The Fourth Sunday in Lent March 11, 2018
Text: Hosea 5:15-6:3 3 Year Series A 18:2057
Theme: The Lord Will Come to Us
I wonder how the people of Israel said this. With what kind of inflection did they say the words? Two people can say the same sentence, the exact same words, yet it comes out differently.
For example, one husband says to his wife, “I love you,” and means it with every fiber of his being. Another husband says the exact same words to his wife, but by the way he treats her day in and day out, she knows that he doesn’t mean it.
It’s no different when we talk to the Lord in heaven. One person says, “Come, let us return to the Lord,” and truly means it with every fiber in his being. Another person says the exact same words, but the Lord, who looks on people’s hearts, knows that the person’s heart isn’t really in it.
I just wonder how the Children of Israel said these things. With what kind of inflection did they speak the words? At first reading it sounds great. But when you look a little deeper into the situation, their words lacked heart – a heart of true love to their Lord.
When I was a child there was a television personality (Captain Penny in Cleveland,OH) who used to say: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool mom.” Yes, a mother who is in tune with her children knows. You can’t pull the wool over her eyes. But I’d like to change the ending of the saying to reflect that which took place in this text: “People can fool people, but you can’t fool God.” Or as the Scriptures say, “God cannot be mocked.” The truth is He will come to us, and then what? It depends on the heart.
I. We admit our guilt.
No one likes to be defrauded, manipulated, or lied to – least of all the Lord God. His people kept saying that they were His and that they were going to return to Him, but they were just mouthing words. Never did they admit to themselves the truth. They had forsaken their first love, God. But it was obvious. They were running after Baal and Ashteroth, Molech and other idols, and they rarely worshipped at the temple. In fact, the Lord accused them of committing adultery, not physically but spiritually against Him.
Adultery is unfaithfulness to one’s spouse. And when other things become more important to us than God, we prove unfaithful in our lives to Him. Then we commit adultery too – spiritual adultery. But people think that if one says the right words, like Israel was saying the right words, that’s enough. No, it isn’t. Just saying the words isn’t enough before Him who cannot be mocked.
Every parent who has taught their children to say the words, “I’m sorry” when they do wrong has fought that problem. They know that the child’s heart isn’t in the “I’m sorry” when 5 seconds later the child does the same naughty thing again.
Hosea struggled with that with Israel. God sent him to warn Israel about their idolatrous shenanigans and their falling away from Him. But the people didn’t want to listen to his preaching. Can you guess the reason they didn’t listen? They knew it was true, but they didn’t want to change. They liked the things they were doing, even though it was unfaithful to God. So, when Hosea came and began preaching against their preferred ways, it offended them. His words were true, but they weren’t going to admit their guilt nor change. Often when people feel guilt, the try to rid themselves of it by ignoring the truth. So Israel ignored what Hosea proclaimed.
But God stood behind Hosea’s message. “So, you think you can hide from Me and continue to be unfaithful to Me, do you? Then, I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And in their misery, they will seek my face.”
That, dear friends, would be a frightening situation. What if God would leave us? What if God would look upon the reality of our wayward hearts, which is shown by the way we live and the way we neglect Him and run after other things – what if God would look upon the reality of our wayward lives and say, “I’ve had it with them. They won’t come to me; they won’t spend time with me; I will go back to my place.” What would that be like? The devil tempts us to think it’s great; but the reality is misery.
We are so accustomed to hearing His promises like: “I will be with you always to the end of the world”; or “wherever two or three come together in my name, there I am”; or “I will give my angels charge over you to keep you in all their ways”; or “I will send them my Holy Spirit to guide them;” or even just hearing one of His names, “Immanuel, which means, God with us.” We are so accustomed to relying on these words. But what if we neglect Him; what if we become guilty of spiritual adultery; what if we become so interested in what we are doing that we fail to worship Him? Would He ever have occasion to say to us: “Then I will go back to my place and see if you can find me”?
Israel needed a change of heart; and so do we for we daily sin against Him. We need to admit our guilt, for we will never be close to the Lord unless we are honest about our sin. Why is such honesty needed? Because without it we have no need for Him.
Yet, the Lord holds out for us the same thing He held out for Israel. He said, “I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt.” You see, there is hope for those who awake from their spiritual slumberv. He may “go back to His place” for a while, but God is faithful. He will never stay there. As we admit our guilt, He will return to us. Like the psalmist says, “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise (Ps.51:17).”
II. We press on to acknowledge Him.
Israel responded, “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but He will heal us; He has injured us but He will bind up our wounds….Let us press on to acknowledge Him.” Has the Lord ever wounded you? If so, why did He do it?
The other day I read the story of a man who came to a pastor for help. He had been praying for years for the Lord to help him with his problems. He prayed often and hard and kept pressing on with prayer when things didn’t get better. “I keep talking to Him, but He just doesn’t answer,” the man complained. “Why, pastor, why? How does one cut through the red tape to get God to listen?”
It was the first time he had ever called upon a pastor to ask for help. Together they talked about his past. The pastor learned that the man had hardly ever been to church, although he was invited many times by his wife. In fact, he didn’t like God’s house and told his wife many times that she shouldn’t go there either. He had not been a loving husband to her during those years. Now he was ready to admit it. Now he felt ashamed of his behavior and wanted to make things right with God. He was about to learn that there was no red tape on God’s end but that he himself had created it. The man was ready to acknowledge it.
Israel said, “Let us press on to acknowledge Him.” Good words, but sadly, there heart was not in them. Still their prayer can be ours in a right spirit that means it, as it finally became for that man with his problems. We press on to acknowledge Him.
He is a holy God who has the perfect right to punish us for our neglect of Him. But He is also a compassionate, merciful, and forgiving God who “sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1Jn.2:2). In that Son who paid the price for sin on the cross, God promises not to see our sins anymore or to punish us for them. As Paul wrote in the Epistle Lesson today, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…for God sent His own Son in the likeness of the flesh to deal with sin. God condemned sin in His flesh….If Christ is in you…your spirit is alive because of righteousness” (Rm.8:1f). Live in it.
Such words can only mean the red tape is already cut and that God does acknowledge and answer every prayer of His people as they admit their guilt and press on to acknowledge Him. Then…
III. He will refresh us.
Dear friends, this is nothing less than talking about repentance in our lives, repentance that flows from the heart daily. When Israel spoke these words, they were just words. Israel had left their hearts out of them. God help that it not be the same with us.
Even though Israel spoke these words without meaning them, still they are true. As we return to the Lord, He will heal our hearts; He will bind up our wounds; He will revive our spirits; He will raise us up; He will refresh us and we will live again in Him and He with us. That is His promise in the Savior and to all who approach Him in faith. “As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”
Will the sun come up tomorrow? You bet it will. Even if it should be cloudy and rain falls again, the sun is still there above the clouds and will eventually break through them to warm us again.
Did the rains of last week begin to turn the grass around your house green again? It did in our yard, and more is coming soon.
Learn a lesson from the sun and the rains. When we think that the Lord has left us, realize the opposite is true. He may go back to His place for a time to wake us up so that we acknowledge Him and not ourselves. Then we will once again hear His assuring voice, “I have come again. Your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake. I am still here.” Actually, He never leaves us. Rather it is we who leave Him. But as we admit our guilt, and press on to acknowledge Him, He will refresh us. He can do no other for He sent His Son to reconcile us to Him. God grant it in our lives of faith for Jesus’ sake. Amen.