Despite all sin, suffering, and the sorrowful state of the world, Jesus was driven by the joy of completed mission (Hebrews 12:2). Despite harassed and helpless sheep, and a desperate shortage of laborers, Jesus promised a plentiful harvest full of the redeemed from every tribe, tongue, and nation (Revelation 5:9). This is the joy Jesus saw. He is not just God, but a God over his people — many of whom are largely unknown and do not know him yet.
If Jesus was joyous against all odds, so shall we his people. Let us fix our eyes on him and pray, give, go, and send in joyful anticipation that there is no greater joy than to have throngs of largely unknown peoples known by our heavenly Father. As John states, there is “no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4). Let us walk in such a way that our heavenly joyfulness will one day include today’s unknown and unreached peoples.
Robert Savage said, “The command has been to ʻgo’, but we have stayed — in body, gifts, prayer, and influence. He has asked us to be witnesses unto the uttermost parts of the earth. But 99% of Christians have kept puttering around in the homeland.” May we not be added to them, but may we boldly risk for the sake of the nations. We can rest assured that no one will ever enter heaven saying, “I wish I had done less for the nations.”
Andrew Knight, Table Rock Church, Boise, ID
These days we are astute at healing many diseases that formerly took lives or left lifelong scars. But issues of the heart remain largely out of reach to modern medicine. Of course, we do prescribe countless pills for whatever we believe ails us on the inside, and many of these ailments are legitimate. But how do you heal harlotry? What prescription can remedy whoredom?
The answer the book of Hosea will provide today has caught on and been portrayed in a handful of movies and storylines. Richard Gere and Julia Roberts discovered it in Pretty Woman, and Mel Gibson found it in Payback when he says at the end, “If she’d stop hookin’, I’d stop shootin’ people.” The remedy for hookin’ harlotry is love. Love is the universal balm that can soothe the pain of the human heart. It transforms, revitalizes, refreshes, and restores. It changes people. And it can heal promiscuous patterns of infidelity.
But let’s not oversimplify. As Hosea will tell us, rededicated love requires certain words. These words must be powerful, although they can be simple. They must be sincere, even if brief. They have to be reinforced with clear action, even if the first tries are faltering and clumsy. Love, words, and action--the Bible captures the breadth of these combined elements with words like faith, confession, repentance, and obedience.
Hosea has taught us that love heals, and God is a fire hydrant of love. But love achieves healing with words and action, with faith, repentance, confession, and obedience. And with a beautiful song, the book of Hosea comes to an end, and the Great Healer promises a spectacular healing. He heals harlots, and He’ll heal you.
Most of you reading this article have children. But if you don’t, this is still for you. Just substitute all references to children with your best friend or the person who’s most important to you. So, how do you give away your kids? How do you get rid of them?
That question creates another. Why would you even consider giving your kids away? Well, maybe you’d consider giving your kids away because they’ve disappointed you in every way possible. They’ve rebelled against you, punched, slapped, kicked, and wrecked you. They’ve destroyed your life and the lives of others. They’ve shown more loyalty to everyone else but you. Spread out over time, these patterns of behavior could wear you down and make you seriously consider kicking them out of your life.
Sadly, some of us have lived through situations like these or know those who have. So, how do you cut the cord and finally give your kids away to whatever lifestyle or whatever group of friends they want? In the book of Hosea, God Himself is confronted with this question. What shall He do with an entire nation of “children,” a nation to whom He has wed Himself like a husband, that has repeatedly rejected and misused Him? “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away” (Hos 11:1-2). Can you hear the sadness, the disappointment? So, after all the rejection and abuse, how does God finally bring Himself to give His kids away? He doesn’t. He can’t. “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?” (Hos 11:8).
How do you give away the people who are most important to you, even when they hurt you deeply? You don’t, because you can’t. Why? In the words of a Jewish teacher from decades ago, “The decisive motive is love.” This is what we’re talking about today. Listen closely.
No, I’m not talking about your personal age. I’m talking about churches across the country, including ours. All the way back in 2001, a U.S. Census Bureau reported that adults ages 18 to 29 comprised 22% of the adult population in the U.S. And yet the same age group represented less than 10% of church attendees nationwide. Today, the situation isn’t any better. Our churches are aging. What does this mean? It means that, as far as U.S. churches are concerned, our future is fading as quickly as our hair.
What, then, can we do? In the words of a recent book written on the subject, we have to “grow young.” “Oh, you mean we’ve got to prioritize the youth, and give them everything they want, and basically give up the church that I’ve known and loved for years?” Well, kinda. Here’s what I mean: It is the responsibility of each generation to prioritize, engage, and raise up the next generation of Christ followers. In other words, every generation must prioritize and be attentive to the faith of the upcoming generation. The youth in our church will one day have to make the same commitment and prioritize the generation coming behind them, and so on and so forth. The biblical story is replete with emphases on the importance of older generations prioritizing the faith and maturity of younger generations (see Deut. 4:9-10, 6:4-9, 11:18-21, Ps. 78:1-8, Titus 2:1-6). So, giving priority and emphasis to the younger generation isn’t simply a matter of taste or preference. It’s a matter of biblical faithfulness.
This can be scary for lots of us. But remember this: Church isn’t about our nostalgia and sentimental attachment to days gone by. It’s about advancing the mission of the Kingdom across the generations. Today, Josh is going to help us process this biblical vision and challenge us to “grow young,” not just for sake of our youth, but for the sake of our future.
Imagine what your marriage, or some other significant relationship, would be like if you only communicated through a list of likes and dislikes, or a list of what you wanted from your partner and didn’t want. How intimate would that relationship be? And if you did everything on the list, what further obligations would you have? Could you overlook birthdays and anniversaries, or dispense with displays of affection, or neglect loyalty and faithfulness, so long as the list was done? Would you ever defend your lack of engagement with your partner by saying, “Well, I did the list. You can’t ask anything else of me. In fact, I think you owe me now.”
What you’ve just imagined is a ridiculous scenario, and we intuitively know this. We wouldn’t dream of pursuing our deepest and most important relationships this way. And yet, many Christians think this is precisely God’s design for the faith and practice of Christianity. God gives a list (even if somewhat scattered across the New Testament). We put it together, and then do it. At this point, God must keep loving us and “blessing” us, even if the blessing is only the assurance that we won’t go to Hell if we die today.
What a miserable religion. And what a miserable relationship. In fact, although it might pass for religion, such an arrangement can’t possibly pass for a relationship. And this awareness illuminates something that we’re going to read in Hosea today: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice; the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Two thousand years ago, Jesus told some very religious people to go learn what that statement meant (twice, actually). So, that’s what we’re doing today. We’re going to learn what this means.