This is part 9 in the Growing in Grace teaching series.
In the early 90s, my mother moved to Destin, Florida. A couple years later, in September 1995, her home was destroyed by Hurricane Opal, a Category 4 storm. All my childhood photos were washed into the bay, including my Jeep. Thankfully, most of the community had evacuated.
But people weren’t able to evacuate in Tuscaloosa, AL, in April of 2011.
I was talking to Ben Barrett before the service. He was a senior at the Univ. of Alabama that April when much of the city and lives was destroyed by a massive tornado.
We have seen the images of destruction, whether a photo or video taken after a major tornado has ripped through a peaceful, yet populated neighborhood.
It’s not just the physical devastation. It is the effect on the people. The emotional trauma reflected through tears… sobs. Sometimes inconsolable.
It breaks my heart to see residents, surrounded by rubble, weeping, some inconsolable at not only the loss of physical beauty and material possessions, but also at the loss of life.
This is an accurate reflection of the state of Jeremiah’s heart as he wrote the book of Lamentations.
It is 586 B.C. Jeremiah’s beloved city of Jerusalem has been decimated by tornadic Babylonian invaders. The city has been destroyed. The walls torn down and the temple in ruins. Most of the population has been taken away in chains to serve as slaves to their captors.
Observing such devastation has reduced Jeremiah to sobs of grief—sobs that express themselves in five chapters of deeply emotive sorrow.
Many of us can relate to Jeremiah’s sobs.
It doesn’t have to be a hurricane or a tornado. It can be a marriage in ruins, wayward children, impending financial ruin. When nothing is going the way we had hoped or expected.
Sometimes it feels like God is against you, orchestrating the events of your life to make you miserable and punish you.
That is how Jeremiah must have felt.
Jeremiah was tempted to think that God was against him, too… and against Israel. The external evidence seemed to validate such an assumption.
Yet, what we see at the very center of Jeremiah’s lament is a ray of hope that shines through the clouds of his despair.
It is a ray of hope each one of us will need to grasp at some point in our lives as we journey through this fallen world to our promised paradise.
What we are going to do in this message is explore how God’s ray of hope is able to shine in the ruins, through the clouds of despair.
UNDERSTANDING ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT WORDS IN THE BIBLE.
We see this word in Lam. 3:22, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases.”
As you probably know, the Old Testament, including Lamentations, was originally written in Hebrew. What we have in English are translations. NIV, ESV, NASB, KJV, etc.
One of the most important words in the Bible is the Hebrew word that is translated “steadfast love.” It is also translated “great love,” “unfailing love,” and even “favor” and “devotion,” and “zealous affection” and “undying loyalty.”
The Hebrew word that English translations are trying to grasp is hesed.
In the New Testament, the closest parallel to the Hebrew word hesed may be the Greek word agape, a word which is translated as “love.” But the substance of agape love goes beyond mere feeling to a resolved commitment to act in such a way that proves one’s unfailing love, zealous affection, undying loyalty, and devotion.
This is what we see in the agape love, hesed love, manifested by Jesus upon a cross of execution, where he took the judgement we deserve so that we could receive from God not judgment, but mercy.
If we ever begin to think God is against us, all we need to do is contemplate the cross of Jesus!
CONTEMPLATING THE UNLIMITED BOUNDARIES OF GOD’S MERCY
We see this stated in the second half of verse 22, “his mercies never come to an end.”
Do you remember the days when cell phone packages included minutes? You had to be really careful not to get slapped with an overage fee.
Maybe the lament in your life right now feels like God slapping you with an overage fee, making you pay for going beyond the mercy he has freely bestowed in the blood of Christ.
The sufferings feel like God is out to make your life miserable as payback for your sin.
The problem with that reasoning is that God’s plan of redemption for sinners is an unlimited package. There are no minutes. We can’t out-sin God’s mercy. It comes with unlimited boundaries.
As the Psalmist says in Psalm 103:10-12, “10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”[i]
Yes, God disciplines those he loves. Since sin is not only wrong, but harmful, he will intervene to prevent us from doing even more damage to ourselves and those we love.
Sometimes, he allows us to face tests of hardship to remove the dross of unbelief so that we may live not in our own power and human resources, but in reliance on the indwelling Holy Spirit.
But as far as how the Lord treats us according to our sin, his mercy is boundless. Unlimited.
We cannot out-sin grace. We have been washed clean. Our debts have been canceled – nailed to the cross and we bear them no more.
Jesus drank the cup of wrath and there is not a drop left for us to consume. Not a drop
CLAIMING GOD’S “MORNING MERCIES”
We see these morning mercies promised in Lam. 3: 23, “they are new every morning.”
The last time we were in Mississippi visiting Kristy’s family, I woke up to the smell of something truly amazing. Freshly baked cinnamon rolls! I could get used to that. But no pressure, Kristy.
God’s mercy is like that. When our eyes open, we should be able to smell the sweet aroma of freshly baked mercy. The hesed love of the Father fills the atmosphere before we do anything good or evil. This is what we are to breath in by faith. This is the oxygen that is available for our souls!
To believe that I am accepted, forgiven, beloved. Treasured.
I could get used to that.
I know a father who wakes early… Waits for his daughter to get up. The first thing she experiences in the morning is her daddy’s hug with an unyielding, “I love you!”
That is God’s disposition toward you.
I need that embrace… especially if my world is falling apart.
I need to be convinced that I’m the Lord’s beloved and that he is still in control of the devastation.
He knows. He understands. Jesus himself was the object of the most grievous devestation the world has ever witnessed when he became the object of wrath in crucifixion. He had been falsely condemned, mocked, whipped, had thorns crushed into his scalp, was nailed and asphyxiated to death, then pierced with a spear just to confirm he was really dead.
His world fell apart so that mine wouldn’t ultimately fall apart, and when it does, he is there in the midst of it, with a redemptive purpose. That is his promise. He will be faithful, even if the city is decimated before our very eyes.
This is why it is so important for us to claim the LORD’s fresh baked morning mercies, knowing that just like Israel was deported, they were returned. Just like Jesus was crucified, he was resurrected. Just like we will experience grief; we will experience glory and the fullness of joy. (Psalm 16:11)
Many of us have time in the morning that we set aside to read Scripture and pray. Don’t forget to claim your fresh baked morning mercies!
But claiming these mercies takes faith, doesn’t it? It takes trusting.
TRUSTING THE PROMISE KEEPER
Back in 2011, I participated in Leadership Lumpkin. Part of our first session was a series of team building, trust building exercises. You know, the one where you stand in a chair blindfolded and fall backward, trusting that your team will catch you.
What I learned is that it is not natural to trust. It requires a conscious, active, volitional decision.
Oh, that God would give us grace to trust the Father when the city is in ruins. When my life is in ruins. When sin seems to be winning. When it feels like God is against us to know that he is not against us—but is in this and is for us.
I want to cry out like Jeremiah in verse 23, “Great is your faithfulness.”
Faithfulness that was most perfectly displayed in the cross, where Jesus experienced the ruins of my sin. He became the captive deported not to Babylon but to hell, so that I could be set free, restored as a son who would be escorted to heaven.
When it feels like God is against you, we look to the cross of Jesus. And read Lamentations 3:22-23. Another passage that I’ll close with is by Paul in Romans 8:28-32, where he tells us what we can know to be true, even in the midst of this world’s ruins:
“28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
He who did not spare his own son.
How much more for us could God ever be?
[i] Psalm 103:10-12
The gospel is a promise. Jesus took the fall for you. The promise of forgiveness full and free. The promise of the indwelling Holy Spirit to convict us, console us, comfort us, guide us, and empower us—even empower us to see the ray of hope—the ray of hesed love and mercy—shining through the clouds of our despair. He holds you and will not let you go.
- Trusting the Promise Keeper
For this, let’s turn back to the passage we read in Numbers 23:19. The context is Balak, the King of Moab, a rival nation to Israel, has commanded a famous diviner named Balaam to pronounce a curse on Israel so that Balak could conquer Israel in battle.
19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
Now, listen to what Balaam says next in verse 20. This is awesome!
20 Behold, I received a command to bless: he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.
The LORD had promised to bless Israel and he would do it. It could not be revoked. He would not curse them. He had promised to bless them!
The same thing is true for us! In the same way that Israel was protected from the accusations of Balak, we are protected from the accusations of our enemy, Satan. A curse would be spoken, but not upon us. Rather, upon Jesus.
Upon the cross, Jesus took the curse of condemnation so that we could receive the blessing of justification and adoption and sanctification and eventually glorification.
As Paul says in Galatians 3:13-14, “13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”