AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH July 13, 2008
A CONTINUATION OF THE
ORIGINAL THRUST AND BASE OF
THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF AUSTRALIA, ON CHANGELESS BIBLICAL LINES …
The Stark Love, Brilliant Pity and Inexorable Truth of God
esp. from Hosea 11, 13, Romans 5
WHEN you wish to know God, it is important to realise where you are going. In an article in The Australian, July 11, 2008, an author depicts what he deems the near idolatry accorded to Nelson Mandela, as ludicrous. He summons evidence of his long continued insistence on violence such as terrorists use, his membership in a body using it, its unexpunged charges of torture, his friendship with the dictatorial enemies of the West, despite the help they gave in removing apartheid; and he states that South Africa is now in a worse state then when Mandela assumed government.
How easy, he declares, conveniently to forget the price some have paid in securing ideals, and the ideals broken in the process remain that way!
Knowing someone is thus not always what it seems. Knowing God may seem to some either a matter of crass authoritarianism, when you no longer need to think, or else a dim sentimentality when you indulge every whim, caprice and demand of the race or group or cause which has achieved focus for the year, decade or whatever it may be. It is neither. Hypocrisy, seeming to help by mere indulgence what you are ruining by treating below their ability level, and so exalting into uselessness, as one aboriginal leader declared was the trend, is far from godliness. On the other hand, demanding people obey the priest is just as far off; and demanding that they kow-tow to some so-called church in case they do not get extreme unction, in order to function in the next world is no better.
God is a lover of reality. He made it. He is a hater of lies; He cannot lie (Titus 1:3). Truth is His production and He does not fight Himself. Anything devious or pompous He despises as you see in Proverbs 8:8-9, Isaiah 1 and Matthew 23. To Israel, through Hosea 7:14, He declares the vanity, the futility of it, when they called on Him, yet "did not cry out to Me with their heart, when they wailed upon their beds."
THE STARK LOVE OF GOD
His is a stark love, with no frills or pretences, no formal codes of conduct devoid of spirit, and in nothing does He seek conformity which does not issue from faith and love (Isaiah 1). In Hosea 7:16, He acknowledges their religious moment, declaring this: "They return, but not to the Most High. They are like a treacherous bow." They are tricky, look like a bow indeed, but just try to use them and there are oddities of motion which baulk rather than bring accurate action.
It is despite all this that the Lord shows HIS
love. Look now further in Hosea, concerning this same nation, Israel, and try
to conceive what love, even then, will cry out for them, and then
read it, for it speaks like this (11:3-9):
"I taught Ephraim to walk,
Taking them by their arms;
But they did not know that I healed them.
I drew them with gentle cords,
With bands of love,
And I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck.
I stooped and fed them.
"He shall not return to the land of Egypt;
But the Assyrian shall be his king,
Because they refused to repent.
And the sword shall slash in his cities,
Devour his districts,
And consume them,
Because of their own counsels.
My people are bent on backsliding from Me.
Though they call to the Most High,
None at all exalt Him.
"How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I set you like Zeboiim?
My heart churns within Me;
My sympathy is stirred.
"I will not execute the fierceness of My anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim.
For I am God, and not man,
The Holy One in your midst;
And I will not come with terror."
Discipline in large measure is certainly planned; tenderness from the time of early Israel is remembered, and His actions to sustain them, when they did not realise it, are considered. But when He looks at the simple option of national deletion, His heart churns, He is stirred. He will not destroy them, but remain open to their cry.
This gives us pause when we may be tempted at times NOT to seek the God of power and peace in our lives, and to imagine that this or that makes us unworthy (which we all are of love like that), or uninterested (since He does not seem to have given us some of our desires). Love begets love in a heart that is open to it: not lust, not interest, but LOVE itself which has in compassion the real interests (and certainly not the mere desires) of what is loved at heart.
While man may presume, God KNOWS. Where pastors well fit in here, is to remind people not of their opinions, but of God's truth, which is inexorable, declared, invariable, insupportable to mere desire. In James 3:15 indeed, mere desires, the soul's preoccupations, are put with being earthly in disposition and demonic in spirit in a tight little cluster.
THE BRILLIANT PITY OF GOD
"O Israel, you are destroyed,
But your help is from Me.
I will be your King;
Where is any other,
That he may save you in all your cities?
And your judges to whom you said,
‘Give me a king and princes’?
"I gave you a king in My anger,
And took him away in My wrath.
The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up;
His sin is stored up.
The sorrows of a woman in childbirth shall come upon him.
He is an unwise son,
For he should not stay long where children are born.
"I will ransom them from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death.
O Death, I will be your plagues!
O Grave, I will be your destruction!
Pity is hidden from My eyes," Hosea 13:9-14
Here Israel is shown as a babe bound in the womb, slow to emit, wandering woeful, staying unborn, risking his very life. Vacillating, enervated, listless, faithless, the nation in its mass moves like someone mesmerised to the devastations of judgment. Quite to the contrary: Faith acts; it does not simply fidget. It comes forth to the light of day, and breathes with spiritual lungs!
Despite this, God has prepared the ultimate sacrifice for the intimate way in which the remnant, for all that, will be saved. Past the prophets, like an athlete summoning strength and leaving the field behind, not dithering or delaying as Israel did, acting with discretion both divine and sublime, God declares His own course of action. I will ransom! He cries. He will pay off the gangsters of sin, and secure the release from death of those who trust in Him. Indeed, death, that appalling and sinister spectre facing man for his sins, will be a paid up creditor, the cheque from God.
HOW is hell itself and the disgrace that for all sinners leads to it (Luke 13:1ff.), to be covered since its exclusion zone, that destiny of being apart from God, is deserved ? It is by a DIVINE RANSOM, wrought by grace, granted to faith. God is not willing to ignore sin; but He is willing to pay adequately for it, and cover its cost for each sinner IF and WHEN it is met by sincere repentance (not craven cowering without heart). Life then becomes the resultant, even a divinely secured and guaranteed life from Christ (Luke 13:1-3, John 6:40, 6:50ff., Romans 8:32, II John 2:1-2).
That donated life (comparable a little with not a replacement organ but the entirety of life granted that death may be avoided, and this not as a mere option, but as a divine and studied provision) is eternal. It is accompanied by the deletion of guilt through the substitution of Christ for the death of the sinner, and the grant of His inalienable life to the redeemed (cf. John 10:9,27-28).
The power of these mangling evils that He met, it is very great. It is however both merciful and natural that the power of God is greater, since death is His own sentence on sin (Romans 6:23); and the supernatural is both source and criterion for the natural, the product of God Himself. He can cover what He made.
Not every child can fix his own toy, though even a man can hope to do so; but when God makes man, He acts in accord with His own truth, both in condemning our race's misuse of the glorious options which man's spirit provides, and in pardoning the same on terms satisfying to truth. As to man, of these capacities of his, he is only too aware, often degrading himself by exalting himself and exulting in his undoubted powers, so that the higher his spirit flies, the lower his soul lurches.
What then do we learn from this ? Flying in the face of death is like cruising at 600 mph, into a tornado; but being evacuated from it is rather like finding a deep sea submarine near you, with brilliant transfer devices for you, when you are being crushed in diving too deep, and cannot suddenly break the surface without courting death. The intimate horror which sin is, has its placard, its poster in this, that God Himself sees fit to pay RANSOM to exclude this death and hell (Matthew 20:28). Here in Hosea 13:14 is the resolve; there in Isaiah 53 is the Messiah's payment.
Man’s image from God is a cause of sublimity and of the infernal alike. It is the ground of man's one great step into spiritual space, exposed and fragile, condemned and uncontrite, its issue a crash into the infernal; but it is the opportunity for God's great step into this world, the sublime, made vulnerable to the vicious, that He might cover the case in Himself, for man. ONLY GOD can make the difference, for none other has the power and the purity. It is not too hard for Him, since He both made and understands it all, and knows the things He will do, just as He knew them before the creation, as any wise and knowledgeable inventor might hope to do for his lesser products!
With God, it is not hope, but power and wisdom and self-control, performing without limit or external constraint, the desires of His heart. Making and redeeming man, as many as respond to Him in His grace: this is a grand creation, far beyond the material, even beyond the mental and spiritual realities associated. It is a work of spiritual finesse, profundity and love, for fellowship and wonder to the one created. it has a cut-off point, the truth. It has a cut-off surface, the Cross. There has to be a meeting there.
As to hell and the grave, then, that exit summons for man-in-sin, God Himself will constitute its destruction for His people. The term here, 'pity', has the meaning 'repentance' or change of mind, so that so far from denying pity a place, He denies any change of His pitiful mind, a place. It is PITY on His own heart, in giving the Christ, His only begotten Son for such a role as sin-bearer; it is PITY in the Son Himself, who with strong cries bore up His anguish as He prepared for Calvary (Hebrews 5:7, cf. Luke 22): it is SELF-PITY which is hidden from His eyes.
In marked contrast to Israel, God will NOT TURN ASIDE from His self-imposed duty of pity for those whose redemption is such a burden. In becoming man, He does not simply do, if you will, an accounting procedure: He pays in Person with emotion and sensitivity of soul, and abrasion of spirit as He bears the doom of man in concentrated form, the wrath due sin, till His aching cry ascends to heave, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me!" as it was predicted in Psalm 22, would be the holy expression of the Redeemer's vicarious agony. Sin separates, and Christ bore the wrath of God against it, not as a symbol, but in an atrocity of grief; and what agony energised that lament! (Isaiah 59:1-2).
This is what it cost to rejoin any person who in sin, lost, seeks salvation and finds it by faith through the free grace of God. Here is the pity which knew no pity ... on itself!
THE INEXORABLE TRUTH OF GOD
Imagine showing SUCH pity and retaining such LOVE for such people! What confidence is the Christian given by such expression of the God who acts for the one who waits for Him (Isaiah 64:5). He KNOWS when to act.
For our salvation, He waited over half a millenium from the day of His utterance before, in the fulness of times (Galatians 4:4), as planned, He came to deal with death with finality and the grave with grace, once and for all. He had to die around AD 30, for in Daniel He had predicted this, and GOD exalts HIS WORD above all His name! (Psalm 138:2). If He says it, He does it! That is faithfulness, something hard to find in this 21st century, and precious where located.
When the President and Judge, Creator of the universe is found faithful, and gives free access through pity to truth, rejoice! You are delivered (cf. Romans 5:1-15). Not only is it a free gift, we there read, but it is a gift by grace: NO POSTAGE, FEES or administration charges! No priests, prelates or parsons are there to harass you. It is FREE, and what the servants of God must tell you is THAT VERY FACT.
If, then, they are there to remind you of sure and free salvation, inviolable in truth, no less must they remind you that God will be no means clear the wicked (Nahum 1:3), as inexorable truth exposes his guilt-smitten and uncovered soul. In tune with the cost to Him, is the discipline for us: KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS.
If you seek to please your employer in the known requirements, how much more the Lord.
To be sure, this is not to achieve salvation, which is free, but for your conformity through the power of the Holy Spirit to the beauty of holiness in Christ Romans 3:23ff., Galatians 3, II Corinthians 3:18). If less than a full wine glass can be too much for your liver in one day (in strict diet measures), and that invites trouble for that organ, how much more does ANY sin invite heart trouble.
Just as God is not harsh to confront needlessly, so He is not lax to allow superficiality to anoint your fevered brow. Peace is found in a sincere love of truth, which seeks with humble diligence to be enabled to follow His way with fidelity. Love is like that, and it rejoices in the face of judgment (I John 4:17-19, Romans 5:11), knowing the God whose truth impels it, is He whose mercy covers it. With clear conscience it acts in His, who are kept clean by the blood of Christ, enlightened and enabled by His Spirit (I John 1:7ff., 5:11ff., Ephesians 1:5-21, Philippians 4:13).