David Jeremiah - Knowing a Faithful God
Jim and Carol Cymbala are good friends of ours. Donna and I have known them for many years, and almost every year we go to New York City to speak at the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Some of you remember when I was sick, Jim took off a Sunday from his great church in New York and came here and spoke at this church in my absence. Jim and Carol know something about the faithfulness of God. They prayed and praised and preached their way through a personal two-year nightmare. Their teenage daughter, Chrissy, had gotten involved with some unhealthy influences and turned her back on the God they loved and served so faithfully. Although their hearts were breaking, they continued ministering to the people of the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City.
During that time, Carol wrote a song that has become one of my favorite songs, and I've heard it many times. Some people think that she wrote her song, "He's been faithful," after her daughter returned. But she didn't. She wrote it before she returned. And she wrote it as she was laying in a hospital bed recovering from surgery to remove cancer from her body. The chorus goes like this: "He's been faithful, faithful to me. Looking back, his loving mercy I see. Though in my heart I have questioned, even failed to believe, he's been faithful, faithful to me". Carol refers to that time in her life and says that song was a song of hope born in the midst of pain. While hurting deeply, she said that her song became like a balm to her heart, strengthening her once again, and the words she wrote during that time helped her move forward.
Although her daughter had not yet come back to the Lord, she could still praise him for his loving faithfulness in her own life. And later, when Chrissy showed up at home and fell to her knees begging forgiveness, the truth of Psalm 119, verse 90, became real to Carol. God is faithful not just to our generation, but to all generations. Carol experienced in a new way a line of her own song that has blessed so many people: "What I thought was impossible I have seen my God do". Faithfulness isn't just a quaint morality or an old-fashioned virtue. It's the core of integrity, it's the glue that holds our culture together. Without faithfulness, relationships can't survive and society can't function. It is essential to life on this earth.
In other words, without the faithfulness of God, for example, the universe would be erratic and unpredictable. The planets would wobble in their orbits, and the laws of nature would be unreliable, and the sun would shine when it felt like it, and when it didn't, it wouldn't. Without the faithfulness of God, there would be no stability in the universe at all. Did you know the Bible says in Colossians 1:17 that through Jesus Christ, "He is before all things, and in him all things hold together"? The faithfulness of God is the glue that holds this world together. If God should for one moment withdraw his hand from this earth, it would fly into chaos and be forever gone. Psalm 89:2 actually says that God's faithfulness "is established in the very heavens".
And in Genesis, we have one of the great promises that, to me, is the great illustration of the faithfulness of God. God promised after the flood, "While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease". Do you know what? Since he made that promise, we've had seedtime and harvest every year, cold and heat every day, winter and summer every year, and day and night, never once has it failed. Behind the stability of nature is the consistency of God, and it's a source of great thanksgiving for all of us. In the hymn that's written about the faithfulness of God, there's a verse that goes like this: "Summer and winter and springtime and harvest, sun, moon, and stars in their courses above. Join with all nature in manifold witness to thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love".
I came here to tell you that our God can be trusted, always trusted, eternally trusted. He never forgets, he never falters, he never fails. He always keeps his word and there is no possibility that he will ever change. The Bible says that faithfulness is the very clothing that God wears, Isaiah 11:5: "Righteousness shall be the belt of his loins, and faithfulness the belt of his waist". When you stop and think about it, it's interesting why so many people are unfaithful these days. In my research for this message, I came up with all kinds of statistics about the unfaithfulness in marriage and all of that, but it's depressing and I didn't wanna tell you about it. It's just not good. Some people today are unfaithful because they're just too lazy, too lazy to do what they promised to do. Some people are unfaithful because their resolve gives out and they don't have the stamina for the long haul. Sometimes, their unfaithfulness is the result of desire or fear or weakness or of the loss of interest or outside influence. But none of these things, none of these things affect God.
In the Old Testament Scriptures, we read these words: "God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should repent. Has he said, and will he not do? Or has he spoken, and will he not make it good"? Psalm 119, verse 90 says: "Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you established the earth, and it abides". No wonder the prophet Jeremiah wrote: "His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness". Did you know that the Hebrew word for faithfulness that Jeremiah uses in this text is the word "emun". Yeah, it's the word from which we get the word "Amen". It is a word which means "So be it". So when you say "Amen" in church to what I'm preaching on, you're just saying, "So be it, Pastor. So be it". God is the "Amen" of every one of his promises.
In fact, there's an interesting verse in 2 Corinthians that says: "For all the promises of God in him are yes, and in him Amen, to the glory of God through us". God's faithfulness stands at the very center of his creation, and it resides in the core of his revelation, the Scripture, because faithfulness means keeping one's word. There's a great line about this in Joshua's farewell speech to his people. He gave this speech just before he was to die. It's in the 23rd chapter of the book that has his name on the front of it. And here's what he said. Listen to these words: "Behold, this day I'm going the way of all the earth. And you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you. All have come to pass; not one word of them has failed".
The faithfulness of God is his determination to do what he has said, to always do what he says without variance. The Bible says, "Therefore know that the Lord your God, he is God, he is the faithful God". I woke up this morning thinking how blessed I am to come here and brag on the faithfulness of God. He's a faithful God. But let's bring this down to California and New York and Florida, to your house and to my house. Let's bring this teaching down to earth because I want you to see how it affects you. The attributes of God are great subjects to study, but they are not abstract concepts. They have immediate, profound, life-changing effect on us right here and now. There is no subject in the law of God or in the libraries of men more relevant to you and to me today than the faithfulness of God. And I wanna suggest five ways his faithfulness affects us.
Number one, God's faithfulness precludes worry. Could I ask the question: "Got any worriers here today"? Don't raise your hand; you'll worry about raising your hand all the rest of the day, so don't raise your hand. But we all have a tendency to worry, don't we? And it's more so now perhaps than ever before 'cause there's so many more things to worry about than we've ever had. But God's faithfulness allows us to have total confidence in every promise he has written. It frees us from the grip of anxious worry. The Bible says in Hebrews 10:23: "He who promised is faithful". In other words, he's gonna keep his promise. All his promises, which cover every moment of our lives, are as certain as his character.
The Bible speaks of Jesus as "The faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead". And his resurrection is the sign and seal of God's power to guarantee to us his word. He said he would come back from the grave and what did he do? He came back from the dead. And the Bible ends with ringing declaration. It says in Revelation 22, verse 6: "These words are faithful and true". It's almost as if a postscript to the Bible, looking back over all the pages. One of the last verses in the Scripture says: "You can count on it, friends. These words are faithful and true". Many years ago, there was a Bible scholar in London who developed an incredible interest in the subject of the promises of God in the Bible. So he went through the Scripture and he listed his favorite promises, and there were a lot of them. He copied them into a manuscript and put some commentary along with them and application and he sent them all to a publisher. And when his book came out, it was simply titled, "The Promises of God".
Well, time went on and other books came along and the market changed, and one day this man's book went through its last edition. It was no longer reprinted. Copies were hard to find. Some time later, there was an elderly woman in England who remembered the book, and she decided she wanted a copy. So she wrote the publisher saying, "I'm looking for a copy of the book, 'The Promises of God,' do you have any in stock"? And the publisher wrote back a brief reply: "I'm sorry," he said, "but 'The Promises of God' are out of print". Aren't you glad the promises of God are not out of print? I have a copy right here. They will never be out of print. They will never be out of date. They will never be out of reach. They are as enduring as his inspired Word. They're as trustworthy as his unchanging nature.
The writer of the book of Psalms put it this way: "Forever, O Lord, your word is settled in heaven. Your faithfulness endures to all generations". There's a promise in the Bible for every situation you'll ever face. And none of God's promises will ever fail. Not even the slightest jot or tittle. That dispels worry, gives you a basis for freeing yourself from the grip of anxiety.
In his book on prayer, one of my favorite writers, Philip Yancey, tells the story of Helmut Thielicke, a great German preacher of the last century who lived a life that, well, sounds like the life of Job if you wanna know the truth. Thielicke lost a university position because he opposed Hitler. He endured humiliating interrogations by the SS. He faced the constant threat of imprisonment. As the war growled to a close, he walked to his Stuttgart church one day, only to find it bombed to rubble and he returned home to find his house totally destroyed. His heart nearly broke when he came across his famished children, licking the pictures of food in recipe books. And each week he would stand in a pulpit that was made for this particular situation and try to bring a message of hope to his demoralized congregation.
During the midst of all of this, he wrote these words: "The one fixed pole in all the bewildering confusion is the faithfulness and dependability of God". He went on to say, "One day, perhaps, when we look back from God's throne, on the last day, we shall say with amazement and surprise, 'If I had ever dreamed that God was only carrying out his design and plan through all these woes, I would have been more calm and confident. I would have been more cheerful and far more tranquil and composed.'" When you can step back from it all, no matter how intense it gets, and look up and know the God who created this universe, the God who causes the sun to come up every day and to go down at night and the seasons to come and go and the heat and the cold and all the other things he promised, of which we can now look and say, "They have never failed". He's the God who's in control of your life and in control of mine.
I'll never forget a funeral we had at this church some years ago when a terrible tragedy had happened here. And the husband of the woman who died stood on this platform and said this: "People ask me all the time now during these days, 'How are you handling this? How do you manage this?'" And he just said, "I trust God. I trust God". God's faithfulness precludes worry. God's faithfulness promises answers. Because God is faithful, we have confidence when we pray. Through prayer, we can touch him immediately. Psalm 143:1 says: "Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief". How can I know that God hears my prayers? Because it's the nature of God to be faithful, to be constant and consistent and to come to our relief. Jeremiah says it this way: "Call to me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things which you do not know".
Jason Meyer was taking studies in the doctoral program, and he was working very hard, not getting much sleep. One day he was driving home very early, around 4:30 in the morning, and falling asleep at the wheel and he tried everything to stay awake. He turned up the radio, he tried to sing real loud, he even slapped himself in the face. And the next thing he knew, he woke up in his driveway, more than a little shaken because he had no idea how he got there. As he walked into the house, now eerily awake, he entered his bedroom and noticed the strangest thing. His wife was wide awake. She would normally be asleep, but instead, she was sitting up in bed, waiting for him. She said, "Hi, honey. How was your drive"? Meyer said, "It's funny you should ask. I really struggled to stay awake on the drive home. In fact, I don't know how I got here". "Yeah, I figured," she said. "What do you mean, you figured"? "Well," she said, "I awoke at 4:30 very suddenly and felt this intense prompting to pray, so I figured you must be struggling on the road since that's around the time you normally come home, so I prayed for you".
Looking back on this event, Meyer concludes, "I think I'm still alive today because my wife obeyed the Spirit's prompting to pray". I hope this story gives you a greater sense of what's at stake in prayer. Every time you awake to pray, don't go back to sleep. Whatever it is you're supposed to pray for, pray for it because God woke you up to pray, and God woke her up to pray and heard her prayer. God's faithfulness protects us from evil. God is faithful in keeping us from evil and from the evil one. We often underestimate the spiritual danger that's all around us. Jesus told us to request protection. He said, "Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one".
'Til I began working on this message, I had never connected the attribute of God's faithfulness with my protection. And then I read 2 Thessalonians chapter 3 and verse 3: "The Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one". Paul wrote that in 2 Thessalonians chapter 3 and it had an impact on me the next morning after I read that. I heard myself saying, "I don't know what's gonna happen in my life today but God's protecting me. God's got a hedge around me. He's guarding me". Let me ask you a question this morning. When you think of the faithfulness of God, what comes to your mind first? I bet if we could all be honest, we'd probably say, "I think of how unfaithful I've been".
Ladies and gentlemen, aren't you glad that God's faithfulness to you is not conditioned upon your faithfulness to him? Oh my goodness, that sends horror through your mind, doesn't it? But the Bible says it is God who is faithful. He cannot be unfaithful to us because we're unfaithful to him because he is never unfaithful. So even when we fail, even when we look back and we come to the Lord and we say, "Lord, it's me again. It's the same thing we talked about yesterday," he never stops being faithful to us. If you're a Jesus follower and you feel defeated by your failures, join the club. But let me remind you of something: God's faithfulness to you is not conditioned by your faithfulness to him. He is faithful to you no matter what.
And then here's something all of us who love music resonate with. God's faithfulness promotes praise. The writer of Psalm 89 said it this way: "I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever; with my mouth will I make known your faithfulness to all generations. And the heavens will praise your wonders, O Lord; your faithfulness also in the assembly of the saints. O Lord God of hosts, who is mighty like you, O Lord? Your faithfulness also surrounds you". Because God is faithful, we can't help but praise him. We want to praise him. We hear a message like this, we read Scriptures like this, and we wanna stand up with our hands up high and say, "Lord, thank you for being so faithful to me". Psalm 71:22 says: "With the lute I will praise you, and your faithfulness, O my God! To you I will sing with the harp, O Holy One of Israel".
Let me tell you what I know. Until we praise God, we have not truly enjoyed God. Until we learn how to worship God, we are leaving a lot of the blessings of God on the table. If you know how faithful he is, my friend, you cannot help but praise him. "It is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your loving kindness in the morning, and your faithfulness every night". Isn't it interesting that we declare his loving kindness in the morning, and then we go through the day, and when we get through the day, we look back and we declare his faithfulness because his loving kindness was faithful all day long. God's faithfulness precludes worry. His faithfulness promises answers. His faithfulness protects us from evil, and his faithfulness promotes praise. But there's one more. God's faithfulness provides encouragement.
The reality of God's faithfulness kept the prophet Jeremiah from collapsing in despair. I have never truly understood Jeremiah, nor how he survived because when the Lord called him to preach, he told him in the calling that nobody was gonna listen to him. I think I would have quit the first day. "Jeremiah, I want you to go and talk to these people, but they're not ever gonna listen to you". Can you imagine? Jeremiah witnessed the collapsing of everything around him. He wrote two books in the Bible: the book that bears his name and a shorter book that follows that like a postscript, the book of Lamentations. And the book of Lamentations is the saddest book in the Bible.
The word "Lamentation" means to lament, to mourn deeply, to be swallowed up in grief. Because of Lamentations, we sometimes call Jeremiah the weeping prophet. People have called me that because of my last name. Jeremiah had a reason for his laments. He served the Lord during the final tragic days of Judah and Jerusalem. Every king during that time was worse than the one before and the godlessness of the age accelerated like a runaway train, despite Jeremiah's earnest preaching and pleading. Nobody listened to him. He was persecuted and abused and threatened with death. He was beaten and thrown into a miry pit. And when the Babylonians laid siege to the city of Jerusalem, Jeremiah faced a prolonged nightmare of food and water deprivation and thousands of people starving and disease rampant everywhere.
And as he watched, the Babylonians breached the walls of the city and massacred the citizens and imprisoned the nobles and destroyed the city and burned the temple of the Lord to the ground. And according to tradition, somehow Jeremiah survived all of that and he went to the Mount of Olives and sat there, looking over the city in traumatized condition, in rags, and watched the city burn. And if you read the book of Lamentations, it opens with these words: "How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow is she, who was great among the nations! The princess among the provinces has become a slave! She weeps bitterly in the night, her tears are on her cheeks; among all her lovers and she has none to comfort her. All her friends have dealt treacherously with her; they have become her enemies".
The Babylonian invasion and the exile of the survivors of Judah didn't simply represent the fall of a great nation, it seemed to call into question God's entire plan for humanity. The Lord had promised Abraham a great nation on a designated stretch of land and out of that nation would come a Messiah who would solve all of the earth's problems and reign supreme from Jerusalem. And now there was no more Jerusalem. David's throne was toppled and all hope seemed gone. Jeremiah was in anguish. He said, "Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by me? Behold and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which has been brought on me, which the Lord has inflicted in the day of his fierce anger. For these things I weep; my eye, my eye overflows with water; Zion spreads out her hands, and no one comforts her".
To Jeremiah, God's judgment did not simply fall on Jerusalem and Judah. It fell on him. He personalized the destruction of Jerusalem. He said, "I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. He has led me and made me walk in darkness and not in light. Surely he has turned his hand against me time and time throughout the day. God has aged my flesh and my skin, and broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and woe. He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out; and he has made my chain heavy. Even when I cry and shout, he shuts out my prayer".
The more he wrote in the book of Lamentations, the more agitated he got, as he saw the world around him crumble. He said, "He has broken my teeth with gravel, he has covered me with ashes. Lord, you have moved my soul far from peace; I have forgotten prosperity. And I said, 'My strength and my hope have perished from the Lord.'" But not quite. One thought breaks out like a bolt of lightning in a dark sky. There is one attribute of God that falls like the morning dew on Jeremiah's tortured brow. He writes, "This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness".
That great song that we sing didn't come on a mountaintop experience when all was well. It came in the midst of the darkest night of Jeremiah's soul. And when you read Lamentations 3, you wonder if there are some missing verses because what happens is, all of a sudden, you get to verse 21. Jeremiah seems to switch from pain to praise on a dime. Did someone find this manuscript and cut out some verses? No, I don't think that's what happened. Jeremiah did what every believer must do if we're going to encourage ourselves in times of difficulty. We stop listening to ourselves and we start talking to ourselves. "This I recall," he said. "This I recall to my mind". We have to learn, even in the midst of life's most painful situations, to bring something to mind. We have to remind ourselves of God's unchanging, overarching, undergirding faithfulness. We have to remember God's continual compassions which are new every morning.
Now, I love this hymn based on this passage: "Great is thy faithfulness," but the author of the hymn, Thomas Chisholm, made one slight mistake. The hymn says: "Morning by morning, new mercies I see," but that's not what Jeremiah said. Jeremiah did not see any visible morning mercies when he wrote Lamentations 3. At that moment he had no visible evidence of God's mercy at all. Morning by morning brought nothing but horror and pain and dread. But Jeremiah said, in effect, "Even if I don't see any tangible blessings right now, that does not alter God's mercy, God's compassion, God's faithfulness. Whether I can see them or not, God's mercy is continual. He is my portion. Therefore, I hope in him".
My friend, if the only time we declare the faithfulness of God is when we feel everything is in order in our lives, we may not say it very often. God is not faithful because we understand what he's doing. God is not faithful because our day started off well. God is faithful because he is God and it is his nature to be faithful. God's providence and God's faithfulness are like reading Hebrew.
When I went to seminary, I had to learn how to read Hebrew. The first thing I discovered was none of the letters were like anything I had ever seen. And the second thing, which was most difficult for me, was to learn that Hebrew reads from the right to the left and not from the left to the right; from the back to the front and not from the front to the back. The providence of God is like reading Hebrew. You have to read it backwards. You have to stand and look back and say, "Oh, great is thy faithfulness". And all of us have those moments that we look back over and we see that God was faithful to us during a time of great stress, and that he's been faithful to us even in times when we forgot who he was and we weren't faithful to him. He's been faithful to us when we didn't go to church and when we didn't name the name of the Lord, but because we are his children, even when we walked away, God never let go of us, and he always faithfully took care of us.
We're living today in days that were similar to Jeremiah's days where moral foundations are crumbling and where people are no longer true to their word. Unfaithfulness is everywhere. The statistics are totally depressing. But I have good news for you. God is faithful. He's faithful in his creation, he's faithful in his revelation. Not one of his promises can fail. His faithfulness frees us from the grip of worry. It assures us of answered prayer. It protects us from evil. It triggers our praise. It ensures our tomorrow and we worship a faithful God. That's why one of our greatest joys is to sing, "Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father. There is no shadow of turning with thee. Thou changest not thy compassions. They fail not as thou hast been thou forever will be".
There was once a young man from Chicago who went down to the bluegrass regions of Kentucky where he met and wooed a young woman who ultimately came back to Chicago as his bride. They enjoyed three lovely years of marriage and then one day, in the midst of a sickness and in a seizure of pain, this young woman lost her mind. When she was at her best, she was a bit demented. At her worst, she would scream so the neighbors complained. The young businessman didn't know what to do, but ultimately he left his home in the middle of Chicago, went out to one of the western suburbs and built a house, determined that there he would do everything within his power to nurse his wife back to health and sanity.
One day, the family physician suggested if he were to take his wife back to Kentucky, to her original home, that maybe something in that familiar surrounding would help to restore her sanity. And so they went back to the old homestead. Hand in hand, they walked through the old house where memories hung on every corner. They went down to the garden and they walked down by the riverside where the violets were in bloom. But after several days, nothing seemed to be happening. So, defeated and discouraged, the young man put his wife back in the car and they headed back to Chicago. When they got close to the house, he looked over and discovered that his wife was asleep. It was the first time he had seen her deep, restfully sleeping in many weeks. When he got to the house, she was still asleep and he lifted her from the car, took her inside, placed her on the bed, realized she wanted to sleep some more.
So he placed a cover over her and then just sat by her side and watched her through the midnight hour, watched her until the first rays of the sun reached through the curtain and touched her face. The young woman awoke and she saw her husband seated by her side, and she said, "I seem to have been on a long journey. Where have you been"? And that man, speaking out of days and weeks and months of patient waiting and watching, said, "My sweetheart, I've been right here waiting for you all the time". And that is the faithfulness of God. No matter where you've been, no matter what you've done, he's right here. He's always been here, waiting for you to respond with love to love, waiting for you to respond with trust to promise, waiting for you to cast yourself with a reckless abandon upon the grace of God, and waiting for you to discover that God is faithful.
Some of you here today are thinking about your own life in light of what you have heard. Let me just tell you how much God loves you, how faithfully he has been waiting for you to get it right. You know what I'm talking about, to get it right. And some of you are not Christians, you have never accepted Christ as your Savior, and maybe you don't think there's a place for you. I'm here to tell you there is a place for you. God is faithful, and he gave everything so that you could spend eternity with him. If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, why would you not accept him and grab hold of his faithfulness in your life? And if you're a Christian and you've gotten out of fellowship with God, God doesn't have to do anything different. It's you that have to make the move. God hasn't gone anywhere. He's been right there all the time, and he's just waiting for you. Could I use the metaphor "to wake up"? Just waiting for you to wake up.