Lamentations 3:22-33 (Fifth Sunday after Pentecost—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
July 1, 2012
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament reading from Lamentations 3:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” 25 The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. 26 It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. 27 It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. 28 Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; 29 let him put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope; 30 let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults. 31 For the Lord will not cast off forever, 32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; 33 for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.
“He didn’t want to do it. But we gave Him no choice. We did not listen to His word spoken by His prophets. We did not obey the Law which He gave to us on Mt. Sinai through His servant Moses. We turned back to the iniquities of our forefathers. We went after other gods to serve them. We broke His covenant He made with our forefathers. (Jer. 11:10) So now we sit by the waters of Babylon and weep. (Psalm 137:1) God has punished us and sent us away into exile.”
The sins of God’s Old Testament people occasioned this judgment which God did not desire to bring. The prophet Jeremiah, who wrote Lamentations, along with the people of Jerusalem witnessed the destruction of their capital city and the deportation of its citizens to the capital of Babylonia. The Lord had poured out His anger against the kingdom of Judah because of their unfaithfulness, disobedience, and rebellion against Him. The exiles of Judah found no comfort in this punishment. They mourned and wept. They lamented what God had to do.
It is a harsh reality that discipline in the form of punishment is necessary. As a parent, I do not want to punish my children. I don’t want to enter into judgment against them because of their behavior. But sometimes punishment is necessary. My anger or frustration over my child’s behavior and the subsequent punishment that follows is meant to turn the child from wrong behavior. Parents punish with a clear message that says to the child, “What you did is wrong. It is not acceptable behavior. I do not want to see that behavior in the future. That’s why you must endure this punishment so you can realize for yourself your misbehavior and what is expected of you in the future.”
Now, compare how earthly parents discipline and punish their children to how God disciplined and punished His children. God did not want to bring judgment against Israel and Judah. We hear this morning in our text, “For he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.” (3:33) How many times do we read in the books of the prophets how God gave His people, over and over, opportunities to repent? Time after time He spoke His Word through the prophet’s voice, begging the people to turn from their sin and disobedience, to turn away from their idolatry and iniquity. And each time God gave them this chance, He clearly warned them, “If you don’t, you will force me to punish you. I don’t want to punish you. I want to forgive you. I want to wash away your sins and restore you to Me as My children. I want you to turn from you evil ways and live!”
Judgment and punishment is not what the Lord God is all about. It is not His desire to have to discipline and punish. But when He does, does that mean that God’s love has run out? Let me ask it this way, when you and I punish our children, has out love for them run out? Absolutely not! In fact, it is because we love them that we discipline and punish them, even though we don’t want to. Our text reminds us that this is also how God deals with His children: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end . . . . For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though He cause grief [through punishment], He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love.”
It is God’s steadfast love for us that is His motivation for discipline, even when it takes the form of punishment. We read in Hebrews 12, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:6 ESV) The writer to the Hebrews then continues, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11 ESV) Having been disciplined and punished for my misbehaviors (however rare that was!), I know how lousy it feels. Being grounded stinks. Losing TV and video game privileges stinks. Not being able to drive or hang out with friends or talk on your cell phone or whatever the punishment might be, is no fun! Yet, we have to learn that sin is wrong, not just wrong in general, or wrong for “that person,” but wrong for me in my life as a child of God.
So we are encouraged today that when we come under the Lord’s discipline in our lives we ought to “take it like a man” and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord, the end of the time of discipline when punishment is over. Our text assures us that God’s discipline will not last forever. The discipline which we temporarily receive is also minor in comparison. Even though it causes us grief and pain, the reality is that the Lord’s discipline is not His pure judgment and wrath over our sins. Unlike Judah, we are not sent into exile. We are not cast off into the exile of death and hell. We do not face God’s judgment and wrath meted out against us because there was One who put His mouth in the dust, and gave His cheek to the one who strikes—the One who was filled with insults, God Himself in the incarnate person of Jesus Christ.
Because of the Lord’s steadfast love and compassion toward us, God gave His only Son Jesus to be the One who faced God’s wrath and judgment against our sins and the sins of the world. Jesus was arrested and beaten down to the ground. He was punched and struck and slapped. Insults were heaped upon Him, even as He was nailed to a cross. There God the Father dumped all His anger at our sins upon Jesus. The discipline that we go through from the Lord cannot be compared in any way to the literal hell and damnation that Jesus Christ went through on the cross. He was totally forsaken and abandoned by God the Father. Jesus faced the full blast of God’s wrath and anger at our sins, receiving the full and complete punishment—death and hell—on our behalf.
Jesus alone is why God our Father now has compassion, mercy, on you and me according to the abundance of His steadfast love for us. He forgives us our every sin for sake the Jesus Christ, our Savior. He forgives our wrongdoing. He forgives our failure to do good. Why then does the Scripture say that God still disciplines us? If we are forgiven, is there even a need for discipline? Absolutely! God disciplines us because He loves us. He wants us to see our sins and realize where we have fallen short of His glory. He wants us to cherish and rejoice that, once we see our sin and realize our need for forgiveness, He enables us to confess that sin, receive the forgiveness won for us by Christ’s death and resurrection, and then, with the help of the Holy Spirit amend our lives. God is shaping and forming us to be His children who not only know, but who also do, what is good and right according to His Word.
This is why the Psalmist says, “Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law.” (Psalm 94:1 ESV) God’s discipline to us is then not punishment per se, but blessing. It is an opportunity for the Lord to work in our lives a very good work through the Holy Spirit that further leads and guides us along the righteous path He has laid out for us in His Word. Through this good work done in us we better learn to lean on God in faith and trust, especially during the times of discipline. We better know His love for us through His discipline as we are led to better conform our lives to His will and Word.
The trials, then, that we face as part of the Lord’s discipline are part of God’s wholesome purpose. Even the exile of Israel and Judah accomplished God’s good purpose in the lives of His Old Testament people. He did not reject them forever. God brought them back to the Promised Land and, in the fullness of time, sent His Son as the descendent of Abraham to be the Savior of the world. He sent Jesus to face His wrath and punishment for our sins so that God could discipline us with steadfast love and not with His anger, so that He could forgive us completely according to His gracious compassion that is in Jesus CHrist.
May we, with this holy knowledge from God’s Word, receive the Lord’s discipline in our lives. The Lord graciously disciplines, forgives and restores us, because He loves us. Therefore, let our souls also say, “The Lord is my portion, therefore I will hope in Him.” Amen.