Yet You Did Not Return

Amos 4:6

“I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,

and lack of bread in all your places,

yet you did not return to me,”

declares the Lord.

Revelation 9:20-21

20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

Yet you did not return. Yet you did not repent. These are the regular truths of lost humanity, even in the face of the true and holy judgment of God.

In Amos 4, five times we read, “’Yet you did not return to me,’ declares the LORD. Those lines, spoken to the people of the northern kingdom, all follow different judgments of God on the land. Multiple times and in various ways, God had chastened the people. The hardships they faced should have drawn the people back toward the Lord. After all, the people had agreed to terms with the Lord in the covenant at Sinai, and that covenant included provision for such judgments should the nation turn unfaithful.

In Revelation 9:20-21 as well as 16:9 and 11, we see something quite similar. When the judgments of God are poured out on the people of earth in this prophetic vision, mankind does not turn from his wickedness. Instead, the nature of the lost is to double-down on sin rather than learn from hardship. So, in the end, the people of the world store up for themselves the wrath of God to greater and greater degrees.

Do not underestimate the capacity of mankind to press forward with wickedness even in the light of true judgment and destruction. If God does not work to change our hearts, we will, worse than a recalcitrant child, stiffen our necks and shake our fists until the Lord takes from us our very lives. Even in hell, the wicked will not be truly repentant. While they will bow to Jesus and know that they justly deserve their fate, none will desire to turn from their wickedness to embrace the Lord.

When you see the nature of mankind to be stiff-necked and rebellious, thank Jesus if you have faith. Only through his sovereign power is a dead sinner made a living saint. And if you are made a child of God in Jesus, your relationship with your God is not based on your works or your goodness. Instead, your hope, my hope, our only hope is the love of Jesus and his perfect grace.

If you know Jesus, remember the nature of mankind. We never stop telling the truth to the world. WE never stop calling people to faith. But we must know that only the Lord can change a human heart. If mankind is left to himself, he fights against God and all that is good.

Finally, if you do not know Jesus, stop fighting. If you have any desire to stop fighting, know that this is a gift of God. Repent. Believe. Trust Jesus. Be saved.

The Torn Veil

H – Highlight

Mark 15:38 –And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

E – Explain

At the moment of Jesus’ death, the Lord, as a glorious sign, tore the veil of the temple in two. Theologically, I believe that this shows us that the sacrificial system is fully ended once and for all.

A – Apply

That Jesus finished the work is evident from his declaration, “It is finished,” from the tearing of the veil, and from his resurrection from the dead. The entire plan and purpose of the Old Testament law is fulfilled in Christ.

One application is that we ought to be wise enough not to attempt to return to a required obedience to Old Testament ceremonial law (cf. Gal. 5:2-4). The feast, Sabbaths, sacrifices, and such things are pointers to the work Christ finished. We dishonor Christ if we attempt to put the temple veil back together and bind ourselves to Old Testament regulations. This is not to say that the law is not a wonderful tool to show us God’s character and his standards for justice and righteousness. But we are not to return to the old temple or its trappings.

Another application is that we cannot do anything, not a single thing, to atone for our own sin. The concept is made plain when God destroyed the veil between the holy of holies and the rest of the world at Jesus’ death. When we sin, sometimes we are tempted to attempt to make up for what we have done through acts of penance. This is not acceptable. In fact, this practice dishonors the Lord and his sacrifice. We obey out of love for the Lord and the joy of his glory. We do not obey to change our position before the Lord, to climb a ladder into his favor.

R – Response

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I thank you that your sacrificial work is fully complete. I pray that you will help me remember that there is no single thing that I can do that would make me climb into your favor. Instead, I pray that you will help me to obey for the sheer joy of knowing you and honoring your holy name. I pray that you will help me love you and love others as you command, not from obligation of law but from joy of grace.

Confident Fear

When God first spoke to Israel to give them the initial terms of his covenant, he spoke so that the entire nation could hear. And you may recall that this terrified the people of Israel. The people came to Moses and asked him to be a go-between for them to get the law of God. The people feared that, were they to continue to hear the voice of God, they would die.

What do you think when you hear about that? Do you think that sounds like a good thing? Was Israel, as a people, doing what godly people would do in that setting? Or is asking not to hear the voice of God any longer the sort of thing that showed their lack of devotion to the Lord?

Look at the Lord’s response to the people’s request in Deuteronomy 5.

Deuteronomy 5:28-29 – 28 “And the Lord heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the Lord said to me, “I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. 29 Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!”

God was not put off by the people’s desire that Moses talk to them on their behalf. God was not upset that the nation feared to hear his voice. In fact, the Lord was pleased.

Why was God happy with Israel’s fearful request? The request showed that the people understood that God is holy and they are sinful. They honored the Lord by asking God not to speak directly to them, as they knew themselves to be unworthy to hear the voice of God. They knew that for a sinner to be exposed to God’s perfection is deadly.

We would do well to learn a bit from this. No, I’m not suggesting that we should want to be distanced from our God. All who know Jesus are under his grace, their sin covered by his blood and their lives imputed with his righteousness. We may approach God with joy, confidence, and even boldness (Eph. 3:12). But, we should also understand that our ability to approach God is due solely to his grace. We did nothing to earn it. We are not righteous in our own merits. Were we to stand before God without the protection of his grace in Jesus, we would be utterly consumed in an instant.

Somehow, Christians, we need to learn to have a confidence to approach the Lord even as we have a proper, holy fear of God. We need to rejoice in the grace of Christ. We need to let his perfect love drive out fear. And we need a holy reverence and fear of the Lord, recognizing that apart from his covering we would be destroyed. Why not let this passage in which God affirms the fear of the Israelites remind you to tremble at the holiness of God even as you rejoice in thankful praise of the Lord Jesus and his grace?

Grace Toward Good Works

How good works and the grace of God are related ought not be confusing to Christians. This teaching runs all through the New Testament, but many fail to grasp it. Simply put, we are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone apart from any good works on our part. Our doing good has absolutely nothing to do with our salvation. However, once we are saved, good works follow.

What are the errors? Some would suggest that Christianity is so much about grace that good works are not at all important. Once you are saved, be whatever you want to be. After all, you are under grace. Such would be a horribly ungodly way to think. Genuine Christianity includes a genuine submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ. And if you find a person uncommitted to following Jesus, obeying his words, living in accord with his commands, be skeptical of their claim to faith.

On the other hand, there are others who get the cart before the horse and assume that our good works have something to do with our salvation. The assumption is that we in some way must contribute something, even if it is only a small thing, to our salvation. This is truly what the word legalism means. Paul was battling against that concept in Titus 1. There he preached against those who claimed that the people of Crete needed to submit to Jewish religious regulations to be allowed to be considered Christians.

These two errors regarding faith and good works have been common throughout the history of the church. If you have a Roman Catholic background or if you grew up in a rulesy culture, you may be tempted by the legalistic idea that you have to be good first to be saved or that your participation in certain religious ceremonies or practices somehow contributes something to your salvation. But if this is not your background, you may be more influenced by a perversion of the concept of grace that leads you to believe that Christianity makes no claim on your life and behavior.

In my circles, I think the problem of perverting grace toward license to sin is more the problem. More people that I have known want to claim Christ because of a religious experience even if their lives do not reflect being changed by the Lord. Again, I will emphasize that none of us are saved by being good. But the Scripture is clear that a change of behavior is an outcome of salvation.

Titus 2:11-15 — 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. — 15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

Notice, in that paragraph, that Paul is quite clear that we are saved by grace. But a purpose of the grace of God includes our purification. We are to renounce ungodly and worldly passions. This means that we cannot be driven by our bodies and our desires as is the world around us. Just because a thing feels natural to you, just because the world around you says that a behavior is OK does not make it OK. We renounce behaviors that society around us embraces and even applauds. Jesus is about purifying a people for himself, his very own possession, for his glory. And that purification includes our being changed from living for self and living like the world to our living under the commands and standards of the Lord.

So, let me say it once again for the folks in the back. To be saved, you contribute nothing. You do not change yourself or participate in any religious ritual to be granted the grace of God. God does the saving. It is by his grace alone. And the thing we do is believe—by grace we are saved through faith. Even our faith, we must biblically recognize, is a gift given to us by God. But for certain, no person has ever been saved because of a thing he or she did. We are only saved when we fall on the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

But, and this is the guard against the other error, when you are saved, you change. God works in you and with you and through you to change you. If you can live like the world around you while claiming Christ, there is a problem. If you are not submitting to God’s commands for Christians, there is a problem. If you can do what God calls sin without remorse and without repentance, you may well never have been saved by grace through genuine faith. God saves us by his grace, but his grace leads to our sanctification, our renouncing of sinful ways to live to his glory.

Worship is a Result of Forgiveness

Why do we sing? What makes us praise? As a people, the things that we do are strange. I am not sure that many in the world understand why we would do what we do, especially when it comes to getting together and singing on a Sunday morning.

Of course, there are multiple reasons that we sing. We sing because God commanded us to do so. We may sing because we genuinely enjoy singing with others. We sing, because it teaches us truth. We sing because, well, we have always sung.

Psalm 51:14

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.

Psalm 51 is one of those famous Psalms. It is the one where David is writing after a major sin. It has those popular lines that we know like, “Against you and you only have I sinned,” and “Create in me a clean heart.” But what got my attention as I recently read it was this little verse about singing.

What is David saying? Is David making a deal with God? If you’ll forgive me, I’ll sing you a song. No, that is not what is going on. God is not going to have us purchase his forgiveness with promises. We cannot pay him anything, including obedience, to earn grace.

I think something much better is going on here. David is making it clear that he knows that singing, true and joyful singing, is a proper human response to being forgiven. David knows that genuine joy is to be found in knowing that our sins are covered. We will sing as we realize that God has cleansed us from a genuine guilt.

Singing and other acts of worship, acts that confuse the world around us, are right responses to the grace of God. You see, unlike the rest of the world, we know ourselves to be guilty, really guilty, before the Lord. We know we have earned wrath from God. But, as believers, we also know that our sins have been covered by the astoundingly lovely sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. God chose to save us. God sent his Son who did the work to save us. The Son of God declares us to be his before his Father. And in doing so, we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son of God. We are transitioned from being destined for hell to being eternally destined for heaven. We Move from being lost to forgiven.

What is the right response to all that? We should love the Lord. We should sing. We should praise. We should bow and pray and weep in gratitude. We should magnify the Lord, the Holy One, who loved us enough to make us his own.

Why do we sing? One reason is that we are forgiven. That is surely enough.

God Provided the Lamb

Some phrases in Scripture are so loaded with truth that we dare not miss them. One such phrase, one that provides us with tremendous hope, is found coming from Abraham in Genesis 22.

You probably know the basic story. When Isaac was a young man, perhaps a teenager, God commanded Abraham to take Isaac, the child of promise, and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. This was a test, of course, as the Lord has never called for his people to participate in human sacrifice. And it was a significant teaching tool as well.

On the way up the mountain, when it was just father and son, Isaac noticed something was missing. They had all the necessary elements for an offering except for one thing, the victim.

Genesis 22:7-8 – 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” 8 Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

Isaac asks Abraham where the lamb for the offering is. Abraham responds with a profound truth, one far deeper than I would guess he understood himself. Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb.”

The story on the mountain ends with God stopping Abraham from sacrificing his son. And God clearly provided a ram for the sacrifice instead of Isaac. But the bigger truth was still to come.

The human race is a race of rebels against God. We are sinners, and our sin must be atoned for if we are to be in right relationship with our Lord. An offering must be made. A sacrificial substitute must die in our place, or we must forever die ourselves.

God provided himself a lamb. God knew that we lacked the resources and the ability to make things right between ourselves and him. We could not come up with an offering that would be enough. But God provided his own lamb. God provided the only sacrifice that could satisfy his perfect and holy wrath against sin. God provided His own Son to die in our place. God sent Jesus.

An Honest Assessment

There is no power in positive thinking when that positive thinking is positively false regarding who we are before the Lord. There may be some good to be gained by a person choosing not to continually dwell on negative thoughts—I’ll never meet my goal; I’ll never get a promotion; I’ll never have a close friend; etc. But when we evaluate who we are in the light of the Lord who made us, we need to speak and think honestly. Only when we see ourselves for who we are can we truly yield ourselves to the Lord and find grace.

Isaiah 64:5-6

5 You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
6 We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

When Isaiah evaluated Israel, he said some very true things about us all. God is good. God is for those who follow him. But, in our nature, we will not do so. We are easily led away from what the Lord commands. In our own strength, even our most righteous acts, the best of our best, will fall short of the infinite perfection of our God. We have been a long time in sin. And, if this does not change, our iniquities will sweep us away to destruction.

Honestly assessing our sinfulness will allow us to look to the Lord with proper humility. A person who understands that Isaiah 64:5-6 applies to us all will be a person who approaches the Lord differently. We will not think, even for a moment, that God owes us goodness. Nor will we think that we, in our own goodness, can earn our way into God’s favor. Instead, we will be like children, helpless on our own, who can only make it if our Father chooses to pick us up and carry us home.

Plain Truth in a Strange Passage

Because I read through a Bible-in-a-year plan on a regular basis, I often find myself in the book of Revelation as the year closes. Some years I find myself more fascinated with the mysteries. Others I find myself hard pressed to want to again consider what all the symbols might mean. In all instances, I am reminded of the glory of God, the ugliness of sin, and the victory of Christ.

At times, as we study a book like Revelation, it can be an incredibly helpful thing, in the light of such mysterious language, to find something very straight forward, very simple. And something like that hit me in my read through Revelation 9. No, it is not a pleasant passage, but it is surely clear.

The context is the trumpets of Revelation 8 and 9. In those chapters, we have seen some terrifying disasters. And the text has described for us fantastic creatures bringing much death. And while many will debate what those creatures are or what they symbolize, the reaction of humanity to them is telling. And that reaction is not a mystery at all.

Revelation 9:20-21

20 The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, 21 nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

When the people of the earth in the book of Revelation are faced with the horrors of these creatures, when they come face-to-face with their own mortality, the people do not change. One might think that a reminder that we live in a world that is well beyond our control might have an impact. One might think that that a reminder that we die, and that there is a judgment to come, would change the hearts of men and women. But the word of God is clear that it does not. When mankind is set on rebellion, logic and emotion are powerless to change us.

What did the people cling to in the passage? The list is awful. They would not repent of their idolatry—no surprise there. But they also would not repent of murder, sorcery, sexual immorality, or theft. People facing the judgment of God will still kill. People facing the clear evidence of the power of God will still worship false gods or turn to fortune-tellers. People, even in a world that is falling to pieces, will cling to sexual immorality and materialism. Human nature is depraved.

Now, let’s think of three quick things. First, we see in this text that certain sins are a big deal to God. We must not allow our culture to tell us that, since society has moved on to a new consciousness, the old morality no longer applies. God is the one who tells us what is right and what is wrong. Idolatry and sorcery, false religion and the embracing of supposed spiritual energies and powers, are direct assaults on the glory of God. Murder and theft, things we basically still see as criminal, are things God hates. And right there in the list, even in the face of the eye roll and sneer of society, is sexual immorality. God takes these sins seriously. And one way we know they are all significantly evil is that God includes them in the list of sins that man doubles-down on to his own destruction.

Second, just note the basic depravity of humanity. I’m using that word in a technical and theological sense, not as an intended insult or expression of exasperation. Ever since the fall of mankind, humanity has been corrupted by sin. Every aspect of our humanity is fallen. Our nature is to oppose the Lord. By the grace of God, people do not tend to be as evil as we possibly could be. But the fall of man has so impacted us that it is impossible for a human being, apart from the transforming grace of God, to be pure before God. And that depravity is so deep-seeded that, even in the face of genuine judgment, humanity will scratch and claw and fight to keep our sin rather than submit to the God who made us.

And that leads me to my third thought today. How great is the grace of God? I am just like the people in the verses above. I am, by nature, nasty to the core. I would fight God tooth and nail were it not for one simple thing: God saved me. The sovereign God over all the universe and beyond did a work of supernatural power in my soul to bring me to himself. After God transformed my spiritual heart and made me spiritually alive, I repented of sin and believed in Christ for salvation. I have never yet been anything like perfect. Some of the worst things I’ve ever thought or worst impulses I’ve ever acted upon were still in my future. But the Lord had changed me. I could no longer sin without conviction. And, by the grace of God, my desires began to be turned to the Lord and his glory and not toward my natural evil.

God is good, mighty and gracious. He is the only one who can change a human being who would otherwise spit defiance at him with his dying breath. May we allow these moments of clarity in Revelation, these scenes that are not at all difficult to interpret, to remind us of the power and grace of God. Mankind is irreparably fallen. We, by nature, will never turn to the Lord. Sin is significant, no matter what culture thinks. But God is gloriously gracious. He saves sinners, transforming us from what we would naturally be into something that can truly honor him. Let us repent and be amazed at the grace of our God.

Grace and Repentance

I love grace. I really do. I love to recognize how deep is the love of God for his people. I think, in many situations, we fail to realize just how marvelous it is that the Lord would actually choose us and love us, love with a genuine affection and not a begrudging forgiveness. God calls us his children and really loves us like a good Father loves his children.

But if we focus so much on grace that we forget that salvation is transformative, we have a problem. Salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Yet the call to salvation in Scripture is always both repent and believe. Salvation comes to us when we trust in Christ. But trusting in Christ includes a yielding to his lordship and repenting of sin.

Think of this paragraph from John.

1 John 1:5-10 – 5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Look at the two sides of the coin that simply cannot be ignored. God is light. God has no darkness at all. So all who claim to belong to the Lord turn from sin, from darkness, and walk in light. That may sound all spiritual, but it really is not deep. God is good. If we are his, we will walk in goodness. God hates sin. If we are his, we will walk in righteousness and not in sin.

But, if we took that light and dark stuff as the only message, we would be overwhelmed. You are a sinner and so am I. Christians are still battling sin, and we do not always win in our day-to-day. So does that mean that, if my life has sin in it, if I ever fail, then I am not a true Christian? Praise God, no! Verse 8 reminds us that a claim to have reached sinlessness in ourselves would be us calling God a liar. But, what marks Christians is that we confess our sin, find cleansing in Jesus, and then strive to change and walk in the light as Christ is in the light.

What makes this passage so beautiful and so worth considering on any day is that it paints the picture of us rightly. It shows us grace and repentance side by side.

Are you a Christian? I hope that you are someone who has come to Jesus in faith and repentance to find salvation. If you are, then walk in righteousness. There is no such thing as a Christian who does not turn from sin and seek to obey Jesus. Living a life that obeys the commands of God is part of biblical Christianity. And any faith that pretends that we are not supposed to be changed and to live righteously is an antinomian religion, something wholly non-Christian.

But, before we let the burden of law and righteousness crush us, we also see that Christianity is a gracious, cleansing, loving thing. WE confess our sin. WE own our failing. We bring it to Jesus. And he cleanses us. That means both that we are forgiven and that we are helped by God to live more purely. We are sanctified by the Spirit of God so that we actually turn from sin and walk in the light.

So, dear friends, test your claim to faith. Are you walking in the light? Are you battling sin? Where there is sin, are you confessing it and bringing to Jesus? Are you being cleansed and led to repentance?