David Jeremiah - God’s Love Never Quits
God could never love you more than he loves you at this very moment, and he could never love you less because God's love is not based upon what you do. God's love is based upon who He is. One of the misunderstandings about the love of God is that it works the way human love works. Actually, human love shouldn't even work this way, but that's the way they look at it. That if I do something wrong, I fall out of your favor. If I do something wrong, if I violate you in some way, you stop loving me. In genuine love between two human beings, that isn't true, and it's never true with God.
During this series, I have received emails from some of our congregants, people who have written to me of their struggles to believe in their heart of hearts that God really does love them. You'd be surprised at some of these people. But you see, we've all discovered that it's a lot easier to get love right theologically than it is to get it right experientially and emotionally. It seems to me there are two times when, as believers, we are most prone to doubt God's love. First, when evil things happen to us that we weren't expecting, and secondly, when we do evil things ourselves. Both of those occasions are because of our inaccurate perception of who God is. First of all, if we feel we are not loved because evil things happen to us, we often say, "Why me, why now, why this"?
We are not understanding that the Bible never does, nor does God, ever guarantee us that we will not be touched by evil. We live in an evil world. People used to ask me all the time, "How did you get cancer? You're a pastor". And I said, "Cancer's a human condition, it just happens to everybody. Nobody gets a pass on it". So, when evil things happen to us, we shouldn't respond by saying, "Well, God doesn't love me anymore". It has nothing to do with that. We live in a world that is filled with evil, and it touches us all in some way or the other. God doesn't say that we will not be touched by evil. He says that he will be there to help us overcome it. And when people say, "I don't feel like God loves me anymore because I've done so many evil things," they forget that God does not love us because of what is in us. He doesn't love us because of what we do or don't do. God loves us because he is love. As you can see, the message of the Bible is the message of God's never-ending love. Let me say it again, God loves you, he always has, and he always will.
One of the greatest stories about that is found in that little Book of Hosea. It's an unlikely place to find a love story, but it may be the greatest love story of the Old Testament. Let me tell you about this book. Hosea was a prophet. That means, to all of us in this culture, he was a preacher. He was a preacher who was called to preach to the ten northern tribes of Israel, sometimes referred to as Ephraim in the Bible. And he was called to preach to this group of people at a very special and unique time. It was just before they were carried away captive by the Assyrians, and it was a time of incredible prosperity in Israel, and also a time of incredible wickedness.
It's hard to imagine how a people like Israel that had been so loved by God could have descended to the depths of degradation that was true of them during this particular time. Every commandment of God was being broken every day by the people of Israel. Falsehood, and adultery, and bloodshedding, and deceit, and excess, and luxury, and open robbery, and oppression, and priests involved in leading the corruption. And of all things hard to understand, they had male cultic prostitutes actually living in the Jewish temple, and women setting up shop in the Jewish temple to weave garments that were used in idolatrous worship. This was a terribly sinful, degraded time in Israel. And God called Hosea to go and preach to this generation. In his prophecy against them, he says that the nation of Israel has become like an adulterous wife. "The spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray, and they have played the harlot against their God".
The Bible says that Israel had become like an unfaithful wife, like an adulterous woman. And God had loved them faithfully and made a covenant with them, and they had walked away from that covenant and violated it by their evil behavior. Now, we know what that's like in our world today, and we must talk about this because in this passage, in this story, there's an interplay between God's love for Israel and a man's love for his wife. In marriage, is there anything more hurtful to a spouse than disloyalty? When couples marry, they stand before God and before witnesses, and they vow to be faithful and loyal to one another. And when someone says, "I do," and then they violate that promise, the results for the violated partner is one of the deepest hurts that a human being can feel, and I know that from talking to so many people who have been hurt this way.
You see, men and women, loyalty is the cornerstone of all relationships, and God made a covenant with Israel. That's what this book is about. His covenant was like a marriage. And on three different occasions, they exchanged vows. At Mount Sinai, when they went into the promised land. And later when they were settling the promised land, they said to each other, "I do". Read those comments in the Bible, and it's really amazing because Moses reads all the law, and the people said, "All that you have said, we will do". But now, all of that has fallen apart. Six hundred years have gone by since Israel was married to God. And over the years, the disloyalty continued to grow, until finally, during Hosea's preaching, it hit the tipping point.
And here in the Book of Hosea, God commissions his prophet to show Israel that she had been consistently disloyal to him, even though he had been faithful to them. But here's the point that you must not miss. God primarily wanted Hosea to say to Israel, "No matter what you've done, no matter how far you've fallen from grace, no matter what you've done to be disloyal to me, I want you to know something very important. I will never quit loving you". So, God decided to bring this message to Israel in a very unique and straight way. What I'm about to tell you is almost like, "Oh, I can't believe this is in the Bible". Because in the very first chapter of Hosea, in the second verse, we read these words, look at your Bible. "When the Lord began to speak by Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, 'Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord".
God told his prophet to go marry a woman who would become disloyal and immoral, and who would become literally a prostitute. God told him to go marry this woman. By the name, her name was Gomer. I can hardly get past that name because all I can think about is Gomer Pyle, you know? I guess in the Old Testament, that would have been, but I don't know anybody, I don't know any women named Gomer, I sure don't. But that was the name of his wife, so the Bible says Hosea went and he married Gomer. And God said to Hosea, "I want you to love her". With extraordinary emphasis, he repeats it, "Love her even though she's an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, even though they commit adultery too by their devotion to idols". So, the heartbreak and the trauma of this torturous marriage becomes the kind of dramatized prophecy from Hosea.
So, through this book, you have all that's going on between God and Israel, and at the same time what's going on between Hosea and his unfaithful wife. And the unfaithful wife's story is a picture of what it's like for God when his people are unfaithful to him. And even though Israel didn't respond to Hosea's message, and God had allowed the covenant curses to run their course, God wanted Hosea to say to his people, hard as this is to believe, "I haven't given up on you. I'm not finished with you". In fact, he said, "There's going to be a day in the future, after you experience some of the things that come as the result of your sin, there's going to be a day in the future when we'll get back together". Listen to these words from Hosea 2, "'And it shall be in that day,' says the Lord, 'that you will call me "my husband". In that day, I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord'".
Now, look up here for a moment, folks. What kind of love endures the unfaithfulness of a covenant partner, ant yet remains loyal forever. It's God love, that's what it is. It's the kind of loyal love that God extended to Israel in spite of her disloyalty. The story of that love is told by Hosea in the 11th chapter of his prophecy, so turn over there. This is, in my estimation, one of the great chapters of the Old Testament, Hosea chapter 11. And if you have your Bible, I'd really like for you to see this in the Scripture. The story of love that is told by Hosea is an interesting story that comes in several sections. The first part of Hosea 11 tells us about the commitment of God's love for his people, just look down at the text. It says, first of all, that he loved Israel like a Father loves his son. Notice verse 1, "When Israel was a child," when the nation of Israel was a child, "I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son, and I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by their arms".
Now, what this is a reference to is when Israel was in slavery in Egypt. And remember, they were slaves to the Egyptians for over 400 years, and then the Exodus came. God raised up Moses, and Moses came and said, "Let my people go". And God, after a period of time, led the children of Israel out of Egypt. And the Bible says it was like they were a little child, and like he was leading them like a little son away from the danger of the Egyptians, that he watched over them like a father watches over a son. It actually says that he taught them to walk as a nation, and he carried them in his arms like a father would carry a child. If you go back and study that period in history, you'll see that's exactly what happened. God loved Israel like a father loved a son. And secondly, he loved them as a husband love his wife.
Notice verse 4, "I drew them with gentle cords and with bands of love". Hosea knew what this was all about because that's exactly what he have done for Gomer. When she would fail and be disloyal and adulterous, he would still go get her and coax her back, and bring her back into arms of his love. And thirdly, he loved as a father, and as a husband, and then it says he loved as a shepherd. Verse 4 says, "I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. I stooped down and I fed them". And I believe this is in reference to what God did for the people of Israel when they were in the wilderness, remember? Do you know why they were in the wilderness? Because if they'd gone straight out of Egypt, they'd have been right in the military zone of all of the toughest people in Canaan, and they wouldn't have lasted because they were not prepared military.
So, God took them around these nations, but it involved them being in the wilderness for many years. And how many of you know no food grows in the wilderness? So, God had this convenient little thing he worked out for them. Every day, they'd walk out, and outside of their tent would be the food for the day: manna and quail. And I've often laughed because the word "manna" means, "What is it"? So, every morning, they'd walk outside of their tent, and God would drop down the food from heaven, and they would walk out and say, "Oh, what is it"? Have you ever said that to your wife when she puts it on the table? I wouldn't suggest it. The Bible says that God so loved his people Israel that he brought them out like a father with a child. He embraced them as a husband with his wife. And then like a shepherd, he just led them through and carry of all of their needs. These are endearing words, and these words are basically a soliloquy from God. Do you know what I mean by that? This is God speaking to no one in person, but to all of us together. The 11th chapter is God's soliloquy on his love for Israel and for us. He's laying the foundation, he's saying, "I want you to know, first of all, how much I loved Israel," the commitment of God's love.
Now, notice the contempt for God's love. It says in verse 2, "And they called them, and they went from them, and they sacrificed to Baals, and they burned incense to carved images". Verse 3, "And they did not even know that I was the one who had healed them". They didn't even know what I had done for them. And verse 7 says, "My people are bent on backsliding form me. Though they call to the Most High, non at all exalt Him". God said, "My people that I have loved as a father, as a husband, as a shepherd, my people are bent on backsliding from me, and they don't even have any clue what it is that I have done for them". How many of you know, as God's people, it's real easy for us to get what God has done for us out of whack? We are so blessed, sometimes we complain, and I feel like when we do that, we really shouldn't because our worst day is better than the best day most people have around the world.
The people of Israel did not know what God had done, or at least they had pushed it into the background, and they kept violating everything they knew that was dear to God's heart. Verses 5 and 6, he says, "But the Assyrians shall be their king, because they refuse to repent. And the sword shall slash in their cities, devour the districts, and consume them, because of their own counsels". Actually, the Assyrians did become their king. But what is going on here is that God is responding in a way that we understand. God is saying, "For what they have done, here's what they deserve". But it's apparent, as you read this soliloquy in the 11th chapter, that God cannot endure the thought of the final judgment of his people. And so, we see his compassion in verses 8 and 9.
And I have to tell you this, I don't usually get this vulnerable in the pulpit. I have found myself in tears on more than one occasion this week just reading these verses, reading them with understanding of what they meant in that moment, and what they mean to us today. Here is God so violated by the disloyalty of his people, and in every right to obliterate them from the face of the earth, and we read these words, "How shall I give you up, Ephraim? How shall I cast you off, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I make thee as Zeboiim? My heart churns within me; my sympathy is stirred. I will not execute the fierceness of my anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, the holy one in your midst; and I will not come with terror".
In these words of Hosea, there are four questions. "How shall I give you up, Ephraim? How shall I give you up, Israel? How shall I make you as Admah and Zeboiim"? Those two cities were cities on the plains next to Sodom and Gomorrah. In other words, God is saying, "How can I destroy you like I destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah"? Then comes the great answer from God, "My heart is turned within me, and my compassions are kindled together". This is amazing. How can you love someone who throws your love back in your face? And yet, this is what God is doing. He just will not quit loving his people. And this is the amazing thing. Because of what God is, he sees us, he sees our possibilities, and in spite of all of our backsliding, in spite of all of our disobedience, in spite of the fact that we have contempt sometimes for his love, we hear him saying, "I cannot give you up. I will not, I will not, I will not".
The commitment of God's love, and the contempt of it, and the compassion of it, and finally the consummation of it. Verse 9, this is God's decision. "I will not execute the fierceness of my anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. I am God, and not man, the holy one in your midst; and I will not come with terror". You say, "Pastor Jeremiah, how can God do this? How can God just not respond to the disobedience of his people"? Here we have God's justice being defied. And here we have God's love being expressed. And remember the passage from 2 Timothy that says God cannot deny himself. That means God, in the midst of all of this, he has to be God first and foremost, he has to be holy, and he has to be loving. But when we look at that through our human eyes, we say there's no way, how do you make that work?
I mean, if they've sinned and they violated your justice, they must be punished. And if you love them, you have to just turn your eyes away from what they've done like a doting old grandfather who pats his children on the head and says, "Just go play, go play". And neither one of those are options for God. In order for him to be just, all of the sin of the world had to be atoned for. The Bible says the soul that sinneth, it shall die. And the sin of the world could only be atoned for through death. And so, he sent his Son, listen to me, the infinite Son of God to go to the cross, and suffer the infinite death that was necessary so that all of our sins could be atoned for, and God's justice could be poured out on his Son.
And there at the cross, with his arms outstretched, he says, "If you will come to me and receive what I have done through my Son Jesus, I will forgive you of all your sin, I will wash you clean, and now I can show my love to you because the justice issue has been resolved". Every time you think that maybe God's love is just a simple, easy love, just look at the cross. Because the cross standing there in the center of all humanity is a reminder to us of the justice of God poured out upon his Son so that God could say to you and to me, and to his people Israel, "I love you. I always have, and I always will".