Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"Love and Judgment: God's Dilemma (Hosea)"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Major Lessons From Minor Prophets
Lesson 2: "Love and Judgment: God's Dilemma (Hosea)"
On Christ's part, to have to go on forgiving ad infinitum, generation after generation, century after century, loving His people with a conjugal love never requited must be agony for him. Must God's people be forever motivated by an egocentric desire for their personal reward of salvation? Can they never sense a concern for His heart-love, a purpose of their heart that He receive His reward, transcending their yearning for their reward? Can His Bride-to-be at last "make herself ready for the marriage of the Lamb" (Rev. 19:7, 8)?
The book of Hosea says "yes!" It tells us to take heart; as Gomer at last grew up, we can grow up too!
Why is Hosea in the Bible? Hosea was the Lord's last effort to save Israel from ruin by the Assyrians. They put an end to the kingdom in 723 B.C. after their impenitence was hopeless. Elijah had tried to save them some 150 years earlier; what made the problem most difficult was that under Jeroboam II the kingdom had enjoyed great prosperity and material success. Just like Laodicea, the people and their spiritual leaders continually said we are "rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing" (Rev. 3:14-17). Hosea's Israel and our Laodicea have an identical problem.
The prophets who were deep-feeling had an insight into the pain that the God of Israel was suffering, century after century. Solomon had sensed that God's love for Israel was that of a Lover (Song of Solomon). Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, wrote of it (see Ezekiel 16).
It's true that God has always loved the whole world which has rejected Him; but there is a difference in Israel's rejection of Him. Christ's love for Israel was conjugal. Hope sprang eternal in His heart. Here was the "chosen one" who could appreciate Him and in that sense return His love.
Israel did "return" His love. We read of the reformations and repentances that fill the Old Testament story of the Judges, the reigns of Kings Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah. But time after time, Christ's love was disappointed, and His "chosen one" embarrassed Him before the world and before the universe and then crucified Him.
What is the cause of "backsliding"? From time immemorial it has been the problem of God's true people. God says through Hosea they are "bent to backsliding from Me" (Hosea 11:7). Their backsliding was apparent as early as the time of the Judges just after the time of Moses. The story is up and down continually, mostly down, right on through the major and minor prophets of the Old Testament. Finally in 586 B.C. the kingdom of Judah (God's true people) suffered a massive destruction. But even in Babylon and ever afterward, the "backsliding" went on until they rejected and murdered the Son of God. The word "backsliding" does not occur in the New Testament, but the word "lukewarm" is there, just as bad, maybe worse, describing God's true people in these last days (Rev. 3:15, 16).
Why is it that so often after we have had a wonderful series of "revival meetings" and our hearts have been stirred, then after a few weeks we find we have begun "backsliding" again? The world has crept in; we have gotten too busy to keep our promise to give the Lord quality time in Bible study and prayer and witnessing, and again we lose that plateau experience. Is it possible that there is a fundamental reason why this problem has gone on for these thousands of years, ever since Moses?
The problem began at Mt. Sinai; from that truly "mountain-top" experience in meeting the Lord and hearing Him speak His holy law with His own voice with fire and thunder and earthquakes, in only a few weeks the people had backslidden to worshipping idols (Ex. 32:1-6)! The problem was they had fastened themselves their old covenant promise to be good and do everything just right (Ex. 19:8). We need to believe God's new covenant promises.
Backsliding is a repeat of the decline and fall of the kingdom of Israel. The prophet Hosea pleaded with kings and people to repent of their flagrant injustice, luxury, extravagance, and gross licentiousness--moral corruption flaunted in the face of God while the nation stood at the very brink of irredeemable disaster. "O Israel," said Hosea, "thou hast destroyed thyself!" (Hosea 13:9, 10). "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge" (4:6).
A few conscientious people emigrated to the kingdom of Judah where the Passover was still kept (2 Chron. 30:10-13), but Israel itself vanished from the face of the earth, overrun by Assyria. God withdrew His Holy Spirit after being repeatedly beaten off (Hosea 4:17). But there was good news. As Israel's Titanic went down, there was a Lifeboat for all who would repent: "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely," said the Lord (14:4).
That healing involves the latter rain. Are you ready for the latter rain? For years Christians have been anticipating the last day outpouring of the Holy Spirit before the second coming of Jesus Christ from heaven.
Paul in Romans 10:3 said Israel was ignorant of God's righteousness, and were going about to establish their own righteousness. A realization of what it cost Jesus Christ to redeem our fallen world will be at the foundation of preparing God's people to receive the latter rain.
If we begin to know that Jesus Christ completely identified Himself with our fallen human nature, and died and brought us with Him from that doom of an eternal grave, and rose again because of our justification (Rom. 4:25), when this realization dawns on our self-centered consciousness, and "we follow on to know the Lord, … He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth" (Hosea 6:1-3). It will only be when God's people realize that it is their iniquities, their perverseness, their revolting and rebellious hearts, and their continuing on in the rejection of the knowledge of His righteousness.
1888 is to the Seventh-day Adventist Church what Calvary is to the Jews. Most Jews are like Seventh-day Adventists, occupied with "just keeping their personal lives together" who could care less about what happened nearly 2000 years ago, just like "we" care less about what happened over 100 years ago. But the 1888 message was the "beginning" of the latter rain and the loud cry of Revelation 18--and we failed miserably, "just like the Jews," says Ellen White, and she tells the naked truth. [1] It was the Lord's method of infusing every Seventh-day Adventist congregation with the warmth of genuine agape-love, to make them "foremost in uplifting Christ before the world." [2] The terrible lukewarmness, legalism, criticism, and bitterness we rightly weep over are the century-old byproducts of that rejection of truth.
The beautiful message of Christ's much more abounding grace has "in a great degree" been kept away from our people and from the world itself. [3] So, the critics and legalists have a field day decrying "abounding sin" within the church, almost totally ignorant of much more abounding grace.
Some feel it is sheer nonsense that we are in any wise guilty of the sin of 1888. Jesus recognized the principle of corporate guilt and the necessity for corporate repentance. In fact, Pentecost itself was the direct consequence of recognizing corporate guilt and receiving the gift of corporate repentance: "Let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that … ye have crucified ... Christ" (Acts 2:36); "ye denied the Holy One and the Just ... and killed the Prince of life. ... Through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers" (3:14, 15). Peter clearly fixes the guilt on "all the house of Israel," although comparatively speaking only a few actually took part in it.
When we choose to know the Lord as He has revealed Himself in our 1888 history, He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain to the earth. The blessed latter rain will fall, and what a refreshing it will be.
--Paul E. Penno
[1] "When the Jews took the first step in the rejection of Christ, they took a dangerous step. When afterward evidence accumulated that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, they were too proud to acknowledge that they had erred. So with the people of our day who reject the truth. They do not take time to investigate candidly, with earnest prayer, the evidences of the truth, and they oppose that which they do not understand. Just like the Jews, they take it for granted they have all the truth, and feel a sort of contempt for anyone who should suppose they had more correct ideas than themselves of what is truth" (The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, pp. 169, 170).
[2] Evangelism, p. 188.
[3] Selected Messages, vol. 1, pp. 234, 235.
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