Waiting. The place of lament in the Christian life.

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Today I preached on the passage of Lamentations 1:1-6. Audio link to the 18 minute message HERE.  A Scripture reader read the verses before I spoke. I will add the transcript later if you prefer to read it. Feedback welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

 
What exactly did you come to church this morning to hear? But don’t blame me for choosing this passage, as it was in the lectionary for today.

Lamentations is 5 chapters long, and it is a song of sorrow, a lament, over the tragic fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC.  Lamentations is appropriately located after the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was an Old Testament prophet that warned the people that destruction was coming if they did not repent of their sin and return to God.

So…The book of Jeremiah was a warning that looked ahead to the pending destruction of Jerusalem, while Lamentations is a book of mourning that looked back at the tragedy that unfolded. In order to help us better understand what has happened, I’m going to give you a quick, bird’s eye overview of Old Testament history.

We all know Abraham. He was called by YHWH, that is God, and God promised to make him a great nation and that the entire world would be blessed through that nation. That worldwide blessing came through the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But I jump ahead in the story!

Abraham and Sarah had Isaac. Isaac had Jacob and Esau.
Jacob had those 12 sons, and because of the family dysfunction surrounding Joseph, they ended up in Egypt.
In Egypt, they grew into a great number, and eventually fell out of favor with the Pharaohs. They had to flee Egypt in that great Exodus.
After some detours, they reached the Promised Land.
There were more detours, but Israel was in its glory days under the reigns of King David and King Solomon.

But after Solomon died, the Kingdom split in two: the Northern kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  And the people began to drift from YHWH.

The Northern Kingdom was bad from the get-go. All their kings were evil and promoted pagan worship. The Southern Kingdom was a mixed bag. They had some good kings that brought spiritual revival, but there were also mediocre kings, and evil kings.

During this time of the split kingdom, God raised up prophets. Prophets brought God’s Word to the people warning them that they would be exiled, conquered by other nations and lose their own nation, if they did not repent of their sin and return to God.

Even though the words of the prophets were tough and challenging –the prophets were not popular– in them we also see God’s great mercy, love, and faithfulness.

God gave the people advanced warning. He graciously gave them time to repent. The judgment could be averted. They did not have to suffer exile, if they’d only return to YHWH. But the people as a whole would not listen to the prophets.

At the time of the prophet Jeremiah, the Northern Kingdom had already been conquered by Assyria. And the Southern Kingdom was sadly in its final days, soon to be conquered by Babylon. Jerusalem, the holy city, was located in the Southern Kingdom.

Imagine being Jeremiah. God calls you to a position where no one is going to listen to you or heed the warnings. How frustrating! And then you have to witness the destruction take place. And Jeremiah wept. The book of Lamentations is traditionally attributed to Jeremiah, and in the passage today we heard:

The roads to Zion mourn, all her gates are desolate,
her foes have become the masters,
from daughter Zion has departed all her majesty.

Something that convicted me as I prepared this message is that Jeremiah could have said “I told you so!” — but he compassionately identifies with the tragedy. He does not gloat over it. He laments how the sin of his people and their lack of repentance led to exile.

What makes a person weep and mourn says a lot about that person. What causes you tears? What burdens you?

World Vision’s founder Bob Pierce famously prayed:
“Lord, let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”  And his ministry went worldwide.

When we see rebellion against God in our world and even, sadly, when we see rebellion against God in our own churches – it should move us to mourn, to lament.

There is a time to mourn. That famous passage from Ecclesiastes says that there is a time and purpose for everything, a season for every activity under heaven. And that includes weeping and mourning, as well as laughing and dancing.

Lament needs to run its course. It has a place. Lament is not complaining, nor is it simply sadness. Lament in the Bible is a liturgical response to the reality of a situation and it engages God in the context of pain and trouble.

The Psalms were the hymn book and prayer book of ancient Israel. Did you know that about 40% of the Psalms are lament? But this does not coordinate with our modern day hymn books and contemporary worship songs, where only about 5% to 15% of the songs typically qualify as lament. The American church avoids lament.

But to avoid lament is denial. It is a failure to recognize the struggles of life. It is dishonest, really.

But lament does not exclude praise. In the Psalms, lament and praise usually go hand in hand. They are not mutually exclusive.  And in the middle of Lamentations, in the midst of affliction, there shines a ray of hope. You will likely recognize some of these verses from chapter 3:

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, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

 Christian hymns and songs have been based on those verses, and many people would probably be surprised to learn that they come from the middle of Lamentations. And I want to draw out 2 points from those verse:

One. God’s faithfulness. God is faithful. He keeps his promises. God does what he says.
God kept his immediate promise that the people would suffer exile and lose their nation if they did not turn from idolatry.

But there was a greater story here, and a greater promise. Remember Abraham. The nation promised to Abraham was to bring blessing to the world, and it did through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Even though all of Israel, the Northern and Southern kingdom, ended up in exile – God remained faithful to his promise. Our actions cannot thwart the promises of God. Isn’t that comforting? Our actions can bring negative consequences, but the promises of God can’t be negated by us. We are not that powerful.

 God preserved a remnant of believers.  Even though the nation as a whole abandoned YHWH, there were still some who were faithful to Him. After exile, this faithful remnant returned to the land – and through that remnant, Jesus came to us.

When God makes a promise, he keeps it. Even though it may seem like a long delay from our human perspective.  And that leads us to the second point…

Two. Those hopeful verses in the middle of Lamentations mention waiting twice: “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him. It it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

Waiting conflicts with our modern expectations. We want things now. We like instant results. We want results we can see. We live in a particularly impatient age.

The Jews at the time of Jeremiah and Lamentations had a long wait ahead of them. In Jeremiah 29, God revealed through Jeremiah, that they would be in exile for 70 years. Think about that! If you were an adult going to exile, you would die in exile. You would never return to your homeland.

Does that mean God’s promises failed these people?  —  NO. But the promises of God would come to pass after their lifetime.

Can you live in faith even when God’s ultimate promises may not be fulfilled until after your lifetime?

I’m sure you know the expression “this too shall PASS.”  Well, there is a Christian book to be released in the spring of 2020 entitled: This too shall LAST, finding grace when suffering lingers.  [Link to book HERE.]

Perhaps you think, what a downer.  But I’d argue that it is simply honest and reflects reality. Sometimes God will deliver us quickly from a bad situation, but other times it may last the rest of our life.

In Jeremiah 29, listen to God’s instructions for those in exile for 70 years:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.

And then verse 11 says:For I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Even in the midst of exile, there is hope. God’s promises remain.

And verse 11 is probably a verse you have heard before. It is another one of those popular verses that is too often ripped out of context and made to mean something that it does not mean. Again, I think many would be surprised to find this verse is directed to those stuck in exile for 70 years due to the consequences of their rebellion against God.

They were living in a time of delay, in a time of waiting.  And there was a gap between the promise – and the present in which they lived.

And as we wait, it is okay to lament sometimes. God leans in and listens to our laments. We worship the suffering God, who understands our humanity.

In the most amazing miracle of the Bible and actually in the most amazing miracle of all time, God became one of us. God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, became an embryo – an unborn human child – in the womb of a peasant girl named Mary.

Jesus suffered much for us, ultimately dying on the cross for the sin of the world and conquering death through his resurrection. This is our hope!  [Hope in the Bible is a strong word. It means a confident expectation of the future we have in Christ.]

In one sense, God experienced exile too. He left the glories of heaven for us – to become one of us. This should boggle our minds. It should drive us to praise and worship even as we experience difficult times in this life.

And we live in another time of waiting. We live after the first coming of Jesus but before the second coming of Jesus.  God’s plan for this world is not yet complete.

We live in the age of grace, the church age, and “whosoever will” can come to the Savior. We are saved by grace through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Our good deeds can’t save us. Jesus saves us. No matter how good we try to be, we still fall short.

If we could save ourselves through our own attempts at goodness, then Jesus did not have to come into this world for us. Jesus came because we needed a Savior.

Today is the day of salvation. Don’t delay. If you are not sure that you have ever trusted Christ as your Savior, please talk to me after the service or to Pastor Cheatham when he returns.
If we have trusted Christ, we are ready to meet Jesus in his Second Coming. Jesus could return in our lifetime, or he could tarry another 1,000 years. We don’t know.

But we wait with hope. We praise and lament. We laugh and weep.

Our Bible ends with these words: “Come, Lord Jesus.  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people.”

When Jesus came the first time it was as a suffering and humble Servant to die on the cross for our sin.  But when he comes the second time it will be in power and glory as a righteous judge and conquering king, and everything wrong will be made right.   There will be a new heaven and earth.

And there will be NO MORE LAMENT … ever.
Come, Lord Jesus!