4th January 2016

New Year’s Message from the Pastor

‘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.’

Lam 3v22-23

The short book of Lamentations, as its name suggests, is one that is filled with much sorrow, grief and heartache. It was written by Jeremiah the prophet and records his own pain and agony upon seeing his own city – the holy city of Jerusalem – ransacked by a fierce and cruel enemy. Many in the Middle East could identify well as they look back on the past year or so, and the advance of the evil regime of ISIS. With the Babylonians now well in control of the holy land, what hope was there now for the people of God? Many had been killed, others had been ruthlessly transported to new lives as slaves for the conquering empire. Even more significantly, viewing all that had taken place with a spiritual eye, the Lord, who had repeatedly defended the nation in times past, this time had stepped aside – withdrawn Himself – and allowed the enemies of Judah to triumph. What hope had Jeremiah and the remaining Jews in such a bleak situation?
All this is expressed in Lamentations: heart-rending language is used right from the outset: 1v1-2 ‘How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! … She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks’ – the same tone is throughout the book: 4v4 ‘The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst: the young children ask bread, and no man breaketh it unto them’ – right up to the end: 5v15 ‘The joy of our heart is ceased; our dance is turned into mourning’.
But in the midst of this most dark portrayal of their lot, a gleam and a ray of hope is found – even in the words above from the 3rd chapter, the middle of the book. The eyes of Jeremiah are raised from the sorrow, devastation and hopelessness all around to the Lord who is above. Like the Psalmist in Ps. 121v1-2 ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help; My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.’ As Jeremiah does so, a shaft of hope shines within his soul. He considers: ‘we are not consumed’. The Lord would have been fully just to wipe us off from the face of the earth for our sins against Him, but He has not. The reason he concludes must be: ‘It is of the Lord’s mercies’.
So too with the church in our day and in our land. Could it not be said of us too, that we merit the Lord’s removing of the candlestick of the church from these shores. The departures from His ways and His patterns – the general lukewarm and worldly condition of Christendom here – would make us expect that He would, like His threat to the church in Laodicea, spue us out of His mouth. But as with Jeremiah here, the fact that He has not treated us as our sins deserve, must point to it being ‘of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed.’
He also points to the ‘Compassions’ of the Lord. Like Gomer in the early chapters of Hosea, Israel had been treacherous and loveless in her relations with her God. The expected outcome in such a relationship would be that love would die; where it had died in the one party, soon the other would follow; we know such, as it is sadly common in our ‘broken society’. But here is a wonder: the compassions of the Lord failed not; still He loved them; His heart was tender despite the rod of His righteous judgment coming down in fatherly discipline upon His people.
In this we also have great hope and encouragement, for the Lord’s love to His church, likewise, shall not fail – not even cool! Ever, for the sake of Jesus, He looks upon poor sinners such as us with the eyes and the heart of His compassions!
The verse even tells us of God’s mercies and compassions that ‘they are new every morning’. As we come to the end of one year, and look to the new, what an encouragement this is to read: ‘Great is thy faithfulness’. The Old Testament church had been utterly faithless to the Lord: faithless to His Law, faithless to His covenant, faithless to His Person. In fact we could well write ‘Faithless’ as a banner of shame over most of their history as a nation. But could God be faithless? Even in the face of mountains of treachery in His people? Let the scripture speak for itself on this matter: 2 Tim 2v13 ‘If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.’ It is impossible for God to be anything but faithful.
So too with us His dear church. We may look upon our lives individually or corporately and see unfaithfulness written over much we are and do, but shall this mean the Lord abandons us, as the new year begins? Shall He discard such faithless creatures? Never, for Great is His faithfulness. So looking unto the One who is titled ‘Faithful and True’ – the Lord Jesus Christ, full of compassion and mercy – may we all be encouraged to step forward and walk humbly with our God in the year ahead, which He has brought us to.
‘Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see!
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided –
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!’

Pastor Paul Ackerley