Advent Attitudes: Expectation

Advent 2

Be an optimist: expect God to keep His promises.

(Please read Luke 2:21-40 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) for my research.)

          The Reader’s Digest published an article last year explaining why September Is the Most Popular Birth Month in America, and These Are 3 Fascinating Explanations.  It was written by Brandon Specktor.

“According to real birth data compiled from 20 years of American births, mid-September is the most birthday-packed time of the year, with September 9th being the most popular day to be born in America, followed closely by September 19th.  The week and a half between September 9th and September 20th contains nine of the top ten birthdays in America, with the top three being 9/9, 9/19, and 9/12.

“The least common days to be born are, incidentally, all holidays: 12/25 rounds out the bottom, right after 1/1, 12/24, and 7/4. Strangely, in the 20 years analyzed above, there were even fewer births on each of these holidays than there were on February 29th, which only only appeared on calendars six times between ’94 and ’14.

“Why is September such a popular time to come into the world?

  1. Winter is for lovers.Turn the great clock back 40 weeks from September 19 and you’ll find yourself in the December holiday season. This makes sense: Many American students and laborers take time off around Christmas. [I suspect mistletoe is a factor here, too!]
  2. Our bodies crave winter cuddles.
  3. Every day is a popular birthday.The actual differences in birth numbers between common and less common birthdays are often within just a few thousand babies. For example, September 19th, has an average birth rate of 12,229 babies. Meanwhile, Christmas day has a birth rate of just 6,574 babies.”

https://www.rd.com/culture/september-popular-birth-month/

What have we learned?  Christmas is great time for beginning new things.  God the Father began a new thing with the birth of Jesus, who is God the Son.  Advent is a good time to conceive of a new, more godly way to live.  Forget about Santa’s “nice list,” it’s a great time of year to get on the “nice lists” of family, friends, and neighbors.

Our second Advent Attitude is that of expectation.  From the children building with excitement about presents to the maturing believers having a sense of anticipation growing of worship and family traditions,  This season is all about our expectations of what’s coming and our preparations to enjoy it.

  1. Simeon’s expectations were met by Jesus (25-35).

He’d been expecting the CONSOLATION OF ISRAEL.  What’s not obvious in English translations is the “Consolation” is a person, not a thing.  It was a title used to refer to the Messiah, the person God would choose to free His people.  (See Isaiah 25:9; 40:1-2; 66:1-11.)

In having this expectation Simeon was not unusual.  We read an example of this speculation at work in Luke 3:15: THE PEOPLE WERE WAITING EXPECTANTLY AND WERE WONDERING IN THEIR HEARTS IF JOHN MIGHT POSSIBLY BE THE CHRIST.  Of course, John the Baptist was

not the Christ, he was the herald, announcing the coming of the Messiah.  He positively identified Jesus as the Christ.  This verse indicates that there was a popular belief that the Messiah was coming.  Lots of people were, like Simeon and Anna, expectantly looking for Him.

Simeon was especially qualified to recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises. Luke notes three qualifications:

He was RIGHTEOUS.  He was a good citizen and a good man.

He was DEVOUT.  This term refers to someone who fears God and is careful to keep God’s law (see Deuteronomy 2:4 and Isaiah 57:11).

The HOLY SPIRIT WAS UPON HIM.  His appearance at the temple at just the right moment and his recognition of a little peasant baby both came about by the Holy Spirit’s influence.

Before we note the particulars of what Simeon said about Jesus, let’s note what a leap of faith this must have been for Simeon.  His eyes saw a baby.  The Spirit said the baby was the Redeemer.  He followed the Spirit into the temple and into the revelation of the child’s true identity.  Simeon made four public comments and four private ones to Mary.  Publically, he said:

“You have kept your promise.”  This was something Simeon took very personally.

“Now I can die happy.”  I think this comment either sounds like an older man or someone who is making an exaggerated statement because he’s so happy.

“I have seen YOUR SALVATION.”  Popular expectation sought a political/military savior, but God planned for salvation from sin.

“PREPARED IN THE SIGHT OF ALL PEOPLE.”  (See Revelation 7:9.)

“A LIGHT FOR REVELATION TO THE GENTILES.”  Popular expectations for the Messiah probably didn’t concern themselves with the Gentiles, so this is another extraordinary mark; a sign of the Spirit’s leading.

“GLORY FOR YOUR PEOPLE ISRAEL.” God will keep His promises to His people Israel.

Simeon’s private predictions to Mary were not good news.  He said Jesus was

“DESTINED TO CAUSE THE FALLING AND RISING OF MANY IN ISRAEL.”  In his first letter Peter picked up on this and referred to Jesus as a STONE that caused men to STUMBLE and FALL (1 Peter 2:8).

“A SIGN THAT WILL BE SPOKEN AGAINST” predicted not only the verbal abuse Jesus suffered but includes the rejection of His teaching and His crucifixion as well.

All this because He would reveal THE THOUGHTS OF MANY HEARTS.” It is human nature and sin nature to resent exposure of one’s faults and sins.  But it was not so much that Jesus knew their hearts and exposed them as much as by their own choice to reject Him that they revealed the sad, sinful condition of their own hearts.

“A SWORD WILL PIERCE YOUR OWN SOUL TOO.”  This warning must’ve been something she pondered, just as she had the shepherds’ words, but she probably did not “treasure” it as she did in verse nineteen.  The word SWORD refers to a large and brutal weapon.  The word carried a more emotional impact.  The warning came to pass in Jesus’ arrest and death by crucifixion.

  1. Anna’s expectations were met by Jesus (36-39).

Anna had expected THE REDEMPTION OF JERUSALEM.  This was a pious way of referring to every Jew’s hope that their nation might be set free (redeemed) from servitude to Rome.  The city of Jerusalem and the temple within the city were the focal points of the entire nation and were used to refer to the entire nation.

Anna was especially qualified to recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises. Luke noted three qualifiers.

She was a PROPHETESS.  This title does not necessarily mean that Anna was given revelations of the future.  It more likely meant that she was a teacher, probably of women, there in the Court of Women.

She was a resident of the temple courts, spending her days FASTING & PRAYING.  It would have been unusual for anyone but a priest to have quarters on the temple grounds, so this indicates Anna held unique status as a PROPHETESS.

She was VERY OLD.  Luke’s language is a little ambiguous, but it’s most likely she was 84 years old when she encountered baby Jesus.  In a time when the average life expectancy was mid-40s, 84 is a very ripe old age indeed.

Anna became a witness.  We see her exercising her witness in two ways.  SHE GAVE THANKS TO GOD, just as the shepherds had done earlier in this chapter.

SHE…SPOKE ABOUT THE CHILD to everyone who looked forward to God saving His people and especially Jerusalem.  Anna may’ve been part of a group known as “Quiet in the Land,” people who were looking forward to the coming of God’s Messiah.

Be an optimist: expect God to keep His promises.

          In Luke’s account, Simeon and Anna appear AFTER Jesus’ birth.  Even so, they are two great biblical examples of people who have the attitude of expectation.  For YEARS they kept up their expectations of the coming of the Messiah, just as God had promised.  Can you imagine their great joy and deep satisfaction when God revealed the Messiah to them?  Maybe their first reaction was surprise.  A baby?  “Well, OK,” they may have thought, “everybody’s got to start somewhere.”

Notice that Luke implies that both Simeon and Anna were senior citizens.  It’s likely each of them had lived a significant portion of their lives with the attitude of expectation.  And then, God revealed His plan was not a man but a baby.  Wow!  Mind blown!

Here’s the thing: it seems very likely to me there was a moment after the excitement wore off a bit that they realized they might not live long enough to see this baby grow to manhood and accomplish God’s plan.  After all their years of waiting, God kept His promise, but they would not see the results.  In fact, as history tells us, it would be another THIRTY YEARS before Jesus began His ministry.  It’s likely both Simeon and Anna were long gone.

At first, this thought is frustrating.  All those years of waiting rewarded with only a glimpse of the one for whom they’d been waiting.  But you don’t get any sense of disappointment or frustration from Luke’s account, do you?  No, Simeon and Anna both demonstrate profound delight, a joy that burst forth in worship and witness.

They are an example to us of how the Advent Attitude of Expectation is supposed to work: when God answers our prayers, He often does so in ways we had never anticipated.  When He acts, can be sideways or backwards of what we expected.

Rather than be like a kid who opened a present to find a socks instead of a baseball glove, we can follow Anna & Simeon’s path and be delighted with what God did.  By faith we can trust and assume His gift is far above what we had asked for or thought about, much better for us anyway.

So I’m asking you, in these days of Advent, ramp up your expectation of what God is going to do, but then don’t be disappointed when it’s something different that what you expected.  Faith says it will be better.

RESOURCES:

One Perfect Life, John MacArthur

The Bible Knowledge Key Word Study, Darrell L. Bock

Thru the Bible, J. Vernon McGee

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Advent Attitude: Joy

Advent 1

(Please read Luke 2:8-20 & 1 Peter 1:3-12 from your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to conduct my research.)

Last Christmas, grandpa was feeling his age and found that shopping for Christmas gifts had become too difficult. So he decided to send checks to everyone instead.  In each card he wrote, “Buy your own present!” and mailed them early.
In the usual flurry of family festivities he noticed the grandkids were a bit cold to him; a couple were downright angry. Puzzled over this, he went into his study to get some time alone to think about it. It was then he saw the gift checks which he had forgotten to enclose with the cards.

(https://www.favecrafts.com/Entertaining/A-Great-Bunch-of-Funny-Christmas-Stories)

Today we begin a journey that will end at a cattle pen near a village that had a lot of history, but not much to recommend it at the moment.  Advent is a significant time in the church calendar, one of two seasons of preparation.  I felt lead, this Advent, to explore some of the reactions to Jesus that people in the Bible demonstrated.  My prayer is that these studies will encourage us to be mindful of our own Advent Attitudes.

This thought is not original to me.  Darrell L. Bock expressed a similar line of thought in his commentary of the Gospel of Luke: “The variety of reactions to the birth of Jesus noted here should not surprise us.  People respond to him differently.  Some are amazed, but do not engage him at any deeper level.  Others offer praise, while others ponder what Jesus means.  There is no doubt that in this passage Mary and the shepherds are the exemplary characters, reflecting the testimony and obedience that should characterize saints.”  (p. 89-90)

We begin this series with JOY because it is the most common reaction to the birth of Jesus.  With the exception of King Herod, everybody in the biblical accounts seems really thrilled that God has brought this about.

Jesus brings joy to His people.

  1. Jesus’ birth brought joy to the Shepherds (Luke 2)

The angels predicted the Holy Birth would bring GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY to ALL THE PEOPLE (10).  GOOD NEWS is the Greek word from which we get our English word “gospel.”  It is significant that very word was used to announce the birth of Emperor Augustus.  Luke tried to evoke a similar vibe among his readers.

The angels promised GREAT JOY.  It was “great” in the sense of being giant-sized.  The size of the JOY is measured by the size of the recipients: ALL THE PEOPLE.  The size of the JOY is measured by the reactions of the shepherds.

Then angels promised that God intended this joy to be for ALL THE PEOPLE.  This is one measure of the significance of Jesus’ birth: it is important not to just one family or even one nation, but to ALL PEOPLE.  This is also the reason why the world must know and part of what motivated the shepherds to go and spread the word.  For us as well, the world must know so we must go tell them.

Another measure of the JOY is how the shepherds wasted no time checking it out (vs. 15-16).  They quickly agreed this was worth looking into and decided to go together (v. 15).  In fact, verse sixteen testifies that they HURRIED OFF to find the family in Bethlehem.

They wasted no time, spreading the word immediately (vs. 20, 16-17).  This is another reaction you’d anticipate from someone feeling GREAT JOY.

Luke may have these verses a little out of chronological order.  In terms of how the events happened, verse 20 should precede verses seventeen to nineteen.  Verse twenty describes the immediate effect on the shepherds; verses seventeen to nineteen describe the effect of their testimony on others.

First, the shepherds worshiped God.  Luke wrote that they returned to their flocks GLORIFYING AND PRAISING GOD.  They were gratified they’d had seen the Savior with their own eyes, that everything was just as the angels had promised.

Second, they told everyone about it.  The response to their excited witness is amazement (v. 18), except for Mary, who treasured these revelations and PONDERED them (v. 19).

  1. Jesus’ life brings joy to His followers (1PR 1).

Jesus Joy gets us through tough times (v. 6).  Peter wrote about our LIVING HOPE; a future God created for us through the RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST.  This HOPE shields us, protecting us until our salvation is REVEALED IN THE LAST TIME.  He wrote IN THIS YOU GREATLY REJOICE.  Remember, the angels announcing Jesus’ birth said it was GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY.  Here is that expression again.

The JOY Jesus brings helps us endure GRIEF from ALL KINDS OF TRIALS.  Verse seven explains God’s purpose in trials; he uses them to “refine” our faith, the most precious thing we have.  While we might prefer that God refine our faith by gentler means, it is in trials that we most appreciate the value of our relationship with God.

Peter also encourages us to know our TRIALS – even the ones that are life-long – are only temporary.  They last only FOR A LITTLE WHILE.  Heaven is eternal.  In trials we most eagerly desire our deliverance, our salvation.

Jesus Joy is INEXPRESSIBLE and GLORIOUS because it is based on our salvation (vs. 8+9).  Jesus Joy is so wonderful, so supernatural, Peter wrote that it is INEXPRESSIBLE! This JOY is so deep it challenges our vocabulary to describe it.  It challenges our hearts to contain it.  It challenges us to properly express it in our words and deeds.  It is so contrary to ordinary worldly experiences, it defies all attempts to draw comparisons.

GLORIOUS means it is divine (from God).  It reflects the being, character, and will of God.  As our salvation comes from Him, so does this JOY that flows from our salvation.

In the Greek New Testament, the word JOY is written in the form of a command.  Peter is not just saying JOY is available to them, he is commanding them to observe it.

Jesus brings joy to His people.

It was the last case before the court went on Christmas break.  The judge was to wrap it up and allow everyone to leave.  Without waiting for the bailiff to announce the case, the judge barked at the prisoner, “What are you charged with?”
The prisoner replied, “Doing my Christmas shopping too early.”
“That’s no crime,” said the judge. “Just how early were you doing this shopping?”
“Before the store opened,” he said.

(https://www.favecrafts.com/Entertaining/A-Great-Bunch-of-Funny-Christmas-Stories)

I don’t imagine that guy made it home for Christmas.  When all your plans and the extra responsibilities of the season threaten to make you crazy, do us all a favor and remember the first and greatest Advent Attitude is JOY.  Begin each day of Advent with that thought and see how it transforms the season.  Seek joy for yourself and to share it with others.

 

RESOURCES:

Sermon #1187

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Edwin A. Blume.

The NIV Bible Application Commentary, Darrell L. Bock.

Searching for the Perfect Gift

Gift

Jesus encouraged people to seek God and find Him.

Please read Matthew 7:7-12 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Last Christmas a little boy did not get what he wanted.  He decided to negotiate with Santa and wrote the following:

“Deer Santa, I am riting this on the day after X-mas and I am very sad.  I only received 1 of the 2 presents I asked for.  Sense you ate my cookies I will asoom that my missing gift was a miss take.  I will give you 1 week too fix this.  Jeremy.” (Spelling errors are his.)

His parents saw this as an opportunity to teach their son a lesson and composed a very professional-looking “reply” from Santa: “Dear Jeremy, I’m sorry you are disappointed with your presents.  You asked for two very expensive presents and Santa can only do so much.  You need to learn to be grateful for what you have, not upset about what you don’t.  If you continue to complain I will have no choice but to add you to the naughty list next year.  Santa.”

Jeremy fired back with another note to Santa: “Deer Fatty, your threats don’t scare me.  I played your game and you did not deliver.  This is not O.K.  I will give you 1 week and then you will pay.  Jeremy.  P.S. I don’t know why you care that it is expensive when you have elf slaves to make things for you.  I think you are naughty for having slaves.”

What would you do next?  Jeremy’s parents decided another reply from Santa was needed: “Dear Jeremy, You are being a very bad little boy.  Because you cannot be happy with what you have, I have talked to your parents and told them to take away your Wii U.  Now you have nothing.  Once you learn to be grateful, perhaps you can have it back.  I am very disappointed in you, Jeremy.  You will need to be an extra good boy this year if you want to make it back on the nice list.  Santa.”

Jeremy is one unforgiving kid.  He wrote a third letter; “Deer Santa, I do not like that stunt you pulled with my parents.  You are on my naughty list.  Be afraid.  You look slow and easy to kill.  Enjoy your cookys next year because the will be poison.  I hope you die.  Jeremy.”  (Emphasis his.)

(You can see these notes for yourself at https://thoughtcatalog.com/callie-byrnes/2017/12/this-boy-didnt-get-everything-he-wanted-for-christmas-so-he-decided-to-get-back-at-santa-with-these-hilarious-letters/.)

I wonder what Jeremy’s Christmas will be like this year?!!  This is a sad and ridiculous example of how disappointment can overtake a person’s better judgment, resulting in toxic words and deeds.

Sadly, sometimes people have this kind of feeling toward God when His answers to their prayers don’t match up.  I know a very intelligent man who remains an unbeliever because his childhood prayers were not answered as he wanted.

Today, we hope to encourage you to pray by proving, with Jesus’ own words, that prayers to God are always heard, always answered, and always make a difference, even if the difference is limited to our own attitude.

  1. Be encouraged: God hears & answers seekers (7-8)

Three verbs appear twice: ASK, SEEK, KNOCK.  There is an ascending level of commitment/ involvement.  Each requires more of you.  The verbs are repeated for emphasis and to model persistence in prayer.

The tense of the verbs is called “infinitive,” which describes a constant, ongoing activity.  We are to keep on asking, never cease seeking, and keep on knocking on heaven’s gate.    Persevere in prayer until you receive a clear answer from God or He changes your mind.

As God knows what I need better than I do, and as He will do what He wills, why should I pray?  There are at least four excellent reasons to PRAY CONTINUALLY, as 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says.

The first is the most obvious: God commands prayer.  Be obedient and pray.

The second is that God designed prayer for our sake, not His.  Let’s be clear; God is not waiting for any of us to pray to “activate” His will.  He does not depend on us for anything.  Instead, He commands prayer because communication is key to all relationships and loving communication promotes loving relationships.  God commands prayer to deepen our spiritual maturity.

James 1:5-8 gives specifics on what our attitude should be when praying: IF ANY OF YOU LACKS WISDOM, HE SHOULD ASK GOD, WHO GIVES GENEROUSLY TO ALL WITHOUT FINDING FAULT, AND IT WILL BE GIVEN TO HIM.  BUT WHEN HE ASKS, HE MUST BELIEVE AND NOT DOUBT, BECAUSE HE WHO DOUBTS IS LIKE A WAVE OF THE SEA, BLOWN AND TOSSED BY THE WIND.  THAT MAN SHOULD NOT THINK HE WILL RECEIVE ANYTHING FROM THE LORD; HE IS A DOUBLE-MINDED MAN, UNSTABLE IN ALL THAT HE DOES.

Third, we should pray because Jesus’ promises regarding prayer are unconditional.  For example, in this passage EVERYONE’s prayer is answered.  When people talk about “unanswered prayer” they really mean is “God said ‘no’ or ‘wait,’ or said ‘yes’ to something they didn’t want.”

Fourth, the Bible clearly promises that prayer changes things; it has an effect on our world.  As James 5:16b says, THE PRAYER OF A RIGHTEOUS MAN IS POWERFUL AND EFFECTIVE.

  1. Be encouraged: God’s answer is always what’s best for you (9-11).

More than any earthly parent, God knows our needs.  He will not tease or do evil to us.  Nor is He a child-centered parent who will indulge our wants.  Jesus used humor to make this point:

BREAD versus STONE = Some loaves of bread are baked so hard they become stone-like, some stones take on an appearance similar to bread.

FISH versus SNAKE = Both fishes and snakes have scales, some snakes swim and eels look like snakes.

The point is, if our earthly parents (YOU WHO ARE EVIL) can be trusted to tell the difference and not give us something bad, we can trust God (who is good) to do even better.

Whether God’s answer is what we want or not is not important; it is not the basis for evaluating prayer.  Rest assured God’s answers are always GOOD GIFTS.  Our theology of prayer is not to be centered on us.  God’s answer to prayer reflects His nature and His will.  It is never about our sincerity, posture, gesture, or choice of words.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is false.  Prayer is designed by God to be humbling and focused on Him, because self-focus is hardly ever healthy or helpful.

Full disclosure: it gripes me when people preach negatively about prayer: “Don’t do this or that.”  They reveal their ignorance of Scripture and the true purpose of prayer.  The best prayers are like tears: they flow from a heart overrun with either happiness or sorrow.  Prayer is the inner self expressing itself to God; every other consideration is secondary at best.

  1. Be encouraged: life with God is simple (12).

There is a big difference between simple and easy.  Following Jesus is not easy in the sense that it is a lifelong commitment to change and growth; hardships will be faced, expectations raised, persecution endured.

But living for God is not complicated.  Jesus reduced our ethical life to two commands, both to love, and one simple rule on how to treat others: just the way we want to be treated.

In guiding people’s behavior, you can take two approaches.  The Legalistic approach is to try to anticipate every kind of wrongdoing and write a law to cover it.  Congress is an example of this approach of multiplying the rules.

The Principled approach is to advocate for what is good by setting forth principles.  Everything else is evil.  As an example of reducing the rules is our work on constitution review.  One of our goals is to streamline the current constitution.

The Golden Rule – like the board game “Othello” – “takes a moment to learn, a lifetime to master.”  Using this rule requires us to embrace the principle of the preciousness of others.  Paul explained this principle: Philippians 2:3 = DO NOTHING OUT OF SELFISH AMBITION OR VAIN CONCEIT, BUT IN HUMILITY CONSIDER OTHERS BETTER THAN YOURSELF.  See also Romans 13:10 = LOVE DOES NO HARM TO ITS NEIGHBOR.  THEREFORE LOVE IS THE FULFILLMENT OF THE LAW.

We will always learn new ways and be confronted with new situation in which we can apply this principle, because Jesus said we were to apply it IN EVERTYTHING.  Motivation to use the Golden Rule is also quite simple: it comes from a love for self.  To the degree that we have a healthy self-image and take care of ourselves, it makes it easier for us to treat others in the same way. It may sound backward to say it this way, but a sensitivity to others is founded on knowledge of self; particularly what makes me feel loved.

Interestingly, a variation of the Golden Rule appears in all the world’s major religions.  However, Jesus is the only one who expressed the principle positively.  All others said it negatively; “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.”  In this, Jesus sets an example of positivity that we should seek to follow.  His positive version embraces both sides of goodness: it is actively doing good works as well as avoiding evil ones.  Jesus’ version can be applied more broadly.

  1. How to help another seeker find God.

A = Active Listening (withhold your own opinions, suspend judgment for the moment).

B = Begin Where You Meet Them (match the need(s) they express with biblical teaching & church ministry).

C = Consider Their Experience (avoid using terms or making references that they don’t know).

D = Develop Your Own Story (stress points of your own experience common to all and/or similar to theirs).

E = Engage in Dialogue (your goal should be to do about half the talking and half the listening).

F = Find a Time to Continue the Conversation (initial encounters should be brief, later ones lengthier).

G = Get to an Application (an invitation to church is the place to start, invite a decision as the Spirit leads you).

Jesus encouraged people to seek God and find Him.

Earlier in Matthew’s version of these teachings, Jesus taught His disciples to avoid praying out of a hypocritical motive (to earn the praise of others).  In this section, He clarified what our motive for prayer should be.  Then He told us how to live out the godly life that goes into our prayers.

Teaching about our relationship with God and our relationships with one another should go hand in hand, because people who love God will love others.  The Bible teaches a lack of love for neighbor betrays a false love for God.

This is one reason I felt lead to express some “ABCs” of how we can have conversations about God even when we have just met the other person.  We do all we can on Sundays and Wednesdays to present the word of God truthfully and compellingly.  But the living out of that word is something we all must do as much outside the church walls as we do within.

During this season, many of us will spend more time out in the public than we normally do, as we search for Christmas gifts.  (After all, you don’t want to let Jeremy down again!!)  Part of our ambition for the remaining days before the Christmas Holy Day must be to use these public moments to tell others about Jesus.  It is wise for us to make best use of the public’s general affinity for Christmas to make Jesus Christ more widely known.

The first step is to not be in such a hurry.  Linger in public places, make time for conversations.  Then start some!  Make an invitation to church.  We will have Christmas Eve at 6 pm.  Do someone an act of kindness and explain why you did it.  Start somewhere!

 

RESOURCES:

Sermon #929

The Story of God Commentary: Sermon on the Mount, Scot McKnight

Risky Business

Please read Matthew 25:14-33 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

risk

After counting the cost, faith takes risks.

          Freakonomics is a franchise of enormously successful books authored by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.  The books enjoy worldwide popularity because they ask more pertinent questions and arrive at unusual answers that they substantiate with hard numbers.

For example, in one chapter of the book they ask, “If crack dealers are so rich, why do they live at home with their mothers?”  The answer, it turns out, is that gang membership, like many legal businesses, enriches the people at the top of the organizational chart, while it impoverishes people at the bottom.  They calculated that a street dealer in Chicago made just $3.30 an hour.

Why do they live with mom?  Because at that rate of pay, it’s an economic necessity.  I mention this because even though a study of risk versus benefit of crack dealing falls heavily on the risk side, there are people lining up for those jobs.  This is a horrible example of ignoring the risks and misperceiving t benefits, with tragic results.

Our subject this morning is risk.  Why are churches so averse to risk?  How should people of faith look at risk versus benefit when making a decision?  This is not merely a mathematical equation, but also pays attention to spiritual factors that can’t be expressed on a balance sheet.  For us, the bottom line is discerning the will of God, arriving at a shared understanding of what God wants us to do.  After determining a direction, we rely on God to supply us with courage and perseverance to follow through on our decision.

Jesus addressed the issue of risk in the parable of the Talents.  Whenever we look at a parable, the question we must ask is, “What is the one main point of the parable?”

THE ONE MAIN POINT OF THIS PARABLE: The risk-takers pleased their master; the safe-player did not.

  1. The “$5 and $2 Servants” did bear fruit.

We’re not told HOW they did it, but the results speak for themselves; the first two servants doubled their master’s investment.  By means of contrast with the single-talent servant (whom I’m referring to as the “Dollar General”), we can infer that the $5 and $2 Servants were not WICKED or LAZY like the $1 Servant had been.

Two facts support this interpretation.  One, verse sixteen plainly tells us that the $5 Servant put the master’s money TO WORK.  Money at work is money at risk.  You’ve heard “you have to spend money to make money?”  Investing money or exercising it as capital to fund a business venture both require some risk of loss.  You simply can’t do business without it.

Two, the fact that they GAINED money implies that they were willing to take some measure of risk and used the master’s money to make more money.  Success comes to those who take risks; those who refuse all risk will never know success.  This is true financially and in every other aspect of life as well.

The two servants received the same reward and the approval of their master.  The servant entrusted with $5 made $5 and therefore earned more money than the servant who made $2.  However, the master made no distinction between their rewards.  Both servants received the same reward and the same commendation.

The reward both the fruitful servants received was a promotion: “YOU HAVE BEEN FAITHFUL WITH A FEW THINGS; I WILL PUT YOU IN CHARGE OF MANY THINGS.”  This makes it sound like the master was testing the servants to see if he’d rightly evaluated their abilities.  As verse fifteen states, the master apportioned his money to each of the three servants ACCORDING TO HIS ABILITY.

Therefore, he believed the $5 Servant was the most ambitious and talented one. The master therefore put greater trust in him.  The $2 Servant was not as ambitious or talented, but he still merited the master’s trust.  However, the master suspected the $1 Servant was unreliable and didn’t put much trust in him at all.  The master’s judgment was vindicated in all three cases.

The servants who pleased their master received the reward of a promotion and an enthusiastic commendation.  The master said, “WELL DONE, GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT!  COME AND SHARE IN YOUR MASTER’S HAPPINESS!”  He called them GOOD AND FAITHFUL servants, commending their character and achievement.  Notice the master goes beyond mere business and makes a personal invitation to join him in the HAPPINESS a successful business brings.

  1. The “Dollar General” refused risk and was unfruitful.

We are told exactly how the unfruitful servant failed his master: he just buried the money.  He was unwilling to take any risks.

In fact, he was so “risk averse” that he didn’t even entrust his buck to a bank, where it might’ve earned a few pennies of interest.  He protected his master’s money but that was not the purpose of this little exercise.

He said he was AFRAID: his master knew better.  He might’ve very well been AFRAID, but that’s hardly a good excuse (he may have been afraid of failure or rejection, these are genuine fears and/or excuses we have all experienced) and the master saw through it immediately.

Whether he was sincerely afraid of his master or not, the Dollar General attempted to shift the blame for his fruitfulness from himself to his master.  He complained, “YOU ARE A HARD MAN,” and effectively said, “You expect others to make money for you.”  This is what the redundant lines, “YOU…HARVEST WHERE YOU HAVE NOT SOWN” and “YOU…gather WHERE YOU HAVE NOT SCATTERED SEED.”

The master was unwilling to accept fear as an excuse and was unwilling to accept the blame for the Dollar General’s failure.  The master threw the Dollar General’s own words right back in his face.  He exposed the fallacy of his excuses by saying, “If you were really afraid of me, you should’ve at least deposited the money in the bank, but you didn’t even do that!”

The master condemned the $1 Servant.  He exposed his true motives: wickedness and laziness.  It sounds to me like the WICKED servant resented his master’s wealth and power.  That was why he was willing to insult his master and be defiant at the time of reckoning.

The master also condemned the Dollar General as LAZY.  He didn’t want to bother with the bank or anything else, he simply made sure he didn’t lose the dollar entrusted to him.

In verse 30, the master condemned the $1 Servant as WORTHLESS.  These are three strong words of condemnation.  We must not gloss over the severity of the master’s condemnation and use them to motivate ourselves – if necessary – to avoid deserving similar condemnation from our Heavenly Father, our true Master.

The unfruitful servant also suffered two stiff penalties.  One, the TALENT he returned was taken away and given to the ten-talent servant.  In this way, the master encouraged fruitful service.  He said, “FOR EVERYONE WHO HAS WILL BE GIVEN MORE; HE WILL HAVE AN ABUNDANCE. WHOEVER DOES NOT HAVE, EVEN WHAT HE

HAS WILL BE TAKEN FROM HIM.”

Two, while the fruitful servants were welcomed into the master’s HAPPINESS, the unfruitful servant was thrown OUT of the master’s presence.  He was thrown INTO THE DARKNESS; darkness being a symbol of sin in the Bible.  He was to be cast out of the master’s presence, into a place WHERE THERE WILL BE WEEPING AND GNASHING OF TEETH; signs of extreme regret, anger, and despair.

When taken in tandem with the other parables in Matthew 25 and Jesus’ introduction of them with the words AT THAT TIME (verse one), this part of the parable is clearly a warning of Judgment Day, when all of us will be called to account for how we used the resources God entrusted to us.

After counting the cost, faith takes risks.

Typically at this time of year, we inventory what God has done FOR us and are appropriately thankful.  When did you hear someone being thankful for what God has done THROUGH them?  When are we grateful for what God has done WITH us?

God has not called us to be “risk-averse.”  There is no virtue in seeking a “risk free” life; indeed, there is no such thing.  Risk is part of life; it is unavoidable.  What we can do is attempt to minimize risk or manage it, taking on risk in order to accomplish more.  We need a change of mind and heart on this point: we need to consider risk to be a tool we use to determine and do God’s will.  If we never do more than we know we can do, we will never experience what God can do

To help motivate this mind-set, I will close by telling you about three churches I knew in a state in which I have previously served, all of them closed.  Without ever running out of money, they ran out of people and ceased to be a church.

In one church, a single family ran off the rest of the congregation.  The church never officially closed, but now it’s only used for family functions.  They even put new carpeting in the sanctuary after they stopped holding worship service.  Today it’s a doll house; a plaything for the family that makes up the membership.

Another church ceased operations, selling their building.  It became a restaurant and bar.

A third became a hay loft; you can see the bales of hay through the windows.

I suspect these churches were populated by “dollar disciples” like the Dollar General in Jesus’ parable.  As a result, none of them survive to our time as houses of worship.

What this age and this culture demand are daring disciples; people who will take on risk in order to have a witness and a work in our community.  There is nothing less than survival at stake.

Symbols of a Working Faith

vets day

Three kinds of workers illustrate a working Christian faith.

Please read 2 Timothy 2:1-7 in your Bible.  I use the NIV (1984).

From a sermon by Jeff Strite, “Til Death Do Us Part” 2/15/2009: “Every year, hundreds of Civil war buffs get together and put on mock battles. They don uniforms that soldiers of the North and South would have worn back then.

“During one reenactment, it was a hot sweltering day. The civil war buffs are sweating as they maneuvered into position for their battle, facing the usual frustrations involved in setting up such a display. However, one of the ‘Rebels’ got so tired, hot, and frustrated he threw in the towel and headed for the refreshment tent. As he tugged off his wool uniform he was heard to grumble: ‘I quit. We’re not going to win anyway.’

And, of course — he was right! Here was this civil war buff — who knows HOW everything is going to turn out. He’s tired, hot, and discouraged. He KNOWS his side isn’t going to win anyway… so he quits.”

Christian, we are in a similar situation.  The Bible tells us (as we learned last Sunday) who will win the war of good versus evil.  God wins!  How can we consider giving up when we know we’re on the winning side? I know from our vantage point it may appear we’re losing this particular battle, but the outcome of the war is not in doubt.  God calls us to soldier on.  That was Paul’s message to Timothy, too.

The passage begins with Paul calling Timothy to be STRONG, but not in his own strength, in the strength that God’s GRACE provides.  In this way – only in this way – will Timothy be able to keep his calling as a pastor.  His task is to pass along the faith to those who are spiritually mature and share in his work of preaching the truth about Jesus.

Paul uses three illustrations to show Timothy that endurance, obedience, discipline, and perseverance are going to be required to accomplish this work.  If we will faithfully exhibit these marks of integrity God will faithfully make our work fruitful.

  1. Two things distinguish a soldier’s work: endurance and obedience (vs. 3+4).

The first virtue exemplified by a soldier is Endurance.  The phrase ENDURE HARDSHIP is a new word created by Paul, combining the Greek words for “suffer,” “bad,” and “together.”  Normally, we think of endurance as being something we do solo, gritting our teeth and getting through.  Enduring together is a better and more godly way of thinking about it.

The second virtue illustrated by a soldier’s life is Obedience.  A GOOD SOLDIER’s priority is pleasing his COMMANDING OFFICER.  All followers of Jesus have God the Father as our COMMANDING OFFICER. This Greek word literally meant “the one who enlisted us as a soldier.”

In Philippians 2:25 & Philemon 2 the word for GOOD SOLDIER is translated as FELLOW WORKER, referring to Paul’s associate ministers of the Gospel.

With that priority, a GOOD SOLDIER avoids getting INVOLVED IN CIVILIAN AFFAIRS, which are “business, occupations.”  A soldier temporarily sets aside interest in a career as it would distract him.  Instead, he focuses on being a soldier, fulfilling his CO’s orders.

  1. One thing distinguishes an athlete’s work: discipline (v. 5).

His priority is receiving the VICTOR’S CROWN.  This is stephanos, the crown made of laurel leaves that was given to the winner.  It was a kind of “key to the city,” as the one wearing it was treated like a hero all day.  The word for the kind of crown worn by royalty was diadema; headgear that gave the wearer a different kind of celebrity.

With that priority, an athlete COMPETES ACCORDING TO THE RULES – that is – he exercises discipline.  An athlete demonstrates discipline while preparing for competition, devoting time and effort in training.  When he competes, an athlete who truly wants to win competes within the rules of the game.  We’ve seen lots of notorious examples of people who cheated and ultimately lost the big prize.

Self-discipline is difficult, but it is always more satisfying and easier than discipline exerted on us by others.  Paul specified what self-discipline meant for pastors in vs. 23-24.

  1. One thing distinguishes a farmer’s work: perseverance (v. 6).

His priority is receiving a SHARE OF THE CROPS.  In fact, Paul wrote that the HARDWORKNG FARMER deserved FIRST SHARE OF THE CROPS he raised.  Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 5:18, THE WORKER DESERVES HIS WAGES.  As a culture, we’ve gone from being farmers to being gardeners to ordering our food delivered to us.  In these transitions we’ve lost our personal connection to the land and the patience that working the soil demands.  We have to turn to the remaining farmers to learn perseverance.

With that priority, the farmer works hard; he demonstrates perseverance.  Seed does not grow overnight and it will not grow as productively if it is not tended.  The farmer plants the seed with the hope of a good harvest to follow.  While he waits, the farmer tries to reduce the effects of things he can’t control (weather) by doing things he can control (seed selection, weed control, irrigation).  In the field, there is no such thing as “fast food.”  It all takes time.

Three kinds of workers illustrate a working Christian faith.

At the end of our passage (v. 7), Paul did not over-interpret these figures of speech, but instead called on Timothy to REFLECT on them, certain that God would supply him with personal INSIGHT into their meaning.  Similarly, when any of us read the Bible, we need to take time to pray and think about what we’ve read to gain a personal application of the truth.

A chaplain was speaking to a soldier on a cot in a hospital. “You have lost an arm in the great cause,” he said. “No,” said the soldier with a smile. “I didn’t lose it–I gave it.” In that same way, Jesus did not lose His life. He gave it purposefully.

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/10716/christian-disciplines-by-paul-fritz?ref=TextIllustrationSerps

RESOURCES:

Sermon #534

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

The Daily Study Bible Series

Zondervan Bible Commentary

When Sleepers Wake

sleeper

Judgment follows this life, then eternity.

Please read Daniel 12:1-4 in your Bible.  I researched the NIV (1984) for this message.

In a poll taken in 2017, 69% of Americans said that death was a subject they generally avoided.  Not surprisingly, this means that the majority of Americans (72%) have no written plans.  Of the unprepared, the chief reason given for being unprepared is “Haven’t Got Around to It” (49%) with “Never Considered It” second at 27%.

(“Views and Experiences with End-of-Life Medical Care in the U.S.,”  https://www.kff.org/report-section/views-and-experiences-with-end-of-life-medical-care-in-the-us-findings/.)

The reality is that the mortality rate in America is 100%.  Everyone dies.  Death brings a lot of work for the survivors.  These are certainties.  So it certainly seems wise to be prepared and make surviving as easy as possible for our family members especially.

What is true in legal and social matters is also true in our spiritual life.  By faith we hope to be raised to eternal life after life in this world ends.  We take the first step of faith by accepting Jesus as our Savior and thereby gain heaven.  But our preparations for life after death do not stop there.  The way we live after that decision, the subsequent steps of faith (like baptism, for instance), and the life-long process of spiritual maturity also prepare us for eternal life.

Daniel received a vision of what lies beyond death and further, beyond the entire human race.  We’ll take a look at a small but essential part of that vision this morning.

Our passage begins with the words AT THAT TIME, referring back to 11:36-45, which describes a great war fought against the Kings of the North and South by an unnamed third king.  After a great conflict, this king will be defeated.  Our passage begins at the time following that conflict.

  1. What’s going to happen tomorrow? (1-2)

By “tomorrow” I refer to the end of time. In the Old Testament it is called the “Day of the Lord.”  In the New Testament it is called the “Second Coming of Jesus Christ.”  It will happen “tomorrow” in the sense that it is a future event, but the timing is uncertain.

Who is Michael?  Michael is also referred to as A GREAT PRINCE in 10:13+21 where an unidentified supernatural being (earlier visions – chapters 8+9 – name Gabriel as the messenger) said that Michael helped him resist THE PRINCE OF THE PERSIAN KINGDOM.  Daniel has two of four mentions of Michael in the entire Bible.  Here are the other two: in Jude 9 it is written that Michael was an ARCHANGEL who contended with the devil for the body of Moses.  In Revelation 12:7, Michael led angels in a heavenly battle against an ENORMOUS RED DRAGON.  In all four of these passages, Michael PROTECTS God’s people.  The word “protect” literally means “to stand beside.”  Picture a body guard or Secret Service agent who’s an angel!

After the great conflict of kings, the angel Michael WILL ARISE. ARISE is translated from the Hebrew word amad.  It meant to stand, be assigned, presented, or appointed.  It is almost exclusive to Daniel.

Michael’s appearance will be a signal event, beginning a time of greatest DISTRESS.  The word DISTRESS (Hebrew, sara) means “trouble, calamity, anguish, or hardship.”  The worst of times will precede the best of times.

This DISTRESS will be worse than anything experienced from THE BEGINNING OF NATIONS UNTIL THEN.  In terms of biblical history, the BEGINNING OF THE NATIONS can be traced back to Genesis 10, the accounting of nations composed of the three sons of Noah.  From that specific point in history until an undefined point in the future, Michael’s appearance will signal a stretch of unparalleled suffering.

Some interpreters want to harmonize this verse with the mention of a GREAT TRIBULATION in Revelation 7:14. Also; Jesus referred to a similar circumstance in MTW 24:21, using language very similar to Daniel’s.  These passages describe similar events but a linkage isn’t strictly necessary.  It’s enough for us at the moment to merely observe Daniel’s teaching.

The text doesn’t identify this DISTRESS as persecution.  Instead, it says only that Daniel’s PEOPLE will be DELIVERED from this time of DISTRESS.  It could be a world-wide problem.

This has been a lot of bad news, but here’s where the good news is found: in the promise of deliverance, made to EVERYONE WHOSE NAME IS FOUND WRITTEN IN THE BOOK.  This BOOK is linked to other Scriptures that mention a listing of persons who have eternal life (see EXS 32:33; PSS 69:28; MLI 3:16; LKE 10:20; PPS 4:3; HBS 12:22-23; RVN 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12+15; 21:27).  As you can see, the image of “The Book of Life” is one that enjoys solid biblical support.

The promise is that the enrolled WILL BE DELIVERED.  In this context, the deliverance is from the DISTRESS.  In Revelation 21:8, the promise goes further: those enlisted will be DELIVERED from the power of Satan and the “Second Death.”

As we have noted, the point of the passage is resurrection will precede judgment.  The angel said MULTITUDES will be involved.  In point of fact, all people will be resurrected to face God’s judgment; believers & unbelievers alike.

SLEEP is either a metaphor for death or for a period of unconsciousness between death and Judgment Day.  Take your pick of either interpretation; the biblical evidence is not as decisive as some want you to believe.  (In fact, in my experience, people who argue against an interim period of unconsciousness (aka “soul sleep”) do so with unnecessary vociferousness that makes me suspect their overreaction is based on their inner sense they are wrong.  Just saying.) Historically, we know Jews of this time believed in a period of unconsciousness between the moment of death and the Day of the Lord.

There will be a division of the sleepers when they awaken.  Jesus made this same prediction in John 5:28-29,

“DO NOT BE AMAZED AT THIS, FOR A TIME IS COMING WHEN ALL WHO ARE IN THEIR GRAVES WILL HEAR HIS VOICE AND COME OUT – THOSE WHO HAVE DONE GOOD WILL RISE TO LIVE, AND THOSE WHO HAVE DONE EVIL WILL RISE TO BE CONDEMNED.”

SOME of the sleepers will awaken to EVERLASTING LIFE.  This is a reference to heaven; living eternally with God and His people.

SOME will awaken to SHAME AND EVERLASTING CONTEMPT.  This is a reference to hell: final and complete separation from God.  In Revelation 20, the division is between those who are blessed with LIFE and those who suffer a SECOND DEATH.

The word EVERLASTING means exactly what you think it does – endless, even timeless.  God is forever in the present.  Those welcomed into His presence will join Him in that spiritual state.

  1. What do I need to do today? (3-4)

First, I need to BE WISE, because the reward for wisdom is shining LIKE THE BRIGHTNESS OF THE HEAVENS.  See Daniel 11:33-35, where this promise is described in more detail.  The word WISE meant to “observe carefully, instruct, act circumspectly.”

Second, I need to LEAD MANY TO RIGHTEOUSNESS, because the reward is to be LIKE THE STARS FOR EVER AND EVER.  The most important “fruit” or outcome or even proof a truly godly life is helping others to share our faith; making new disciples.  The angel even quantifies this fruit with the word MANY.  This word recommends ambition in our witness.  Counter to our unfortunate tendency to look after ourselves, Christianity is NOT a self-help group.  Like Jesus, we exist to serve, not to be served.

Note two important consistencies in these promises: They both elaborate on the eternal rewards given to those God judges to be true believers.  In both cases, the reward is to “shine brightly.”  This is a figure of speech for living praiseworthy lives.  We will shine with the reflected glory of God.

Daniel’s task was to CLOSE UP AND SEAL THE WORDS OF THE SCROLL.  (See also Daniel 8:26.)  What is on the SCROLL? Presumably, the words of this prophecy, even though at no time is Daniel commanded to write it down.  (This is contrary to Revelation 21:5 where John is told to write down God’s words and Revelation 22:10 where he is commanded to NOT seal up the words of the prophecy.)  It was to be closed and sealed UNTIL THE TIME OF THE END. Are we to connect this with the scroll in Revelation whose seven seals are broken open?

Why keep it closed and sealed?  We can make several observations here.

One,  in ancient times, the originals of all important documents were kept locked up.  Duplicates might be written out, but the originals were kept safely against the need to settle future disputes. The scribe who wrote out the record affixed his seal, as did the various witnesses.  These seals distinguished the original version from all copies.  Taking this into account, it seems most likely that the angel is commanding Daniel to keep the original version from all revision and corruption.  Only the revealed word of God in the words God inspired is sufficient information for our salvation.

Two, the cryptic phrase “MANY WILL GO HERE AND THERE TO INCREASE KNOWLEDGE” is offered as an explanation.  The phrase described repetitive motions, like a swimmer’s arms or harvesters gathering grain.  It is a figure of speech for people searching for knowledge of the future and spiritual things.  We might say, “They’re going to rush hither and yon to search for the truth.”  Closing and sealing the text prevents them from potentially misusing the message delivered to Daniel, as he holds the authorized copy safe.

Three, God’s purpose in closing and sealing may be found in vs. 9-10:

HE REPLIED, “GO YOUR WAY, DANIEL, BECAUSE THE WORDS ARE CLOSED UP AND SEALED UNTIL THE TIME OF THE END.  MANY WILL BE PURIFIED, SPOTLESS AND REFINED, BUT THE WICKED WILL CONTINUE TO BE WICKED.  NONE OF THE WICKED WILL UNDERSTAND, BUT THOSE WHO ARE WISE WILL UNDERSTAND.”

This is similar to Revelation 22:11, another angelic message;

“LET HIM WHO DOES WRONG CONTINUE TO DO WRONG; LET HIM WHO DOES RIGHT CONTINUE TO DO RIGHT; AND LET HIM WHO IS HOLY CONTINUE TO BE HOLY.”

Verses like these emphasize the rule of God over human free will and His foreknowledge of who will be saved.  It is a warning to continue to be faithful, even though there are people who will stubbornly deny God all the way to hell.  As 1 John 3:9 says, NO ONE WHO IS BORN OF GOD WILL CONTINUE TO SIN.  It is by faith and by the Holy Spirit that God’s word is understood.  This prophecy would be CLOSED to those who lack the faith to understand it, sealed against those who would deny its truthfulness.

Fourth, this statement is typical to apocalyptic literature.  A  reason for that may be to protect the identity of the writer until after his death.

Fifth, CLOSED and SEALED are figures of speech similar to Paul’s use of the word “mystery” to refer to something that was previously unknown.

Whatever CLOSED and SEALED is supposed to mean, we should not lose sight of the lesson made in this prophecy:

Judgment follows this life, then eternity.

Some Bible scholars over-simplify the Old Testament.  They say, for example, that the doctrines of resurrection and eternal life are not to be found in the OT or are dimmed.  (Other examples: JOB 14:11-14; 19:26; PSS 16:10-11; 17:15; 49:15; 73:23-24; ISH 25:8; 26:19: HSA 13:14.)  To be sure, the picture of the afterlife is not as clear in the OT as i/t NT.  For example, some Scriptures refer to the abode of the dead as Sheol, a place where ghostly versions of deceased folk (2SL 12:23; JOB 7:9; ECS 9:5+10) exist, but don’t really live, awaiting the Day of the Lord.  But this is one of many reasons we talk about the Bible being a “progressive revelation.”  That means that God revealed more and more of the truth as time progressed and as we read from Genesis to Revelation.

Perhaps you’d agree our passage today is as clear a reference to resurrection and eternal life as a person would hope to find anywhere in the Bible.  That’s why I felt lead to this passage, to affirm these two truths on All Saints Sunday.  Today of all days we need to have our hope for eternal life undergirded by what God’s messenger told Daniel.

 

A video version of this message may be seen on YouTube at “EBCSF.”

 

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Gleason L. Archer, Jr.

More Hard Sayings of the OT, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

The Daily Study Bible Series, D.S. Russell.

TruLuv

Please read Hosea 14 in your Bible.  Full disclosure: I used the NIV (1984) for this article.

REPENTANCE

God truly loves those who repent.

          I saw a video recently of a lady who entered a kennel to attempt to win the trust of a pup who had been abused all his life and consequently growled at and cowered before any people who came near.  This lady approached the dog cautiously, with a treat in one hand, reaching out with the other, open-palmed.  Somehow with a combination of her voice and touch, she got the dog to respond to her positively, taking the treat.  Very soon after that, the dog was able to be let out of the kennel.  Its demeanor was completely transformed; it played with other dogs and acted like a pup should.

The video was offered as a metaphor on human behavior; sometimes people, like this pup, have known little other than abuse.  They don’t know how to receive love because they have been shown so little love.  However, once they take a chance and experience true love, a switch is flipped and they are somehow enabled to be loved and can even learn how to love others.  True love is a redemptive force.

(You can see the video for yourself at https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:ugcPost:6450598322699927552.)

  1. TruLuv for God begins w/ repentance (1-3, 9)

In this passage, RETURN is the word for repentance.  In Hebrew, the word is sub.  It has a variety of meanings, all along the lines of turning back, returning, restoring.  We can visualize it as a turning away from sin, turning back to God.  Walking toward sin (giving into temptation) is walking away from God; there is a 180 degree difference.

We read two specific parts to repentance.  The first is that repentance is a change of direction. As verse one states, RETURN TO THE LORD YOUR GOD.

Second, realizing words DO count, repentance is asking God to forgive you. Verses two and three make this truth plain; TAKE WORDS WITH YOU…SAY TO HIM.  What are we to say to God?  Hosea reveals five statements we must sincerely make to God:

One: “I admit I am guilty of sin.  We are to plead, as Hosea did, FORGIVE ALL OUR SINS.  Redemption comes to those who admit to having a problem called sin, one we can’t fix it on our own.  Redemption is an act of God’s grace, not our merit.

Two: “Lord, please forgive me.”  As the prophet did, pray God will RECEIVE US GRACIOUSLY.  Through Jesus Christ, God has fixed the problem of sin; He can save you.

Three: “I reject worldly ways and self-reliance.”  This is what is meant by the phrase ASSYRIA CANNOT SAVE US; WE WILL NOT MOUNT WAR-HORSES.

Four: “I reject false gods.”  Idolatry takes on more subtle forms in our time; self-made religion is the more common form of our modern idolatry.  It is no less deadly, however, than fashioning a false god image and worshiping it.  We see the rejection of idols in verses three and eight; WE WILL NEVER AGAIN SAY ‘OUR GODS’ TO WHAT OUR OWN HANDS HAVE MADE and WHAT MORE HAS EPHRAIM TO DO WITH IDOLS?

Five: “God, I accept your forgiveness and offer praise to You.”  Verse two uses language of sacrifice, though in the NIV it reads, WE…OFFER THE FRUIT OF OUR LIPS.  This literally says, “we offer our lips (bulls) as sacrifice.”  The author of Hebrews would use similar language in 13:15; OFFER A SACRIFICE OF PRAISE.

Why should we repent?  To be forgiven, of course, but also because it is the right thing to do.  As verse nine says, THE WAYS OF THE LORD ARE RIGHT.

Verse nine also tells us about the repentant person.  These qualities are similar to what is written in Psalm 107:43; Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the LORD.

He is wise.  WHO IS WISE? HE WILL REALIZE THESE THINGS.

He has discernment (the ability to distinguish between good and evil).  WHO IS DISCERNING? HE WILL UNDERSTAND THEM.

He is headed in the right direction THE RIGHTEOUS WALK IN THE WAYS OF THE LORD.

Verse nine also tells us something about the unrepentant person: THE REBELLIOUS STUMBLE.  A refusal to obey God causes a person to STUMBLE; they reject the truth and refuse to repent.

  1. TruLuv from God restores His beloved (3-8).

God loves you too much to leave you an orphan.  As verse three declares; IN YOU THE FATHERLESS FIND COMPASSION. This is a recurring promise in the Bible (for example, see Exodus 22:22 and Deuteronomy 10:18).  God puts us in families and in church families so we can serve Him, serve each other, and serve our communities.

God’s love is expressed in three promises made in v. 4.

First, I WILL HEAL THEIR WAYWARDNESS.  Ironically, the word WAYWARDNESS has the same root as the word RETURN, but describes turning away from God, not to Him.

Second, I WILL…LOVE THEM FREELY.  This is the unconditional love of God.

Third, MY ANGER HAS TURNED AWAY FROM THEM.  Forgiveness turns away wrath.

God’s love will cause you to thrive, not just survive: I WILL BE LIKE DEW TO ISRAEL (5). This blessed state is expressed in ten promises made in verses five to eight.

HE WILL BLOSSOM LIKE A LILY (5).

HE WILL SEND DOWN HIS ROOTS (5).

HIS YOUNG SHOOTS WILL GROW (6).

HIS SPLENDOR WILL BE LIKE AN OLIVE TREE (6).

HIS FRAGRANCE LIKE A CEDAR OF LEBANON (6).

MEN WILL DWELL AGAIN IN HIS SHADE (7).

HE WILL FLOURISH LIKE THE GRAIN (7).

HE WILL BLOSSOM LIKE A VINE (7).

HIS FAME WILL BE LIKE THE WINE FROM LEBANON (7).

I WILL ANSWER HIM AND CARE FOR HIM (8).

Verse eight shows all good things come from God: I AM LIKE A GREEN PINE TREE; YOUR FRUITFULNESS COMES FROM ME.

God truly loves those who repent.

          Pastor Bledar Valca told this story: “Some years ago a murderer was sentenced to death. The murderer’s brother, to whom the State was deeply indebted for former services, besought the governor of the State for his brother’s pardon. The pardon was granted, and the man visited his brother with the pardon in his pocket. “What would you do,” he said to him, “if you received a pardon?” “The first thing I would do,” he answered, “is to track down the judge who sentenced me, and murder him; and the next thing I would do is to track down the chief witness, and murder him.” The brother rose, and left the prison with the pardon in his pocket.

https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/repentance-bledar-valca-sermon-on-repentance-104293?ref=SermonSerps

This tale is intended to teach us that if there is no repentance, there can be no pardon.  Sin cannot be forgiven without the offender asking for repentance.

The good news is God loves every sinner who repents.  His forgiveness is total, cleansing the worst sinner from every last bit of guilt and shame.  He fully restores those who He forgives, recreating their moral perfection with a perfectly clean slate.

God acted to save us from our sins, just as He acted in history to restore His people after their exile.  Much of the news the prophet Hosea delivered was bad news, condemning sin and warning them of God’s coming wrath.  However, the book ends with this stirring call to repentance in order to have God’s forgiveness, the blessing of His grace.

Make this your personal experience.  Admit your sin; confess it to God.  Ask His forgiveness and receive His love.

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance (2nd Edition)

Zondervan Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce, Ed.