The Power of the Cross: Reconciliation (Part Two)

Ephesians 2:11-18

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility (2:14-16 NIV).

The message of the Bible is the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. Knowing how hopeless our situation was because of our sin and resultant alienation from God, out of pure love and overflowing grace and holy zeal for his glory, God had a purpose of rescue for the hopeless.

The main character in the story is Jesus Christ, who is both Son of God and Son of Man. Notice what the apostle writes by the Holy Spirit. But now in Christ Jesus… (2:13 NIV). Christ is God’s message or word. God’s message is not the future of Israel or a ten-step process for recovering from addiction or learning how to be a covenant keeper or how to have your best life now. God’s message is concentrated on Jesus Christ. When we meet as a church, we need to hear about Jesus. When we go out on our mission into the world, we need to talk about Jesus our Lord.

The main theme of the story is that Jesus Christ brings us near to God through his blood shed on the cross. The great way of access to God is established by his blood. We have peace with God (Romans 5:1); we can draw near to God with confidence (Hebrews 10:19-22).

For this reason, I think it is a serious mistake to try to create an “atmosphere of worship” in a church service. In the Lord Jesus, we have all the “atmosphere” we need. Some might say that we’re rather blunt and ruthless in not creating any such atmosphere. To dim the lights and illuminate a backdrop with an image of a cross is contrary to true spirituality (John 4). The same holds true for lighting a bunch of candles and burning incense. Nor do we need to try to manipulate people’s “spiritual juices” by endlessly repeating some praise song or favorite hymn. No, we ought to seek that people know Jesus Christ and him crucified… not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power (1 Corinthians 2:2-5 NIV).

Our situation after the cross is that we are reconciled to God. Here is the idea of reconciliation in the Bible. God reaches out to restore to friendship those whom he formerly was against as his enemies. An event from the life of David presents the concept.  In 1 Samuel 29:4 the Philistines did not want David to be part of their army, because they feared he might be reconciled to his father-in-law Saul, who hated him. The problem in the relationship was not that David was opposed to Saul, since he honored Saul as king. But they feared that David might seek reconciliation by turning against the Philistines and so turn Saul’s hatred back to friendship.

Because Christ’s death through the shedding of his blood was the sacrifice that guaranteed the forgiveness of sins in the new covenant, and because Christ’s death satisfied God’s wrath against us, God reconciles us to himself through the cross (Eph 2:16). For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (Romans 5:10 ESV). Everything is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed the message of reconciliation to us (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 CSB). Once you were alienated and hostile in your minds expressed in your evil actions. But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him (Colossians 1:21-22 CSB). Christ secured our position before God by his blood. God is no longer alienated from us, but is at peace with us, because Christ himself is our Peace. “This is a beautiful title of Christ: the Peace between God and men” (Calvin). Today, rejoice before God because the Lord Jesus Christ is your reconciliation with God; he is your peace; it is not your performance, which varies like the wind.

Grace and peace, David

The Power of the Cross: Reconciliation (Part One)

Ephesians 2:11-18

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ (2:11-13 NIV).

We can all tell stories about people alienated from one another. Since we or friends would be the subjects, we would tell them with a sense of the pain of alienation.

However, our topic in this post is not primarily about fractured human relationships, though what we’ll think about provides the only reliable basis for rebuilding or renewing them. Our concern is with our alienation from God. As we have seen in this series on the power of the cross, our basic problem is that because of our sin or rebellion against God, he must act in holy justice against us. In this situation we need our sins forgiven and his wrath removed. God did this through the power of the cross of Christ. He died as a sacrifice that would secure forgiveness and remove wrath. But what of the practical situation of God’s alienation from us? In holy justice he was against us, but can he bring us back in peace and as his friends?

In order to grasp the importance of what the Lord accomplished, we must understand our situation before the cross. We were far away. All people have had a two-part legal problem. All people everywhere are by nature people who step over (transgress) the limits God established for human behavior and who fail to properly represent his worth or glory. This last makes us like a TV that cannot show clear pictures but only warps and blurs them. Not only that, we don’t even want to show the picture of God’s glory. We wrongly choose to show the pictures of God’s enemies in order to project ourselves. This made us practically worthless as God’s image bearers and objects of God’s wrath, because we have desired to live this way (Ephesians 2:1-3).

In his love, God called Israel out of slavery to be his nation, and he gave them many blessings and privileges (Romans 3:1-2; 9:4-5; Ephesians 2:12). He brought them into a relationship with him based on the law (or old covenant). God promised them life, if they would obey. Israel’s problem was simply that they were sinners, and the law could not deal with the problem of sin. In fact, sin took advantage of the law situation and by the commandments of the law put Israel to death (Romans 7:7-13). Israel was in a hopeless situation.

The rest of the nations (the Gentiles) did not receive the blessings that Israel had received. Instead, God had handed them over to sin (Romans 1:24, 26, 28) and let them go their own way (Acts 14:16). They had no way to become his nation or people, and the nations were in a hopeless and godless situation.

Please take a few minutes to slow down and to think about the condition humanity was in before the cross. Israel had a good law covenant from God that they could not keep. The nations were largely abandoned by God, since they willfully pursued a way of life that refused the true and living God and place in their lives. (This still holds true in our time.) How could people return to a relationship with the Holy God over all? A Mediator was necessary who could bridge the gap between God and sinful people. This is what God did in Christ at the cross. Are you reconciled to God through Jesus Christ?

Grace and peace, David

The Power of the Cross: Wrath Removed (Part Two)

Romans 3:21-26

God presented him as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus (3:25-26 CSB).

Next, we see God’s solution for both judicial situations. God the Father acted in both of them. It is important to remember the importance of God the Father in regard to the cross. We have a Trinitarian salvation. At the same time, we must have God’s perspective about the cross. It is the story of his glory. Salvation does not originate in human scheming to bribe God to obtain some kind of blessing. The Father is the author of the plan of salvation. God the Father himself provided the sacrifice of atonement or propitiation, which is at the heart of the message of the cross. We’ll talk about the meaning of “propitiation” shortly. But first we want to realize that God the Father presented Christ as a propitiation (atoning sacrifice, CSB).

Some have wrongly thought that the message of the cross is some sort of heavenly bribery, as if Jesus the Son of God died on the cross to persuade or make the Father to love us. But no, Christ died because the Father loved us (John 3:16; Romans 8:32).

The meaning of what the Father sent his one and only Son to do: God presented Christ as the propitiation for our sins.  To propitiate means to satisfy or pacify wrath, and so to turn it away from those who deserve it. There are four elements in propitiation (John Owen):

  • An offence to be taken away – our sin
  • A person offended whose wrath needs to be satisfied or pacified – God
  • An offending party who is guilty of the offense – us
  • A sacrifice or some means of making satisfaction for the offense – Christ’s death on the cross

The propitiation occurred through the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross. The significance of the blood is that Christ’s life was poured out in death. This answers the great problem of Romans 6:23. He received the wages that were due us. As we saw previously in this series, the blood emphasizes the need of a sacrifice to take away sin and establish a covenant with God. Christ’s better and final sacrifice of himself is the fulfillment of all the types and shadows of the law. He did what they were unable to do.

So then, we come to the result of the propitiation, and here we see the power of the cross. God’s justice is vindicated. He is proved to be righteous: that he might be just. Before God could forgive us, his justice and holiness had to be satisfied and honored. Therefore, God the Father presented or displayed his Son publicly as the propitiation through faith in his blood.

  • This was the deliberate action of God (Acts 2:23). The cross of Christ was not an accident; Jesus was not a martyr. God displayed his Son as the propitiation to carry out and accomplish his plan of salvation for his people.
  • The cross happened in history. On a real day on a hill called Golgotha outside Jerusalem, Jesus was crucified and died the cursed death of the cross. There were real nails, real wood, real thorns and real blood. But the worst of Christ’s suffering and agony was the real and full stroke of justice that he received, God’s infinite wrath received and satisfied by a perfect and infinite sacrifice, Christ himself. This is the power of the cross.
  • This act of justice was observed by people. God demonstrated his justice. All history can see that God honors his justice.
  • God did this to demonstrate his justice “at the present time”. Now God’s justice is vindicated; now we have forgiveness and righteousness. The believers before the cross looked forward to this time, but we look back and can say, “Praise the Lord! God’s justice is satisfied! Our bill is paid in full!”

God declares righteous those who believe in Jesus. This happens through faith in his blood. God is both just and the justifier. God sent his Son into the world to save sinners (John 3:17). However, this propitiation is only for those who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22, 26). Those who do not believe in Christ are still under God’s wrath (John 3:36). Those who try to be right with God by their own good works or by observing the law are also still condemned (Romans 3:28; Galatians 1:6-9; 2:16).

Do you understand the power of the cross of Christ? We can be right with God because of what the Lord Jesus did on the cross, if we change our minds and trust in him. Too many people won’t change their minds. They’re still in love with their rebellion against God, or still trying to earn their righteousness by being spiritual or religious. But the only way of salvation is through faith in the finished work of Christ. Are you trusting in Christ alone?

Grace and peace, David

The Power of the Cross: Wrath Removed (Part One)

Romans 3:21-26

God presented him as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus (3:25-26 CSB).

I once attended a disaster preparedness meeting for churches. During the meeting, one of the speakers presented a number of possible disasters that could affect us all. What are some of these? The speaker put up a PowerPoint slide listing floods, hurricanes, food-borne diseases, chemical accidents, vector-borne diseases like the West Nile virus, pandemic influenza, bioterrorism, chemical terrorism, and agro-terrorism. Then he asked something like, “Are you worried yet?” At that moment I must confess that I felt underwhelmed. Perhaps I’ve heard too much hype about any number of possible disasters with the words “it could happen tomorrow!”

I can understand the situation that disaster preparedness presenters are in, because we who follow Jesus Christ have a very difficult time arousing interest in the subject of God’s wrath against sinners. Many times we get a “yeah, right, tell me later” response, because it seems some far out compared to the usual course of daily life. But our task, like the disaster presenters, is to tell people that they must be prepared to face God. Our text answers the question, “Why the cross?” And it shows the power of the cross of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The cross addresses two judicial situations.

The first is God’s wrath against sinners (Romans 1:18). When we speak about God’s wrath, we are not talking about some kind of whimsical or capricious anger or a hot-headed explosion of a self-centered tyrant. As we will see, the cross dismisses those ideas at once. Instead, the wrath of God is the settled opposition of his entire being against sin, which is rebellion against God and twistedness. God knows that his glory or worth is the most important reality in the universe. It is soul-satisfying and he wants to share it with his creatures. Our horrifying problem is that we actually imagine we can have glory, significance and pleasure forever apart from God and in opposition to his ways. God must set himself against that delusion.

That means that God will judge sinners. We should realize that sin cannot be separated from the sinners who commit sin. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong (5:5 NIV). And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment (John 3:36 NLT; cf. Psalm 7:11; 11:5; Ephesians 5:6; Jude 1:14-15; Revelation 6:16-17; 20:11-12).

Next, the apostle says the surprising words that God let sin committed prior to the cross go unpunished. The idea Paul talks about is not forgiveness of sins, which is the way that some try to translate the Greek text, but as the NIV correctly translates, leaving sins unpunished. What is Paul talking about?

“Paul’s meaning is rather that God ‘postponed’ the full penalty due sins in the Old Covenant, allowing sinners to stand before him without their having provided an adequate ‘satisfaction’ of the demands of his holy justice (cf. Hebrews 10:4)”. [Moo, Commentary on Romans] It might have seemed that God, who is righteous (Deuteronomy 32:4), did not really care about sin. How could God accept Abraham as his friend, since Abraham was a liar? How could David stand before God after committing adultery and murder? How can we, because we have sinned? We’ve rejected God as God, refused to love him, and rebelled against his word? We need a Savior!

Grace and peace, David

The Power of the Cross: The Blood of the Covenant (Part Two)

Matthew 26:27-28

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks, he gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (CSB).

The power of the cross reaches many people groups. The Lord moved their thinking from the old people to the new people. Jesus had to change their thinking about the people of God. The law covenant was given to Israel, and focused on the few of the people of Israel. The high priests of the law only offered sacrifices for the house of Israel. The law set Israel apart from all other nations as the people of God. It excluded the nations (the Gentiles); in fact, the law with its commandments and regulations was a dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:11-15).

Christ came to bring the promises of the gospel to all nations. When Christ held the cup in his hand, he spoke of the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. This connects to Isaiah’s great servant song (Isaiah 52:15; 53:11-12). The new great high priest offers himself as a sacrifice, not just for Israel, but for the whole world, meaning people from every nation (1 John 2:2; cf. Revelation 5:9-10). Here is the basis for the evangelism of all peoples (Luke 24:47). We can tell all people everywhere the good news, for Christ died to save a people from all nations. Together, we can take the good news of Jesus everywhere.

The Lord moved their thinking from some of the people to all the people. In old covenant Israel, not everyone was holy or set apart to God. Holiness was a concept expressed physically, and easily lost by ritual defilement. Only Aaron’s descendants in the tribe of Levi were priests. The tabernacle system brought one near (the high priest), some relatively close (the priests), and others somewhat closer, but it kept most at a distance. But in the new covenant, everyone is set apart to God (Hebrews 10:10). We are a holy nation and a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9-10). Therefore, in the Lord’s Supper all of us are told to eat of the bread and drink from the cup. When we gather to worship, we are all priests joining together to praise the Lord. Everyone is a priest and can minister for the Lord.

The power of the cross secures forgiveness of sins. Everyone has the same great problem. We are all sinners (Romans 3:23). Our problem with sin starts from our inner person, what the Bible calls the heart (Mark 7:20-23). But sin does not stay in the heart. It moves out from ideas and attitudes to words and actions (Romans 3:9-20). We are all guilty and justly condemned. What can we do?

The new covenant provides the forgiveness of our sins. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Hebrews 8:12 NIV; cf. 10:15-18). The sacrifices of the law covenant could never grant real forgiveness; they could not touch the problem of guilt (Hebrews 10:1-4). However, Christ’s better sacrifice of himself provides and guarantees forgiveness and takes away guilt (Hebrews 10:11-18). Now we can draw near to God (Hebrews 10:19-25)! Therefore, when we gather at the Lord’s Table, we remember his sacrifice, in which the blood of his better covenant secured the forgiveness of our sins! Isaac Watts wrote the following hymn.

Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain

But Christ, the heavenly Lamb
Takes all our sins away
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they

Believing we rejoice
To see the curse remove
We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice
And sing his bleeding love

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus and live for him (Hebrews 12:1-2)!
Grace and peace, David

The Power of the Cross: The Blood of the Covenant (Part One)

Matthew 26:27-28

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks, he gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (CSB).

I write this post during the week that is called “Holy Week”, specifically, on that day called “Good Friday”. Christians remember the two great events of the gospel or good news: Christ’s death and resurrection. For this reason, I thought we should focus our attention on the cross, thinking especially of the power of the cross.

Perhaps you attended or will attend a special service this weekend where the church gathered around the Lord’s Table. It is interesting to reflect on the fact that as the Lord orders us to remember him, he does not tell us to remember his birth, or his miracles, or his triumphal entry, but his person. At his Table, we proclaim his death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). When we come together at the Table, we preach Christ’s death on the cross three ways.

  • The bread and the fruit of the vine represent the Savior’s body and blood.
  • Our eating and drinking of the bread and the wine symbolize our union with Christ in his death.
  • Our participation in this with one another tells that we share together in what the Lord Christ accomplished on the cross.

So then, let us think on the power of the cross of Christ! To us who are being saved, it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). How does Christ save us by the cross? At the cross he shed the blood of the covenant; that is, the new or better covenant.

The power of the cross established a new and better covenant.

We need to understanding the covenant idea. A covenant is a solemn agreement binding two parties together. For example, marriage is a covenant that binds a man and a woman together as husband and wife. You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant (Malachi 2:14 NIV).

In order to display his glory as the faithful God, the Lord God chose to make covenants. He binds himself to people as their God, and they to him as his people. It is like a marriage covenant, but between two vastly unequal partners. This also shows God’s glory as humble and loving.

God made a covenant with Israel at Sinai, and the center of that covenant was the Ten Commandments, written on tablets of stone. And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone (Deuteronomy 4:13). The covenant was kept in a gold box, called the Ark of the Covenant, and it was put into effect by the blood of the covenant (Exodus 24:3-8; cf. Hebrews 9:18-22). But that covenant was built upon the obedience of the people (Exodus 19:3-6; Deuteronomy 6:25; 7:12; 8:19-20; etc.) The problem of that covenant was the sinfulness of the people. The law covenant could not give life or obedience to the sinner (cf. Galatians 3:21-22; Hebrews 8:7-8).

Therefore, God made a new or better covenant. This covenant is Christ himself, God’s Servant Son (Isaiah 42:1, 6-7; 49:3, 8-9). The new or better covenant was put into effect at the cross by the shedding of Jesus’ blood (Hebrews 9:11-15, 23-28).

This is an extremely important teaching. It tells us how we can know the Lord and be his people. We journey through life, not alone, but with the living God. We are in Christ, and he is with us always. We live, not according to the law covenant, but in conformity with Christ. Our entire viewpoint is transformed. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness (Colossians 2:6-7).

Grace and peace, David

How Sin Corrupts (Part Two)

Hosea 6:7-7:16

They do not cry to me from their hearts; rather, they wail on their beds. They slash themselves for grain and new wine; they turn away from me. I trained and strengthened their arms, but they plot evil against me. They turn, but not to what is above; they are like a faulty bow. Their leaders will fall by the sword because of their insolent tongue. They will be ridiculed for this in the land of Egypt (7:14-16 CSB).

Hosea has already mentioned two ways that sin affected Israel, God’s old covenant people: They were unfaithful to God and to each other, and they pursued intrigue on a national and international level. Next, Hosea states two other effects.

They lacked spiritual perception. They lost awareness of God’s ability. But they never consider that I remember all their evil. Now their actions are all around them; they are right in front of my face (7:2 CSB). They fell into a twisted view of reality. They assumed that God does not keep account of human sin, often questioning that there is any God who would judge human sin at all. This is silent mockery of the need to repent and to forsake sin. Someone might suggest, “God is irrelevant to our current problem. It does no good to repent and pray for mercy.” This must be corrected by a view of God’s omniscience and omnipresence (Psalm 139:1-12). God is near; he knows; he judges.

The also failed to accept their inability (7:8-9). Hosea used two illustrations. They were like a partially cooked pancake. One side looks good enough to eat, until you look at the other side. This shows the loss of distinctiveness caused by their half-hearted religion. Israel was supposed to be separated unto the Lord (Exodus 19:5-6), but she became like the pagan nations around her. They did not notice their gray hair. They had lost their vigor and strength without realizing it. Here is a picture of a pride-filled man, who will not realize his decline. We should seek to avoid this failing by “looking at ourselves” in the mirror of God’s word. We need a realistic picture of ourselves, which means seeing where we need to grow and where God is presently at work in us.

They were impenitent. They had a show of religion (7:14-15). They had tears without repentance. They might become concerned about their need, but what of their sin against the Lord. Did they want God involved in their lives? Not at all! Here is where much contemporary preaching goes astray. It is skilled in presenting human tragedies, like broken families, drugs and drunkenness, physical and sexual abuse. It can get people to cry out to God about these evils. But is there concern for God, for his rights, for his honor and worship? Where is a heart for God? We should not be surprised that our churches have become “little old covenant Israels.” They had ritual performance without love for God. They could gather for grain and new wine, like many attend church for “holy communion.” But you can do such things and still turn away from God.

The bottom line was their rejection of the Most High God (7:10, 16). The Lord desires that we live having him as our first and ultimate priority. We are to draw near to God. Consider James 4:8; Matthew 22:37-40; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Romans 11:36. This may require a diligent search for him (Isaiah 55:6), which Israel was unwilling to make.

What are you pursuing? Is it pleasure? Money? Entertainment? Relaxation? Or God? True conversion is a turning back to God. Is the center of your life turned toward the Lord? Is he your desire? Do you seek him daily? God welcomes you back to him through Jesus Christ, his one and only Son. In his name, I invite you back to him today.

Grace and peace, David

How Sin Corrupts (Part One)

Hosea 6:7-7:16

But they, like Adam, have violated the covenant; there they have betrayed me. Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with bloody footprints. Like raiders who wait in ambush for someone, a band of priests murders on the road to Shechem. They commit atrocities. I have seen something horrible in the house of Israel: Ephraim’s promiscuity is there; Israel is defiled. A harvest is also appointed for you, Judah. When I return my people from captivity, when I heal Israel, the iniquity of Ephraim and the crimes of Samaria will be exposed. For they practice fraud; a thief breaks in; a raiding party pillages outside (6:7-7:1 CSB).

The hymn writer of old said it well, “Change and decay in all around I see.” We live in a cursed world; cursed because of mankind’s rebellion against God. Since we are God’s image bearers, we can make new things, but because of the curse, we cannot keep them in a new, pristine condition. Even items set aside and specially protected suffer tarnish or the yellowing of age.

Far worse than this ongoing decay is the corruption that sin produces in human hearts. It both pollutes and ruins what it touches. Israel experienced the destroying power of sin when they turned away from the living God. Hosea writes to expose what had happened to Israel.

The prophet first denounces Israel for her unfaithfulness. The people were unfaithful to God (6:7, 10). Here we encounter a well-known difficult translation. Notice the translation of the new NIV: As at Adam, they have broken the covenant; they were unfaithful to me there (my emphasis). This harmonizes the two parts of verse seven, which the ESV, CSB, and others do not. We should not build nor reject doctrines on questionable translations, like some covenant theologians do to find a text for a pre-Fall covenant of works. Any clear teaching does not need a doubtful translation to support it. But I digress….

Whatever the exact meaning, the main point is clear. The people of the northern kingdom were unfaithful to their covenant vows. God expects us to be faithful to him, regardless of the storms of life. We need to face the issue of commitment. On the day you were baptized as a believer, you committed yourself publicly to following the Lord Jesus and to loving and fellowshipping with one another in the church. You do this every time you partake of the Lord’s Supper. Let’s all strive to raise our commitment level. Let’s begin in three areas: daily prayer for one another, weekly participation in public worship and a small group of some kind, and ongoing partnership in some ministry.

The prophet also denounces Israel for unfaithfulness to people (6:8-9; 7:1). Here was treachery of the worst kind. Murder was committed by religious leaders on the way to worship. That would later be repeated by the religious leaders who wanted Jesus killed at Passover time. And there was robbery of their neighbors. People could not trust anyone. Think of all the times you lock your car, cover the card reader at stores when you punch in your pin, and fret about the safety of your confidential information. Hopefully, followers of Christ are all far, far removed from such sins! But are we fulfilling our new covenant responsibilities? See Colossians 3:12-17. One of the glaring failures of the contemporary church is the lack of practical godliness.

Next, Hosea speaks against the intrigue the people engaged in. They did this within the nation (7:3-7). They perverted justice. The king, who was supposed to suppress evildoers (cf. Romans 13:1ff; 1 Peter 2:13ff) was pleased by their wickedness. Also, there was the assassination of their leaders (7:5-7). Four of the northern kingdom of Israel’s last six kings died this way (2 Kings 15:10, 14, 25, 30). When intrigue is accepted as a way of policy, it is natural to use assassination as a way to remove unwanted leaders. We must remember that murder resides in the human heart (Matthew 15:19), and without restraint, people will murder others. In contrast, in the church, we should seek change through the spiritual growth of people. We want to use wisdom in putting people in positions of service and responsibility. Then we ought to help each other develop in our positions.

They were involved in international intrigue (7:11-13). This involved seemingly incompatible problems.  There was diplomatic duplicity. They ran from one potential ally to another. Who can offer us the most today? This is another example of a lack of faithfulness in their character. Yet there was misplaced confidence. Israel was only to trust in the Lord for protection (Psalm 118:8-12). God gives them the wages of their lack of faith: destruction. Can we see ourselves? Have we become a people who flit from one to another, only concerning ourselves with “what is the best deal today”? Don’t look for temporary satisfaction; look for truth.

Grace and peace, David

A Call to Repentance (Part Two)

Hosea 6:1-6

What am I going to do with you, Ephraim? What am I going to do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist and like the early dew that vanishes. This is why I have used the prophets to cut them down; I have killed them with the words from my mouth. My judgment strikes like lightning. For I desire faithful love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings (6:4-6 CSB).

The Lord warned Israel about her failure to repent (6:4-5). God is not pleased with half-efforts. He always wants our whole heart. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV).

The Lord wanted a proper relationship with the whole nation. The clergy-laity distinction still persists in very many evangelical minds, (except when the churchgoer is in a dispute with their pastor). “You’re supposed to do that because you’re a pastor or missionary,” or “I don’t have to do that because I’m not in full-time Christian service.” Wrong! God wants you to share your life with him.

So the Lord sought a whole-hearted, lasting response. The Lord wants us after the troubles have disappeared, when our lives are bright and happy. Israel had tried to satisfy God with a little affection when they were in need.

God reminds them of his displeasure. Spiritual judgments would fall on them. The messages of the earlier prophets, like Elijah and Elisha, had fallen on deaf hears. The people were hardened, not helped. There is a serious danger of having your heart hardened while you listen to God’s word. Lord, give us hearts of flesh; soft, responsive hearts always. Physical judgments would also fall on them. Their crumbling nation was sufficient proof of this. Let us listen to Christ’s words to the church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-19).

The Lord taught Israel about true repentance (6:6). God permitted no substitutes. From the time of Cain, people have been trying to buy God’s pleasure with something less than what he wants (Genesis 4:3-7). Even performance of God-appointed ritual is insufficient, if we lack a heart for God and an urge to please him. Attendance at a church preaching the gospel of God’s grace will do you no good, unless you love the God of grace.

The living God pointed out the way of true worship to them as Jesus did to the woman at the well. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24 ESV). The Lord wants mercy or steadfast love, which as Jesus emphasized, means love for people as well as love for God (Matthew 9:13; 12:7; cf. 1 John 3-4.) The Lord wants us to know him. To know God is to recognize and appreciate his involvement in my life as holy, sovereign and loving Father.

Do you know the Lord in this way, with a love that reaches out to all people, including people that know the Lord and yet with whom you disagree?

Grace and peace, David

A Call to Repentance (Part One)

Hosea 6:1-6

Come, let us return to the Lord. For he has torn us, and he will heal us; he has wounded us, and he will bind up our wounds. He will revive us after two days, and on the third day he will raise us up so we can live in his presence. Let us strive to know the Lord. His appearance is as sure as the dawn. He will come to us like the rain, like the spring showers that water the land (6:1-3 CSB).

Religious people in our time have lost their hold on the reality of God, the living God, the God who is there. During the last few years in Christian writings, it has become necessary to revisit the basic teachings about God. For example, in some circles there is growing confusion about the Trinity, and in others there is a denial of God’s knowledge and sovereignty in what is called “Open Theism”. Since the tragic events of 9/11, some have become practical dualists in their theology, wrongly assuming that all good events come from God and all bad events from the devil. As we will see, such ideas shipwreck on the solid rock of this text.

We need the teaching of this text for another reason. This passage is like a ray of sunshine and hope before the storm breaks. Sometimes in the trials of life we lose sight of the mercy and love of God. Hopefully, we still confess the mercy and love of God, but the fog of life obscures the sight and pleasure of God’s wonderful grace to broken people. We become legalistic, wrongly assuming that God only likes people that resemble Mary Poppins— “practically perfect in every way!” The Bible knows of no perfect person but the Lord Jesus, and instead asserts the holiness of Christ and our total need of him. So this passage offers hope to people, regardless of their imperfection. Let us listen to God’s encouraging words.

The Lord Israel urged to repent (6:1-3). Hosea taught the people how to turn back to the Lord in these verses. God was behind this training; he wanted repentance. Hosea willingly joined with the people, both as an example, and a leader, and as one who recognized his own sinfulness, for no one is perfect.

Repentance described. A description is different from a definition. Repentance is defined as a “change of mind or heart.” Genuine repentance produces certain actions that describe how it looks. Two of these are the descriptions we read here.

It is described as the need to return to the Lord (6:1). Israel had abandoned the living God for dead idols. She needed to go back to the true and Living One (Jeremiah 2:13). The deepest truths are often the simplest! Where is the Lord in your life? What practical evidences are there of your interaction with him?

In our family we can point to specific events when we were together and can describe the fellowship that occurred during those times. You can do the same in your family. The same thing happens in the family of God, when people are in a vital relationship with the living God.

Have you wandered away from the Lord? What has come between God and you? Forsake it and return to him! You won’t return to the Lord as long as you hang onto what is keeping you away from him. A desire for “other things” can choke the Lord’s message to you (Matthew 13:22).

It is described as the need to know the Lord (6:3). Observe once again the importance of knowing God! See Jeremiah 9:23-24; John 17:3. God wants a diligent desire. He wanted them to pursue this knowledge. In other words, the Lord wants fellowship or communication.

Repentance encouraged

God encouraged it by a presentation of God’s grace. The Lord uses his kindness to lead people to repentance (Rm 2:4). He wins us by his love. The Almighty revealed himself in three ways.

  • God as Healer. The Lord is able to mend what he has torn.
  • God as Lifegiver. Notice the “third day” mentioned. This might be an allusion to Christ’s resurrection on the third day.
  • God as Renewer. Rain is essential for a proper harvest. In the same way, the life-giving grace of God is able to make them flourish spiritually.

Observe the idea of overflowing grace (Romans 5:20-21). His grace is greater than our sins. When you take care of young children, you find out that they can be messy, especially when they eat! Loving adults reach out to messy children and tenderly clean them. The living God is willing “to get his hands messy” to clean us up and to share life with us. He knows that to some extent, we will always have “messy faces and hands” in this life, but he still loves us!

God encouraged it by a presentation of their need: “that we may live….” Since God has endowed people with life and the ability to make rational judgments, he appeals to us in this way. Will you be able to live before God forever? If not, how will you be able to endure his wrath forever?

Grace and peace, David