Return to the Lord,
Who Will Raise You Up
Though He Has Disciplined You, Return to the Lord Because You Know Him.
- Return to the Lord, for he is reliable.
- Return to the Lord, even though you are not reliable.
III. Return to the Lord, for he is steadfast through cross
The past three Wednesdays have greeted you with the same message: “Return to the Lord!” On one hand, it’s a no-brainer. Ash Wednesday called you to turn from your sin and return to the Lord—that’s the repeated call of Scripture telling you to repent. The past two Wednesdays have underscored that call to return to the Lord by reminding you of what he’s done for you. He has redeemed you, and he has promised to restore you. It’s all because of what the Lord has done for you that you have faith so that you trust the very one to whom you are returning. But what he has done also creates a significant challenge. Returning is quite difficult when you know that the Lord is the one who’s brought discipline upon you. Hosea calls out to the faithful, to you, saying, “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up” (v 1). Did you get that? The Lord has torn you and struck you down. And yet you’re supposed to return to him!?
Though He Has Disciplined You, Return to the Lord Because You Know Him.
In v 1, you hear Hosea’s call, “Let us return.” In good Hebrew poetic fashion, the prophet clarifies what that means. Hebrew poetry loves repetition. Say something once and then say it again to add emphasis or to bring clarity. To see that repetition here in Hosea 6, we need a quick grammatical reminder. I know that grammar isn’t the most exciting topic in the world for many, but when grammar is utilized and then recognized by the reader, it’s exciting to see what you can do with words. The grammatical device for your consideration here is the cohortative. You find it any time you hear “Let us.” You find it here in v 1. “Let us return.” And the cohortative pops up again in v 3, not just once but twice. “Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord.”
Hosea is calling the faithful—he is calling you—to return to the Lord because you know him. Listen to the rest of v 3 as Hosea reminds you of what you know about the Lord: “His going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.” In other words, you know how reliable he is. He is as reliable as the dawn. You will go to bed tonight confident that the dawn will come. The sun will rise tomorrow. It’s arisen every morning of your life. And you know basic astronomy to understand that the rotation of the earth ensures the sun will appear in the morning. The dawn is ingrained in the laws of nature. So also the reliability of the Lord is a given. It’s ingrained in his very nature.
Hosea offers another occasion of repetition. The reliability of the dawn is repeated by pointing out the reliability of the spring rains. This repetition brings another level of meaning. You can count on the spring rains not just because they come around every year, but also because you depend on them for the sake of the growing season. That’s how it is with the Lord as well. You can count on him not only because he comes to you faithfully, but also because you’re dependent on him doing so as he delivers all his goodness to you without fail.
Hosea calls you to remember what you already know about the reliability and dependability of the Lord so that he might set it in stark contrast to what you also already know about us. Specifically, just what kind of love do we humans have? Hosea captures the Word of the Lord in v 4: “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.” You can bank on the spring rains because they come and nourish the earth. But the dew is there at the dawn, and then it quickly evaporates. For the parched ground, the dew is just a tease that fails to satisfy. You can’t depend on it.
That is our love. Your love for others has failed them just like the dew that evaporates too quickly. There are those who have benefited mightily from your love. Your loving actions and dedication to family and friends have been a blessing delivered by Christ through you. But then there are those who are difficult to love. At first, your love for them is firm. In the course of time, it becomes forced because the demand is heavy and it’s a one-way street; no love is being returned to you. Eventually, you ignore them. You don’t answer their calls. You go out of your way to avoid them. You’ve become the morning dew for them.
That’s also how it goes with our love for the Lord. There’s plenty that you receive from the Lord. All that you need for this body and life. Forgiveness of sin, everlasting life, and salvation. But when the righteous demands of God’s Law weigh upon you, when you’re called to repent, to turn away from sin and return to him, suddenly your love becomes dew. It evaporates and disappears.
That’s why the Lord disciplines us. In v 4, our love is described as the dew; then we hear v 5: “Therefore [because of what you just heard about our love being dew] I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light.” The Lord is justified when he judges us. His judgment is not capricious but in direct response to our sin, including our love that quickly evaporates. The Lord’s judgment comes by him speaking the Word. His Word of judgment is powerful. Just as his Word could bring all things into being at creation, so his Word of judgment cuts us down. “I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth.” The Word of the Lord cuts deep; it hews us that our sin might be revealed. In the process, we are slain.
But the Lord will not stop there. Remember v 1: “Let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.” And we can say, “He has slain us that he may make us alive again.” He does it by his Word. Just as the Lord brings judgment by speaking the Word, so he justifies by speaking the Word. You’ve heard that Word time and again, “I forgive you all your sin in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The Word of the Lord does what it says. With that Word, your sin is gone.
Here you have two words from the Lord. The one judges you and kills you. The other forgives you and makes you alive. Then why does God’s forgiving word get the greater say? How can we bank on that word of forgiveness over and above God’s word of judgment?
Because you know who the Lord is!
Listen to the Lord speaking through his prophet Hosea, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (v 6). He does not delight in judgment. He delights in steadfast love because that is what he has for you. Even when your love evaporates like the dew, his love for you remains steadfast. It is so steadfast that it’s put an end to sacrifice. The Lord does not desire sacrifice from you, because his love is sacrificial. We sing of that love during Lent. “My song is love unknown, My Savior’s love to me, Love to the loveless shown That they might lovely be” (LSB 430:1).
Your Savior’s love to you is steadfast. It will not stop, and it will not fail. It keeps going all the way to the cross, that he might there forever put an end to sacrifice. Such love is like the dawn and the spring rains. It will not fail you. It is always present for you. It is so reliable, so steadfast, that even the cross could not slow that love. Quite the opposite: his love overflows from the cross.
Listen again to the prophet of the Lord as he calls you to return. He gives you perfect reason to return: “After two days, he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him” (v 2). The Lord has a way with the third day. It’s the day of life that cannot be ended. It is Christ’s day. And he makes it to be your day as well. As Christ lives, so you will live. Amen.