This is our fourth week with the prophets of the Old Testament, and one of the things I hope you realize is that they weren’t all the same.
Every single one of them were called by God to share the word in radically different ways.
Elijah was called to do battle with other prophets.
Elisha did miracles like his master and brought healing in the midst of a time of conflict.
Amos stood up for justice, even though he wasn’t a prophet at all.
Sometimes, God called these prophets to speak the word to those in power, those in leadership.
And sometimes, God called the prophets to demonstrate with their very lives… to be an example to the world of God’s intentions. They were called to acts of witness.
So today, we are going to hear God’s word through a living sermon, too.
I have here all of the things you expect for making a simple box cake mix. Except, we are going to make it better…
God asked me to use Devil’s Food Cake Mix… because we all are tempted by sin in our lives.
Now, typically, I’d add some tap water to this recipe…. It calls for 1 1/3 cups. But God is tired of lukewarm Christians, so we are going to use really really really hot water.
This recipe also calls for some eggs. 1, 2, 3. But Jesus reminds us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light… so we are going to add some egg yolks to this recipe. 1…. And 2…..
And then, instead of using vegetable oil like I might normally do, we are going to use real, melted butter. God doesn’t want us to substitute cheap grace for the real stuff of prevenient, justifying and sanctifying grace that transforms our lives.
Okay then, now we mix it all up and we pour it out into the pan. And it takes a lot of work to mix it up. And faith is like that too. There are lumps and difficulties. We can’t just throw everything in and hope it turns out okay. You have to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
And, we are going to add one more thing. Now that it’s mixed, we pour it in and we are going to sprinkle the top with some sugar. And that is because when we work our faith, we tend to get puffed up and inflated and think we are earning our salvation, and this very subtle layer will help keep our pride at the proper density.
And then, we bake the cake and it will taste absolutely delicious. [puts raw cake batter to the side]
What… were you waiting for the finished product?
I did cut corners by having the water and butter right there, ready to go, but this demonstration is in REAL TIME.
So unless we want to put the whole service on hold for 40 minutes while we go preheat the oven and stick the cake in the oven, I think we had better just keep going 😉
God wants to build the spiritual fruit of patience in your lives, after all…
That is the really difficult thing about demonstrating God’s word. It had to happen in real time.
And for someone like Hosea, that meant a lifetime commitment to demonstrating God’s word through his actions.
As we heard in our scripture this morning, the Lord told Hosea to go and marry a prostitute and to have children together.
So even if Gomer and Hosea eloped and got married that very day, this demonstration, this living sermon, was going to take at least nine months before Hosea received the next command… to name the baby Jezreel, because the King would be punished for the sins of past generations.
And then, another child came into their lives… a daughter who was named “No Compassion” because God was done having compassion on the people.
And then another child… born after the second had finished nursing. A son who was to be named “Not My People” because the people of the land were not acting like God’s people.
Hosea wasn’t just speaking to the head priest or the king of the land. He and Gomer were bearing children that bore the marks of God’s prophecies. And their very marriage represented the relationship between God and the people of the land, who sold themselves to other gods instead of being faithful to their God.
All throughout the prophecy of Hosea there are a few important things to keep in the back of our minds.
First, the land that we think of as Israel in the time of King David was no longer one nation, but two.
In our teaching on the prophets thus far, we have overlooked this point, but the conflict of the leaders broke the nation into pieces. Israel, or the Northern Kingdom, worshipped at Bethel, while Judah, the Southern Kingdom, continued to worship at Jerusalem. Only two of the original tribes – Judah and Benjamin remained in the southern kingdom, loyal to the successor of David’s line, while the rest chose a new king in the north.
As you read the book of Hosea, then, you will notice that there are prophecies towards both Judah and Israel. And to complicate matters even further, sometimes Israel is also referred to as Ephraim and Samaria – the tribe and the city that rule the kingdom.
Second, the relationship between God and the people is described in an intimate manner.
Rather than a far off ruler or Lord, the relationship between Hosea and Gomer demonstrated the kind of deep love that God has for the people of Israel. And God desires a marriage, a union with the people this is faithful and holy.
But a faithful marriage with someone who is used to infidelity is not easy.
Hosea experiences this when Gomer runs away and returns to prostitution.
In the same way, Israel and Judah keep turning their backs upon God and seeking after others.
The cycle keeps returning. The faithlessness of the people is unending.
They seek protection from other lands. They build altars to other gods. They sacrifice to try to appease God…
But as God speaks in chapter 6: “I desire faithful love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God instead of entirely burned offerings.”
And God is frustrated.
The very names of the children represent the prophecy against the kingdoms. There will be no more compassion. If the people will not stay in the relationship, then they will no longer be God’s people. The land of Jezreel will be wiped away.
There is intense sadness in this prophecy. The love of God for the people is palpable. In chapter 11:
“When Israel was a child, I love him, and out of Egpyt I called my son. The more I called them, the further they went from me… yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up in my arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with bands of human kindness, with cords of love… I bent down to them and fed them…” (vs 1-4)
And so in spite of God’s frustration and anger, in spite of the promise to destroy and turn away, God cannot help but remain faithful.
“How can I give you up, Ephraim?… My heart winces within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” (vs 8)
And then God says, “I won’t act on the heat of my anger; I won’t return to destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a human being.” (v 9)
I am God, and not a human being.
We have fickle hearts. Our emotions lead us to make rash decisions and to turn against one another. And throughout the book of Hosea, as God speaks through the life of this human man, we see the heart and emotion of God as well.
But God is God and not a human being.
And God’s love for us is all encompassing and total. There is no wavering. There is no fault.
God will remain faithful to the covenant, to the promises, to the love God has for us even if we fail every single time.
Every time God will be faithful.
So if you have been faithless…
If you have turned your back on God…
If you think that God must be so angry with everything you have done or left undone…
If you think it’s too late for you… it’s not.
Because God’s love never fails. It never gives up. It never runs out.
Thanks be to God. Amen