I'm sure you'd find it helpful to have the book of Hosea open in front of you. We've made it as far as chapter 8, as we've worked our way through it over the last month. And it's not that easy to understand at points, so as we open it up this morning I'm going to pray that God will speak to us through it. Let me pray for us:
Heavenly Father, we thank you that you are the God who speaks – and that you do not waste your breath and that you know exactly what we need to hear. So help us by your Spirit not to let this opportunity slip by us, but instead… give us a clearer vision of who you are and who we are and what it means to live for you. Amen.
Ok, I want to be really practical this morning – but I need your help. In fact, I'm going to ask you to actually do something. We're going to need some wind for this. So I've asked the stewards to open back door and this front door and the emergency exit. And we're turning on some of the fan heaters too just to blow some more air in. So now – Here's where you guys come in! Here's what I want you to do:
- I want you to take your hands and scoop some wind up into them.
- Then I want you to sow it! OK – so scoop the wind and then – on the count of 3 – 3-2-1 – Sow it! Sow the wind!
- Now if you didn't get a good first try at that or you're being a bit slow on the uptake – then have another go.
- Scoop some wind and…. Sow it! Sow the wind!
- And relax. Let's turn off all those blowers and close the doors.
Now… I can tell in your eyes that you are already feeling the impact of having sown the wind. I mean… What do we all think that little exercise accomplished? Nothing! Absolutely Nothing! We know that, don't we? That's why it felt so silly to do! That's why some of you wouldn't even demean yourselves by joining in!
But folks… let's not jump to conclusions too quickly. Because as we bite off the next chunk of the book of Hosea this morning – we find that is exactly what God's people were doing in Hosea's day. Do you see that in Hosea 8.7? God through Hosea tells us this about His people:
"…they sow the wind… and they shall reap the whirlwind."
You sow wind, and what do you expect to get? Nothing! And that's what the nation of Israel thought they were doing. They had the unbelievable privilege of being God's people in the Old Testament times – so that they could be a light to all the other nations, showing them what the one true and living God is like. Yet here they are just going through the motions of following God, but all the while just living for themselves – and they thought: 'It's just the wind! It doesn't matter. God – well… he'll always be there. He won't mind. Nothing is going to come of it whatsoever. It's nothing.'
But here comes God's word to them through Hosea saying: 'Listen… you may think you sow the wind, but one day… you are going to reap the whirlwind. You are going to get blown away by the consequences of your sin!' You see, we may shrug our shoulders over our sin today, but God doesn't. We may say 'Ah, forget about it! It's nothing!' – but once again, like the loving Father he is – God through Hosea is going to warn us that sin does indeed have consequences… so that:
- We will turn to him
- And fully trust in him
- And know all the great joys of walking with him through the inevitable ups and downs of life on earth.
Here are two things that were going on in Hosea's day that I think we could be in danger of too. Here's the first one:
1. They Thought They Knew God, But They Didn't
Do you see what they said to God in verse 2?
"To me they cry, "My God, we—Israel—know you."
They said they knew God, but… "Israel has spurned the good…" – that is, Him! I mean what after all is ultimate good? It's God! As Jesus says to the rich young ruler in the New Testament:
"No one is good – except God alone."
No one! But the Israelites had "spurned the good…" And we've seen God's people do that throughout the book of Hosea. The God of all goodness had reached out to the people of Israel in love. He had made a covenant with them. He had married them! Yet, verse 1:
"they have transgressed my covenant and rebelled against my law."
They have just flat-out rejected their marriage vows! It's like they've ripped off their wedding ring and thrown it back in God's face. They said they knew him… but they didn't want him. And God asks: 'Is that just the wind? Is that nothing to you?'
They were like the man I read about recently who for his 20th wedding anniversary bought his wife £25,000 of cosmetic surgery. I mean imagine that – your husband brings you breakfast in bed on the morning of your wedding anniversary with a little envelope propped up on the tray between the toast and your tea – and on opening it you find a voucher for a facelift, a nose job, liposuction and all kinds of other physical enhancements I'm not willing to mention here in church. I don't know about you, but if I did that for Fiona I'm not sure she would be too impressed. 'I love you, but I don't actually want you. I want to remake you into somebody else.'
Well that's what the Israelites were saying to God – as they rejected him and put their trust in fake gods.
a) They Trusted Fake Kings and Fake Gods (v.4-6)
Verse 4 – what were they doing?
- "They made kings…"
- "…they made idols"
Who was supposed to be Israel's king? God! But instead they said: 'We want Kings and Princes of our own choosing. People who will give us what we want.' So these fake kings gave them what they wanted – and set up two golden calves at either end of the country for them to worship. That sounds so superstitious and unsophisticated to us – but it was solid! It was easier to trust in something that they could see, feel, taste and touch, than to have faith in some invisible God in the sky.
But is that nothing? To worship people and stuff more than the God who made them? Is it nothing to worship power, status and money – sex and family and children… rather than the God who has shown himself to us in Jesus?
b) They Trusted Fake Allies (v.8-10)
Well the Israelites didn't think it mattered. But when their puppet kings and puppet gods didn't do it for them, they thought nothing of making fake alliances too. Take a look at verse 9:
"For they have gone up to Assyria, a wild donkey wandering alone [They hand themselves over like easy prey to be used and abused by the most powerful nation in the region]; Ephraim has hired lovers."
The Lord God, their faithful husband had promised to provide them with everything they needed – and had never failed them! Yet they make political alliances to try to secure their future safety and prosperity. And the reason they do that is because they don't believe that God is present.
Sometimes it can feel like the Lord is a long, long way away, can't it? And often we can feel completely alone. Fiona and I often have to talk to our children about situations they have to face where they feel desperately alone:
- In the dark at night
- When there's no friend to sit with in the school cafeteria or play with in the playground
- When they're being picked on and made to feel small
They wish that we were there at those times – and sometimes through our tears we wish we'd been there too! But we have to remind ourselves and them too… that they are never alone. They have the most powerful ally in all heaven and earth with them every moment of their lives. As they can cry out in prayer to their loving heavenly Father at any time… day or night.
Folks, is it nothing to always look to some mere mortal – like a parent, a friend, a spouse or a partner – to make us feel safe and secure? Is it nothing as a church to partner with those who don't love the God of the Bible? To support them in doing what is against Him? Or even to try to shore up our funding by taking lottery money?
c) They Trusted Fake Religion (v.11-13)
Well the Israelites didn't give it a second thought about those kinds of questions. As hey – at least they were still doing lots of religious stuff in verses 11 and 13. But it wasn't necessarily to and for the Lord. So he says in verse 12:
"Were I to write for him my laws by the ten thousands, they would be regarded as a strange thing."
They treated God's word in maybe the same way as you might treat some of these books that you can buy on Amazon – like:
- 'Highlights from a History of Concrete'
- 'Tea Bag Folding'
- 'The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification'
- 'Knitting with Dog Hair'
Incredible, eh? They could all be amazing books for all I know, but I can't see how they could ever have any usefulness in my life. And that's how Israel were treating God's word. They had it and maybe they read it. And the priests and prophets like Hosea might even explain it to them, but then they would shrug their shoulders and say: 'Oh, no it's too strange to take that seriously and try to live today.' They took no notice of it – as if it was… nothing!
But is it nothing? To ignore the word of God? Is it nothing for us to hear God speak and then walk out the door and do nothing about it? Well, they thought they knew God, but they didn't – and so also, secondly…
2. They Thought Their Sin Didn't Matter, But It Did
Remember verse 7?
"For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind."
There is this wonderful myth in our culture that we can do whatever we like and there will be no consequences. We have films in which characters make all kinds of stupid choices in their life, but they still somehow have a happy ending. I mean, how often does that actually happen in real life? It is very rare. But we love to believe the myth…
- That we can live selfishly and still have really good relationships
- That we can eat whatever we want, but still be really fit and healthy
- That we can avoid revision, play cricket all summer long and still turn up and get an A. Sadly that never worked for me… which is of course why I'm now… working for a church!
But we all know deep down that we reap what we sow. So it should be no surprise to us that in the same way there is a harvest from sowing spiritual indifference. And so God tells the Israelites that:
"…if you sow the wind, you will reap the whirlwind…"
'If you think my wishes are nothing – then a force of utter destruction will come and flatten everything in its way.' And so all the way through Hosea 8 the Lord God is declaring that His judgement is on its way:
- They said they knew God, but they spurned him. So verse 3 – they lost their great protector and: "…the enemy shall pursue them."
- They trusted kings of their own making who made idols – verse 4: "…for their own destruction."
- They trusted in other nations – and verses 8 and 10 show them being swallowed up and oppressed by them.
- They trusted in their own man made religion – but verse 13: "…the LORD does not accept their sacrifices. Now he will remember their iniquity and punish their sins..."
That is why verse 1 says: look out!
"Set the trumpet to your lips! One like a vulture is over the house of the LORD…"
As that dot in the sky is not nothing – for the birds of prey are already circling sniffing death in the air. The Israelites thought it would never happen, but judgement is coming their way.
Folks, what is the big assumption that threatens your Christian life and mine more than almost anything else? It's the assumption that God isn't present, is weak, and doesn't care. That he's not going to do anything!
Well sure enough, in 722 BC the Assyrians did descend on Israel like a whirlwind. They flattened God's people and swept them away, which is proof that these are not just the empty threats of an exasperated parent – but the loving warning of a God who at some point must say 'enough is enough.' And he not only did that then to the Israelites – but then in 598 BC after further years of warning he acted in judgement on the Southern Kingdom of Judah, by sending them the Babylonians to cart them off in exile. And what about Jesus predicting that the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of its temple? Which the Romans then brought about by fire on 30 August in 70 AD. I could go on!
The Lord does follow through on his promises. To which you might say: 'Yes Ken, but that was all a long time ago – and those kind of things don't happen anymore. If God was going to bring judgement on us… surely it would have happened by now?' Well the Apostle Peter wrote a letter to warn those who laughed at and mocked the very idea that God was coming back to judge – and in 2 Peter 3.8 he says:
"But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise…"
It's not that he's fallen asleep at the wheel. It's not that he's not going to do something. There is a sense in which he may appear quiet. But the reason for that is not because he is. It's because he:
"…is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."
Will God respond to our idolatry? Our indifference? Our lack of seriousness about sin? Will he put up with all that?! Answer: He does… for quite a long time! But only to give us time – as much time as possible to turn to him… before the final day of judgement Jesus promised comes. So please don't take it that he's indifferent. Please don't take it that nothing's going to happen.
Some of you here may not have made the decision yet as to whether or not you want to belong to Jesus – and you're almost tempted to think it's not that important. Well can I tell you that this bit of the Bible is there to say: 'Nothing is more important than deciding to make Jesus your Lord and King.'
Maybe you come along here to church every week because you know that's a good thing to do – and it is! But when you walk out that door every week maybe you instantly forget everything you've heard, because you don't really think it makes a difference out there in the real world. Well we don't play at being church here – this is a matter of life and death. Because God is alive! Jesus Christ is risen and reigning.
- He wants to wash us clean of our sin and come and live in us by his Spirit
- He is the whirlwind who is coming back to judge the living and the dead
- On that day we will find we are either for him or against him
- So our actions and our choices and our allegiances every week, every day until that time comes… matter!
And that means there is also nothing more important than telling others, isn't there? So if you're in the work tomorrow and you're gently trying to get conversation going about Christ and you feel like you're banging your head against a brick wall, that's not nothing in the eyes of the Lord – it's everything!
If you've got folks in your family, your Midweek Group, or life-long friends who just seem to be batting Jesus away like he's just a pesky summer wasp, he's not an irritation; he is not nothing. Keep praying. Keep trusting that the King of universe can work a miracle in their hearts.
If you're helping with Kids Zone or Fri-Up as they start back up this week and the kids kick off and you wonder if what you're up to is doing anything at all, what you're doing is vital. Don't lose heart!
If you're involved in helping folks through our CAP Debt Centre or Safe Families for Children or some other work – to try to bless and serve our community, make sure that's not for nothing either! Wherever the Lord leads you – speak up and stand for Christ there.
I wonder what we're sowing in our lives? And what we're going to reap? I pray that for each one of us – and for us as a church it will not be a whirlwind, but a harvest of righteousness. Let's pray that now:
Oh Lord, we are under such pressure to treat spiritual things and to treat you as a small thing. Help us to see how to do that is to sow disaster and reap a whirlwind. Help us to take our sin and Christ's sacrifice for our sin seriously. That we might delight in who Jesus is, who you are – and glory in your salvation. And Father help us to be so amazed at the passion and patience you have that we would speak up… and talk about your grace and mercy. Help us to sow faith and hope in you. Amen.