Love throughout the ages (December 29, 2019)
Love throughout the ages
I don’t know about you, but I find it fascinating to compare the age of Jesus in different accounts to people I know today. For example, Jesus was about my age when he conducted his ministry – early thirties. That’s also why the parts of the sermon today go from tiny toddlers, to teen years, to thirties. A person in Jewish society was finally considered an adult when they were thirty years old. Keep that in mind for later, as it helps illustrate God’s love throughout the ages. Of course, at Christmas I think of tiny little newborns. That was my kids in past years. This year I think little Thomas is the youngest – with a couple others arriving very soon! Then, when the Magi, the wise men, came Jesus was probably a little younger than 2 years old. And just after their visit, Jesus still a toddler, Joseph fled to Egypt with his family to escape Herod’s wrath.
I’m sure we could all make such comparisons with people in our own lives – whether they be our own kids, grandkids, or even nieces and nephews. Hosea is a book that doesn’t get much coverage, but it’s packed with illustrations like these. Illustrations that make very vivid what God is doing. Here, in chapter 11, the Lord uses the illustration of a father’s love for his child throughout the ages to demonstrate his love for his children – believers.
It says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son… It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms” (Hos 11:1,3). Many of you remember those years. Some of you – me included – are going through those years right now. You remember those years spent on the floor teaching a tiny toddler to walk. The child first holding on with two hands, then one, and finally walking without help. You remember the times spent in teaching, training, and instructing your own young children. Training them to eat, to walk, to speak, to write, to think, and to act responsibly. It takes hours, days, and years of patience and constant encouragement. But it’s an investment of love that most parents gladly and willingly give.
That’s what God did for the nation of Israel. He loved them long before they even became a nation. Just as you loved your children long before they were even born. God brought them out of Egypt, instructed them, gave them a home of their own, watched over and protected them. In the same way God loved you and brought you up. Called you his child in the waters of baptism. Instructed you in Sunday School, Catechism class, and Bible class. Trained you through the example of your older brothers and sisters in the faith. And continues to do so every day.
Yet, as children grow older, how often do they complain about their parents’ concern and watchfulness. Every child from time to time disobeys or rebels against their parents’ direction. Every child goes through those dreaded “Teen Years”. For Israel, it was a time of rejecting God and his wisdom, turning instead to the gods of their neighbors. During this time God sent prophet after prophet after prophet – calling them back in love. Hosea was one of those prophets. He was a prophet sent to the Northern Kingdom of Israel during their last days. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was the part of Israel that fell first – not to the Babylonians, but to the Assyrians. God the Father was calling them back before his “rebellious teen Israel” charged headfirst into destruction.
But many of you know how difficult it is to speak sense into a stubborn teen. God’s prophets were rejected, ridiculed, and ignored. The Israelites preferred to worship Baal. They preferred to make their own choices. They thought they knew best. They thought they could offer God lip-service while fully indulging in the false gods they really wanted. Time had erased the Israelites’ memory of how God “taught them to walk” as a nation and “carried them in his arms”. Time had erased the memory of all the times God “healed them” and “restored them”. Time erased the Israelites’ memory and the significance of God’s fatherly love.
In the same way, time away from God our Father can erase our memories of his goodness. Time since Christ’s first coming can erase the significance of what he did for us. How God gave his own Son, to live with us for a while and then die for us. How the Father brought you into his family through baptism, which was probably years ago for many of you. How the Father gave you his Word and sent his Spirit to nurture you in the faith and carry you through some very trying times. Time away from God can erase our memories of all this goodness. The instruction of God’s Word often becomes unimportant by comparison to all the other things in our lives that we have to do right now! So we too, turn from him, reject him, ignore him, and shut him out of our lives like the stubborn teens we still are. And this doesn’t have to be over a period of years. This can take place between Sundays. This can take place in a single day – any time you shut out the Father’s words and listen instead to your own.
Realize this, it is not God who turned on Israel, it was they who turned from him. By pursuing their own sinful passions and idolatries, they chained themselves to the very nations of who’s gods they preferred. They returned to the same humiliating bondage they endured in the days of their infancy as a nation – this time not to Egypt, but to Assyria – the very nation who’s gods they loved more than God their Father. Israel’s sinful practices and worship of false gods led to real destruction and enslavement by other nations. For us, our sinful passions don’t always lead to physical enslavement – but they enslave us nonetheless. The workload that calls us for overtime is heard more clearly than the Father’s call to his house. Time spent on everything our kids are busy with is more important than time spent with our Father. The many activities we find ourselves enjoying becomes an addiction stronger than the habits our Father taught us when we were young. And make no mistake about it, if you continue to ignore and reject the call of your heavenly Father, you too will be headed for very real destruction.
What comes next, though, I think is one of the most beautiful pictures in Scripture. No matter you are applying this to Hosea’s original context – the nation of Israel – or you are applying it to the broader context of all believers, you see the tender heart of your heavenly Father’s love throughout the ages. When you were a tiny toddler in the faith, the Father says, “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms… I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek” (Hos 11:3-4). Then, through the rebellious teen years of our sinfulness the Father’s own children are determined to turn from him. He sends them the prophets, he sent his own Son, he sends his word, yet we refuse to repent. And we have the Father, picturing himself as a man battling with himself, trying to reach a decision on what to do about this rebellious child – this rebellious heart. “A sword will flash in their cities; it will devour their false prophets and put an end to their plans” (Hos 11:6). And yet, with a drastic shift of emotion, we feel the Father’s deep compassion welling up in his heart. Like the parent whose heart melts after seeing their child whimper after the discipline they needed. “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?… My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again” (Hos 11:8-9).
How could a loving Father forget his relationship with his child. He looks at his disobedient child and is overwhelmed by love. He knows that what his rebellious son has done is worthy of expulsion from his house. And this rejection is made even worse by the fact that this child has received so much from the Father. Yet, God still called his people his own. He could not let them go. He could not let you go. His heart was changed within him.
Though the Father often describes himself in human terms, he reminds us here that he is not a man, but God himself. We call this “anthropomorphism”. Since we cannot fully comprehend God, he describes himself with human terms and characteristics. Thus, he can say that his heart is changed even though God does not change. What he’s saying is that to us and our limited experience it looks like God is relenting from his anger – changing his heart regarding our punishment. But really, this was God’s plan all along. All throughout the ages his plan has always been one of love. It has always been to send his own Son so that your sins may be forgiven, and you too would become children of the Father. He is not a man who is often ruled by his passions, by favoritism, by whims and fancies. He is God. He is the Lord of unchangeable holiness and the Lord of unalterable love. God is never ruled by passion, by favoritism, or by hatred. His plan throughout the ages has always been one of love. And so, when we, his sons and daughters are rebellious, when we turn away from him, he remains constant in his love and sent his Son to restore the Father-son relationship we broke in the first place. He continues to call you back home and remind you of the love he showered upon you when you were a tiny toddler in the faith. He calls you back and shows that is love is steadfast even through those teen years of rebellion. And when you are mature in your faith, thriving in your thirties, so to speak, you see clearly the Father’s steadfast love throughout the ages.