The Story of Jonah

I. Introduction

The Book of Jonah is one of the most famous bible stories. Children learn it, atheists scoff at it.  The basic story is well-known – Jonah is on a ship, gets tossed overboard, then he is swallowed by a whale where Jonah lives for 3 days, then the whale spits him out. Lots of lessons can be learned from the book of Jonah, including obedience… and fishing, but after spending the week studying the book of Jonah, I came away with a different lesson I’d like to share with you.

But first, we’re going to correct whatever misconceptions you may have about Jonah and the Whale because we’re not going to study the children’s fairy tale, we’re going to study scripture.

II. Jonah

Jonah is the fifth minor prophet in our bible and the book is almost completely a narrative, a story. Jonah lived after Elijah and Elisha and we are first introduced to him in 2 Kings 14:25. King Jeraboam did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and Jonah was his prophet.

Slide2.JPGThen we get to the book of Jonah that’s unique because, even though Jonah was a prophet, there are no prophecies in the book of Jonah. Just a story. But an important story, because Lord Jesus affirms that Jonah was a prophet and spent 3 days in the belly of a great fish.

And then…

III. Jonah 1 – Running from God

Jonah 1:1-3,

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

In Jonah chapter 1, Jonah attempts to flee from the Lord. I thought it odd that he’s physically fleeing from the Lord, as though Jehovah is only the God of Israel and not the rest of the world.

Jonah is comfortably at home when God speaks in his hometown of Gath Hepher in the region of Galilee. The LORD speaks to Jonah abruptly – the book opens with the Hebrew word for “Now” even though many translations omit it. God wants Jonah to go 550 miles to Nineveh preach “against” some of the most vicious people on earth. How vicious?

There are historical records from the kings of Nineveh that kings boasted of their atrocities – I pulled up an ancient stone relief from the British museum showing two Ninevite soldiers erecting a stake with an impaled, naked man on it. And here’s some translations from Ninevite records from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and I’m not even going to read the worst –

“I flayed as many nobles as had rebelled against me and draped their skins over the pile of corpses; some I spread out within the pile, some I erected on stakes upon the pile … I captured soldiers alive erected them on stakes before their cities. … I flayed many right through my land and draped their skins over the walls.” … I cut off the heads of their fighters and built with them a tower before their city. I burnt their adolescent boys and girls.”

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So Nineveh was beyond nasty. It was evil. And Jonah wasn’t being asked just to go down to Nineveh and start a ministry, the Lord told Jonah to preach “against” them.

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Jonah immediately arose as the Lord commanded, but that’s about as far as his obedience went. Jonah went to the nearby town of Joppa and found a ship headed 2500 miles in the opposite direction. Jonah purchased his ticket and sailed away from the Lord’s direction.

I’m not exactly sure what Jonah was thinking here, running away from God. Certainly he was scared, but maybe he thought God lived in Israel and he could sail away. But maybe you and I have the same thoughts sometime, that maybe God won’t notice our sin. Maybe we can hide it. Maybe we can run away from it. Maybe God only sees us when we’re outside of our house or apartment. Let’s see in verses 4-6 how that worked out for Jonah –

Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”

But God’s power is not limited to Israel’s borders. God sends Hurricane Harvey directly at the ship, terrifying the sailors. The sailors start dumping cargo to make the ship lighter and they start praying to *other* gods.

Talk about a witnessing opportunity here. A prophet on the ship full of sailors that are looking for God. But Jonah is sleeping, oblivious to the tragedy going on around him. And I cannot help but draw a parallel – we live in a world that is being torn apart by cultural storm and we, the adopted children of God, have a perfect opportunity to share the message of God’s love, but instead, so many of us are asleep while those around us are perishing.

I know my own actions this month are not enough. All month long I’ve been seeing “gay pride” advertisements, as if either sexual deviancy or lack of humility was something to be proud of. And every time I see a product that sports that deviant rainbow in blatant disregard for God’s promises from Noah, I cross another product or company off my list of places I’ll do business with. But it’s not nearly enough.

Jonah 1:7-9,

Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”
He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

So the sailors have prayed to every god they know of, and Jonah just stands there silent. The sailors are like, “Who is responsible for all this calamity?” And Jonah just stands there. The sailors are like, “Let’s throw lots to find out who is responsible!” And Jonah just stands there. Then they all cast their lots, and it points to Jonah. And Jonah is like, “,,,, [pause] … Ok, it was me.”

The sailors discover that the LORD is not just a local god or the god of the sea or even just the God of Israel, but the God. The God who made the sea. Their fear is real; even today, many peoples of the world hold the idea that all misfortune comes from some offense to some god. Jonah tells them the truth and tells them about Jehovah God.

Verse 10-12,

This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)
The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”

When the sailors try to make things right, Jonah tells them to pick him up and throw him overboard. The next verses show the sailors instead try to return to land, but God whipped up the waves even more. So the sailors tossed Jonah over, the sea grew calm, and the sailors praised Jehovah God.

And Jonah? Verse 17,

Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

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If this was a made for television movie, we would break for a commercial here. Maybe for a seafood restaurant.

IV. Jonah 2 – Repenting toward God

In Jonah chapter 2, Jonah has a lot of time on his hands. Probably a lot of fish, too. Before being tossed overboard, the captain of the ship told Jonah to call on his God, but nowhere in chapter 1 does it say Jonah called on God. He acknowledged God, but didn’t pray to God. In the belly of the great fish, however, Jonah’s finally hit rock bottom. Well, not rock bottom. Ocean bottom. You know what I mean.

Jonah finally calls out to God in chapter 2 because Jonah is in trouble. When the Ninevites were in trouble, Jonah was silent. When the crew of the ship was in trouble, Jonah was silent. When Jonah’s in trouble oh man does Jonah remember to pray.

Jonah realizes how serious his condition is; he is in deep water. Physically and spiritually, and Jonah tells God that he feels far away from God. Jonah is in trouble, yet he also feels banished from God’s presence.

Jonah remembers the promise of God through Solomon in 1 Kings 8:46-49a,

“When [Your people] sin against You (for there is no one who does not sin), and You become angry with them and deliver them to the enemy, . . . and when they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul . . . and pray to You toward the land which You gave to their fathers, and the city which You have chosen and the temple which I have built for Your name; then hear.”

Slide10.JPGJonah turns toward the temple of God and prays, claiming God’s promise. In the belly of the fish, Jonah comes right up to the precipice of death, but God answers him in time, hearing his prayer and sparing his life. Why did God allow Jonah to experience the fear of death and the sensation of drowning? So that Jonah may empathize with the people of Nineveh.

Then at the end of Jonah chapter 2, Jonah realizes that God is showing him mercy and grace, Jonah promises to fulfill his calling from the LORD in verse 9 –

But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’

And the Lord’s response in verse 10 –

And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

Jonah declares that salvation is of the LORD, and God speaks to the great fish to spit Jonah up on the shore.

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Two things here – one, the Lord spoke to Jonah, and the Lord spoke to the fish. Only the fish was obedient. And second, the Lord’s will be done, despite Jonah’s disobedience. But if Jonah had been obedient, he wouldn’t smell so much like fish.

V. Jonah 3 – Revival from God

So, laying on the shore, smelling like fish, what is the command from the Lord? Jonah 3:1-2.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

The word of the Lord that Jonah hears in Chapter 3 is almost identical to the word Jonah heard in Chapter 1. God gives a second chance to Jonah. God often gives second chances, amen and amen. No person can ever live fully in God’s will. We all fail, we all fall down. And God provides all of us that second chance. God is not obligated to use Jonah; this second chance is a precious gift.

So Jonah finally begins his mission trip. He arrives at Nineveh and begins preaching against the city for 3 days and proclaiming the message of the LORD to every area of the city. The city of Nineveh was laid out in a great square with twelve gates that was used for town meetings. It’s likely Jonah went to each gate and proclaimed the word at each gate and each marketplace.

His message is harsh and brief:

“In forty days Nineveh will be overthrown.”

Jonah offers no grace, he promises no deliverance, he proclaims swift and impending judgment.

Slide14.JPGAnd Jonah’s message is effective. The entire city believes this message from God and repents in sackcloth and ashes. Even the king of Nineveh got up off his throne, put on sackcloth and sat down in the dust.

God has been probably preparing the city for a long time, working in the hearts of the people. God just wanted Jonah to go to Ninevah and give the final word. Some scholars believe that just prior to Jonah’s arrival were two famines plus a total solar eclipse that occurred on June 15, 763 BC.

Whatever circumstances God used, their hearts were ready to hear this message of judgment.

And while Jonah’s message promised no mercy, the king of Nineveh looked to the God of heaven for mercy in Jonah 3:9, the king said,

“Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

And then in verse 10, God provides second chances:

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

Nineveh is spared from destruction until the time of the prophet Nahum around 612 BC. This repentance also spares Israel, for this entire generation of Ninevites does not invade Israel again for many years.

VI. Jonah 4 – Resentment toward God

And how does Jonah feel about the city being spared? You would think Jonah would say God’s will had been done and offer thanks for saving the lives of so many people. Jonah 4:1-3,

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

The story of Jonah closes in a surprising way. Jonah isn’t joyful. Jonah confesses to the Lord that the real reason Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh was because Jonah wanted the town to be destroyed, and he’s frustrated that God showed mercy to them.

Jonah 4:5 says Jonah had gone east of the city and sat down to wait for the fireworks to start, and then, when the Lord turned out to be a forgiving God, Jonah expresses resentment toward God.

And God then provides a lesson to Jonah. While Jonah is sitting on the hill to watch the fireworks, God provided some sort of leafy plant to grow and give Jonah shade so he’d be comfortable.

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The next day, God provided a worm to eat the plant, and then God provided a heat wave to beat down on Jonah so hard Jonah wanted to faint. Jonah was bitter and said, “Ok, God, just kill me now.” In Jonah 4 verses 9 and 10,

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

God responds with a question to Jonah to illustrate God’s lesson. Verse 6 said Jonah was very happy about the plant. But then, when the plant was gone, Jonah says, “just kill me now.” And God exposes Jonah’s self-pity for a plant that grows up and dies in a single day, even though Jonah didn’t plant it, water it, or cared for it in any way. God asks Jonah if you can pity a plant, why can’t you pity a city of 120,000 souls in Nineveh? God used a fish to teach Jonah obedience, and God used a worm to teach Jonah compassion.

God cares about the children of Nineveh – He counts their number and He sent Jonah to bring His Word to their door. He pities the cruel people of Nineveh because all of them belong to God by virtue of creation, and He is a God of love and grace and second chances. God is slow to anger, slow to judgement, and rich in mercy.

VII. Conclusion

So today we studied a wee bit more depth the story of Jonah, and it turns out to be much more than deep sea fishing tips. There are lessons in the book of Jonah about obedience, God’s will, God’s judgment and God’s mercy.

But I think it’s more than that. Jonah learns what God wants all of His children to learn. God loves people. He knows where they live, He knows how many there are, He knows their spiritual emptiness.
God calls each and every one of us to share His message, but I think too often we’re too scared to share God’s message to those we love. We all have friends and family we love that, let’s be honest, we are not brave enough to tell them how much God loves them. And we will sleep in the bottom of the boat like Jonah did while the Day of the Lord and the Trumpet Judgements get closer every day.

And that’s for those we love. What about those we hate, and those that hate us? The Ninevites in our lives? If we don’t see God’s hand of judgement on our enemies, do we resent God for not making things right today?

So who are the Ninevites today? John 8:44, Jesus said,

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.

You were once a Ninevite, an enemy of God. I was once a Ninevite, an enemy of God. And yet, God didn’t hate us. In fact, Romans 5:8,

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

And those that are Ninevites to us? God loves them, too. God wants nothing more than to be reconciled with His children. God is calling you and me to bring God’s message of love and forgiveness to a dying world, not just to those we love, but to those we do not like and those that hate us.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

 

Slide22.JPGTurns out the book of Jonah isn’t just about obedience or fishing.

The book of Jonah is about love.

To God be the glory.

Give Everything You Are to the Lord

   I.      Introduction

A study of Malachi 3

This Spring, we studied the following minor prophets, beginning with Nahum, then Zephaniah, Obadiah, Zechariah, Habakkuk, Haggai, and now Malachi.  Many times, these Minor Prophets brought us a repetitive reminder:

  • God is perfect.
  • God is holy.
  • God is awesome.
  • We are flawed.
  • We are rebellious.
  • We deserve wrath.
  • God gives us mercy.

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God’s perfect justice demands wrath, but God’s perfect love prevails, and He gives us mercy through our savior Jesus Christ if we just accept it.

Repent, and seek the Lord.  There.  That’s pretty blunt.  Any questions?

One of the things that crossed my mind during these minor prophet studies is how rebellious the Israelites were and how often God was patient with them over the centuries.  Despite the stiff-necked ways of the Israelites, God remained faithful.  God blessed, fortified, rebuked, disciplined, and demonstrated miracles to guide the Israelites in the ways that are holy and pure.

The book of Malachi was probably written about 420 BC, about the same time as Ezra and Nehemiah, but neither of those prophets mentioned Malachi, so it’s difficult to be sure.  The Jews at the time attributed the book to Ezra, but within the next century, scholars had dropped Ezra’s name from the book.  Some attribute it to Zerubabbel or Nehemiah, or to a relatively unknown Levite named Malachi.  The form of the word, though, suggests the book was intended to be written anonymously.  The word “Malachi” may not be a name but an adjective, meaning “one charged with a mission”.  Malachi may have been simply an anonymous missionary to bring us a prophetic message.

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II.      God Sends Us a Savior, Malachi 3:1-5

We’re going to pick up where Libby left off last week in Malachi 3, so let’s turn there and read Malachi 3:1-5 –

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

Who are we talking about?  This is the promise of the coming Messiah, a prophecy fulfilled by the life and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus, Emmanuel, who came to defeat death itself.  This message, as we know it today, is cause for celebration, but for the Jews, it was cause for worry.  Were they faithful enough?  Were they pious enough?  Were they Pharisee enough?  God’s discipline on the Jewish people had been full of trials, and now God Himself was coming.

 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

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Purifying.  Refining.  The Lord will be like a refiner’s fire.  The story goes that a silversmith first heats his furnace to the melting point of silver, about 1800 degrees F.  I think that’s the setting I used on my oven the last time I tried to cook something.  The silversmith holds the silver over the heat of the furnace so that all the impurities are burned away, but he has to hold it carefully because if it’s too hot, the silver oxides and is destroyed.  So he watches carefully.  And when he can see his reflection in the silver, then he knows it is pure.

God is our refiner, and He is watching us carefully.  Our lives, if they are truly dedicated to Him, will be refined by the Lord to teach us to be holy and pure like silver.  He holds us in many trials in our life to teach us to trust in Him.  We learn what has everlasting value, and what is temporal, what is junk.  And when God can see His reflection is us, then he knows his purification is complete.

Me, personally, I do not like this purification process.  In my life, I’ve been through it more than once.  I know once I’ve been refined, I am indeed closer to God, but there’s often pain along the way.  CS Lewis described pain this way,

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

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So while I do not care for the refining process, I joyfully endure it again and again as it brings me closer to my Lord.  And I say that with the utmost of trepidation and trembling, because this refining is for those of us in Christ.  Back to Malachi 3, those that reject Christ are not refined, but judged –

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.

It’s interesting to me how many times the bible says “do not fear” or “do not be afraid”.  And how many times we *are* to be afraid.  Proverbs 9:10 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  But for those of us in Christ Jesus, we are to fear the Lord’s incredible might and majesty, but we are not to fear His judgment.  God’s discipline is coming and will He will right all wrongs, correct every mistake, and that includes our own mistakes.  Christians fear God now so they do not fear God at Judgement Day.  For those opposed to God, they do not fear Him now, but one day they will.

III.      Do Everything in Love, Malachi 3:6-12

God wants us to be authentic in all we think, say, and do.  God is our refiner, and I thought about the qualities of the silver that the refiner is watching.  Did you know that silver is a far better conductor than copper?  It has lower resistance.  If we used silver wire, we would have lower energy bills, we would have more efficient motors.  We don’t use silver, though, because it is so must more expensive than copper.

I think we are to remember that God’s purified children are worth a great deal to God.  If we want God to be able to work in us and through us, though, we have to stop being copper and learn to be silver.  We need to lower our resistance so God can conduct more of the Holy Spirit through us.  We do this by being more authentic.  Let’s look now at Malachi 3:6-12 –

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.  Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.  I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe, says the Lord Almighty.  “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

This is not “prosperity gospel;” tithing will not make you rich by the world’s standards.  Tithing is one of our early lessons as God’s children; we are to give 10% of what we make to the Lord.  But as we mature in Christ, we come to an understanding that far exceeds the value of our tithe.  If we make $1000 and give God $100, does God need $100?  Our majestic and all powerful omnipotent God who breathed the universe, time and space into existence, needs $100.  God Himself does not need money, don’t be ridiculous.

So there is something else going on.  As we tithe and the years go by, we start to see the meaning and the purpose.  From a practical standpoint, money is fuel for God’s church.  It supports our pastors and our missionaries and pays for the air conditioning.  When we tithe, it shows our support for God’s work.  But as time goes on, we realize that’s not what the tithe is, either.

During the next step of Christian maturity, we grow to understand that what we own actually doesn’t belong to us.  Everything belongs to God, He is asking us to give only a part of what He has already given us.  So the attitude changes – we no longer think of it as, “I made $1000, and God wants me to tithe 10%.”  Instead, we think of it as, “God gave me $1000 to steward for Him.  To whom much is given, much is expected.  It is my duty, my honor, my pleasure to give back a portion of what God has given me.”  And we come to realize that not only was it God that gave us the $1000, but God gave us… us.  Our very hands to work, our very legs to walk, our very brains to think, the very air we breathe… all of it came from the Lord.

So if we say we are Christians but do not tithe, God says, “Why are you robbing me?  All of earth, all of creation, belongs to me, yet the portion I have entrusted to you, you withhold from me.   You know it belongs to me, but you will not give it to me.”

How much should we give?  The Old Testament guidelines say 10% for the tithe plus other offerings.  The New Testament is both more simple and more complex.

Matthew 6:19-21 –

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Mark 10:19-22, the Rich Young Ruler –

You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'”  And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”  Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 –

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

The Gospel, the Good News in the New Testament, is that we are free of the law.  Christ died to set us free.  So we are no longer compelled to “tithe plus” our 10% under the law.  But God is sitting as a refiner to see if He can see His reflection in us.  He wants us to have a heart that we can give everything we have cheerfully because we recognize it all belongs to Him.

So give nothing at all.  You are free of the law.

Or give away everything you have.  Give it cheerfully, knowing that treasures in heaven are worth far more than treasures on earth.  In the end, it doesn’t matter.  Give, and give cheerfully.  God doesn’t need $100.  But He died for you, and wants all that you are.

IV.      Say Everything in Love, Malachi 3:13-15

Malachi 3:13-15

“You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord.

 “Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’

 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty?  But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.'”

Remember that childhood saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?”  Our parents give us this rhyme when we are children and we pass it along to our children.  We mean well.  Children can say hurtful things, and we teach them that just because Bubba Duell down the street calls us stupid or ugly, we’ll survive.  Words cannot hurt us.

But then again, maybe it’s only words that can hurt.  James 1 says that if we cannot reign in our tongue, our religion is worthless.  Listen to what James says in James 3:3-10 –

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

I found 17 verses on the power of the tongue and the purpose for it.

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God wants us to use our speech for good.  With our words we can build people up or we can tear them down.  We can encourage or we can criticize.  We can praise or we can condemn.  Jesus says in Matthew 15:1, 17-18 –

“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts — murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

So maybe it’s words that can hurt, not sticks and stones.  Our earthly bodies have expiration dates, but Jesus says in Matthew 12:36 “that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken.”  What comes out of the mouth comes out of the heart, and it’s the heart God wants.  Our faithful hearts are God’s treasured possessions.

  V.      God is Looking for His Faithful Remnant, Malachi 3:16-18

Malachi 3:16-18

Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.

 “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him.  And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”

We are saved through our Lord Jesus Christ.  God says that those who accept this sacrifice and call him Lord will be spared from the Day of Wrath that is coming.  God is looking for His faithful remnant that will serve Him.  So what does it mean to serve the Lord?

I think the answer for that is uniquely tailored for each of us.  Certainly the calling that Dr. Young heard is different than you and I.  But I don’t think the actual service is what it important.  Remember, God doesn’t need $100.  He desired our hearts, they are His treasured possessions.

You know that phrase, “fake it till you make it?”  There’s a lot to that, at least initially.  God uses us best when we are in motion and trying to do something for Him.  If you don’t know what God wants from you, are you just sitting and waiting?  Or are you in motion?  Volunteer for something.  Anything.  Don’t feel the Holy Spirit moving in you?  Say something encouraging to somebody.  Can’t stand the sight of somebody and the hate an unforgiveness inside you is eating you up?  Do something unexpectedly nice for them.

But “fake it till you make it” is still fake.  It’s surface, it’s shallow.  God wants the depths.  While you are working from the outside it, God will be working from the inside out.  Eventually they will meet.  You will “make it.”  You will be authentic, a whole person.

So right now, you and I may not always feel like a solid Christian.  Ever grumbled that you had to go to church?  Even inside?  You sit in the pew, and somebody that you don’t care for is sitting where you can see them.  And you’re thinking, “that no good so-and-so, they are so fake.  Coming to church for Christmas and Easter, but not in a bible study.  They’re just taking up space.”  All while you’re singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.”

We’re not whole.  If we “fake it till we make it,” we’re putting up a nice exterior for people to see.  And if we’re in prayer and repentance, the Holy Spirit is working on the inside.  We still have our old sinful self with pride and arrogance getting in the way daily.

For our math teachers, what is an integer?  It’s a whole number that can be positive or negative.  It’s not a fraction like three quarters ¾ or a decimal like 0.5829.  It’s a whole number.

Slide22

The word comes from the Latin “integer.”  “In-“ meaning “not,” and “tangere” (like “tangent”) meaning “to touch”.  Literally, it means “untouched,” but figuratively it means “Untainted, upright.”

God wants us to be an integer.  Whole, upright, untouched, untainted.  The same all the way through.  The same on the inside as we are on the outside.  He wants us to be people of integrity.  To say what we believe, and to believe what we say.

We can’t do this on our own.  It’s a supernatural conversion from our old self to our new lives in Christ.  Christ living in us, through us, and the world sees Christ in our words and actions.  A complete, whole person of integrity that believes and demonstrates His love of the Lord through words and actions.  It’s not the words and actions themselves that God desires, but they are outward expressions of the heart we have toward him.

So if I can control my tongue to only offer encouragement and praise, that’s a start.  If I am not whole, if this attitude does not penetrate my heart, if I am not an integer, then God’s most treasured possession, my heart, does not belong to Him, then my words are meaningless.  If I tithe 10%, or 15%, or 25% or 100%, but my actions are not driven from the heart and my love for God, then my tithing is meaningless.  It’s my heart for Him that the Lord wants.  1 Corinthians 13:1-8 –

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

 Love never fails.

Faking it is not the goal, but it gets the body moving.  Our goal is making it, having a heart that belongs to Him and Him alone.  We do that by loving our God who first loved us and sent His son to die for us, to pay the price for our sins that deserve the wrath of God.  But because of His mercy, we are Children of God and our hearts and words and actions, our tongues and our tithes, our whole selves, belong to Him.

VI.      Conclusion

Ask God daily to give you a heart of love for Him.  Be wholly devoted to our Lord and Savior.  Give everything you are to Him who sits on the throne.  Abide in Christ, and be one in Christ Jesus.

Slide26

To God be the glory.

Awestruck

A study of Habakkuk 3.

Habakkuk 3 Theme

  I.      Introduction

Last week, in Habakkuk 1 & 2, we heard a difficult message of how God can use evil people to accomplish His will.  When Habakkuk asked God to correct and admonish the Jewish people, God responded that it was all under control.  God would rise up the evil Chaldeans to crush the Jewish people.

I imagine Habakkuk suddenly sitting down, stunned at the message.  “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

We’ve been studying the Minor Prophets for a while, and the message each week has been the same.  Is the lesson Zephaniah?  Answer: Wrath of God.  Is the lesson Nahum?  Wrath of God.  Is the lesson Obadiah?  Wrath of God.

If last week’s study of Habakkuk 1&2 was classroom instruction, then Habakkuk 3 today is a study of how to apply hard lessons.  When we know the wrath of God is coming, like Habakkuk knew the Chaldeans were coming to conquer the Jews, how do we maintain our hope, our faith, our spirit?

Or closer to home, I couldn’t help but imagine a parallel in today’s times.  Like we are praying to God that America seems to be losing its way, and please bring America back into God’s will.  And God responds that he’s raising a mighty evil Islamic army called ISIS.  How do we maintain our hope, our faith, our spirit?

In one sense, I guess we should expect that God uses evil people for His purposes.  Romans 8:28 says “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  If evil exists, and God is in control, then it is only logical that the only evil that exists is that which God allows to exist for His purpose.  Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess at the name of Jesus, and that includes evil knees and tongues.

Among all of God’s beautiful attributes, like love, compassion, peace, and joy, our fear of the Lord should recognize God’s ways are above our ways, and in our temporary lives on earth we may not fully appreciate all of God’s ways.  God is in control of everything, not just the good, and he will use *everything* in order to purify His people.  God’s plan for you and me is not our happiness, but our righteousness.  And he tells us that if we are righteous, then we will also be happy.  Win-win.

So if you or I feel that God’s plans seem to be working against us, we feel hurt or pain or disappointment, how do we come to terms with God?  We want to always think of Him as our kindly heavenly father who gives us great gifts, but we don’t like the discipline and God’s justice.  How do we maintain our joy when we know God is raising up evil Chaldeans against us?

II.      Reassured by What We Hear, Habakkuk 3:1-2

Let’s look first at Habakkuk 3:1-2 –

A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth.
Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

There’s an unfamiliar word there in verse 1, “On shigionoth.”  I thought it was some sort of Klingon word, good thing I studied.  Most scholars believe it’s a literary or maybe musical term, but one source I read believes it is a highly emotional poetic form.  On shigionoth, Habakkuk is pouring out His heart in prayer to the Lord.

In verse 2, who has a translation that says “I fear” or “I was afraid?”  This is not fear of the outcome, for our lesson today is how to have comfort that the Lord is in control.  He says “I fear” which is standing in awe, not fear of the outcome.  Habakkuk says he has heard of God’s most incredible power and might, and acknowledges that God’s power will destroy all that displeases the Lord.  And Habakkuk says, Lord, in your wrath, remember mercy.
parting of the red sea
Habakkuk is likely referring to earlier books that tell of God’s great power.  The book of Genesis, the book of Exodus.  Habakkuk knows about the parting of the sea.  The parting of the Red Sea wasn’t low tide or other some nonsense presented on one of those secular history shows.  Let’s hear of God’s power in Exodus 14:21 following, and I’m going to shorten the story some in the interest of time –

Then the Lord said to Moses, “[…]Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.  As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.  As for Me, behold, […] I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen.  Then the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord […].”

 

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided.  The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.  Then the Egyptians took up the pursuit […]. the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud and […] overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.  The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen, even Pharaoh’s entire army that had gone into the sea after them; not even one of them remained.”

 

It’s interesting to me that the Egyptians were the evil ones in the book of Exodus, and God used them to display his awesome power.  Habakkuk says, “I have heard of your fame.”  What Habakkuk is saying to us modern day Christians is… read the bible.  God’s awesome might and power and wrath and love is in the Good Book for each of us to discover.  We will be comforted.  Yes, we stand in awe of God’s mighty power.  Yes, we fear the wrath of God that is coming.  But God will remember His mercy for those who have placed their faith in Him.

III.      Reassured by What We See, Habakkuk 3:3-19

If reading our bible about God’s mighty power isn’t enough, we can see his power with our own eyes.  Habakkuk 3:3-4 –

God comes from Teman,
And the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah.
His splendor covers the heavens,
And the earth is full of His praise.
His radiance is like the sunlight;
He has rays flashing from His hand,
And there is the hiding of His power.

 

We view the majesty of the Almighty moving across the earth.  Teman was a city east of Israel, and Mount Paran was a mountain opposite of Teman, so Habakkuk is saying God’s majesty awakens from the east each day and covers the heaven.

God displays the beauty of His creation to us so that we may know he is a God of love and beauty.  Romans 1:20 says

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

sunrise
So that we do not wake up each morning and says, “wow, what a spectacular sunrise.  I guess that just happened accidentally again this morning.”  No, it’s so that we clearly see that God’s glory is like the sunrise, with rays of brilliant light flashing from his hands.

As I was preparing this lesson, and Chris Tomlin’s “Indescribable” came on the radio and I was struck by how perfect the lyrics fit this lesson.  Can I ask the choir members in this class to sing this for us?

From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea
Creation’s revealing Your majesty
From the colors of fall to the fragrance of spring
Every creature unique in the song that it sings
All exclaiming
 
Indescribable, uncontainable
You placed the stars in the sky
And You know them by name
You are amazing, God
 
All powerful, untameable
Awestruck we fall to our knees
As we humbly proclaim
You are amazing, God

And if God’s splendor and majesty is evident each morning, then so is his strength.  Habakkuk 3:5-12 –

Before Him goes pestilence,
And plague comes after Him.
He stood and surveyed the earth;
He looked and startled the nations.
Yes, the perpetual mountains were shattered,
The ancient hills collapsed.
His ways are everlasting.
I saw the tents of Cushan under distress,
The tent curtains of the land of Midian were trembling.
Did the Lord rage against the rivers,
Or was Your anger against the rivers,
Or was Your wrath against the sea,
That You rode on Your horses,
On Your chariots of salvation?
Your bow was made bare,
The rods of chastisement were sworn. Selah.
You cleaved the earth with rivers.
The mountains saw You and quaked;
The downpour of waters swept by.
The deep uttered forth its voice,
It lifted high its hands.
Sun and moon stood in their places;
They went away at the light of Your arrows,
At the radiance of Your gleaming spear.
In indignation You marched through the earth;
In anger You trampled the nations.

God makes mountains.  God destroys mountains.  He judges with pestilence and plague.   He shakes the nations and crushes His enemies.  There is nothing that can withstand the power of God.

Let’s go big.  Let’s see if we can imagine the power of God.  How big is the earth that God created?    Let’s stipulate that the earth is big, really big.  It is so big that for thousands of years, man believed the earth was flat.  Man couldn’t see the horizon curve, there was no reason to believe they were living on a giant round rock.  Here’s a picture from a low orbit where you can see at the edges that the earth is indeed round.  Even though it’s low orbit, it’s still pretty high.  I can’t seem to find a camera shot that is close enough to see people and yet also see the curvature of the earth.  The earth is so big, over 7 billion people live on it now.
Habakkuk 3 1 Clouds-nature-planets-earth-low-resolution
But as big as the earth is, it’s not the biggest planet in our solar system.  We’re a small blue marble.
Habakkuk 3 2 planets
But even the largest planet, Jupiter, is small next to the size of the sun.  The sun is huge.  Imagine the sun the size of a basketball, then the earth is about the size of one of the dimples.
Habakkuk 3 3 SunSize
Our sun is considered to be a medium size star.  There are stars in our galaxy that make our sun look tiny.
Habakkuk 3 4 sun-stars
But even the largest stars get lost next to the size of our galaxy, the Milky Way.
Habakkuk 3 5 milkyWaySide1_300
The Milky Way isn’t the only galaxy.  Scientists estimate between 100 billion and 200 billion galaxies, but that’s only because we can’t see any further than that.
Habakkuk 3 6 large_detailed_map_of_the_Universe
Genesis 1:1.  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  God spoke the universe into existence by saying, “Let there be light.”  From the morning rays of sunshine to the countless stars by night, God has demonstrated His glory to all so that we may be without excuse.

But maybe facing outward doesn’t give us a good perspective of God.  Is God too big and distant?  If this is God’s view, can He see me?

Let’s go small.  Who am I, and what did God create?  I’m one of those 7 billion people are the earth, so I thought I’d show you the complexity of the human body.
Habakkuk 3 7 Body-systems-and-organs
I admit I underestimated trying to describe human anatomy in the time available for our class.   Our bodies are complex.  We have a circulatory system that moves oxygen and antibodies, powered by a heart that will beat over 3 billion times in our lifetime.  We have a nervous system that communicates heat and cold and pain and causes muscles to move and is powered by a brain that holds memories and process thought and makes sense of the world around us.  A respiratory system that brings in oxygen, expels carbon dioxide that the blood cells from the circulatory system brought in.  A digestive system that extracts nutrients from outside our bodies and turns them into fuel.  A skeletal system to support our weight, and a muscular system to provide movement.

It was too complex.  I thought, I’ll simplify this, I’ll just focus on one piece.  How about the heart.  Just one organ, part of the circulatory system.
Habakkuk 3 8 1024px-Blausen_0457_Heart_SectionalAnatomy
I’m an engineer, and I don’t know how all this contraption works.  There are valves and muscles and aortas and stuff.  And it beats 3 billion times in a lifetime?  This is a miracle gadget.  Let’s simplify it even further,   How about just the teensiest part.  How about… a single human cell.  If I can’t understand the machinery, maybe I can understand a nut and washer, right?
Habakkup 3 9 cell
Goodness.  There are 5 million human cells in a cubic millimeter, about a drop of water.  They’re specialized, too.  Liver cells, brain cells, blood cells, each one knows exactly what to do.

God is in the small stuff.  God is in the big stuff.  God is everywhere and in everything.  There is no place we can go that God isn’t there.  And we haven’t even talked about plants and photosynthesis or insects or rocks or how he created oxygen.  Psalm 139:13 says,

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 

We are created by God for a purpose.  We have meaning.  God knows us, has a plan for us, and he knows the name of every single hair on our head.  From our DNA to the hairs on our head to the creation of the universe itself, God loves us.  Like Habakkuk, I can see with my own eyes God’s hand in every single part of my being, my life, my walk, and my purpose.

And I can see God’s love for me.

IV.      Reassured by His Deliverance, Habakkuk 3:13

Habakkuk 3:13 –

You went forth for the salvation of Your people,
For the salvation of Your anointed.
You struck the head of the house of the evil
To lay him open from thigh to neck. Selah.

 

This God of beauty, this God of power, this God of creation, is also this God of love.  He knew, given free choice, that not everyone would choose good.   It’s not choice if we’re forced to choose good.  So, through the choice of Adam and Eve, sin entered the world.  Rebellion.  Disobedience.  His holiness will not tolerate our evil, our sins.  God will destroy sin.  God will raise Chaldeans and plagues and locusts to destroy the evil we do and the evil we think and the evil we are.  His justice demands His wrath.  The minor prophets we’ve been studying, like Habakkuk, have warned us of God’s hatred of sin.

But God loves the sinner who seeks Him.  But more than God hates sin, God loves us.  For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  (John 3:16).

 

Out of His abundance of love, has given us His son.  I don’t know how much it hurt God to sacrifice His own son for us.  To watch Christ scourged and crucified under Pontius Pilot while the crowds of people called for the death of His son.  And I don’t know any bigger gift that God could give than to offer forgiveness to us through the sacrifice of His son, so that we may be reconciled to God and be called Children of God.  And through the death of Jesus, He then sent a comforter, the Holy Spirit, to live in us.  To pray and groan on our behalf, to move us to obedience.  Even as his perfect justice and discipline may cause pain and suffering as He teaches us spiritual truths, and even as He raises us Chaldeans against us to purify us as a people, we know that He has prepared a place for us, a place without tears.

We may not understand the Chaldeans in our own lives, but God has a purpose for everything.  C.S. Lewis, in the book “Mere Christianity,” put it this way:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

 

When God allows Chaldeans to run roughshod over us with destruction and pain, the Chaldeans are fulfilling God’s purpose.  Even if, and perhaps especially if, the Chaldeans are evil, for the evil cannot exist without God allowing it.  Three verses can give us peace during these times –

  • 2 Corinthians 4:17

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

  • 1 Corinthians 10:13, God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, and
  • Romans 8:28 all things work together for good.

Praise and worship our mighty God.  It is right to praise Him.  Does God need our praise?  No, it pleases Him to think that those who created acknowledge the Creator.  How awesome it is to please Him.

  V.      Reassured by His Security, Habakkuk 3:16-19

Abundant life.  Purpose.  A God who loves us.  An eternity without tears.

Because of all we have heard, because of all we have seen, because of all we have experienced, we can trust God in time of fear.

Habakkuk 3:16

I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.

Habakkuk knows God’s wrath is coming.  The Jewish people have turned their backs on the Lord, and Habakkuk has prayed for the Lord’s will be done.  The Lord responded that He will purify his people by allowing evil Chaldeans to conquer and rule over Israel.  And Habakkuk, though so fearful that decay is in his bones and his legs are trembling, will wait patiently on the Lord to fulfill His word.

Did Habakkuk’s circumstances change?   Calamity is on the horizon.  Soon there will be destruction.  Sometimes we believe that if we change our attitude, trust in the Lord, pray fervent prayers, then our circumstances will change.  Not so – it is not the circumstances that change.  Nor is it God who changes.  No, it is us who change.  We trust that God is in control.  The same God that created an amazingly huge universe and the tiniest DNA stands in our cells and dwells within us, has provided the redemptive power through His son, is in control.  We can wait patiently.  It is us who changes.

So don’t worry.  God’s got this.

VI.      Conclusion

What have you heard about God that reassures you?  What have you seen from God that assures you of his awesome power?  Our God is wrath, true.  Wrath that destroys the wicked.  But our God is love.  He has created a splendor for us to see Him in our broken world.  A little taste of heaven, here and now.

You may not know the name of Carl Gustav Boberg, a Swedish poet who was born in 1859.  One day when Boberg was walking home from church and listening to church bells.  Suddenly, a tremendous storm, with violent winds and pounding rains.  The church rang madly.  Lightning pealed across the sky in massive thunderclaps.  Broberg and his friends had to take shelter.

Then, almost as suddenly as it arrived, the storm passed.  Winds blew over the nearby meadows, the pounding rains gave way to cool fresh showers, and then clear skies with a rainbow.

Broberg was in awe of the storm, the lightning, that demonstrated God’s power, and the peace and beauty after the wrath had passed.  That night, Carl Broberg wrote a poem called, ‘O Store Gud,’ or as we know it today, ‘How Great Thou Art.’

O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hand hath made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

 

Invading Chaldeans are coming.  Habakkuk has to wait – terror at what is to come, but trust in the outcome.  Habakkuk 3 is a prayer to Yahweh to let the world again see the redemptive work of the Lord.  Regardless of our circumstances, we stand in awe of our God!

 

To God be the glory.

The Promised Messiah

Zechariah title  I.      Introduction

We’re continuing our study of the minor prophets, and these minor prophets have stark messages.  These messages display God’s glory and how God communicates both His love and His wrath, and how they are both consistent with His character, that our God is a consuming fire that loves us gently, and He has given us what we need for service in this world and eternity with our Lord forever.

Through the minor prophets, we learn 3 things about God –

  • God is sovereign.   He alone is God.  He alone is King.  He alone is the Creator.  He alone has the right to judge what is right and wrong.  He alone is the great I AM.
  • God is holy. He is perfect, He is all that is good.  His holiness is untainted by evil, there is no sin in His presence.  His wrath will destroy all that is evil, judged with perfect justice, revenge belongs to Him alone.
  • God is love. His wrath is withheld so that no one may perish, but have everlasting life.  He has given us His one and only son as a perfect sacrifice, not because of anything we have done, but simply because He loves us.

Zechariah is one of the more difficult of the minor prophets, not just for the Jews living under the Law at the time, but for us Christians today.  Many of the verses are full of symbols and imagery; there are lampstands and menorahs, olive trees, flying scrolls, and a woman in a basket.  Fortunately, there’s an angel speaking to Zechariah that explains much of the imagery, but it’s still a challenging book to understand.

Zechariah imagery

Zechariah was a young man when he began his ministry; some scholars suggest he may have been as young as 16 years old.  He was a contemporary and friend of the prophet Haggai, and while Haggai encouraged the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, Zechariah encouraged the people with the hope of a coming messiah and reign of glory.

The Book of Zechariah is divided primarily in 2 “advents.”  The word “advent” means the arrival of something important, especially something that has been awaited.  The first 9 chapters, which we’ll study today, prophecy the advent of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem.

Let’s take a peek at our key verse today Zechariah 9: –

Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

This is the 1st advent, a prophecy of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem 500 years after Zechariah, of Jesus riding into town on a donkey, what we now call Palm Sunday.  Coincidentally, or perhaps not, today is Palm Sunday, so I think it is so very appropriate that we’re studying this today.

The second half of the book of Zechariah concerns itself with the 2nd advent, or the 2nd coming of Jesus.

Zechariah 14:3-4,9

Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle.  On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.  The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name.

Revelation tells us that one day every knee will bow to our Lord Jesus Christ, but there are certain benefits to bending our knee voluntarily.

Today, as we look forward to Easter on this Palm Sunday, we are going to focus on the 1st advent, Zechariah’s prophecy of a messiah for Israel.

II.      Examine the Prophecy

Most people who study Old Testament prophecy can point to the book of Isaiah for prophecy about Jesus the Messiah.  Verses like …

  • Will be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14)
  • Will have a Galilean ministry (Isaiah 9:1,2)
  • Will be an heir to the throne of David (Isaiah 9:7; 11:1, 10)
  • Will have His way prepared (Isaiah 40:3-5)
  • Will be spat on and struck (Isaiah 50:6)
  • Will be disfigured by suffering (Isaiah 52:14; 53:2)
  • Will make a blood atonement (Isaiah 53:5)
  • Will bear our sins and sorrows (Isaiah 53:4, 5)
  • Will voluntarily accept our guilt and punishment for sin (Isaiah 53:7,8)
  • Will be silent before His accusers (Isaiah 53:7)
  • Will be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9)

These are not the only prophecies about Jesus, of course.  The Books of Daniel, Zechariah, Malachi, Ezekiel – indeed, the entire Old Testament points to a Messiah who will suffer and die for us, taking away all of our sins.

The Jews understood – intellectually, at least – these prophecies of a messiah.  This messiah would be a mighty king of both victory and peace.  In Zechariah 9:9, the messiah is king –

Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

The messiah king would usher in a new day for Jerusalem.  The days of captivity would finally be behind them, they would be free to worship and serve the king of the Jews.  The Jews had not had a king since Babylon destroyed the temple, and this verse told the people that a king of impeccable character, righteous and victorious, was coming for them.  A day to rejoice, a day to shout with triumph, a day to celebrate the arrival of their king.

In Zechariah 9:10, they knew the Messiah would be a man of peace –

I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

The Jews understood the coming Messiah to bring peace among men, among distant lands, from Jerusalem to the promised land of Abraham and his descendants to the very ends of the earth. His kingdom would be peaceful, because the Messiah was a victorious conqueror.  There would be no need for weapons for the Messiah to establish His rule.

In the next two verses, Zechariah 9:11-12, the Messiah would be a man of victory –

As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope;
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

The Messiah would be a mighty conqueror.  Nothing would be able to withstand the might and power from heaven to rescue His daughter Zion from those that would persecute her.  Those that had been captured by evil and confined to darkness would be rescued and set free, given hope and a stronghold in the Lord.

Zechariah often refers to the Lord as the “LORD of hosts”, as in chapter 1 verse 3.   It could also be translated, “LORD of armies.”  This is a powerful name of God, Jehovah, Leader of an army of angels and our strong and mighty tower.  There is no need to fear with such a mighty leader of armies on the side of Zion.

When would this messiah come and rescue them?  We have to look to other Old Testament prophets to get the whole picture, but a key prophecy is found in Daniel 9:25.

Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.  After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing.

These “sevens” would have been very familiar to the Jews; each “seven” is a period of seven years, and the end of each seven years the Jews had a Sabbath year.  And for the phrase “from the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem,” we have go back to Nehemiah 2.  Remember just a couple of months ago when we studied this?  Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king Artaxerxes, and the in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, the king asked Nehemiah why he looked so sad.  Nehemiah had been praying for that moment, and he asked the king to let him rebuild the city.

Well, now it’s simple math to determine when the messiah comes.  Artaxerxes came to power in 474BC.  The twentieth year of his rule was 455 BC.  “Seven ‘sevens’” is 49 years, and “sixty-two ‘sevens’” is another 434 years, so the Messiah arrives in 29AD.  And since the Messiah is foretold to be in the temple, when the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD, Jews know the Messiah was to have come between 29AD and 70AD.

Zechariah prophecy

The timing of the Messiah has since come and gone, and Jews do not accept Jesus as the Messiah.  But if not Jesus, then who?  I read several rabbinical letters on this subject.  Through the years, the Jews have put their hope in a Messiah on several people through the years such as Bar Kokhba in 132 AD.  Bar Kokhba fought a war against the Roman Empire, defeated the Tenth Legion and retook took Jerusalem. He resumed sacrifices at the site of the Temple and made plans to rebuild the Temple.  He established a provisional government and began to issue coins in its name. Ultimately, however, the Roman Empire crushed his revolt and killed Bar Kokhba. After his death, the Jews said, “well, I guess he’s not the messiah, either.”  Today, the Jews still wait for a messiah.  They believe he didn’t come at the prophesied time because the Jewish people weren’t ready.  The Jewish people will either have to be so good that they deserve a messiah to rule over them, or so bad that they deserve to have a messiah to rule over them.

How did the Jews miss the arrival of their messiah?  They were looking for a mighty warrior.  They were looking for a man of peace.  They were looking for a king in the year 29AD while Jerusalem was occupied by Roman forces.  And then, Jesus came riding to the temple on a donkey.

On one hand, I’m sort of glad the Jews missed the coming of the messiah.  It’s because God knew the Jews would reject His one and only son that the offer was then extended to the gentiles, and gentiles like me have an opportunity to accept this offer of salvation.  God’s not done with the Jews yet, they are still His chosen people.  Following the tribulation, things will be different, and the Jewish leaders will receive Jesus’ love in their heart.

Ezekiel 36:26 –

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

III.      Prophecy is true

How many prophecies did Jesus fulfill?  The easy answer is “all of them.”  It’s hard to determine an accurate count of the prophecies, but one study I read counted them at 365 prophecies foretelling the coming Jewish Messiah, of which 109 that *only* Jesus could have fulfilled.

http://bibleprobe.com/365messianicprophecies.htm

Today, we know that Christ died for us on a tree, our sins upon Him and bearing the wrath of God on our behalf, that we may have everlasting life with Him.  It is so obvious, nobody can miss it.

Or can they?  I know people that have accepted Christ, but I know far more that haven’t.  Some might even say they are Christian, but based on their fruit, they would be hard to recognize as believers.  And others are agnostic, unsure of any belief.  And some are atheistic, certain there is no God.  And some follow other gods of their own making.

IV.      Jesus came for us

Why did the Jewish people miss the 1st Advent of Christ?  Or better yet, why do some of us still miss the signs of Jesus in our lives?

John 5:36-40,

“I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish – the very works that I am doing – testify that the Father has sent me.  And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.  You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

Jesus must be in our hearts, not just in our heads.  Studying God’s Word is important, but it doesn’t provide salvation.  Evangelizing is important, but it doesn’t provide salvation.  Compassion, good works, attending church, prayer is important, but it doesn’t provide salvation.

The Jewish religious leaders studied the Old Testament diligently.  To them, salvation came with knowledge.  If you understood the word, you were given a place in the kingdom of heaven.  If you didn’t study, you were doomed.

John 7:49 –

The Pharisees said, “But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.”

2 Corinthians 3:15 –

But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart.

But it’s not what you know in your head that counts, but rather faith that trusts Jesus as the Messiah – something these Jewish leaders were unwilling or unable to do.  But we are to believe with our heart, not just our head –

Romans 10:9

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.

  V.      Conclusion

Today, in Zechariah 9, we’ve learned that the Messiah was a king, victorious, peaceful, righteous, and humble.

Matthew 21:1-9 –

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me.  If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.  They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.  A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Jesus speaks to us even now.  We must be in His word to hear him, or we miss the message He has for us. We must walk in His ways to see Him at work.  We must be with believers to see His love in action.

Isaiah 53:3-6 –

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

Our Messiah has arrived during this celebration of Palm Sunday.  Hosanna to the Son of David.  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest heaven.  Thank you for coming for us, king of victory, king of peace, king of righteousness.  King of kings.

Zechariah Palm Sunday

To God be the glory.

The Wrath of God

A study of Zephaniah 1

   I.      Introduction

Wrath of God

The wrath of God by John Piper:

I thank the Lord again for my opportunity to serve Him today, and I pray my words are full of His truth today.  Often my lessons have some humor, some lightheartedness because I truly believe that being a child of God should be a joyous occasion and bible study should be a happy place.  Today’s lesson is from the minor prophet Zephaniah, and I do not know how to present this in a lighthearted way.  In many ways, lessons on encouragement and love and kindness are easier to teach than fire and brimstone.

One of the things I like about Second’s bible studies is that, if you stick around long enough, we will study every book in the bible every 7 years, including little three-chapter books like Zephaniah, tucked in between Habakkuk and Haggai.  It may be a little book, but the first chapter alone has a powerful message.  It’s not comfortable, it’s not warm, it’s not fuzzy and feel-good … but it’s the Bible and it’s a Revelation from God and of God.

Tim mentioned a few weeks ago if I believed God was still a God of wrath, and I answered in the affirmative.  Little did I know that that very lesson would be given to me to study and to teach.

I was so concerned about the tone of today’s lesson that I ran it by one of the Second Baptist pastors this week.  He made a few tweaks, suggested some small changes, and he is now hiding under his bed waiting for the thunder and lightning to begin.  One of his insights, though, was that if I felt that a study of God’s wrath was difficult, imagine what it was like for Zephaniah, bringing these words to the Jewish people?

Not much is known about Zephaniah.  He lived about 640 BC, he prophesied in the days of King Josiah, and was a contemporary of Jeremiah.  The purpose of his prophecy was to speak out against religious and moral corruption and idolatry in Jerusalem.  His prophecy was fulfilled a few decades later when Jerusalem collapsed under a wave of immigrants.

Let’s turn to Zephaniah 1:1-6 and see the prophecy of the Day of Judgment of the entire earth.

The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, during the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah:
“I will sweep away everything
from the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord.
“I will sweep away both man and beast;
I will sweep away the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea—
and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.”
“When I destroy all mankind
on the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord,
“I will stretch out my hand against Judah
and against all who live in Jerusalem.
I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place,
the very names of the idolatrous priests—
those who bow down on the roofs
to worship the starry host,
those who bow down and swear by the Lord
and who also swear by Molek,
those who turn back from following the Lord
and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.”

Have we been led to believe that our God is only capable of love?  That Yahweh is not capable of anger?  That Jehovah God incapable of wrath and justice?  Do we simply discard scripture that deals with His anger and wrath?  Is our God limited and powerless against evil?

If we do not know that God hates pride, arrogance, and evil, then we do not know Yahweh.  Proverbs 8:13,

To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
I hate pride and arrogance,
evil behavior and perverse speech.

If we do not believe that God Almighty will right every wrong, then we do not know Yahweh.  2 Thessalonians 1:5-9,

All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.  God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.  He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

God’s wrath in the Old Testament gives us examples of His tolerance for disobedience and sin.  In the Old Testament, we can see God’s balance between love and justice and mercy.  When Egypt held the Jews in captivity and in the fullness of time God when reached out to save his people, the Egyptians received God’s wrath.  Psalm 78:43-48,

the day he displayed his signs in Egypt,
his wonders in the region of Zoan.
He turned their river into blood;
they could not drink from their streams.
He sent swarms of flies that devoured them,
and frogs that devastated them.
He gave their crops to the grasshopper,
their produce to the locust.
He destroyed their vines with hail
and their sycamore-figs with sleet.
He gave over their cattle to the hail,
their livestock to bolts of lightning.

Against Pharaoh who had hardened his heart against God, God turned their river into blood, sent swarms of biting flies and frogs, sent locusts to devour their crops, destroyed their vineyards with hail and sleet, destroyed their livestock with lightning.

The Old Testament is replete with examples of eradication of sin that sometimes involved destruction.  The plagues of Egypt, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the flood of Noah, the destruction of Jerusalem.

It says in Psalm 78:49,


He unleashed against them his hot anger,
his wrath, indignation and hostility—
a band of destroying angels.
He prepared a path for his anger;
he did not spare them from death
but gave them over to the plague.

Satan is most certainly behind all evil in this world, but Satan uses mankind to carry out his evil ways.  God’s fury, God’s burning anger, calamity, and result of his anger is against mankind who serves Satan.  God has been unjustly accused by Satan and mocked by unfaithful mankind.  We have been offensive and insulting.  This pride and arrogance on the part of man leads to calamity, a mighty correction of the perversion of justice we have done.

I want you to note carefully here that these plagues are not brought about by Satan, but by God.  God is a warrior and will destroy evil.  These end times plagues and judgments, the very wrath of God serve a purpose to cleanse His creation of all evil.

As Christians, we need to be able to reconcile the God of Love with the God of Wrath.  Churches that teach only prosperity or love are teaching a watered down version of Truth that neglects to tell people the source of evil, the effects of evil, and the ultimate judgment of evil.

Our God is Love.  Our God is Wrath.  How do you explain this dichotomy? Or sometimes, the question is phrased this way:  How can a loving God send people to hell?

We’ll come back to that question, but first, let’s take a look at ourselves.  We are made in God’s image, and we know we are capable of love.  But if someone lies to us, applies a false label to us, accuses us unjustly, do we not get angry?  If we are capable of both love and anger, then it should not be hard to believe that our God who created us can be both loving and full of righteous anger.

We have a God of love, a God of beauty.  But we also have a God of justice.  A God who will judge the wicked, righting all wrongs.  God hates sin.  Intellectually, we know this, and we approve of this.  God should punish the wicked.  But we’re only ok with this philosophy as long as God is punishing others.  “God, while I was changing lanes, that man cut me off.  Smite him, Lord, either in this life or the next.”  But our own sin?  “God, I only stole because I needed it.  Forgive me, Lord.”

 

II.      Revelation

What does the future hold for sinners?  When we ask ourselves about all the evil in the world, what will God do?  We have to go to the back of the bible, the book of Revelation, to see.  (Just as an aside, after our study of the minor prophets, we will be studying Revelation this summer, ironically while it is hot as blazes out there.)  Revelation describes end times philosophy, it begins with a greeting to the seven churches who served the Lamb of God, then gives praises to the king, and every creature in heaven and earth saying, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.”   In Revelation 6, The Lamb of God begins to open the seals of judgment against the earth, and the 4th seal, well let’s read Revelation 6:7-11,

When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!”  I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

Then, the martyrs who have died for God beg God for justice (Revelation 6:9-11,

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.  They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”  Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

Who can stand from the wrath of God?  Revelation 6:15-17,

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.  They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!  For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”

Here the wrath of God has not yet begun, but just opening the seals of judgment was terrifying enough that people hid in caves and begged for the mountains to fall on them.

In Revelation 8-9, the Seven Trumpets then announce the approach of God’s final judgment, and Revelation 9:20, mankind still refuses to give up idol worship.  By Revelation 14, the Seven Angels bring Seven Plagues, and Revelation 17 the Seven Bowls full of the wrath of God are poured out upon the earth, punishment to wicked men for their evil ways.  And even while the bowls of wrath are poured out over man, man curses God and refuses to repent.

God will destroy this evil in His creation, just as He said He would do.  Evil will be destroyed, and Satan will be bound and cast into the Lake of Fire to burn forever.  And those men that choose not to worship God, who choose to do evil in His sight, whose carnal desires are living away from the one true God, will receive the justice they deserve.  God will not be mocked.  Back to our minor prophet Zephaniah 1: 14-18,

The great day of the Lord is near—
near and coming quickly.
The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter;
the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry.
That day will be a day of wrath—
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of trouble and ruin,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and blackness—
a day of trumpet and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the corner towers.
“I will bring such distress on all people
that they will grope about like those who are blind,
because they have sinned against the Lord.
Their blood will be poured out like dust
and their entrails like dung.
Neither their silver nor their gold
will be able to save them
on the day of the Lord’s wrath.”
In the fire of his jealousy
the whole earth will be consumed,
for he will make a sudden end
of all who live on the earth.

III.      Where are we?

We are mankind.  We are all sinners, born of original sin.  Born to make a choice in this world, who we will serve and honor.  We are all born from the father of lies.  We are born into sin.  We want to sin.  We are slaves to sin.

And when I say “we,” I mean everyone is born into sin.  Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  And the consequences are dire.  Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death.”  The world is under God’s judgment, and we have been warned.  God’s wrath is upon all men.   We are all dead.  Ephesians 2:1-3,

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.

 

In Jeremiah 5:7-9, God’s people have asked for mercy, but God tells them adamantly that their sins will be their destruction.


“Why should I forgive you?
Your children have forsaken me
and sworn by gods that are not gods.
I supplied all their needs,
yet they committed adultery
and thronged to the houses of prostitutes.
They are well-fed, lusty stallions,
each neighing for another man’s wife.
Should I not punish them for this?”
declares the Lord.
“Should I not avenge myself
on such a nation as this?”

As a people, as a nation, we are so far from God’s purpose, but we have become hardened and used to evils.  We like our evils.   What we once tolerated, we now celebrate.  We are in the midst of the end times, where evil is called good and good is evil.  Mankind has proven itself to be of Satan, and mankind celebrates it.  We should fear God, holy and righteous, who not only has the power to judge what is good and what is evil, but he has the right.  All sin will be destroyed in judgment and in the lake of fire.  The sinner inside each of us will be judged and found wanting.  Hebrews 10:30-31 says,

For we know [God] who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Our God is a consuming fire, and we are without excuse.

IV.      Who then can be saved?

Is there no hope?  If we are born in sin, and celebrate our sin, and die by our sin, is there no hope?

Not by our own strength.  Even the apostle Paul famously said he continues to do what he does not want to do.  The apostle Paul was a sinner, deserving of judgment and God’s wrath.  You and I are sinners and deserving of God’s wrath.  We can say that since we are churchy people, we are good and holy, but that is untrue.  1 John 1:8 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

Jesus’ disciples worried, too.  In Matthew 19, the rich man asked Jesus for the secret to eternal life, and Jesus said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.  Wealth, both then and now, are often seen as blessings, rewards for a life well-lived.  It was thought by others the man was wealthy because God had found favor with him, but Jesus said, no, he too is condemned.  And the disciples cried out, “who then can be saved?”

Who indeed?  Who is righteous among us if we are all sinners?  How do you reconcile the God of beauty, of creation, of truth and righteousness with the God of revenge and wrath and destruction?

We have all sinned.  Little white lies, or even the truth can be sinful if we’re being hurtful.  Gossip, adultery, pride, lies, murder, stealing.  What are some of the things God hates?  Romans 1:18-32,

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.  They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

We are bound for destruction, the penalty for sin is death.  We have no place next to the pure holy Jehovah God with even the tiniest sin.  And His wrath will be complete, and we are right to fear God’s wrath.  Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

We need help.  If the punishment for sin is death, then we need somebody else to *be* sin and die for us.  We need a savior.  Somebody fully man who understands life’s trials and temptations, yet remained fully innocent.  He would have to be innocent; the guilty cannot take the punishment for another person when he himself is guilty.  And not just a man who can take the place of one person, but someone who can take away the sins of the world.  We need Jesus.  Oh Lord, how we need Jesus.

There is cause for celebration in the midst of our message today.  Jesus has paid the price for our sin.  He took the punishment we deserve.  We are saved from the destruction and the wrath of God we deserve.  Hallelujah.

Our holy God of Wrath and justice is also a God of mercy and hope and ultimate love.  Our God has always given His people hope. John 3:16-18,

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

That’s ultimate love and sacrifice.  I stand deserving of the wrath of God for the sins I’ve committed.  I deserve punishment.  But God so loved me that he sacrificed His only son to take the wrath I deserve.  And God so loved you, that he gave up His son to take the wrath for you.  Not because we’re such fabulous people, but he did this for us while we were still sinners and deserving of wrath.  Why?  Because we have a beautiful living awesome God of love and mercy and forgiveness.  I don’t know why God loves me, but I am so grateful that He does.  He’s forgiven my sins, clothed me in the blood of Jesus, lets me walk boldly to His throne with my prayers, and has made me His adopted son.  I am a child of the one true king.  Not because of anything I did, but because of what He did.  I am no longer condemned.  Jesus saves, Amen.

So let’s go back to our earlier question, “how can a loving God condemn people to hell?”  It’s not the right question.  The question completely misses the character of God.  God’s wrath will come to those who deserve it, and God’s mercy and grace will come to His people who do not deserve it.  A better question might be, “Why are any of us saved?”  God has provided a savior for us, freely available to all who choose it.  He has reached out His mighty hand and asks us to take it so we may live.  It is available to everyone.  It was the purpose of Jesus, to save us.  We often refer to Jesus as our Savior, but do we truly grasp what He saved us from, the Wrath of God?  1 John 3:8 says,

The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

We may be saved from our sin through the sacrifice of Jesus, but God still hates sin, even this sin in us.  But as children of God, it is not God we war with.  We battle Satan and His plans, we put on our full armor of God and brandish the sword of truth.  God still hates the sin we think, the sin we speak, and the sin we do.  But on that Day of Judgment, we escape the punishment because our savior has already paid for our sins.  God’s full wrath was on Jesus that day and God poured out His wrath painfully on Jesus who became sin for us so that we might live.

God’s judgment on the world is still yet to come.  Why has God not yet pronounced judgment?  That day is coming quickly.  2 Peter 3:8-10 says,

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

So that no one may perish, He stays his wrath.  God has so far exhibited two thousand years of patience with us, but one day God’s justice will demand satisfaction.  Time is running out.  God loved you will you were yet a sinner; who do you love?  God forgave you while you were still a sinner; who will you forgive?  Spread the Good News that Jesus loves them, too.  They just have to accept the free gift, to allow God’s son to bear the burden for their sin.  Evangelize.  Save those who you love.  And who do you love?  Family, friends, and the good book says we are to love our enemies.  God gave his son for the world, so that no one may perish.

But one day his patience will end.  Time is running out.  The coming of Man will be sudden, God will call the righteous home and promises that all the indignities that we have suffered, the abuse we endured for His sake, He will avenge, He will make right.  His wrath will be poured out.  It is not for us to fight that battle; revenge and wrath belongs to the Lord.

It is time for all of God’s selected to accept the gift of life that God has freely offered.  Tell others that time is running out.  John 3:36,

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

It is a fearful thing to know that God’s wrath awaits.  Philippians 3:18-20,

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even in the wrath described in Zephaniah 1:7 we find hope –

Be silent before the Sovereign Lord,
for the day of the Lord is near.
The Lord has prepared a sacrifice;
he has consecrated those he has invited.

  V.      Conclusion

When will this Day of Judgment come?  Scripture tells us that no one knows the day or the hour.  That’s why the time to accept our Savior is urgent.

Are you ready?

Time is running out, the wrath of God approaches.  Choose life.  Choose Jesus.

To God be the glory.

How Can God Still Love Me?

             I.      Introduction

 

It’s almost the New Year, no thanks to the ancient Mayans.  The New Year is a time for beginning fresh, to put our past behind us and look forward to a new beginning.  For auld lang syne my friends, for auld lang syne.

 

A new beginning means a new you.  But what if the old you is still here?  How do we begin again?  And for sins we’ve committed last year, how do we put those behind?  And what about those who have done wrong to us?  Why should they be allowed to start again?

 

We’ve been studying the book of Hosea, the Prophet of Doom.  The Israelites, or more specifically the Northern Kingdom, sometimes called Ephraim by Hosea, has led duplicitous lives.  Yes, they prayed to the Lord and sacrificed to Him, but when times were good, they also sacrificed to Baal and other pagan deities of the Canaanites.  The Lord gave Hosea a personal life that mirrored Israel so he could understand.  Hosea’s wife was a prostitute, unfaithful to Hosea, and eventually sold into slavery.   Israel, too, was unfaithful to the Lord.  God used the might Assyrian army to invade the Northern Kingdom, judgment against Israel for her unfaithfulness.  Our God is a jealous God, and He is God alone.

 

Thankfully this week it’s not all about death and destruction and judgment.  Today we’re going to study the Lord’s compassion in the midst of Israel’s discipline and punishment.  Why does the Lord have compassion for sinners?  And how can the Lord look past what I’ve done and accept me for who I am?  And the most difficult question, why does the Lord show compassion to me even when I continue to sin?  Doesn’t my unwillingness to be pure indicate that I do not truly love the Lord with all of my mind and body, heart and soul?  Why would the Lord should compassion to me when I know I don’t show my Love to Him?

 

          II.      Compassion Though Unrecognized, Hosea 11:1-4

 

Let’s start at the beginning of Hosea 11 and read the Lord’s word to Israel –

 

When Israel was a child, I loved him,

    and out of Egypt I called my son.

But the more they were called,

    the more they went away from me.

They sacrificed to the Baals

    and they burned incense to images.

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,

    taking them by the arms;

but they did not realize

    it was I who healed them.

I led them with cords of human kindness,

    with ties of love.

To them I was like one who lifts

    a little child to the cheek,

    and I bent down to feed them.

 

God’s love is more than a feeling; it is compassion in action.  Here, God reminds Israel He has been there from the beginning and cared for Israel when Israel could not take care of itself.

 

God calls Israel His child, who He loved, and called him out of Egypt.  Hosea is speaking, of course, of the days of Moses, when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.  Exodus 3:7 says, “The Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them.”  God led them in a pillar of cloud or fire to the promised land.  But Israel’s trust waivered and their hearts hardened towards God, and instead turned to worship idols and the gods of the Egyptians and other tribes.   God also sent prophets to them to point out their ways, to correct their behaviors, but the more they were reprimanded, the more Israel turned from God.

 

But this is also a prophetic verse; in Matthew 2, Matthew builds upon this when he describes the trip that Mary, Joseph and Jesus made to Egypt until the death of Herod.  Matthew quotes Hosea, saying, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”  The Lord acted compassionately throughout history to save His people Israel, just as He acted compassionately when He sent His son Jesus for our sake.

 

But unlike Jesus, Israel slipped into sin again and again.  And for those who have had children, you know how painful it is if your child slips into sin repeatedly.  God called to His people, lovingly, compassionately, but the more God called, the more Israel turned away from Him.

 

This is our problem today with the Lord, just as it was with Israel.  When times are good, we are wayward children, turning away from Him, time and time again.  We’re funny that way – we have so many blessings, but we don’t give proper thanks to the Lord.  And in the midst of our blessings, we find excuses to turn away, rationalizing it with thoughts like, I do so many good things for the Lord, surely the Lord won’t mind if I do this one thing that I need to be happy.  Sometimes, we even lie to ourselves that since God wants me to be happy, God would approve of my sin.

 

I once knew a single woman who desperately wanted a husband.  She seemed smart and attractive, you know, many blessings in her life.  But her focus was on one thing God had not blessed her with.  One day she said that she had found somebody, and he made her happy.  There was a small problem, she said; he was married .  But she knew God would want her to be happy.  She said God had told her so.

 

I don’t know where she is today, but I do know this: God never blesses sin.  For a Christian to continue in sin is like crucifying Christ over and over again.  Sin separates us from God because God is free of all sin.  God may love us, but He hates the sin.  If we choose to continue in our sin, God will either give us over to our hardened heart, or God will discipline us in order to bring us back to Him.  As we learned last week in Hosea 8, it’s far, far better for us to learn to discipline ourselves than to wait for God to discipline us.

 

In verse 3, the Israelites failed to realize that the Lord was always there, feeding them, helping them to walk, healing them when they fell.  We have been given so much compassion, so many blessings, and we take them for granted.  Our health, our country, our church, our next meal, our next breath.  God is in all of it.  We forget to thank the Lord for what we have already been given in abundance through His love.

 

       III.      Compassion Amid Judgment, Hosea 11:5-7

 

The Lord’s compassion always extends to us, even when in discipline and judgment.  In Hosea 11:5-7,

 

Will they not return to Egypt

    and will not Assyria rule over them

    because they refuse to repent?

A sword will flash in their cities;

    it will devour their false prophets

    and put an end to their plans.

My people are determined to turn from me.

    Even though they call me God Most High,

    I will by no means exalt them.

 

So God is looking at me… sorry, I mean, God is looking at Israel and realizing His child will not repent.  His child is reaping the rewards of God’s blessings and using those blessings in a way that offends the Lord.  And as much as the Lord is expressing His love, Israel is determined to follow false prophets and turn from Him.

 

I find it interesting that God used the Assyrians to punish Israel.  It’s backward from what we would normally think God should do.  We compare Israel and Assyria and say, well, Israel’s mostly ok.  They have this little thing about worshipping other gods, sure, but that’s just on weekends.  Those Assyrians, though, who they’re rotten people, sacrificing children and hating the Lord.  Surely the Lord will protect Israel from those nasty Assyrians.

 

But God doesn’t see it the same way.  He loves His people and He wants them to be pure.  So God allows the Assyrians to win this conflict.  Does He do the same with us?

 

Sometimes I think He does.  We can see it in our country – one nation, under God – but it seems that many of the battles Christians have fought have gone the wrong way.  Abortion, euthanasia, prayer in schools, have all gone against Christians.  Why is the enemy winning?

 

I don’t know, but if we are like the Israelites, we have grown complacent in the Lord and He will discipline us for our own good.  Church attendance is decreasing across the USA.  Is it because our attitude is that life is too good to waste it on worship?  No wonder the Lord uses evil to get our attention.

 

And it’s not a matter of knowing the Word, it’s a matter of putting it in action, consistently, with the right heart.  The Israelites certainly knew they were God’s chosen people, but they believed that somehow gave them the right to take God for granted and to do things their way.  It’s like they believed their disobedience was a God-given right.

 

I once had a wayward dog, a stubborn, stiff-necked Dalmatian.  I named him Israel.  No wait, I named him Samson.  I named him that because man, he was a big Dalmatian.  Most Dalmations are 45 lbs or so, Samson was 80 lbs.  He was big and he was stubborn.  I took him to obedience training for several weeks, and at the end of the class we had a test to see how well our dogs had learned.  I had worked Samson all week, and once I switched to a pinch collar instead of a choke collar, Samson deal very well at following directions.  On command, he’d sit, stay, down, come, and heel.  The final test was the heel command; Samson’s head was supposed to be even or behind me, and without a leash, Samson would heel as we walked the training course.

 

After all the lessons were complete, we continued working the commands.  Sit.  Stay.  Come.  Down.  Heel.  And we’d walk around the block.  Sometimes I’d unclip his leash and walk him for a bit, then reclip it later.  He was well trained.

 

Until one day as we were walking and I said, “heel!” and I unclipped his leash.  We’d walk a while, and he’d start to gain a little on me.  “Heel!”  Samson would drop back in place, and slowly surge forward again.  “Heel!”  He’d drop back again, surge forward a little sooner.  I could see him sort of looking over his shoulder to see if I was watching and he kept surging a little further until he was a full body length in front of me.  “Heel!” I’d say, and pow, like a rocket, he was off.  There was no way to catch him, he was so fast.  Eventually, I went home, got the car, drove ahead of him, and caught him again.  We didn’t do that walk again without the leash ever again.

 

It wasn’t as though Samson didn’t know where I was or what the rules were, or even that the rules were for his own benefit so that he wouldn’t get lost, get hit by a car, would be home for supper and a warm comfy bed.  It was just that he had realized he had all the freedom he wanted.  It had gone beyond disobedience and was now outright rebellion.  Because of my love for the dog, the dog then lost the freedom he had through the new discipline and restrictions.

 

We’re like that, in a way, when we’re in rebellion with God.  We know what pleases Him and what we should and shouldn’t do, and we even understand that the behavior God encourages for us is also for our benefit.  It’s just that, man, sometime we just want to run and do our own thing, and we disregard the consequences.  We know what is right, and we know we’re not doing it.

 

Mark Twain once put it this way:  “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

 

We’re all guilty of this, making excuses for our sin.  In 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  And we’re all repeat offenders, too.  In the sentence of our life, God may put a period, but we change it to a question mark.  He didn’t really mean it that way, did He?  We still want God’s love in our lives as long as we can have it on our terms.

 

         IV.      Compassion Over Anger, Hosea 11:8-9

 

Our disobedience in the face of God’s good plans draws His anger, but even in His anger, God shows compassion.

 

How can I give you up, Ephraim?

    How can I hand you over, Israel?

How can I treat you like Admah?

    How can I make you like Zeboyim?

My heart is changed within me;

    all my compassion is aroused.

I will not carry out my fierce anger,

    nor will I devastate Ephraim again.

For I am God, and not a man—


the Holy One among you.

    I will not come against their cities.

 

This is amazing to hear that God’s heart can be changed, even in the midst of His anger over our sin.  As we turn to sin again and again and again, our sins must stir God to take corrective action on our behalf.  Previously, God had corrected rampant sin in His people with complete destruction of the sinful.  Hosea makes reference to that here – the two towns listed here, Admah and Zeboyim, were neighboring villages of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Israel’s sin demanded punishment, but God’s heart was moved toward compassion.

 

And am I ever thankful that God gives me much better than I deserve.  God’s perfect justice is balanced by His perfect mercy, but we want that justice imposed on others, and the mercy on ourselves.  And it’s God’s mercy that delays the end times, the rapture and the beginning of the Tribulation.

 

He is the Holy One in our midst.  He is not absent, He is not asleep, He is not dead.  The moment we repent, when our hearts are burdened by our own behaviors and we turn to God, He is there waiting for us.  We don’t have to wait for Him to show up, and He doesn’t hold it against us.  His compassion trumps His righteous anger.

 

            I.       

            II.       

            III.       

            IV.       

            V.      Compassion with Purpose, Hosea 11:10-11

 

Why would the Lord act with such compassion?  He has a purpose for this compassion.

 

They will follow the Lord;

    he will roar like a lion.

When he roars,

    his children will come trembling from the west.

They will come from Egypt,

    trembling like sparrows,

    from Assyria, fluttering like doves.

I will settle them in their homes,”

    declares the Lord.

 

So, with Israel in rebellion and God’s mercy delaying God’s justice, God shows compassion by staying the destruction of Israel.  Israel would not only be spared, but many would ultimately repent and follow the Lord.  And the Lord would be quick to respond.

 

When I consider God’s compassionate response instead of His righteous anger, I can’t help but consider where I have still not fully submitted to the Lord.  Either out of ignorance or willful disobedience, God will eventually get my attention.  My sin is detestable to Him.  He is the Holy One, and if I am to spend eternity with Him, there is no place for my sin.  I can be so thankful that God in His Sovereignty chooses to act in loving mercy to me.  He gives me better, far better, than I deserve.

 

In 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  The Lord’s justice has been stayed by His mercy for a long time now.

 

         VI.      Conclusion

 

Yes, God’s compassion, as well as His discipline, has a purpose.  God uses both discipline and love to draw us to Him, gently or forcefully, but for our own good.  And He is patient with us, seemingly infinitely patient.  At what point would a father not want his children to return?

 

Deuteronomy 7:7-9 –

 

The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.  But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.

 

Hosea’s wife, through her willful disobedience, had repercussions, and she was eventually sold into slavery.  In her slavery, she finally realized the love Hosea had for her.  Hosea was a jealous man for his wife and eventually rescued her from bondage, out of the slavery that she caused.

 

Israel, too, through willful disobedience, was also sold into slavery, and in this discipline realized the love the Lord had for His children.  Through His love and compassion, the Lord drew Israel home to Him and rescued Israel from bondage.

 

And today?  Today, God still calls us out of our willful disobedience.  We find excuses not to do what is right, and we deceive ourselves that the Lord may actually bless our disobedience.  But our Lord is a jealous God for all things Holy and True and His Justice will prevail, and every knee will bow, either by our own free will or by His force.  We can be thankful that God delays the punishment we deserve out of His abundance of compassion, so that no one may die and that all may live.

 

To God be the glory.  Amen.

Deciding on Discipline

             I.      Introduction

 

Today’s lesson is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.  Who enjoys discipline, raise your hands.  Hold on; give me a second to count all the hands of the people that love discipline.  Looks like… None.  Just what I expected.

 

There are two types of discipline.  There’s the positive type of discipline.  Discipline that improves a skill or behavior.  Practicing the piano, staying within a budget, exercising, these are positive types of disciplines.  And primarily, these are disciplines that we impose upon ourselves.

 

Then there’s the negative kind of discipline.    Correction.  Rebuking.  Admonishment.  Punishment.

 

We’re studying the minor prophet Hosea, the Prophet of Doom, today.  Hosea’s had a tough life so far; God told him to marry a prostitute, and Hosea was faithful to the Lord, even if Hosea’s wife Gomer wasn’t faithful to him.  Homer’s wife was very intimate with other men, but it eventually led to her downfall.  As she hit bottom in her life, she was eventually sold as a slave.  Despite Hosea’s love for her, Hosea’s wife had strayed, she sowed the seeds of her own destruction, and then she reaped the consequences of those choices.

 

Hosea never gave up on his love for her.  It was necessary for Hosea’s wife to hit bottom, to be sold as a slave, before she could realize the depth and discipline of Hosea’s love.

 

Hosea draws upon this understanding when he preaches to the Northern Kingdom of Israel that Israel would soon hit rock bottom before they could fully realize God’s love for them.  And sometimes it takes us to hit rock bottom before we fully realize God’s love for us.  He’s there when there is nothing else.

 

I have no doubt that the Israelites knew they were God’s chosen people.  God promised it to them.  In 2 Samuel 7:12-16, God’s made a covenant with David.  Through the prophet Nathan, God told David –

 

The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands.  But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.  Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”

 

I guess they liked that part that said, “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” and just overlooked the part that said, “When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men.”  But that’s exactly the situation in Hosea’s time.

           II.      Check Your Relationship, Hosea 8:1-4

 

So let’s open to Hosea 8 and read 1-4…

 

Put the trumpet to your lips!

    An eagle is over the house of the Lord

because the people have broken my covenant

    and rebelled against my law.

Israel cries out to me,

    ‘Our God, we acknowledge you!’

But Israel has rejected what is good;

    an enemy will pursue him.

They set up kings without my consent;

    they choose princes without my approval.

With their silver and gold

    they make idols for themselves

    to their own destruction.

 

This announcement by Hosea begins, “Put a horn against your lips.”  This signals the beginning of war against an enemy.  It has a twofold meaning here.  One, there would soon be an attack against the Northern Kingdom and the main worship center at Bethel.  This would come from the blistering invasion from the Assyrian army.  The Assyrians were located in what is now modern day Iraq, and in 8 BC were the world’s most powerful army.  Death and destruction were imminent.  But that wasn’t the worse part.  The Israelites, through their duplicitous lives, were at war against the Lord.  .  Sound the horn, Israel, you’re not only facing the Assyrians, you are also facing the Lord in battle.  The Israelites, by their disobedience, had declared war.

 

What had the Israelites done that was so bad?   The Israelites were a messy bunch.  On one hand, they were bound to the Lord by covenant promises since the days of Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and Solomon.  On the other hand, the Israelites were also very much involved at the time in the pagan deities of the Caananites.   So they’d offer gifts to the Lord, then they’d offer gifts to Baal.  They installed new kings without God’s direction, worshipped calf-idols all while standing at Bethel, a place to worship God.

 

One can’t do both.  Our God is a jealous God, who does not settle for part time adoration.  Trying to do both is the same as worshipping only pagans deities and turning their backs on God.

 

Once, talking to a missionary, he told me of a story of a man he met in India.  This man was familiar with worshipping the many gods of India, it is said that there are 330 million gods in the Hindu religion.  This man, after several visits, eventually gave his life to Christ and acknowledged Jesus as Lord.  Several months go by, and the missionary checks on his Indian brother and visits him at his house.  One wall is completely lined with little statues of Indian gods.  The missionary said, “But didn’t you acknowledge Jesus as Lord?”  And the Indian man said excitedly, “I did!  Look, here He is at the end of the second shelf!”

 

Our God is a jealous God.  God and God alone.  God promised Israel in Deuteronomy 6:18 that they would prosper and enjoy the holy land if they did what is good and righteous.  But between the selection of kings and the unholy alliances and the worshipping of pagan gods, Israel didn’t do that.  They sought their own desires, and accordingly the promise made to them in Leviticus 26:17 would be fulfilled, an enemy would pursue them.

 

A couple of things struck me about the rest of these verses.  When times got tough, who did Israel cry out to?  They cried out to the Lord.  Not to Baal or pagan deities.  That suggests that the Israelites knew who was Lord, but when times were good they felt it was ok to do things their own way and to dabble in other religions.  Sort of like the days after 9/11.  People knew the Lord was God and they came to churches by the hundreds and the thousands.  And in the good times they’re off doing their own thing and dabbling in other religions.

 

And another thing – the Israelites knew scripture.  They knew the Word of the Lord because they knew they were God’s chosen.  So here’s a question: if we, as believers, have memorized lots of scripture but we do not do what it teaches, do we really know the Lord?  Is knowing God a matter of mastering information we have read, or doing God’s will?  O both?

 

        III.      You Reap What You Sow, Hosea 8:7-10

 

Our actions have consequences, and Israel is taught this by the Lord in the next few verses –

 

They sow the wind

    and reap the whirlwind.

The stalk has no head;

    it will produce no flour.

Were it to yield grain,

    foreigners would swallow it up.

Israel is swallowed up;

    now she is among the nations

    like something no one wants.

For they have gone up to Assyria

    like a wild donkey wandering alone.

    Ephraim has sold herself to lovers.

Although they have sold themselves among the nations,

    I will now gather them together.

They will begin to waste away

    under the oppression of the mighty king.

 

 

In Charles Stanley’s, “Life Principles to Live By”, one of the principles is: You reap what you sow, more than you sow, and later than you sow.

 

Actions have consequences.  Physical actions have physical consequences.  If you jump off a bridge, there is a physical consequence.  Mental actions have mental consequences.  And emotions have emotional consequences.  People forget that spiritual actions have consequences.  We reap what we sow – if we sow watermelon seeds, we reap watermelons.  If we sow anger, we reap anger.  Sometimes I think we sow our wild oats all week long – and then when Sunday comes around, we pray for crop failure.

 

The Israelites had crop failure.  The work they did was not aligned with God’s will, and so there was no field of standing grain to show for all their hard labor.  Nonexistent crop yields point to a reality that if they do not follow God’s will, then they do not reap His blessings.  When we throw foolishness into the wind, we reap a whirlwind of folly and destruction.  Empty words and idol worship will yield an unstoppable whirlwind of destruction.  They finally reached the end of God’s loving patience and were about to receive His discipline. 

 

Ephraim – the Northern Kingdom – paid their enemy to love them.  They gave money to the Assyrians to persuade them not to attack.  They were hiring lovers among nations.  At the same time the Northern Kingdom was paying the Assyrians not to attack them, the Israelites
were also paying surrounding kingdoms to be their allies against the Assyrians.  They were paying friends and enemies.    The crushing financial burden of this must have been great.

 

Did you know that most large corporations pay both Democrats and Republicans large sums of money during an election?  They want to be on the side of whoever wins.  No parallels.  Just an observation.

 

But I digress, let’s go back to Israel.  Soon every able bodied man was conscripted into military service, every household was heavily taxed to pay tribute to the enemy, gifts for the friendly nation, and payment for the military buildup. 

 

The punishment was upon them. 

 

The interesting thing about punishment is that, while we hate it, we would rather receive it from someone we know and love than a stranger.  Children probably never appreciate discipline when they’re young, but I can guarantee that they would much rather receive punishment from their father than from a next door neighbor.  What’s the difference?  The difference is clear – accepting punishment from someone we love is easier because, while we may hate the punishment, we know that the person dealing the punishment has our best interests at heart.

 

So the best way for the Israelites to accept and understand discipline– and it’s true for Christians as well – is to get to know God.  The more we know Him and understand Him, the more we can understand His purposes.

 

I think the Israelites had grown lazy in their faith.  Did they really know God?  They knew who God is… but that is not the same thing as knowing God.  We often quote the verse that even the demons know who God is and they shudder.  Think of this – if the Israelites really knew God with all of His perfect love and protection and patience and kindness, then why were they seeking prosperity and security in something else?  Why were they paying friends and enemies instead of relying on the Lord for protection?

 

Bad Israelites.  But you know we Christians still do the same thing today.  We treat church as a social club instead of a place to worship and grow and serve.  We cut back on tithing because we need a new car.  We secretly check our iPhones during the worship services to see what’s happening on Facebook instead of giving ourselves to our Creator for an hour.  We pursue these worldly things, and then these worldly things seem to pursue us.  We cannot seem to get away.  It’s what we so, so it’s no surprise it’s also what we reap.

 

But that’s ok.  Someday, God will discipline us to make sure we are paying attention to Him.  We can either discipline ourselves, or God will do it for us.  One way or another, every knee will bow.

 

God disciplines us on an individual level, but He also disciplines us as a nation.  God used violent international conflicts and heavy taxes to discipline Israel.  Right now, our culture is sowing persistent cultural sinfulness.  We once were a moral nation, but we’ve moved away from that.  First we were morally tolerant, then morally permissive.  And now it’s demanded of us that we accept immoral behavior as the basis of American life.  Do you believe God is please with us for our decision?  Do you think it’s possible God will decide He needs to discipline us for our own good before we destroy ourselves?  I shudder to think how and when God will one day do this.

 

          IV.      Heed a Warning When You Hear It, Hosea 9:7-9

 

God’s judgment didn’t just suddenly arrive with no warning.  Hosea preached for years about God’s patience with Israel was wearing thin.

 

The days of punishment are coming,

    the days of reckoning are at hand.

    Let Israel know this.

Because your sins are so many

    and your hostility so great,

the prophet is considered a fool,

    the inspired person a maniac.

The prophet, along with my God,

    is the watchman over Ephraim,

yet snares await him on all his paths,

    and hostility in the house of his God.

They have sunk deep into corruption,

    as in the days of Gibeah.

God will remember their wickedness

    and punish them for their sins.

 

Did you hear how I pronounced Gibeah?  How are you supposed to pronounce it?  I learned a secret that if I don’t know how to pronounce one of the Old Testament names or places, I just say it with confidence.  I say it with so much confidence, if Dr. Young was hear and heard me, even he’d start wondering if he’s the one pronouncing it wrong.

 

But we’re talking about Hosea and his message to Israel.  How do people sometimes respond when they don’t want to hear an unwelcome message about God’s judgment?  Sometimes they close their ears, change the subject, even get mad.  When I study for lessons like this, God’s word speaks to me.  The message sticks in my head messages like “do what is right, leave the consequences to God,” “your body is a temple, not a megachurch, maybe it’s time to lose weight”.  And you know, I can’t tell you that I ever receive these messages with joy.  They bother me because they’re true, and if I know they’re true, then I must act on the truth.  I don’t want to live with my own hypocrisy.

 

When has God used the preaching of His Word to warn you about your behavior?

 

Hosea then delivered this message to Israel, that the end was near, the tone was urgent, the threats were severe.  The prophet kept preaching that the days of God’s judgment on the house of Israel had arrived.  The people of the Northern Kingdom knew this by now, there was no mistake.  By this time, the Assyrians had probably conquered all of the Northern Kingdom with the exception of the capital city of Sumaria.

 

Why was God so harsh?  Do you believe the people would have listened to a quiet, gentle message?  I don’t think so – we have a loving God that we often ignore, and sometimes His discipline is harsh to get our attention that something must change.  Who do you think this harsh discipline hurt more, God or the people?

 

I ask myself this, and you should ask yourself, too.  Has God been speaking to me?  And am I listening?  Am I postponing action on God’s call in my life?   If I continue to delay, what will God will do to get my attention?

 

 

             I.       

             II.       

             III.       

             IV.       

             V.      Realize What Time It Is, Hosea 10:10-12

 

The last time I was here, I taught from Second Peter.  I was like, whoa, there are two Peters!  There’s one Peter, and then there’s a Re-Peter.  In that lesson, we talked about the confidence we can have about the Second Coming of Jesus and what we should do while waiting for the Day of the Lord, we must work at being a pure people, guarding against erroneous ideas.  For the Northern Kingdom, the Day of the Lord has arrived.  And God will use Israel’s time of punishment to renew His people and give them a new heart that yearns only for the Lord.

 

When I please, I will punish them;

    nations will be gathered against them

    to put them in bonds for their double sin.

Ephraim is a trained heifer

    that loves to thresh;

so I will put a yoke

    on her fair neck.

I will drive Ephraim,

    Judah must plow,

    and Jacob must break up the ground.

Sow righteousness for yourselves,

    reap the fruit of unfailing love,

and break up your unplowed ground;

    for it is time to seek the Lord,

until he comes

    and showers his righteousness on you.

 

 Is God’s discipline and expression of His justice?  Or is it an expression of His love?  Or is it both?

 

How can you begin seeking the Lord more seriously?  Hint: it’s verse 12.

 

God said, “When I please, I will punish them.”  In some translations, “discipline them.”  His judgement would come, at the time of God’s choosing.  The two crimes of Israel were mostly likely worshiping other gods and placing their trust in human kings and alliances instead of the only faithful source, the Lord.

 

Hosea says the people of Israel wanted the cushy job in the threshing floor, but God’s discipline would put a yoke around her neck like a young cow and send her to the field with a yoke around her neck.  The easy days of happiness would be behind them and days of labor in front.  But even now, though, the people had a chance to repent.  Hosea lists three things they must do:

 

1 – Sow righteousness for themselves.  We cannot make ourselves righteous, but we can live a life of faithful love and righteousness. 

 

2 – When one sows grain, one reaps wheat.  When one sows righteousness and love, one reaps a character of godly righteousness.  The righteousness they reap would have everlasting effects on the nation of Israel.

 

3 – They were to break up the untilled ground.  In other words, in every part of their life where they had excluded God, they were to break it up and till it with God’s word.  In all areas of personal life, in all areas of their life as a nation.

 

And to do these three things with persistence and God would rain down righteousness like rain.

 

I hear people say all the time, “God wants me to be happy.”  That’s not God’s number one desire for us.  God doesn’t want us to be unhappy, of course.  What father would want His children to be unhappy!  But happiness is not the goal.  Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek ye first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  If you want to be happy, be righteous first.  That’s what pleases the Lord.  If we seek happiness and we’re willing to give up righteousness to get it, God will correct us.  And in the process of seeking happiness, we will lose it.

 

Today, some believers seek an easier church with an easier message.  One that teaches freedom and tolerance and happiness.  There’s nothing wrong with such a message, but it’s incomplete and it’s in the wrong order.  A church that teaches righteousness and then freedom and happiness has their priorities in order.

 

I don’t know about you about you, but I’d rather decide my own discipline.  In seeking His righteousness, I want to exercise discipline in my life that brings me closer to Him.  The positive kind of discipline.  That kind of discipline is rewarding, but if I wait and let God discipline me, it’s harder.  God will give me a heavy load and hard work until I understand that God’s yoke is easy and His burden is light, but when I go my own way, I’m sowing the wind and will reap a whirlwind.

 

Discipline, as a rule, is not something we enjoy.  But sometimes discipline is exactly what we need. 

 

          VI.      Conclusion

 

As a child, you probably didn’t appreciate the discipline from your parents.  As we grow older and more mature, then we see that the discipline when we were younger leads to life that reaps good things.  And just like when we were young, sometimes now it’s difficult to accept God’s discipline.  It’s hard.  But as we grow and mature spiritually, then we will see that God is preparing us for an eternity of trusting in Him.  There are tremendous benefits to come if we only start sowing now so that we may reap later.

 

Hosea was one of the earliest writing prophets, and he used his own experience as a symbolic representation of God and Israel: God the husband, Israel the wife. Hosea’s wife left him to go with other men; Israel left the Lord to go with other gods. Hosea searched for his wife, found her and brought her back; God would not abandon Israel and brought them back even though they had forsaken him.  God does the same for us.  His love is perfect and He will never leave us.

 

The book of Hosea was a severe warning to the northern kingdom against the growing idolatry being practiced there; the book was a dramatic call to repentance. Christians can extend the analogy of Hosea to Christ and the church: Christ the husband, his church the bride.   Hosea teaches us that God calls the church not to forsake the Lord Jesus Christ.  Eventually, Homer bought is wife Gomer back, just as Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross brings us back to Him.

 

To God be the glory.  Amen.