Archive

Tag Archives: heart

This is an adapted transcript of a sermon I preached back in June. To listen to the recording, go to https://www.stmaryswollatonpark.co.uk/sermons/2-kings-22-josiahs-reformation/

This evening we’re going to be looking at king Josiah. When I was first asked to preach on Josiah, I was really excited. The kings of Judah were a mixed bag of great, godly men and horrible villains, and Josiah is a great example of godliness. He’s one of the kings that make you think, “Yes, here’s a good one!”

Last week Henry preached about king Hezekiah, who was one of the better kings of Judah, but between him and Josiah were two awful ones, Manasseh and Amon. Manasseh filled the nation with idols and was so evil and bloodthirsty that God said that He would wipe Jerusalem out and give the people over to their enemies. Amon was just as bad as Manasseh was. So Josiah is a great relief!

Tonight we’ll see that yes, Josiah was a great king. But we’ll also see that he was a king who couldn’t save his people. But he points to a King who can. The full story is in 2 Kings 22 and 23.

 

Josiah: the king who could not save

Josiah’s story starts fairly quietly. There was some repair work going on at the temple. The workmen needed to be paid, so Josiah ordered Shaphan the secretary to ask Hilkiah the high priest to open the temple coffers and pay the men. But while he was getting the money together, Hilkiah found a book. You can imagine him digging around in the temple store-rooms and stumbling across this big, old, dusty scroll. What is it? Hilkiah passed it on to Shaphan, who read it. And Shaphan read it to the king.

When Josiah heard what the book said, he tore his clothes in alarm and anguish and grief. What on earth was in this book?

This book wasn’t just any book that that you get because it looks nice and leave it on the shelf, or you forget about it and put it away, where it gathers dust. It was the Book of the Law – what we have in our Bibles now as the book of Deuteronomy. It contained all of the covenant that God had made with His people; commands to live by, instructions on how to worship Him, and what would happen if they broke it. It was supposed to be available to every king of God’s people so he could lead them faithfully. But it had been lost or hidden away in the temple, and this is the first time Josiah had read it.

And when it was read to him, his blood ran cold. Because he read things like this:

 “You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you… lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.”

Deuteronomy 6:14-15

“…if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.”

Deuteronomy 8:19

“When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, take care that you are not ensnared to follow them… for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.”

Deuteronomy 12:29-31

Josiah realised that his kingdom was doing exactly what God had told them not to do.

The nation was full of the idols that the LORD commanded them not to worship. Baal, Asherah, the ‘host of heaven’ and the sun in the temple. Altars on the palace roof. Shrines on hills up and down the country, for the Ashtoreth of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the god of the Moabites, for Milcom the god of the Ammonites. A valley outside Jerusalem where children were sacrificed to Molech!

God explicitly said that if His people worshipped these gods, He would wipe them off the face of the earth. We saw earlier in our series in Kings that God always keeps His word, and Josiah knew this. He knew God is perfectly just, and would keep His promise to avenge the broken covenant.

He knew his kingdom stood on the edge of destruction.

He knew what that would look like, because the northern kingdom of Israel had already been conquered and destroyed as God had promised.

But Josiah also knew God well enough to seek Him.

He sent Hilkiah, Shaphan and three others to have an emergency conference with God. Through Huldah the prophetess God said that He would carry out the destruction that Josiah had read about, because the nation had forsaken Him and followed other gods.

His unquenchable wrath, His furious anger, was burning against Judah because they had provoked and provoked Him with their idolatry and evil. He said there would be a point of no return, where they became so evil and had broken the covenant so much that He had to punish them because He is a perfectly just God, and justice had to be satisfied.

He gave them years of chances to not get to that point. He warned them and warned them not to go there.

But they didn’t listen. Manasseh crossed that line. And God couldn’t let it slide.

The end was coming, and there was no escape.

But have a look at God’s message to Josiah in 22:18-20: “Regarding the words that you have heard, because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the LORD, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the LORD. Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place.”

Josiah believed that God was merciful as well as just, so turned to Him in his distress. God heard his cry and responded with mercy. He postponed the nations’ destruction for Josiah’s sake.

God never lies, and God always keeps His promises. The promises about judgement and wrath as well as the promises about blessing. He could not break His word by ignoring what His people had done. His wrath would fall on them. But God isn’t cruel. He showed mercy to Josiah by postponing His wrath so that Josiah wouldn’t have to live through the horrors that were to come. All because Josiah’s heart was penitent. Because he grieved over how he and the nation had broken their covenant relationship with God.

And we see more of Josiah’s heart towards God in what he did next.

If I told you that you were going to die this time next week, how would you use your last days on earth? Would you quit work? Would you go to see your family? Would you throw caution to the wind and do everything you had ever wanted to do, because you might as well, right? What does it matter?

Although it was certain that his nation’s days were numbered, Josiah didn’t do any of that. If you read on into chapter 23, you’ll see that he obeyed God. He led the whole nation in repentance, starting with himself. At the beginning of chapter 23 we see that he gathered the whole country together to read the Book of the Law to them and re-commit to the covenant that they had broken. He was the first to make a public commitment to walk after God and keep God’s commands with all his heart and soul.

He then ruthlessly destroyed all the idols he could find; burning, pulverising or desecrating them so that nobody could use them again.

He got rid of all his father’s mediums and necromancers, and all of the self-appointed priests of other gods; and ordered that the Passover, the festival of God’s saving relationship with His people, would be celebrated like never before.

This scale of repentance was so unprecedented in history that the Bible calls Josiah unique out of all the kings of Israel and Judah. Chapter 23:25 says that “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might…” Not Solomon. Or Hezekiah. Or even David, who God called “a man after his own heart”! (1 Samuel 13:14)

This sounds like it should have been the kingdom’s ‘happily ever after’. Surely now God would say that He wouldn’t destroy the kingdom after all, like how we saw last week that He healed Hezekiah after He said he would die? Surely now things would be ok?

Well, no. Verses 26 and 27 say, “Still the LORD did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. And the LORD said, ‘I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.’”

You see, for all of his godliness, Josiah couldn’t quench God’s wrath. God is perfect. He would keep His word about the judgement coming on Judah, and nothing would stop Him from doing it. It was only a matter of time.

Josiah couldn’t change the people’s hearts, either – his heart turned to God, but he couldn’t turn the heart of the nation. After him, all the kings of Judah did evil, including his sons.

There’s an important thing to remember here: our leaders cannot save us. Because what matters is your own personal response to God, not the faith of your friends or your family or your pastor.

No human can save us from the wrath of God. Ever.

So what hope do we have?

Unbeatable hope.

Because nobody can save us from the wrath of God… except God Himself. As much as Josiah was a human king who couldn’t save, Jesus is God, and He is the King who saves His people.

 

Jesus, the King who saves

Jesus is the King who saves. He’s the King who quenches God’s wrath, and the King who changes our hearts.

We’re in a similar situation to Josiah. In Romans 1 the Bible says that “…the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (v18) It says that humans should be able to see enough about who God is in the world around us to worship Him, but instead we refuse to worship Him and worship other things instead.

So God is revealing His wrath. Against us.

For Josiah and his people, God’s wrath looked like having a foreign nation conquer them, destroy their home, and take them far away as slaves.

For everyone, God’s wrath ultimately comes after death. All of us, after we’ve died, will come before God and He will judge whether we have done right or wrong. And those found guilty of unrighteousness will be condemned to eternal, horrific pain and destruction. The Bible calls it hell.

Not many of us would naturally think of ourselves as being bad enough to deserve that. It’s horrible! But righteousness is about living in a way that’s completely perfect, living in God’s way.

Have you ever not had God as the most important person in your life?

Has something else ever been more important to you than doing what He says?

Have you ever talked about God as if He doesn’t matter?

Have you ever not taken a day off each week to spend resting and enjoying God?

Have you ever yelled, “I hate you!” at your parents? Or thought it? Or thought it about someone else?

Have you ever craved something that someone else has and wanted it for yourself? Or taken something that isn’t yours? Or daydreamed about taking something that’s not yours to have?

Have you ever not quite told the truth?

God says all of these things are unrighteousness. Another word for it is sin. By doing any of them we are exposing that we suppress the truth that God exists. We declare that don’t want God to be here. We declare that we want God dead so that we can be god instead and obey our own rules. So even if you’ve only done one of these things, you’ve shown that you want God dead. And it counts as deserving His wrath.

We all stand on the brink of destruction.

But we don’t have to be here. Because our God, who is perfectly holy and can’t stand injustice, is the very God who jumps at the chance to forgive.

One of the things that Josiah did was to get the people to keep the Passover like never before. Passover was a celebration of how God rescued His people out of slavery in Egypt. He did it by making His wrath for sin fall on the whole country, killing every firstborn child. But His people were protected by killing a lamb and putting its blood on the doors of their houses, to show that something else had died instead of them.

Later on we’re going to be sharing Communion together. When Jesus first taught His disciples to share Communion He wasn’t just celebrating Passover, He was totally transforming it. Because the Passover, and Communion, were all pointing to His far greater rescue.

They were pointing to how Jesus quenches God’s wrath.

When Jesus died, the full fury of God’s wrath that was hanging over our heads for every unrighteous thing that we have done fell on Him instead. The unquenchable fire was quenched by the blood of Jesus as it ran down the cross. He swapped His righteousness for our sin and, like that Passover lamb, He was killed for our sin in our place.

He did it so that whoever believes in Jesus will be saved from God’s wrath. From destruction.

If you have Jesus as your Saviour, every time you mess up, even now, His blood on the cross says, ‘that has already been paid for.’

If you’re here and you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian, please hear this: All of us have God’s wrath hanging over us – me, you, and everyone else here. I know it’s not nice to hear, but I’d be lying to you if I pretended it wasn’t true. But please, please also hear this: you don’t have to be in danger. Come to Jesus – you’ll find that He is far more kind, more loving, more understanding than you could ever dream. And He is the only one who can save you from destruction. Because He is the only one who has taken God’s wrath in our place.

In chapter 22:19, God tells Josiah that because his heart was penitent, He wouldn’t have to face His wrath. The Hebrew word that’s translated as “penitent” here could also be translated as “tender.” Josiah’s heart was soft towards God.

When God spoke, he listened.

When God spoke, he responded.

And that’s all that God asks of us. To respond when He speaks. So please listen to what God is saying here.

Listen to His warning.

Listen to His promise to rescue you.

And respond by asking Him to save you.

God showed Josiah mercy when he repented, and He’ll do the same for you, too. All you need to do is say to Him, “I’m sinful. I’m sorry. Please save me.” And God will stop you from every having to see hell.

If you’re here and you are a Christian, remember what Jesus has saved you from. Be humbled by the lengths God has gone to save you. That Jesus died to make you right with Him.

Fear His awesome holiness that meant that cost.

Know that because Jesus has made you righteous, you are precious and perfect in God’s sight, even though you still get stuff wrong now.

As you eat the bread and drink the wine when we share Communion together, remember that Jesus’ body was broken, His blood ran down that cross, for you. And it shields you from God’s wrath and makes you clean.

But also don’t keep the news to yourself!

When he found the book of the Law, Josiah gathered all the people to hear it. We aren’t kings with that kind of power now, but we can still take what opportunities we can to share what we’ve found. The reason that as a church we are praying for 100 people to become Christians in the next few years is because we want to see God saving more and more people from His wrath. The reason that we’ve said that we want to equip the church family to proclaim the Gospel is because we long to see God use us to bring more people to saving faith in Jesus.

It’s not something we can just sit on our hands about and wait for someone else to do! It won’t look the same for everyone, but we all have a part to play in sharing the news that Jesus saves us from God’s wrath.

We’ve seen that Josiah couldn’t save his people, but that Jesus does. And Jesus saves us from God’s wrath by absorbing it for us and making us righteous. And then He starts an inner revolution to change us.

 

Jesus, the King who changes our hearts.

Josiah had no power to change the hearts of his people, but that’s exactly what Jesus does for those who come to Him. Ephesians 5:25-27 says that Jesus gave Himself up for us to make us clean and present us to Himself in splendour, without any kind of imperfection, that we might be holy. If you want a long word for it, that’s called sanctification.

We are born with hearts that are against God and turn away from Him. Jesus died to give us the status of being righteous, and to work in us to change us into people who actually deserve to be called righteous.

It’s something that we need to work hard at ourselves. When Josiah realised just how bad the nation’s sin was, he literally smashed up their temptations. And we need to do the same. We need to have the same soft-heartedness that asks God for forgiveness, and the same resolve to destroy the idols in our hearts.

What tempts you away from God?

What idols are in your bedroom? On your dining table? At your desk?

What gods do you worship on your smartphone? With your credit card? In your diary?

What do you think and feel that you believe is more true than what God says?

Get rid of them! We must repent of all these! Because they are what turn us away from God.

Sin is not a pet to be tamed, it’s a monster that wants you dead. It drags you away from God so that you stop believing in Him and fall under His wrath. As theologian John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” And this is what God by His Spirit wants to do in you. He wants to kill your sin. But He wants to do it with you.

Keep fighting. Remember, it’s not wrong to be tempted. But it is wrong to give in.

Sin inflamed the wrath that Jesus died to quench, so why would we go back to it?

Sin is what God promises to give us the power to fight, so why would we play into temptation’s hands?

Keep fighting. Keep working hard not just at killing sin, but growing in godliness. Join the revolution of God in your heart!

You aren’t alone. As a church family we’re committed to building each other up so that we’re growing in faith and godliness. So let’s be honest with each other about our struggles. Let’s help each other bear the burdens of the temptations we have to fight. Let’s fight with and for each other, praying for each other, being accountable to each other. Let’s be spiritual comrades in arms together.

 

Josiah was a king who loved God like no other. But he couldn’t save his people.

Jesus is a King like no other. And He’s the only King who can save us. He quenched God’s wrath when He died on the cross, and He changes our hearts to make us people who truly worship God and delight Him.

So come to Jesus. Come to the God of peace who will save you and make you completely perfect. Come to the God who will make your whole being blameless and holy and without blemish.

God is calling us. He is faithful, and He will surely do it (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

 

A couple of things that heavily influenced me while I was writing this were:

Advertisements

A few months ago I stumbled across an entry in my journal from a day I spent praying and looking at the Bible. Every so often I go through cycles of just being fed up with myself and my own sinfulness, so when I had a day to spend time with God I read Romans 5-8 and prayed about it. I don’t think it’s unusual for Christians to go through times where we get really fed up of our own sin and worry that God isn’t all that far away from giving up on us because we’re so rubbish at being godly. Sin feels like this monster that won’t let us go, and we wonder whether we’ll ever be able to resist that temptation or be free from that weakness or know what it means for that thing to not be a struggle. The below post is based on what I wrote in my journal that day, and what God showed me about assurance through those chapters in Romans.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:8-9

… while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

Romans 5:6, 8-9

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Romans 8:1-2

Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1) – yet this so often is our struggle: when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law that dwells in my members… I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:21-25) We can be Christians, love God, and know we have been redeemed and forgiven but yet can’t seem to shake sin. It digs its claws in; our sinful old nature doesn’t want to let go. And so we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our full adoption as children of God, the complete redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). This is our fight of faith: we hate the sin we commit and the temptations we fall into. It sickens us.

Yet this groaning is a good thing. Our horror and disgust at our own sin is a good thing, because it is a result of the Spirit’s work to convict us of sin and drive us to Jesus. The Spirit of life has set us free in Christ from sin and death (Romans 8:2) and lives in us (v10-11), giving us life. Our old body of death keeps needing to be put to death and it distresses us to still be attached to it – because we are children of God (v15-17) – and so we moan and cry out and ache and long for the day when our sinful nature will finally fall away to be remembered no more.

Further still, sin does not have the final say by any means. In ourselves we may be helpless, but we are not “in” ourselves any more. We are in Christ. While we were unable to do anything to help ourselves, Jesus died for us (Romans 5:6). He took all this sinful nature from us upon Himself, and took it to the grave. So as much as we can’t yet get away from our sinful nature, it has no lasting hold on us because we are dead to it. Because of Jesus, sin has no power over us (Romans 6:14) because we are under grace now – just as death has no power over Jesus because He has been raised from the dead. Sin clings to us, but only as dead ivy clings to a wall because its roots stubbornly stick in. God is slowly removing those roots – because He has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

Pre. Destined. God has spoken this over us and commanded it over our life’s path so that whatever happens we are being pulled in a Christlike direction. We are being made to be like Jesus! Granted, this won’t happen passively and we need to actively work at growing in holiness so that we don’t fall away (Hebrews 6: 1-12) but God won’t deny that growth to those who want to know and love Him and honour Him.

Until the day He returns we must still put sin to death, but the overwhelming truth for Christians (although hidden for now – Romans 8:19) is:

  • We have peace with God (Romans 5:1)
  • God’s love has been poured into our hearts (Romans 5:5)
  • We are reconciled with God (Romans 5:11)
  • We have been given righteousness (Romans5:17)
  • We are dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:11)
  • Sin has no power over us (Romans 6:14)
  • We are freed from sin, and a slave to righteousness which leads to sanctification and eternal life (Romans 6:22)
  • We are not condemned (Romans 8:1)
  • We are in the Spirit, who is life and through whom God will give life to our mortal bodies (Romans 8:9, 11)
  • By the Spirit we can kill off our sinful nature (Romans 8:13)
  • We have the Spirit of adoption as a son and heir of God with Christ (Romans 8:15-17)
  • We have a glory that will be given me in the future (Romans 8:19, 21)
  • The Spirit prays for us better than we can, and the Father knows His mind (Romans 8:26-27)
  • All things work together for our good (Romans 8:28)
  • We will become like Jesus in character (Romans 8:29)
  • God will give us all things (Romans 8:32)
  • We are justified by God – no charge can stand against the righteousness we have been given (Romans 8:33)
  • Jesus, who died for our sin, is alive and praying for us – I cannot be condemned for the sin He took to the grave (Romans 8:34)
  • We cannot be separated from Jesus’ love, and everything that would try to destroy us and take me from Him will be made to serve us (Romans 8:35-39).

The fact that we feel broken over our sin and hate it is evidence of the Spirit of life being at work in us. So God can use precisely what would discourage us for our good if we remember that this anguish over sin is the result of His active work in us, and not evidence of us irreversibly falling away.

Our problem is our hearts that are so riddled with sin we can’t get away from it. But God has and will change them. In Jeremiah 31:33-34 He promised to write His law on our hearts so that we’ll want to do what’s godly. It will take a lifetime to get there, but day by day God is making us to be more like Jesus, to “make our hearts beat with His love, mercy, and passion for His glory” as my pastor put it in his sermon this morning. One day we will be free of the sin we hate. For now, we must pray and trust that God will change us and work against the dead sinful nature that does cling to us, but that one day will be long forgotten.

November is moving fast, and Christmas is approaching! Time to think of what presents to buy for friends and family! I quite like planning what to buy for the people I know well enough to have a good idea of what to get them, but some people are harder to buy for than others. At times like these the invention of vouchers is something invaluable. I tend to always get vouchers from a member of my family at Christmas, and it’s quite fun choosing what to spend them on. I enjoy the satisfaction that comes from getting a good bargain. But although I want to get the most out of what I spend, I know it isn’t worth spending money on something that’s cheap and low-quality. It’s far better to exchange my shiny pieces of paper for something that I know that I’ll enjoy for a while. You wouldn’t redeem something broken or old or tatty with your vouchers, would you?

You might be wondering why on earth I’m talking about what I’ll be spending my Christmas money on, but I think that as we go through the short and sweet chapter of Hosea 3 we’ll find something surprising. We’ll see a God who spends big on something that we might think is a rip-off, but something He thinks is worth every last bit of what He paid.

In Hosea 1, God describes Israel’s relationship with Him like that of an unfaithful wife. They were a people who keep on forsaking God for idols, and God says He’ll judge Israel because of their spiritual adultery. God originally warned against forgetting Him a few generations before in Deuteronomy 8, yet we see in Hosea 2 that Israel did just that, and left God her husband for the empty promises of other gods. So God says He’ll take away everything she has to bring her to her senses. He will then allure His unfaithful wife, and give back all He has taken away, and Israel will once again call Him her husband. Not only will God restore their relationship but He will make it a closer, deeper, purer one. An eternal one.

In chapter 3 we take a short break from God’s message to Israel to see what is happening in Hosea’s life. This is the last time we hear about Hosea himself in the book, and again God uses it to show profound and powerful truths about His relationship with, and His plans for, His people. In this passage it involves two actions: redemption and restoration. This won’t be an easy passage to look at. We will be challenged. We will be humbled. But we will also be allured by the unrelenting love and astonishing forgiveness of our God. A God who willingly redeems a broken people at a cost much greater than a gift card.

So let’s look at the passage:

The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love has as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin-cakes.”

So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, “You are to live with me for many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.”

For the Israelites will live for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol. Afterwards the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days.”

Redemption

Firstly, the passage describes redemption. The chapter begins with God giving Hosea some instructions: ‘The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin-cakes.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley.’ (v1-2)

Gomer has left Hosea. Not only has she left him, but she has left him for another man while still being his wife. By Old Testament law, Hosea was well within his rights to drag both Gomer and her lover to the city gate to be stoned to death. And, let’s be honest, wouldn’t you sympathise? If the man, or woman, you loved, you had married, you had given all that you had to, you had looked after, who had promised to be with you for life, one day turned around and said “Sorry, I’m in love with someone else” upped sticks and left – wouldn’t you be angry? Wouldn’t you be hurt? Would you ever want to see them again? It’s incredibly painful when anyone you’re close to hurts you, and all the more for a marriage, a relationship that’s meant to be one of intimacy and close trust.

Yet what does God tell Hosea to do? “…Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites…” (v1) God is using Hosea’s life as a picture of His relationship with Israel. Can you see the parallel here? “Go, show your love to your wife… though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin-cakes.” (v1) God is saying that just like Gomer left Hosea for another man, Israel has abandoned her divine Husband for the idol Baal, and loves not God, but raisin-cakes, things used in rituals. She does not love God Himself, but desires things, and has turned to other gods to give her those things. And God, being holy, righteous, and just, has every right to condemn Israel to destruction for her unfaithfulness.

Yet He doesn’t do that. If you remember, in chapter 2 God didn’t declare intentions to annihilate Israel, although He would punish her. He said He would love her and woo her and betroth her to Him for ever. And as God decided to show His love in restoring His idolatrous people, He asks Hosea to do the same for his wife. And verse 2 says that that involves buying Gomer back. The price is fifteen shekels of silver and one and a half homers of barley. Some interpreters think this adds up to thirty shekels of silver – this was how much it cost to buy a slave’s freedom. Hosea doesn’t say why she needs to be bought back, but Gomer’s return came at a price. And the fact that Hosea had to make up the difference with barley shows He couldn’t pay in cash. It was costly for him.

God didn’t give Hosea the option of backing out of his relationship with his wife, because God is uncompromising in His relationship with His people. He would not give up on Israel, although abandoning them would save Him the pain of their unfaithfulness; and He wouldn’t settle for anything less than for them to call Him their husband. The love that God asks of Hosea is but a taste of God’s own love for His people – vast, relentless, eternal.

But was it worth it? Hosea knew that Gomer was adulterous right to the core, it was why God told him to marry her in the first place. Wouldn’t Gomer just keep on running to her lovers? Wouldn’t Israel just turn away again? It’s what they had been doing for generations! It wasn’t enough to merely remove the wife from slavery. No, she would have to change as well.

 

Restoration

Therefore, after redemption the second act we see is that of restoration. After Hosea has bought Gomer, he says to her, “You are to live with me for many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.” (v3) This sounds a bit cryptic, but Hosea is saying that she is to remove herself from the temptation of adultery. She is to live with Hosea as his wife, yet since sexual intimacy was her downfall, she is not to sleep with any man – including Hosea – for a time. Gomer had to get out of the habit of unfaithfulness so that she could be a faithful wife. And then Hosea would fully be a husband to her again.

Why did Hosea do this? “For the Israelites will live for many days without a king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol.” (v4) God will remove from Israel the things that were leading them astray. They weren’t all bad things in themselves. It wasn’t wrong for Israel to have a king, to offer sacrifices, or to have objects of worship. These were all good things. But Israel’s rulers had led them astray, and more often than not had rejected God. Sacrificial offerings were something ordained by God, and in previous years God’s people had set up memorial to remind them of what God had done for them. Yet the people were now sacrificing to other gods and making idols in honour of them. Even ephods, parts of the system of worship that God had set up through Moses, had become idols. In fact, the history of the northern kingdom of Israel was founded on idolatry and a broken relationship – they rebelled against King David’s grandson and set up their own king and made their own rival religion. Israel was riddled with idolatry! Like a shopping trolley with a dodgy wheel, they kept veering away from God and running in the wrong direction.

Like Gomer, Israel needed to be removed from the things that were leading them astray. It would be hard: They would be conquered, and their system of worship would be removed. Yet instead of being an unloving thing for God to do, this purging is a part of His love. God will remove the very pillars of Israel’s culture, but He will not remove Himself. And He knows that for Israel this will prove to be ultimate gain: “Afterwards the Israelites will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the LORD and to his blessings in the last days.” (v5) The people of Israel needed to have these things removed so that they would return to God. So that they would see that it was the Lord who gave them everything, the Lord who heard their prayers, the Lord who kept them safe – not anything else. They would turn to God again, remembering their divine Husband for who He really is. Hosea says that they will come trembling – in repentance, knowing the wrong they have done, and asking for forgiveness. But there is more to this, and I’ll come to that soon.

The best is yet to come…

In this chapter of Hosea, we’ve seen two things: That an unfaithful wife was bought back at great cost, and that her husband would help her to be someone who would love him fully again. Does this story sound familiar?

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly… God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

That’s Romans 5:6&8.

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures… But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

That’s Titus 3:3-7.

You see, in verse 5 Hosea when talks about “the last days” he isn’t just looking for a time when Israel would be restored. No, he is talking about something beyond the Old Testament, looking forward to a time when God would fully restore His relationship with His people. He was looking forward to the time when God would buy an unfaithful people from a master that would drive them to death, paying a great cost, and making them His own people. A people who love and desire Him greatly.

We saw first that Hosea bought back his wife at great cost. And this is what God has done at the cross. Sin is not just breaking rules – it’s the breaking of a relationship. The breaking of God’s heart as His beloved people run after other lovers. As the Titus quote said, we were enslaved by desires and a broken nature that couldn’t help but be unfaithful to God. Like that Romans passage said, we were powerless to get ourselves out of the situation.  And just like Hosea had every right by the law to have his adulterous wife executed, that same law condemns us to death for our sin. Yet at this time, when we had rejected the God who created us, when we had turned to other things to satisfy our cravings for love or security or hope, at this time Jesus Christ died to free us from our slavery to sin. He swapped places with us so that we could be free from the punishment we deserve, and instead be made into God’s perfect bride. As 1 John 4:10 says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and send his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Isn’t this the greatest display of love? God didn’t give up on the human race, even after we had rejected Him from the beginning, after the people He chose to display Him to the world consistently turned to other gods, and even now when those He has redeemed still fall by the wayside every so often.

If you aren’t a Christian, then please hear this. The relationship that God has with His people is not a cold contract of rules. It’s a living, breathing, vibrant relationship; one that satisfies our need to be known, to be accepted, to be loved. It’s a relationship that has cost God dearly to have. Isn’t that something worth thinking about?

For those of us who may think that we’re too broken for God to want anything to do with us, or know that we keep on getting things wrong and wonder whether we’re one mistake away from being abandoned, who know that secret darkness in the deepest corner of our heart – don’t disqualify yourself from coming to God. Jesus knew what He was doing when He died for you. And He came back from death so that you could be made whole again and be caught up in the life that He has. And don’t be fooled – these Christians may look like they’re all sorted and holy, but they’re not. I’m one of them, and I’m far from being the woman that I’d like to be. Becoming a Christian doesn’t instantly transform you into a perfect demi-god. It just starts the journey of being made right.

And God knows this. I find it incredibly moving that Jesus deliberately took the punishment for His unfaithful Bride upon Himself. That as He was taking those last excruciating breaths on the cross Jesus knew He was saving a people for Himself that wouldn’t get it right until He brought them to heaven. This is the greatness of God’s grace – that He knows we will hurt Him again, and forgives us anyway. He knows that before the day is out, I’ll have acted like something is more important than He is, probably done something to hurt the people I know and love, and definitely got something completely wrong, but still when I ask for forgiveness He can’t wait to give it. He is our heavenly Husband, who betrothed us to Himself at the cross, and again and again when we turn from Him He is ready to welcome us back with open arms. All we need to do is come trembling to the Lord, fully acknowledging our weakness and asking for Him to take away our wrongs, and trusting that He will forgive us like He’s promised.

The second thing we’ve seen in Hosea 3 is that Hosea had to guide Gomer away from running after other livers and bring her back into living as his wife. If you are a Christian, we’ve got a great warning and encouragement to take from this. We have been saved by Jesus from condemnation and judgment. He has given us His righteousness so that we have a good relationship with God. But we would be fooling ourselves to think that we’re all perfect now, wouldn’t we? The battle against sin in our hearts is still ongoing. I know that if I take a long, hard look at myself I won’t like what I see. Because I see that I do still have a heart that runs to things other than God. As human beings, we are very good at making things into idols and putting them in the place that God should have in our lives. And I find that this is still a problem now that I’m a Christian. It’s not just the obvious things that we can see people who aren’t Christians run after – things like money, or escapism, or success, or the dream house or family or car. More dangerous is when good things, sometimes God-things like having quiet times or serving at church or praying – anything that can become a box-ticking exercise – these become idols because we can easily fool ourselves that it’s out of some desire to please God that we care so much. But the thing is, idols consume you and leave you empty. They promise us everything, and give us nothing. Every time I sin – and I sin frequently – it’s because I think doing wrong is better than doing the right that pleases God. In that moment, I believe that I will get more satisfaction, more pleasure, by that thing rather than by loving God; whether it’s getting my own way, or not doing something because it puts me at risk of rejection, or giving in to that constant temptation because I just can’t keep fighting it any more.

We need to keep an eye on where our priorities lie because if you’re anything like me it’s all too easy to forget that it’s God, not my money or job or that relationship, who gives me joy and is worth everything. We’re on the right track, but the wheel of our proverbial trolley isn’t quite fixed yet. So we need to make sure that we aren’t led astray permanently. We should pursue God first and foremost, and if something is stopping that happening we need to do something about it. Also, we shouldn’t be afraid of times when God does take things away that distract us from Him, or when life gets hard, because He is growing us to be more faithful and could well be preparing us to be captivated by Him again.

As we’ve looked at Hosea 3, we’ve seen that Hosea buying back his unfaithful wife was meant to reflect God’s unrelenting love and forgiveness of His people; how God refused to give up on them despite their constant turning away from Him to other gods. And we’ve seen that God has bought us for Himself with the blood of Jesus, who died so that we could be forgiven.  And we’ve seen that, although we still do get things wrong, God forgives us time after time. He does not leave us to die in our sin, but welcomes us back to Him, and He will make His people to be a perfect Bride for Himself. A Bride who longs for Him, and who will enjoy perfect relationship with Him into eternity. In verse 5 what it says Israel will return to “the LORD and his blessings”. The blessing of relationship with Him now, and the future blessing of heaven – where there will be no more death, or evil, or anything that would cause us pain; where we will spend eternity with the Lover of our souls, seeing Him face to face, forever. This is what we have to look forward to! So let’s leave the empty seductions of this world and run towards the Husband who will give us more than we can dream of.

OK, I promise I’ll post the Song of Songs stuff soon (hopefully!) – it’s just taking me ages to write it. In the meantime….

Humans are relational people. As the famous saying goes, “no man is an island”. And our friends are important to us – can you think of the people you couldn’t live without? On the internet someone has predicted that we meet on average about 100,000 people in our lifetime[1]. That’s a lot of people! But not all of them will be our friends. We have circles of friends, best friends, and acquaintances, with different levels of closeness with each person we know. We love different people differently, too. I wonder who your closest friend in the world is; the person, or people, who you love the most?

1 Samuel 20 focusses on the relationship between King Saul’s son, Jonathan, and the David who we know was later to become king of Israel. But first, let’s look at a bit of background.

Saul was Israel’s first king, and had failed in his duty to be faithful to God. So God rejected him as king, and instead chose David to be the next king of Israel. David was a nobody, a shepherd boy from the backwater of Bethlehem, but God chose him because of his heart after God. He blessed him with success – first in his defeat of Goliath, and then in victories as a commander of Israel’s army. But Saul became jealous of this upstart shepherd boy, and several times in the previous two chapters had tried to kill him. At the beginning of chapter 20, David has just fled from one of Saul’s attempts on his life. Jonathan’s response to David was much different to his father’s. He became close friends with David, and formalised their friendship in a covenant where he symbolically handed the kingdom over to David.

This passage is huge, so I won’t quote the whole thing here. But here’s the basic story:

At the beginning of this passage, Saul has once again tried to take David’s life, so David has run away. He goes up to Jonathan and asks why Saul wants him dead (v1). Jonathan won’t believe that his father wants to kill David, but David insists that Saul is trying to kill him and makes a plan to prove Saul’s hatred. The next day is the start of the New Moon festival, where, as a member of the court, David was expected to attend the feast. David plans to not go, and make an excuse about having to be elsewhere. If he is missed, he asks Jonathan to tell Saul that he had to go home. Saul’s reaction will show whether he really does hate David and want him dead. In case David and Jonathan can’t be seen speaking to each other, they invent a cunning way of communicating. The New Moon festival arrives, and, sure enough, David’s place at the feast is empty. To start with, Saul thinks nothing of this, since it wasn’t unusual for people to miss such an event because of accidentally becoming ceremonially unclean. But on the second day of David’s absence, Saul askes Jonathan why David isn’t there. Jonathan gives David’s excuse, and Saul explodes in anger – not just at David, but at Jonathan as well! He even tries to kill his own son in his anger! Jonathan now knows beyond a doubt that his father hates David, and the next day goes to tell David of this.

As we look at Jonathan and David’s friendship, we’re going to see what this passage shows us about God, what it shows about Jesus (or, rather, the correct response to Him), and what we can learn from it. Let’s start by looking at what this passage shows us about God.

There is no “God did this” or “God did that” explicitly in this text, but can you see how God is at work behind the scenes? To start with, God is keeping His servant safe. He has protected David thus far from Saul’s anger and now is using Jonathan to protect him. Not only is God providing safety for David, but He has given David a faithful friend in Jonathan. Because of Saul’s public statement that David must die in verse 31, he now has to leave his home and his place at court, and is on the run from the authorities. In all of this, God provides a friend for David who has promised love and protection. Thirdly, God is securing His sovereign plan. David was the man that God had chosen to be the next king of Israel. Where Saul had failed as God’s servant, David was intended to succeed. David wasn’t perfect, but he was a man after God’s heart and a foreshadowing of God’s true King, Jesus Christ. God used David as part of His promises to His people, and by keeping David safe, He was carrying out His own plan for salvation.

So that’s what we can see about God. Let’s now look at what we can see about Jesus here. There isn’t so much in this passage about Jesus explicitly. However, we can have a look at Jonathan’s relationship with David as God’s promised king, and see if this has any relevance for us since David was foreshadowing Christ. David wasn’t just Jonathan’s covenant close friend. Jonathan knew that God’s plan was to have David as the next king. And, where his father rejected God’s plan and hated David, Jonathan accepted what God was doing and loved David.

Saul knew that God had rejected him as king, and was jealous of David’s success and rise in popularity. He hated David so much that when talking with Jonathan at the feast he won’t even say David’s name! He treats David shamefully, as it says in v34, and his anger is uncontrollable to the point of trying to kill his own son for defending David (v33).

Jonathan, instead of hating David, loved him. He knew that God had chosen David to be the next king of Israel, which was why he symbolically handed over the kingdom to him in the covenant in chapter 18, and has promised to protect him now. Jonathan saw God’s plan and submitted to it, whereas Saul railed against it. Throughout the passage we see David and Jonathan’s close friendship – to start with, Jonathan says that if Saul wanted to kill David, he would tell him (and he has done so in the previous chapter). Although he doubts whether his father wants to kill David, he still agrees to follow through on David’s plan to test Saul’s motives. He also agrees to protect David, working out a way to communicate with him in case it is dangerous for David to be seen.  He was a loyal friend to David, defending him when Saul’s anger flared up against him; and Jonathan was livid at Saul’s treatment of his friend. And when David had to leave, the friends’ grief showed their affection for one another. So Jonathan not only submitted to God’s plan, but he also loved God’s king.

We’ve had a look at what we see of God in this passage, and we’ve seen Jonathan’s reaction to God’s new king. Now we come on to looking at what this means for us.

There are three applications that we can draw from what we’ve seen here. The first application here is from what we’ve seen about God preserving His plan in these events. Even the smaller details of the events here, which to David and Jonathan must have seemed very distant to God’s big picture at the time, were all part of God’s outworking for His Sovereign plan for salvation. You see, God works in the big picture, and He works in the details, and each these are never separate from other. God has the holy ingenuity to weave His plan and our lives together. Isn’t this great? And since God Himself is behind it all, we know that we can trust in what He is doing, no matter how dire life might seem at the time.

The second application here comes from Jonathan’s submission to God’s plan and love for God’s king, which made him willing to give everything up for him. His position as crown prince means a lot in the world – with wealth, power, and influence, it is one of the highest positions a person can have. Yet he gave it all over for the sake of God’s plan and God’s king. How readily do we give all we have to Jesus? I find it all too easy to say that I’ll give everything to God, but when it comes to that money, that dream for my future, or even that sin, I want to cling to them. If God wants it, He’ll have to prize it out of my hands. My life is relatively comfortable, and I may say that I’m willing to sacrifice what I have for the sake of the Gospel, but I know that when the rubber hits the road I’m more likely to walk away rather than stand up for Jesus. We can easily forget that God is carrying out His Sovereign plan today. And when we forget this, it’s easier to want to hold on to our own little kindgoms – maybe our reputation, or that job we want, or that relationship we hope for – instead of surrendering them to Jesus.

The third, and main, application, is this: Jonathan loved God’s promised king. He showed it formally in his covenants with David, but also personally in his relationship with him. There is obviously a close brotherly affection in how David and Jonathan interact – they trust each other, Jonathan defends David to his father, and Jonathan protects David’s life. Obviously, Jesus doesn’t need us like David needed his friend, but can you see the challenge to love, to trust, to devote ourselves to Jesus like Jonathan was devoted to David? How personal is our relationship with Jesus? Is it just a formal declaration of love that we give in our songs and prayers on a Sunday, or do we live like Jesus is actually a person, our Friend as well as our Redeemer and King, who is with us every day till the end of the age? How much do we talk to our King? How honest are we with Him? We can devote ourselves to Jesus in prayer, in trust, in standing firm in our faith and telling others the Gospel.

Jonathan had great love and devotion for God’s promised king, David. And this is a foreshadowing of how we should love God’s King, Jesus. We should be devoted to our King, who is also our Friend and Saviour. Jesus deserves our hearts and our lives, and there is no sweeter thing than giving everything to our King to gain eternity with Him.

First of all, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you! And thanks for reading the blog 🙂

And no, I’m not getting married. You wish 😉

Despite my lack of nuptials announcement, this year will very much be the Year of the Wedding for me. It’s that time of life when you reach your early-to-mid-20s and all the Christians get married! I’m doubling the number of weddings that I’ve been to in my entire life in 2013, so (other people’s) marriage and relationships are very much on my mind. Having been pretty much a lifelong Christian Singleton, it can be as much of a struggle and heartache as it is a genuine joy and delight seeing my friends get married and be in relationships. It is so easy for doubt to creep in – perpetual loneliness, insecurity, lack of love, etc. It gets more and more ridiculous as you work yourself up, but it happens. And with the often well-meaning but unintentional obsession with marriage and matchmaking in Christian circles, it can be hard to be single beyond the age of studenthood.

BUT this is not a rant about that. No, because the important thing is not ‘woe is me, it’s so hard to be single’ or whatever, but about where our heart lies. Is having a spouse or boy/girlfriend an idol? I openly confess that I spent years with my aim in life to be married, and it was no help at all. OK, so it’s not wrong to want to have a special person and be someone’s special person; but I think that this longing for intimacy is something rooted in us. Because, at the end of the day, we all do have a relationship like that which we can look forward to. A relationship of intimacy and beautiful love that is offered to all of us. And that, my friend, can encourage both the singletons and married among us.

I hope to write more about this soon because it’s very much a theme in my life that God is using to encourage me – not just the weddings of friends, but also what God has been speaking about in sermons and talks that I’ve been listening to. And the relationship that we have, or could have, with Jesus is something utterly exquisite. I want to take time to do justice to it, but in the meantime, I’ve put what I’ve been reading/listening to below.

Song of Songs is a book that’s been fantastically opened up as a wealth of imagery and encouragement, and

Mike Reeves’ series on Song of Songs on the Theology Network website: http://www.theologynetwork.org/unquenchable-flame/the-reformation-in-britain/getting-stuck-in/the-love-of-christ-in-song-of-songs.htm

Henry Curran’s sermon series on Song of Songs on the St Mary’s Wollaton Park website (back in September 2012: http://www.stmaryswollatonpark.co.uk/podcast.html – you’ll have to scroll down to find them) have been really helpful. What you might also like is the series on Ruth also on the St Mary’s podcast page (May 2012).

I’m sure there’s loads more to put down that I can’t quite remember now! Enjoy 🙂 And watch this space!

(Or, a study in my TV-watching habits over the last few months)

We British are funny people. Most of the time, we’re cynical, self-deprecating sceptics who moan about the government, the weather, the NHS, and so many things that we have in our country. Yet we also have moments of great patriotism, like the Queen’s Jubilee and the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games (I say ‘patriotism’, but it’s not quite the gung-ho patriotism of our American cousins. More like lots of flag-waving and choruses of Chariots of Fire. That’s the new national anthem, isn’t it?). We love understatement, rooting for the underdog, and (for some of us) proper spelling. We’re just weird. But we do have an attractive flag:

UK flag. Oh, the beauty of the red, white and blue! ‘Tis pretty funky, methinks. Shamelessly taken from glamorousliving.co.uk (http://www.glamorousliving.co.uk/viewitem.php?productid=291)

Maybe our slightly depressed national attitude comes from our weather – lots of grey days, and as Bill Bailey said: “The rainy season started around the 13th Century, and has continued pretty much ever since…” Still, I have been thinking about our national identity and what we think of ourselves as a country. Stirred by Shakespeare’s poetry such as this:

This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,–This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

(Richard II)

whilst watching a fantastic new adaptation of some history plays (The Hollow Crown, 2012 BBC adaptations of Richard II, Henry IV i & ii, Henry V – well worth watching); I wondered why we don’t love our country more. Sure, it rains, but the UK can be so pretty! We’ve been blessed with green fields and trees and beautiful rugged landscape. Why don’t we delight in our land more?

And then came the Olympics, and how brilliant they were! The whole nation got behind our athletes, waving their flags and getting into the spirit of things. So we can pull some national pride out of the bag, after all.

Historically, we seem to be suffering the after-effects of Imperial guilt and self-pity. I’ve had a lot of time on my hands recently so I’ve been watching factual programmes like Ian Hislop’s Stiff Upper Lip and Andrew Marr’s History of the World and finding out all sorts of facts that I’ve been boring my friends with for the last few weeks. And basically, with the Empire and everything, we really thought that Great Britain was the bee’s knees. Stiff upper lip, jolly hockey sticks, tickety-boo old bean, and all that. But the horrifying truth didn’t quite get home to Blighty: all our wars weren’t all about the glory of battle and the honour of fighting to increase our nation’s marvellous influence by civilising the natives. The truth is much worse. You see, the Brits were probably some of the first drug barons, using force to make China trade opium for tea. Africa is most likely in the poor state that it is because European countries fought a land war over it, increasing their empires by stealing wealth and enslaving the people. It’s not good.

And the First World War more or less put an end to our national self-importance. For the first time in centuries, the fighting was on our doorstep and the suffering we saw was horrifying. The Empire all of a sudden didn’t look like all it was cracked up to be. So now, after Britain doesn’t ‘rule the waves’ we have a bit of an underlying sense of self-pity and guilt. And it’s not just a British thing. OK, so the glumness may be, but it’s the story of many empires that rise and fall – bloodshed and self-interest.

I’m not saying that the UK is a rubbish country. Everywhere has its problems and history that it’s probably not that proud of. And I think there are lot of things that we take for granted that other places don’t have. We’ve got brilliant emergency services, we have a welfare state that aims to look after the needy and desperate. We have mountains, rivers, stunning coastline and beautiful winter sunrises. We’ve got cute dormice and majestic eagles. And basking sharks. And we have great accents.

Yet as much as I love my country and have a great affection for the place I live, if I left it there I think I would be missing something. Of course, we should delight and be thankful for the blessings we have and what we enjoy about our own country, whichever one it is. But there is something more.

If we are Christians, national identity does not first and foremost define who we are. To an extent, we are products of our culture and there’s the obvious genetic element in how we are physiologically and language and stuff. But if we are God’s people, we are citizens of heaven above all. And our hearts should be fixed there, not on a map or pretty-coloured piece of material. As it says in Revelation 21:26, “the glory and honour of the nations” will be brought into heaven – people and cultures from all parts of the world. Here is isn’t about national patriotism. It’s not about one homogenised empire, but about all nations bringing their own taste of the variety and creativity of their Maker. We glorify God by being different! And we are citizens of heaven, destined to spend eternity in our God’s presence. This is what we look forward to, and it should influence our attitude now. We can be thankful for our nation and cry out in prayer for it, but we must also be thankful for other nations and ask that God would be known all over the world.

So, as much as I love the UK, I would call myself a Christian first, and British second.

PS – Also, can I just add, here’s some terminology (sorry, couldn’t let it go):

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – the official name of the UK. It’s made up of the countries of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. With some other bits and pieces around the world.

Great Britain – the island that is made up of England, Wales and Scotland.

England– NOT the whole country! Seriously guys, get it right (I’m looking at YOU, America). Here’s a picture to help you:

I’ve used ‘Britain’ and ‘UK’ interchangeably in my post. Maybe I should learn to get it right too.

Modern medicine has produced lots of incredible things. Not only can we treat many diseases, but we can actually see inside our own bodies. Things like X-rays and MRI scans can show us when things are wrong on the inside, giving remarkable pictures of what’s going on ‘under the bonnet’, so that we can diagnose and treat illness. But these things can only do so much. An X-ray can show you a broken bone, but it won’t be able to treat it. Nobody has ever looked at their MRI scan and been instantly well again! You need surgeons and nurses and doctors and healing time to get better. There’s a difference between diagnosis and treatment. And I hope that as we look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 we’ll see that they were always intended to show us our greatest problem. Like an X-ray, they can’t fix us, but they do show what’s wrong.

So let’s take a look at the passage:

And God spoke all these words:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before Me.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

“Honour your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

“You shall not murder.

“You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.

“You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”

Exodus 20:1-17

Context

Israel as a nation was in slavery in Egypt. God freed them from this slavery to lead them into a land that He had promised to their ancestor Abraham. At this point in the book of Exodus, God has just freed Israel from slavery and has led them from Egypt to a place called Mount Sinai in the middle of the desert of the Sinai Peninsula. If you look at the previous chapter, you’ll see that God came to the mountain in a dense cloud so that he could speak to the people of Israel and to Moses their leader. So, the people of Israel are gathered around the bottom of the mountain and God’s manifest presence has descended on the top of the mountain in the form of a cloud with smoke and thunder and an earthquake. And then God speaks the commands we have just read directly to the people. The “Ten Commandments”, as we know them, are right at the beginning of the Old Testament covenant between God and Israel, His people.

So what is this covenant? A covenant is a binding agreement between two people which brings them together in some sort of relationship. The way the Old Testament covenant was given is in a similar form to other covenants around at the time which were treaties between a conquering overlord or ruling state and the conquered people. In these treaties the overlord agreed to benefit the people with his protection and care as long as they obeyed the rules of the treaty.

In a similar way to these treaties, before He gives the rules of the covenant God establishes the giver of the covenant – Himself – and the relationship between Him and the people, as we can see in verse two here: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” If you notice, God is putting the covenant entirely in the context of His grace, because He identifies their relationship as Him being the one who saved them from slavery. The rest of the covenant, including other clauses such as rules and punishments, is covered in the rest of Exodus, and in the books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Our passage this afternoon is right at the beginning of the covenant. It is where God establishes how the relationship between Him and His people is going to work. If you notice, the tone of this passage is very much along the lines of “I am your God, and this is how you will live as My people.” These commands were not meant to be restrictive, but to give freedom.

After all that background, let’s have a  look at the commands God gives.

Commands

The commands given here are listed in an order of decreasing importance, from the relationship of people to God, to the relationship of people to each other. God starts by addressing the relationship between His people and Himself. He says “You shall have no other gods before Me.” in verse 3. The worship of God alone is at the heart of this covenant relationship.

God then moves from who His people worship to how they worship, or really how not to worship. He says that they aren’t to make any idols, any visual representations of Him based on anything in the world. And this means that their understanding of who God is can’t be distorted by any picture that they would make of Him. The only thing they have to go on is what He has revealed about Himself to them. And later on in Exodus 34 He revealed Himself to Moses as “… the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” The reason God gave for not having idols is that He is a jealous God. He is jealous in that anything which is made to rival the glory and honour that He deserves, such as idols, will invoke His passion for His own character and glory.

God’s passion for His glory shows in the next command – don’t misuse God’s name. You see, God’s name is about more than just the word itself. His name carries His reputation; it includes His very Person. God’s name is not to be used lightly!

The command about the Sabbath is about right worship. Later on in Exodus, the Sabbath is described as a sign of the covenant relationship between God and Israel. Therefore, anyone not observing the Sabbath was showing contempt for the covenant, and so the relationship they had with God.

The next set of commands, in verses 12-17, are about right relationships with other people, whether it is by honouring parents, or not murdering, stealing, lying, committing adultery, or jealously wishing you had something that someone else has.

So that’s a quick overview of the Ten Commandments. Let’s now think about what this means for us now.

Continuation

God’s covenant with His people as established in the Old Testament was thousands of years ago, so what does this Old Testament law mean for us today?

Well, since the covenant in the Old Testament was given, the most important thing that has happened is Jesus, God’s Son, coming to earth. He didn’t come to scrap the old covenant, though. In Matthew 5:17-18 He said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets [that’s the Old Testament covenant]; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

 Not only did Jesus support the Old Testament covenant, He also explained it further. At the time, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were teaching God’s commands, but many only addressed the outward obedience of them. Jesus said that the Old Testament Law was based on the command to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” [Deuteronomy 6, Jesus quotes in Matthew 22] And that isn’t done by just acting out the commands. God’s commands require more than what we do. So, Jesus said that commands like “You shall not murder” were not carried out by merely not killing anyone, but that the kind of sinful anger that causes someone to use bitter words is by nature murder, and breaking that command [see Matthew 5:22]. He also unpacked the command forbidding adultery in a similar way: “… I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” [Matthew 5:27]. Jesus also described the absolute perfection required by God’s holy standard: “… I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 5:20].

This is a high standard! The Ten Commandments not only cover what we do, but how we think and feel as well.

I don’t know how you feel at this point. When I was studying this, I was very convicted of my own failure to follow these commands. I know that I have broken all of them! And the fact is that we have not kept these commands. We are unholy people, unable to stick to God’s high standard.

Yet the sense of hopelessness that we get from taking a long, hard look at ourselves compared to God’s standard is exactly what the Old Testament Law is there for. Romans 3:20 says that nobody will be declared righteous by the Law, because we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s standard. There is no way in which we can perfectly keep the Law, because the Law is there to show us our own sin. It is a diagnosis of sin, not a treatment. And the diagnosis is grim.

We have a problem more persistent than cancer and deadlier than HIV. So if sin is our disease, how can we be cured? This is where the most incredible piece of theology we know comes in – you see, Jesus fulfilled the Law, meeting its perfect standard. He took upon Himself the punishment that we deserve for our lawlessness, and died the death that we should have. God declared Jesus righteous, and brought Him back to life. So, God’s Commands were kept by Jesus, and He took our punishment for us. Not only did He do this, but Jesus gave us His righteousness – His perfect record! The Law is there to lead us to Jesus, so that we trust in Him to give us His perfect record, and so get His righteousness by faith. So when God sees us, He does not see our own failed attempt at keeping His commands. Instead He looks through Christ and it looks like we’ve kept the Law perfectly.

Change

This is GREAT news! It means that although the old rules still stand, we don’t have to be able to obey the Ten Commandments in order to have a right relationship with God. It’s ok when we do wrong; failing to meet God’s standard doesn’t mean that we can’t know Him. All we need to do is believe in Jesus and trust Him, and then He gives us His clean record as our own. This is a great and wonderful thing! God doesn’t count our dirty records against us. We no longer have to listen to the temptation to despair because of our imperfection, because we know that God looks at us and sees Jesus’ righteousness.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t obey God, though. In fact, what God has done for us in setting us free from our own imperfect record should make us want to follow His ways as a response. These commands still paint a picture of what it looks like to be God’s people, and so we should still follow them. But we don’t have to return to our hopelessness when we do go wrong, because we know that God will forgive us. We shouldn’t try to rely on our own record to be right with God, because we know that there’s no way in which we meet God’s standard. So instead, we need to rely on God Himself and His promise of righteousness by trusting in Him.

We need to change. Can you see it? We can’t possibly be good enough ourselves. We need Jesus; we need to trust in His saving work, we need to come to Him and ask for our salvation by His perfect record replacing ours. We need to come to Him on our knees, knowing full well that not just our actions but our very hearts need to change – and a great promise that God gives us is that He will give us His Holy Spirit to empower us to do right and to change our broken nature.

So we’ve seen the beginning of God’s covenant with His people Israel in the Old Testament. We’ve seen that God set an outline for how His people should behave, and also how we fall hopelessly short of His high standards. The Ten Commandments were supposed to show us our sinfulness, like an X-ray shows a broken bone, so that we look to God’s way of saving us from our sin. And that salvation is found in Jesus, the Saviour that God promised for thousands of years throughout the Old Testament; the Son of God, who lived as one of us and fulfilled the Law that we could never completely follow ourselves. He took our punishment, and has given His own righteousness to those who put their trust in Him. How incredible! How magnificent is this display of God’s grace and love; granting us mercy whilst fulfilling His justice! And we should worship God with all we are because He has saved us, humbling ourselves and relying fully on our amazing Saviour for all we need.

Science and Belief

A blog about the positive interactions between science and faith.

Beyond the guide book

Ramblings of a compulsive travel addict

littlelifeofsquirrel

Thoughts, smiles, and 'Sarah moments'

Anglican Memes

a humour site about the Church of England

Hymns in My Heart

Sharing thoughts on my favorite hymns and Christian songs that have brought me comfort, joy and inspiration to worship Jesus Christ.

Christ the Truth

Jesus is the Word of God

Christ is Beautiful

"I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them." – Jesus (John 17:26)

phil moore

Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

Phil Whitehead

... needs a cool tagline ...

The mighty mighty Monk Seal

IS NOT A GEEK, HE'S SMART!

From the Vicarage

Henry Curran's musings