October 13, 2019
It can be difficult to find hope in bleak circumstances. In Lamentations 3, the prophet Jeremiah chronicled adversity that led him to feel depressed and hopeless. He then recalled God’s steadfast love, mercies, and faithfulness, bringing his heart’s emotions under his mind’s jurisdiction. Alistair Begg examines Jeremiah’s mind-altering moment, reminding us that by keeping focused on who God is, we too can experience His comfort, hope, and security in any situation.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Thank you so very much for giving me this beautiful necklace. I managed to keep it on during the first service, and so I’m determined to see it all the way through as an indication of my progress in grace, because on previous occasions I’ve said, “I cannot possibly try and teach the Bible with that thing around my neck.” And then I realized how offensive that is to some people, but it was too late to fix it then, so I figured I could try now.
It’s lovely to come back, and to see how things are, and to meet new folks, and to have the acquaintance of others from the past. It’s a very happy thing that in the body of Christ, we have these relationships that can’t be diminished by the passage of time or by the vastness of geography. And I’m encouraged to see the way Pastor Wong has flourished and the team around him and the support that you give him. Of course, it matters a tremendous amount, and I know that, because it’s a long haul week by week and Sunday by Sunday, and when we have the assurance of the encouragement and prayers of our congregation, it makes all the difference in the world. We can, as Spurgeon says, preach the same sermons, and they come out even better. And it’s because of you.
So, we’re going to read from Lamentations and chapter 3, as I say. It’s no surprise that we’re going to think about the faithfulness of God in the time that we have. I’m not going to read the whole chapter. You will notice it has sixty-six verses. If you haven’t turned to it and you have one of the Bibles, then I encourage you to do so, because it’s always good to look and see if what the person is saying is actually in the Bible. I mean, why would you take my word for anything? You don’t even know me. And so you should look in the Bible. But anyway, now I’ve made everybody feel bad that doesn’t have a Bible, but that’s by the way. It just always seems strange to me that people want me to teach the Bible, and then they never have a Bible when I try to teach it. But anyway, that’s all right.
I am the man who has seen affliction
under the rod of his wrath;
he has driven and brought me
into darkness without any light;
surely against me he turns his hand
again and again the whole day long.
He has made my flesh and my skin waste away;
he has broken my bones;
he has besieged and enveloped me
with bitterness and tribulation;
he has made me dwell in darkness
like the dead of long ago.
He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
he has made my chains heavy;
though I call and cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones;
he has made my paths crooked.
He is a bear lying in wait for me,
a lion in hiding;
he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces;
he has made me desolate;
he bent his bow and set me
as a target for his arrow.
He drove into my kidneys
the arrows of his quiver;
I have become the laughingstock of all peoples,
the object of their taunts all day long.
He has filled me with bitterness;
he has sated me with wormwood.
He[’s] made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
my soul is bereft of peace;
I[’ve] forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”
Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore [will I] hope in him.”
Now just a brief prayer as we look at the Bible:
Father, what we know not, teach us; what we have not, give us; what we are not, make us, for your name’s sake. Amen.
It’s not uncommon to turn to a magazine or a newspaper and find an article written under a heading along these lines: “Is Anyone Faithful Anymore?” Usually, that has to do with interpersonal relationships, and primarily within marriage. But if I talk to members of my congregation who are involved in the life of business or in sales, they often have to tell me that some folks who show up apparently very committed to being part of the team and part of the cause, all of a sudden, they’re nowhere to be found. And the idea of loyalty to the company or loyalty to the task has dissipated very, very quickly. The idea of keeping our promises—promises that we’ve made to one another—and keeping them even when it’s very hard to do so is something that is unusual and therefore is quite striking when we encounter it: the idea of a steady devotion and just a consistency, the person who lets their yes be yes and their no be no—that they’re not vacillating all the time; you never know where you are with them, and so on—and not least of all as you think about what it means to devote yourself to someone in the framework of marriage.
I often unsettle young people when they ask me, you know, “What should I look for in a spouse?” and I give them a list of different things, and they think I’m quaint and old now—which, of course, is perfectly true. But the principles, I think, still stand. You know, I say to the girl, “Does this fellow finish things?” They’ll say, “Well, finish what?” I say, “Well, have you been with him when he’s had his cereal? Does he finish his cereal?” They say, “Well, I… What? What?” I say, “Yeah, I mean, does he finish it? Or does he leave milk floating in the bottom with bits of Cheerios still floating in it? Does he finish it? Does he shine his shoes? And if he shines his shoes, does he shine the heels, or does he only shine the toes? Because that’s significant. Because, you see, he may be thinking it only matters what you can see coming at you, but it matters far more than that.” And by the time I’m finished, they’ve decided they’re not getting married at all.
But the only real measure of faithfulness that we have is the recurring emphasis of faithfulness in the Bible. We’ve had it from the very beginning in the psalm that was read at the commencement of our worship. And the psalmist again and again reflects on it. “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.” Amazing clouds around here, every morning, and then at night, too, and the vastness of it all, and the moon last night. One of my grandchildren said to me the other day, “You know, Papa, I love you to the moon and back!” And I said, “Whoa, that is good! I like that.” And then I have the chance to tell her, “You know, God loves you in a way that is vast like that. It extends to everywhere.” “O Lord …, who is mighty as you are, … with your faithfulness all around you?” It’s a picture of God’s faithfulness. It’s impossible to conceive of him without recognizing that the omnipresent nature of his character is represented in this way.
Moses reminded the people of that again and again: “Know … that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps [his] covenant.” As James says, he doesn’t change like shifting shadows. His faithfulness is one aspect of the absolute perfection of his character. And in essence, it is this: that God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is revealed to us in Scripture as being a hundred percent reliable all the time. Is there anyone to whom I can go that will be one hundred percent consistent and reliable? And the answer, of course, is here in the pages of Scripture: not the gods of our own creation, not concepts, not idols, not philosophical meanderings, but the God who has revealed himself in the priceless nature of creation, who has established the truth of himself in the person of his Son, who has left to us in the sufficiency of the Bible a mechanism whereby we may go and read it for ourselves. And this God is the faithful God.
“Well,” you say, “it’s interesting that you have decided to speak on this, because we were listening carefully as you read from the beginning of this chapter. And it didn’t smack of a lot of faithfulness. In fact, it was very, very… It was a rather distasteful reading!” And yes, it was, wasn’t it? It’s not easy to read it out loud and to recognize that what is being said here is of vital importance.
And so, what I want to do is suggest to you just three things: that what we have here in the passage that we read is, first of all, a comfortable word in an uncomfortable setting. A comfortable word in an uncomfortable setting. This setting is clearly uncomfortable. The book is called Lamentations, for goodness’ sake. Everybody knows what a lament is. In other words, it’s not you get up in the morning, and you’re like, “Hey, hey, what a day!” No! It is the very reverse of that. And it is a series of laments. Essentially, these five chapters are five separate poems.
And what is being reflected on by Jeremiah in this section of the Bible is the circumstances that were experienced by the people of God when they were overwhelmed by Babylon and they were carried away into exile. You remember the psalmist says, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion—how we looked back and we said, ‘It was great over there. We had a temple. We had worship. We had everything going nicely for us.’ But now what we’ve done is we’ve taken our musical instruments, and we’ve hanged them on the willow trees. Because after all, how could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” And so it is that uncomfortable dimension that is then the context for what takes place here.
The music in the background is just to add a little touch to it. It’s the comfortable music in relationship to my uncomfortable teaching. Don’t worry, sister; just take your time and relax. Are we all set now? What is your name? No, it’s a joke. It’s a joke. It’s a joke. Oh, that’s so good. I thought it was an ice cream truck, actually, at first. I didn’t realize. It’s okay. It’s okay. It was meant to be. It was meant to be.
So, what the writer is doing is not simply describing it, as it were, in the third person and at arm’s length, but he’s describing it in the first person, as if it were that what he is experiencing here is simply the expression of the experience of all. So in other words, what Jeremiah lays claim to in terms of the reality of this lament is expressive of the community’s understanding. And as I say, what you have in these five chapters is a succession of poems. Chapter 3 is right in the middle, and it is also at the very heart of the message, as we will see. It is formed as an acrostic, like Psalm 119. If you know Psalm 119, each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In the same way here, in this third chapter of Lamentations, every three verses begin with another letter of the Hebrew alphabet as a mechanism so that people would have it anchored in their minds, so that they would be able to bring it to mind, so that they could recall it, in much the same way that we teach our children memory tricks, if you like, in order that they may be able to bring these things back to mind. It’s a rather passé concept in contemporary education, but it is actually a vital piece of laying hold of truth. And we’ll leave that observation for another time.
So, the chances are that all that I’ve said this morning so far concerning this passage will be news to the vast majority of us. We’re aware of the great expression of God’s faithfulness, which is the kind of verse that is routinely put on mirrors or on nice pictures of Diamond Head or pictures of the sea and oceans and clouds and everything. And then you have it up, and your grandmother has it up at the end of her stairwell, and you come up the stairs, and it says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. Great is thy faithfulness.” Actually, there’s a perfect picture of it right through this top window right now. You’ve got the hill in the background. You’ve got the palm trees in the front. There’s a space in the middle—perfect space for Lamentations 3:23. Put it right there, and we’ll all just get together, sing “Kumbaya,” and have a happy time, and then we’ll go.
The problem is that that is not even close to where it emerges. That is what is so staggering about it. Because where it is set is in a dark place, in a bleak place. If it were set to music, it would be set in a minor key. If you were looking for an instrument to play in the background while you read out loud Lamentations 3, one good option would be to take a lone bagpipe and let that thing go. Because that is an unusual sound. I mean, I say it as a Scotsman, the Irish sent the bagpipes to Scots people as a joke. But we never got the joke, and we’ve been playing the thing ever since! And if you’ve ever caught yourself with a poor bagpipe player, you know, on the holiday weekend, bleating out some miserable rendition of “Amazing Grace,” then you know exactly what we’re on about here. And that would be the background: “You have put me in the depths of the pit, in … regions dark and deep.”
The whole book begins in a very dark way: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people!” You got this picture of absolute desertion, like places in Glasgow in the midst of the Second World War after the raids of the Nazis—just absolutely desolate. “How like a widow [she has] become”—that is, the city—“she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave.” So you’ve got this picture of desolation and enslavement and loneliness. And so the question is raised: “Why don’t you look and see if there was ever sorrow like this?”
Is it nothing to … all [of] you who pass by?
Look and see.
[Is] there … any sorrow like my sorrow,
which [has] brought upon me,
which the Lord inflicted
on the day of his fierce anger.
Now, here’s something to think about. Because it is not uncommon, even in circles similar to this, to find people assessing various experiences of life in terms of, like, “Well, this was the devil; he won this one. And then Jesus, he did quite well on that one. But apparently, he’s really done a great job here, and he’s done an amazing job in the desolation of his people, the gathering of them into exile, and so on.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. God was in charge. God raised up the powers of Babylon in order to bring his people into a situation whereby they would be so aware of what it means to be bereft of the security and faithfulness of God that they might then, in their expression of repentance, cry out to him all over again. The sorrow that has been brought upon them, the desolation that they now experienced, has been inflicted by the Lord in “the day of his fierce anger.”
That is a real problem to many people, because we have a concept of God that is of our own contriving. Any of the pieces that we don’t like, of the revelation of God in the Bible, we move them to the side of the plate, in the same way that children move vegetables to the side of the plate and only eat the parts that they like. And so people say, “Well, I like this part, but I don’t like that part.” Listen: if you only believe the parts of the Bible that you like and leave aside the parts that you don’t like, you don’t believe the Bible. You believe yourself. You’re now the authority, not the Bible. So the real question is—and this was the conference this weekend—is: Do the people of God actually believe the Bible, even when it cuts right across contemporary philosophy and so on—of which we are a part?
Now, we’re not going to go through this section in its entirety, but we should just notice that it is full of these bold complaints. “Surely, I am in a mess,” he says. In verse 4, he’s physically wasting away. In verses 5–7, he feels himself trapped and dwelling in darkness. His cries are not even heard: “Though I call and cry for help,” verse 8, “he shuts out my prayer. He’s walled me in. He’s a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding.” He’s not referring to the devil here. You see this? “He has made me desolate; he[’s] bent his bow …. He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver.” Have you ever read the story of the crucifixion of Jesus? And when they came and found that he was in a condition that they did not expect, one of the soldiers took his spear and drove it into his side—drove it right into his kidneys, essentially. “I have become [a] laughingstock [for] all [the people] …. My teeth grind on gravel …. ‘My endurance has perished; [and] so has my hope.’” “I[’ve] forgotten what happiness is.” No worship, no leader, no temple, no nothing.
You say, “Well, I’m feeling much better now that we’ve gone through this. When do we come to the comfortable part?” Well, we will come to the comfortable part. And thanks for remembering our opening point: a comfortable word in a most uncomfortable setting.
Now, think about this for just a moment. Let’s say you’re in a situation similar to this, where all the wheels have fallen off your wagon, and you’re just bereft of joy, and disappointment has faced you; you’re aware of your own sinfulness; the church has not been going as well as you hoped, and so on. And then somebody says, “You know, why don’t we sing a song?” And someone says, “Well, listen, I have a song. Let’s sing ‘Great Is Thy Faithfulness.’” Person says, “Sing ‘Great Is Thy Faithfulness’? Why would we sing ‘Great Is Thy Faithfulness’? I mean, the thing is miserable. We’ve just described it. It’s absolutely hopeless. Eating gravel? The laughingstock of the community? Everything overwhelming us? This horrible music playing in the background? ‘Great Is Thy Faithfulness’?”
Okay, well, let’s look at this. The second point is that this is actually an encouraging word for a discouraged people. An encouraging word for a discouraged people. Because you will notice there is a transition. In verse 18: “My endurance has perished; [and] so has my hope.” In verse 21: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.”
Well, wait a minute! Only a couple of verses ago, you had no hope, and now you’ve got hope. What changed? What changed? The circumstances didn’t change. He’s not saying, “That was all an illusion. I was just looking at life incorrectly. No, no. It was my attitude that was wrong. I just need to fix things. I just need to start to believe good things about things. I need to banish the idea that life could ever be this way: ‘This is not the life of faith,’ ‘This is not the life of hope,’ whatever they might be.”
But in actual fact, it is the life. It is life. The fact is that our pilgrimage through life is marked not by great seasons of joy and triumph, but it is marked by periods in our lives that confront us with the finitude of our lives. Little children that are born, and they are deformed, and they are incapacitated. Loved ones that die, from a human perspective, prematurely and are taken from us. Marriages that disintegrate before us when we were doing our best to sustain them. Failures of our past arise like demons in the night and confront us like monsters when we awaken. This is reality! I haven’t been in pastoral ministry for forty years to miss the reality in my own life and the experience that I understand in dealing with the flock under my care. I’ve preached Sunday by Sunday to a congregation, or to congregations, whose lives are marked in many cases by quiet desperation. If you scratch just beneath the surface, they will finally tell you, “Yeah. Yes, this is true. This is true. I don’t know what to do. In fact, the other day I said to myself, ‘I think my hope is almost gone.’”
What changed? Nothing looked hopeful. Nothing looked worthwhile. Nothing looked possible. Certainly, nothing looked comforting. Notice the key phrase, 21: “This I call to mind.” “To mind.” You see, the Christian life is a mind-altering experience. The Christian religion—Christian faith—is about history. It’s about geography. It’s about reality. It’s about real people in real time making real encounters with a real God. It’s not a fiction. Therefore, why would we be surprised if people’s stories were marked by all of these elements of the ramifications of just the reality of human existence?
So what is it that distinguishes the Christian from the non-Christian? It’s a complete fallacy to suggest that the Christian is the triumphant one, that the Christian is the one who always passes their exams, that the Christian is the one who never faces failure, that the Christian is the one who’s not involved in disappointment. If you go and try and sell that to your friends and neighbors, you’re selling them a bill of goods. Many people who, having come to trust in Christ, have discovered that life got a lot harder than ever it was before. Guys will tell me in my church, “I used to have a hundred friends. Now I’ve hardly got two or three. They think I’m an idiot, because I no longer do what they once did. I no longer go where they once went. I no longer embrace the philosophy that I once embraced. ‘What is wrong with you?’” So instead of it being some great, triumphant exercise, it has actually brought them into an experience whereby the circumstances challenge the very profession that they make.
What do they need to do? They need to do what Jeremiah does. He thinks. Thinks. There’s a novel idea, isn’t it? Think! Think. If you’re flying at thirty-eight thousand feet going at 642 miles an hour in the pitch dark, if you let your feelings run away with you, there’s no way… I mean, you can’t jump out the window even if you wanted to. You’re there. So you better start thinking. You better start thinking about the significance of those engines on a A-350 or whatever it is. You better start thinking about physics. You better start thinking about things. You better start bringing your mind to bear upon your feelings.
That’s what he’s doing: “I call this to mind.” And what he does is he leads us by reflecting on what he knows of God: “This is what I know is true. But this is what I know as well. Here’s what I know. I’m going to bring the feelings of my heart under the jurisdiction of my mind, all day, every day. Gracious God, you made me. You love me in Jesus. You’ve promised to keep me to the end. You’ve promised that you’ll hold me fast. I don’t really feel held at the moment. I’m not feeling real secure right now, God, but it’s okay for me to tell you this, ’cause Jeremiah told you a lot of stuff like that, and so did David the psalmist. So I’m allowed to let you know that I’m feeling this way. But I also know what your Word says: that your steadfast love, whereby you established a covenant with your people—that your steadfast love never ceases, that your mercies never come to an end.” What a wonderful and amazing promise! The proof that God, you see, still loved his people was that they weren’t consumed. The psalmist similarly says, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Now, think about this this morning. You have your own life. You’re living it. So am I. Time goes by. All the days of our lives were written in his book before one of them came to be. We move inexorably through our days in a linear progression from the place of our birth to the day of our death, and in the midst of all of the triumphs and the trials, what is it that grants stability to us? If it’s not the steadfast love of the Lord, you’re going to have to look for something else—if it’s not his mercies that never come to an end.
Isn’t it funny, the older you get… You say, “Well, I’m not that old yet.” But take it from me, then, that you begin to talk like your grandfather or your grandmother. And my grandfather used to… I remember him saying things like, “I don’t know what’s going to happen to the next generation! I don’t know what’s going to become of them.” This was in the ’60s. He says, “If people dressed like those Beatles or whatever you call them, in my day they would have put them in a mental institution. This is unbelievable! Look at these characters! Dear boy, I don’t know what’ll happen.”
Well, I should have been smart enough to tell him, “Hey, did you ever read Lamentations 3, that ‘his mercies never come to an end,’ that his truth endures to all generations? So, when you punch out, Grandpa, that’s not the end of the program. You can’t turn the whole story off just ’cause you’ve gone. ’Cause now we’ve got to come. And the next one will come, until the Lord comes. Therefore, rest secure in this: that though all hell lets loose in Western civilization, the Lord God omnipotent reigns, and the steadfast love of the Lord will never cease, and his mercies will never come to an end. He will accomplish his purposes. Nothing may stand in his way. Nothing!” And that’s the thing that gets Jeremiah back on keel—not that all the bad stuff went away and then he felt really good. The bad stuff was still there, but now he realized who God is. He was able to say, “I don’t know why it is.” He was able to say, “I don’t actually like it the way it is. But because I know who you are and what you are, then I have hope. Hope.”
“Keep hope alive.” That was Jesse Jackson, right? “Keep hope alive.” It was good. It was a great slogan. ’Cause you can’t live without hope. You can’t live without hope. But what is hope when it is mentioned here? What is hope? What is the hope when it says that we have been “born again to a living hope” by “the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”? The writers are not talking about hope in the sense of uncertainty, the way we might say, “Well, I hope it won’t rain this evening, because we have plans.” No. In the Bible, when it uses “hope” in this way, it is the certainty of that which is promised but which has not yet been experienced. The certainty of that which is promised but has not yet been experienced.
So, I’ve been “born again to a living hope” by “the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” “Yeah, but I’m going to die.” Yes. So how are you going to die? “Well, I’m going to die in hope.” What’s your hope? “Well, my hope is that as Jesus was raised from the dead, I will be raised from the dead.” That’s good. Now, is that hope like “I hope it doesn’t rain,” or is that hope like the certainty of something that is a promise that has not yet been experienced? It’s all the difference in the world, isn’t there? You see, that’s what changes.
That’s why Paul in Romans 12, he says, “Be transformed by the renew[ing] of your mind.” Christians in our day have to learn to think. Whatever your views are on plastic straws or paper straws or the Extinction Rebellion, or whatever your views are, I’m not here to discuss them. But I am here to tell you this: that if you will just read the Psalms in the morning, you will be able to rest secure. “Be a good person. We were given the garden to tend and care for it.” Of course. We’re not to abuse things. But we don’t have to lie awake at night thinking, “The whole world is about to become extinct if we actually use plastic straws,” because God has established his cause in heaven. You see, these people have no God! They have no God! They’re worshipping at the church of ecology. They don’t have any theology except a godless theology.
We have God. He created the universe. All the stars in the heaven he put there. He called them by name. He is the one who takes care of the winds and the waves. He is sovereign over that great hullabaloo in Japan in the last few days. He either is or he isn’t. He cannot be God as revealed in the Bible, looking, as it were, from the vantage point of eternity and saying, “Oh my, that’s amazing. I never imagined that was going to happen!” That could not be God—a God who doesn’t know the future and who doesn’t control these things. Maybe he’s something else, but he sure isn’t God. So the psalmist is saying, “When I look up into the heavens, and I consider the moon and the stars and all the things that you’ve ordained, I say, ‘What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him?’ But you, you see, you’re everything.”
Well, actually—and to my final point, because we must keep going. Lunchtime comes. It is… (At least I hope it does.) It is, then, a comfortable word in a most uncomfortable setting. It is an encouraging word for a discouraged people. And finally—and I’ve already essentially alluded to this—it is a Christ-centered word for a self-centered world. A Christ-centered word for a self-centered world.
You see, if you look at the chapter again through the eyes of Jesus, then you realize why it is that at Sunday school, our teachers taught us that the Bible is a book about salvation—“Salvation belongs to the Lord”; that God, despite the fact that creation turned its back on God and that we are rebels before him, still he loves and pursues us; that we are not trying to earn the right for his acceptance; that we don’t believe the contemporary silly idea that a good God, if he exists, will reward nice people if they do their best. I don’t want to try and pass my exams on that basis. Well, if there is a good God, and he rewards nice people to do their best, well, number one, I’m not that nice, and number two, I don’t know what my best would be, and I don’t know how good a grade I would have to get to at least—even if he’s grading on a curve—to get in the right spot.
No, you see, when you read your Bible, you need to realize, as I say, that in the Old Testament, that Jesus is expected; in the Gospels, he’s revealed; in the Acts, he’s preached; in the Epistles, he’s explained; and in the book of Revelation, he’s anticipated. So the real question when you read the Bible, and not least of all a passage like Lamentations 3, is not to say, “Well, where do I fit in this passage?” No. This is not Where’s Waldo? You don’t read the Bible with, like, “Where am I in the story?” That’s classic, isn’t it? “Well, it’s got to show you something about me in here.” Yeah, there’s a big part about you, and that is, you’re a wretched sinner. That part is really clear. I know that because I saw that when I read it for myself.
But the real question is: Where is Jesus in this? Now, you go home and read through Lamentations 3 again. Listen. How does it open? “I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath.” Who fits that more than Jesus? What was Jesus doing on the cross? He was bearing the wrath of God—the righteous judgment of God set on his dearly beloved Son so that those of us, each of us, who deserves condemnation might, because of who Jesus is and what he’s endured, receive what we don’t deserve, and what we do deserve he has taken in our place. That’s the story of the gospel: that another has done for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves, that he is ultimately the one who has seen this affliction, that he is ultimately the one who is the laughingstock of the peoples.
Read Isaiah 53: “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement [that brought us] peace was upon him.” In other words, the judgment that we deserve was his. And the experience of the people of God in Jeremiah’s day was all within the continuum that sent them longing, looking forward: “Where is a prophet who will be the ultimate prophet? Where is a priest who will actually deal with sin once and for all? Where is a king who will live forever?” And the answer is, Jesus comes as the Prophet. He is the very Word of God. He comes as the Priest. What priest is this? Like a doctor who heals me by taking my cancer. Man, what a deal that would be! The Priest who offers up himself as a sacrifice, who bears the just punishment of God. And he is the King who reigns sovereignly over all the earth.
The proof of God’s love for his people was that they were still around. It wasn’t going real well, but they were reminded in their experience of God’s unfailing faithfulness. And one day, when the roll is finally unrolled and when the record is made clear, we will stand together in Christ and declare these things. We will then be able to say we understood what Paul meant when in Romans 8 he says, “If he has given us…” In verse 28. In verse 32, I should say. It’s always a scary experience when you look down and the verse moved! “What … shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” That doesn’t mean if God is for you, nobody’ll be against you. It means in all the things that are against you, you’ve got to realize, “But God is for me.” And one plus God is a majority. You may be the only one in your office. They may like to say things behind your back. They may criticize you. They may laugh at you. If God be for you, though, what can they ultimately do? “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
And it is this Jesus who is ultimately the focus of this passage and of the Bible, who turns to the people around him on a day, and he says, “Why don’t you come to me? Why wouldn’t you come to me?” Very simple invitation. I mean, I had an invitation the other day to somewhere. They said, “Would you come?” I said, “Well, yeah, I would love to come.” “Okay, that’s good.” Jesus says, “Come to me, especially if you recognize that you’re heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. In other words, put yourself down under the weight of my authority and my kingship and my rule and my reign. And learn from me, for I’m gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
You think about—get back out here on this road and just drive. I’ve driven quite a lot in the last two or three days. And every so often, as the traffic stops and you look in the car next to you: all these people going here, going there, going everywhere, without God and without hope in the world, trying to make sense of the narrative of their life—“Who am I? Why am I here? What am I doing?”—believing all kinds of bizarre things. And when you tell them about the living God and his Son whom he has sent and the invitation that he extends, despite our rebellious hearts, they say things to me like, “Oh, I could never believe something like that”—which, of course, they couldn’t, because by our very nature, we are unbelieving. By our very nature, we are unseeing. And it is only God who opens blind eyes, and it is only God who softens hard hearts.
There’s not a preacher on the face of God’s earth, there’s not a philosopher, an apologist, that could convince you as an unbelieving person today of these things. But God can, and God does. And “today, if you hear [God’s] voice…” You can hear my voice. Big deal! “If you hear [God’s] voice, do not harden your [heart].” Because his steadfast love, which never ceases, his mercies, which never come to an end, his faithfulness, which surrounds him, would sweep you up into the immensity of his kindness and make you his child.
What an amazing story! The hymn writer says,
Why would I be discouraged,
Why would the shadows come,
Why would my heart seem lonely
And long for heaven and home
When Jesus is my captain?
My constant strength is he;
For his eye is on the sparrow,
And I know he watches me.
Do you realize that? Do you know that? Does that matter more to you than actually any other thing—because your loved ones will go.
Well, we’ll stop now.
 See Matthew 5:37.
 Psalm 36:5 (ESV).
 Psalm 89:8 (ESV).
 Deuteronomy 7:9 (ESV).
 See James 1:17.
 Psalm 137:1–2, 4 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 88:6 (ESV).
 Lamentations 1:1 (ESV).
 Lamentations 1:12 (ESV).
 See John 19:33–34.
 Psalm 73:26 (ESV).
 See Psalm 139:16.
 1 Peter 1:3 (ESV).
 Romans 12:2 (ESV).
 See Psalm 147:4; Isaiah 40:26.
 Psalm 8:3–4 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 3:8 (ESV).
 Isaiah 53:5 (KJV).
 Romans 8:31 (ESV).
 Romans 8:32 (ESV).
 Matthew 11:28–30 (paraphrased).
 See Ephesians 2:12.
 Psalm 95:7–8; Hebrews 3:7–8, 15; 4:7 (ESV).
 Civilla D. Martin, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” (1905). Lyrics lightly altered.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.