We Believe God is Faithful
I preached this sermon January 21st. We looked at God’s faithfulness to Judah even after Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. If God is faithful, He also calls you and me to be faithful. But how?
Text: Lamentations 3:21-27
Background: Destruction of Jerusalem
Josiah was a righteous king. 2 Kings 23:25 describes him like this: “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the LORD as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.” He removed the mediums and spiritists, idols, and he reinstated celebration the Passover. He was a great king. But he died at the hands of the Egyptians. So Jehoahaz takes the throne for three months before being deported by the Egyptians to Egypt. And he did evil in the eyes of the LORD. Pharaoh Neco then put Jehoiakim—Josiah’s son—in charge as king of Judah. And he was also an evil king. During his 11 year reign, Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians began tormenting Judah and forcing them to pay taxes in silver and gold. After 11 years, his son Jehoiachin became king. He only reigned for three months, but was just as evil as his dad. In the three months he was king, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, and the city was forced to surrender. This started the time of exile, as the king, his mother, and his officials were taken to Babylon, hundreds of miles away. Over three thousand people were taken with them.
But there were still Jews left in Jerusalem, and the city had not been totally destroyed. Babylon put Zedekiah in charge as king, and he ruled for another 11 years. After nine years of submission to Babylon, Zedekiah got stupid. He rebelled against them, thinking he could overthrow their control. So, Nebuchadnezzar and his whole army came to town and demolished it for over 2 ½ years. Jerusalem gave up then because of a lack of food. Zedekiah and his army attempted to escape during the middle of the night, but they were captured. He was led off to Babylon, where he watched as his sons were killed, and then had his eyes poked out.
Fire was set to all the prominent places in Jerusalem, and anyone remaining was taken to Babylon. The Bible says they took all the bronze and articles of worship at the temple, and the weight of their plunder was too great to be measured.
And these events are significant for two reasons. First, this was God’s punishment for His people, who had rebelled against him and prostituted themselves to other gods, even sacrificing their own sons and daughters. God had promised them land and prosperity when he led them out of Egypt. And they lived in the land, and even though they kept leaving God and running away, He kept His promise.
Second, this is the background for Lamentations, a book written by a man who witnessed it all firsthand. Jeremiah. The book is full of language describing their mourning. Now their city is ruined, and they are abandoned. No king, no homes, many dead, those alive are separated from one another, they’re forced to work with little in return, and they have no hope for the future. The book starts out like this:
“How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave. Bitterly she weeps at night, tears are upon her cheeks. Among all her lovers there is none to comfort her. All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies” (Lam. 1:1-3).
The city is ruined, gone forever. The days of its glory have ended. And every Jew who thought life was fine now realizes there is no hope for the future. They have been shamed by the Babylonians.
Now get with your partner and talk about these questions.
What are some of the most important things in your life, and why are they important? It could be family, your job, your home, a special possession, church.
Now talk about how you would feel if you were stripped of all of that. What would your emotions be? How would you react?
The most important things to me are my wife and my family. I can’t live without them. If God were to take them away from me, I would be angry. I would be depressed. I would shut myself up and get away from people. I would feel like I could never be happy again.
Sometimes we forget that the prophets were going through the same thing as their people. Though they weren’t sinning, they had to deal with the loss of their home. And because they loved God so much, they loved their people. It hurt Jeremiah to see what happened. We see that in the first verses of Lamentations 3.
“I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long. He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship. He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead” (Lam. 3:1-6).
This is Jeremiah talking about himself. He is the afflicted man; He has walked in darkness; God has turned his hand against him; Jeremiah has been besieged. He is a man suffering just as much as anyone else. And in his description of the sorrow and shame he’s feeling, he writes something I wouldn’t have written.
In all of this, verse 21 begins, “YET, this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 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. I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him. The LORD is good to those whose hope is in Him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.’”
These are the verses I want to focus on today. Jeremiah, in all of this, has hope. And he has hope for a number of reasons. The first of which is God’s great love. The word for “great love” refers to free acts of kindness, which is why some Bibles say “mercy.” This is what Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho did when she helped Joshua’s spies secretly get in and out of the city. Joshua 2:12 talks about her plea with those spies: “Please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you.” She didn’t have to help them. She could’ve told them to leave because she would’ve been in trouble if someone found out. But she helped them. That’s kindness; that’s what the LORD’s great love looks like in verse 22. Jeremiah also uses this word elsewhere in his book. God says in Jeremiah 2:2, “I remember the devotion of your youth…” Not only is this a free gift of kindness, it’s a devoted kindness. Jeremiah’s not talking about a one-time deal or a fluke from on high. This is God being devoted to His people.
I remember when my dad was first in the hospital with his brain injury, I had a Sunday School teacher named Dan Grunseth who was 19 years old, still in college, training for ministry, who took me out to Pizza Hut. We went to the church parking lot and rode bikes and flew kites. We went to a football game together. He didn’t have to take me out, but he did. And he stuck with me for a year. That’s how God feels about his people, how He feels about us.
So Jeremiah has hope in God’s great love and in His compassions. This word is slightly different than God’s great love. Compassions means “having mercy on those who are helpless.” It also can refer to a father’s love for his children. Psalm 103:13 uses it this way: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.” And Jeremiah 31:20 says, “‘Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion on him,’ declares the LORD.” God has compassion on Judah even though they are helpless and hopeless. For this Jeremiah has hope.
A third reason Jeremiah has hope is from God’s faithfulness. You and I know this verse best because of the song we listened to earlier when we got in pairs. “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father. There is no shadow of turning with thee. Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not. As thou hast been, thou forever will be.” And I love that song. It’s my favorite hymn. Anytime you can put Scripture to words, it not only helps you remember it, but also to cherish it and ponder what it means.
I have a little exercise that I hope will also help us ponder what faithfulness means. Could I have a volunteer? Okay, hold your arms out like this. And keep them there until I tell you to put them down. And now all of you, so he/she doesn’t feel alone, need to put your arms out too.
We’ve looked at some of the other places in the Old Testament where words are used. And “faithfulness” is used in Exodus 17, where we find Israel in a predicament. The Amalekites attack Israel, and as Israel fights, Moses holds his arms out. As long as he holds his arms up Israel is winning. But when he lowers his arms, they are losing. Getting tired yet? Those of you in the pews can put your arms down. But you can’t. You’ve gotta keep them up still, because the story’s not done yet. Moses got tired. So, Aaron and Hur came beside him and held his arms for him. And Exodus 17:12 says that his hands remained STEADY till sunset. And Joshua overcame the Amalekite army. You can have a seat.
Can you guess which word I’m trying to get you to notice? That’s right. Steady. This is the same word Jeremiah uses to say God is faithful. And because of God’s faithfulness, His steadiness, Him always being there, Jeremiah has hope.
And the fourth reason he hopes is because the LORD is his portion (v. 24). Normally a portion is land. When the Israelites came to the Promised Land, each of the tribes was given a portion of land to settle on. And each tribe worked the land for crops to live on. It could be said the land was their sufficiency, or was what they needed to survive. But the Levites didn’t. The LORD was their portion, because they worked at the temple.
That’s what Jeremiah is saying here. The LORD is his portion, his sufficiency. He may not have his house, he may not know where his friends are, he may not be able to worship in the temple, and he may not know what the future holds, but the LORD is his portion. And THAT’S a reason for hope.
We Should Be Faithful
The title of this sermon is “We Believe God is Faithful.” We see how God is faithful to Jeremiah and to his people. He is kind with devotion, he is compassionate, he is steady, and he is our sufficiency. And it makes sense that if God is faithful to us, he would call us to be faithful to Him and to each other.
So my question is, “How can I/we be faithful?”
† We can be kind to one another, even when we don’t deserve kindness. And we can devote ourselves to one another. We can stick together in the hard times.
† Maybe you have family that is hard to be faithful to. It’s hard to show mercy because they don’t give any to you. Just think how God felt with all the kings of Judah sacrificing children to other gods.
† Maybe your spouse needs to know, to really know you will be faithful to them. Tell them.
Compassion: Like a Father to a Child
† Perhaps there are some helpless and hopeless people in your life. How can you stand beside them in their time of need?
† Maybe you’ve made a commitment to do something and you’re giving up already. Maybe you’ve committed to pray for someone and haven’t. Maybe your spiritual arms are getting tired, and you need someone to hold them up. God will. Just continue holding them up…continue praying.
† Maybe you’re relying on something to be your strength…job, spouse, money, yourself. Let go.
† Maybe you’re remembering all of your weaknesses. And you know God is strong in your weakness, but because you focus on your weaknesses so much, you haven’t allowed God to be faithful and to be your sufficiency. Let go of your weaknesses and insecurities.
I’m going to hand out pieces of paper in a moment. Take a few moments, and think about how God is calling you to be faithful. Pray about it, and then write something down. You don’t need to put your name on it. When you’re done, place it in the box in the middle aisle. We’ll put the box on the altar as a way of telling God we’re committing to do what we write on the cards.