Saturday, 1 February 2020

God loves damaged goods (Hosea 2-3)

‘My wedding was last Saturday’, writes Spencer Harmon, ‘and I didn’t marry the girl of my dreams.’
‘If you would have told me when I was a teenager that my wife would have seven tattoos and a history in drugs, alcohol, and heavy metal concerts, I would have laughed at you … and told you to take a hike. My plans were much different, much more nuanced with careful planning, much more clean-cut, and much more, well, about me.  It wasn’t my dream to marry a complicated girl. I never dreamed I’d sit on a couch with my future wife in premarital counselling listening to her cry and tell stories of drunken nights, listing the drugs she used, confessing mistakes made in past relationships.’ ‘Many people wouldn’t put Taylor and me together. In high school, we probably would not have been friends. She probably would have thought I was a nice, boring, judgmental Christian kid; I probably would have thought she was a nice, lost, party-scene girl who guys like me are supposed to avoid. People like us, with our backgrounds and histories, are not supposed to meet, fall in love, and covenant their lives to each other.’
‘But everything changes when people meet Jesus. He takes rebellious teenage partiers and goody-two-shoes home-schoolers and puts them together in marriage to put something on display much bigger than their own handcrafted, perfectly planned love story.’
‘Right in the middle of the mess of life, Taylor met Jesus, and he planted his flag in her life. She believed in him, and he transformed her.  The Taylor who spent her life living from one pleasure to the next died, and a new person was born. A new person with new desires and a new heart that longed to please God, serve people, and treasure Jesus Christ above every other pleasure.’
‘And this is how I see Taylor. She is completely new, completely transformed, and completely clean … God, in his incredible, infinite kindness, took Taylor’s dark, crimson life, and made her white as snow. He took all of her sins, placed them on his Son, and then gave her Jesus’ righteousness to wear like a perfectly white wedding dress.’
‘In reality, Taylor’s story is my story as well. As she walked down the aisle toward me, I was reminded of how much I don’t deserve the precious gift she is to me.  I’ve spent much of my life singing a self-centred siren song. Nothing about my life cries for blessings; it calls for curses forever. Yet God has dressed me in white, put my sin upon his Son, and given me a heart that loves him.’
‘Last weekend I was reminded of the beautiful reality that God exchanges the sin of our past for the perfect righteousness of his Son. Contrary to popular opinion, our wedding day was not our wedding day; it was a display of the most stunning reality in the universe—that God sent his Son to redeem a people made clean by the blood of his Son.’
‘This isn’t my dream—it’s better.’
Today we see that God loves complicated people.  He loves those that others consider to be ‘damaged goods.’.
He takes away our idols (2:2-13) 
It was only when the prodigal was in the pigsty that the he thought of his father.  The pigsty was actually a blessing to the boy.  As long as the pleasures of godless living satisfy us, God will be far from our minds.  When we see that life apart from God’s love is empty and meaningless, they may look to him.
‘Rebuke [or ‘plead’, ESV] with you mother …’ (2:2a).  She won’t listen to him, but she might listen to her children.  Perhaps they can make her see sense.  He is willing to take drastic steps to bring her to her senses.
He will make her bare as the day she was born (2:3a), slay her with thirst (2:3c), and block her path to her lovers (2:6).  ‘Then she will say, “I will go back to my husband for I was better off than now”’ (2:7b).
Thank God that you feel full of shame when you watch pornography.  Thank God that you feel dirty when you stare lustfully at that woman.  Thank God that your retail therapy does not bring lasting satisfaction, and that you learn again and again that no matter how much you possess stuff can’t make you content.  Thank God that gossip makes feel uncomfortable.  Thank God that when you go for days without praying you feel empty.  Thank God that though you enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin, you know that it can never make you truly happy.  God is blocking you path to competing lovers.
The people of Israel were chasing after the false god called Baal.  Baal was a god of sex and stuff.  He was a fertility god.  You encouraged Baal to provide crops by having sex with a cult prostitute.  Baalism is alive and well in our culture.  The advertisers can’t think of much more than we would want than sex and stuff.  We look to sex and stuff for pleasure and satisfaction, but when they are put before God, they leave emptiness and dissatisfaction.
She said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my olive oil and my drink’ (2:5).  She is giving credit where credit is not due.  It was Yahweh who had provided for her.  This is so typical of the human condition.  Paul writes, ‘for though they knew God, they neither glorified him or gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened’ (Romans 1:21).  When we pray, ‘give us this day our daily bread’ (Matthew 6:11), we are acknowledging that all we need for life does not ultimately come from our hands or anybody else’s hands, but from the hands of Jehovah-Jireh (Yahweh who Provides).    
He woos us with love (2:14-23)
Having warned them that he will do whatever it takes to bring her to them senses, the second half of the chapter begins with a ‘therefore’ (2:14).  So we might assume that he is going to continue with his threats.  However, God’s tone changes.  He is going to woo her.  ‘I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her’ (2:14).  The kindness of God is designed to bring us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
The wilderness was where God had brought the people when he had rescued them from slavery in Egypt.  It was in the wilderness that they became a nation.  It was in the wilderness that he had made a covenant with them, at Mount Sinai.  In the wilderness God’s provision was undeniable—he gave them bread from heaven, water from the rock and quails in the wind.  He is reminding them of their first days as a nation.  
The wife has been eying up that man at work.  He is no good for her.  He just wants to sleep with her.  He will probably cast her aside after he gets what he wants.  The husband knows that something is wrong.  She has been distant and critical.  She seems discontent and uncommunicative.  So, he tries to remind her about the beauty of their love.  He takes her to the restaurant where they had their first date.  He opens up the wedding album and they laugh as they remember that wonderful time.  He talks of all the good and bad times they have gone through together.  ‘Don’t throw this all away.’  He is seeking to rekindle their first love.
It was actually in the that the first signs of Israel’s unfaithfulness showed.  The Valley of Achor was where a man called Achan had tried to deceive God and brought judgement on the people.  But God will make this place of judgement a door of hope (2:15).  Our God is willing to turn judgement to blessing.  Look at what he has in store for them if them turn and give them their hearts.  In that day you will call me ‘my husband’ you will no longer call me my master (2:16).  Sex and stuff are lousy masters.  If you don’t put God before sex and stuff, they will enslave you.  But God calls you to real intimacy and security.  To know him as husband.  He is a husband who has the best of influences on us.  Are you sick of some of the crap you see in your heart?  God can give you the power to change!  He will remove from her the names of the Baals from her lips (2:17). ‘I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you with righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.  I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord’ (2:19-20).  All this is grace.  ‘… I will show love to the one I called “not my loved one”.   I will say to those called “not my people”, “you are my people”, and they will say “you are my God” (2:23).
He pays the price to bring us home (3:1-5)
‘The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress.  Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes’ (3:1).
Gomer had walked out on Hosea.  She had left him for another lover.  But things had not worked out well.  Did she have to sell herself into slavery to survive?  We are not sure.  But Hosea has to buy her back.  It costs him to bring her home.  It cost God to bring us home.  ‘For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect’ (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Our reading speaks of a time, ‘in the latter days’ when the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God, and David their king (3:5).  The northern kingdom had been in rebellion against the house of David for two hundred years at the time when Hosea spoke these words.  But God would send a king, the Son of David, Jesus Christ, to bring them home.  Have we come trembling before the Lord to receive his blessing and life?
A man got up to speak at a concert.  He wanted to talk about sexual purity.  So, he showed them a rose.  ‘This is your sexuality.’  Then he passed it into the crowd and invited everyone to have a sniff.  As it was handed around it began to wither.  When it returned to the stage it was bent over and lacking any vitality.  ‘This is what happens when you sleep around’, he explained.  ‘Now who wants this rose?’
The answer is that Jesus wants this rose.  You may be ashamed about the porn that you have looked at.  You may have a sexual history that you are not proud of.  You may have said words that you can’t take back.  You may have spoken lies and lived deceitfully.  You may have shown how shallow you by living for stuff and obsessing over what people think of you.  You have been a fool.  You have betrayed God.  But he does not see you as ‘damaged goods’!  He has come to bring your home.  He wants to embrace you.  He wants to give you a new start.  He can change you from the inside.  You may have been all sorts of things, but in Christ, ‘you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God’ (1 Corinthians 6:11).

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