The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”
2 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. 3 Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.”
4 For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. 5 Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days. (Hosea 3:1-5)
Grace. Heard of it? It’s one of the most common Christian words. Grace. Can you describe it? What’s grace? “Grace is God’s undeserved love.” I bet that’s what you learned in confirmation class. Easy! “Grace is God’s undeserved love.” Can I challenge you today? I don’t think we understand grace as well as we think we do. It’s easy to have a definition roll off our lips. But in the back of our minds, how often don’t we think, “We deserve God’s love, at least a little bit, right?” “God helps those who help themselves.” That’s probably the most quoted Bible verse. Except it’s not actually in the Bible! We don’t understand grace as well as we think we do.
So today we have one of the Bible’s most amazing stories of grace. But it’s a story that I bet most of you have never heard. What can you tell me about Hosea? Exactly. Nothing! The story of Hosea’s marriage is one of the Bible’s most powerful stories of grace, but almost no one knows about it. Know why? It’s rated R. You won’t find it in any children’s Bible. Sometimes people are surprised to realize that the Bible isn’t rated G. Not even close! It describes real life. What is real life rated? R. You can’t understand grace unless you hear some really bad stuff. To know how good God is, we need to know how sinful we are. We’re going to hear that today!
Hosea was a prophet who lived in the 700s B.C. He had a strange ministry. Do you know what God told Hosea to do? God told Hosea, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness” (Hosea 1:3). This is one of the most shocking things God ever said. “Hosea, go and marry a prostitute.” Can you imagine that? God commanded Hosea to love and marry a woman who did not love him and was never going to be faithful to him. Would you want to do that? Imagine seeing an online dating profile. “I will always be unfaithful to you. Choose me!” Who would do that? Nobody! That’s what God asked Hosea to do—marry an adulterous woman.
Now, for this story to make sense, we have to be on the same page about something: Adultery is wrong. Sex outside marriage is wrong. I don’t assume you believe that. Sure, it’s one of God’s commandments: “You shall not commit adultery.” But you and I both know that commandment is completely ignored today. In our upside-down world, it’s okay to destroy marriages and sleep with whomever you’d like. Not in God’s world. God says that any sex outside of marriage is adultery. It’s sin! If you wonder whether it’s really that bad, talk to a wife whose husband has committed adultery. Ask her if it’s really a big deal. Yes! This makes God’s command to Hosea so shocking. Marry an adulterous woman. “Really God? She’s going to hurt me so much!”
That’s exactly what happened. At God’s command, Hosea married a prostitute named Gomer. Unfortunately, marriage didn’t change her one bit. She was unfaithful. Over and over again. As if that weren’t bad enough, she started having children—children who weren’t Hosea’s children! The Bible calls them “children of unfaithfulness” and “children of adultery” (Hosea 1:3; 2:4). A son. A daughter. Another son. Ahhh! Isn’t this hard to hear? If you were Hosea, how long would you have stayed in this relationship? How long would you have put up with the unfaithfulness? Some of you, sadly, have had to face this. So much hurt! But God told Hosea: Keep loving her!
Why? Why on earth did God command Hosea to live with this marriage? Sometimes, God asked his prophets to live out their messages from God. So why did he have Hosea marry a prostitute? “Because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord” (Hosea 1:3). As unfaithful as Gomer was to Hosea, that’s how unfaithful God’s people had been to God. Despite all of God’s love for them, what did the Israelites do over and over again? They ran off after other gods. They committed adultery against God. This is what their relationship with God was like. God was a faithful husband. They were an adulterous wife. Got it? If it was hard for Hosea to love his unfaithful wife, imagine how hard it must have been for God to love those Israelites!
But there’s another whole level to this shocking story. Gomer finally left Hosea. We don’t hear the details. After bearing him three children that weren’t his, she abandoned him and ran off with other men. After all that Hosea had done. After Hosea’s grace and forgiveness and patience. She left and went right back to her sin. I bet Hosea breathed a sigh of relief. Good riddance! “I’m glad that’s over. I’m finally done with her!” Except he wasn’t. Here’s how our lesson begins: “The Lord said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress.’” “Hosea, you’re not done. Go and love her as your wife again.”
We’re not told Hosea’s thoughts, but can you imagine what he was thinking? “What? Again? God, you can’t be serious! Don’t you remember what happened? She was unfaithful to me before we got married. Unfaithful while we were married. Unfaithful after we were married. She has committed adultery over and over again. And you still want me to love her? This doesn’t make sense!” As you read this story in the Bible, it almost makes you angry. “That’s too much, God. She doesn’t deserve this at all. There’s no way Hosea should love that woman!” Agreed? Yes!
So here’s the catch: That unfaithful, unlovable woman is you. That adulterer is me. We’re that bad! We’re that sinful. That’s hard for us to see. That’s hard to admit. Because “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). So God used this shocking marriage to show all of us how bad we are. When we sin against God, it’s like a wife committing adultery against her husband. That’s how bad sin is. Do you get that? Every time. Every sin. Sin is seeing God’s goodness and faithfulness, then jumping into bed with someone else. That’s what we do. Can you deny it? There’s no way God should love us. The very thought is absurd!
Here’s the worst part: Often we don’t even care! When was the last time you were concerned about your sins? When was the last time you got excited about God’s love? When was the last time you couldn’t wait to hear God speaking to you in his Word? After all that God had done. After God’s grace and forgiveness and patience, God doesn’t seem to excite us too much. We have so many more enjoyable things to pursue. We’d rather run off with someone else. The unfaithful spouse—that’s me. That’s you! The anger you feel about the way this woman treated Hosea—we’re that bad. There’s no way God should love us. We don’t deserve it. It’s absurd!
That’s the point. God shouldn’t love us. We don’t deserve it, like an unfaithful wife. Except, what did God tell Hosea? “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites…” Gomer was completely unlovable, and yet Hosea loved her. Just like you and I are completely unlovable, and yet God loves us. There’s a word for that. Do you know what it is? Grace. Grace is shocking. Grace is foolish. Grace doesn’t make any sense. Grace is God loving people who shouldn’t be loved. The Bible says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). That’s grace. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). We are that bad—that sinful! God is that good. Grace!
Starting to understand grace? There’s so much more. Did you catch what Hosea had to do to get his wife back again? He had to pay for her. She left. She was unfaithful. But Hosea paid the cost to bring her back. That’s exactly what God has done for us. It cost Hosea some money and barley to redeem Gomer. It cost God a whole lot more: “Jesus has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.” Just like Hosea, God bought us back for him with Jesus blood. Hosea’s grace points us to Jesus.
In fact, that’s whom Hosea pointed God’s people too. Hosea promised, “Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days.” King David had been dead for 300 years, but everyone knew that a descendent of David was coming… Jesus! While we were still sinners, Jesus died for us. Jesus saved us. Jesus forgave us. Remember the word for that? Grace! God showed Hosea that a day was coming when God’s people would realize our sin, come trembling to God in repentance and faith, and receive forgiveness and blessing and hope by God’s grace.
Grace isn’t a little boost to get you over the edge. Grace isn’t a reward for good behavior. Grace is marrying an adulterous wife. Grace is raising her children. Grace is forgiving her over and over again. Grace is buying her back from her captors. Grace is loving her and loving her some more, even though she doesn’t deserve it at all. Grace. That’s God’s love for you. Grace! When you realize your sin, when you’re shocked at how bad you are, when your life is rated R, then you can understand grace, because in those moments God married you. When you’ve fallen, when you’ve failed, when you’ve turned your back on God, God keeps loving you. He buys you back. He forgives you and brings you home, over and over again. There’s a word for that: Grace.
Isn’t that amazing? Amazing grace. Someone should write a song about that! Have you heard the story of the man who wrote Amazing Grace? His name was John Newton. He lived in the 1700s. John Newton didn’t seem like a man who would write beautiful songs about Jesus. He became a sailor when he was 11 and learned to drink and commit adultery. He was forced to join the Navy, but tried to desert and was flogged 96 lashes. Finally, he went to work on a slave trade ship, but even the slave traders wanted nothing to do with him and left him as a slave in Africa. When he finally got freed, he became a slave trader himself. John Newton was an awful, evil man.
Just the kind of person Jesus came to save. Little by little, John Newton heard God’s Word. He stopped being a slave trader. He started working to abolish slavery. He became a Christian. He became a pastor. And he wrote a song about his own life: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a pretty good person—no, a wretch!—like me. I once was getting by just fine—no, lost!—but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.” Amazing grace. He got it. He got how bad he was and how good God is. On his tombstone, John Newton wrote his own message: “Once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ preserved, restored, pardoned and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.” When you get grace, you can’t get enough. Ever. It changes your life. That’s grace.