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Thursday, February 11, 2016

God's Gracious Restraint, Removal, and Renewal (Reflection on Hosea 2)

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The book of Hosea is a movie-like depiction of God's pursuit of His rebellious people. God, through Hosea, pleads for His idolatrous, unfaithful people to return to Him. Like any good movie, the characters, purpose, and plot are introduced in chapter 1. Chapter 2 opens with God, through Hosea, pleading for His rebellious bride to return to Him. Verse 5 describes God’s people as going after other lovers who will, in the end, not satisfy. God promises to respond in three ways to the idolatry of His people.

First, He says He will block her way.  God restrains.  He describes hedging “up her way with thorns,” building “a wall against her.” He does this so that we may not find the idols we seek, so we may turn back and see that He all along was the one who satisfied us along the way (2:5-8).

Second, He says He will take back what is His. God removes.  His people may begin to worship the gifts instead of the Giver- so for their good He may withdraw His gifts. God is one who gave these blessings, and they to be enjoyed rightly- giving honor to their Giver. But, when we let the gift become a substitute the Giver or give glory to a false giver, we cease to enjoy His gifts rightly. It is for our joy that He takes these gifts away (2:9-13).

Third, He draws us to Himself. Through this, God brings renewal.  Taking the language of a husband and wife, He promises to allure His people, to speak tenderly to them, to bring transformation and renewal to the relationship- the covenant which His people broke. Verse 15 describes this in two ways. The Valley of Achor was once a dark spot in the history of Israel, will instead be a place of hope. Their relationship will be like the days of Israel’s youth, when He brought them through the Red Sea.

God brings further transformation by taking the idols away and by transforming the hearts of His people. If God has taken something away from you, or kept you from something, He may have been taking an idol out of your life. Check your heart. In the end God is after the glory of His own name, which is the greatest joy of His people. Our joy in God may be dependent upon something being taken away or something being kept from us. God's restraint and removal of idols is for our good- and one day will be full and final.

He abolishes the bow, the sword, and war. He will bring His people back to Himself and in “righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy” God will dwell with His people. This is obvious New Covenant language. Through Christ God allures His wayward bride, transforms their sinful desires and recreates them for His glory. In Christ he shows Mercy to those whose name is “No Mercy” and creates a people out of those whose name is “Not My People.” Relationship with God forever restored. One day soon all things will be recreated and God will remove and recreate anything which stands to allure His people away from Him or stand in their way. All things will be set right; His people will dwell with Him forever.

What is worth holding onto in light of this reality? What is worth fighting with God for in light of this glorious destiny? The closing words of John’s first epistle show us both God’s tenderly care, and His passionate warning in Hosea, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” Let God restrain, let God remove, let God renew- cause He does it for our ultimate good, and His ultimate glory.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Matthew 25:31-46 and Justification

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The gospel is too important to get wrong. I have had many conversations about the gospel where the text Matthew 25:31-46 has come into discussion. Usually the person bringing up the text will protest, "See! We are not saved by faith alone, but faith *and* our own service of the poor." In this post we will look at Matthew 25:31-46, a glorious passage in the Scripture, and see how it does not go against the biblical and historical doctrine of justification by faith alone.

The words from Jesus in Matthew 25 provide a sobering picture of the Final Judgement. Verses 31-33 depict Jesus as standing in judgement- on the throne of His glory, with His mighty angels surrounding Him, and the nations before Him- separating the sheep (believers) from the goats (unbelievers). The sheep he puts to His right (a place of prominence in Scripture, such as Psalm 110:1-2) and the nonbelievers to His left. He begins to speak to the believers first as recorded in verse 34-36 saying,

"Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me."