Can I begin by saying thank you, thank you for my recent sabbatical which maybe you didn't even realise I was on! I was looking at 'Effective Evangelism and Church Planting in a Post Christian Society'. It made me realise afresh how passionate God is about a relationship with us despite our failings, and in response how dependent on and passionate we're to be about him and his grace, in his mighty power. Of course, what I'd love you to be passionate about and trusting God for now is to be inviting folks to hear about God's grace and seeing people come to know and live for the only Saviour, Jesus Christ, through Real Lives Real Hope events – for there is No Other Saviour, which is my title from Hosea 12 and 13.
Many of you have been asking me very kindly how I am but let me turn it around – how are you – and to come back to Hosea – how's your life going? Perhaps things are good. Maybe things are tough. If you're new to Newcastle you're facing new challenges – perhaps you feel daunted or maybe you're excited. Perhaps you're facing triumph or disaster or both. As a new student, you've managed to cook a meal; but you've already messed up in other ways. Well, chapters 12 and 13 of Hosea equip us to face the triumphs and disasters of life. How? By teaching us some lessons of history – lessons from Israel's past.
1. We Are Who We Are by God's Grace
The world and our own minds can tell us that our triumphs and disasters make us who we are. But ultimately that's not true. Ultimately, it's not our triumphs and disasters that define us. Ultimately, it's God's grace.
Hosea teaches us this from the life of Jacob, who was given a new name Israel, and also from Israel the nation, Jacob's descendants. The name Jacob means 'he grasps'. And Jacob was a grasper (Hosea 12.3) – even in the womb, when he took his brother Esau by the heel. Jacob was also a deceiver. He deceived his father Isaac into giving him the inheritance rather than Esau. The promise of God passed to Jacob. God's people and the Messiah came from Jacob's line. Israel the person was a deceiver and so was Israel the nation. They made a covenant with God but then they were off making treaties with Assyria and Egypt which was like making a contract with Storm Ali!
So, you might be thinking, is the lesson from history that deceit is the way
forward? Does Jacob triumph over Esau because he's deceitful? Does he become a great nation because he's grasping?
Well, what happens? On the run from Esau Jacob begs God for help. And God comes to him and speaks to him. God gives him a vision of heaven opened, a sign of his grace. Hosea says he met God at Bethel (Hosea 12.4-5). Then, still on the run, God comes to Jacob in the form of an angel. Jacob wrestles with the angel until he overcomes the angel and wrestles a blessing from God. You see Jacob had lived a life of deceit and grasping. So, God comes against Jacob. But Jacob wrestled with God and sought his grace (Hosea 12.4). What's Hosea saying? Hosea's saying to his hearers, 'You're like your father Jacob. You're full of deceit. You're constantly grasping. So, God has a charge against you. But learn from history. Jacob became Israel, not through his grasping and deceit, but because he sought God's grace.' It wasn't his grasping that made him who he was but rather God's grace.
Do you see? At the two crisis moments in his life, Jacob sought God and God came to him. He sought God and heard God (Hosea 12.4-5). What do you do at crisis points in your life? Give up on God? Perhaps you're facing a crisis right now. And you're not sure what to do. Well, Jacob fought for God's grace. But how you might ask? Surely it's not grace if we have to wrestle it from God? What have you been learning on your sabbatical Jonathan! Grace is God blessing us as a gift. You can't earn it or win it. If you could it wouldn't be grace. So how can you fight for grace? Well Hosea says so in verse 4 – Jacob overcame God.
You see what we learn here is that God makes himself weak, so he can bless us. He lets himself be defeated by Jacob, so he can bless Jacob. And that's what he does at the cross too. He lets himself be defeated by humanity so that he can bless us. God also makes us strong so he can bless us. Hosea 12.6 says, "So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God." Do you see? God himself empowers us to fight for him and his grace. It's a battle he wants us to win. We fight for grace through grace.
This wrestling with God captures the urgency, passion and fervour of our need of grace and desire for grace and love for grace. We're to be people who fervently seek God's grace and are passionate about his grace. But we do so how? In God's power. God fought against Jacob, but he also empowered Jacob's victory – our longing for God and seeking after him is evidence of God's work in us.
But you might be thinking what do you do when you don't feel passionate? When you feel flat? Well, the answer is you fight! You fight for God's blessing. You fight for his favour. Pray until God moves you. Search his word until it blesses you. Wrestle in prayer for God's blessing. But know this: when you wrestle with God and receive his blessing, God has not only fought against you, he's also fought for you. He's empowered your longing. Why? Because he wants a relationship with you. He wants you to pursue him, to long for him, to seek him and in this to find him and know him and love him.
We are who we are by God's grace. That's not the world's message. The world says, 'You can take hold of your identity. You can make yourself the person you want to be. Work hard. Pass exams. Make it in business. Climb the ladder. Grasp. Look after number one.' Hosea's message (Hosea 12.3) is – be a grasping person but don't grasp at people. Grasp at God. Seek God. Wait for God. Struggle with God. Beg God for his grace. To be the person he wants you to be in Christ.
2. We Have What We Have by God's Grace
In Hosea 12.8 Ephraim or Israel boasts in her wealth. Hosea's call to Israel is to return with God's help. But Israel says: 'I've earned it I don't need God's help.' It was a problem in the early church too. In Revelation 3.17 Jesus says to the church at Laodicea, "You say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked [spiritually]." The church and the world can be just the same today – I can do it, I don't need God. And we as JPC can think like that too. We can forget how much we need the Lord. And how much do we need the Lord now – financially and in other ways as well as individually.
In Hosea's day, the people were quick to forget how much they needed the Lord. Hosea reminds them that in Egypt Israel was enslaved. God heard their cry, called Moses to lead his people out of slavery and rescued them (Hosea 12.9). He also provided for them as he led them through the wilderness. He brought them into the land he'd promised to Abraham. He defeated the Canaanites and gave his people the land as a gift. It was a land flowing with milk and honey. Through Moses, he'd guarded and shepherded his people.
The Lord feeds and guards his people today – how? Chiefly through his word. Back in verse 4, Hosea says Jacob met God at Bethel. But God doesn't just speak with Jacob. Hosea says "there God spoke with us". The word spoken to Jacob is still spoken to us. Bethel was the place where Jacob met God. And we can meet with God through his word. The Bible is our Bethel, the place where we meet God. The sermon can be a Bethel, where you can meet God as his word is taught. Above all, Jesus is our Bethel. He's the Word of God in whom we meet God. But some forget that and the Lord himself and then just become self-reliant and drift away with perhaps a non-Christian partner. Is that you?
Israel had forgotten and had aroused God's anger. They'd forgotten God's care and provision and turned their backs on him. They worship Baal (Hosea 13.1). They go from bad to worse (Hosea 13.2). They even offer human sacrifices. And his people (Hosea 12.7) are now Canaanites – pagans – no different from the world around them. So, God would do to his people what he did to the Canaanites. He will cast them out of the Promised Land and into tents. They will be fleeting and fragile (Hosea 13.3). Back in Hosea 6.4, God said their love was like morning mist. Now, as a result, they'll be like morning mist and soon vanish (v7-8).
What's the lesson of history? We have what we have by God's grace. Hosea 13.6 is a haunting chain of events. It begins with God feeding his people and ends with them forgetting him. You see we so often draw the wrong lessons from history. We see our prosperity and triumphs and we can conclude that we're good, clever, hard-working. We've earned our reward. We deserve it. Our prosperity leads to self-confidence and self-reliance (Hosea 13.5-6), when it should lead to thanksgiving to God, to generosity, service and being salt and light. Let's not forget that our university place, our character, our very life all come from God.
But we can all so easily fall into claiming credit for what we have or what we've achieved. How often do we pray for something and then when it's successful take the credit ourselves? The world says: 'I have what I have through my own effort – I'm a self-made man or woman.' 'I can spend what I have because I earned it.' 'It's my home, I can do with it what I like.' And we as God's people can fall into that way of thinking. But God says, in Hosea 13.5-6, "I knew you…fed you". And verse 4, I have been the Lord your God since Egypt. So, the reality isn't 'I can spend what I have because I earned it', but 'I owe to God what I have because God gave it to me'. Verse 4: "you know no God but me and besides me there is no Saviour."
3. We Will be What We Will Be by God's Grace
At first Israel was ruled over by God himself. But in time they wanted a king like the other nations. They rejected God's kingship in favour of human kingship. They wanted someone they could see, who would rescue and protect them. So God gave them a king, Saul. But Saul's reign ended in failure. A human king can't protect you, especially not from God himself (Hosea 13.9-11). What use is a human king when you're up against God? None! There's no help, except in God himself (v9 and 14).
Now Hosea was ministering during what you might call 'good days'. The economy was booming and there was peace. Perhaps it seemed that sin didn't matter? It can certainly appear that way today can't it? People who sin seem to prosper just as much as the righteous, often more, indeed often today at the expense of the righteous. But Hosea tells us that people's sin is being stored up (Hosea 13.12). God hasn't failed to notice what's going on. He's not indifferent to sin. Paul makes the same point in the New Testament. Romans 2.4-5 says that the delay of God's judgment isn't a sign of his neglect but rather a sign of "the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience". He's giving people an opportunity to repent, to turn to him and trust in him. God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance, Paul writes. But, he warns, if you don't because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgement will be revealed. Hosea 13.13 speaks of the "pangs of childbirth". This is a picture of suffering before the coming of God. And it's clear in Hosea that the coming of God will mean the coming of judgment. So how can they and we be ready? By repenting of our sin and trusting in the only Saviour (Hosea 13.4).
The one true God is the deliverer who defeats our enemies – even our last and greatest enemy, death. Jesus, God the Son, has defeated sin, death and the devil through his death and resurrection. God is our true king, our true protector, our true redeemer, our only Saviour (Hosea 13.4).
And this is Hosea's final lesson from history – We Will be What We Will Be by God's Grace. The world says, 'I can secure my future – if I work hard enough or save or invest or insure hard enough.' If you've come to university here – was it to secure your future? Tomorrow, will many of you go to work to secure a future for you and your family? Are you pouring yourself into your business to secure its future? Do you do DIY to maintain a home for the future? Triumph and disaster matter so much to us as we think they define our future. But the reality is that we ourselves can't secure our future, certainly not against death. We can't save ourselves. Just think for a moment – what is it that gives you confidence for the future? Does your answer suggest that it will be through your own effort and achievement? Or are you trusting in God's grace? Only God can secure our future. Paul quotes Hosea 13.14 in 1 Corinthians 15.54-57.
" 'Death is swallowed up in victory.'
'O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?'
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Paul answers the question Hosea poses, rather surprisingly. What's the sting of death? Sin. We might have thought that death is the sting of sin. If you indulge in sin then it'll sting you with death. But Paul says sin is the sting of death. So, what's his point? The point is that there's something worse than physical death and that's spiritual death – eternal separation from God in hell. The sting of physical death is the judgment that will follow it because of sin.
However, if you're a Christian, if you're trusting in Jesus as your Saviour and Lord, your sin has been dealt with. Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead. Hosea talks about guilt (Hosea 13.16). But our guilt has been atoned for or made amends for through the blood of Jesus. God promises it in Hosea 13.14. So, death is disarmed. And where is the victory of death? Look there it is, says Paul, being handed over to us. God gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Death is defeated, and victory is ours only through Jesus. He's the only Saviour. There is no other. If you haven't yet done so why not trust him with your life and with your death today? Look at Hosea 13.15-16. It's horrible. Some of Israel heard Hosea's message, returned to God and were saved. But many ignored him, like many today. The Assyrians came and crushed the people. At first Israel appears to be thriving just as some today (Hosea 13.15). It looks successful. It triumphs. But it misunderstood its triumph. God's judgment was just over the horizon. An east wind would come, bringing disaster. Samaria must bear her guilt. And so it will be for all who don't return to God through Jesus, for all who don't give Jesus their guilt. Hosea and Jesus both lovingly warn of this. So, will you turn to and trust in Jesus if you've not done so already and who will you invite to Real Lives Real Hope events?