Sunday, December 13, 2015

WHEN GOD FELL SILENT


This post is actually part 3 of a 4 part series that I began to put up on this blog site on December 2. They are the sermons that I gave in our church for the four Sundays of Advent. 
These four sermons of Advent are:
1 - Words Without Voices
2 - I AM and I WILL
3 - When God Fell Silent
4 - When God Speaks, the Universe Listens

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WHEN GOD FELL SILENT

The first sentence in the book of Hebrews tells us that God has spoken to us at many times and in many ways. Throughout history, God has spoken to us through his creation in all that he has made, and he has spoken to us through his own words. These words were given to us by his prophets, as well as given to us by the written word. To those people who are open to receive his words, God reveals himself to us in manners that are increasingly personal so that we can come to know him better. These things were the themes of the previous two postings (Words Without Voices and I AM and I WILL).

Unfortunately, most people have not learned the lessons of seeing God’s message in the creation. They have learned nothing about God by what they have seen in nature and in the cosmos. They have also ignored the words of God, spoken by the prophets and written for us to read. This general unreceptiveness to God’s word was lamented by many of the prophets of old, Jeremiah being one of these.



Speaking for God he says, “O foolish and senseless people,
The Prophet Jeremiah - Michelangelo
who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear…This people has a stubborn and rebellious heart…they do not say, ‘Let us fear the Lord our God who gives the rain in its season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for harvest” (Jeremiah 5:21, 24).

Unresponsive to Love

In the previous couple writings in this series, I have given some examples that show how getting to know God sometimes is not much different than getting to know another person like ourselves. Certainly, there are also some aspects in getting to know God that are not the same, but as we make this comparison again, think about what your reaction might be if time and again, you made great efforts to get to know another person, and that person continually rejected you.

Perhaps you did may favors for this person, running errands and even buying gifts to give to him or her, but not only did this person not say “thank you,” they refused even to acknowledge that these things were done by you. You called them on the phone, but when they saw your name on the caller I.D., they did not answer. Neither did they respond to your voicemail. Letters and emails that you wrote to them went in the trash.

How long after this continual and constant refusal to return some of your overtures of friendship would you keep all of this up? How long before you would give up and you would simply fall silent? Would you try for thousands of years?

God did. For thousands of years he rained not only water on the crops of those he was calling to know him, as Jeremiah wrote about, but he rained favors and protection and blessings of all sorts. However, all of these calls that he made to his people were not only left unanswered, but the people further insulted him by instead of attributing the good favor that they saw to God, they attributed them to idols.

Jeremiah said, “The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out libations to other gods in order to spite me” (Jeremiah 7:18 NAS).

God’s Words through the Prophet Malachi

The last book of the Old Testament is the book of Malachi. It is difficult to put an exact date on when the book was written, but it was at least 400 years before the birth of Christ. After thousands of years of speaking to his people and with ever decreasing response, this letter would be God's last words for four hundred years. After this, God fell silent. Too long were the people unresponsive to his words and to his acts of love. God would speak no more, at least for many generations.

What did God say in these last words that he spoke through the prophet Malachi before he would fall silent for 400 years? What would he say with this last message? 

“I have loved you,” said the Lord. That is how he opened this letter.

In the silence of hundreds of years that were to follow, God wanted these words to remain with his people. He wanted his people to know that he was committed to his love for them. Despite this great love however, God had come to the point where he knew that further demonstrations of that love would do nothing to draw the people to him.

“A son honors his father and the servant his master.” God continues, “Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect? (Malachi 1:6) 

God’s Words Through the Prophet Hosea

The prophet Hosea lived even earlier than Malachi, in fact some two hundred years before him, but his message to God’s people was much the same. Actually, the message had been the same even hundreds of years before that. This was because the people had long refused to acknowledge all of God’s favors to them.

“My people consult their wooden idol, and their diviner’s wand informs them; For a spirit of harlotry has led them astray, and they have played the harlot, departing from their God” (Hosea 4:12).

This little book of Hosea is one of the most revealing books in the entire Bible when it comes to understand how God, in his deep love, struggled for his people. In the book, God is portrayed as a husband whose wife had left him for a life of prostitution. Even after her unfaithfulness, he would go to get her and went to great lengths to help her be faithful to him. Nevertheless, she continually sought other lovers.

In this book, God is also portrayed as a father with a deep love for his sons, sons that have scorned him, who have rebelled against him and in other ways have hurt him deeply. In these verses, when God refers to Israel and to Ephraim, he is speaking to all who are called by the name of the Lord.

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son
But the more my prophets called to them, the more they went away;
They kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms,
But they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love.
I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws,
And I bent down to them and fed them… 

How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I surrender you, O Israel?...
My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim;
For I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst.
I will not come in wrath. (Hosea 1:1-4, 8-9) 

In the light of what God was saying about the spiritual condition of the people, Hosea tried to inspire and encourage them to change their ways. I have to include these words of Hosea in this writing, because they are some of the most beautiful in the Bible. The prophet urged the people: 

“Come, let us return to the LORD.
For He has torn us, but He will heal us;
He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.
“He will revive us after two days;
He will raise us up on the third day that we may live before Him.
“So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD.
His going forth is as certain as the dawn;
And He will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain watering the earth.” (Hosea 6:1-3) 

Nevertheless, even with these words, any reformations brought about by Hosea and by other prophets had very limited effects. 

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
For your loyalty is like a morning cloud
And like the dew which goes away early. (Hosea 6:4)

Vanishing Commitment

So it was with any reformation that took place. Urged and encouraged by a prophet of God, the people may have returned to God for a time, but as imperceptibly as a morning cloud on a hot day or like the dew on the grass, their commitment quickly vanished.

By the time of Malachi, the priests still were fulfilling their duties, at least outwardly, but God told them that they were despising his name by giving God only what was the most undesirable for an offering. “How tiresome it is,” the priests said of the duties that they were supposed to perform in the name of the Lord. They offered only what was taken by robbery or what was lame or sick.

“Should I receive that from your hand? God asks them. “Why not offer it to your governor? Would he be pleased with you? Or would he receive you kindly?”

With resignation, God finally says, “Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you,” 

God was about to fall completely silent. He said all that he could say, at least for the present time. But before he completely closed this chapter of history, he offered one bit of hope. Even in this, it was a hope that was also tempered with warning.

“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord…will suddenly come into his temple…But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. And he will sit as a smelter and a purifier of silver” (Malachi 3:1-3). 

It was soon after these words were written that God fell silent. He would not speak again for four hundred years, at least not in ways that many people might be able to hear. This does not mean that religious practices stopped during that time, but the religion became based less on what God had said, and more upon the rules that men made. Men were not willing to hear God, and they made up their own words. This was the era that the Pharisees and the Sadducees began their teachings. They built a religion based upon their own laws.

Through the Prophet Amos

But through it all God remained silent. This is the time that yet another prophet, Amos, wrote about:  

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.

They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. (Amos 8:11-12) 

In time, God would speak again. It would be in a way that was unlike any other way that he had spoken in the past. He told the people that his next time of speaking would be announced beforehand by a special messenger.

This communication from God, when it came, would be the greatest and clearest of all communication. But it would come in a most unlikely manner. Most would miss it completely. Only those who were intently listening for the voice of God would hear. 

Are You Ready to Hear?

Next time I will tell about that communication, but first I want to ask you a question. What has been your history of hearing God’s words to you? In the past couple of weeks, I have written of some of the ways in which the Lord has been trying to talk to you. Have you heard him? Have you responded to him?

Perhaps you are like the Israelites who said many times, “I will return to the Lord, I will change!” But change did not come. They were insincere and uncommitted in their resolve. Have you been like the Israelites of long ago, who after just a few days after making great resolutions to change, found that their life had not really changed at all?

If this has been your experience, then I am afraid that you would have been among those who would have missed this next communication from God. We like to think that we would have been different than the people of those days, but actually, we are no different. If you do not hear God now, you would not have heard then either. At that time, it was only those who were constantly listening for his voice who heard this next message when it came.

We will hear about it next week. Be prepared to listen.

 
 

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