“Comfort After Discipline: Just As God Was Faithful To Discipline, He Will Be Faithful To Restore.”
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Lamentations
I’ll read a verse and you guess where it’s found…. If you don’t mind, I’ll read it with all the emotion that’s designed to have in the passage.
Lamentations 2:21-22 (NASB) 21 On the ground in the streets Lie young and old; My virgins and my young men Have fallen by the sword. You have slain them in the day of Your anger, You have slaughtered, not sparing. 22 You called as in the day of an appointed feast, my terrors on every side; And there was no one who escaped or survived in the day of the Lord’s anger. Those whom I bore and reared, my enemy annihilated them.
It occurs in the same book as this popular passage.
3:21 This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. 22 It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
Turn to the book of 5 poems, the book of Lamentations. The 5 poems are reflected in our 5 chapters.
But why this horrible description and yet in the same short book ….confident hopefulness in God? Why the 2 extreme passages in 1 book? The historical context of this book is important. When this was written, years earlier, God’s people had turned from God, worshipped idols, and refrained from helping the poor, took advantage of widows, and failed to give justice where it was due. God has to respond in order to remain being God!! And God did respond with a vengeance.
Lamentations is a description of God’s response. He brings the Babylonians to Jerusalem to besiege, capture, and destroy her in 587 B.C.
Lamentations is written as a reflection back on that horrible destruction.
Description of Lamentations
It was written as a response of sorrow to that siege and slaughtering of Jerusalem. Lamentations was probably written by Jeremiah, who by God’s Spirit, actually predicted this very destruction of Jerusalem in his book and now, in Lamentations, he is mourning his own fulfilled prophecy.
From a literary standpoint, this book is a masterpiece. The very structure of the book reflects the extremely distressing emotion of the book. Let me show you that.
Lamentations is famous for being an acrostic, meaning the verses of each chapter are arranged alphabetically, according to the Hebrew alphabet. Each verse starts with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The first verse starts with the equivalent of “A”, the second verse with “B” and so on. Chapter 2 begins with the equivalent of ‘A’, verse 2… B, etc. Chapter 3 is the same. Also, what’s cool thus far, is that each chapter is exactly the same length.
Look at the end of chapter 1. You’ve got 22 verses. If you were to look at the verses in Hebrew, you would notice that each verse has 3 Hebrew lines in it. Some of you may even have 3 lines in each verse in your translation. Go to the end of chapter 2 now. 22 verses, 3 lines each, making a total of 66 total lines.
End of chapter 3: how many verses? Each verse is 1 line.
Now, beginning in chapter 4, it too is alphabetically arranged, but it’s shorter than the others. It too has 22 verses, but it only has 2 Hebrew lines in each verse.
And the 5th chapter, 5th poem, an even shorter poem. It too has 22 verses like every chapter except for chapter 3, but it only has 1 line per verse, totaling only 22 lines.
But not only that…chapter 5 has no acrostic; it’s not alphabetically arranged.
Lamentations then gets shorter and shorter and less and less structurally arranged. Coupling that with the emotion of the book…. ‘then ILL with walking upright and slowly limping, hobbling….’ It’s like it’s falling apart. Here’s the point: the structure of the book reflects the emotion of suffering of the book.
But coupling this reflection of suffering with our favorite verses from Lamentations that are sooo encouraging… what we’ll discover is that the purpose of Lamentations is to encourage those who are suffering and to show that only God’s faithful love and grace will get you back to a point where God can restore you.
So I just want to raise the question tonight… how does an Old Testament book, written to people over 2,500 years ago, have anything to do with us? The book is about suffering. That ever happen to you? I mean serious suffering. No? Well, it will. You need or will need the message of this book, which is “Comfort after Discipline: Just as God was faithful to discipline, He will be faithful to restore.” Now, discipline can happen in 2 different ways. You can be punished (discipline for sin) or you can be trained (through common suffering).
Which camp do you fall in? Which camp will you fall in? Every child of God (prove that…) experiences discipline: sometimes punishment, sometimes training. The question is, which is it for you? Are you being punished because you have sinned and God is chastening you? Or, are you being trained through the type of suffering, which is common to all human experience. Both are meant to discipline you to be more like Christ.
The question this book of Lamentations seeks to answer is this: How do I find comfort during and after discipline? Whether or not God is punishing you or He brought the kind of suffering that’s common to all of us into your life, any Christian going through these types of discipline and training sessions should follow these principles from Lamentations so that the desired divine effect can take place. To find comfort during and after discipline, first, then…
Understand Your Deplorable Condition
EXP: If you don’t know you’re in a horrible condition, you won’t be able to respond rightly and heal properly.
Judah and Jerusalem knew all too well their horrible condition of suffering. For example, Jeremiah in this book describes the people’s grief, affliction, hunger, loneliness, restlessness, and humiliation.
For example, Lamentations 1:1 (NASB) How lonely sits the city That was full of people! She has become like a widow Who was once great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces Has become a forced laborer!
Lamentations describes other things that God’s people once had and have now lost because of their sin. So, they clearly fall into the punishment category of discipline. Again, they were being punished for their sin of idolatry, adultery, taking advantage of others, and not doing justice to those who needed it. As a result, they lost possessions and precious things (1:6-7). Their honour turned to shame (1:8) and their strength became weakness (1:14).
Physically, Zion, which, by the way, is the city of Jerusalem, began their suffering with the slow process of starvation. In a siege, that’s what happens. An army surrounds the city and no longer allows any food to come in or anyone to go out. Though Sodom was destroyed in an instant (4:6), Zion through starvation was required to “pine away” (4:9). They had to suffer a slow and painful death, as if one drop of blood at the time. Starvation is horrific as Jeremiah describes it in this book (Lam. 1:11, 19; 2:11-12; 4:4, 8; 5:6, 9; see especially 2:19; 4:9; 5:10). As a result, women are described committing acts of cannibalism (2:20; 4:10). Cannibalism among God’s very people of Israel is no surprise when Israel failed to serve the Lord. This was actually predicted to happen in the curses section in Deuteronomy 28.
So you can see that understanding your deplorable condition is the first word of counsel and suffering the book of Lamentations gives us.
APP: Perhaps you are being punished or you are just being trained through suffering. Whatever the case, now you know you are suffering. And knowing is the first part of the battle to recovery. And your situation will probably never be like that of Israel’s!
TRANS: Now what? Knowing it is the simple part. You might say, “Which one am I going through?” I don’t know that we are required to answer that question. The rest God’s counsel from Lamentations will apply either way.
Since you understand your deplorable condition and how much pain you feel and you can describe it, now, secondly you must gladly receive divine discipline for the sake of growth in Christ.
Gladly Receive Divine Discipline
As a Christian, when you continue to practice sin against God, at some point He will discipline you. He could do that by handing you over to Satan, world, covetousness, and or even to the sin itself. And even if you have not sinned, God still wants to train you to be like His Son through trials and struggles.
But if you despise divine discipline or regard it lightly (whether it’s punishment or training), the turmoil you’re in won’t bear the fruit God intended it to. Don’t fight God when you’re knocked down on the canvas.
The people in Jerusalem had no choice but to experience God’s chastening of them! It was because of sin that God delivered up his people into the hand of human enemies (Lamentations 2:7). And these enemies were extremely cruel. They came to Jerusalem in order to steal (1:10), to violate women (5:11), to torture (5:12), and to kill (2:21; 4:9). They experienced this, but it’s another thing to receive it!
And even though Jerusalem begged for mercy, they were given no comfort (1:16-17, 21). At one point Jeremiah describes them fleeing for their lives, only to be hunted down by their enemies (Lamentations 4:18-19; 5:5). They were taken into captivity and enslaved (1:3, 5; 5:8). Their enemies mocked them and rejoiced because of their misfortune (1:21; 2:15-17).
And in your life, God uses multiple things to discipline you, from small griefs to large ones. But whatever it is, God’s discipline in your life should not be despised (Prv 3:11) or taken for granted (Hebrews 12:5 (NASB) and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE Lord, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM;). And in the context there, the author is referring to the discipline of persecution. So, God can discipline and train you to become more like Christ. Are you willing to say, “Lord, whatever it takes, make me like Christ.”
TRANS: So gladly receive divine discipline, if it’s for sin, or if it’s not, saying, “I deserve hell and anything less will make me like Christ. Bring it on!” So, how do you receive it? You receive it by not taking it for granted…that it’s a precious thing that he keeps working on you to be like His Son. This is the book of Lamentations second word of counsel to us.
Once you’ve recognized your suffering and you’re willing to receive God’s discipline, 3rdly confess your sin and admit you need training and you deserve any degree of punishment for sin. This was Jeremiah’s response in this book tonight.
Confess Your Sin and Admit Any Punishment is Deserved
After the people of Jerusalem went through such horrific suffering, they rightly confessed their sin. When any kind of suffering hits, what’s your response? Confession was the response of the Israelites. It’s also a mark that you’ve truly received the discipline from the Lord. No matter what the struggle is, you can never go wrong with confession and admitting you need to be trained to be like Christ.
Notice Jeremiah’s confession of sins on behalf of Jerusalem.
Lamentations 1:5 (NASB) Her (i.e., Jerusalem) adversaries have become her masters, Her enemies prosper; For the Lord has caused her grief Because of the multitude of her transgressions; Her little ones have gone away As captives before the adversary.
Lamentations 1:8 (NASB) Jerusalem sinned greatly, Therefore she has become an unclean thing (perhaps better there, “an object of ridicule.”). Jeremiah is confessing Jerusalem’s sins.
In the first part of this first chapter, Jeremiah is the one who confesses Jerusalem’s sins. However in the rest of the chapter it’s Jerusalem herself who confesses her sin…
Lamentations 1:18 (NASB) “The Lord is righteous; For I have rebelled against His command; [now the discipline] Hear now, all peoples, And behold my pain; My virgins and my young men Have gone into captivity.
Lamentations 1:20 (NASB) “See, O Lord, for I am in distress; My spirit is greatly troubled; My heart is overturned within me, For I have been very rebellious. [now the punishment] In the street [outside the city gates in a siege] the sword slays; In the house [inside the besieged city] it is like death.
It’s difficult to respond correctly to pain and suffering. You’re more likely to stiffen up and kick back and question God. But the biblical to response to suffering is humility, as we’ve seen here, expressed by confession of sin.
ILL: What’s comforting to know, is that this is exactly Jesus’ council for us regarding suffering. Let’s turn over to Luke 13. To prep us for this, …is everytime you experience suffering, judgment from God? No. For those who are tempted to believe that, where do you stop with it? Is every time you stub your toe, God’s judgment? Of course not. Well, you say, it’s just the big things that are God’s punishment…ok, but then how do you measure it? It ends up getting real subjective. So, what does Jesus say? What is his council during suffering?
[explain v.1; read through it; focus is on our response in suffering: repent anyway! That’s the 3rd step.]
TRANS: Fourthly, as you grieve during a time of suffering, recall to mind the great character of God.
Let me just pause: I’m giving these steps, not because these are my words, or because I and some clever guy. I’m able to give these words to you because this is the counsel of the book of Lamentations! Jeremiah is, as it were, standing by the way as God’s people are led off into captivity in chains, and he’s preaching these things to them! He understands their horrible condition and wants them to understand it to. He is counseling them to receive divine discipline, not just experience it, and to confess their sins! This is God’s counsel and suffering! And now fourthly, recall to mind God’s character.
Recall to Mind God’s Character
When in severe trial and suffering, temptation to doubt God’s goodness is real. If your parents, child, or one of your best friends contracted a disease and died would you doubt God’s goodness? I’m just trying to think of one of the worst possible situations.
[[[[[[[[[[[[[[My wife and I got to know a Christian married couple our age as we worked together at a Christian children’s home in 2008. These children were brought off of the streets, or taken from homes whose parents could no longer care for them b/c they had been imprisoned, or something similar. Late last year, in December, the wife contracted a rare and very aggressive form of terminal cancer…while pregnant. And so, not wanting to harm the baby, she refused chemotherapy.
This couple had such an awesome testimony with the doctors, that at one time a doctor wept in front of them and wondered how on earth they could be going through this horrible suffering with such strength and grace. Of course, they testified of the goodness of God to them through Christ.
When I first preached this message, less than a week earlier, she had gone into a coma and they delivered the baby by C-section at 27 weeks. She was pronounced brain dead and the husband was given the horrible task the day before I preached of deciding whether or not to “pull the plug.” I found out the next day that she went home to glory at 4pm the day before. ]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]
What would you think of God in a situation like that? Does he not hear our prayers for healing? Will he not deliver? Would you get angry at God? Christian, suffering is real and you will go through it.
So what do you do! You’ve recognized your suffering and you’re willing to receive God’s discipline, you’ve confessed sin and admit you need training and deserve punishment for sin…don’t forget about the one with whom you have to do! He is where the comfort is, and, as we’ll see, his ability to work in the future is too!
The fact that God is the comfort is why Jeremiah reminds us of God’s character in Lamentations. First, he’s upfront with the fact that God is the one who has afflicted them (1:5). There’s no terminology like “God allowed this to happen” no, God did it himself. Amos asks in 3:6 of the book of Amos, “Can there be calamity in a city and the Lord has not done it?” Obviously no, the Lord brings the calamity upon a city!
[[[[[[[[[[[[The second time Satan comes to God in Job, God admits that he brought all the calamity upon Job, but not because Job did anything wrong. Job 2:3 (NASB) The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause.”
Job did nothing to deserve such destruction. But the destruction was not without purpose. The Lord may bring calamity into our lives without cause, but it will never be without a divine purpose. In other words, we may not have sinned in such a way so as to deserve punishment, but the calamity he brings will always be for a purpose. It served for the sanctification of Job and it will do the same for us. ]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]
Nevertheless, the Lord is righteous (Lam. 1:18) and in chapter 3, he is perfect in his loving loyalty (Lam. 3:22, 32), in his compassionate mercies, as well as his faithfulness. All of these attributes fuel his ability to save his people as well as redeem them as it’s described in chapter 3. We will look at Lam. 3 a little closer later.
It’s no wonder, in the trials of this sort, that God reminds his people of his goodness to them. So think righteous thoughts of God in the midst of trial and trouble!
A husband I knew personally who lost his wife to cancer while she was pregnant was interviewed by a news agency. The interviewer asks, “What do you hope that all who hear about your wife’s story will walk away with from her sacrifice?”
A: Don’t be afraid to die. Death for the Christian is a mercy. It is part of the curse, but for the Christian it is a mercy, or a grace – a mercy in a sense that you leave this world, and a grace in the sense of entering the presence of God. A Christian couple facing abortion or death to the woman I say, “Don’t be afraid to die.”
Yes, but, you might say, how is God being merciful to me, the one grieving! Not only will God make you more like His Son (which is no small privilege), but he will one day make a complete end to all the wrong and will bring about a glorious restoration as a demonstration of His righteousness!
TRANS: So because God is great and His goodness extends to us, you should, lastly, confidently pray concerning the future. This is God’s last word of counsel to suffering believers.
Pray Confidently about the Future.
After describing the horrible nature of the suffering of God’s people, Jeremiah’s prayers in Lamentations, he gives us a tiny glimpse of hope.
Lamentations 1:11 (NASB) All her people groan seeking bread; They have given their precious things for food To restore their lives themselves. “See, O Lord, and look, For I am despised.”
Within prayers of distress, hope is offered implicitly. Nobody prays like that without the expectation that God will hear and answer his prayers. “See, O Lord, and look, For I am despised.”
Jeremiah also prays in the last poem of the book,
Lamentations 5:1 (NASB) Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us; Look, and see our reproach!
Lamentations 5:21 (NASB) Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored; Renew our days as of old,
And sandwiched in the middle of the book, which Hebrew poetry highlights, Jeremiah himself can testify to the nation concerning the hope that he himself has experienced during his own despair. He has this hope in the midst of despair by contemplating the character of his God in Lamentations 3:18-26. Let’s look at this section in more detail.
He begins his great expression of confident hope in God, not with the confidence, but with despair. 3:18 begins his prayer.
Lamentations 3:18-20 (NASB) 18 So I say, “My strength has perished, And so has my hope from the Lord.” (basically, I have lost all hope of deliverance from the LORD. Does that sound like some believers?) He asks the LORD to recall his bitterness of soul, v. 19 19 Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. He then testifies that he can’t stop thinking about his own miseries, v. 20. 20 Surely my soul remembers And is bowed down within me. (or better “I am depressed with no relief.”)
So just before he begins his section of his hope in God, he expresses his utter dismay and depression. Is that your condition? How do you respond to it? Jeremiah responds by forcing himself to think righteous thoughts of God, v 21. So he has hope.
Lamentations 3:21 (NASB) This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.
So what does he call to mind, what does he force himself to think about when he’s sooo troubled? The content of vv. 22-23. Jeremiah rejoices over God’s mercies, compassions, and faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23 (NASB) 22 The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.
As the NASB reads, the LORD’s lovingkindnesses, or probably best in this context, God’s acts of loyal love, …. this is that word for God’s covenant love and faithfulness to his promises….similarly, next line of that verse… God’s compassions never fail. God is faithful to be compassionate and loving because he has promised to be so! What kind of promises are we talking about?
He made promises to Israel, particularly from their standpoint before Christ, that one day Messiah would come, and then even come a second time. For us, God has made promises that he will keep (his love is faithful), especially as they concern a future, eternal rest in an awesome paradise for the people of God.
Brethren and fellow sufferer, we have the confidence of a future glorious expectation when all suffering will be gone. God was faithful to discipline and strengthen us. That means that the truth of His promises of the future are real. If in trial, you can intimately know the character of God’s Son being worked in you as you recognize that, you can be assured of God’s faithfulness of His promises in the future.
God’s compassions never fail; they are new every morning. There is no way you can exhaust God’s compassion upon you, even in the midst of suffering. God’s faithfulness is “great” in the sense that it is “abundant.” It’s everywhere! It’s all around, you’re swimming in it! That’s the sense of the great hymn we sing from this text. The author of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” portrays God’s faithfulness in the sense that it is demonstrated everywhere, even in the…
Summer and winter, springtime and harvest, Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above, Join with all nature in manifold witness, To Thy great faithfulness.
What that song doesn’t mention is how God’s faithfulness during times of suffering to make us more like Christ…how those times should remind us of God’s future faithfulness to fulfill his promises of eternal glory. That’s the counsel then. First…
Understand that you’re suffering.
Receive, don’t fight with, God’s discipline. He wants to make you like Christ.
Confess your sin when suffering.
Be intimately aware of God’s character.
Pray confidently about the glorious future.
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Lamentations
In times of real trial know the message of the book of Lamentations that just as God was faithful to discipline, so also is he faithful to restore. He may not restore on this earth, but a glorious eternal restoration is coming and I dare say with Paul in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Finally, pray. Different types of prayer in lamentations, e.g., . Lamentations constantly pushes the worshipper not to assess why its prayers are beneficial to oneself (their affective quality, their efficacy, their benefits for coping with pain), or to provide the rationale as to prayer itself (forms and motivations of prayers), but rather to drive the worshipper toward that transcendent transaction—toward prayer itself.
PRAY over the 5 above.
Sing great is thy faithfulness.