes like this:

I walked a mile with Pleasure; She chattered all the way,

but left me none the wiser for all she had to say. 

I walked a mile with Sorrow; and ne’er a word said she;

But, oh, the things I learned from her when sorrow walked with me.

And I think many of us here will say a knowing Amen! to Hamilton’s poem?  We learn so much about the Lord from times of hardship.

  1. And what should be learned in times of hardship is what we read in vv31-33: “The Lord will not cast off for ever … Though He cause grief, He will have compassion … He does not afflict from His heart.” 
    1. And I hope these words remind you of what we read earlier in Hebrews 12 about the discipline of the Lord: “The Lord disciplines the one He loves … For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” 
  2. So as we come to verse 38, our narrator reminds his readers that both good and bad come from the Lord.  And sinners have no right to complain about any hardship they endure.  Lady Zion should not be angry with the Lord and see Him as her enemy.  And you, dear Christians, must remember that the only one that the Father truly punished was His beloved Son, Jesus.  You, He does not punish; you, He disciplines.  And there is a world of difference between punishment and loving discipline. 

 

  1. So these are the words of instruction that our Narrator speaks to the people of Jerusalem and to all who would read these words.  But next, as we see in vv40-51, Hope cries out

 

  1. And what we read here is our Narrator urging his people to confess their sins.  He puts himself with the Jews in exile and says Our situation should not lead us to point an accusing finger to heaven but instead to get out the mirror of self-examination.  Let us “examine our ways and test them [and] let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven” and confess our sins.

 

  1. Now, as we come to v42, where it says, “We have sinned and rebelled, and you have not forgiven,” we might wonder if this means that the Lord doesn’t always forgive those who confess their sins?  But that is not the case.  1 John 1:9 is plain, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 
    1. What we need to remember is that God had already told the people of Jerusalem that they would be in exile for 70 years and then He would restore them and rebuild Jerusalem.  But the people of Jerusalem have only just gone into exile at this time.   So the visible time of God’s forgiveness is still in the future.  Now was the time for genuine confession and repentance.  So far, Jerusalem’s tears have been tears of sorrow and grief and even anger at her circumstances but not sorrow for sin. 
    2. One thing we learn pretty quickly as children is how to pretend we are sorry to avoid punishment or to end it sooner than might have been the case.  Do you boys and girls know what I am talking about? 
    3. Well, we adults know how to play this game too, don’t we brothers and sisters.  We can be upset that we got found out, or sorry that we have to suffer the consequences of our sins, but that is not genuine repentance – a sorrow that we have offended God and hurt others and failed to be like Christ.
    4. And our Narrator knew this.  He knew that the Jews had not yet come to the place of true repentance.  And that is why he literally cries in vv48-51; three times we read of him crying because of Jerusalem’s devastation. 

 

  1. And so, finally, as we come to vv52-66, Hope pleads.

 

  1. You will notice in vv40-51, that the pronouns were “us” and “we” and “our”; the Narrator and the people.  But in this section, he goes back to “I” and “me” and “my.”   And that is because our Narrator is once again recalling his own past experience as an encouragement to the people of Israel now; a kind of This is what I experienced then so this is what we all should be praying for now
    1. As we have already said, our Narrator, who might well be the prophet Jeremiah, had personally experienced the Lord’s saving grace.  He had been rescued from a pit when death seemed certain.  That’s what we read about in vv52-58 as he thought he was lost but he then called on the Lord who redeemed his life. 
    2. But while he was in the pit, Jeremiah had pleaded with the Lord to punish those who had persecuted him, and the Lord did that.  This is what we read in vv59-66 as he calls on the Lord to judge those who plotted against him and to repay them and “to pursue them in anger and destroy them.” 
    3. So the Narrator is pleading with the people of Jerusalem.  He is saying, Trust in the Lord for your deliverance and plead with Him to pour out His vengeance on the Babylonians for what they have done.  And we know, from later in history, that the Lord did deliver His people and punish the Babylonians.

 

  1. Now, there were OT reasons who it was appropriate for the Narrator and the Jews to pray like that.  I am not going to explain them now.   But you and I live in NT times where we are told, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."  To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head."  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” 
    1. But those words, where we are told to leave room for the wrath of God, remind us that God does not and God cannot ignore the continually unrepentant wicked who trample on others.  There will come a time when the whole earth – all that lies “under the heavens,” will be cleansed from all evil and evil-doers.

 

Well, by way of conclusion, v27 says, “It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”  So when hardship comes, let’s call to mind that the Lord Jesus is with us.  His steadfast love never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is His faithfulness. 

And as v28 says, “It is good for a man to bear the yoke when he is young.”  Boys and girls, young people, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can get serious about God when you are older; that now is the time to enjoy life.  You see, it is much harder to learn about God when trouble comes later in life.  It is far better to know Him now so that if trouble comes, you turn to Him as your loving Father in heaven. 

His promise is this: He says, “Surely I am coming soon.”  So let your prayer be, “Amen, Come Lord Jesus.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Andre Holtslag, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Andre Holtslag

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