Thursday, September 27, 2007

Loving Prostitutes--The Message of the Prophet Hosea

Loving Prostitutes
The message of the Prophet Hosea
We are harlots, God is faithful

Last week we had a very powerful service. I believe that if we can grasp the message of last week—of sinning boldly but believing more boldly still—then we will live the gospel and the freedom that is found therein. Tonight is going to be similar. It is the story of Hosea. Hosea is again going to tell us the story of our fall and His great love and redemption. Have you ever wondered what does God feel? I believe Hosea asked this question—God what do you feel? And the Lord’s response to Hosea is this, “Hosea, do you really want to know what I feel like? Go marry a whore! Marry a wife that is going to be unfaithful to you, love her, draw her back to yourself! That is what I feel like, Hosea, like I married a harlot.”

And that is precisely the story that we see in Hosea. Hosea is unique because God calls the prophet to live his life as a picture of the relationship between God and his people. God has created each and every one of us to find our greatest joy and pleasure in Him, and whenever we seek comfort, joy, security, relationship with anything other than God we are committing adultery…we are playing the harlot.

The people of Israel (and us too) desired the gifts of God but lacked a desire for God Himself. I would love to use the analogy that “it is as if they wanted their cake and to eat it to”, but that would not be a fitting analogy. Probably the most fitting analogy is one that will not work, because we have become far too like the people of Israel. You might not even catch the grievous sin that is in what I am going to use as an analogy. But the most fitting analogy for what the people of Israel are doing is that they are cherishing the gifts of their husband more so than the husband himself. It would be as if I bought my wife a dozen roses, a box of chocolates, a giant stuffed teddy-bear, and a beautiful pair of earrings and she took the roses put them on display, ate all of the chocolate, gave her new teddy-bear a big hug and showered her affection upon it, put on her earrings looked at herself in the mirror, and then went to sleep without even acknowledging or enjoying her husband. Perhaps even more fitting would be to say that she took her earrings and used them to arouse another man. Or to use something that you might understand imagine that your parents gave you a very expensive gift to show their love for you. They shower you with blessings, a roof over your head, clothes for your body, food for your stomach and they provide whatever is necessary for you to “succeed” in life. Yet you use all of these gifts that your parents give you to disrespect them, to ignore them, to dishonor them and to live your own life. As horrible as this is, it is exactly what the people of Israel are doing to God. They are relishing in His gifts and His provisions and all the same rejecting Him. They are treasuring the gifts rather than the giver. They are playing the harlot.

We are going to read a few selected passages so that you can catch the story behind the story in the book of Hosea. Read 1:2-9. But it doesn’t end there. Hosea buys back his harlot wife. Read 3:1-3. And these are a picture of the blessings that God is going to again lavish on Israel. Read 1:10-11 and 3:4-5. Our main points tonight are not going to be smooth, but hopefully effective. I think we can see clearly from the book of Hosea 2 deep principles. 1) We are harlots 2) God is faithful. We are going to look in detail at these two points and then we are going to try to apply this and discover that because these things are true what does that mean for what God does and what we are to do.

As we are going through this first point remember last week. Do not run from being called a harlot. Embrace it. Own up to it. Acknowledge it. Until you see that in the story of Hosea you aren’t Hosea—you are Gomer—you will not feel the ecstasy of knowing the great love of God, nor the freedom of knowing that. So, whenever we go through 15 minutes of calling ourselves harlots—don’t make excuses, don’t run from it, accept it.

I. We are harlots

The historical situation for the book of Hosea gives us a great picture of the idolatry and harlotry of the nation of Israel. We are going to look at that and then try to apply it to ourselves. We will try to discover how we too are harlots.

Before we go too far into the message of Hosea we need to understand the context that Hosea was living in. I am going to need a few volunteers in a moment to help me explain the history behind Hosea. But before we have those volunteers come up I want to attempt to give you a brief history of Israel; to sum it up very quickly God had made a covenant with His people, listen to Deuteronomy 6:1-15. God told them not to go after idols. However, they did exactly that. The history of Israel is one with periods of faithfulness but more than anything Israel has been unfaithful to her God. Often times as Israel would conquer other lands they would bring along their foreign gods and begin to worship them. A prime example of this is Solomon: a King who God blessed with more wisdom than anyone else of his time, however, in all of his wisdom he had many wives and concubines. Many from foreign lands (which God strictly had forbidden), and Solomon actually began making his wives’ gods his own. The history of Israel has been one of an unfaithfulness to the Lord their God. What God calls us to even today as Christians is a single-minded and wholehearted devotion to the Lord our God! But if we are to be honest with ourselves often times we are passionate about everything but God. Now, over half a millennium later the people of Israel find themselves sandwiched between two warring nations, the mighty Assyrians and the Egyptians. They once were mighty but now they have become little. They have even split off into two kingdoms Israel and Judah. Israel has 10 tribes (countries) and Judah as 2. For years Israel and Judah even warred against each other and the surrounding lands continued to increase while the Israelites and Judah began to decrease.

Show maps

However, around the year 800 B.C. a king named Jereboam II takes the throne. He takes advantage of the changing political climate of the Assyrians and the Egyptians, for the first time in over half a century Israel and Judah are both left alone. Jereboam and the ruler of Judah, Uzziah again extend their borders and the people live in a time of much prosperity. However, as often times, much prosperity leads to a rejection of the Lord. Jereboam fell head long into sin and idolatry, as did Uzziah (although not as detestable as Uzziah). They were rich and growing richer, and certainly YHWH the God of Israel could be counted on to lead them to even greater prosperity.

On the scene comes a young prophet named Hosea. The first part of Hosea’s ministry is during a time of much prosperity. Yet Hosea announces judgment. Certainly his message would not have fell on listening ears. Nobody likes to here of judgment during a time of prosperity. But Hosea remained faithful.

Around the year 750 B.C. Jereboam died and his son Zechariah (not to be confused with any of the other Zechariah’s of the OT) took his place. Now Zechariah was not king very long because after 6 months of being king he is assassinated by Shallum. So, Shallum is now Israel’s fearless leader, but his reign is even less. He too is assassinated by Menahem. Now Menahem was a wicked king, just like the others. He even went so far as to “rip open all of the pregnant women”. Menahem also paid tribute to the Assyrians to protect them, he did reign for 10 years. Once he died Pekahiah came to rule. He ruled wickedly for two years before his military captain Pekah murdered him. Pekah then reigned for twenty years and his reign was one of exceeding treachery. He was unfaithful to the Lord and it was during his reign that many of the Israelites were taken captive by the Assyrians. This did not sit well and a man named Hoshea (not our prophet) took his throne. He was king for 9 years. Now Hoshea thought he was quite intelligent. He pretended to be the friend of the Assyrians as well as the Egyptians. However, once his treachery was found out the Assyrians put him in prison and during this time in 722/721 B.C. the land of Israel was completely wiped out and fully under Assyrian control.

Did you notice what the Israelites kept doing? I see two primary ways that Israel was playing the harlot. 1) In prosperity they rejoiced with other lovers 2) In trouble they sought after other lovers.

1) In prosperity they rejoiced with other lovers

This is what we see in 2:5 and 2:8. You can almost feel the pain of the Lord’s love for his harlot wife in 11:1-4 and 13:4-6. I gave you all of these gifts yet you used them to whore around. Again it is the picture of the husband buying all of these gifts for his wife and her using them to arouse another man, the picture of the father sacrificing to give his son a new bicycle only to be rejected by that son. “I loved him, I called him, I taught him to walk, I healed them, I scraped their wounds, I led them, I stooped to feed them, I carried their burdens, and I fed them.” And all of this what did they do in response? They forgot me, they went after other idols, and they started thanking foreign gods and they lived their life as if I didn’t even exist.

But lest we think we are innocent, I ask how often is it that we use all of our blessings to hide from God and pursue other lovers. God has given us the gift of food, but how easily can it be turned into gluttony. God has given us the gift of sex, but how quickly can we turn it into fornication. God has given us the gift of an imagination but how quickly can we use it for lust. God has given us minds able to think quickly but how often do we use it to tell lies? God has given us tongues to worship and praise Him but how often do we speak falsehood? God has given us hearts that are able to love, feel, melt, be in awe, worship, etc. but how often do we use these faculties to give ourselves to others? God has given us the capacity to enjoy Him, the capacity to find pleasure but how often do we pursue pleasure in things other than God?

God has given humanity a mind to know Him, but how often do we use our mind to try to deny His truth? God has given us science so as to understand our world and stand in awe that the God who made the universe is sovereign even over the ant hill—yet we use our knowledge of science to suppress the truth of His beauty. I could go on and on. We use the gifts of God to forsake Him, and then all the while we thank our great minds, hearts, and accomplishments for our success and all the while it is the gift of God.

2) In trouble they sought after other lovers

There is no greater joy that a husband can have than for his wife to come to him and ask for rescue, at least if he is any kind of man at all. For her to say, “I need help”, you’re my big strong man come to my rescue. So often this is what happened with Israel, we see that in their history. But what did they do? They went to Egypt. They went to Assyria. We see this in 5:13, 6:11, 6:15-16, and 8:9-10. What a slap in the face.

Again, lest we think we are innocent, how often do we turn to other lovers to help us in our time of need? How often do we turn to a self-help book? How often do we turn to Oprah? How often do we turn to a friend to heal our deep wounds instead of the Lord? How often do we turn to a relationship to fill that void? How often do we turn to everyone and everything but the Lord to heal us and cure us? So what then will become of us? What will God do with us harlots?

II. God is faithful

There are two things that are very astonishing in the book of Hosea. One is how in the world a wife (us) could be so unfaithful to such an awesome husband (Jesus). How in the world can we betray God like we do? How wicked we must be to forsake the great treasure for cow dung? But I think more astonishing might be that God is still faithful to us. He buys back the whore! He dies for her! That to me is utterly insane. Why does God not just give us over to ourselves and forsake us. He would have every right to just take his unfaithful wife and throw us into hell for our harlotry but for some reason He does not. But what does he do? He buys her flowers.

2:14-15 is a great picture of this. But first look at 2:7 and the hope that God has there. This is in the midst of the Lord chastising them for going after other lovers and He is telling them what He is going to do. He is going to hedge up her way; he is going to allow her to passionately pursue these other lovers only to come up empty. He is going to make her like the man in the desert. Why? So that maybe she will be like the prodigal and come to herself and realize it was better with her first husband and return to God.

But I want you to also look at verse 14. Do you wonder if God loves you? After God has stripped Israel of all that is desirable (she has nothing left to give), she is naked, she has no happiness, she is laid waste, she is punished look what he does. She had forgotten God, but look what He does. You wouldn’t expect this in verse 14. You would think it would say then God left her alone in the woods to die. But no, listen. “Therefore”, as if this was his plan all along. Because she is now left with nothing to be desired—therefore—I will allure her.

God is going to pursue her. It would be like the husband putting on his best suit, putting on cologne, shaving, getting a hair cut, going to the store buying flowers and candy and try to impress the girl. God is going to speak tenderly to her. He is going to get his ex-wife alone, with nothing left to be desired and He is going to say—I still want you. Your still mine. I know what you’ve done. I know that you have nothing to offer, but I still want you. Are you serious?

You see the gospel is not a help-wanted ad, it is a help-offered ad. Notice in the life and ministry of Jesus the people who tend to come to him. Blind people, prostitutes, the sick, the weak, the outcasts, sometimes it’s the beautiful people, but no matter who it is they always come the same way with nothing to offer. And that is the gospel. The gospel is that we are alone in the wilderness, pursuing other lovers, we have forsaken the Lord. We should have been only his but we have blown it. And here we are without food, without clothing, without joy, left with nothing to offer and God says—I want you! Your mine! That is why Jesus said he has not come to call the “righteous” but to call “sinners”. Oh, if you could see this. If we could stop trying to hide our sin! If we could stop pretending like we aren’t broken, if we could stop trying to make God think we have something to offer.

What do you think the harlot did that day in the wilderness? Do you think she tried to hide? Did she run away? Did she try to put on some make up? Or did she just sit there awestruck that after all she had done He still loved her. Oh what amazing love our God has.

I wonder if we really believe the gospel. Do we really believe this great and awesome love of God in the story of Hosea? Do we really believe that we are Gomer? Do we really believe that after all that we have done, are doing, and are going to do, that God still chases after us with flowers? Has God really given us the grace to see and to live the gospel?

What is the application of this? Because it is true that we are harlots and God is faithful what does that mean for us? Because of these two truths what does God do and what should we do?

I have 2 general statements to make and then 6 more specific points to make and one last general statement

1) It’s okay to weep. If you don’t feel this, something is wrong with you. If the thought of God wooing you as a harlot does nothing for you…I’d really ask whether you believe the gospel. Either you don’t think you’re a harlot or you don’t believe that God is faithful. Either way, you can’t really get the gospel until you get both of those.

2) Use this as our picture of love! Warm-gushy feelings will not cause you to buy flowers for a prostitute. It take a deep special love. It might be accompanied by feeling—and in fact it probably is. But God didn’t come chasing us because there is something valuable in us, or because we have pretty eyes, a nice body, or a cute butt. He did it because of His love. If we are to define love then we need to look at this. When we think of loving other people we need to ask do we do this. Perhaps taking a long look at 1 Corinthians 13 would be a good place to start. Because that is the perfect love of God. I would also like to encourage you to not tell a person of the opposite sex, “I love you” until you back it up with a ring or are at least have this type of deep love.

3) When God rips, run to Him (repent)

Hosea 6:1-3 urges us to do this very thing. When God is in the process of tearing idols from our lives—and he will have to—rather than get ticked off at Him for taking away our precious idols let us run to Him. Repent for having them in the first place, repent that they are so precious to you, and run to Him. When the Lord chastises and gives the spanking do not go to your room and sulk but instead run to Him. Thank Him for disciplining you and run to Him.

4) When God tenderly woos, return to Him

Earlier I asked a few questions: What do you think the harlot did that day in the wilderness? Do you think she tried to hide? Did she run away? Did she try to put on some make up? Or did she just sit there awestruck that after all she had done He still loved her? Don’t hide. When he woos don’t try to go put on some make up. Don’t try to clean yourself up. When God says I love you, He means I love you right now for who you are. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us”. Don’t try to get clean first—when he woos run to Him right then and right there. He accepts you on the basis of the gospel and what Jesus Christ has done, and that is a finished act so do not try to go add to it—just return to Him now.

5) When God loves freely, love in return

Granted we cannot love God how we ought. Scripture proclaims that we love Him because He first loved us. But that very verse is telling us to love God. Give your life to diligently loving God. When you fall flat on your face and realize you cannot love chalk it up to your still residing sinful nature—face it, embrace it, hate it and run to Jesus. When you really get the gospel it does something to you. Grace has power. This call to love in return, even though impossible with man, is possible when God changes your heart and puts in you a new heart. Therefore, when He freely lavishes His love on you—love Him like crazy. Make that your life passion.

6) When God calls you a whore believe Him.

This does not need much further explanation. We have learned that we are harlots. We are not faithful to God. Don’t try to dust that up. Don’t try to make it sound pretty. Say it. I’m a harlot. Don’t try to make your sin look okay, don’t try to redefine it, don’t call it something pretty. It’s ugly, it’s detestable, it’s an abomination, it’s the thing that Jesus died on the Cross for. But it’s true. Accept it. When God calls you a whore believe Him.

7) When God says He is faithful believe Him.

But the other side of this is also true. When God says I love the whore believe Him. Look at the love that Jesus had in the New Testament for prostitutes. Look at how he had the audacity to touch those filthy sinners. I am that harlot. I am that prostitute. So I believe Him, when He says I love my whore wife. Believe the Gospel. I love her, period.

8) When God says He will heal us believe Him

The story of Hosea is about judgment. It is about how God is going to rip the idolatry from his harlot wife. His ultimate goal is not that He will be in love with a harlot. His ultimate goal is that He will be in love with an ex-harlot. One who has tasted the pleasure of sin and tasted the pleasure of God and comes out of it and says, “You O Lord are sweeter!” The Lord is going to heal us and change our hearts in such a way that some day we will no longer be harlots. Let us rejoice in this hope and believe Him; which leads to our last application point.

9) Our hope is Jesus

All of this is secure because our foundation is secure. Our foundation is Jesus Christ and what He has done. Because of this God can love his harlot wife. Because of this I can have confidence of His love, because it does not rest on my faithfulness but on His. My acceptance with God does not rest on my performance it rests on what Jesus Christ has done. If Jesus has shed His blood and that blood is covering my sin, and if Jesus Christ lived a perfect righteous life and that righteous life is imputed (given) to my account then I am free of sin and clothed in righteousness. My hope rests on Jesus and what He did. And because He is unchanging His promise to us is unchanging.

The final question then that we must ask tonight is this. Christian are you bold enough to live the gospel? Unbeliever, will you cry out to Jesus, will you call upon the name of the Lord? Will you acknowledge that you are indeed a harlot that is unfaithful to your creator, and will you believe that in spite of all this that God is faithful and that the only thing that will cover your nakedness is the righteousness of Christ?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

What if I stumble--The Message of the Prophet Micah

What if I stumble?
The Message of the Prophet Micah
A Great Savior for Great Sinners

Scripture Introduction:

When we looked at the prophet Joel we asked the question, “Will you be saved?” When God comes in His judgment will you be able to stand. We spent much time looking at this locust invasion and the coming day of the Lord—when none will be able to stand before the Lord. Extra heavy on judgment—leaving us crying for a Savior. In Amos we asked the question, “Does God care?” Our answer was a resounding yes. Which is both comforting and terrifying; comforting because it means God sees the injustices done to us, but terrifying because it means he also sees our sin. We saw that the Israelites, along with us, so often forget that God is a God of justice. Extra heavy on judgment—leaving us crying for a Savior. Micah prophesied around the same time as Amos, but he did so to the nation of Judah. But we read the book of Micah through the eyes of the community that has been hit with the judgment of God. They have experienced the judgment of God against them—they are feeling the weight of their sin and are asking the question, “now what do we do?” They are asking the same question that we are going to ask tonight, “What if I stumble?”

DC Talk asked this same question in a song quite a few years back. The song begins by saying, “The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today, are Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle”. To this quote they ask the question—but what if I stumble? Is my witness ruined? Is my relationship ruined? So, we are going to ask tonight along with DC Talk and the prophet Micah (where we will find the answer) what happens when we fall? What are we to do?

Tonight we are going to actually start at the back of the book of Micah. Turn with me to Micah 7:7-9, where we will focus much of our attention tonight. And as we read this notice the action of the man (the “me” and “I”: statements) and notice the action of God.

I hope you noticed in this passage that Micah is saying of himself. He is in darkness, he has fallen, he is broken, he is bearing the punishment of God, he’s taking the spanking because he knows and is embracing the fact that he is guilty of sinning against God. And therefore God is not only chastising, punishing, spanking, but he is also at the very same time pleading our cause. At the very same time that He is executing His judgment he is also vindicating us and being light to us. Therefore, Micah says, “I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me”.

Tonight, is dangerous. It’s dangerous because I am going to tell you along with Martin Luther to “sin boldly”. I think that is what Micah is saying here, but I think he means something different than you might think he means at first, that is why it is dangerous. We are going to say along with Spurgeon that if our sin is small we have a small Savior, but if our sin is great [and it is] then we have a great Savior. And that is the format that we will follow tonight. First of all we will look at the truth that our sin is great. But I don’t want you to look at this as if it’s bad news and therefore you have to cover up and run. I want you to look at your sin straight in the face and embrace every bit of it, accept it, own it, and call it yours. Because then we are going to look at our great Savior. And in so doing this I believe we will see that we have a great Savior.

So, the first thing that we will see is that our sin is great.

I. Our sin is great

If you have not already got this point then you either missed the last two weeks or you shut it off, our sin is great before God. We are going to look at this again briefly tonight by asking a question from Micah, “What does God require of us”?

If you turn with me to Micah 6:6-8 we will find the answer to this. “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

We see from this passage first of all what God does NOT require of us; or rather we see from this passage what it is that we can bring to God which does not please Him. God is not pleased with the blood of rams or oils. Even if we were to give the ultimate sacrifice of our firstborn, it would not be enough, it is not required. Then what does God want? What will please God? What will allow us to be in his glorious presence?

I think it is here that many Christian preachers sell this message short. We look at the offerings and sacrifices and we say nothing man has to offer God will be acceptable. And that is right and true, none of our good works can merit favor before God. And then we rip the message in half by taking our self-righteousness to verse 8. He has told you, O man what is good. And we figure because verse 8 seems to be a contrast that we can do this. This seems to be the faith side. We can do this. But we will look at verse 8 a little more closely.

To do justice. Let us not undercut the text as if the Lord does not actually require these things though. He really does require us to do justice. He is sincere when in this verse he says, Mike do justice. Therefore, we must strive to do justice. We talked a little bit about justice last week—that is one of the primary message of Amos, that God is a God of justice and we should be a people of justice. We should not sit idly by while injustice is running rampant in our nation. We should not sit on our hands when babies are slaughtered daily. We should not sit on our hands when poor people are being taken advantage of. We should not allow for racism. We should not stand idly by in a world of injustice. We ourselves should seek to be just. We should be fair in all of our business dealings. We should be honest. We should not cheat people. All of these should be a passion of ours; to do justice.

But how just are we? Do we really plead the cause of the widow? Do you really work to alleviate the suffering of the orphan? Do you seek to see justice served and injustice terminated? Are we really any different than the people of Israel? I want you to catch the visual imagery that the Lord gives us through prophets such as Micah—this is a theme we see all throughout the Minor Prophets. I want you to picture a large group of children. Now picture them crying. See them suffering. Hear their hunger. Let be deafening to you. They are crying out to you for bread. Now, in order to drown it out lets start singing some worship songs. Let’s drown out the sound of their cry with some powerful worship music. That is the picture that God is giving these people. Their hearts are so calloused and their hearts so hungry for personal advancement that they drown out the cries of the hurting in the name of religion. Micah 3:9-11 gives us the picture, “Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who detest justice and make crooked all that is straight, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity. Its head gives judgment for a bribe; its priests teach for a price; its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on the Lord and say, ‘Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us.’”
Our great passion is not justice. Perhaps it is better, perhaps we are growing in that, praise God. But I know the depth of my heart, and I know what Scripture testifies about your heart. At our core we are not just. We could care less about truth and justice. What I really care about is me. I’m not just. So what is one thing God requires? To do justice. Do I do that? Sometimes, maybe. But not like I should.

To love hesed(mercy)

This one would seem to be easy, I love mercy. Especially when it is given to me! I’m not sure I am so passionate about mercy when it is given to others or whenever I am to be the giver of hesed. But the Lord would require of us to love mercy, to have this type of hesed—steadfast love, love that refuses not to love toward others. Is this how we are? At the core of our being do we really long for other people to be blessed about ourselves? Are we really lovers in such a way that we long for the other person to be the most blessed as possible—regardless of personal sacrifice? Christian, if you are quick to leap up and say that your heart is like this let me ask you a question about evangelism. Does your heart long to share Christ with others—not when it’s easy but when it is uncomfortable? When it could mean great personal loss to you. Do you love other people with the type of love that refuses to let go, so much so that you plead with them on Christ behalf? I know my heart. I want comfort. I might love when its easy—but if I would have my way then I would not have hesed. What does God require? That I do justice, that I love mercy. Do I do that? Sometimes, but if I am to be honest, probably not.

and to walk humbly with your God

And this is the spot that I think many people trip up on. Do you really have a passion to humbly walk with your God? This is probably the most revealing of our heart. If you think you do this then you do not. If you think you’ve got it together and that you are walking with God then you are messed up on that humble part. As Spurgeon said, the more grace a man has the more he feels his deficiency of grace.

Oh, how painful is the truth of my sin concerning walking with God. How many times would I rather do something else than walk with God? How many times does my heart not long for fellowship with God? How often am I deceived by the momentary pleasure of sin, and forsake the love of Christ? Do you really desire God like you ought?

You can look at these three things as a summary of the Law. If I truly walked with God, if I truly loved mercy and did justice then I would follow all of his commandments. I would love Him above all else, I would desire Him more than the choicest things the world has to offer. I would love other people more than myself. But I do not. In my redeemed state I am growing. I do desire God, but not like I ought. I do, long to see justice. I even work for it sometimes, but not like I ought. I really do long to see mercy imparted to others, but not always. Sometimes, my flesh creeps up. I’m not there yet. My sin is still great. I still stumble. Our sin is great friends. So what do we do about that? What do we do about this wicked heart that still resides in us? What do we do in this battle with sin? What happens when we stumble? At is here that we will turn again to Micah 7.

II. Our Savior is greater

I love Martin Luther. I can see much of myself in Luther. I think he was like me in that I so often speak and after the words are out of my mouth and still lingering in the air I sometimes wish I could have them back. Luther had a wicked tongue, so do I. Luther said some shocking things. Luther once said he wished he could poop in the pope’s crown. I wonder if he wanted that one back. Another thing that Luther said that is quite misunderstood, and in fact used by Catholic’s to point out the fact that Luther along with us Protestants are heretics is this:

“If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly,  but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here [in this world]  we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness,  but, as Peter says,  we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.  No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day. Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small? Pray boldly—you too are a mighty sinner.”

Be a sinner and sin boldly? What?!?! That sounds like heresy. But I think Luther is saying precisely what Micah is saying, and Spurgeon did some 2500 years after Micah. Our sin is great but our Savior is greater. Let’s look briefly at what Micah, Luther, Spurgeon and myself are not referring to.

If you look back at Micah 3:11, I think you can see the response that we should not have whenever we stumble. In 3:11, the priests are obviously guilty and they seem to even know it, but they say to Micah, “the Lord is in the midst of us”. Turn your judgment elsewhere Micah. To make that modern, “We’re Christians Micah, we’ve been baptized brother…don’t worry about us…remember God is a God of love Micah, He’s our friend, He’s not going to judge us”.

This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace. Bonhoeffer was actually hanged in April of 1945 for conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. Bonhoeffer saw cheap grace as plaguing the German churches so much that he wrote:

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Let the Christian rest content with his worldliness . . . Let him be comforted and rest assured in his possession of grace—for grace alone does everything. Instead of following Christ, let the Christian enjoy the consolations of his grace! That is what we mean by cheap grace.

The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ.

These are powerful words from Bonhoeffer, but I believe they come from a heart that is very similar to Micah’s and one that lived (like us) in a time like Micah’s. Cheap grace runs rampant. So, let us not hear the words of Luther, Spurgeon, Bonhoeffer, and more importantly Micah lightly. We must take sin seriously. But how should we take it seriously? Luther would say by sinning boldly. Spurgeon would say take it to your great Savior. Micah would say, “look to the Lord; wait for the God of our salvation”. Let us look a little closer to the answer to “what if I stumble” found in Micah 7. I want us to see three principles that Micah gives us to answer the “what if I stumble question”. It is what John Piper calls bold brokenness.

1) Bold brokenness starts with being clothed in Christ

If you do not have this then you do not have any of this hope. We cannot finish our sentence for you. All we can say is your sin is great. Christ might be greater but He is not yours. If you are not clothed with the righteousness of Christ then you do not have righteousness. Our answer to sin is only found in the blood bought righteousness of Jesus Christ. That is what Scripture proclaims that we have been clothed with the righteousness of Christ. We are hidden in Christ. We have His righteousness. If you do not have his righteousness then you do not have any righteousness.

Notice in 7:7 that Micah says, “my God”. If you cannot say that the Lord is your God, then you cannot have bold brokenness.

2) Bold brokenness includes trembling at His displeasure

This point is also important. This is the point that separates Luther from false teachers. When Luther said sin boldly he was doing so after battling with sin fiercely. As Bonhoeffer said of Luther, “sin boldly, could only be his very last refuge, the consolation for one whose attempts to follow Christ had taught him that he can never become sinless, who in his fear of sin despairs for the grace of God…Take courage and confess your sin, says Luther, do not try to run away from it, but believe more boldly still. You are a sinner, so be a sinner, and don’t try to become what you are not. Yes, and become a sinner again and again every day, and be bold about it. But to whom can such words be addressed but to those who from the bottom of their hearts make a daily renunciation of sin and of every barrier which hinders them from following Christ, but who nevertheless are troubled by their daily faithlessness and sin?

This is what Micah is saying in verse 9, “I will bear the indignation of the Lord”. Only when we are like Micah and really feel the weight of our sin “against the Lord” does this come as freeing to us. That is what Bonhoeffer is saying. Unless you’ve done battle with sin, and unless you’ve been broken and in despair over sin the freedom of bold brokenness will not be sweet to you. But we must first feel the weight and despair of our sin. There will be seasons of brokenness, because there are seasons of sin. If there are not times of brokenness something is wrong, you do not understand grace. There will be times of brokenness. But what do we do in those times while we are waiting patiently for the Lord to deliver us?

3) Bold brokenness constantly clings to the grace of God

We see this in verse 8, “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise”. We are going to get up. The time of the Lord’s disfavor will only be for a season—then the spanking will be over. Therefore, we hope. We finish Luther’s sentence. “Be a sinner and sin boldly,  but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world.” This is what we do when we stumble. We quit pretending. We stop acting like we aren’t sinful but accept it, embrace it, and look at the depth of our sin, but do so in light of the Savior. As Spurgeon said, if you sin is small your savior is small but if your sin is great you Savior is greater. That’s not a call to be more sinful so as to magnify grace….that’s heresy. That is a call to love God and passionately pursue Him and not be tortured or crippled by our guilt and our failure.
Our sin is great but our Savior is greater. Bold brokenness gets up.

Closing Application

What then do we do with this? What is the answer to our question, what do we do when we stumble?

First of all, if you do not know Christ then you need to—otherwise like I said earlier you do not have the hope of this message, only the wrath. Your sin is great and your judgment will be great. But if you have Christ you can rest assured that He is greater than our sin. Celebrate that. Live in that. Be broken for sin. Hate sin. Fight sin. But constantly cling to the grace of God in sin. We can probably define what to do more so by saying what this message is telling us not to do.

1) Don’t take sin lightly
2) Don’t run from God and try to clean yourself up and then get back to God. Your only cleansing will come via the Cross. What is it that God requires? Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God. Christ did all of those and His righteousness is given to us. Therefore, let us passionately live in the righteousness of Christ. Don’t run from God run to Him.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Does God Care? The Message of the Prophet Amos

Sermon Introduction:

6 years ago and one day our nation was attacked by terrorists. Osama Bin Laden has still not been brought to justice. Does God care? Two days ago in St. Louis a man was shot in the face, his vehicle stolen as well as his 4-month old baby girl. The man was left for dead; thankfully the little girl was spared and found in a hospital. Does God care? Each day children die from preventable causes such as starvation, even more are orphaned by parents who have died from AIDS. Does God care? Hurricanes, earthquakes, bridge collapses, car accidents, floods. Does God care? What about me? Does God care that I have been taken advantage of sexually? Does God care that sometimes we suffer from other people’s self-indulgence and we are left ignored? Does God care? Does He care about the way you are treated? Does He care about your relationships? Does He care about your broken heart? Does He even care what I do? Does He even care that I am here? Does God care when other people don’t? Does God care what I eat? Does God care about what movies I watch? Does God care when I suffer from someone else’s pride? Does God care that my car is breaking down? Or even the most emotional question you can ask, “Does God care about me?”

The book of Amos is going to attempt to answer that question. Does God care? Specifically does God care about justice? As we begin to listen to Amos’ message I want you to imagine that you are among Amos’ people, the Israelites. And ask some of your, “does God care”, questions. Because these are the answers to that question in Amos’ time and it will serve as an answer in our own time.

What about Damascus, Lord? Do you care about the time that they made our POW’s lie down on their backs and a threshing sledge was driven over our backs? God’s voice booms out as a lion and says, “I remember”! I will break them. What about Gaza, Lord? Do you remember their cruel slave trades? Do you care about slavery God? What about Tyre? We had made a covenant with them, God, and they broke it and sold us off as slaves to the Edomites. Do you remember? Do you care? And what about the Edomites? They have been a thorn in our side forever. From the beginning they have been cruel to us and constantly have been pursuing us. Will you judge them? Do you remember their anger and how they burned with jealousy? Do you care that we suffer from the pride and bitterness of another? I care! They will be judged. What about the Ammonites? Do you care that we have had to suffer because of their self-indulgence? Do you care that they have even gone so far as to rip open the bellies of pregnant women, and all of this for land? They are ruthless, do you care God? I care. They will be devoured. What about those who have vengeance God? What about those who are so bitter and burning with hate like the Moabites. They wanted to make certain that the king of Edom would not be resurrected, so they went so far as to dig him up and burn his bones until they turned to lime. They too will be judged.

Are you noticing anything yet? You might not notice it, it’s kind of subtle. Did they notice that each of these nations is getting closer to home? It is swirling closer and closer. If they did not they certainly would have paused for a moment when this man from Judah (Israel’s sister nation) began prophesying against his own nation—Judah. And notice that as it gets closer to Israel the judgment becomes more religious in nature. I remember even the sins of your sister. I am going to judge them too. Did Israel know what was coming next? For three transgressions of ISRAEL.

Does God care? Yes. Nothing escapes Him. All injustice will be judged. The Israelites should have known this, we should know this. This is who God has revealed Himself to be. When God’s glory was passing before Moses he proclaimed, “The Lord, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation”. God is saying, I am loving! I do care, I care about you. I am merciful, I am slow to anger, and I am full of love and faithfulness. But I am also a God of justice and I will not leave sin unpunished. Therefore, Israel know this. I care. I know what people have done for you and it will be punished. But, hear this O Israel, I know what you have done too.

Israel, had forgotten the God of justice and their land was filled with sin. They were crying out for God to be just, and to execute justice on their enemies but all the while they were not looking at their own sin that God was going to judge. So, tonight we are going to look at what the prophet Amos says to this. We are going to try to answer the question, Does God care, but at the same time we will be answering, what happens when we forget the God of justice and what hope do we have?

I. Characteristics of those who forget the God of justice

God is going to begin leveling charges against the Israelites who have forgotten the God of justice. God is displaying that He does indeed care and that He does take sin seriously and that it will be punished—and He is going to display this profoundly in His judgment against His own people Israel. They have become comfortable. The picture of society that Amos paints for us is that two classes have developed: rich and poor. The poor were oppressed and even sold into slavery. The rich had summer and winter palaces crammed with ivory-inlaid art and furniture, great vineyards, choice wines, and precious oils and perfumes. The women were fat and pampered, and drove their husbands to injustice to continue providing for them. The Israelites were serving other gods and their religion and become empty yet the people had become disgustingly prideful. They had forgotten justice. But what about us? Are we similar to the people of Israel? Have we forgotten the God of justice? We will look at a few of the characteristics here briefly and try to answer that question.

A. You become inaccurately judgmental

As the Lord begins his judgment against Israel he starts with one of the most prominent sins of the people of Israel—their injustice towards others. “They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals—those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted”. That was the character of these people. They were quick to cry out for justice against foreign nations. Yet they themselves were full of greed and injustice. They were saying, “God do you care about the way we suffer for the self-indulgence of these greedy nations like the Ammonites?” And all the while they were stealing shoes from homeless people.

This is what we see in 5:18-20. The people are crying out for justice and the day of the Lord when people will be judged, and God says to them, are you sure you want to see my justice. “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! Why would you have the day of the Lord? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?”

I wonder if we understand this in our nation. It seems like every other day that someone in the media is calling for justice and/or the resignation of someone. They must pay! If you say a hateful word on television, it’s your job. Dog-fighting—prison sentence. In no way am I condoning sin or saying we should be nice and just let guilty people go. That too is an abomination to God. What I think we miss however is the horrible condition of our own hearts and the pride that is in such statements. If God is to be fully just then you and I both should be dead and in hell this very moment. We forget to realize that every sin is a capital offense and the second that we sin God should strike us dead.

The people of Israel had forgotten this, and so do we. It is because of this that death, the Old Testament, and the judgment of God strikes us as too much. We so often ask the wrong question. We might ask things like, “Why is Bin Laden still free, why has God not destroyed him?” Why is it that all of those innocent people died on 9/11? Now, granted we know that people aren’t innocent—but do they deserve to die so brutally? Where is God when little babies get murdered? As RC Sproul helps us see, “The issue is not why does God punish sin but why does He permit the ongoing human rebellion? What prince, what king, what ruler would display so much patience with a continually rebellious populace?” So what naturally happens when God so often exerts his mercy instead of justice is that we begin to think that God either doesn’t care or that He is powerless to punish us. More than likely it is the former that the Israelites were thinking. It had been so long since God had brought his wrath upon the Israelites, certainly they were in a time of favor. Look at their wealth. Look at their prestige. Look at all of the blessings that they had been given. Certainly, God was shining on them. Why would He judge them?

So, we figure if God isn’t going to judge people then we need to. And we use ourselves as the standard of right and wrong and we seek the justice of others. This is precisely what Jesus was saying when he said, “Judge not, that you be not judge. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you”. The principle underlying what Jesus is saying is, “You are not the Judge, so do not sit as judge on others but entrust them and all of the evil done to you to a holy God (as well as the authorities He has set in place). God will Judge. Do you find yourself quickly pursuing justice and revenge on other people? Perhaps you are forgetting the God of justice.

B. Unrighteous and oppressive

Being oppressive and unjust is one fruit of forgetting the God of justice. But so often it also leads to being unrighteous. We think, “If God is not going to judge the nations, if He is sitting idly by, then certainly He will not judge me.” Amos does not get extremely detailed but the one sin that we see continuing to occur is that of oppression. The attitude behind this is one of, “If God is not going to do anything about my sin then I will do what I want”. And honestly the person with this view has quite a bit of evidence to back it up. Who are the wealthiest people in our nation? Who seem to be leading the “best lives”? Who are the people that are celebrities, and people that we look up to? Who are the “idols” of many little kids? How often do you see these people seeing justice? I can’t remember times whenever someone has committed an open and obvious sin and at that very spot God struck them dead. Therefore, we take the grace and mercy of God and turn it into an excuse to sin as much as we please.

I know that we are all in this category, so I will not dwell here any further. It is obvious that we are sinful and if we are to be really honest with ourselves our sin is often linked to a lack of belief in the justice of God. Quite frequently we figure we will dabble in sin for awhile and trust that God is a God of mercy and that He will find favor with me. This is dangerous and stupid—but sadly it is where we so often are.

C. Empty Worship

The third thing that we see as a characteristic of those who forget the God of justice is an obvious fruit of forgetting God. Your worship is not going to be vibrant if you are forgetting about the God of justice. If we see God as a pansy that is not going to do anything about the sins of the nations or your own personal sin, then He’s not a very big God and will not cause worship to spring up in you. It just leads to empty habitual worship. This is what has happened in 4:4, “Come to Bethel, and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days; offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them; for so you love to do, O people of Israel!”

The scene here is rather disgusting. First of all the people were not to be worshipping at these spots, they were places where the Israelites began worshipping false gods along with YHWH. So, at the heart of this is an arrogance and a “we will worship God how we want” type of attitude. But what is even more striking is that they are doing it fervently. Brining a tithe every three days was not mandated by the law, it was going above and beyond what the Law required, yet it was not accompanied by a love and passion for the Lord—it was passionate dead religiosity. And then we notice in verse 5 that even their sacrifices where done in ways that God said not to do, “with leavened bread”. What arrogance. Their worship was so empty. They loved idolatry and rituals rather than God.

And I wonder, is our God big enough to bring about worship in our hearts? Do we serve a God that is big enough to worship? Are we more like people in Amos’ day? Are we wondering whether or not God cares? Are we merely interested in ritual and idolatry and getting a fire insurance policy, “just in case”, but all the while not really thinking God is going to do much? Or do we have a big God, one that we see as over life and death and heaven and hell? Do we have a God that we fear? Do we see God as holding our lives in his hand? Does the bigness of your God move you to worship? If not He isn’t big enough and you are destined for empty worship.

D. Stubborn Refusals to see God and Repent

What usually happens when we forget the God of justice is that it turns into a downward spiral, in which we find ourselves to a point of hard heartedness and unrepentance. I would say that more than likely none of you are here yet, you probably are not old enough to have this rebellion settled in your heart. But you should heed the warnings of the Lord now or else it will be too late. As God said to Cain, “sin is crouching at your door”.

In 4:6-11 God tells of things he had brought to get their attention. Hunger. Lack of Rain. Locust invasions. Pestilence. Losses in War. Being overthrown. At the end of each paragraph the Lord says, “yet you did not return to me”. This is much the story of Hosea, which we will look at in a couple of weeks. Here I want us to see what this has to do with forgetting the God of justice. What happens is that we begin to view God as a big loving teddy bear and we start redefining things. Oh, how close this is to our nation. 9/11. Hurricane Katrina. School Shootings. Flooding. Bridge Collapses. All of these “natural” disasters that strike us, and what we hear even preachers proclaiming is, “this is an accident”. “God has nothing to do wit this”. God is a God of love and certainly cannot have anything to do with these calamities, but He does want to wrap his loving arms around you and hold you while the big boogey man goes away. He really wishes He could do something, it’s just He can’t overcome that darn free will and the sin and effects that we cause from it. The only part that is true in that sentence is that God does want to wrap His loving arms around you. But we should listen to Scripture and prophets like Hosea, who said, “Come let us return to the Lord, He has torn us into pieces, He has wounded us, but He will heal us”. This is the thing Amos is crying out when he says, “does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it”? The answer is NO. And therefore we must repent and turn to the Lord. Let us not start redefining stuff and only see God as a big teddy-bear. He’s a lion. Not a teddy bear. This question is dealt with more fully on our blog; I invite you to check it out.

So, we ask again, “Does God care”? Does He care about those who are judgmental toward others? Does God care about those people who hold up signs that say, “God hates fags”! Does God care about that churches can be more hateful than the world? Does God care that you are judgmental? Does He care about our unrighteous living? Does he care about those “little sins” that we commit? Does He care about what we view on the internet? Does God take sin lightly? Does God take your sin lightly? Does He care about our nations oppression of other nations? Does God care about gas prices? Does God care about our affluence and our beautiful houses while people are starving to death in Africa? Does God care that more money goes to sports every year than to alleviating suffering? Does God care that our worship is empty? Does God care that you don’t care? Does God care that you are talking during the worship service? Does God care that you want to worship Him how you want and really don’t care what He thinks? Does God care about false teachers in the church? Does God care about heresy? Does God care that some of you need to be really listening right now and hearing His call to repent but you have stubbornly closed your ears? Does God care that you are too stubborn to repent? Does God care that we are so often blind to calamities that have been brought to us as grace to bring about our repentance? Does God care? You bet. And that’s both comforting and scary, especially to those of us who are guilty.

II. Fate of those who forget the God of justice

I ask then, if God sees our sin, and God cares about our sin, and God is the same God who said, “I will not leave sin unpunished”, what will be our fate? The book of Amos does not offer much hope. There are glimpses here and there but in a moment we will probably need to turn elsewhere to catch the Gospel message of the book of Amos. Much of Amos is filled with judgment.

From the strong warriors, to the religious leaders, to the fat wives the Lord utters judgment against all. Primarily what Amos is predicting is that the Israelites are going to be taken away into exile. This is ultimately fulfilled in 722 B.C. which would have been roughly 40 years after Amos prophesied. Israel was judged and carried away into exile, but what about us? Not so much as a nation, but as an individual. What will be my fate? What will be your fate? If God says, I will not leave sin unpunished, and I have sinned then what will be my fate?

If we see ourselves as very similar to those in Israel it will help us apply this. Read 6:1-7. What is happening here is that Israel is priding herself on being the choicest of nations. And it is interesting to note that it is because of this very thing that Israel will be judged more harshly. “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities”. So, we can’t claim, “I’m a church person—God will deal less severely with my sin”, no God is going to deal with our sin probably more harshly. Turning back to chapter 6, we see that the Lord is exposing the pride of Israel and is saying, you are going to be judged. As it says in chapter 5, “prepare to meet your God”. They want to be first among the nations, they want to be leaders; God is going to make them leaders…leaders into exile.

It will help us to understand the nature of sin, and why it must be punished, and punished with the death penalty. RC Sproul tries to answer the question of whether or not it is unjust to punish sin with the death penalty; p.115-117.

So what hope then do we have?
Our sin will not go unpunished! What hope do I have when I meet God?

III. Hope for those who forget the God of justice

I want to turn your attention again to where Sproul does a few pages later; to the Cross. p121-122. It is here at the Cross that we see the God of justice meet the God of mercy. This is the same thing that Paul testified of in Romans 3:26, that God would be just and the justifier. It is solving the problem of how a loving merciful God can set His love on a sinful people that have transgressed His holy Law and must be punished. The answer lies in the Cross of Jesus Christ, as 2 Corinthians 5:21 proclaims, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”.

Sin will not go unpunished. It was punished in the Cross. This is the greatest news that you and I can ever hear. It means that my sin has been paid for. Our only hope is to be covered by the Cross. No sin will be left unpunished, has Christ died for your sin? The benefits of his death are only applied to all those who find refuge in Him. Do you?

To close out our first question, Does God care? I think we can answer with a resounding yes, and if you ever wonder if God cares look at the Cross. It displays both things; that God passionately cares about sin—sin that you have committed and sin that others have committed against you. God hates sin, and all sin will be punished. None will go free. But it also displays the great love of God. Therefore, let us listen to the words of Amos, “Seek the Lord and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it…”

Friday, September 7, 2007

Will You Be Saved--The Message of the Prophet Joel

Will You Be Saved?
The Message of the Prophet Joel:
Repentance Leads to Restoration

Scripture Introduction:

One of my favorite movies is The Wedding Singer. It has many great quotable moments and is actually one of the cleanest Adam Sandler movies. If you have seen the movie you remember the one part where Robbie Hart (Sandler) is bummed out because his fiancĂ© has recently left him. But he is beginning to fall for this other girl Julia (Drew Barrymore) that is engaged to a jerk. Through a major miscommunication he feels that she would have nothing to do with him because he is just a poor Wedding Singer. So, he does what every miserable person does—goes to a bar. There he meets up with his brother, who is the cool (or so he thinks, yet rather disgusting) ladies man. Robbie says, “man I’m gonna start being like you, I’m gonna have a new girl every night, you and me man we are gonna have a blast, we are gonna be happy and live it up”. Then his brother shocks him by saying, “I’m not happy man, I’m miserable. At the end of the day I just want someone to hold me and tell me everything is going to be okay”. To which the weird old man comes up and says, “Everything is going to be okay”.

And really isn’t that what we all desire. Maybe not the “hold me and coddle me” aspect of it, but don’t we all really just want to know “everything is going to be okay”? In the midst of the difficulties of life, whatever it is you are facing, we want to know “it’s going to be okay”. Relationships, friendships, grades, parents fighting, people leaving, people dying. We all want to know that it works out in the end, it has a purpose, and everything is going to be okay. Even if it is something on a grander scale—the war in Iraq, the presidential election, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, increasing viruses, cancer, AIDS, influenza, bird flu….we want to know “everything is going to be okay”. Even in our relationship with God we ask this question. Is everything going to be okay? Am I going to stand before God on judgment day and everything be “okay”? Or to put that another way, “will I be saved”? That is the question that the Prophet Joel is going to answer. He is experiencing peril in his current situation, but in this current peril he is also asking, “will I be okay”, “will I be saved”, on that great and awesome day of the Lord when I stand before Him?

Sermon Introduction:

Joel is a story about a locust invasion. These locusts have utterly destroyed the land of Judah. It would have perhaps been close to the destruction America saw on 9/11. I say close because 9/11 is actually less devastating than the destruction that Joel is seeing. Listen to what he says in 2:3, “The land is like the garden of Eden before them (so beautiful, rich, plentiful, glorious) but a desolate wilderness behind them (meaning that this devastation is so massive that all is laid bare).

Everything is laid bare. As Joel says in 1:4, “What the gnawing locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten; and what the swarming locust has left, the creeping locust has eaten; and what the creeping locust has left, the stripping locust has eaten.” These are the different stages of locust development or perhaps different types of locusts—Joel’s point is that nothing is left. All are affected by this. From the drunkard to the priests all are affected. We get a hint of this from 1:16, “Is not the food cut off before our eyes, joy and gladness from the house of our God?”

In all of this Joel sees it foreshadowing something even greater. Perhaps even greater destruction than the locusts—the locusts are real by the way. This is a real historical event that happened in the life of the prophet Joel. Joel, however, sees more than his current situation. Joel sees in the midst of these locusts the hand of God. Furthermore, Joel is looking forward to that great and mighty day of the Lord.

He sees the locusts but pictures them as if they are indeed the Lord’s might army in that last day. Swift and quick and will destroy everything. No man can hide from these locusts, they destroy everything in their path. The same thing will be with the Lord on that day. It is as if Joel is saying, “we cannot survive this attack of locusts, or invading armies, what then will happen to us on the day when God comes to judge us?” “Who will be able to stand before Almighty God?!

“Before them the earth quakes, the heavens tremble, the sun and the moon grows dark and the stars lose their brightness. The Lord utters His voice before His army; surely His camp is very great, for strong is he who carries out His word. The day of the Lord is indeed great and very awesome, and who can endure it?” Joel 2:11

Indeed, the answer to that question is no one. So then the question that is asked of Joel, “Who can endure it” or to put that another way, “Who will be saved”, is asked of us tonight. On that great and mighty day, in that Valley of Yahweh, that we read about in 3:11-12, what will be your fate? Will you be saved on that great and mighty day?

I believe Joel IS concerned with his people’s current situation. Joel is concerned with the destruction that these locusts have brought his nation. And we will look at Joel’s (and our) current affliction first. But there is something even greater that Joel is asking. And we should be asking that question too. Joel is not primarily concerned with the current affliction. Joel is concerned more with eternity. If we cannot endure these locusts then we will be helpless before the Almighty. What hope then will we have when He comes to judge us? We will attempt to answer that, but first we must ask:

I. What is our hope in current afflictions?

We see in Joel 1:2-12 how utterly devastated the land is by this plague of locusts. As I was doing research for this sermon I found myself shocked at the utter devastation that a plague of locusts could bring. Apparently the desert locust, which is what Joel is dealing with, consumes its own body weight (2g) each day. That would not be so much if you were dealing with only one locust, but these little guys come in swarms. And swarms have been known to cover more than 400 square miles. So we are talking about 400 square miles of destruction. Just to give you a little perspective, all of Ralls County is 484 square miles. So imagine a swarm of locusts the size of Ralls County coming at you? How many locusts are in each swarm? It is estimated that one square mile can teem with as many as 100 million locusts. Do the math; 100 million multiplied by 400 is 40 billion locusts, each eating 2 grams per day. That comes out to about 176 million pounds that they eat each day. If they were people-eaters they would eat at average weight 1, 174, 950 people in a day. But they do not eat people, they eat plants. And, just one last little note about their devastation, their poop is toxic and destroys whatever they do not eat. Locust are devastating.

And we see this very devastation is happening to Joel. It has affected the entire population of Judah. From the drunkard to the farmer to the priests, the locusts have destroyed their livelihood. The drunkard can no longer have his wine because the grapes are gone. Therefore, he can no longer drink away his troubles, so he is left in despair. The farmer has his source of income cut off, the pomegranate, palm, and apple trees are all dried up. And with this gladness has left them. The priests too must wail, because without grain offerings and drink offerings, as well as their daily sacrifices the people’s means of access to God are also cut off.

Some people have looked at this text and saw something a little different. Some believe that what Joel here is talking about is not an actual plague of locust but instead an invading army. They are pillaging the land and devouring its inhabitants. Perhaps this is the case, but I think Joel is seeing something quite different. He is looking at this plague of locusts and he is seeing the very hand of God. More than likely Joel believes this IS the great day of the Lord. More than likely Joel is saying in 1:15-18, “Look at all these signs, look how clear this is, if this is not the great day of the Lord, then how bad will that day be?”

Try to imagine if you can what this would be like. More than likely many of you do not try to escape reality by retreating into a bottle of wine. But how many other things do we use to stop that nagging, gnawing voice inside. What do we do to try to numb our conscience, what are the things that we do to keep us from really grasping the reality of life? Imagine whenever you go home that you have no electricity, and no batteries. No computer, no radio, no CD player, no video games, no television. You cannot escape into a fantasy world through books. You have nothing to deaden it. That which you use for pleasure, amusement, entertainment, and ultimately escape is taken from you.

Imagine also that you are craving a Baconator from Wendy’s. You have 5 bucks, you get to Wendy’s and they have a big CLOSED sign on their door. No Baconator today. Perhaps you will settle for a Big Mac. Again, CLOSED. What, about a Grilled Stuffed Burrito from Taco Bell. CLOSED. Fine then, you will just to go Wal-Mart. It’s actually open. You go to the produce aisle, nothing. Frozen dinners, nothing. Pizzas, nothing. Meat aisle, nothing. Canned goods, milk, it’s all gone. Down each aisle there is scarcely anything. It has all been ravaged. Then when all hope is dashed that you will have a meal you see the last can of Baby Food. It’s squash. You see that the price has been crossed out numerous times, and notice the current going rate for an 8 oz can of Squash is 46.50.

This is perhaps not even an accurate portrayal because it would effect much more than the fast food joints. You couldn’t grow your own food. What little that actually did survive would be so expensive, not to mention that in an agricultural community if all of your food is devoured by locusts you do not get any money. So, not only are things totally expensive, you are totally broke. So, you can see how horrible this would have been. No hope of entertainment or escape. Really no source of income or even of food.

And like all good people when we get in trouble we turn now to our last source of refuge, the church. Maybe they have some canned goods stored up. Maybe we can go pray. It too has nothing there. Now, it is quite difficult to give you a contemporary story with this one. We do not have to access God through a priest, or a church, or anything like that anymore. We can simply bow our knees wherever we are and cry out to God. People could not do that back then. And it was not just some merely stupidly religious thing. It isn’t as if all the people back then are Catholics and think they have to go to a priest. They really did have to go to a priest. They could not approach God on their own without their sin atoned for. Not even the priest could do that. But how did you atone for your sin? You sacrificed an animal. You made a grain offering. You gave up a drink offering. But how do you do that when your animals are dead from starvation? How do you do that whenever you have no grain or no grapes for wine? You don’t. Therefore, your contact with God is also broken.

I hope you can feel the hopelessness of this situation. Perhaps you can even connect it to how you sometimes feel now. Have you ever felt like your prayers are to no avail? Have you ever felt like reading the Word of God is dry and cut off? Has it ever been that you have found yourself without a desire for God and the things of God? And even if you did muster up a little desire it was only met with doubt, questions, and frustration.

Maybe your frustration is with food or money. Maybe you feel the weight of needing to pay bills. Maybe you have even discovered the emptiness of money and possessions, it never feels like you have enough—so you work more and more but are never satisfied. Or perhaps you have no idea where your family’s next meal will come from. Maybe you are not certain where you will sleep. I would venture to say most of us are not quite this destitute.

We probably fall under the deprivation that the alcoholic did. We are discovering our emptiness in all that we are trying to do to escape reality. It comes up empty and we end up depressed, so often we end up searching after meaning and happiness in something else. Oh, that God would give us the grace of a locust plague so that we are left with nothing to turn to but Him. What then did the people do in their despair?

1:14 tells us precisely what they did. “Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD”. Then again in 1:19-20, “To you, O LORD, I call. For fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and flame has burned all the trees of the field. Even the beasts of the field pant for you because the water brooks are dried up, and fire has devoured the pastures of the wilderness.” Here “fire” is symbolic for not only the locusts but for God’s fierce destruction. It has left even the beasts of the field crying out to God. So what do you do, when you find yourself in the midst of despair? Repent and cry to God for mercy. Call on Him to help you in times of trouble.

Repent and turn to the Lord. I love the great mercy of the Lord. Listen to 2:12-14, “Yet even now [that means in the midst of this judgment] return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him…?”

As I read this, I am wondering how long has it been since we at FBC New London have turned to God with all of our heart? How long has it been since we fasted, since we deprived ourselves of material blessings because God is sweeter than anything? How long has it been since we really mourned? How long has it been since we have been absolutely broken for our sin? How long has it been since we have actually shed a tear for our sin and lack of love for the Lord? What does it mean to rend our hearts and not our garments? It means to not just pretend like we are broken but that we are actually broken, and repentance and obedience follow!

But we must put a little disclaimer here. We cannot be as certain about God’s action in our current affliction as we can concerning the day of the Lord. The call is still to repent and turn to God, but notice the uncertainty of Joel in 2:13-14, Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him…” Based on God’s character he more than likely is going to relent from this calamity, but sometimes we still must face consequences of sin, and sometimes we are called to walk through a valley. So, do not think that this first point is saying, “If like stinks, turn to God and He will make it all better and give you what you want”. This point is saying, “When we are being afflicted, turn to God, and trust in Him to do what is good and change our hearts to desire what He wants”. This is why our primary concern is not with our current affliction, and neither is it Joel’s. Joel’s primary concern is with the great and mighty day of the Lord. And it is here now that we turn.

II. What hope do we have on the great day of the Lord?

In Chapter 2 Joel strengthens his imagery. It is still more than likely a locust invasion that Joel is referring to, but in this invasion he sees something even greater. “Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near…” A trumpet blast would signify danger or impending warfare. Here it is announcing the coming of the army of the Lord. Joel is seeing something far greater in this locusts plague, he is seeing a foreshadowing of the great army of the Lord. Earlier we spoke of the utter devastation that locusts can bring—Joel is telling us, if you think that is bad, wait until God comes with his wrath! We saw how destructive locusts can be, but now we must ask, how destructive can God be?

Joel 1:15 begs this question. “Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and as destruction from the Almighty it comes”. Understanding the Hebrew in this verse (which I do not pretend to) will help us understand a word play that Joel is using. The word for “destruction” is the Hebrew word shadad. This word means destruction, violence, severity, havoc, ruin, and the like. The Hebrew word for Almighty isShaddai. It is where we get the name for God El Shaddai. It means Mighty One, All-Powerful One. So the question Joel is begging us to ask, is What would it be like if The Mighty One is bent on violence, severity, destruction, havoc, desolation, and ruin. How bad can He make it? How destructive can El Shaddai (The All-Powerful One) be?

The short answer to that is, as destructive as He wants to be. You can get a little more specific if you want to look at the execution of the army in 2:3-11. But I think we can get the picture, although very difficult to paint if we do as Joel did; compare it to locusts.

Picture the devastation that locusts can do—now multiply that infinitely and that is the destruction that God can bring about. Imagine that if the sun, the moon, the stars, the oceans, the earth, the sky, everything of Creation is fully obedient and at his disposal. Do you really think God needs a nuclear bomb? Do you really think God needs our petty machine guns? He could in a split second remove the effects of gravity and each and every one of us would be dead. When Joel asks, “who can endure it”, it’s not a question he needs answered. He, like you and I know the answer—“no one”. When it is God’s set purpose to judge us, we will not stand before Him.

This is the very thing that we see in Chapter 3. I love this chapter. It is almost like God is picking a fight with the nations, and with God-hating unbelievers. “Proclaim this among the nations: Consecrate for war; stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up. Beat your plowshare into swords and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, ‘I am a warrior’. Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there.”

Will you be there? “Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.” Who are these multitudes? Scripture testifies that God will in no way let the guilty go unpunished. All who are found guilty before Him! In fact if God Proverbs 17:15 teaches us that if God would “justify the wicked” He would be an abomination to Himself. He must condemn wickedness. In case you need specific things turn with me to Revelation 21:8, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” And just in case you are so prideful that you do not see yourself in this verse turn with me one last time to Deuteronomy 27:26, or Galatians 3:10 where Paul quotes Deuteronomy; “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” That means if you have broken even one commandment then you are cursed, that means the same as condemned. So who will be there on that great day of the Lord? All of us! We all stand guilty before God. We are all cursed, as it is, by the Law. We have broken it, and stand condemned. What hope then do we have?

Just as before our hope lies not in us or anything that we could possibly do but in the character of God. Earlier we spoke of the uncertainty of God restoring us in our current affliction. God might relent. But here we can be confident that God will restore, here we can be confident that God will save and deliver. This is the good news. That if we do turn to God, if we do cry out to Him for mercy then it does not matter the depth of our sin, because the basis for our acceptance with God is not in us. It is here that our great hope meets God’s great mercy, when through no action of our own, but in our filth the Lord holds us and says, “Everything is going to be okay”. And this is what we will see in our final point, that:

III. Jesus is the source for repentance and restoration

Recently I purchased the new Shane and Shane CD, Pages. It is awesome. One of the songs, one that I remember hearing at their concert, is called Embracing Accusations. It is based off of Galatians 3:10, which we read a little earlier. If you want to see a live version of the song then go to the blog and check it out.

The story behind the song is that Shane Barnard was jogging one day and the devil began accusing him. He was reminding him of this verse in Galatians. Reminding Shane that he is cursed and condemned for his lawlessness, and Satan does that so well. He is the great accuser and is quick to point out our sin. But then Shane remembered verse 13 of Galatians 3. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’.” Here are the lyrics to that song

Father of lies, coming to steal kill and destroy All my hopes of being good enough I hear him saying, “cursed are the ones who can’t abide”
He’s right, hallelujah, he’s right The devil is preaching the song of the redeemed That I am cursed and gone astray I cannot gain salvation Embracing accusation
Could the father of lies be telling the truth of God to me tonight? That if the penalty of sin is death, then death is mine I hear him saying, “cursed are the ones who can’t abide”
The devil’s singing over me an age old song That I am cursed and gone astray Singing the first verse so conveniently over me He’s forgotten the refrain. JESUS SAVES!!!

And that is the truth of the gospel and the truth that we will stand upon tonight. What then is the answer to Joel’s question, “For the day of the Lord is great and very awesome; who can endure it?” Simply this, no one. But thankfully the gospel does not stop there. Let us not forget the refrain. Jesus Saves. Listen to Joel 3:16, The Lord roars from Zion and utters his voice from Jerusalem and the heavens and earth quake. But the Lord is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.”

So what hope do you have on that day? We will not endure that day—our only hope is Joel 2:32, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls”.

Perhaps the Lord is calling you here tonight. You realize that you have no hope on your own. You are looking at the great and awesome day of the Lord and realize that you will not endure it. Galatians 3:10 is condemning you. You are looking down the barrel of God’s Law and realize it’s going to destroy you. You cannot stand. You are guilty and you know it. And you’re right. The gospel doesn’t tell us, “your sin is okay, God will forgive it, God will forget it, He will let it go”. That is not the gospel, the gospel says “Your sin is disgusting, it is damning, God will not forgive it, God cannot forgive it, and It will be punished”. But the gospel also holds out our only source of salvation, That Jesus Christ took that punishment, he became accursed for us so that we would not have to face the punishment. Our only hope is to call on the name of the Lord, and as Scripture testifies we shall be saved. Not by our merit, not even because we were wise and cried out to God…but we will be saved because Jesus is the source of our repentance and restoration. It is because He has paid the debt that we can be forgiven. You cannot pay the debt. But He already has….cry out to Him for mercy today and you will be saved!