Hosea 6:1-3 “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. 3 Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”
The main message that I want you all to take away from this passage/sermon is that there is always hope. No matter how many sins you’ve committed, how serious your sins have been, or how disastrous their earthly consequences, true repentance always leads to rescue. Helpfully, this passage gives us five steps to finding rescue from sin. Let’s pray that God would grant us repentance and rescue as we follow His path.
REASONS FOR SUFFERING
One thing I’ve noticed is that when life is hard something deep within us (all mankind) longs to know the reason. In the face of significant trials we can’t help but to make the metaphysical assumption that there is purpose and meaning in the universe. When we’re diagnosed with a serious disease, when we lose someone we love, when we’re laid off from work, when we don’t get into the college or company we want, even the most religiously skeptical among us tends to look heavenward and ask “Why?!”. We long for a specific reason for our specific trial. Our rationale seems to be something along the lines of: this is hard, really hard. I’m not sure if I can bear it. If I knew that there was some good purpose for it—that it wasn’t entirely futile/in vain—however, I might be able to endure.
For the most part, however, we typically don’t get the specific answer we’re looking for. We are never told why things happen as they do (and, in spite of what you may have heard, God has not promised us that we will ever know). The bible gives general principles and promises (Isaiah 45:7; John 9:2-3; Romans 8:28) concerning God’s purposes for suffering in our lives (both for Christians and non-Christians), but we don’t have anywhere to turn for the exact reason behind the specific suffering we’re experiencing.
And yet, that’s not to say the bible never gives specific reason for specific suffering. We’re given the exact reason behind the most severe suffering of all time. We’re told in Isaiah 53, for instance, that Jesus suffered and died to forgive the sins of and heal that which sin had broken in the people of God.
Isaiah 53:4-5 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.
Likewise, in 1 Peter we’re told specifically that Jesus suffered crucifixion for a very specific purpose.
1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
In John 9 we’re given the specific reason for a blind man’s suffering.
John 9:1-3 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
The particular reason this man suffered years of blindness was so that Jesus could heal him and put on display the power of God.
Hosea is another example of God giving specific reasons for specific suffering. The entire book is both a proclamation and explanation of the suffering of the Israelites. They were suffering, Hosea declared, because they were under (and coming further under) the discipline of the LORD for their sin. They were told that they were suffering a lack of food, fertility, freedom, and most importantly, fellowship with God because: (1) they would not obey God and (2) in order that they would learn to earnestly seek God.
Again, although God does explain his specific purposes behind some of the suffering we see in the bible, rarely is that the case for us today. Most of the time we simply need to learn to trust God’s promises that (for Christians) his purposes are always good—even if hidden.
Our passage for today, though, teaches us to ask another question; a question that the Israelites should have been desperately asking. Having begun to experience hardship, having heard Hosea’s proclamation that more was to come, and having been told the specific reasons for their suffering, the right response of the Israelites would have been to brokenly and humbly ask God what he would have them do about it. Indeed, the Israelites ought to have been crying out to God, “LORD, what should we do now?”.
Shamefully, and to their demise, it doesn’t seem that Israel asked that question. Nevertheless, in our passage for this morning (6:1-3), Hosea gave the answer. In it, Hosea broke in and pleaded with his fellow Israelites to turn from their sin—the cause of their suffering—to the LORD. If they did, Hosea proclaimed, God would most certainly forgive and heal them.
Again, that’s the main point of this passage and sermon: repentance always leads to rescue. No matter what you’ve done, no matter how many times you’ve done it, if you will return to the LORD in faith, he will receive you and rescue you from all that sin has destroyed. That’s where we’ll turn our attention now as we come back to the text.
REPENTANCE ALWAYS LEADS TO RESCUE
For every one of us—regardless of how far we have fallen into sin and away from God—this short, simple passage provides a road map to get out of sin and back to God. That is, it describes the effects of sin, what we are to do about it when we find ourselves in it, how God will respond when we do, and what ultimately causes our repentance and rescue.
God Tears and Strikes
Often, as Christians, we first become aware of our sin when we experience God’s discipline for it. Even non-Christians may come to realize the sinfulness of their sin through God’s affliction. In other words, rebuke/suffering at the hand of God is often what we need to wake up to our sin.
As we’ve seen over and over, Israel was guilty of spiritual treason and adultery—treason and adultery of the most heinous kind. And, as we’ve already seen a number of times, the result was that she was under God’s increasingly severe discipline. In 6:1 Hosea describes this discipline in typically harsh language.
… the LORD… has torn us… he has struck us down…
What did Israel need to be rescued from? Ultimately, it wasn’t from herself. It wasn’t from civil war with the south (Judah) or invading armies. It wasn’t even from the devil. Ultimately Israel’s most enraged and powerful enemy was God. It was He who had torn her and He who had struck her down for her unrepentant sin.
Grace, in the end, all of our sin is ultimately against God and, therefore, it is ultimately God who will hold us responsible for our rebellion. Do you know to think like that? Do you realize that every sin you commit and every sin committed against you is always, ultimately against God? And do you realize, therefore, that it is always, ultimately God who will hold you responsible for and accountable to your sin (either in your flesh or in Jesus’)?
If you are experiencing suffering, therefore, it is good and right to ask God to deliver you from it. But it is also good and right to consider whether or not it might be God’s warning to you. At the very least, it is a reminder that sin has wrecked everything and that the gospel is your only hope. In your suffering, then, cry out to God. Cry out for him to end it. Cry out for the strength to walk in faith until he does. And cry out for him to reveal any hidden sin in your life. He wants to hear from you and he is able to rescue you both from the suffering caused by sin in general and from the effects of your own.
Suffering is not all the direct result of your own sin—please don’t hear me saying that. But it sometimes is and we would be foolish not to humble ourselves before God when we suffer.
The first step in finding rescue from sin, then, is to acknowledge it as sin.
As I mentioned earlier, we don’t always know the specific reason for our suffering (indeed, we rarely do), but Israel did. Her suffering was at the hand of God on account of her treachery. Therefore, God tore her and struck her down in order to show her the consequences of remaining in rebellion. What, then, was she to do?
Once again, Hosea’s main message to the Israelites was a call to repentance; to turn from their sin and back to God. He made that clear from the first words of this passage.
Come, let us return to the LORD…
Israel, you’ve sinned spectacularly. You’ve committed treason and adultery against God in the vilest ways imaginable. Now, Hosea pleaded, confess them as sin and turn from them to God! Don’t wait and don’t look for shortcuts. The survival of our nation depends on it and nothing else matters until your hearts return to God.
As we’ve already seen several times (most recently in 5:6), forms of worship and sacrifice mean nothing to God when our hearts are far from him. When we recognize that we’ve fallen into sin we must confess it as sin and turn from it. We cannot make excuses and we cannot blame others. We must name our sin as sin (with the names the bible gives it), acknowledge that it makes us guilty before God and worthy of death, and stop doing it. Israel needed to turn from her sin. We too must turn from our sin with the LORD’s help.
But that’s not all. It is not enough to simply name our sin as sin, feel bad about it, and stop doing it. We must do those things by the power of the Holy Spirit, and we must also turn from sin to the LORD.
The world can get sober, help for anger, and treatment for much sin-caused suffering even without calling them sin. But God’s people must turn not merely or mainly or initially to anything of this world, but to God.
This is the second step in fighting sin. In order to find rescue, God charges sinners to repent. If you are caught in sin, therefore, don’t entertain it, don’t play with it, don’t hold on to it; confess it and turn from it to God. We’d love to help you with that. We’d love to pray with you and point you to God’s word. We’d love to have the opportunity to walk with you in your fight against sin and repentance. Please don’t delay. As Hosea makes clear, the stakes are too high for that.
God Heals and Binds Up
But what happens when we do that? What happens when we trust God and turn to him? What happens when we finally decide to walk away from our sin? Will God receive us? Let’s look back to our text for the answer.
Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
Even Israel with her whoring, treason, child-sacrifice, fornication, adultery, idolatry, and alliances with God’s enemies would be received back if she would simply return to the LORD. In spite of all that (which is collectively far worse than anything any of us have done), God promised that he would heal them and bind their wounds.
But Grace, make no mistake! the reality of the universe as God has made it, is that when God wounds no one but God can heal. No one but God alone possesses power strong enough to heal that which God has rent. We cannot heal ourselves, no other person or religion can heal us, other gods cannot heal us, indeed, all the powers in the heavenly realms are entirely impotent to stay the hand of God, much less heal his wounds.
What a staggering thought. The One who brings pain also brings peace. The One who brings hurt also brings healing. The One who tears also ties. The One who strikes also saves. And the One who breaks also binds.
You may scour the entire universe and you will find no other healing balm. You can search the furthest reaches of creation and you will not find another means of restoration. God alone can rescue from His sin-kindled wrath. Indeed, as this passage makes clear, God tears his people only “that he may heal us”.
The third step in finding rescue from your sin is to receive the binding and healing of God once you return to him in faith. He will receive you and he will rescue you.
God Always Rescues the Repentant
But is it always the case that God will receive the repentant or are there times when we’re too far gone? Is there a risk that we’ve done things that are too bad? Is there a chance he will only respond in anger and further tearing and striking?
Hopefully the seriousness of Israel’s sin and God’s willingness to receive her make this clear, but Grace, know that God alone can rescue, and that God always rescues the repentant! If you return to the LORD for rescue, you never have to wonder whether or not he will receive you.
2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.
This verse does not say that God might revive his repentant people. It does not say that he’ll consider raising us up. And it does not say that life might result. It says that he “will revive us” and “he will raise us up” and all of that for the very purpose of providing life with him (…”that we may live before him).
Grace, though it’s almost impossible to miss, I want to make certain you don’t fail to see the language of the cross in this passage. It was, of course, on the third day after his crucifixion that Jesus was raised from the dead to provide the rescue that Hosea promised in this passage.
God has never saved apart from Jesus. He has only saved in Jesus. In the OT He rescued only those who repented and trusted in Him to send the Messiah. From the NT on, he rescues only those who repent and trust in Jesus as the one God promised to send.
When God’s people walk in sin, God tears and strikes us in order to lead us to repentance. When we repent God always heals, binds up, and rescues—he grants us life in and with (“before”) him.
The fourth step, then, in finding rescue from the wrath of God on account of sin is to come to God in humble confidence…humble confidence in the fact that He will always receive those who hope in Him.
What’s more, and finally, all of this is made certain, not by our own initiative or power, but by God’s.
God Initiates and Makes Certain
On the surface it may seem like God expects his people to muster up the strength to obey on their own. It almost seems to be saying, “You got yourself into this mess…you clean things up and get out on your own, then I’ll let you come to me and rescue you.”
3 Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD…
This seems to be in keeping with the first verse: “Come, let us return to the LORD…”
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Look at the rest of the passage.
3 Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”
Why would God’s people attempt to return to the LORD, turn from their sins, and press on to know the LORD? Because he was already working in them. Because he had already gone out to rescue them as “sure as the dawn,” as sure as the “showers,” and as sure as the “spring rains that water the earth.”
Israel had hope, not because she possessed anything in her that would start to hate sin and begin to choose God, but because God was already working repentance and rescue on her behalf. Hosea’s point was that God’s people ought to obey God in faith because just as the dawn comes every morning and the rains come every spring, God is always working to revive and raise up repentance and obedience in His people.
Again, our minds ought to go to the NT where Paul teaches the same thing.
Philippians 2:12-13 …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Just as in our passage for this morning, a surface reason of Philippians 2 seems to suggest that God expects us to initiate and effectively save ourselves. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” sounds an awful lot like what Hosea was charging the Israelites to do. But just as with Hosea, we need to read Paul in context…”for it is God who works in you, both to will and work for his good pleasure.”
The only reason that we can have confidence in our repentance and acts of faith is because God promised that he is already—for his good pleasure—working righteousness in and through them. Indeed, our only hope that we might even want to repent is God’s grace. We love God only because he first loved us. We are able to acknowledge our abandonment of love only because God continues to love us. And we are able to return to loving God only because He lovingly works that love back into us.
The fifth step in killing sin, therefore is to acknowledge God as the ultimate sin-killer, serpent-crusher, and wrath- quencher. Find rest, here, Grace. Find rest in God’s grace; God’s promise to work in you that which he requires of you. Find rest in the knowledge that it is God who grants his people the power to determine to turn from sin and to God. Find rest in the knowledge that you are not out of reach. Find rest in the knowledge that God always provides a way back to him. Find rest in the knowledge that repentance always leads to rescue.
- Confess your sin as sin.
- Repent of it—turn from it to God.
- Receive the healing and binding work of God as he begins to restore all that sin has destroyed in you.
- Know, with humble confidence, that God always rescues the repentance.
- Find rest in the knowledge that it is God who initiates; that the grace that saves also sanctifies.
The Israelites had and ignored what we often long for but don’t get—the reason for their suffering. What’s more, they had and ignored what we all desperately need—God’s path back to God. They sinned and therefore God tore and struck them. But God also sent them a messenger inviting them to repent and be rescued. If they would repent, God promised to heal and bind them up. And so it is for us today, in Jesus, and at the loving initiative and power of God. If you are able to hear my words and feel the pull of God’s Spirit away from sin, know that, that is God working in you and as you respond in repentance and faith, he will receive and rescue you. May we be a people of faith-filled repentance. In Jesus’ name, amen.