When will life improve? - Lamentations 5:1-22
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When will life improve?
Are you someone who likes a film or a TV show or a book to have a happy ending?
Tim Keller, “We live in one of the first eras of history in which it is widely believed that a happy ending is the mark of inferior art…Many are certain that, ultimately life is meaningless and that happy endings are misleading at best. Life therefore would be better represented by paradox, irony, and a sense of frustration. Happy endings are all right for children’s stories, perhaps, but not for thinking adults.”
I’ve certainly noticed this in films and in TV shows in recent years. These kinds of film clearly do reflect much of the complexity, confusion and chaos of living in a broken world. I can relate to them.
But there is also part of me that also is drawn to a story with a happy ending. Toy Story for example. A story where evil is defeated, where justice is done and where the hero gets the recognition and honour he or she deserves.
What we discover in the Bible is that the ultimate end of this story is a happy one. There is realism all the way through but the end for a Christian is infinitely more joyful than all our human stories put together. Those are simply pointers to a greater and grander reality that is still to come.
However, what you discover when you read the Bible is that although the end of the Book is marvellous, it doesn’t follow that the end of each book is a happy one.
Today we reach the end of Lamentations. How does it end? Does it end on a high? Does it deserve a smiley face emoticon? Or is it much more subdued?
To find out I want to show you four things from this chapter of Lamentations.
Request (Vs 1)
• The Report (Vs 2-18)
• The Reign (Vs 19)
• The Restoration (Vs 20-22)
First of all, the request (Vs 1)
We see this in verse 1. Read verse 1.
Now if you were listening carefully you would have noticed that there are three requests made in that verse: remember, look and see. But when we understand what these mean we’ll discover that these three different appeals are actually just different ways of asking for the same thing.
It’s not uncommon for us to ask each other memory questions. Have you remembered you are picking up the children today? Did you remember to put out the bin? We ask these questions but we often do forget things.
But what does it mean to ask God to remember? Are we really to imagine that the Creator and the Sustainer of the Universe suffers from some sort of divine amnesia? As if God’s people in 587BC had to jog his memory about their disastrous situation and if they hadn’t then he would never have known? That sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? We might need some memory aids but not the omniscient God of the Scripture.
But what then does verse 1 mean? This is all about calling God to action. It is a vivid way of asking the Creator of the universe to respond to the needs of his people. Why not just say that? Why talk about remembering? Here’s the logic. The basis of the action is a past promise of God. It’s not that God has forgotten the previous promise. It’s that he is not currently putting it into practice.
The other two appeals are making a very similar point. Look and see our disgrace. Of course God knows what is going on. He is not short-sighted. This is a call for him to respond to the disgrace that he knows about.
What struck me about this big request for God to act is how bold it is. It’s not shy. It’s not tentative. It’s not unsure. It’s not vague. No, it is courageous, confident and clear. We too are to have same boldness. In fact, we NT believers should have even more. We are not to be put off by the grandeur of God because we are children of God.
President Obama and his daughter's access to the Oval Office.
If you doubt this then have a read of what Jesus says in Luke chapter 11. The friend at midnight. “I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.” The point of the story?Approach your loving Heavenly Father with great boldness.
What are we to ask for? All sorts but let me remind you of what is mentioned at the end of verse 1. Did you see it? Our disgrace. They were supposed to be God’s holy people. A blessing to the nations. But they were in a terrible state. They wanted God to reverse the situation for the glory of his name and the good of his people.
We should pray the same. Holiness. Everything else is a disgrace.
What did this disgrace look like for God’s people in 587BC? This is spelled out in the next section, in verses 2 to 18.
What I’ve called the report (Vs 2-18)
We won’t look at everything but here are some highlights…
• Verse 5. The people are weary
• Verse 8. They are enslaved in the land of promise. They dance to someone else’s tune.
• Verse 11. Terrible sexual crimes.
• Verse 15. Joy has gone from the heart.
They were homeless and hounded; horrified and hard-pressed; heart-broken and hopeless. When they prayed for the disgrace to be removed this is what they meant.
Why is the detail important? Not for God’s benefit. He already knew. It must be for the people’s benefit.
How would this detailing have helped them? First, it would have given them a true record of how bad things really were. That would have fuelled their prayers. Second, it would have given them more to pray about.
Do you struggle to pray? This may be because you don’t realise how bad the situation is. Or it may be because you only think at the general level and so struggle to pray for specific things when you are on your own or with other people. I get floored when I hear a Christian say, “I think everything is okay right now” or “I can’t of anything to pray about.”
So friends let’s get thinking about the detail. What are the areas of your life where you are keen to see the Lordship of Christ in your life? Where are the areas of the church you are keen for God to grow? What areas of the community are we desperate to reach?
We will need constantly re-motivated to do this. It is very easy to grow weary and give up. One of the great motivations is found in verse 19.
What I’ve called the reign (Vs 19)
Let me read this amazing statement of reality. Read verse 19.
Who is always in charge? Our God rules from generation to generation.
Human empires all have an expiry date. God doesn't.
Also, he doesn't
have to change to survive.
The British monarchy has had to update itself to survive in our modern world.
But God doesn’t have to do this. There is a constant ruler at the heart of the universe who is powerful and good.
He has both the power to act and the desire to act. So let’s pray to him.
Fourth, the restoration (Vs 20-22)
What is the ultimate hope of these desperate people? They certainly want to be saved from their disgrace. And they want to be saved by God. But what do they want to be saved for?
Look at verse 21. Read verse 21.
They want to be saved for God. They want to be restored to God.
Their hope is to know God. What a great reminder that knowing God is not a bad thing.
How will this restoration happen? Did you notice the order? They want God to restore them so that they can be restored to God.
This is a profound theological statement! God must act first and decisively if a human being is to return to him.
Why pray for unbelievers and disheartened believers? We want God to take the initiative and change hearts.
This is not really an odd thing when we think about how we behave towards other people. Suppose someone loves another who has no real affection for them. What do they do? They take the initiative to woo and win the other.
God can do this perfectly. So we should pray to him to do this for others and for ourselves.
Does Lamentations have a happy ending? Perhaps if it had ended at verse 21. But it doesn’t. Look at the verse 22.
There is uncertainty for that generation. Would they again experience the bountiful blessing of the Lord or would they have to live through many more painful days of the Lord’s discipline? When this was written they didn’t know for sure.
I think this is a great ending for an Old Testament book. As we read it we are being reminded that this cannot be the end of the story. It pushes us to read on as we ask, is there a happier future?
What do we discover as we do? There were many dark and painful days and years and decades ahead for the people of God. But there was also a glorious day ahead when the Messiah was born. He came to restore and to remove God’s anger once and for all, as he died on the cross.
The reality for God’s people is that we still live as holy people in a hostile and broken world. And that means there will still be pain alongside the joy. We shouldn’t respond by giving up. But by looking forward to the ultimate happy end for God’s people when Jesus will return again.
Are you ready for that day?
Are you eagerly looking forward to that day?
In the meantime, let’s be praying that God will restore many more to him before that day. And let’s be praying that God will use us to achieve that end result.
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