I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath. He has driven and brought me into darkness without any light. Surely against me has He turned His hand continually, the whole day long. My flesh and my skin He has made waste away.

He has broken my bones; He has besieged and enveloped me with gall and travail. He has set me in dark places, like the dead of long ago. He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out; He has made my chain heavy.

Even when I cry for help, He shuts out my prayer. He has blocked my ways with hewn stone; He has made my paths crooked. He is to me a bear lying in wait, a lion in hiding.

He has turned aside my ways and torn me in pieces; He has made me desolate. He has bent His bow and set me as a target for the arrow. He has caused the arrows of His quiver to pierce my inward parts.

I have become the derision of all my people, their mocking song all the day. He has filled me with bitterness, He has sated me with wormwood. He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and covered me with ashes.

My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten prosperity. So I say, “My strength and my hope from the Lord have perished.” Remember my affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. Surely my soul remembers and is humbled within me.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed; His compassions do not fail. 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 a man should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to 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 causes grief, yet He will have compassion according to the abundance of His mercies.

For He does not afflict from His heart, nor grieve the sons of men. To crush underfoot all the prisoners of the earth, to turn aside the justice due a man in the presence of the Most High, to subvert a man in his cause, the Lord does not approve.

Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad proceed? Why should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search and try our ways, and return to the Lord!

Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven: We have transgressed and rebelled; You have not pardoned. You have covered Yourself with anger and pursued us; You have killed and not pitied. You have covered Yourself with a cloud, so that no prayer should pass through.

You have made us filthy refuse in the midst of the peoples. All our enemies have opened their mouths against us. Panic and snare have come upon us, desolation and destruction. My eyes flow with rivers of tears for the destruction of the daughter of my people.

My eyes flow and do not cease, without respite, until the Lord from heaven looks down and sees. My eyes bring suffering to my soul at the fate of all the daughters of my city. My enemies chased me like a bird, without cause. They cut off my life in the pit and cast stones on me.

Waters flowed over my head; I said, “I am cut off!” I called on Your name, O Lord, from the lowest pit. You have heard my plea: “Do not close Your ear to my cry for help!” You drew near on the day I called on You, and You said, “Do not fear!” O Lord, You have pleaded the case for my soul; You have redeemed my life.

O Lord, You have seen the wrong done to me; judge my case. You have seen all their vengeance, all their schemes against me. You have heard their reproach, O Lord, all their schemes against me, the lips of my enemies and their devices against me all the day. Look at their sitting down and their rising up; I am their mocking song.

Render to them a recompense, O Lord, according to the work of their hands. Give them hardness of heart; may Your curse be upon them! In Your anger pursue and destroy them from under Your heavens, O Lord!

~Lamentations 3, MEV

Today we begin a new series looking at a handful of the laments recorded in the Bible. To lament is to express grief or sorrow.

Some people only lament through groans. Their personality isn’t conducive to being vulnerable enough to talk about their struggles. Other people are very open with their laments to the point that they are accused of being complainers. And some people don’t ever lament, because they feel it is unchristian to speak of their struggles to others. They have been taught that a Christian shouldn’t worry and should never be anxious.

Well, a lament—at least as far as the Bible is concerned—is not a complaint.

A complaint is an expression of anxiety over feelings or situations in life. We complain because misery loves company. We’re looking for someone to sympathize with us.

A lament is an acknowledgment of anxiety, but it’s paired with a statement of hope. We lament because we are going to the one who can fix us, not just sympathize with us. The lamenter always looks forward to future hope.

So, one thing I have come to realize is…

WE ALL NEED HOPE

It’s interesting the way some of my struggles changed when I began doing ministry many years ago. I used to struggle with very tangible things—do this or don’t do that sorts of things. But, today I struggle with very internal things.

One of those struggles comes when I begin to listen to a still soft voice inside of me that says, “Anthony, you’re not good enough for this.” It says, “Anthony, pastors are supposed to be righteous men, not sinners like you.”

And I begin to feel like the prophet Jeremiah who writes in Lamentations 3 (1), “I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath.” I begin to wonder if the thoughts that haunt me are God’s wrath due to me—surely I deserve this wrath and far more.

If I can be vulnerable—if I can lament a bit to you—I struggle with this more than anything else. I don’t have secret addictions or adulterous relationships; I don’t steal or cheat on my taxes or anything like that. My lament is that I continually am reminded of the sins of my youth and let myself believe the lie that I cannot serve Christ today because of those things.

Like Jeremiah, I feel that (2), “He has driven and brought me into darkness without any light.” I feel suffocated and in darkness. And I wonder, “Why does someone as hopeless as me get the privilege of preaching such a beautiful Gospel?”

And I know those thoughts are from the devil because—as far as bad guys go—I’ve honestly never been that bad. There’s nothing in my past that would be terribly shocking. But, I mourn my sin with the best of them.

I fall into patterns of thinking that leave me feeling hopeless. And this may go on for a couple days or a week, but—if my lament is to be a true lament it must be hopeful—so, I often wonder what it will be like to be in the presence of Jesus Christ. I wonder, when on that glorious day, when I am freed from sin, and I see His wondrous face, on that day when my sins are gone, never to be mentioned again, never to be thought of again. I wonder what it will be like to finally be completely free.

And I stand in awe of the God who has promised to make that happen.

So, it’s apparent that I need hope, but also…

You need hope because the fruits of hopelessness are all around us. Let’s look more closely at Jeremiah’s lament to see if you can relate.

He is to me a bear lying in wait, a lion in hiding. He has turned aside my ways and torn me in pieces; He has made me desolate. (10-11)

Have you ever found yourself saying things like, ‘If one more thing goes wrong, I’m going to lose it?’

Sometimes it seems like someone is lying in wait for you, trying to sabotage your life. Well, Jeremiah seems to think that person is the Lord Himself. Jeremiah says God is lying in wait to sabotage him. God is the one who has torn to pieces and made him desolate.

Many people are afflicted in life due to their own failures. Others are afflicted because of the failures of others. And still others can only attribute their affliction generally to the failures of humanity as a whole, but God is in that affliction. He’s doing something.

Look at 12-13.

He has bent His bow and set me as a target for the arrow.  He has caused the arrows of His quiver to pierce my inward parts.

So for Jeremiah, affliction is not just external, but internal. It’s emotional and spiritual. Affliction pierces through to the inner-most recesses of our souls like an arrow pierces to the inner parts of the body.

Why does God afflict people in this way? I thought God wanted to give us hope and peace and love and joy?

Stay with me.

Verses 14-15

I have become the derision [the laughing stock] of all my people, their mocking song all the day. He has filled me with bitterness, He has sated [gorged] me with wormwood.

Have you been consumed with bitterness? Have you felt like you had gorged yourself on bitter herbs and that bitterness took residence in your heart?

Affliction causes bitterness towards people, and worse, affliction can cause bitterness towards God. Jeremiah was struggling with bitterness. He didn’t understand why God had allowed Him so much pain and that bitterness took up residence in his heart.

I want to make a point here. Jeremiah laments! And his lament is so important it makes it into the Bible! It’s OK to lament. But, it’s not OK to complain. Complaining is vanity, useless, hopeless. Lament is hopeful. Lament says, even though it hurts, I will remember and rely on the promises of God. Lament says, even though this is hard now, one day I will be free.

I need hope. You need hope. Everyone needs hope. And…

Everyone hopes.

Everyone is looking for hope somewhere.

Some people hope in a person or relationship. They say, ‘when I find the right guy or the right girl.’

Some people hope in their next paycheck. They say, ‘when I get paid,’ or ‘when I get a better job,’ or ‘when I get my tax return.’

Some people hope in religion and false gods. They say, ‘if I can just work hard enough,’ or ‘if I can just be good enough.’

Hope is rational, people know it’s out there and there’s good reason for it. Jeremiah says, (31-32),

…the Lord will not cast off forever. But though He causes grief, yet He will have compassion according to the abundance of His mercies.

According to the abundance of His mercy, God will have compassion on those who hope in Him. Where is your hope? Do you hope in God or in something else?

God allows grief in our lives, but he does so in order to display His mercy. He’s not a vindictive God, punishing those who have done wrong, forcing us to live pointless lives. You see, some would say that God has created some people to suffer in life and he never offers them hope; their entire purpose in creation is to suffer in life and then suffer eternally in death. But, God has actually offered hope to all. Hope for now and hope forever.

Jeremiah writes (36),

To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord does not approve.

God does not afflict you or cause you grief simply to punish you. He does so, that you might hope in Him. And this is not an eternal hoping that never comes to pass. Jeremiah says it here; God does not approve of subverting—or overturning—your hope. God wants you to hope in Him. You have grief and affliction in life because God wants you to seek satisfaction in Him.

As you read Lamentations 3, and the rest of the book for that matter, it can be tempting to believe that Jeremiah must have been a pretty messed up dude. He seems pretty hopeless, after all.

But, not everything we lament over can be tied neatly to our own deeds. Our need to lament is not always our own fault.

Jeremiah was a prophet during the times of the exile. The nation of Israel was divided into two Kingdoms and they were in civil war.

The Northern Kingdom made contracts with other nations to try to gain an edge against the Southern Kingdom, but they were actually betrayed by some of the same people they tried to partner with.

Babylon was the biggest world power at the time and they took advantage of the situation in Israel. They came in and conquered the Northern Kingdom and took all the people back to Babylon with them.

Now, get this. God actually claims this act as His own. He calls Nebuchadnezzar, who was the ruler of Babylon, His servant. God worked through Babylon to discipline the Northern Kingdom because they… had…rejected…God.

And while all this is going on in the Northern Kingdom, the Southern Kingdom starts to fall away from God; they start worshipping false gods.

So, the Northern Kingdom is being hauled off to Babylon and here’s Jeremiah preaching in the Southern Kingdom. He’s telling all the rulers and priests and authorities that they need to turn back to God or the same thing is going to happen to them.

Jeremiah was crazy. He would go preach at the king’s palace. Then, when the King wouldn’t listen, he would go preach at the temple. And then, when the priests wouldn’t listen, he would go preach at the city gates where the lawmakers would meet. And when the lawmakers wouldn’t listen, Jeremiah went to the marketplaces to talk to the people. And when the people didn’t rise up and demand change, he went back to the castle. And so on…he was persistent!

Have you ever had someone constantly nagging you, telling you something you just don’t want to hear?

That’s Jeremiah. They were fed up with Him—the King, the priests, the lawmakers, the people. They knew He was right, but they didn’t care. So to quiet him down, they threw him into prison.

And Jeremiah is relentless. Even from prison, he sends messages to his friend Baruch, telling him what to preach, so Baruch goes out preaching. Then Baruch ends up in prison.

But, you don’t just put a prophet of God in prison, even if you don’t like him. So, Jeremiah and Baruch were in like a house prison. They were on house arrest—and probably a pretty nice house, but we’ll pick that story up later.

For now, let’s just realize that God allowed Jeremiah to be afflicted and grieved and it had nothing to do with his own sin; he was actually being obedient. Jeremiah was the righteous one.

And that’s OK, because as I said already, affliction is not for the purpose of punishment; affliction is to point you to God. And that should be an easy connection, because…

GOD IS OBVIOUS

Jeremiah had to lament and he knew exactly who to take his lament to…God…It was obvious.

I want to remind you about the difference between lamenting and complaining. A complaint is a frustration over circumstances that you don’t have any way to fix. A complaint is hopeless.

A lament is a frustration over circumstances that acknowledges God’s activity in them and the hope of one day being relieved from the frustration. The difference between lament and complaint is hope.

Philippians 2.13-15 says, “…God is the One working in you, both to will and to do His good pleasure. Do all things without murmuring [that’s complaining] and disputing, that you may be blameless and harmless, sons of God…”

If God is at work, then we have no legitimate complaint. What you complain about is the very thing God intends to bring you hope. When life hurts, we have no legitimate complaint.

But, sometimes life DOES hurt!

Jeremiah is sometimes called the complaining prophet. I can’t imagine why.

My eyes flow and do not cease, without respite, until the LORD from heaven looks down and sees. My eyes bring suffering to my soul at the fate of all the daughters of my city. My enemies chased me like a bird, without cause. They cut off my life in the pit and cast stones on me. Waters flowed over my head; I said, “I am cut off!”

I called on Your name, O LORD, from the lowest pit. You have heard my plea: “Do not close Your ear to my cry for help!” (49-56).

You can see why people might call him the complaining prophet, but he wasn’t. He was a lamenter because he was hopeful.

It was obvious to Jeremiah that God was at work, so Jeremiah hoped in God in spite of his dire circumstances. And God is still at work.

Romans 1.18-20 says,

The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth through unrighteousness. For what may be known about God is clear to them since God has shown it to them. The invisible things about Him—His eternal power and deity—have been clearly seen since the creation of the world and are understood by the things that are made, so that they are without excuse.

You see, the reality of God and the affliction He brings upon people is obvious in creation.

Jeremiah knew this. He knew that all people are aware of God, even if they lived their lives otherwise. That’s why at the end of the lament, Jeremiah prays, (65):

Give them hardness of heart; may Your curse be upon them!

Why would Jeremiah pray that God would harden the hearts of those who afflict him?

This is a bit cold, but it’s because God’s mercy is so obvious. Jeremiah doesn’t want his enemies who are unjustly persecuting him to have hope.

But if you are here today and you will hear God’s word, your heart is not hardened, so I would ask you to…

Reach out to God.

Lamentations 3.40-42:

Let us search and try our ways, and return to the Lord! Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven: We have transgressed and rebelled; You have not pardoned.

Why should we reach out to God? Why should we test ourselves? Why should we devote ourselves to the Lord?

Because He has not yet pardoned your sins. You are not technically saved…yet.

Yes, certainly, by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ you have been promised salvation—you have been saved in this sense. But what are we actually saved from? We are saved from God’s wrath which comes after death when we go to judgment. And judgment has not yet come upon us as long as we have breath.

We experience grief because we are not yet saved, but if we hope in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection, if we have faith in Him, we are most certainly being saved.

So continue to reach to God.

(54-58) Waters flowed over my head; I said, “I am cut off!” I called on Your name, O Lord, from the lowest pit. You have heard my plea: “Do not close Your ear to my cry for help!” You drew near on the day I called on You, and You said, “Do not fear!” O Lord, You have pleaded the case for my soul; You have redeemed my life.

Plead with God for mercy.

Cry out to Him in lament.

Reach to Him.

Have hope.

Hard circumstances like Jeremiah’s are a great opportunity to hope in Christ. But, you know, sometimes we turn from God because of hard circumstances.

We left Jeremiah in prison. The rulers in Southern Israel were fed up with hearing God’s message so they locked him away where he couldn’t preach to them anymore.

Well, it wasn’t long before Jeremiah’s warning caught up with them. He had been preaching to repent of following false gods and to turn back to worshipping God, lest they become like the Northern Kingdom and be carried off into exile. And here come the Babylonians and all their friends to take the Southern Kingdom of Israel into exile in Babylon.

The first thing the Babylonians did was go to Jerusalem. That’s where the palace was. And that’s where the temple was. That means it was where all the valuable possessions and all the important people were. It was also coincidentally where Jeremiah was in prison.

Imagine the Babylonians’ predicament when they found Jeremiah. He was in prison, so he was clearly not friendly with the people in Jerusalem that they came for. They didn’t want to take prisoners and free people together back to Babylon, and besides, Jeremiah seemed pretty harmless to them.

This is where the principle ‘What do you call your enemy’s enemy?’  comes into play. Well, you call your enemy’s enemy your friend. Now what did the Babylonians do with Jeremiah? They let him go and asked him to leave Jerusalem.

So, Jeremiah and Baruch went to a different city in the Southern Kingdom to hide out for a while. But the people there recognized Jeremiah as a prophet. He was actually taken into the governor’s household. I guess at this point they realized he was right about Babylon and they didn’t hate him so much.

History tells us that it took Babylon three waves to get all of the Southern Kingdom hauled back to Babylon. So, after the first wave when they took Jerusalem, some of the other cities decided to jump ship. They left their homes and fled to other countries where they might seek refuge.

Well the governor decided to go to Egypt and lay low for a while, but Jeremiah didn’t want to go. He wanted to stay with the rest of his people. Problem was, he had become somewhat of a good-luck-charm to the governor so he wouldn’t let him stay. The governor and his household literally carried Jeremiah and Baruch off to Egypt with them.

Jeremiah became separated from the people God called him to preach to. And I imagine that was very hard for him. Imagine the frustrating agony of losing the opportunity to save some of your countrymen from being carried off by the enemy because you couldn’t warn them.

How did Jeremiah endure these hardships? How do you endure hard situations like these?

Plead with God.

Cry out to Him.

Reach to Him.

Have hope.

Jeremiah had a daily hope that came from God.

Like Jeremiah, you must believe you have been promised salvation. Because many people claim to know God, but in their lives it is evident that…

GOD IS OVERLOOKED

We already said that all of our hardships are not necessarily something we caused. But, many of our hardships, afflictions, and griefs are caused by us. Sometimes we do get what we deserve.

Look at verses 37-39:

Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad proceed? Why should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?

My thought as I reflected on these verses is, ‘The grief we receive in life doesn’t compare to the punishment we deserve.’

That’s why Jeremiah says, “Why should a living man complain for the punishment of his sins?”

Sometimes life is hard and it hurts.

Sometimes we are consumed by regret.

Sometimes we would rather die than experience another moment of shame.

That’s why Jeremiah tells us to reach out to God. His mercy is unending (22-23).

It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed; His compassions do not fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.

Our affliction gives way to mercy because it is God’s desire that we not be overcome in our affliction. His mercy keeps us from being consumed. He gives us the mercy of not being consumed when we hope in him. Affliction gives way to mercy and mercy gives way to forgiveness.

We already said that our affliction in life doesn’t compare to the punishment we deserve, but if we know Jesus Christ, we have no punishment. Jesus took your punishment upon Himself on the cross—you have no more punishment if you belong to Jesus Christ. Just like he gives us mercy in life not to be consumed by our grief, he has given us mercy not to be consumed in eternity.

I want you to notice, I’m not saying that coming to Christ means the end of all affliction in life. Grief and affliction are part of the broken world we live in and it is still going to come. But, I can give you a tool to move past some of your grief. It seems simple, but it’s not.

Forgive yourself.  Jesus did and you should too.

As we close, want to encourage you to reach out to God because He satisfies the soul.

Jeremiah says (24), ““The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in Him.”

The idea of a portion is a reference to food, like a portion of food on your plate. Jeremiah says, ‘Like a sandwich when you are starving,’ ‘like a glass of water when you are parched,’ ‘like a great feast when all you’ve eaten for days is bread and water,’ so God is your portion.

When affliction is rising and your frustrations are giving way to anger or bitterness, hope in God; He is your portion.

When grief is consuming you and your soul cannot find rest, hope in God; He is your portion.

When life gets so hard that you would rather not live, hope in God; He is your portion.

Jesus said (Matt. 11.28-30),

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me. For I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”

Come to Jesus

Cast your cares on him.

Hope in God.

Find rest for your soul.

(Ps 42.11) Why, my soul, are you cast down? Why do you groan within me? Wait for God; I will yet thank Him, For He is my deliverance and my God.

(Lam 22b-23) It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed; His compassions do not fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.