The Second Sunday After Trinity June 29, 2003
747, 385(1, 3-4, 6, 8-10), 389, 89(1, 5)
“I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.”
Come, and let us return to the Lord; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; On the third day He will raise us up, That we may live in His sight. Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, Like the latter and former rain to the earth.
“O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away. Therefore, I have hewn them by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of My mouth; and your judgments are like light that goes forth. For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”
In Christ Jesus, our Savior, dear fellow-redeemed:
As you read through the life stories of the men and women in the Bible you will often find significant “turning points.” A significant turning point for King Saul came when he went to battle against the people of Amalek. It was a sorrowful turning point of disobedience.
Amalek was the nation which had come against Israel in the early days of their journey from Egypt to Mount Sinai. During the ensuing battle, Moses was at the top of a hill praying while the people were fighting below. As long as Moses kept his arms raised in prayer, the Israelites gained the upper hand. If Moses let his arms down, the Israelites lost ground. When Moses could no longer keep his hands uplifted, Aaron and Hur held his arms for him and in the end, Israel gained the victory.
Israel defeated Amalek, but God’s judgment on that heathen nation was not complete. Because Amalek had come out to make war against God’s people, God said, “I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (Exodus 17:14). Later, when Moses reviewed God’s laws and instruction with the people of Israel, he reminded the people: “When the LORD your God has given you rest from your enemies all around…you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget” (Deuteronomy. 25:19).
God’s judgment against Amalek was a serious matter, it WOULD BE DONE! When the time came for God to bring this judgment upon the people of Amalek, God gave King Saul the command to go to war against the Amalekites and utterly destroy them. Saul was to spare NOTHING and NO ONE.
Saul did attack. He and the army won the victory, but Saul kept the king, Agag, alive. Saul and his men also kept the best animals, but destroyed anything that was of lesser quality. Simply put, Saul disobeyed the word of the Lord.
God told the prophet, Samuel, what Saul had done and sent him to Saul. When Samuel arrived, Saul greeted him saying, “I have performed the commandment of the LORD” (1 Samuel 15:13). Knowing what Saul had really done, Samuel asked him, “What is this bleating of sheep and lowing of oxen which I hear?” (1 Samuel 15:13). Saul replied, “…the people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed” (1 Samuel 15:14).
Samuel reminded Saul how he had humbly entered the role of king and had been obedient to the word of the Lord, but now he had been disobedient and had arrogantly followed his own will. Saul objected saying, “But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord…” Then Samuel told King Saul, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23).
God says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” There are a great many outward things that can be done to leave a certain impression, but it may not represent the truth. Outward appearances are one thing, inner content is another. We can go through the outward motions of our faith, but when everything is said and done and everything external is stripped away, IT ALL COMES DOWN TO THE HEART I. Our faltering hearts lead to chastisement II. God’s faithful heart leads to repentance
There is a good deal of history and many years between King Saul and the prophet, Hosea. By the time of Hosea, the nation of Israel had been divided into two nations—Israel and Judah. Hosea was a prophet in the northern kingdom, Israel.
The people of Israel had turned away from faith in the true God, but they were still keeping God’s Ceremonial Law outwardly—they were offering sacrifices, observing the festivals, and the Sabbaths. The people’s mere external obedience prompted God to say, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” [v.6] The people of Israel were going through the rituals and externals of their faith, but their hearts were not “in it.” Their hearts were not following the true God.
Through another prophet, Amos (Hosea’s ministry followed the ministry of Amos), God said, “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments” (Amos 5:21-23). The assemblies, burnt offerings, and peace offerings were all things God Himself had commanded His people to do. Of these things that God Himself commanded, He says: “I HATE THEM! I DESPISE THEM! because they are only outward. Your faltering heart has drifted away.”
This heart drift is not uncommon. Rather, it is the common weakness of sinners to get caught up in externals and go through the motions, while their hearts are somewhere else. This sinful occupation with mere externals is what Jesus rebuked in the Scribes and Pharisees when He said, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. In vain they worship Me…” (Matthew 15:8-9).
Likewise, when the Pharisees questioned Jesus’ disciples as to why Jesus would stoop so low as to associate with known sinners it was because their pride in outward appearances would never allow THEM to do so (cf: Gospel reading).
On another occasion, Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone” (Matthew 23:23).
To Israel’s faltering, God said, “O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away.” [v.4]
When God tells the people “your faithfulness is like a morning cloud…” He uses the same word as when He says, “I desire mercy…” The word God used in both places describes “strength, steadfastness, and love.” It implies personal involvement and commitment beyond the rule of the law—beyond something that is commanded. The Israelites’ commitment and steadfast love in their relationship with God is what God desired and that steadfast love is what so often faded away like morning fog and dew. A sinner’s faithfulness to God can be so fleeting and so faltering because it comes from a faltering heart. It comes from the same heart that is the ground from which all of our sins grow (cf: Mark 7:22).
God came to His people with words of rebuke and correction. He came with the sword of His Word (cf: Hebrews 4:12) and as He described, “I have slain them by the words of My mouth” [v.5]
Because of the faltering hearts and “heartless” externalism the people were following, God sent His prophets to pronounce His judgements against the people and to call them to repentance. God’s desire was to bring the people to a realization of their sin, an understanding of their hopelessness without Him, and then to call them back to Himself.
The people’s faltering hearts led them away from the true God and He told them that He would, therefore, turn away from them for a time, “I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.” [5:15] God would withdraw from them. He would go to His place until they repented. He would bring chastisement and hardship upon them because they had turned from Him, and if they did not return they would face His judgment. The people would experience the opposite of what the Lord pronounces in the Benediction—“The Lord make His face shine upon you…lift up His countenance upon you” (cf: Numbers 6:24-26).
The Israelite’s hearts—our hearts—are weak with sin. They falter. By nature we do what WE want to do. When we think we need to solve something in our lives we latch-on to whatever WE can do and comfort ourselves by saying, “I DID this, I DID this and this, and at least I DID NOT do that,” but what we’re forgetting is that it is not the sacrifice — its not just the external. It is the heart that God desires.
We need to recognize and see our faltering hearts that sway in the wind. Even the strongest of believers have weaknesses. Even the most steady in the path of God and His Word, falter and stumble. At these times, God may choose to bring chastisement to us so that we may see our weaknesses and our sinful pride that relied too much on ourselves and the externals. Then we will be prepared to seek Him and come back to His grace and mercy.
Our faltering hearts fail and lead to chastisement, but God’s design is restoration!
In the face of our faltering hearts, God does bring rebuke and chastisement to make us realize our sins, but then He is also there with His faithful heart to bring us to repentance. Through Isaiah God spoke as He does through Hosea expressing His hatred for worthless acts. But then He adds, “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool’” (Isaiah 1:18).
God’s faithful heart is certainly evident in how He dealt with the nation of Israel. Time and again He called them back and forgave them.
The faithfulness of God is evident in the sending of His Son, Jesus, to be our Savior. In spite of all the wickedness and rejection between the time He promised Jesus and the time that Jesus was born, God remained faithful and sent the Savior just as He promised. The Savior indeed came to provide forgiveness of sins and salvation to every sinner.
The faithfulness of God is evident in all of our own personal lives as well. Day by day, God comes to us and says, “Come back. Let us reason together. I will make your sins as white as snow because I declare you righteous through the work of My Son.”
God’s faithful heart brings us to repentance by announcing to us that forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are ours through Christ Jesus. God allows chastisement to come into our lives when our hearts falter so that in the end, we will see His greater heart of faithfulness and rejoice to call Him our God and Father.
“I desire mercy and not sacrifice” has a great deal of application to us. As children of God with new hearts, we want to come to God, thank Him, praise and serve Him, and live as children of God out of love and gratitude. So we might well ask ourselves the same questions as did the prophet, Micah:
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? [Shall I give 10% or even 15% of my income?]
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? [Will He be pleased if I come to church every time the church door is open for worship?]
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? [Shall I give of my time to work at church?]
Answer: He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, To love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8).
The things which Micah described were all things that God desired; but He desired them to come from a love for their Savior. Giving our offerings to the Lord, coming to worship God, uplifting one another with the Gospel, giving our time to the needs and the labors of our church, are all VERY IMPORTANT. They are God-pleasing when they are produced by a heart of “mercy” rather than simply being external acts of “sacrifice.”
Of all the people who put money in the treasury on the day that Jesus was watching, not one gave a greater gift than the widow who put in her two mites (cf: Mark 12:41ff). The widow’s actions flowed from a heart that loved her Lord. “To love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:33)
This is what God desires—no just the external, not just the going to church, but having the heart of a child of God that rests firmly on the faithfulness of God. So our “faith life” is not just: How do I act when I’m around my Christian friends in church on Sunday morning. It includes: How does my heart lead me to act when I’m at work or on the playground Monday through Saturday? It’s not just: How do I act and what do I say in public? It includes: What does my heart lead me to say, think, and do in the privacy of my own personal life? Is my heart resting on the Lord?
What a comfort it is to know that we have the faithful heart of our Savior to which we can turn for forgiveness as well as for the strengthening of our own weak hearts. Hosea describes the restoration of Israel in this way: “Come, and let us return to the Lord; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; On the third day He will raise us up, That we may live in His sight. Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, Like the latter and former rain to the earth.” [vv.1-4]
The knowledge of the Lord is to be our pursuit. That knowledge is what will strengthen our faltering hearts. In that knowledge is where the solution to sin and every problem of this life lies. That knowledge is what will keep our hearts serving and loving our God and will preserve us from an empty externalism. Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).
The knowledge of Jesus as our Savior and Christ’s love for us sinners is the only thing that can steady a faltering heart. Christ’s love for us gives us stability. It all comes down to the heart. God’s gracious heart providing salvation for us saves and builds up our faltering hearts.
Beware of an emptiness of heart which produces a mere external “going through the motions.” Fill that emptiness with the Gospel. Fill it with the faithfulness of God. Rise up to hear and to know the wonders of your gracious God. Pray with King David, “Create in me a clean heart…and renew a right spirit within me…restore to me the joy of Your salvation” (Psalm 51:10ff). In answer to that prayer, God promises “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)—a heart that serves and loves its Savior.
May the Lord empower each of us to give Him “mercy” above all else, and then also add to it the fruits of faith. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.