The Faithfulness of God

Sermon by Derek Thomas on August 28, 2005

Lamentations 3:22, 23

The Lord’s Day Morning
August 28, 2005


Lamentations 3:21-24
“The Faithfulness of God”

Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

Now turn with me if you would to the Book of Lamentations. The Book of
Lamentations…it comes by way of a conclusion to the Book of Jeremiah, often
thought to be written by Jeremiah, and we’re going to look this morning at what
is probably one of half a dozen of the best known and best loved texts in all of
the Bible. (If you don’t know this text, I don’t know where you’ve been!) “Great
is Thy faithfulness….”

Before we read the passage — and we’re going to read a passage that’s
slightly bigger than the one advertised in your bulletin — we’ll be beginning at
verse 21 of chapter 3 of Lamentations and reading through to verse 24. Before we
do so, let’s look to God in prayer.

Our Father, again You know our hearts. You know all there is to know about
us, and we thank You for a word that is infallible and inerrant, breathed out by
You, that holy men of old wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Help us now to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, and all for Jesus’ sake.
Amen.

This is God’s holy word:

“This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s
lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They
are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’
says my soul, ‘therefore I have hope in Him.’”

Amen. And may God bless the reading of His holy and inerrant word.

“Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been Thou forever will be.
Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see:
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided–
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”

Who doesn’t know those words? Thomas Chisholm, the hymn writer, wrote them in
1923, and of course they’re based and taken from the text that we have before us
this morning: Lamentations, chapter 3.

Lamentations 3, like many other parts of Scripture, is written in a very
peculiar and very definite style. It’s an acrostic based on the Hebrew alphabet.
In Lamentations 1, 2, and 4, each of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet begins a
separate successive verse of the chapter. In Lamentations 3 — it’s a much longer
section — each letter begins three verses in succession.


I. The context of God’s faithfulness.
Before we can look at the text this morning, we
need to look at its context. That’s true of any text, but it’s particularly true
of this one. Imagine that many of you know this text off by heart. It’s a
favorite text. It’s one I’m sure you cite and recite to yourself and to others
again and again, but I wonder this morning if you have ever looked at the
context in which it sits.

That’s the first thing I want us to do this morning. Verses 22, 23, and 24
all begin with the eighth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, but we have to take the
previous letters of the Hebrew alphabet, going all the way back to verse 1.
Let’s look at it together. If you’ve got a Bible before you, I urge you to take
a look at this. It might astonish you, if you haven’t been in Lamentations 3 for
a while. I don’t think in all of Scripture — now, this is a bold statement — but
I don’t think in all of Scripture there is a greater contrast than what you’re
going to find here.

Verse 1:

“I am the man who has seen affliction because of the rod of His wrath. He
has driven me and made me walk in darkness and not in light. Surely against
me He has turned His hand repeatedly all the day. He has caused my flesh and
my skin to waste away, He has broken my bones. He has besieged and
encompassed me with bitterness and hardship. In dark places He has made me
dwell, like those who have long been dead. He has walled me in so that I
cannot go out; He has made my chain heavy. Even when I cry out and call 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 like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in
secret places.”

Drop down to verse 15:

“He has filled me with bitterness, He has made me drunk with wormwood. He
has broken my teeth with gravel; He has made me cower in the dust. My soul
has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness. So I say, ‘My
strength has perished, and so has my hope from the Lord.’ Remember my
affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul
remembers and is bowed down within me.”

Astonishing, isn’t it? That’s the context of this great text, “Great is Thy
Faithfulness.” I doubt there’s a darker pit in the whole Bible. Maybe Job 3,
possibly Jeremiah 20, possibly the 88th Psalm. And in this darkness
comes this light that shines, a message of God’s faithfulness comes from a book
that is set in the midst of national and ecclesiastical disaster. It’s
describing…it’s probably Jeremiah who’s describing it…the downfall, the
destruction of the city of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. …the decades, 15-20 year
period before that where there were constant assaults upon the city until it
finally fell. Jeremiah’s probably writing some 10 years after the event, and he
composes a series of poems, five of them in all, describing the catastrophe of
the loss of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple where God was worshiped.
The stones of the temple, the walls…you got upset because of the sanctuary, I
know it! Imagine if you’d seen the temple burned to the ground, stones blackened
with ash.

Lamentations is not the original name for the Book of Lamentations.
Lamentations was the name given to it by the Greek translators who came after
the exile when they didn’t know Hebrew well anymore. The original Hebrew title
is taken from the first word of chapters 1, 2, and 4. It’s the word how.
How in the world can this ever have happened? How could God allow this to
take place? It’s meant to convey a sense of profound shock. As you read through
these poems, you hear something of the circumstances that surrounded the
destruction of Jerusalem — the thousands of people who died, brutally
savaged…women, mothers, who were reduced to eating their children…yes! In
Jerusalem! Prior to 586 when they were besieged and surrounded and they were
starving, they were reduced to cannibalism. The cream of Judah’s citizens were
taken into captivity, and they couldn’t worship God anymore because the temple
was gone.

And it’s not just the Babylonians who did this. It’s not just Nebuchadnezzar
who is to blame for this. Turn back to chapter 1 and verse 12.

“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and 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.”

God did it! God did it! That’s the problem! It’s one thing to look at trials
and tribulations and terrible things and say ‘Satan did it’, but it’s another —
especially for us…especially for us who believe in the sovereignty of God, and
the decree of God, and the will of God, and the paramountcy of God’s involvement
in all things…yes, God has done this. Not for us, you see, when terrible
things happen, ‘God wasn’t there.’ Oh, no! God is right there in the very midst
of it. How could You? How could You? Lamentations is saying. That’s the real
problem, isn’t it?


II. The core of God’s faithfulness.
Secondly, I want us to see the core. If we see the
context of God’s faithfulness, I want us to see in the second place the core of
it, the heart of it.

Do you know what this word is, faithfulness? Do you know what this word is in
Hebrew? Yes, you do! Amen. Amen, that’s what it is. It’s the amen
of God. It’s a word that is used in

II Kings 18 to describe the very pillars of the temple, because it was meant
to be something steadfast and sure, and dependable — like a rock. [Chevy — like
a rock!] That’s what he’s saying. God is utterly dependable. God is utterly
trustworthy.

In the midst of all of this mayhem that brings him to the very dust itself,
he’s asserting the steadfastness and immovability, and the trustworthiness and
the dependability, and the rock-like nature of God. It’s the word Jesus will
take, translated to another language. You remember on some occasions, Jesus,
when He’s about to say something really, really important, He’ll preface it. The
King James rendered the word verily, verily I say unto you…truly,
truly
I say unto you. Everything that Jesus says is true, but now I want you
to pay attention because this is really, really, really true!

And you notice in verse 21 [chapter 3] he says “I call to mind….” I call to
mind — a deliberate thing. You see, this may be true – the death, the brutality,
the destruction of Jerusalem, the savagery, the problem, the trial, the
difficulty that brings me to the very dust itself, but there’s one thing else
that’s true. There’s something else that’s true, and I call it to mind. I do a
deliberate act of reflection and call to mind, God is faithful.

Now you’re running ahead of me! So stop! Stop! I can’t reconcile these two. I
can’t answer all of the vast number of questions that all of this is throwing in
my direction, and when I look at it, it brings me down. But I turn my back on
that, and I bring this to mind: God is faithful. Yes, there’s that. I don’t
understand that; I know that He is involved in that; I know that nothing happens
without God willing it to happen, without God willing it to happen before it
happens, without God willing it to happen in the way that it happens. But I
can’t answer those questions. But I know this to be true…I know this to be
true: He is a Rock. He is a Rock.

Exodus 34:6 — “He is abounding in love and faithfulness.”
Deuteronomy 32:4 — “He is a faithful God.”
Psalm 89:2 — “You established Your faithfulness in heaven itself.”
Verse 8 — “Your faithfulness surrounds You.”

God is faithful, and over and over and over, like a needle stuck in a groove
of a record […got to be over 50 to know what I’m talking about…] a needle
stuck in a record: click…God is faithful; click…God is
faithful; click….


III. The companions of God’s faithfulness.
Thirdly, I want us to see the companions of God’s
faithfulness. If we’ve seen the context of God’s faithfulness and the core of
God’s faithfulness, in the third place I want us to see the Companions of God’s
Faithfulness, and there are two of them.

The first one is at the very beginning of verse 22 — lovingkindnesses,
or in some of your translations, steadfast love, or in perhaps one of
your translations, great love. There is the faithfulness of God, and then
there is the steadfastness of God. There is this steadfast love of God, there is
this covenant love of God, and the word is in the plural: steadfastnesses,
because you can’t adequately say it in the singular because it’s so
multi-dimensional, and it’s so great, and it’s so vast. So you’ve got
faithfulness
, and you’ve got steadfastness or lovingkindnesses,
or the second companion (in the second half of verse 22), compassions,
or, as in one translation, mercies. It’s the word you would use for a
mother’s love for her children.

We sang a psalm earlier on this morning, Psalm 103, and in that psalm it said
something like ‘God is like a father to us.’ God is like a father to us. Well,
it’s not the father figure here, it’s actually the mother figure. God is like a
mother to us.

Mothers, you’ve been in bed at night and you’ve shed tears on behalf of your
children. You’d have done anything to take their place, to change their
circumstances. You’ve got up in the middle of the night to young crying children
and you’ve nursed them, taken them in your arms and comforted them, patted them
on the back. You’ve sung lullabies to them, kissed them, hugged them, reassured
them of your love. You’ve sat there nervous as a kitten when your little
children are about to perform in a school play or in a spelling bee or
something…play football. You’ve been there when they’re hurting.

And you see what Jeremiah is doing when he speaks of the compassions of God?
Why do you think he’s written all these verses that go before? Why does he
rehearse before he begins to say “great is Thy faithfulness”…why does he take
twenty verses to rehearse in God’s presence all the bad things, the terrible
things, the horrendous things, the unspeakable things? Do you think Jeremiah
thought for one minute that God didn’t know about this? No, my friend. The
reason why he does that is because he wants to solicit the compassion of God. He
wants to solicit the compassion of God.

In 1996, in Christianity Today, Susan Shelley, a director of Christian
Education in a church in Chicago, she was telling us about the birth of her
first child, Mandy, a daughter, born with microcephaly, a small brain. She
writes extensively, pages, about the seizures that would grip Mandy several
times a day, the constant medication, the visits to the hospital, the surgeries
that they went through, the nights that they spent without sleep, the tears that
they shed, the tensions that came into their marriage as a result of it. And
then, unexpectedly, she discovers she’s pregnant again. And she visits the
doctor, and she says the doctors tells her in what she says is a matter of fact
voice that the fetus was malformed. The aorta attached incorrectly, missing
portions of the brain, a club foot, cleft palate, cleft tongue, possibly spina
bifida. It is a condition, he said, incompatible with life, and he urged her to
have an abortion. And she said no…and goes to full term and delivers a little
baby boy. And the nurses say to her and her husband, “Do you have a name for
him?” “Toby,” she says, “Short for the Bible name Tobiah, which means God is
good
.” When her husband was recounting this story to a group of alumni at
Wheaton College, he concluded with these words: “Life is hard, and God is good.”
Life is hard, and God is good. That’s Lamentations: life is hard, and God is
good.

That’s what Jeremiah is saying: Life is hard, and God is good. His mercies
are literally new for the mornings. Astonishing….


IV. The confidence of God’s faithfulness.
Which leads to a fourth part: Confidence of God’s
Faithfulness. The Context; The Core; The Companions; The Confidence of God’s
Faithfulness.

Do you notice a subtle change that takes place between verses 21 and 24? In
21, he is speaking, as it were, about God, but by the end of the passage
he is speaking to God. “Great is Thy faithfulness.” This isn’t
some cold, abstract, religious, philosophical notion that he has. This is
something which he is asserting in the very presence of his Lord. “Your
faithfulness is great.”

And two things flow. Notice at the beginning of verse 24, “The Lord is my
portion.” It’s hard to translate it. It comes from the language of the Levitical
priests and the allotment that was theirs, but basically what it means is “God
is everything to me. God is my life. God is my all.”

And then twice, at the beginning in verse 21 and then again in verse 24, like
bookends — “I will hope in Him.” Some of your translations will translate one “I
will hope in Him” and translate the other “I will wait for Him.” Hope/wait — do
you see what he’s saying? I’m faced with these incredible problems, trials that
come into my life, into my family, into my marriage, into my home, into my
church, but I will wait for Him. I won’t try to answer all of the problems. I
won’t try to answer all of the questions. I will sit by His feet and wait for
Him. I’ll wait with patience. I’ll wait with confidence. I’ll wait with
assurance. And when God wants to explain it to me, I’m ready. And if God decides
not to explain it to me, but simply to ask me to believe Him on trust, I’ll do
that, too, because there is one thing that is a non-negotiable. There is one
thing that cannot change. There’s one thing that cannot be denied. God is
faithful. Great…great is Thy faithfulness.

“Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth;
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.
Great is Thy faithfulness; Great is Thy faithfulness;
Morning by morning, new mercies I see.
All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided.
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”

Dear hurting, grieving, sorrowing heart, will you say that this morning? Will
you stand in the face of whatever providence has thrown in your direction and
assert with absolute confidence, “God is faithful. He sent His Son, my Savior,
to die for me.”

We’re going to sing No. 32, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, and the
acoustics are a little challenged, so I want you all to get that voice from down
below somewhere and let it out: Great is Thy faithfulness!

Let’s stand to praise God.

[Congregational Hymn: Great Is Thy Faithfulness]

Receive the Lord’s benediction.

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be
with you all. Amen.

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