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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/
 
Preached At:St. Albert Canadian Reformed Church
 St. Albert, Alberta
 www.stalbertcanrc.com
 
Title:Godly Sorrow for Sin
Text:Lamentations 5:19-22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Repentance
 
Preached:2005
Added:2006-10-26
Updated:2013-08-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 80:1,6,8

Ps 42:2,5

Reading – Lamentations 5:1-22

Ps 102:5,6,7

Sermon – Lamentations 5:19-22

Ps 60:1,2,4, 5

Hy 14:1,3,9,10

 

* 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 the Lord Jesus Christ, tears stream down your cheeks. Your eyes are red and puffy, and you taste salt on your lips – salt from tears that flow and flow, without ever running dry. Amidst all the tears, you moan a little from time to time, or sigh heavily, or give a sob, but these noises are just faint echoes of what’s going on in your heart. For within you cry aloud, your heart moans constantly with pain, and the voice of your soul even cracks in screams of anguish. In earlier times and another culture, you would’ve put sackcloth on your body, and ashes on your head; you would’ve ripped the hair from your scalp and wailed for all to hear.

This is grief. This is sorrow. This is lamentation, when tears are your food, day and night. When the darkness is your closest friend. When it seems as if God has forsaken you and there is nothing left. Whether with sackcloth and screams, or with quiet tears and Kleenex, the people of God have always lamented and grieved. Whatever their culture or time, they have mourned: because of the passing away of loved ones; because of national calamity; or because of terrible sins.

In the book of Lamentations, we find a passionate record of Israel’s grief and sorrow. Yes, we read of their sackcloth and ashes and physical postures of humility (2:10), but we read more so of the reason and the depth of this lament. The horrible occasion for this mournful poem was God’s destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, on account of their appalling sin.

Sometimes this short book is called the "Lamentations of Jeremiah," for an old tradition says this poem is the work of that second "major" prophet. This may well be true; Jeremiah is even known as "the weeping prophet." "Oh, my anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain. Oh, the agony of my heart!" he writes in Jer 4:19. Or he prays in 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!"

It was Jeremiah who had to prophesy the coming destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon; it was Jeremiah who was a witness of the slaughter’s horrors; and so it seems fitting Jeremiah would also give us the dark description of how those earlier prophecies were fulfilled. In this book, Jeremiah expresses deep grief over the now-broken people of God. It’s his own lamentation, and the lamentation of the nation all together.

Most of the book of Lamentations, like Ps 119, is an acrostic. The first word of each verse of each chapter (except ch 5) begins with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and in ch 3, this is done three times. This rigorous pattern shows us Jeremiah isn’t unrestrained in his emotion, though he might easily have become so. For these laments aren’t for their own sake; it’s not self-pity or a wallowing in one’s tears. This is grief with a focus, lamentation with a purpose.

Because Lamentations is an extended acrostic, Jeremiah had to give much thought to every one of his words, that he might ponder what could be learned from this evil. He sees that only God’s people are to blame for what’s happened to them, yet God hasn’t rejected his sinful nation forever. These are the two keynotes of the book: Sorrow, but in the midst of sorrow, hope. I preach to you God’s Word from Lam 5:19-22,

 

The broken people of God lament and repent:

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

1. in their deep misery: It’s a broken people of God that Jeremiah speaks to, and on behalf of, in this book. They’re broken, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually. Jeremiah wrote this probably within the decade after the destruction of Jerusalem, when the terrible events were fresh in everyone’s memory. And the pain of the past was almost too much to bear.

We know from 2 Kgs that Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon marched against Jerusalem with his entire army (cf. 25:1-21); "He encamped outside the city and built siege works all around it" (v 1). For about two years he besieged the city, as the famine in Jerusalem gradually became worse and worse. By the end of this time of maddening hunger, cannibalism took hold; as Jeremiah writes, "With their own hands compassionate women… cooked their own children who became their food" (Lam 4:10).

Finally – mercifully – the city walls were breached. The Israelite army tried to flee, but were slaughtered on the plains of Jericho. Within the city, as the Babylonians swarmed Jerusalem’s streets, many citizens fell to the sword. And those who had survived the years of the siege and then the storming of the city were carried off to exile: the king, princes, elders, rulers, priests, prophets and commoners alike – dragged away with fish hooks.

Nebuchadnezzar ordered much of the city to be burned, but not before plundering the homes and palaces of Jerusalem. The walls were also broken down; the gates destroyed; and the land was left desolate, in the care of the handful of people not taken into exile.

And most terribly of all, the temple of the LORD – that sparkling golden temple built by Solomon – suffered disgrace with the rest of the city. Its pillars were broken, its precious metals stripped, its valuable instruments and ornaments carried off. And then the temple was set ablaze and utterly destroyed. Yes, this was the greatest sorrow of all. The house of God was demolished; her priests were gone; the atoning sacrifices no longer sent up. It couldn’t get any worse.

Looking back on what happened only a few short years before, the trauma is no less immediate than it was on that fiery day of wrath. Raw anguish runs throughout the book, even from its very first verse, "How deserted lies the city, once so full of people!" (1:1) Again 2:1, "How the Lord has covered the Daughter of Zion with the cloud of his anger!"

All this suffering now erupts in our text with an intense feeling of forsakenness. Jeremiah and Israel cry out to God, "Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long?" (v 20). For in truth, far more terrible than the horror of mothers eating their children was the thought that God had left his people.

And that’s what it seems has happened. The land that God promised and God gave is empty. The city that God chose and God handed over is ruined. The house where God dwelled and God gave his blessing is full of wild animals. One can only conclude, then: God too, is gone.

And if God is gone, it’s because of Israel’s own sin. Through their own fault they’re in exile, and on account of their own rebellion they’re forsaken and forgotten. For they had fallen in love with foreign gods. They had turned for help to foreign nations. They thought they were safe and secure because they had the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD. But how wrong they were, and how utterly sinful! God had every reason to cast them off and strike them from his memory!

Sure, Israel knows God is still around. He’s eternal, they even confess in v 19. He’s there, for throughout the book, Jeremiah and Israel beseech God in prayer: "Remember, O LORD, what has happened to us; look and see our disgrace" (5:1). Yes, God will always be there – but will He be there for his people? At the end of their lamentation, this is all they can do, humbly asking God with broken voices, "Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long?"

As a Christian church in the 21st century, this intense grief of exiled Israel might seem hard to relate to. Cannibalism, blood and fire, then exile and feelings of God-forsakenness – we seem far from being broken like Israel in her lamentations. After, all, our gracious God doesn’t punish his people like that anymore, does He?

Yet have the people of God really changed? Have the hearts of human beings been altered at all? Is sin any less terrible in its effects? Beloved, we know very well sin has a deeply-rooted place among us. Rightly do we confess our sins in public prayer after the law every Sunday, and in our prayers throughout the week. Rightly is God angry with also us in this church, idolaters and rebels. The human heart hasn’t changed, and sin’s destructive power still runs rampant.

Individually and together, we have much occasion to lament. We lament sin, and how pervasive it is in this life. Sin, the root cause behind all our suffering: as we struggle against the lures everywhere present; as we battle illness in bodies breaking down; yes, as we stand at the graveside of one we loved. It’s a broken world, because it’s a sinful world.

And we lament sin as it infects all our lives. We are filled with sorrow over members that have strayed far from the church. What could we as brothers and sisters have done differently, and done to help? And what if they never repent?

We grieve our own, personal sins. Why can I never do what I know is right? How can God forgive me for the evil I’ve committed, for the good I’ve neglected? If I’m really saved, why do I keep breaking God’s commands?

We lament our sins and shortcomings as church. Why aren’t there more people from our neighborhoods here on Sunday? Why aren’t we more eager to speak words of encouragement or admonition to our brothers and sisters?

We must be sorrowful on account of sin, and on account of sin’s destructive effects in this world, in this church, and in our hearts. No, we’re not completely broken like Israel was, punished dramatically by God through Babylon, and feeling as if forsaken. Yet a true grasp of our sin should make us realize anew how rotten we are, and how justified God would be in cutting all of us off. He ought to forget us! He ought to forsake us! But He will not.

For a moment it seems Jeremiah does sink into a pit of God-forsakenness. The last verse of his lament is deeply sombre, "Unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure" (v 22). Jeremiah reflects: The cost of human sinfulness was steep – can anyone pay it in full? God can’t stand it when his people sin – can his wicked people ever survive? God had showed his wrath in fearsome and violent ways, and He might do so again – can his anger not be turned away?

Also at times in our lives, the suffering God sends our way seems relentless. Is there any measure to it, or will God keep on pouring it out? In deep mental and spiritual darkness Christians can feel they’re rejected, that there’s no mercy left in the heart of God.

But we know not even the Israelites, in all the hard punishment sent their way, were forsaken by God. They felt they were, but they would never have been able to bear it. Nor could we ever bear God’s anger and live. Instead, these words point us to Christ, who was able to carry, and did carry, the ultimate price for sin. "Why do you always forget me? Why do you forsake me so long?," He prayed as He hung on the cross. For eternity, Christ was forsaken – God was gone! – and He bore his measureless wrath. He was rejected, broken, cast into the Pit, that He might give to God’s people of all times and all places their one and lasting hope.

2. with their one hope: Despite their tearful lamentation over the loss of so much that once was good, Israel is still able to call on God in faith. In a situation that seems hopeless, their questions and prayers to God are the signs of a growing hope. They aren’t so broken they cannot turn to their Lord.

"Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old" (v 21). There was of course much back home in Judah that needed physical rebuilding and renewal. Today you even have companies that specialize in "restoration," after a fire, after a flood or some other disaster. Such companies would’ve done brisk business at Jerusalem, rebuilding charred homes, relaying the battered stone walls, and reconstructing the demolished temple.

God’s people pray for restoration, but not firstly the physical kind: "Restore us, LORD." Jeremiah and Israel knew that broken walls and abandoned temples are only symptoms of their deeper misery. What’s needed is a restoration of the people into who God wants them to be. "Restore us to yourself, O LORD!" They had flirted with and then engaged themselves to the idols of the nations. They had fooled themselves into believing all was well with their showy religion. This sin had reached out its tentacles and ripped them away from God – and only God can break sin’s grasp, and bring them back.

"Renew our days as of old!" they pray. Sitting in exile in Babylon and remembering the beautiful setting of Jerusalem among the olive tree-covered hills, the Israelites might’ve fallen into empty nostalgia: "Remember the good ol’ days?" But here they call on God not to make everything just like it was, for the clock can never be turned back. Rather, they look back on what made times past so good – the times under Moses and David and Solomon – for then the people of God flourished in obedience. God blessed them then, because they humbly served him. "Renew those days. Grant that we may serve you and receive again all your good gifts."

They know it was God – not Babylon – who punished them, therefore God – not Babylon or any other nation – must restore them in grace and mercy. This is their one hope. Only if God would powerfully restore their hearts could they ever return, could their grief ever end.

At the end of Lamentations is a humble prayer of repentance, and a longing for true reconciliation with God. In this passage God’s broken people look beyond all the outward results of sin, even all those terrible things that leave their hearts raw. For they look within, and see that there is the root cause. Here the restoration must begin, and here the renewal.

For of themselves, tears over sin mean nothing. Indeed, we can confess our wickedness every morning service, 52 Sundays a year. We can be very remorseful for sin, and feel broken apart in our guilt. But true repentance isn’t just puffy eyes or saddened hearts. We need to change! We need to turn away from sin, and towards our God. Otherwise we fool ourselves with our lamentation, we delude ourselves by praying faithfully every day, "Forgive us our debts."

Paul writes in 2 Cor 7:10, "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." He says there are two kinds of sorrow for sin. There is the sorrow you feel because your sin caused some unpleasant results, or the sorrow that you were caught, or the sorrow that quickly fades as the hours pass. And then there is the sorrow for sin that moves you to repentance, to take action and cut off the arm that sinned, to change your ways and to live for the God who forgave you.

After a long book of lamentation, the Holy Spirit leads Jeremiah to reach a fitting conclusion to his tears: God’s broken people need to be restored, in the heart, by the power of God. Only then will they live again and have a lasting joy. Our one hope is that God will forgive us, and himself restore us. Otherwise guilt will always trouble us, wickedness always hound us, and tears be our food not just today but for eternity, in that place of "weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Beloved, lament, and then repent, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Pray for revival: "Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old!" "Help me put away my sin! Fill me with your Spirit! Show me my ignorance and teach me! For the sake of Jesus Christ bring me back to yourself!"

Pray for revival, and then work for restoration! Let us face up to (in all their ugliness) our sins and weaknesses – as individuals, as families, as couples, and as church. Let us see our sin, and humble ourselves in confession. Then let us support each other in putting sin away. Hold one another accountable, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another. Only such a church will be blessed under her King.

3. to their eternal King: When Israel fell, her king and ruler also fell. King Zedekiah had fled Jerusalem with his army when the walls began to topple, but the Babylonians gave chase and caught them. As we said earlier, the army was wiped out; as for Zedekiah, he had to watch as his sons were murdered. Then his eyes were plucked out, he was bound, and taken away into exile.

Zedekiah was no great king, yet Israel looked to him in expectation. For hadn’t God said a son of David would always rule? As long as a son of his was around, there was hope! But even the mighty throne of David was sent crashing to the ground. Jeremiah laments in 4:20, "The LORD’s anointed, our very life breath, was caught in their traps." So much for their king, so much for that promise.

But now Jeremiah and the people take a different perspective. "You, O LORD, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation" (v 19). Even with Solomon’s palace destroyed, God is King. Even with the temple, called the very throne-room of God, destroyed, God is King. What shakes the world gives no disturbance to him who made it. He reigns forever, in wisdom, power, holiness and goodness!

It is this eternity of God that inspire these last few verses of hope for restoration. Steadfast hope always begins with God, and who He is in his justice and power and goodness and grace. Only the character of the Triune God is the foundation of our confidence – for He remains the same, no matter what.

Just think of that passage that gleams like a diamond right in the middle of Lamentations, 3:22-23? "Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." Why are we not consumed? Why do we have hope? Again, it is because of the Lord’s great love, his compassion, his faithfulness! In that passage too, salvation and restoration rest only on God and who He is!

This means that though sin wrenches this world and even our lives apart, we may look to the eternal King, to the one who sits on David’s throne. Jesus Christ, the one who suffered the full wrath of God, now reigns and now grants blessing to the citizens of his kingdom.

Beloved, every day let us lament our sins with all our hearts, and let us return to God! How humbling it is to keep on crawling back, but how certain is his response. Our great King will never turn us away, but He will always forgive and restore. He always lifts us out of our lamentation, and He always grants us eternal blessing through his blood. Yes, as Jeremiah says in another place, "[The Lord] will turn our mourning into gladness; He will give us comfort and joy instead of sorrow!" (Jer 31:13). Amen.

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2005, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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