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Full Length Sermons

Hope and Healing

For All Who Grieve: Light and Hope in Lamentations

My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:20-23)
Please open your Bible at Lamentations 3. We have looked at four themes in our series on this book of Lamentations, which is a gift from God for all who grieve.

 

Tears and Talk

We saw that tears are a gift from God; God gave you tear ducts for a reason. The entire book of Lamentations puts sorrow into words. We have a Savior, the Man of Sorrows, to whom we can come in our sorrow.

 

Guilt and Grievance

Grief usually comes with guilt attached, and we looked at the marvelous provision Christ has made for cleansing guilt from the conscience, whether that guilt be true or false.

 

We saw that grief often comes with grievance attached. We saw that verse-after-verse, line-after-line, the grievances of God’s people are laid out. There is no better place to pour out your grievance than in the presence of God.

 

Christ calls you to look through your guilt and grievance to the cross. We ended last time with the voice of One who suffers greatly saying to us, “Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow” (Lam. 1:12). You who are filled with sorrow – take a look at mine!

 

Then he says, “See if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger” (Lam. 1:12). In other words, he is saying, “You have a grievance at what God has inflicted on you? Take a look at what God has inflicted on me!”

 

In these words we hear the voice of God himself – God the Son, God incarnate, Jesus Christ, the One on whom the Lord has laid the iniquities of us all (Isa. 53:6). It is hard not to believe that God loves you when you are looking at the cross.

 

Today we come to our third pair of themes – hope and healing. The word ‘hope’ is found four times in the book of Lamentations, and all of them are in the verses that are before us today.

  • “I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD’” (Lam. 3:17-18). My hope has perished! I’ve lost it.
  • But then notice that a few verses later, the same person says this: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope” (Lam. 3:21). There is something that this person, who has lost hope calls to mind and when she does, the hope she had lost is restored. We will want to discover what that is.
  • Then this person says, “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him” (Lam. 3:24).
  • But then notice a few verses later: “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” (Lam. 3:28-29). There is some doubt there. There may be..

So we have the whole range of hope in these verses – hope lost, hope found, and hope questioned! One thing we learn here is surely that the strength of your hope may vary as you walk through the journey of grief: I have hope. I will hope. I’ve lost hope. There may yet be hope. All of these came from the mouth of the same person in the valley of sorrow and loss. And that person is one of God’s people.

 

But the big surprise is that the word ‘hope’ should appear in the book of Lamentations at all! This is our third week in Lamentations, and we have begun to get a sense of the extraordinary trauma and loss these people had experienced.

 

They had endured the horrors of starvation until their city collapsed. They had lost their homes. Many of the children had died. Grown sons and daughters had been deported, leaving their parents little hope of ever seeing them again. Many of the women had been horribly abused, and now as the slaves of an occupying army, they had to find a way to build a life in the ruins and rubble of their once great city.

 

So it is not surprising that these people who have endured such loss say, “I have forgotten what happiness is! My hope has perished.” That’s no surprise. What is surprising is that out of the same mouth of these people, who have endured such horrors, should come the words: “I have hope” (3:21) and “I will hope” (3:24).

 

How can grieving people find hope in the valley of sorrow and loss? That is the question before us today and I want to offer two answers from the Bible – one from the New Testament, and the other from these verses in Lamentations. First, I want us to see the ultimate hope that is ours, and then I want us to see the immediate hope that is ours.

Hope in God’s Ultimate Purpose

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

 

Paul is not saying, “Christians do not grieve.” That would be a terrible misunderstanding of this verse. Christians grieve too! Jesus wept! And God put Lamentations in the Bible. The pain of grief and loss is as real and deep to a Christian as to anyone else.

 

The pain of loss is greatest for those who have loved most deeply. And that means that those who grow the most in love will hurt the most when a loved one is taken away. Paul is certainly not saying that Christians do not grieve. He is saying that there are two different kinds of grief. There is grief with hope and there is grief without hope.

 

Grief without hope is the experience of a person who does not believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. For that person, death brings a final separation that is ultimate. There may be fond memories to look back on. There may be future chapters of life and of love to be found in this world, but for the person who does not believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, there is no hope whatsoever of enjoying the company of the one who has died ever again.

 

But Paul says to Christian believers, “Our grief is not like that!” We do not grieve like those who do not believe in the resurrection, who have no hope. Our grief is different, because it is shot through with the living hope that is ours through the resurrection of Jesus.

 

“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thess. 4:14). We believe Jesus died and rose! We know death was not the end for Jesus, and so when bereavement comes, we know that death is not the end for those who have died in him. Why? Because God will bring with [Jesus] those who have fallen asleep.

 

Death brought a great separation of body and soul for your believing loved one. When the soul of your believing loved one left his or her body, his or her soul was in the immediate, conscious enjoyment of the presence of God. For him or her, that is better by far (Phil. 1:23).

 

But their body is not with the Lord. The body was buried, or their ashes were scattered. What we are being told here is that when Christ returns in glory, he will bring the souls of those who are already with him. And when he does, he will give them new bodies. And, at the same time, he will give the same gift of the resurrection body to believers who are still living.

 

This is why Paul says, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:51-52).

 

So returning to Thessalonians, the apostle Paul says, “We who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17).

 

“Together with them” means together with the Christian loved ones who are already with the Lord. So here is the marvelous hope that is given to Christian believers by our risen Lord: You will see your believing loved one who died in Jesus Christ again! It was C. S. Lewis who famously said: “Christians never say goodbye.” We never say goodbye (in an ultimate sense), because we believe that Jesus died and rose again.

 

There’s something else that is very wonderful here: In the presence of Jesus we will be made perfect, complete, and whole. All of God’s people will fully reflect – each in a unique and individual manner – the glory of Jesus. Those who died in infancy will not be eternal infants. Those who died after an extended life, in which the latter years were marked by frailty and dementia, will not be eternally frail or forgetful.

 

In the presence of Jesus, each of us will be all that God created us to be. In the resurrection, every single one of God’s children will reach the full measure of his or her redeemed power and potential.

 

Let me make this application especially to fathers and mothers who have endured the unspeakable sorrow of losing a child. I’m speaking now also to those who have grieved over a miscarriage. How great will be your joy when you see what that little one, whose life was ended early on earth, has become. When you see that son, that daughter, in the full flourishing of all that God made him or her to be, you will say, “Well, look at you now!”

 

Pastor Al Martin, whose wife died of cancer writes: “In these last months… she embraced with noble grace and dignity the many indignities connected with the loss of much of her physical beauty and strength.

 

I vividly remember kneeling by her bedside, just a few weeks before she died, and saying to her, ‘Sweetheart, when God is done with you in the day of resurrection, you will be so beautiful that I will not recognize you. God will have to introduce me to you.’” [1]

 

That’s our hope in God’s ultimate purpose! We grieve – but not like those who have no hope, because our Jesus died and rose!

Hope in God’s Immediate Presence

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope. (Lam. 3:21)
Jerusalem was the most blessed city on the face of the earth, and now it had become a heap of ruins. What would you expect the message of hope to be? What does he call to mind that gives him hope?

 

I would expect the message of hope to be something like this: “The great city of God will be restored. After 70 years, God will bring his people back [as indeed he did]. There will be a new temple. Walls will be rebuilt. Gates will be hung. Homes will be constructed, and children will play in the streets again!”

 

The promise of God’s people returning and rebuilding the city is found in other parts of the Old Testament Scriptures, but we don’t find anything about that here in the book of Lamentations.

 

Then, beyond the rebuilding of Jerusalem that took place in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, we might have expected God to speak about the New Jerusalem (that John saw in the book of Revelation) coming down from heaven.

 

“One day you will see, not only Jerusalem restored, but Jerusalem made perfect.” There will be a New Jerusalem. It will come down from heaven. It will be a holy city, and in it there will be no more crying or pain (Rev. 21:1-4).

 

You may say, “Well, that’s the New Testament.” Yes, but there are places in the Old Testament that anticipate this glorious Jerusalem. “I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress” (Isa. 65:19). That’s Isaiah in the Old Testament Scriptures. But we don’t find anything like this in Lamentations, which is all about Jerusalem destroyed. Why?

 

The fulfillment of God’s ultimate purpose is very wonderful, and every Christian needs to know it. But it may seem a long way from the painful realities that a grieving person is facing now. Heaven may be wonderful for the person who has died, but it may seem very distant from the one who grieves their loss, especially if that loss was sudden and unexpected.

 

The immediate question for the one who grieves is, “How am I going to get through today?”   The New Jerusalem is not the answer to that question. Look again at what the grieving person in Lamentations is dealing with – “My soul is bereft of peace!” (3:17). “I have forgotten what happiness is!” (3:17).

 

He says, “My endurance has perished” (3:18). In other words, “I am just so tired. I don’t have any energy. Everything seems like an enormous effort to me. I have lost interest in doing things. I don’t have the heart for it anymore.”

 

Then he says, “My hope from the Lord [has perished]” (3:18). He is saying, “I don’t feel the presence of God with me. I don’t feel that I can pray. The hope I once had and the comfort I once found in God seems to have deserted me.”

 

“My soul continually remembers [my affliction]” (3:20). Anyone who has experienced trauma or suffered violence knows what this is like. Your memory replays the horror of what happened again and again. You can’t get it out of your mind. It comes back to you when you are in the car, in the shower, and most of all, when you are in bed at night.

 

“My soul continually remembers it!” (3:20). Christopher Wright gives the sense of this verse: “I vividly, frequently, painfully, wretchedly, continually remember until my soul sinks down into misery and depression.” [2] That’s where these people were.

 

Then we have these extraordinary words: “But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope” (3:21). What in the world could a person call to mind – when their soul has no peace, when they have forgotten what happiness is, when their endurance has perished, and their hope is gone – that would make it possible to say, “This I call to mind and therefore I have hope”?

 

Here it is: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23).

 

One member of our grief group said that the early days of her grief after her son was killed in a terrible accident were like being in a pit. She felt that she was sinking. She could feel herself going down. How could she get out?

 

She said, “I learned to thank God for the smallest things. I thanked him that the sky was blue and that the sun was shining. If I heard a bird sing, I would say, ‘Thank you, Lord.’ Every time I thanked God for something, it was as if I was taking another tiny step toward climbing out of the pit.”

 

The focus of hope for the person in the depth of sorrow, trying to put life together in the ruins and rubble of loss, is not the hope of God’s ultimate purpose, wonderful and glorious though that is.

 

The focus of that hope is God’s immediate presence. God’s mercies are new every morning. Your Redeemer is faithful. He is true. He is with you. He is for you and he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).

 

But here’s the question that we cannot avoid: How can I believe that God, who has brought such pain and sorrow into my life, is actually with me and for me?

  • How can the person who says (in verse 15), “He has filled me with bitterness” also say (in verse 22), “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases”? How can the same person say these two things?
  • How can the person who says (in verse 16), “He has made my teeth grind on gravel,” say (in verses 22-23) “His mercies…are new every morning”?

 

In November 2013, the Philippines were hit by the strongest typhoon ever recorded at landfall. 6,500 people are known to have died (the actual number was probably much larger), and one million people lost their homes.

 

Christopher Wright records the story of a young girl who managed to reach one of the evacuation centers just as the storm came. [3] The waters began rushing in, and at that moment, the little girl cried out: “Jesus, tama na po!” which means, “Jesus, please, enough!” And as she shouted, someone lifted her to safety and she survived. Think about the intuitive cry of this little girl in her moment of trauma: “Jesus, tama na po! Jesus, please, enough!”

 

  1. She believes that God is the one who is bringing disaster.

She does not think that the storm came by random chance. Storms don’t blow by their own power. Storms blow by the command of God. She sees the hand of God behind it, and that is why she asks Jesus to stop. “Jesus, please enough!”

 

  1. She believes that God is the one who delivers from disaster.

Even when the worst things happen, she believes that this same God is for her, and that at the moment when the worst is happening she can ask him for help. “Jesus, please, enough!”

How can a little girl intuitively hold together in her mind that though this sovereign God causes grief, he has compassion?

 

iii. She knows God by the name of Jesus.

There are whispers of the name of Jesus all over Lamentations, but never more so than in these verses.

 

  • “I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath” (3:1). That’s what happened to Jesus on the cross – he bore the divine wrath for us. Can you hear these words in the mouth of Jesus?
  • Let him give his cheek to the one who strikes (3:30). That’s what Jesus did.
  • I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long (3:14). You hear the mocking crowd as Jesus hangs on the cross. This is what happened to him. There is a whisper of Jesus’ name right here.
  • Though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer (3:8). That was the experience of Jesus when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” At the cross, God brings grief and loss to Jesus, and he brings compassion through Jesus.

 

Here is where our hope lies: Christ suffered in the darkness so that God’s mercy should reach you and God’s love should hold you, even in your greatest loss. In Christ we have the hope of God’s ultimate purpose, and the hope of God’s immediate presence.

 

Today we come to the Lord’s Table, because we want to call to mind the mercies of God, so that we have hope. The small mercies of the sky, the sun, and the birds singing point to the great mercy on which all our hope depends: “The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me!” The Son of God loves you – brother, sister in Christ – and he gave himself for you.

 

Call this to mind and you will have hope! In Christ, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. Great is his faithfulness.

 

© Colin S. Smith

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[1] Albert N. Martin, Grieving, Hope and Solace: When a Loved One Died in Christ, p. 82, Cruciform Press, 2011.

[2] Christopher Wright, The Message of Lamentations, p. 110, IVP Academic, 2015.

[3] Ibid., p. 47-48.