2018-12-02 Therefore, I Shall Hope

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          December 2, 2018

“Therefore, I Shall Hope”
Lamentations 3:19-24

Many a Major League Baseball team, by late summer, merely plays out the string.  The team comes to a point where they realize that their chances for a championship are low, if not mathematically gone, and when this sad state comes it plays the remainder of its schedule for a host of reasons—joint and several pride, contractual obligations, and the like—but a championship is no longer one of those reasons.  It is difficult to play hard and well when championship hope is gone.

Some, alas, play out the string in life.  Some folks, now past a certain age, feel their best days are gone—and they feel that few good days, if any, remain.  I see also an increasing number of relatively young people who are playing out the string.  They have either seen little good in this world, or they have experienced catastrophic calamity in life, and they too despair of any further good the rest of their lives.  These folks have no hope, which is a humble, confident expectation of future good.  They either never had it, or they lost it somewhere along the way.

There was a man, in Scripture, in an apparently hopeless situation.  His name was Jeremiah.  Let’s look at him, and his situation.  Let’s also note what the Holy Spirit declares through him, and then let’s apply what we learn to our lives.  May the Lord now bless of the reading of His Word—in our hearing and to our understanding.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

Jeremiah wrote these Spirit-led words at perhaps the lowest time in the history of God’s Old Testament Church.  Jeremiah, God’s longtime prophet of the time, saw the national idolatry committed against God and wept.  He grieved further over the failure of God’s people to turn from the wicked ways, and he grieved at the coming temporal judgment of God.  The Babylonian Empire conquered God’s people in 587-586 B. C.  That empire utterly destroyed Jerusalem and its temple—the centers of Israelite national and religious life.  They carried God’s people into exile in Babylon, and even Jeremiah himself was carried off to Egypt.  God led Jeremiah to write this book of lament in the aftermath of Jerusalem’s fall.[1]

Are there words sufficient in English to capture the pained heart of God’s weeping prophet?  He notes that his hope from the LORD has perished (3:18), and he notes his soul’s (and perhaps his body’s) dire condition: affliction, poverty, roaming, wandering, and bitterness (wormwood and gall, or poison) are warp and woof of Jeremiah’s life.  Yet, even here, the Lord leads Jeremiah to call something to mind—and what he calls to mind forms the ground of his renewed hope.

We read the ground of Jeremiah’s God-given hope in Lamentations 3:22-24.  The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases.  This stubborn, flinty, never-let-you-go love of God never fails and never ends.  Because of this, His kindness and goodness—both in Himself and toward His creatures—never ends.  Note further concerning God’s lovingkindness.  It is abundant—and that beyond measure.  It is great in extent; it touches everything in life and creation.  It is everlasting, and it is good—as noted earlier.[2]  Even in national and personal calamity, the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases.

Similarly, God mercies (or compassion[s]) never end.  God will be doing those of us who are in Christ good to all eternity.  Moreover, these mercies, these compassion, meet us new every morning from God’s good hand.  Therefore, we cry with Jeremiah (and with the hymn-writer), “Great is Thy faithfulness.”  He is firm, steadfast, and perfectly—yea, infinitely—worthy of trust.  Furthermore, no promise of His ever fails (cf. Joshua 21:45).  No matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yea,” and “Amen,” in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).  These wondrous truths tell us not merely what He does, but they also tell us Who He is.

Indeed God is our portion.  He is our predestined providential provision, and He is an inexhaustible fount of everything good for us.  Therefore, we, with Jeremiah, hope in Him.  We have truly a humble, confident expectation of future good in and from Him—for He is good, and He does good (Psalm 119:68).

Jeremiah knew in part God’s future good for His Old Testament Church, and we know it from the later Old Testament writings.  He sustained His exiled people in Babylon, He gave them opportunity in due course to return from Babylon to their ancestral home, and He continued to nourish the hope in His promise of a future great Anointed One—a Messiah.  In the fullness of time, at another low ebb in Old Testament Church life, God sent His Son (cf. Galatians 4:4).

In Jesus, God incarnate, Whose arrival in Bethlehem’s manger we celebrate this season, is hope.  In fact, the Person and work of Jesus Christ is the sole ground of our hope, and there is no true hope outside of Him.  In Jesus we have hope for abundant life here and now, for life everlasting in Glory, and for everything being set right at His glorious return.  These truth are sure ground for confident expectation of good things from God’s good hand in His good time.

How about now, though?  Is there any area of your life where you are tempted to lose hope?  Or have you lost hope already?  Jeremiah confesses through the Spirit that He had as well.  Let’s see how to rectify this.  If, on hearing these words today, you find yourself outside a saving relationship with God in Christ, they cry out to Him for it.  Embrace Him as Lord and Savior with all you have and all you are, and then comply with the following exhortations to those already trusting in Him for salvation by faith.

If we be in Christ, then come boldly to Him and place that apparently hopeless situation before Him.  Then ask Him to work His inexpressible good in that situation—and you may suggest a particular form of good you would like to see, while leaving the decision to His infinitely wise and loving providence.  Ask Him also to strengthen His hope in you.  I cannot increase my hope in Him in my own strength, but He can—and does—give increased hope to His beloved children.  Therefore, in every time—but especially at lowest times—remember that God, His love, and His mercies never fail.  He has displayed these supremely in His Son, Jesus Christ.  Therefore, we shall hope.

AMEN.

[1] The Septuagint, the Greek translation (ca. 250-200 B. C.) of the Hebrew Old Testament, calls the book Threnoi (Qrhnoi, plural of threnos [qrhnoV]), which is translated wailings or dirges.  The Hebrew name for the book of Lamentations, ekah, literally means How?!.  See Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1906.  Reprint: Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2001), 32, and William Sanford LaSor, David Allan Hubbard, and Frederic William Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 617.  I refer to the Hebrew lexicon hereinafter as BDB.

[2] BDB 338-339.

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