Let Us Return to the Lord
5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
You may remember that a few months ago, we were working through a series on the first five books of the Bible – the Pentateuch. Then the coronavirus happened. At this point, we are going to put that series on hold, but I wanted to explain why, and lay out what series we will be starting. I wanted to give you a glimpse behind the curtain – as it were.
I was enjoying going through the Pentateuch, but it is a series we all started together and one I don’t want to pick back up until we are fully gathered back together. So I started thinking about what type of series we could do. Specifically, I wanted a series where each sermon could really stand on its own. If I were to do a short letter like one of John’s or Peter’s or Jude’s, as people begin to return, they will kinda be behind a bit. They haven’t been here to hear the grand arguments of the letter. But at the same time, I did want something that was cohesive – a true series instead of just random sermons here and there.
So, this morning, we will begin an approximately 12-week series on the Minor Prophets. You know the ones I’m talking about. The short ones just before the New Testament with the funny names and confusing prophecies. The goal is to help us grasp the overarching point of each of the 12 books, to help us apply those truths to our lives, and to help us understand the books better as we read through our Bibles in private devotion.
With all that said, let me give you just a little background information about what is going on right now in our first book – Hosea. At this point in Israel’s history, we cannot even speak of only Israel. The unity and stability under David and Solomon – though far from perfect – is now totally gone. There are two Jewish kingdoms. This era is often called the Divided Kingdom. Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Israel had abandoned the Davidic lineage for their king and often tended to be more prone to idolatry than their Southern brothers, Judah. Often, the two kingdoms fought against one another, but sometimes they partnered up to fight other enemies.
If they were going to update their relationship status on Facebook, it would say, “It’s complicated.” To add to the complication, Assyria is becoming a threat to Israel. Assyria has already gobbled up some of her neighbors. Assyria hasn’t attacked yet, but there are ominous clouds on the horizon for the Northern Kingdom of Israel. We would do well to also remember that when the 12 Tribes entered the Promised Land with Joshua, they had promised to keep God’s covenant. If they kept the covenant by obeying God’s Law and not practicing idolatry, they would be blessed in the Land that God was giving them, but if they broke the covenant, the Lord would break them – they would be destroyed. So, that is the setting for the book of Hosea. And it will be important information as we move forward. One more quick word of explanation: Often, the Northern Kingdom of Israel is also called Ephraim, so don’t be thrown off by that.
Our passage this morning is Hosea 6. If you are able, please stand for the reading of God’s Word. We do this to show appreciation to God for His Word and in recognition that these are among the most important words that we can hear today. Hosea 6 says,
1 “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. 3 Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” 4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away. 5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light. 6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. 7 But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me. 8 Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with blood. 9 As robbers lie in wait for a man, so the priests band together; they murder on the way to Shechem; they commit villainy. 10 In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing; Ephraim’s whoredom is there; Israel is defiled. 11 For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed. When I restore the fortunes of my people,
Thank you, you may be seated.
If you are like me, when you think about the book of Hosea, there is one thing that stands out more than any other aspect, and that is the unusual marriage between Hosea and his wife Gomer. In the first 3 chapters of Hosea, God tells Hosea to go take a wife of… ill repute. Gomer is her name, and she is a prostitute. She eventually runs off on Hosea and Hosea then goes and redeems her back again – even after all of her unfaithfulness. Love hurts for Hosea. Can you imagine getting that Word from the Lord? “Excuse me! What did you just tell me to do, Lord?” And the prophet serves as a testament to love, but more important than that, he serves as a testament to loving and obeying God over his own comfort.
But the book of Hosea isn’t really about the relationship status of the prophet and his unfaithful wife. It is about God and His relationship to His unfaithful people. You see, God had been faithful to His covenant obligations. God had kept His end of the Covenant. Of course that shouldn’t surprise us at all, since we know that God is faithful and true. The problem is that Israel had not been faithful to the covenant.
Instead, Israel has shown faithlessness. She has been unfaithful to the Lord. She has rejected her first love. Look at Hosea 6:4 again with me.
4 What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.
By way of reminder, Ephraim is Israel. What does the Lord say to both Israel and Judah? That their love is like morning dew, it’s there for a moment, but then it’s gone. They are fickle. Their love is fleeting. They are like Gomer who returns to her prostitution. They dealt faithlessly (vs.7) with the Lord.
But why does the Lord use such a drastic example as Gomer? Why not just tell Israel that they are messing up? One of the insidious things about sin is its ability to deceive. If you know your own heart at all, you know that to be true. You know that you can do wrong and justify it and soothe your conscience. You shouldn’t do that, of course, but you know you can.
Israel was doing much the same thing. Israel had an outward look of religiosity. Generally speaking, Israel was keeping the feasts and sacrifices that the Lord commanded. So, it was easy for them to point to all these outward forms of “obedience”. They could console themselves about how well they were doing. But in reality, they were mixing their worship to God with other gods. They were violent and evil. They were like an unfaithful wife who came home and kissed her husband and made dinner, while secretly doing other things behind his back. They had a façade of faithfulness, but it was merely an illusion. God knew their hearts.
Good thing we never do anything like that. No, unfortunately we do often have a similar tendency. We focus on our outward religious works to hide what is really going on in our hearts. Oh, I tithe regularly, I go to church every time the doors are opened, I read the Sunday school literature at home, I don’t steal or kill, and I certainly don’t do anything really bad like drink or do drugs, and we pat ourselves on the back because we are good little Christian people. All the while, God is looking at our hearts. Saying that He would rather have a heart that is dedicated to Him than all of this religious ornamentation.
Look at verse Hosea 6:6 again with me:
6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Some translations read mercy instead of love in that verse, but the point of the statement is the same. God is not impressed with the outward things we do if they are not done out of true and lasting love of Him. That does not mean that those outward acts aren’t important – they are! But when they aren’t done from a heart that is sincerely concerned about the Lord’s glory, those actions are just putting lipstick on a pig.
Immediate, Complete, Sweet. The heart matters when it comes to obedience.
All that to say, Israel and Judah, and sometimes even us – as shocking as that may be – we all have this tendency to be unfaithful – even while feigning obedience.
But even in spite of faithlessness, God shows His faithfulness. That is one of the amazing things about the book of Hosea. The unfaithfulness of God’s people serves to highlight God’s amazing faithfulness and patience. How many times did Israel have to break the covenant to deserve God’s judgment? Once. That’s all that was needed. But what we see is that God patiently pleads with His people through the prophets. God warns His people over and over again what the consequences are to their spiritual infidelity.
In Hosea, God is the offended party. It is His beloved that has played the harlot, but instead of a fit of jealous rage, God faithfully, yet forcefully calls His people to repentance. He sends prophets to call His people back to Him. His Words and judgments go out to light the way. To show the truth of their sin – of our sin.
If they won’t repent, Assyria is knocking at the door. God will be faithful to His covenant. He will punish and discipline His people, but even that truth points to God’s faithfulness. He will keep His covenant. He will do whatever is necessary to purify His people and eventually redeem them.
Look again at Hosea 6:1-3
1 “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. 3 Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”
This is Hosea pleading with the people. Forgiveness is available. It is right there; all we have to do is return to the Lord - repent. Yes, he has broken us, but He will heal us. Think about how awesome that truth is. That God will mercifully strike His people so that they will return to Him. God is so eager that we return to Him. God is so willing to forgive that not only does he warn us of the dangers of our sinful hearts, but when we ignore that, He disciplines us so that we will see the error of our ways.
And again in those verses we see God’s faithfulness. Not only to call us to repentance. Not only to discipline us, but also that we can count on Him to forgive. It is as certain as the sun rising.
Yes, the story of Hosea and Gomer is extreme. The warnings and actual discipline hurts and feels extreme, but it is necessary because of the blinding effects of sin in our hearts. We need to be shaken from our tepid, fleeting “love” of God and reawakened to true, hearty obedience fueled by transformed hearts. Forgiveness is readily available, but we often do not see the need for it because we are focusing on our outward acts.
I know that according to the outline in your bulletin, I’m supposed to be about done, but there is one last point I want to make sure we see. Hosea 2 and 3 lays out what will happen to Israel. That they will be destroyed for a time. But that God will allure her. Draw her back and speak tenderly to her. God will abolish all false worship and war and strife. God will redeem his unfaithful wife and His wife will be renewed and speak like she did in her youth. Hosea 3:5 says,
5 Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.
I hope you see that this promise is culminated in Christ. It is Jesus who perfectly keeps the Law of God and fulfills the covenant. It is Jesus who ultimately bears the punishment for the sins of His people and grants them forgiveness. It is Jesus who sends the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts so that we can rightly worship God – not just externally, but in Spirit and in truth. We – the church – are the bride of Christ, and He has redeemed us with His own blood.
So, how should we respond to all of this? Come, let us return to the Lord. Brothers and sisters, let us forsake our false worship. Let us, by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit turn from our sinful, spiritual infidelity. Let our love not be fleeting like the morning dew. Let’s seriously repent of our sin. Especially those hidden sins that we try to cover up with external religious works.
Or maybe you’re here and you can’t return to the Lord because you’ve never turned to the Lord. I want you to know that unless you are united to Christ in repentance and faith, you will not be restored. All of God’s faithful judgement for your sin will land upon your head for eternity. You must repent and trust Christ alone who saves even the most vile sinners. Of which I am thankful.
In just a moment we will transition to a time of worship through response where we will sing a song to our Lord. We believe that any time a person hears the Word of God, that they respond in one of two ways: rebellion or worship. Through His Word and Spirit, even now in this moment, God is pleading with you to worship Him through repentance and faith. Cease your rebellion and humbly repent and worship.
If you need to talk to someone, or need someone to pray with, have questions, whatever it is, I’d be happy to do that. But because of our desire to practice an abundance of caution, I’m going to ask that you not come forward. Instead, just stay where you are and once we’ve dismissed and everyone has filed out, I’ll be happy to come talk to you for as long as you need.