God Hurts Us to Heal Us
A sermon based on Hosea 5:15-6:3
Sunday, April 3, 2011 - Lent 4A
Last week Jesus answered the difficult question "Why does God allow bad things to happen?" He said, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened," namely, that a man was born blind, "so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." God allowed a man to be born blind not to punish him for a particular sin, but to give him opportunity to receive spiritual sight. This week we ask a similar question, "Why does God not only allow bad things happen, but even cause bad things to happen?" And again we see God sending pain and suffering for his glorious purposes. He sends his discipline in love…
The prophet Hosea prophesied during the tragic final days of the Northern Kingdom when they were about to be viciously destroyed by the Assyrian army from the north. But why would God allow, even cause, such suffering to come to his people? Here's why: God had warned his people again and again to worship him alone; to abandon their idols and put their trust in him. But again and again, they forsook God and cheated on him, turning to Baal worship, pagan sacrifice, "worshipping" with the sacred prostitutes, and even forming a golden calf in the capitol city of Samaria.
But they had ignored God long enough. He didn't want them to lose the promise of the Messiah as they had begun to do, so he would spank them. He would send an enemy nation from the north to bring them them misery, suffering and pain; to bring them to repentance; to bring them back to him and his promises of grace.
And at times, God does the same with us today. He sends suffering into our lives to bring us to repentance. He sends misery to bring us back to him. Sometimes God tears us apart in order to restore us. He hurts us in his love so he can heal us with his grace. Listen again to Hosea 5:15-6:3…
15 Then I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me." 6:1 "Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. 3 Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth."
I. He Hurts Us in His Love (5:15-6:1)
God was vicious with his people. In the verse right before our text for this morning God describes himself as a lion who would tear them apart with no one to save them. By sending the brutal Assyrian army against them God tore his people apart and injured them, like a lion tearing apart his prey. The Assyrians tortured their captured enemies who resisted them. They would maim and impale and skin alive their enemies who dared to fight against them. Those who did surrender were chained, and with a hook in their nose were hauled away from their family and friends into captivity in a foreign land. The punishment was severe.
But it got even worse. More frightening than the violence of God's judgment was the abandonment that followed. If God's presence like a lion to tear them apart was frightening, his absence was terrifying. Like a lion retreating to the den leaving the carcass of his prey behind, God withdrew from his people. Like a hurt husband leaving the house and his unfaithful wife behind, God departed from his people. It couldn't get any worse than that.
But why would God cause so much suffering for his chosen people? For the nation that he said he loved? That doesn't seem like a very loving God to hurt his people in such a vicious way! And then to abandon them once he did! But God was practicing what parents today call "tough love."
The pain God sent was not without cause. God hurt them not in spite of his love, but because of his love. God abandoned his people to draw them back to him. He said, "15 Then I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me."
The end goal of the punishment God sent was to restore his people. He left them alone for a while so they might admit their guilt. In his love he added misery to their sinful rebellion to turn them from their sin. He wanted them to see that their real problem was not their enemies, but their sinful hearts. God was striving to break them; to bring them to their knees in repentance; to make them see that they were not better off without God; to make them say, "Come, let us return to the Lord."
Dear friends, does it ever seem like God is punishing you? Or worse yet, does it ever seem like God has left you? At those times it can seem like God doesn't care; that he wants to see you suffer. But God is just practicing tough love.
Maybe he is giving you opportunity to share your faith. Maybe he is giving you spiritual exercise, pushing you to the limit, throwing on bigger and heavier weights, so that your faith might grow stronger. Or maybe he's hurting to heal you; to lead you to repentance; to lead you back to him…
When a young woman's three year-old son was playing with his ball in the driveway, it bounced too high and got away from him and rolled into the street. Though his mother had warned him not to time and time again, he ran out into the street to get his ball. Mom saw the whole thing. And even though she didn't want to scold him and she didn't want to be the "bad guy," she loved her son too much not to punish him. She knew that if she didn't punish him today, tomorrow he could be hit by a car and killed. So she hurt her son to save him.
In the same way, the surgeon knew that the surgery wouldn't be easy. The tumor was on the spine in an area hard to reach. There were good odds that his patient would never walk again. But if the tumor weren't removed, there were better odds the patient would die. So he hurt the patient to heal him.
That's how it is with God. He doesn't enjoy punishing his children. He doesn't want to watch them suffer. But he knows that a little bit of suffering today might save you from an eternity of suffering tomorrow.
If you break a law, you may pay a fine or go to jail. If you damage a relationship you may lose someone you love. If you abandon God, he may send you illness, suffering, or pain. God gives us consequences for our sins to show us how serious they are and to lead us to repent. He would rather watch you hurt than lose you to hell.
Dear friends, don't ignore God's discipline. "Come, let us return to the Lord." Let's return to the Lord, not by just going through the motions or in empty lip service, but in sincere repentance, recognizing that our real problem is not the pain we suffer, the financial woes, or the broken relationship, but the sin that's caused it. Let's admit our guilt and our disease of sin. Let's repent of our sin of a lack of zeal for hearing God's Word. Let's confess our sins of laziness, of self-centeredness, of loving ourselves and our comfort more than we love our God. Let's return to the Lord and let the Master Surgeon do his work. For when we do, he will heal us with his grace…
II. He Heals Us with Grace (6:2,3)
As Hosea pleads with God's people to return to the Lord, he encourages them with God's motivating promises. He writes, "Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. 3 Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth."
Why should God's people repent? Because they could be confident with absolute certainty that God would heal them. Hosea leaves no room for doubt. He doesn't say, "If we go back to God and beg him, he might heal us." No! He says, "God will heal us." There is no uncertainty! Listen to the verbs he uses… he will heal us… he will bind up our wounds… he will revive us… he will restore us… he will appear… he will come to us like the winter and spring rains. Hosea was certain of God's restoration if the people would sincerely repent.
But in the middle of suffering, even confident of God's deliverance, one nagging question remains… "When, God? How long will it take?" Hosea offered assurance that if they would repent, God would restore his people quickly. "After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence." God would quickly revive and restore his people and bring them back into his presence. Of that they could be certain; as certain as the sun rises and the seasons change.
And we can be just as confident. We can be certain that when we sincerely repent of our sins God will come and heal us. We can be confident that he won't stay away for long…
Do you ever doubt that spring and summer will arrive? When the winter seems to drag on and the ice doesn't melt as quickly as it has this year, you may wonder when spring will arive, but you can be certain that it will eventually come. When you go to bed at night, do you ever doubt that the sun will rise in the morning? Do you ever think to yourself, "Well, it will probably be dark all day tomorrow because the sun won't come up." Maybe for you slopers when you're north of the Arctic Circle, but everywhere else, every day of every year since the sun has been created it has set in the evening and risen again the very next morning.
In the same way, when we confess our sins to God we can be certain he will give us the comfort and restoration that is found in the gospel. Why can we be so certain that he will bring healing and restoration? Because of Christ. In him we have perfect healing…
Instead of injuring us, God injured Christ. He was mocked and ridiculed, beaten with a staff, with a crown of thorns pressed deep into his head. Instead of tearing us to pieces, God tore up Christ. He was scourged with pieces of his flesh literally torn to pieces. He was nailed to a cross, tortured and crucified for us. Instead of abandoning us and leaving us, God abandoned Jesus on the cross as he suffered hell in our place to pay for our every sin. During this season of Lent, we look to that cross where God punished Christ in our place so we can be certain that by his wounds we are healed (cf. Isaiah 53), that we are restored to God.
So brothers and sisters, when God hurts you, when he sends you misery and suffering and pain, return to the Lord. Sincerely repent of your sin. Seek his grace. And be confident that your suffering will end. Remember Easter Day; that after two days Christ was revived. On the third day his life was restored. And because he lives, we too will live. Press on to know God and remain faithful to him. Strive to be ready for his return, because as surely as the sun rises, he will return soon to take us to be forever healed in the glories of his heaven. In his name, dear friends, amen.