Do you feel far away from God? Maybe you feel dry in your faith. Does God seem impersonal to you? Do you sometimes wonder whether you actually are a Christian or not? Does the idea of God being your father seem too good to be true? Do you doubt whether he has actually forgiven your sins? Do you fear that you have sinned too seriously for him to forgive you? Do you fear that you have strayed too far from him to accept you home again? This morning’s reading is for you!
In fact, this morning’s reading is for all of us. For we all let God down every day. Every day we need to come home and receive his forgiveness. Repentance is not simply something you do as you become a Christian; repentance is a lifestyle. As people who love God, we are painfully aware that we fall and fail every day. We hate ourselves for it, but we let God down all the time. But he does not give up on us. He does not stop loving us. He is always ready to embrace us (and we all could do with a little more embracing at this time of social distancing).
This morning’s reading teaches us how to come home to God. It is a call to repentance. ‘Return, O Israel, to the LORD God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity’ (1). But how do we return? ‘Take words with you words and return to the LORD’ (2a). Speak to God. There are three things to say.
1. Say, ‘I’m sorry’
‘Say to him: Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips.’
God is not looking for our sacrifices but our hearts. In this book, God has already said, ‘For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings’ (6:6). As King David adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband he said, ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit’ (Psalm 51:17a).
In other words, God does not want you to be religious. He does not want you to sort your life out before you turn to him. He does not want you to try and prove that you are worthy of his love—none of us are. He does not want you to try to justify what you did—excuses are the enemy of true repentance. He wants us to hold up our hands and say, ‘guilty as charged’. Confession is not telling God what he does not know but agreeing with God that what we have done is awful.
The truth is that we are more wicked than we realise. Our sin is more terrible than we think. We have forgotten most of the evil we have done, and sin is not just what we have done, it lies in the attitudes of our hearts. All our sin is ultimately an affront to a perfectly holy and pure God. But no matter how great our sin, God’s grace is greater. ‘A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise’ (Psalm 51:17b). That is a promise! There is a godly sorrow that leads to repentance and leaves no room for regret (2 Corinthians 7:10). Repentance is ultimately a gift from God, and he will never reject it.
Say something. Say you are sorry.
2. Say, ‘I will trust in you alone.’
‘Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, “Our God”, to the work of our hands …’ (3a-b).
Assyria was the superpower of the day. So, Israel was tempted to make alliances with them in order to have security. They looked to the Assyrians to save them. In doing this they were refusing to depend on God to save them. Ironically, it was the Assyrians that would soon destroy them.
Horses were a symbol of military power. The were like apache helicopters or a nuclear deterrent. But no army can save us when it is God who is against us. We all face a day of judgement. On that day, Jesus will be the judge who dispenses perfect justice. If we have not turned to him as the only one who can deal with our guilty, our guilt will lead to eternal condemnation. We either have Jesus take our sins on the cross or we will die eternally.
Where do you look to for security? How would you finish the sentence, ‘my life would be happy if …’? The single person might say, ‘my life would be happy if I met someone to marry.’ The married person might say, ‘my life would be happy if there was no conflict in my marriage.’ The sick person might say, ‘my life would be happy if I had health.’ The poor person might say, ‘my life would be happy if I had wealth.’ The rich person might say, ‘my life would be happy if I had more.’ Be careful, good things become false gods when they are the centre of our security and hope.
Genuine repentance admits that, ‘my life can’t be full unless I have God.’ Genuine repentance realises that if God is all you have then you have all you need. Pray that God would make us satisfied in him.
3. Say, ‘I will call you father.’
‘… in you the orphan finds mercy’ (3c).
In this book of the Bible, Hosea shows love to a faithless wife. He is told to marry Gomer, who will cheat on him, and to keep on loving her. He is even to buy her back when she is sold into slavery. It is a picture of God’s pursuing love for his people.
This book is also about how Hosea shows love to fatherless children. His wife Gomer conceives children in her adultery. Hosea second and third child do not belong to him. But he accepts them as his own. We were born to be God’s children. But we have turned from his love and become spiritual orphans. Left to ourselves we are children without a heavenly Father. ‘But in you God the orphan finds mercy’.
Becoming a Christian is more than simply being forgiven. Becoming a Christian is more than going to heaven rather than hell when you die. Becoming a Christian is about being embraced by the most loving of all fathers. In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul writes, ‘God sent his Son … so that we might receive adoption as sons.’ The Father sent his Son to a cross for our guilt, so that he could love us with the same love that he loves Jesus Those who have turned to God in repentance can declare, ‘Jesus gladly loved me, and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20).
So, we come to God and say, ‘In you the fatherless find compassion, I am sorry that I have sinned so grievously against you, I have no other hope but you.’
And what does God say to us in response?
He responds in song and sings: ‘I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them’ (4). He turned his anger away from us, and onto Jesus upon the cross. His holy anger has been satisfied and we need fear it no more. He heals our waywardness as his love begins to change us. The progress may seem slow, but he is doing a good work in our lives.
He says, ‘I will be like the dew to Israel …’ (5a). We don’t lack rain in this country (although the weather has been spectacular ever since we have been put in lockdown). But imagine leaving in the ancient near east where it might have gone months without rain. Then the promise of dew has real meaning. You may feel spiritually dry, but God wants to refresh your soul. He wants us to know his presence. He wants us to feel his love. There can be all sorts of reasons why we find it hard to feel God’s love, but don’t give up seeking to pursue intimacy with him.
‘People will dwell again in his shade, they will flourish like the grain, they will blossom like the vine—Israel’s fame will be like the wine of Lebanon’ (7). Not only are those who live a lifestyle of repentance blessed, they are a blessing to others. It is as if people will think about them and remember the taste of the gorgeous Lebanese wine. Our church community of repenting people can be an inspiration to those around us. Repenting people know that they have nothing to be proud of and so they are humble. Repenting people delight in God’s love, and that love flows from them to those around them. Repenting people know that God does not treat us as our sins deserve but according to his loving-kindness, and so they are kind and gracious. Repenting people hear God call to be kind and so they are gentle. Repenting people know that the world does not revolve around them and so they don’t have to get their way.
I have been reading a wonderful book called ‘Captive in Iran.’ It is about two women that were held in the Evin Prison in Tehran. Their trust in God and love for their fellow prisoners made them a blessing to their fellow inmates. Some may simply hate us for our faith, but may they never hate us because we are difficult. May our desire to be like Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, cause many to remember us fondly.
So, how are you going to respond to the message of Hosea?
‘Who is wise? Let them realise these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the LORD are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them’ (9).
Remember that repentance is a gift. If you have a desire to know God, then that is evidence of the Holy Spirit working within you. Do not resist the drawings of the Spirit. You might tell me that your love for God is weak but desiring to love God is a form of love for God. You might have learned the hard way that life without Jesus does not work.
Maybe your faith feels dry. That maybe because we easily forget to marvel at the fact, we are simply wicked people who have been cleansed, loved and adored by the Holy God of the universe. Don’t lose the wonder. There may be innocent reasons why you find it hard to feel loved by God, don’t stop pursuing intimacy with him.
You may have stumbled. Don’t worry it is not too late. Return to the Lord. Take words with you. He will never despise a humble and contrite heart. That is a promise!