God’s Overthrown Heart for You

One of the most emotional and theologically stunning chapters of the Old Testament is Hosea 11. Hosea pictures the 8th century northern kingdom (Ephraim/Israel) as a wayward child. Although God, as Father, has loved and raised him, the child (nation) has just kept going further away. In fact, he has broken faith with God and deserves destruction. Listen to the chilling threat of judgment from Moses almost 800 years earlier (c. 1500 BC):

It shall be when he hears the words of this curse, that he will boast, saying, ‘I have peace though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart in order to destroy the watered land with the dry.’ The Lord shall never be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and His jealousy will burn against that man, and every curse which is written in this book will rest on him, … Now the generation to come, … when they see the plagues of the land and the diseases with which the Lord has afflicted it, will say, ‘All its land is brimstone and salt, a burning waste, unsown and unproductive, and no grass grows in it, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the Lord overthrew in His anger and in His wrath.’  All the nations will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land? Why this great outburst of anger?’ Then men will say, ‘Because they forsook the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt.’ Deuteronomy 29:19-20, 23-25

Israel deserves to be overthrown and destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah. They have turned their backs on God, worshiped false gods, formed unwise alliances with pagan nations, and committed despicable crimes against each other (see Judges 19-21!).

But wait! God’s message through the poet/prophet Hosea reveals another side of God’s passion:

How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I surrender you, Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
I have had a change of heart;
My compassion is stirred!
I will not vent the full fury of My anger;
I will not turn back to destroy Ephraim.
For I am God and not man,
the Holy One among you;
I will not come in rage. Hosea 11:8-9

The word translated “change” here is the same root verb as “overthrow” (hapak) from Deuteronomy. God’s heart has been overthrown by His fired up compassion for His people. Thus, he will not overthrow them to destruction. Do you think He could have the same passionate love for you, despite your sin and guilt? The answer is a resounding “yes!” The Holy One has compassion for you.

Is God turning back on His justice here? Is he backing away from His own law? Certainly, if God is the Creator and Law-Giver, He can freely act however he may choose. He has divine freedom. But, God is not overthrowing His holiness and justice. Paul explains how Jesus fulfills both God’s justice and love in Romans:

But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed.  God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26

In His love, God passed over sin until He took on its full penalty on Himself through Jesus’ death. His justice is upheld, but we are not destroyed. What amazing love our Savior has demonstrated to us!

How will you respond to this God whose heart is overthrown for you?

The Power of the Cross

Atheists make me laugh sometimes. Did you know that they are organizing efforts to remove roadside memorials? You know, the on-site memorials that people create when a loved one has died in a car accident. Apparently, they are a menace to society. Who knew how dangerous they were? While the atheists claim it is about safety and convenience, they are most perturbed by the religious nature of the displays. If a cross appears on a public right of way, someone might think the government is sponsoring religion. Yeah, the reasoning makes me laugh.

However, I think they are actually pointing out something that we Christians often forget. There is power behind the symbols of our faith. Why did early Christians choose the cross as its most frequent symbol? Why not the empty tomb, the manger, loaves of bread, a servant’s basin, or a shepherd’s staff? Why choose the crude instrument of execution? It would be like us choosing to wear little electric chairs or a guillotine or a noose. Why the cross? It is because the cross is the ultimate demonstration of both God’s holiness and His love.

First – God’s holiness. It is the only characteristic of God that is compounded three times with the recognition “holy, holy, holy” (see Isaiah 6). It is His essential nature, and we know nothing of God until we glimpse His holiness. But when we glimpse it, we instantly feel our own wretchedness. We cannot stand in the presence of one so holy. Isaiah said, “woe is me, for I am ruined.” God does not allow sin into His presence, yet we choose to embrace it every day. Yikes!

God’s settled opposition to sin is His wrath. It isn’t explosive and irrational like man’s anger. He will not abide evil because He is good and holy. Most people agree that we are sinful, but they won’t agree that it is as serious as God says it is. We blow it off as “mistakes,” or not as bad as someone else. But God will not just overlook sin. We are really no different than those who crucified Jesus:

Like Judas, we choose personal gain over faithfulness and loyalty

Like Pilate, we reject truth and try to shift the blame

Like the Pharisees, we resent Jesus’ claim of authority over our lives

Like the Roman soldiers, we are just carrying out orders

Like the disciples, we abandon Him when it seems dangerous or unpopular to follow

Like the crowds, we will shout, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” but pardon the guilty

But as He is crucified, Jesus shouts, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” It is a cry of love from the One we would kill. The cross is God’s ultimate demonstration of love. Romans 5:8-9 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”  But instead of marveling at this love, we are still mad about His holiness.

Because of His love for us, Jesus became one of us, took on all God’s wrath, and died for us. His death was not the death of a martyr or a good man unjustly accused. It was the death of God for His creation. It was the death of the Lamb of God for the sins of the world. It was the ultimate demonstration of God’s sacrificial love.

Can we really be that loved and not respond? If God never did anything else, He has shown His great love in the cross. He wants us to be with Him forever, and He paid the ultimate price for it to be possible. Stand at the foot of that cross; consider his consuming holiness and his stunning love. It cannot leave us unchanged. I never want to forget or walk away unchanged when I look at the cross. How about you?