Sermon for Quinquagesima Sunday 2017

Enduring affliction opens our eyes to His faithfulness. We continue our series on the book of Lamentations with the first 24 verses of chapter 3. After going through the first two chapters, we begin to see God’s faithfulness at work in response to Judah’s unfaithfulness. This book teaches us the importance of fully dealing with the implications of sin. It is not enough to say “sorry” and then to move on as if nothing happened after we have wronged someone, with no intentions on learning and growing in sanctification. Even if the person that forgave us is moving on, we need to take stock of our spiritual condition to submit to God’s work in us to grow. We need to truly learn from our sins to better appreciate God’s never ending mercy. Otherwise, we will not mature. Lamentations is bleak yet well needed in teaching us the valuable Biblical principle of lamenting over our sins and the consequences of our sins. Such teaches to cherish God’s forgiveness and sanctification to transform us. This morning, let us meditate upon the importance of enduring afflictions in order to appreciate God’s faithfulness.

I am the man who has seen affliction. Verses 1-18

            Our first section of the reading today, verses 1-18, is described here, “I am the man who has seen affliction.” After reading the first two chapters, we know this observation to be true. The writer saw the events that brought down mighty Jerusalem and the Temple into rubble. The writer saw all the horrid occurrences of what happens to a people and a country when defeated by an unrestrained enemy. The following verses describe what the Lamenter endured.

Under the rod. Verses 1-3

            Verses 1-3 speak of the affliction of the rod. The last part of verse 1 concludes the seeing of affliction, “under the rod of his wrath.” The rod in Scripture speaks of the discipline of a father for his children when they have gone astray from godly instruction. Hebrews 12:10-11 gives us perspective on godly discipline whether it is on a personal level or the national level that Lamentations describes, “For they (earthly parents) disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 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.” This affliction is with the wrath of God to chastise His people back to Him. It is wrath guiding to hope, not hopelessness. Yet, in the midst of the afflictions under the rod, we have to take it in the perspective that God works in His time by His will through His love. This is how the lamenter coins verse two of being driven and brought to a place of darkness with no light. In the exile of Judah, they were taken far away to a place and people of darkness. Judah for a short time of discipline experienced the full implications of idolatry. This section on the rod ends with describing God’s hand turning against him repeatedly the “whole day long.” Ultimately, this chastising of Judah lasted 70 years before the Lord returned His faithful remnant out of captivity back to the Promised Land. Afflictions upon us in discipline are meant to guide us back to life from the death we embraced in sin. Ultimately, Jesus suffered all our afflictions in our place, covering fully all penalties we deserve for our sin.

No Escape. Verses 4-9

            The affliction seen and experienced has the element of no escape as seen in verses 4-9. In our rebellious sin nature, we like to think we can get out of trouble. Often when we have been granted numerous chances through God’s longsuffering, the final outcome for a time is that no escape exists. This is what we read in this section. No escape means we must deal with what we have done and submit to God and His love because we have exhausted all the other escape routes we used in the past. With no escape left, we are walled in, besieged, and out of the false hope that comes with believing we can get away with sin.

            The physical manifestations of this lack of an ability to escape are real. Verses 4 states, “He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones.” Not only did his physical appearance suffer, so did his ability to move about with broken bones. The longer a person or nation goes in unrepentant sin, the closer and closer they will come to such discipline where no escape exists. In such, we come to the very end of our selfish escape routes and self-salvation projects to the point we turn to God alone to be transformed by His loving grace. Jesus in praying before enduring His Passion and Death asked this in Matthew 26:39, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Further in verse 42 He prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”  The temptations Jesus rejected at the start of His ministry were such that tried persuading Him to escape from His mission to save us from our sins. Even upon the Cross-, the religious leadership tempted Him to take an escape route from the death that was necessary for His people’s redemption. Our sins must be dealt with and no escape or cunning will get us out of paying for our sins. Only Jesus could do this for us, submitting fully to death for our sins, giving up every chance to escape. When we face moments where we are tempted to escape further into our sins instead of clinging to Christ in repentance, we must pray for His help to listen and submit.

He has made me desolate. Verses 10-13

            In verses 10-13, we see that this affliction causes desolation. Dealing with our sins, we are under the rod, we cannot escape, and we are made desolate without any hope of resurrecting self through the power of self. This is where Judah ended after centuries of turning away from God. Desolation in Holy Scripture is to be brought to the point of death as we read here in verse 11, “He turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate.” When sin is exposed with God’s mindset to free us from the penalty of sin, we will be brought to desolation, to the point we have nothing left. Desolation occurs to remind the stubborn sinner that all he has comes from God and God alone. Desolation occurs when needed to bring us to repentance. The son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son came to the point of desolation through turning his back on his father, squandering his inheritance on sinful living, and falling into poverty. In the end, this desolation softened his heart to return in repentance.

My soul is bereft of peace. Verses 14-18

            Lastly in dealing with enduring affliction are verses 14-18, “my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is.” Any hope of finding or creating our own peace ends in failure. All attempts to enact peace through rejecting God and His Word end in what we read in Lamentations. In the end, even though we think we are doing a good job at godless peace, we will find that it is false and it will eventually end in total war, desolation, and the absence of peace.

            The conclusion of this section says it all in terms of how we try to find peace without God, “So I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.’” We often like to think we can muster up the strength we need to endure through hardships without the help of God. Yet, the more we do this in our sin, the closer we will get to a point of chastisement for a season where it feels as if all hope is gone, even from the Lord. Yet, in the discipline of the Lord as described in this section, all of this leads to what we see unveiled in the last part of our lesson.

The Return of Hope. Verses 19-24

            We need true hope. Verses 19-24 speaks about the return of real hope to those that lost all self-centered hope due to their unrepentant sins. In bringing the people literally to their knees through taking all their sources of pride out from under them, God restored true hope in Him. Judah learned that hope could not be found in self, in things, in leaders, in false gods, and in sin. We learn the same in our walk of faith. Hope is found only in God through Jesus Christ.

Remembrance brings Hope. Verses 19-21

            Chiefly, remembrance brings us hope in the Lord. Verse 19 states, “Remember my affliction and my wanderings.” Verse 20 states, “My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.” Verse 21 states, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” The hope is the hope in the Lord to deliver us from our sins and our enemies. Biblically, we are called to remember the great salvation of God from the perils of our bondage to sin and death. If we neglect the past and forget what we have been saved from and how God saved us, we are prone to repeat the sins of the past.

Sometimes, we can fall into three dangerous pits in viewing the past that cause us to backslide into sin. First, we can so demonize figures in the past and their sins to the point we start believing the lie that we are better people and therefore incapable of such dire sins. This pride often poses the dangers of not only repeating the sins of the past, but often on a much deeper level from those, we despise. Second, we can romanticize figures of the past to the extreme we gloss over their sins or even deny such sins occurred that we end up falling to the same sins. Third, we can “remember” the sins in the extreme sense that we refuse forgiveness even when repentance and restitution is offered. In such, bitterness about the sins of the past consumes us and drives us into all the sins that wrath and vengeance breed. All three of these dangers point to self, away from Christ.

Proper remembrance brings true hope in Jesus Christ. Proper remembrance is to continually bow down to Christ through all aspects of life. It is to remember the warnings in God’s Word against sin. It is to approach life as a wonderful gift in all humility, taking note of all the dangers that surround us as well as a healthy remembrance of the sins of the past through how Jesus has truly forgiven all. It is to constantly through prayer ask for the help and grace we need to withstand sin as servants of God, through the faith, hope, and love He provides.

His mercies never come to an end. Verses 22-24

            Lastly, in the return of hope that God provides is the theme for this book in my opinion from verse 22, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.”This is what we encounter in verses 22-24. This is what we encounter in I Corinthians 13:8, “Love never ends.”  In response to our lack of faith through sin and hatred, we read that the mercies of the Lord are “new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” He does what is needed to pull us out of our destructive, rebellious, and sinful habits to His love through enabling us to love Him, neighbors, and enemies.

            Even though the ravages of our sins may look like things looked in the time of the writing of the book of Lamentations with a destroyed city, temple, and people; God is still faithful and loving to save us from our sins in the only way possible, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Nothing is impossible with God. Through tearing down all that they looked up to for their power and strength, the work of their hands; the people came to the only conclusion when they faced the futility of trusting in their works, that only God could and would save them. The world promises love in return for us to rebel against God. Yet, it is a false love. In the end, the world abandons us and spits us out when it is finished with using us. Yet, God alone picks us up, forgives us, and restores us as His precious children. Verse 24 closes this section in a most profound manner, even if our past is a disaster due to sin, “The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.”

            Regardless of how bad things look, God is faithful to His repentant people through forgiving their sins in Jesus Christ and restoring them as His dear children. May we be a people that constantly see our deep need for Christ through remembering most soberly all He has saved us from in life. May we even in our lowest moments, turn to the hope that only Jesus provides to pull us through in His grace, mercy, and steadfast love that never ceases. Let us close with these words from our Sermon hymn, “Earth’s joy grow dim, its glories pass away, Change and decay in all around I see; O thou who changest not, abide with me.” Amen.