I'd like to begin this lesson by talking about the end of my lesson and that's the invitation to respond. For many people the invitation is the signal that it's time to go home. And the preacher turns the corner you know, and you just hear it in his voice, the invitation is coming. We can go home, we can stretch our legs. Lesson is over.
I remember as a kid growing up in Montreal, of course you know that I grew up Catholic. My mother for a time used to take me to church on Sunday mornings, go to Mass and even at Catholic Mass in French Quebec, I knew when the end was coming. I couldn't understand what was going on because in those days they used to say the mass in Latin. Everything was said in Latin so I didn't understand anything the priest was saying. But I knew the critical moment and the critical moment was when my mother reached forward and grabbed her gloves that were in the little pocket there. When she grabbed for those gloves and started putting them on, in my mind okay it's over. It's time to go.
Some think the invitation and the response are just a traditions. Something borrowed from some ancient religious habit of the past. Maybe not even necessary. Some churches don't extend an invitation every service. I'm not sure how this habit of extending the invitation at the end of each service began in the church but the habit or the practice if you wish is certainly Biblical.
We see Peter for example extending the invitation to repent and be baptized and he does it quite zealously after he's finished preaching on Pentecost Sunday (Acts 2:38-42). It says that 3,000 of them responded to his invitation and were baptized. In Ezra 10 we see the people respond in repentance as Ezra openly prays on their behalf. However, it is in the book of Hosea that we read a passage where the invitation comes directly from God himself and the response of the people is described in detail by the prophet.
Background - Hosea
Hosea lived at a time when the Jewish nation was divided into a northern kingdom Israel, southern kingdom Judah. This prophet lived in the northern kingdom and his personal life reflected the condition of the nation at that time. Hosea's wife was unfaithful to him and her adultery was a reflection of Israel's unfaithfulness to God. At the time, Israel showed her unfaithfulness in two specific ways.
- She worshiped Baal. Baal was a kind of nature God, God of fertility and so the nation was guilty of all kinds of perverse activity in connection with this form of idolatry.
- Israel formed a military and political alliances with other countries in order to protect itself its enemy of the north, the kingdom of Assyria and they did this instead of trusting God to care for them and to save them.
So Hosea was sent by God to rebuke the nation and to deliver an invitation to respond to God concerning their sins. In chapter 14 of Hosea we read the details of this invitation and the type of response that God Himself was hoping to get from His sinful children.
You know I believe that every time there is an invitation that is extended, that invitation is extended as an agent of the Lord who is the one behind the invitation. Hosea gives us information about our response and God's answer to our possible response to Him during a time of invitation and so in Hosea chapter 14 there's more to coming forward if you wish than just walking down the aisle and Hosea explains some of the elements involved in a proper response.
The Right Response
What is the right response that we make to God when we respond to the invitation?
1. The response is to God Himself
Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
- Hosea 14:1a
You come to God when you respond. Not to the preacher or for your mother or to make your family happy. A response, a coming forward is a step towards God. It's a desire to be closer to him, to be more intimate with him. When we sin, we're separated from God, we know that. When we respond, it is to him that we are returning. Not just to the church or to our religious tradition. If God is the one that is extending the invitation, it only makes sense to understand that when we respond, we're responding to Him. Not the song leader or the preacher that happens to be the agent of the invitation.
2. There needs to be a recognition of sin
For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
- Hosea 14:1b
So the response is to repent or to change or to abandon sinfulness. Responding means that a person actually recognizes that sin is the problem and they're coming forward to deal with this problem. To respond is to know what we're confessing, to recognizing what's wrong and to ask God to help us deal with this.
3. Realize what is going to happen
Take words with you and return to the Lord.
Say to Him, "Take away all iniquity
And receive us graciously,
That we may present the fruit of our lips.
- Hosea 14:2
When you come forward, two things actually happen:
- Our sins are taken away - They are covered with the blood of Christ so they no longer cause us guilt or condemnation, that's a thing that's actually happening. For the non-Christian the blood covers our sins in the waters of baptism. That's why I mentioned Acts 2:38. For the Christian the blood is accessed through the prayer of confession (I John 1:7-9). If we confess our sins He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That's something that's actually happening. We don't see it but when we call out to God, when we respond to God, to his invitation to be forgiven, to deal with our sins, we need to understand that He will do that very thing that we call upon Him for.
- We are once again allowed to worship - I think we don't always capture that idea. In Hosea 9:4-5 Hosea says that one of God's punishments for sin is that He does not allow His people to worship Him. He will not hear the prayers of sinners and their worship will bring Him no pleasure and so when we respond, one of the things that happens is that He gives us back the privilege of worshiping Him again, worshiping God involves more than just sitting in the pew. Singing the songs. We have to be in a right relationship with Him. We can go ahead and sing up to the, up to the rafters all we want but God is the one who decides if He accepts that worship or not. It's difficult to respond, it's embarrassing, it's stressful but we must realize what's at stake when we do. Forgiveness, restoration, things that only God can give to the faithful worshiper once again. Imagine losing that. Imagine we're separated from God. That simple act of coming forward in answer to the respond, restores us into a right relationship with God.
4. We recommit our lives
"Assyria will not save us,
We will not ride on horses;
Nor will we say again, 'Our god,'
To the work of our hands;
For in You the orphan finds mercy."
- Hosea 14:3
We respond because we want to remove what's wrong, what's missing in our lives and replace it with what is good and what is right. That's what a recommitment is all about. You know the Israelites confess what's been wrong in their lives. Idolatry has been wrong in their lives, also evil alliances has been wrong in their lives and now they're prepared to do what is right and that is to trust only God. Not themselves, not the work of their hands, not the alliances that they may form with what seem to be powerful armies.
A response needs not only to recognize what one must abandon but also make a commitment to doing what God wants in its place. For example, if you came forward because of unfaithfulness or unChristian lifestyle, part of the response is a commitment to be faithful again. To live your live as a faithful Christian again. It doesn't just stop here. It has to continue as you leave.
How does God respond to us when we come to Him?
When we respond we are so focused on what we're doing that we tend to ignore that God is meeting us at the front and he's responding to us as well. In the last part of the chapter God tells them that if they respond to Him, He will surely respond to them and Hosea describes exactly what He will do.
1. God will take away the sin
I will heal their apostasy,
I will love them freely,
- Hosea 14:4a
You've come to take away the burden of guilt and fear and shame and God does that and more. He also begins the work at removing the sin that caused these things in the first place, the jealousy, the lust, the anger, the greed. He removes those sins, He deals with those things. I Peter 5:7 says, "cast all your anxiety upon Him because He cares for you." The way to cast our cares, our sins, our burdens off of our own shoulders onto His is to respond to him. There's no shame in this. It's why we've come here. We mustn't stop short because of fear or pride.
For My anger has turned away from them.
- Hosea 14:4b
Sin separates us from God. It extinguishes the presence of the Holy Spirit. It denies us access to the throne of grace and prayer. Responding to God brings us back to our original fellowship with the Lord. When we respond, God responds by suspending His judgment, His condemnation, His rejection and His punishment of us. All things that we need to avoid obviously.
2. He will bless you
5I will be like the dew to Israel;
He will blossom like the lily,
And he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon.
6His shoots will sprout,
And his beauty will be like the olive tree
And his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon.
7Those who live in his shadow
Will again raise grain,
And they will blossom like the vine.
His renown will be like the wine of Lebanon.
- Hosea 14:5-7
Israel sinned terribly and was on the verge of being destroyed by the Assyrians. And God promised that if they responded to Him, he would not only suspend his judgment of them, but He would shower them with blessings. The rain does fall on the just and on the unjust but do you know what? Sometimes God will withhold His blessings from His children in order to get their attention. If you're a rebellious Christian and going nowhere in your life, maybe God is trying to get your attention. Maybe you need to respond and make things right with God before things go right once again in your life.
3. He will edify us
O Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols?
It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like a luxuriant cypress;
From Me comes your fruit.
- Hosea 14:8
Whoever is wise, let him understand these things, whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways of the Lord right, and the righteous will walk in them but transgressors will stumble in them. God's continued presence in your life will build you up as Hosea writes here. He will teach you, the Lord will lead you and He will encourage you. Those who come to God will find the right way to live, a way that will not require them to respond again. And so every part of our worship service has meaning and purpose:
- We sing and pray to praise God and edify one another and ask for our needs.
- We partake of the Lord's supper to remember and honor Christ and to make a public witness of our faith.
- We give money to honor God with our possessions and to serve in the Kingdom in some way.
- We share fellowship in order to create the bonds of unity and maintain peace as well as learn how to serve one another.
- We preach and we teach in order to educate and edify and rebuke and reprove and encourage.
- We offer the opportunity to respond so that God himself can minister to you as an individual through the church.
And so if you respond to God, be assured that God will respond to you.
So we're at the invitation part of our service. Let's not just see it as a signal to go home. Let's not beat the crowd out to the parking lot. Let's see it as our final act of service in this period of worship.
A time where man and God will come together for ministry and so the question of course, do you need to respond? Well you do if you're not a Christian. If you're not a Christian you need to repent and be baptized the forgiveness of your sins according to Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16, Acts 2, we've repeated those Scriptures over and over again throughout the years.
You need to respond if you're losing your battle against sin. We all struggle with sin, including the guy in the pulpit. We all struggle with sin. If I had to come forward every time I'm struggling with sin, I'd never leave the front of the auditorium. But if you, if you're honest with yourself and in that moment of honesty with yourself you realize that you're losing that struggle, you know you're losing it more than you're winning it, it may be time for you to respond to God and cry out to Him for help in this way.
We all sin but sometimes Christians get involved in some sins habitually or some sins that are so great or strong, they begin to overpower them. Again, if that's you and your voice is saying, oh give it some more time. Eventually you know? You don't need that, you can do it on your own. Oh, the most dangerous advice you can ever get spiritually, you can do it on your own. No you can't. I need all of you and all of you need each other and me. We all need one another and all of us together and separately, we need God. We need Him to help us to remain faithful, to be fruitful. Sometimes it's not just, oh Lord I'm losing the battle against sin.
Sometimes it's Lord, I can't seem to be producing any fruit in my spiritual life. Help me become more productive. That's a prayer he'll answer. He'll respond to that prayer. And then of course, if you carry a burden of sorrow, come and cast your burden upon God and then finally, if you would like to identify yourself, with this congregation. In other words, if you would like to place yourself under the oversight of this congregation, and those who minister in this congregation, if that's what you haven't done well maybe this is a good time to do that publicly. How, by responding to the invitation to do so and so make a right response at this very moment so that not only the church or the elders can minister to you but that God Himself can minister to you through their efforts.
If you do need to make a response, we encourage you to come forward now as Titus leads us in a song of encouragement. Shall we stand please?