All Roads Lead To Jesus - Lamentations

Lamentations – King Jesus Suffers For Us
Reading: Lamentations 3, Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19

Have you ever cried so hard that you thought you would die? Have you ever cried so hard in an effort to die? I have. The hour after I was told my younger brother had been killed in a car accident, I wanted my mourning to kill me. I was in such despair that I hoped the very cries of my body would stop my breathing. This kind of grief is the way in which we must read Lamentations. This is the way in which we must read the words of Christ from the Cross as He suffered for us. For there is no other way to read them but from a place of deep anguish and mourning.

It is impossible for us to read the narratives of the Old Testament without first understanding that the Old Testament is the story of God unfolding His plan to redeem his people through His Covenant of Grace. God established two covenants with humanity. Every one of us is under one of the two covenants. The first covenant is what we call the Covenant of Works. This was established in Genesis 2 when God required perfect obedience from Adam and Eve. The second covenant was made when Adam and Eve failed to keep the first one. We call this covenant the Covenant of Grace. In this covenant, God promises eternal life, salvation, reconciliation, and participation in the new heaven and new earth for all who come to faith in Jesus Christ. The reason why faith in Jesus Christ is so important is because Jesus fulfilled the Covenant of Works on our behalf. God did not nullify the Covenant of Works but instead provided a way, through Jesus, for us to fulfill that covenant. Faith unites us to the accomplishments of Christ. If a person has not come to faith in Christ, then they are still under the Covenant of Works, but without the person and work of Christ.

The Old Testament is an unfolding of the Covenant of Grace. It begins in Genesis 3 when God promised a Redeemer in the Curse for the fallen world. God established the same covenant with Abraham throughout Genesis and continued to remain faithful to his covenant into the days of Israel’s captivity in Egypt. God promised Abraham that a nation would be born from him and that this nation would be a blessing to all nations. The covenant promised a land that God’s people would inhabit. God administrated this same covenant through Moses at Sinai when he gave Moses the Moral Law. God established conditions in which Israel was required to live in obedience in order to receive all of the benefits of the Covenant.

As God had promised, Israel inhabited the Promised Land and established a Kingdom and a nation. David’s rule was the crowning achievement of Israel. At that time, God promised David that his throne would be an eternal throne. Throughout Israel’s history, the prophets declared that the crux and purpose of God’s covenant is this: “I will be their God and they will be my people. I will dwell with my people and my people will dwell with me.”

It all sounds great. But Israel, like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, and every other prophet, priest, and king could not keep the covenant. They continually abandoned God and ultimately fell into apostasy and rebellion. IN 586 B.C., everything came crashing down. The nation, the city of Jerusalem, the beauty of Solomon’s temple, the throne, and even the items in the temple were reduced to smoking ruins. The prophets had warned Israel, but no one would listen. God was too distant for them to care any longer.

Out of the burning rubble came the cries of Jeremiah and Israel through the five poems contained in Lamentations. The book of Lamentations tells of God’s fierce hatred of sin and for those that would ignore His Words and reject His grace. But the laments do not end with God’s judgment. Somehow, in the midst of great sorrow and lament, there is rich mercy and the evidence of God’s unfailing and long-suffering love for His people. Through His Covenant of Grace, God is always willing to reconcile broken people.

The exile of Israel from their land follows the same story as Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden. Both of these stories tell the greater story of all of humanity’s exile from their relationship with God because of their sin. Israel could never get things right and could never keep the covenant with God because they were sinful. But God had a divine plan to heal the sinful hearts of humanity. The New Testament calls this remedy “the last Adam” for he is the true Israel. Unlike Adam and all who would follow through the history of Israel, this last Adam was without sin. This last Adam is Jesus, the one who laments and suffers for us.

Jesus became an exile and died an exile on the Cross. That is why he lamented to the Father, “Do not turn your back on me!” Jesus was exiled into a sinner’s grave so that God might be just in saving those who could not save themselves. Jesus fulfilled the Covenant of Works by obeying God’s will perfectly. But he also paid the penalty of breaking the Covenant of Works by dying on a cross we deserved and being buried in a grave that should be ours.

On the Cross, Jesus echoed the poems of Lamentations. The poems do not hold back from the calamity that fell on Jerusalem. At the same time, the poems do not try to disguise the tragedy with platitudes or explanations that fit God into a box. It is clear that God allowed these horrible things to happen in order to punish the sins of His people. In Lamentations, sin is serious, and rebellion is not tolerated. Sin has debilitating and awful consequences.  

We are meant to see the suffering and anguish of Christ when we read Lamentations. Jesus did not end up on a cross by mistake. Peter says in Acts, that Jesus ended up on the cross by God’s “set purpose and foreknowledge” just like how Israel was exiled by Babylon by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge. Jesus lamented to the Father, as Jeremiah lamented to the Father, for it was the Father that brought this discipline to both Jesus and to Israel. God must punish sin.

But even in the lament, God’s long-suffering love is clear as Jeremiah writes in Lamentations 3,

For the Lord will not cast off forever,
but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not afflict from his heart
or grieve the children of men.

God’s Covenant of Grace and his promises to reconcile and dwell with His people are fully realized in Jesus Christ. Lamentations must be read as Jesus’ cries and words of anguish from the cross as he suffered and died. As Jesus mourned and lamented, he suffered for us.

After the Cross, came the grave. And after the grave came the empty grave. And after the empty grave came new life for all people who would believe. And for those who believe, their laments will be turned to joy. They will one day realize the hope of Lamentations, that God has not cast them away. That every single grief and sorrow we have ever had were meant to make us more like Jesus and long for the day that Jesus will make all things new.

God’s love is long-suffering and steadfast. That is precisely what we see in the laments and the cross of Jesus Christ. The suffering we endure in this world will ultimately be turned to joy and reason for rejoicing. Where there was once only a cross and death for us, there is now only an empty tomb and life eternal.

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