The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust— there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults. For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” (Lamentations 3:22–33, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Lamentations. Now here's a book I feel connected to this summer. The prophet Jeremiah wrote this text. It is a series of complaints to God about how he is dealing with his people. They've not listened to God's commands, he's punishing them and the book is their (but especially Jeremiah's) verbal complaints. He explains why God's anger has turned against them but he also gives God's people assurance of God's love. He reminds them (and us) that God's love is unlike any other love. Jeremiah points this out very strongly with the Hebrew word hessed (translated into English as steadfast love). This word hessed is used most often in the Old Testament of God's love toward his people. His unfailing love. His everlasting love. His not-idly-standing-by-whilst-His-people-die-in-their-sins love. His Jesus-on-the-cross love. His Father-forgive-them love. His my-God-my-God-why-have-you-forsaken-me love. That's what's going on with God's people and the prophet Jeremiah. They've done wrong. They are suffering under God's anger over their sin. But God, through Jeremiah promises them that his anger doesn't last forever, and his forgiveness lasts for eternity.
The passages directly before our text are a powerful verbal lament, a cry of anguish, over the loss of the sacred city, Jerusalem, at the hands of the Babylonian army. God sent the army in response to his peoples' sin. They cry out to God because he is the only one who can answer and change the situation. He is the only one who can change their suffering. Just listen to some of the complaint. (Note: Jeremiah speaks in the first person, standing in for all God's people).
3 I am the man who has seen affliction
under the rod of his wrath;
2 he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
3 surely against me he turns his hand
again and again the whole day long.
4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away;
he has broken my bones;
5 he has besieged and enveloped me
with bitterness and tribulation;
6 he has made me dwell in darkness
like the dead of long ago.
7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
he has made my chains heavy;
8 though I call and cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer;
9 he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;
he has made my paths crooked.
10 He is a bear lying in wait for me,
a lion in hiding;
11 he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces;
he has made me desolate;
12 he bent his bow and set me
as a target for his arrow.
13 He drove into my kidneys
the arrows of his quiver;
14 I have become the laughingstock of all peoples,
the object of their taunts all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitterness;
he has sated me with wormwood.
16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
17 my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”
19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
All that is described here is real suffering, but it is temporal, earthly suffering. After all of this, Jeremiah sets a strong contrast right at the beginning of our text.
The steadfast love (hessed) of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (3:22)
God's hessed, his steadfast love, is never ending. His compassion never ends.
It is important to remember here that, in this case, God's people are suffering because of their "grievous sin" against God. They rebelled against his word. God's just response is punishment. He gave them over to the Babylonians. But even in this punishment he did not forsake them, or leave them. They bear a yoke, a symbol of a burden and trials, placed on them. But through these difficult times they are helped to endure future sufferings. And learn to wait for God's salvation.
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:11–12, ESV)
Jeremiah says the same thing in a different way.
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (3:26)
This also, is what our sins do to us. We pay the earthly consequences when we sin. Lies destroy friendships. Ignoring the truth of God's word leads to a culture of death. Our selfishness leads to poverty. Our addictions lead to sickness and death. Our sinful desires lead to broken marriages, and fatherless children. These are temporal, worldly consequences of our sin. And God allows us to live in them. He does it so we can clearly see our need for him to save us. We think that we are immune to the effects of our own sin. But they are the same. We think we can avoid the consequences of the "little" ones. But in our hearts we know they are the same, because we strive not to be found out in them. Ultimately all sin has consequences, temporal, worldly and eternal. This is the yoke we bear as we live and breath in God's created order. Sin is our lot because we reject God and his holy and perfect will for our lives. Doing that has consequences that directly lead to death.
I've been to a few funerals lately. And the object lesson is very clear. Much of our speaking at times like these tries to cover up the fact that people die because they deserve to die. If there were no sin, there would be not death. A coffin is a reminder that we are aimed at returning to the dust from which we came. And it is our sin the pushes us there. Every time we pay the consequences of "the little ones" we are getting a foretaste of the ultimate consequence.
So what hope is there? God's hessed! God himself is our hope. He is the very object of our hope. He is faithful and merciful. He is just. He is good. The suffering he sends is good for his people, and never unjust. His punishment is his alien work, it is not a part of his nature. What comes from God's heart is hessed, steadfast, unending love. That's what we find in Scripture. It is the written history of God's hessed.
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (hessed). He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.” (Psalm 103:8–9, ESV)
This text on Jeremiah's lips, describes God's ultimate salvation, his ultimate hessed. Jesus bears the eternal yoke of our sin. It is God who put it on him, just as the Romans put the cross on Jesus. Jesus bears our sin, in humiliation he puts his mouth to the dust. He gave his cheek to be struck and his beard to be pulled out. He was scorned and insulted. Shame, our shame, was heaped on him. He shouts
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1, ESV)
That would be our cry, if it were not suffered by God's own Son. He not only suffers temporally, that is worldly, but eternally. He suffers hell there on the cross. The abandonment of God. God turns away and allows death and hell to fall upon Jesus. And all this he does out of hessed, steadfast love, for us. But God doesn't forsake Jesus forever. He raises him on the third day. When Jesus sighs "It is finished" all our sin, all our punishment, all our pain and suffering, all our just punishment for our sin are done away with forever. There is no greater definition of hessed than that. It is a shame that we don't have that image before us here in our sanctuary. Not an empty cross but a cross with a dead Jesus, a punished Jesus, an forsaken Jesus. After all we preach God's hessed, Christ crucified for sinners. It is all proven in the Easter cry, "Christ is risen! Alleluia! The God who does this thing for us, the God who sent his Son to suffer our punishment, the God who raised him from the dead, the God who accomplishes our eternal salvation in this way, is the God who will never let any temporal pain or suffering into our life that is not for our good. God, in Jesus Christ, is our hope. He is faithful he will do it.
God's anger is short lived. But his hessed, his steadfast love, that never ends. God's hessed is aimed at the heart of our suffering. It triumphs over bitterness, despair and hopelessness. God's anger has a conclusion. His steadfast love, hessed lasts forever. They are new every day. They are as sure as the rising of the sun, the Resurrection of God's one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.