Dear radio friends,
Why speak on Lamentations at the close of another year? To lament means to mourn aloud with grief or to express one’s complaint. And this is exactly what the prophet Jeremiah does in this book of the Bible. He mourns over the desolation and destruction that had befallen Jerusalem and Judah. He raises his voice of grief over the captivity of Judah in Babylon on account of her apostasy. In chapter 3 he laments his own personal affliction that he suffered through all of this. Jeremiah writes in verse 1 of this chapter, “I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.”
Jeremiah mourned in this way because God had sent many painful events in the life of His servant. He tells us in verse 14 that he was a derision to all his people and that they mocked him with their song. This was true, and more—he was even cast into a pit for days, standing in mud up to his knees. This prophet had been beaten and imprisoned because he spoke the words that Jehovah had placed upon his lips. He spoke words of condemnation and destruction upon Judah for the sins she had been committing before the face of God. The people and the rulers hated him for that. Not that Jeremiah delighted in speaking such harsh words. He was commanded to do so by God Himself. He could not help but speak these words. He was Jehovah’s mouthpiece. So he was persecuted for the sake of the truth—and in this particular book of the Bible he raises his lamentation to God.
Why consider a lamentation at the end of this year? Because in the midst of his mourning Jeremiah brings to mind a blessed truth that gives us joy as the old year passes away. It is the truth of God’s faithfulness. Here are the verses we are going to consider, Lamentations 3:22, 23: “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.” In this past year God has proved Himself faithful to His church and people. Even though we see society and the church slowly crumbling and falling apart, we can say: God is faithful! And His mercies toward His saints have been new every morning of this year gone by! That knowledge gives us confidence and joy as we stand at the close of this year and look back across the year. It is that confidence we consider today, using the confession of praise raised in these verses.
Looking back across the year 2013 every believer certainly can confess God’s faithfulness to him. When we in our weakness have so often strayed from God, He has again in His faithfulness towards us preserved us in our faith. Even in those times when we were the least deserving of it, God has held us in His mighty hand and led us.
But we ought to understand fully what is implied in this concept of God’s faithfulness if we are really to appreciate its beauty. Only when we fully understand everything that is included in God’s faithfulness towards us are we able to stand on this old year’s night and exclaim: “Great is thy faithfulness!” You see, from eternity God has established His decree. In that decree He has chosen a certain people unto Himself in Christ. God did not leave that choosing up to man. He is God who determines all things. God chose to Himself out of the human race a certain number of individuals who together would make up His church, the body of Christ in this world.
As these individuals are born throughout the generations of this world, God, by His sovereign and free grace, calls them to faith and repentance. He sends forth the Spirit of Christ into their hearts and works in them faith with its fruit—true repentance over sin. He then unites them to the body of Christ in this world so that they stand together in this world with other elect believers, the church. With these believers in their generations God establishes His covenant with its promises. God enters into an intimate bond of love and fellowship with them—a bond in which He becomes their God and Father and they His people—the very children of His family.
That is God’s covenant. With that covenant God has made a promise to His church and through her to every believer: I will not fail you or forsake you. We read of that promise of God’s covenant in many different places in Scripture. In His great love toward His people, in His covenant blessing toward them, God makes a promise to them: no matter what way I might lead you in this world, you need never fear because I will never leave you alone. I will always be there for you.
This covenant that God established long ago with Abraham was accompanied repeatedly through history with an oath. God swears by His name that these elect people whom He has chosen from eternity in His unchangeable will, and that He has called to be His people in this world, He will never leave to themselves or forsake them. In other words, God swears an oath to us, His church: “By my name, I will never fail you or forsake you!” We must understand all of this if we are truly going to understand God’s faithfulness! Because, you see, God’s faithfulness speaks of His constant and abiding adherence to the oath that He swears to us. God does not forsake His people, and that, not on the basis of anything they have done to deserve this. If it were not for God’s faithfulness towards us, we would be consumed, you and I! “I am Jehovah, the unchangeable One, therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed,” God tells us in Malachi. God is faithful to you and me because of who He is and because of the oath that He swore to His church.
This oath God has kept throughout all ages. Oh, there is no doubt we find repeatedly in the Bible that God pruned many people out of the vine of His church. These people belonged outwardly to the sphere of God’s church and covenant in this world. But they were not believers. There is no doubt about it, either, that God cut off the nation of Israel and Judah as a whole. But this was true because these nations slowly but surely began to fill up with reprobate instead of elect. These nations slowly, through the course of time, became filled with unbelievers instead of believers. They still looked at themselves as the people of Jehovah. They still boasted of that. But their hearts were not characterized by faith. For this reason the reprobate in the church are cut off. Or when the church institute itself is filled with them, then the institute is cut off. But this does not mean that God is not faithful to the covenant that He established with believers.
The elect, who are characterized by faith, are always preserved by God’s almighty hand. God’s promise is still sure to the seed—the true seed of Abraham—I will not leave you alone in your lives and I will not fail you or forsake you in your needs. I am your Father and you are My children whom I love with an eternal, unchangeable love! God’s people in every generation hear that promise and cling to it! They need to, because believers know their own sin and their own failures in this life. And they know that they do not deserve this favor and love of God in their lives. But they believe!
They believe that God will never leave or abandon them because of what Christ has done for them! In Christ God’s faithfulness is revealed to you and me, dear saint! We believe that! We believe that Christ has died to deliver us from sin, and that He has taken away our guilt. We believe that God views us ever in Christ alone and we therefore see our own worthiness before God in Christ.
For Christ’s sake, therefore, we are preserved in our lives. For Christ’s sake you and I have been preserved in our faith in the past year. As this year passes into oblivion therefore, we hold fast, we cling tenaciously, to God’s covenant promise to us. And we rejoice in the name of our God: He is Jehovah, the faithful one!
Look at the events of 2013. Look at society. In this past year it has become the more lawless. Mass shootings in various schools and public places. Parents murdering their children and children their parents. Kidnappings. The society in which we live has become an unsafe place in which to live. There is the constant threat of war hanging over our heads—Iran, Syria, North Korea. Terrorist strikes in various places in this world. There is corruption in big business affecting the lives of thousands. There is lack of financial security—stocks plummeting and economy faltering. Sexual promiscuity—fornication and adultery. This past year has been a year of uncertainty in this present society in which we live.
Look at the church world. More and more we find the false church growing in power, ever holding to its errors that place man above God. There is an attitude of tolerance toward—even acceptance of—false doctrine and a sinful lifestyle. There is a growing attitude of anger and resentment toward the church that strictly maintains the Word of God. Errors may abound; there is room for them all. But when the truth is promoted, then it meets with retaliation, even anger. Apostasy and worldly-mindedness prevail in the church. Even the direction of much of the church this past year can leave us with sadness that sometimes verges on despair. Where is this world going? Where is the church going?
But God has been good to us, has He not? It is not that we have not stumbled in this past year. We do not always love God and the neighbor as we ought. This year has not always been one of joy and happiness for us. We must deal with sin as it has entered into our own relationships. We must deal with sin in those whom we love. Sin causes strife! Besides, we must deal with a sin-cursed earth in which we find sickness and even death. We struggle with age, we struggle with infirmities and illness. It all has been there in this past year. But one thing is certain for us as believers who stand now in the last few days of the year 2013: God has been faithful! He has not suffered our foot to be moved. He has not allowed us to fall away from faith. Even though we deserved it—He has held us in the palm of His mighty hand and He preserves us. And in those times when we were about ready to give up, even crying out in despair, then God has borne us up. He will not allow us to suffer above that which we are able to bear. He never leaves us. We experience His care and presence! And when we suffer for righteousness’ sake, then God also gives us a calm reassurance that it is well with our soul! Such is the faithfulness of God toward us.
God’s faithfulness is revealed to us in what Jeremiah says in verse 22 and the beginning of verse 23, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning.” Again, as we reflect on this past year we truly can say that God has been both merciful and compassionate toward us. In the deepest sense of the word, God’s mercy is His attitude of grace and love toward His elect people in Christ, by which He takes pity on us in the misery of our sin. If there is anything that stands before the heart of a believer at the end of another year it is his own unworthiness before God. We have transgressed God’s commandments every day. We have not loved Him as we should, and we have not loved our neighbor as we should either. When we look at our sin, then we see our guilt before God. We deserve to be consumed in God’s justice. We deserve to be punished for sin—eternally. But we are not.
And we are not because of God’s mercy. God has chosen us in His great love for us from eternity. He has called us to be a people unto Himself in this world. Yet, He knows our human frailty. He also sees what a tangled mess we can make for ourselves—and we have made for ourselves again in this year gone by. We wallow about in the misery that sin causes us. He knows we are not always happy here. He knows that when we sin we make ourselves miserable in life. And God pities us when He sees us in our sin. He feels sorry for us and what has become of us in Adam! And in that pity for us God reaches down in His mercy and draws us out of the misery of sin and gives unto us the joy of salvation in Christ. He does that over and over again!
And this is how God’s mercy ties in with His compassion. God’s compassion is His love, but it is His love from the point of view of His affection toward us. He is a God who is kindly affectioned toward you and me and therefore a God of tenderness—a God of kindness. He is filled with benevolence toward us, His children in Christ. That is a beautiful picture of God that our text draws for believers. We are those whom He has chosen from all eternity. He has loved us with an eternal love in Christ. That love does not change. He does not despise us one minute and love us the next. He does not in anger over our sins seek revenge on us, though we deserve it. But God is compassionate towards us—always and ever. And in that compassion God shows to us His mercy. It is a tender mercy! So it is that in His faithfulness to you and me He is gracious towards us, loves us, and is merciful toward us. In this past year all of these were revealed by God to His dear children. How grateful we can be at the end of another year. God’s mercies and compassions fail not!
Notice that these words, mercy and compassion, are in the plural. Jeremiah speaks of God’s mercies and his compassions! He does this because He has in mind the different acts of mercy and compassion God has shown us in our lives. In this past year God has shown to His people countless acts of compassion and mercy. These have not failed us. God has shown that to the body of His church. God has yet preserved His church in the faith. God has given her the truth of His Word. He has given us as believers the desire to hear that truth as it is revealed to us in the Scriptures. He has worked in us faithful adherence to that truth in our lives. And in that we have found unity too as fellow saints of God. God has not failed us in our homes and families! If we were left to ourselves, there too we would be consumed. We sin so much within our own homes and families—sins that are not made known to others, perhaps, but are there nonetheless. But God’s mercy and compassion have not failed us there either!
They are, in fact, new to us every morning. Every day anew we witness God’s unfailing faithfulness toward you and me! Instead of leaving us in our sin and watching us fall, God pities us every day anew and preserves us in our generations. Despite the weaknesses of our households—of parents and of children—God upholds us in His great love and mercy. Every day anew that is true! It has been true throughout this old year. Every day God forgives the sorrowing saint of his sins. Every day anew God preserves that saint in the midst of his afflictions too. We are His people, the sheep of His pasture. He cares for us and leads us. Maybe the way He leads us is not known. Maybe it is hard. He does not promise us that it will not be a difficult way, but He does promise that He will be with us every step of the way. And that is what we have witnessed this past year again. Certainly we can confess with Jeremiah: God’s mercies and compassions fail not: they are new every morning. What a wonder that Jeremiah in all his affliction and pains and sorrows could confess that! But how he experienced that in life too. Just as we have in this past year.
It is the end of 2013. We stand on the very eve of a new year once again. Time like an ever rolling stream. It seems as if this year has just begun, and it is over already! We have seen our share of joys and we have seen our share of sorrows and burdens. But we do not stand here discouraged! We have bright hope for tomorrow. Jesus comes. But we also have confidence in the past. We do not look at it through negative eyes today. We look at it knowing that God has again been faithful! What a wonderful God we have! How good He has been to us again.
What then shall we say tonight? “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, my Father!” As I close my eyes on the last day of this year, that old hymn will be in my heart and on my lips: Great is Thy faithfulness! That is our confession. No, that is our song of praise to God! All praise and glory be to God in this year gone by. Lord God, we extol Thee, and not ourselves. Great is Thy faithfulness!