The 3rd Sunday After Trinity June 5, 2005
31, 326, 382, 652
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
“I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.”
Come, and let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight. Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.
“O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away. Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of My mouth; and your judgments are like light that goes forth. For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”
In Christ Jesus, who carried the guilt of the world to the cross, dear fellow Christians:
Who is to blame when things go wrong? When the car overheats, when the house is a mess, when homework isn’t finished, when it’s been a horrible day at work, when you have an argument with a loved one, whose fault is it? “Not mine!” we say without hesitation. The blame lies with the mechanic at the garage, with family members, teachers, and the boss. It is always someone or something else. Sometimes we might even blame God. We may accuse Him of being far away just at the time we need Him the most, or of not helping as quickly or as much as we feel He should.
The people of Israel at the time of the prophet Hosea felt the same way. They were facing a national crisis. Their existence as a country was being threatened by the Assyrian army. Who was to blame? Where was God? Where could they possibly find help? It was at this time that the Lord spoke to Israel about excuses and blame, and also about help and healing. Today He is speaking to us.
God had turned His back on Israel for a time, and we are told why: “I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense.” [v.15] God was not to blame for the trouble Israel was facing. They were the ones at fault. They had forsaken God first. God still loved them and was ready and able to help, but they did not want to admit their sin and acknowledge God as their Lord and Savior.
God impressed upon them that they alone were to blame, not only by His words, but with a shocking illustration from Hosea’s life. God told the prophet to marry a woman who had led a very immoral life. She was someone whom a child of God would ordinarily avoid as a marriage partner. But God told Hosea, “Marry her and have children.” As you can imagine, she continued in her sinful ways after the wedding and was unfaithful to Hosea in spite of his love for her. The Lord pointed to this and said, “This is just what you people of Israel have done! I took you to be my bride and I have loved you with all my heart. But you have been unfaithful and have committed adultery with the idol Baal and all the other false gods around you.” Like Hosea’s wife who despised the total commitment of marriage, the people of Israel broke their pledge of total commitment to God. They left Him for one casual affair after another. By worshiping Baal they could do whatever felt good to them and follow the popular path of least resistance. They were not sorry about this. They were not willing to acknowledge that they were in the wrong.
That is the universal problem of mankind. When Adam defied God and ate the fruit God had forbidden, did Adam immediately admit his sin? No, he tried to pass the blame off on Eve and ultimately on God. “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12 NIV). Likewise, Eve shuffled off the blame: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13). When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, He saw the people worshiping the golden calf. When he asked his brother, Aaron, what the people had done to him to cause him to get involved in such a sinful activity, Aaron’s explanation was so ridiculous that it’s obvious he was looking for any excuse to get himself off the hook. He told Moses: “It’s not my fault. I just threw the gold into the fire, and out came this calf!” (cf. Exodus 32:24).
Our world is the same. A number of years ago, an NBA superstar contracted the AIDS virus through his immoral lifestyle and the media covered the story for months. But out of all the minutes of airtime and all the columns of print, the message hammered home was that this person was a courageous role model and an unfortunate victim and we need to find a cure soon so that more tragedies like this will not happen. Only a few dared to suggest that the biggest problem for this person and society was not the disease, but the sin which lies at the root of it.
A young girl was put on trial for murdering a woman camper in the desert of Arizona. She admitted that she held the gun and pulled the trigger. But a newspaper article quoted family and friends as saying that it really wasn’t her fault, that she was a good person who was influenced by her boyfriend to commit the murder to prove her love for him.
We are masters of excuses too. We can rationalize almost anything. We could probably convince ourselves that it’s OK to cheat on our taxes, because, after all, the government squanders much of our tax money or even uses it for purposes contrary to Scripture. Besides, there are many others who cheat in worse ways than that. Or we could convince ourselves that it is perfectly fine to let our prayer life and Bible reading slide a little, because we are very busy people, and God knows how many responsibilities He has placed upon us. We often blame other people for our wrongdoing. Billy justifies giving Tom a black eye by saying, “He hit me first!” An angry outburst is defended because “He had it coming!”
Like an exasperated father talking to his wayward children, God said, “O Ephraim, what shall I do to you? O Judah, what shall I do to you? For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away. Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of My mouth; and your judgments are like light that goes forth.” [vv.4-5] All the excuses and shifting of blame in the world could not change the facts. The people of Israel were guilty of sin.
What could God do? The Lord allowed Israel’s enemies to invade the country, destroy its cities, and deport the people, in the hope that they would finally acknowledge their guilt and turn to the Lord for help. It was God’s form of “tough love.” He cut them in pieces and tore them apart like a lion ripping apart its prey. His judgment flashed down upon them like lightning. But it wasn’t an act of hatred. He didn’t gloat over their suffering. It was a last ditch effort to save them from something far worse.
The Lord exercises the same tough love toward us. With His Law He cuts through every excuse, and rips and tears us to shreds by exposing us for what we are: sinners deserving of eternal death. The Ten Commandments are clear and unbending. The Lord doesn’t say, “Here are ten suggestions I’d like you to follow as best you can, and if you do your best, I’ll be satisfied.” Rather, He says that breaking even one Commandment in any way makes a person guilty of breaking all of them (cf. James 2:10) and “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23). We can hide from others, but not from God. When you and I sin, it is not someone else’s fault, and it is not God’s fault. It is ours! No excuses!
God does not want to hear excuses, but confession. He wanted the people of Israel to come to Him for mercy, and to acknowledge Him as their only Lord and Savior. David approached God with that kind of spirit: “O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. For your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down upon me. Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; my bones have no soundness because of my sin. My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear” (Psalm 38:1-4 NIV). In our Sunday worship we come before God not with excuses, but with confession. We admit that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against God by thought, word, and deed. As the prophet says, “Let us return to the Lord!” Let us come to Him without excuses, confessing our total guilt and unworthiness.
But why would anyone willingly admit his guilt? Doesn’t accepting personal responsibility for sin mean accepting the punishment for it as well? Someone who confesses to robbery will be put in jail. Someone who admits to murder may be executed. Wouldn’t it follow then that the sinner who admits his guilt before the almighty Judge will face eternal death in hell? NO! To those who confess their sins, God offers full and free forgiveness. That is what gave Hosea the confidence to say, “Come, and let us return to the Lord; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up…His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.” [vv.1,3]
The Lord would return to His people to heal them from their sins. He had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that through their family all families on the earth would be blessed. And so Christ came as the One who would heal by being wounded Himself. The debt of the world’s sins had to be paid. Jesus was not to blame. We along with all other human beings were personally responsible. We could not shove the blame off on anyone else. But God took all that guilt, placed it on His Son, and blamed Him for it! The only thing more shocking than our sin is what God was willing to do to save us from it. He punished His Son on the cross for everything wrong you said, did, and thought yesterday, today, and tomorrow. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NIV).
Those who are too proud to admit their sin forfeit salvation. They are like the person who is too proud to admit he is sick and doesn’t go to the doctor even though the doctor would be able to help his condition with the proper treatment.
On the other hand, no repentant sinner is ever turned away by the Lord. It doesn’t matter who you are, what sin you have committed, or how many sins you are guilty of. The Lord says, “Come!” David was guilty of committing adultery with Bathsheba and then he tried to cover up his sin by murdering her husband. He was guilty and deserved to die, but when he confessed, “I have sinned against the Lord,” the prophet Nathan assured him, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die” (2 Samuel 12:13). The criminal on the cross next to Jesus deserved eternal death, but when he threw himself on the Lord’s mercy, Jesus promised him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise!” (Luke 23:43). We come before God on our knees humbly confessing, “God, be merciful to me the sinner!” The Lord then comforts our troubled hearts with words of forgiveness: “Go in peace. Your guilt is taken away by the blood of Christ.”
When the Lord comes into hearts with the message of forgiveness, it’s like the dawning of a bright new day filled with hope and promise. The sunshine of the Lord’s love melts away the clouds of sin and fear of punishment. As we hear and read His Word, it becomes a gentle rain which soaks into the dead, dusty soil of our souls where it produces new life. Now, instead of living for our own selfish, sinful desires and serving the false gods of the world, we live for the One who lived, died, and rose again for us.
Whose fault is it? Who is to blame for all the wrong we see in our lives? We are. We have no excuse, but we do have hope! Let us go the Lord daily, confess our sin, and throw ourselves on His mercy alone. For He promises you: “I will remember your sins no more! I have erased them from my book! I have buried them at the bottom of the ocean! They are as far away as east is from west!” Let us return to the Lord in repentance, and live for Him now, that we may live with Him eternally! Amen.
I lay my sins on Jesus,
The Spotless Lamb of God;
He bears them all and frees us
From the accursed load.
I bring my guilt to Jesus
To wash my crimson stains
Clean in His blood most precious
Till not a spot remains.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.