As we are studying through the book of Genesis as a church, and specifically the life of Joseph, I am constantly reminded that as Israel was, so are we, and as Israel will be, so too will we be. What I mean by that is that no matter how hard they tried, no matter how many rules they put in place, they could not escape the fact that they were faithless, sinful, broken people. As Israel was, so am I. And yet, in God’s infinite mercy and grace, they will be restored to a place of glory, loving and serving the Lord for all eternity. As Israel will be, so too will we be.
As we study this collection of books we call the Bible, we see that it is a book about the past, present, and future of God’s love towards humanity. But in particular, God chooses to show that love through the Jews throughout human history. In a way, He uses Israel as a mirror into which we can look and see our own depravity and, at the same time, the Lord’s unconditional love.
One book within the Bible that has always struck me as the most gruesomely picturesque example of the unconditional love of the Lord in the midst of our sin is that of Hosea. This short book of 14 chapters, and probably only a few pages in your Bible, is worth its weight in understanding the love of Christ in the midst of our sin. Why, you ask? Let me try to describe the plot in a nutshell...
The Lord raised up a prophet named Hosea and just when he thinks he is going to be doing amazing things for the Lord, he hears God speak to him and tell him to go marry a prostitute. Now I don’t know about you but other than the fact that you get to attempt representing the Lord to the people, there is nothing about being a prophet that would make me want to apply for that position. The job description of most of the prophets read something like this:
“Wanted, slightly crazy person who can hear voices from heaven. Desires to perform bizarre symbolic acts to profess the Lords judgment of sin such as running naked through the streets, lying on one side of your body for many days, pulling out your hair and slicing it with a sword, eat bread baked on burnt dung, and marrying prostitutes (yes, these are all things biblical prophets did). Must care more about the Lord and His will than anything else on earth, including your own happiness. Those that would like to have people like them and can not stand complete hatred need not apply.”
Hosea was one of those men. He was an amazing man of God. The Lord spoke into Hosea’s life and said, “I want you to do one of the most painful things in the world. I want you to love someone that will not return that love. Someone that most likely never will be able to love you in the way you love them. I want you to marry that prostitute named Gomer.”
Hosea was faithful to the call and married Gomer. Their life together is the subject of the book of Hosea. Now one would hope that once she is married, all is forgotten and Gomer proceeds to love her husband because of the restoration of the Lord. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Gomer has her ups and downs, as she cannot quite stay committed to the domestic life. She loves Hosea. She does not love Hosea. She loves him. She does not love him. And so goes the life of Hosea. Gomer gives birth to three children whose names are also picturesque statements of God but unfortunately, because she is a harlot, we do not even know if these children are those of Hosea. And yet, God asks him to love her and the children regardless. Regardless of their unfaithfulness, Hosea must remain faithful. And this is the prophecy given to Israel. While Israel was faithless, God was, and is faithful.
What is most striking to me about this book is how accurately it portrays me. You see, while I would like to paint myself as righteous Hosea, I am really more like unrighteous Gomer. The Bible pictures marriage between a man and a woman as a representation of Christ and the church (see Ephesians 5:32). When Gomer strays from her faithfulness to Hosea, it is no different than when my heart strays from the Lord. Whatever I set my heart on, if it takes the place of my love for Jesus, it shows my unfaithfulness. The Lord was never interested in our religion or our religious acts. Jesus came for our hearts. When I allow my heart to unfaithfully love anything other than Him and what He did on the cross for me, I am committing spiritual adultery. And yet, the Lord still loves me and paid the ultimate price to buy me back from sin that I allow to so easily ensnare me. While I am yet a sinner, Christ died for me.
How hard it must have been for Hosea to go down to the local red-light district and purchase his own wife back because he loved her more than she could ever show back towards him. And this could not be a more accurate picture of Christ if it tried. Christ allowed Himself to be crucified, separated from the Father, and in the end, murdered so that He could show us more love than we can ever give back to Him. How painful this must have been for the Father and yet, the Bible says it was for the joy set before Him that Jesus endured the cross and paid to buy us back (see Hebrews 12:2). And in this I understand that true love, unconditional love is never totally reciprocated. Unconditional love is something you give to someone else, whether or not they can return it.
When we understand what Christ did, when we truly understand the amazing love He showed towards us in the midst of our unfaithfulness, it should cause two reactions:
- Complete and utter thankfulness and praise that Jesus would take a sinner like me and love me in the midst of my sin.
- If I desire to minister as Christ did and does, then I need to ask for His spirit. That spirit, the spirit of unconditional love, is the heart that we must aim for when we desire to minister in the name of Jesus.