Lent 4a

Preached: April 3, 2011

How the Lord Longs for Our Repentant Faithfulness!
Hosea 5:15-6:6

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit works repentance in our hearts is Hosea chapters 5 and 6.

[The Lord says,] "I will go and return to my place until they admit their guilt and seek my face. In their adversity they will diligently seek me."

[Israel's response:] "Come, let us turn to the LORD. For he has torn us so that he may heal us. He has struck in order to bandage us up. After two days he will revive us. In three he will raise us up. Then we may live before him. Let us a acknowledge, let us pursue to know the LORD. His coming forth is fixed like the dawn. He comes like the rain for us, like the spring rain watering the earth."

[The Lord's response:] "What am I to do with you, O Ephraim! What am I to do with you, O Judah! Your faithfulness is like the morning fog, like the early dew going away. Therefore, I hewed them into pieces with the prophets. I have killed them with the words of my mouth. Like light the judgment against you shines out. For I desire faithful love, not sacrifice. Rather than burnt offerings, I desire that they know God." (Hosea 5:15-6:6)

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

"Marry a prostitute." I don't think any of us would give that advice. Maybe on TV or in the movies it sometimes works out, but we're talking real life here. Yet that's what the Lord told Hosea at the beginning of his ministry: "Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife" (Hosea 1:2 NIV1984). So he marries Gomer.

Was this woman a good lady caught up in a bad life? Was she eager to change her ways? Not at all. She leaves Hosea and runs after other lovers. But the Lord tells him: "Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites" (Hosea 3:1 NIV1984).

Hosea's personal life, as well as his preaching, proclaimed the Lord's message. The Lord, the faithful God, loved Israel as his bride. He betrothed himself to her by his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He took care of her, provided for her, and gave her the land of Canaan. He was faithful to his promises. His love did not fail.

But like a prostitute, Israel returned his love with unfaithful. Again and again throughout Old Testament history, she turned away from her Lord. She ran after personal gain, worldly pleasures, political power, and other such gods -- whatever would give her the biggest pay off at the moment.

And the Lord's love continued, constant. He remained faithful, despite her unfaithfulness. He sends his prophets, like Hosea, to call her back. He longs for her to return to him and to faithfully love him with repentant hearts.

His love continues to call out to you and me, dear friends. He longs for our repentant faithfulness. Let's ponder that theme as the Holy Spirit calls to us through God's Word today. How the Lord longs for our repentant faithfulness! This repentant faithfulness is not just right words and sacrifices, but it earnestly seeks to know our Lord and his love more and more. How he longs for our repentant faithfulness!

A. No just right words and sacrifices

As the text begins, once more the Lord has called out to his unfaithful people. Now he waits patiently. He says, "Then I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me" (Hosea 5:15 NIV1984).

They had turned away from the Lord. They had suffered misery and defeat on the battle field. They had turned to other nations for help to no avail. Would they come back to their husband, the Lord? Would they confess their guilt and unfaithfulness, their spiritual prostitution? Would they seek the Lord alone, earnestly seek him with total devotion, as a wife seeking her dear, loving husband?

Here's their response: "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. After two days he will revive us; on he third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him. 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" (Hosea 6:3 NIV1984).

It sounds lovely, doesn't it? But obviously something was wrong, for the Lord does not accept those words as his response makes clear when he calls out, "What can I do with you?" (Hosea 6:4 NIV1984). So what's wrong?

Maybe our first thought is that these were just empty words. They must not have been sincere. It wasn't heartfelt. It's like when a teacher makes the school bully apologize. He doesn't mean it. He's going to bully again. And such hypocrisy would certainly make any words unacceptable and not repentant faithfulness.

But I'm willing to grant them the benefit of the doubt that they meant these words, that they were sincere and heartfelt in what they said. Then how did their words fall short? Why didn't the Lord accept them? We need to dig deeper.

The Lord had said he would wait until they admitted their guilt. But did they? They admit they should to return to the Lord. They admit that the troubles have come from him to call them back so that he can heal them. They admit they should acknowledge him. And no doubt the action of bringing sacrifices and burnt offerings to the Lord followed after these words.

But do they see how damning their unfaithfulness is, so much worse even than a wife prostituting herself? Do they see how steadfast, faithful, and constant the Lord's love is, so much greater than any husband's love? Do they see how totally dependent on his love, grace, and mercy they are? How much they need him, totally need him?

To the contrary, they seem to think that if they acknowledge the Lord with some heartfelt words and bring the proper offerings and sacrifices, then the Lord would bless them just as surely as the sun rises and the rain waters the earth. It's almost as if they're the ones in control. "If we say and do the right things, the God's gotta forgive us and be good to us."

This is where we need to examine our own attitude of repentance. Sometimes we imagine that if our repentance is heartfelt and our feelings genuine, then it must be acceptable to God. But remember how heartfelt and sincere Judas was as he threw the thirty pieces of silver into the temple saying, "I have sinned ... for I have betrayed innocent blood" (Matthew 27:4 NIV1984). He spoke right words from his heart and sacrificed all his ill-gotten gain, but that could not save him.

That's one point here, dear friends: Don't imagine that you're sorrow, no matter how sincere and heartfelt, or your sacrifices, no matter how great and costly, can in any way at all make things right between you and God. Only the blood of Jesus can do that. We are totally dependent on him.

Sometimes even as we try to do the right things in life and get rid of the sins that rub our conscience, we fall into false thinking. "I would be such a better person if I prayed more or read my Bible more or controlled my tongue better or showed more kindness to others. Then I'd be faithful."

As good as those goals may be, our sinfulness goes much, much deeper. No matter how much I clean up my life, I'm still a dirty sinner. I'm still totally dependent on my God's forgiveness each and every day. How humbling that is to admit! Even at my best I am worse than an unfaithful prostitute. Even at my best I in no way deserve the Lord's love.

Do you see that in your life? Admit your guilt, dear friend. Confess your prostitution, your unfaithfulness. Confess how much you need God's forgiveness, not just for this or that sin, but for your very self. Confess how undeserving of his love you are, how totally dependent on his grace and mercy.

And just as Hosea loved his unfaithful wife who prostituted herself, so also the Lord loves you. He gave his Son for you, a price that none of us could pay. He betrothed you with his saving promises and washed you clean in the water and word of Baptism. He presents you as a bride beautiful dressed, clothed in the wedding gown of Jesus' righteousness. We are totally dependent on his grace and mercy. How great his love! How great his faithfulness!

B. But earnestly seeking to know him and his love more and more

Now our old self sees the faithfulness of the Lord as a license to sin. "I'll go prostitute myself and come back, and he'll accept me." But such thinking hasn't realized how totally dependent we are on him. It still thinks that the right words and sacrifices will placate him. It doesn't know his love. It doesn't earnestly seek him, our husband. And once we get into that practice, we so easily fool ourselves into thinking all is right between me and God. I've said the right words. I've come to church. I've prayed my prayers. I've done my duty. So now I can go back to my normal life.

Do you see how love for Jesus has disappeared from those kinds of thoughts like the morning fog the sun burns off or the dew that quickly evaporates. We might speak of the great sacrifice he made for us, but we fail to see how much we still need his blood to wash us clean each and every day. He rebukes that attitude, "Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears" (Hosea 6:4 NIV9184).

What does our loving Lord do for us then? Through his word, he confronts us with our helplessness. He convicts us of our guilt. He cuts our hearts into pieces like blocks of wood hewed apart and condemns to death with the verdict of his law. "Therefore, I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you with the words of my mouth; my judgments flashed like lightning upon you" (Hosea 6:5 NIV1984). As hurtful as these are, they are acts of love on his part. For only when we see how much we need him, only then do we earnestly seek him and his love. Only then do we truly want to know him better and better.

As we grow to know Jesus and his faithful love, rather than seeing our service to him simply as our duty, we diligently seek him all the more. Like a newlywed bride, we don't want to be parted from our husband, who gave himself up for us. We cherish his love letters, through which we learn to know him better and better. The Scriptures are not just a book we're suppose to read; they become our joy, our hope, our delight, our husband's love letters. We treasure his sacrifice, his love, his goodness toward us. This is the repentant faithfulness the Lord longs for from us.

We respond to his love with love. "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19 NIV1984) -- love for God above all, and love for our neighbor in their need. We respond to his love learning from his Word to know him better and better. This is what our husband, the Lord, desires in us. He says, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6 NIV1984). And that is what he produces in us as we seek to know him better and better.

Seek to know Christ, your husband, more and more as you take to heart his Word. Gaze with wonder at the wedding gown of his righteousness that he clothed you with in Baptism. How faithful he is, despite our unfaithfulness! Taste his love as you eat his body and drink his blood in his Supper. Such love poured out for you for the forgiveness of your sins! Love for the loveless that we might lovely be! His faithful love does not fail.

How much we need our Savior -- not just some day for a home in heaven, but for our daily peace, joy, and happiness! How much we need his forgiveness each and every day! And as our husband, he provides all that we need and much, much more! His blood avails. His forgiveness never fails. His mercies are new every morning. Yes, his faithful love calls out to you, so diligently seek to know him and his love more and more. That's the repentant faithfulness he longs for in us, his bride. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313