Wednesday, December 25, 2019


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 in manners that are increasingly personal so that we can come to know him better.

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, the prophet says, “O foolish and senseless people, 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 some ways, and as I said previously, 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, 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 or ignored you.
Perhaps you did many 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 also 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 trying to befriend this person? How long before you would give up and 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 mentioned, 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 attributing the good favors that they received to idols instead of to God, the one who gave them.
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 Hosea
The prophet Hosea lived even earlier than Jeremiah, in fact, about a hundred and fifty 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.
As the prophet wrote the words of God: “My people consult their wooden idols, and their divining rods inform them. For a spirit of prostitution leads them astray and they have played the harlot against their God.” (Hosea 4:12 BSB).
The 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, the husband would go to get her and went to great lengths to help her be faithful to him. Nevertheless, despite his kindness to her, she continually sought other lovers.
God is also portrayed in this book as a father with a deep love for his sons, sons who 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 false gods 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 their yoke,
And I bent down to them and fed them…” (Hosea 1:1-4) 
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. These words of Hosea are some of the most beautiful in the Scriptures. 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) 
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 vanishes on a hot day, or as silently as the dew on the grass disappears when the sun rises, the commitment of the people also quickly vanished. 
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.
By the time of Malachi, the priests of God were still fulfilling their duties in the temple, at least outwardly, but they were actually despising God’s name by giving him 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. “What a nuisance!”
Instead of pure offerings, they gave 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,”
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? What would he say with this last message that he would speak?
“‘I have loved you,’ said the Lord.”
That is how the prophet Malachi opened this letter that he was to write.
In the silence of hundreds of years that were to follow, God wanted these words to remain with his people.
“‘I have loved you,’ said the Lord.”
God 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 was about to fall completely silent. He had already 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). 
After Malachi
After Malachi closed his ministry, after he wrote his last words, several things happened to the nation of Israel. Not many of these were good things. Even as Malachi wrote his final words, the Persians were already in control of the Holy Land, and the people were living under their occupation. This situation continued until the Greeks displaced Persians, then the Greeks by the Egyptians, and then they by the Syrians.
During the occupation of the Syrians, the family of an aged priest Mattathias, along with his son Judas Maccabeus, led a revolt and gained independence. However, in the succeeding generations of the family, internal corruption weakened the dynasty, leaving themselves open to be conquered, which they were by the Roman ruler Pompey in the year 63 BC. Pompey restored order in Judea. However, along with the restoration of order, Pompey also established Roman rule in Jerusalem and all of the land.
In short, for almost the entire time between the last words of Malachi to the first words of the New Testament, the Israelite people were an oppressed people. They were looking for someone to rescue them out of their misery. The Romans were still in control of the land of Israel as the New Testament opens. The Jewish people were waiting for the promised Messiah. 
Anointed for What Purpose?
Although the people knew of the prophecies concerning a promised Messiah, they had many misunderstandings concerning them. The greatest of these errors was that the people misunderstood the very purpose of the Messiah. They were looking for a Messiah who would overthrow the nations that had oppressed them, the present nation being that of Rome. They wanted independence, and they hoped for a Messiah who would save them from their foreign oppressors.
But this was not to be the purpose of the Messiah. He was not to come in order to save the people from any foreign oppressor. Rather, he was to save the people from what was enslaving them from within.
As the angel had told Joseph, the husband of Mary, she would give birth to a son “who would save the people from their sin.” That was the real source of oppression for the people. It was their own sin. The people misunderstood what the real problem was. 
Your Own Situation or Your Own Sin
We now look back on those days of 2000 years ago. At this point in our history, we have the advantage to be able to read all of the writings concerning the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles regarding the true purpose of Jesus coming to us. As we study the times and the conditions of the people back then, along with what Jesus did on their behalf, it should be a rather simple matter for us to see how most of the people were mistaken in those days. They were looking for salvation from their situation, while Jesus was instead offering them salvation from their sin.
However, even if we are able to see their misplaced priorities, it seems that we have not learned a great deal from their mistake. What the people were looking for in a Messiah in those days is also exactly what most people are looking for today! We want salvation from our own situations.
We want a Jesus who will answer our prayers for health – that is true. We also want a Jesus who will supply the money that we need to make our monthly payments – that also is true. People will even pray to Jesus to let them win the lottery, because after all, unlike those other people, they say that they will do good things with the money and not just spend it on themselves. That is the kind of Jesus we want – a Savior who will save us from present difficulties and perhaps to enrich us. We want nothing more than this.
We are not greatly concerned about the sin in our lives. We just want salvation from our situation! We want a savior who will make our lives easy.
Do you not see that we are making the very same error as the people in Jesus’ own day were making? We want a champion for our own cause, not a Savior who will give us the power and ability to join his cause.
And just like the people of the first century, we take Scriptures and use them to support what we think that we need instead of using the Scriptures to see what God intends for us to learn from them. We misinterpret the Scriptures and misapply them to support our own personal agendas and desires. We are just like the first century Jews.
We are self-centered and self-seeking in our motivations. Jesus came to be our King, but most people do not want that. They want to remain king of their own lives and simply have Jesus to be their main ally and supporter.
If this is our idea of a savior, we are giving to God only that which is undesirable in our lives. This is not honoring God. If this is what we teach in our church, it is better if we just close the doors. If this is your idea of a savior, then you are missing the whole point.
Jesus did not come to save you from your present situation; he came to save you from yourself! 
A Savior to Save Us from Ourselves
Here are those verses to the opening lines of the book of Hebrews: 
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets. But in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son, who he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of his power. (Hebrews 1:1-3 ESV) 
After four hundred years of silence, God came to his people with his greatest Word. He spoke to us through his Son. The Apostle John writes: 
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him, nothing came into being…In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory; glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-4, 9, 14 NAS) 
The Apostle Paul tells us that within the body of Jesus Christ when he was walking on this earth, dwelt the entire fullness of the Deity. (Colossians 1:19; 2:9). Do you believe this? 
What kind of Savior are you looking for in this Christmas? Is it one who will give you some relief from your present circumstances and, in fact, fulfill all your own desires for yourself? If your desire is only for someone who will help you achieve your present aspirations, your idea of a savior is too small.
Instead, seek a savior who will save you from yourself – one who will save you from your sins? That Savior, Jesus Christ, will open up for you aspirations that you before did not know existed.
Let your delight be in the one who still can be our Savior in the 21st century.
God said, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.