A.Prosperity and the Gospel. We need to think about how we think about prosperity and the gospel. Some people might take a passage like this and say: if we do not have earthly riches it is because we don’t worship God. They would say: if you just worship God you will have lots of health, wealth and money. When Israel worshipped God in the land she was blessed. This passage—along with the whole Bible—is not designed to teach a prosperity gospel. The gospel is not: “obey God and good will happen”. This message is about the curse that sin brings and the mercy of God. In the Old Testament, the land and prosperity in the land was a picture of inheritance. God’s inheritance was a gift. The land was a shadow or type—and illustration—pointing us to a greater inheritance that we have. It is an eternal rest. The point is that God’s people never earned or merited, or even maintained their right to the inheritance. It was always because God gave grace where grace was not deserved. How much more true!
Some of us have become quite comfortable with you we are as Christians. We have measured our spiritual health by what we have. We have tied America’s economic prosperity directly to our Christian health. If this is true: we have become just like Israel. We measure our worship by what we have. We pursue worship for what we can get. We are more impoverished than Third world Christians.
If this is true: we have made a Baal. Just like in Hosea’s day, Jesus is calling us to repent. He says to the church at Laodicea (which was a prosperous city with banks, medical care, and a huge clothing industry—much like a New York City)
Revelation 3:17-20 17 'Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 'Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.
B. Suffering and the gospel. Sometimes in Scripture suffering comes because of disobedience. This is not always the case—for example Job, or Jeremiah or Jesus. All three suffered but not because of a particular sin on their part. However, suffering as a whole is the part and parcel of the curse for sin. Suffering would not exist if it was not for human sin. MANY TIMES, IN OUR UNBELIEF, WE BLAME GOD FOR SUFFERING.
Bart Ehrman has written a book “God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer.” In an online article he writes:
Suffering increasingly became a problem for me and my faith. How can one explain all the pain and misery in the world if God—the creator and redeemer of all—is sovereign over it, exercising his will both on the grand scheme and in the daily workings of our lives? Why, I asked, is there such rampant starvation in the world? Why are there droughts, epidemics, hurricanes, and earthquakes? If God answers prayer, why didn't he answer the prayers of the faithful Jews during the Holocaust? Or of the faithful Christians who also suffered torment and death at the hands of the Nazis? If God is concerned to answer my little prayers about my daily life, why didn't he answer my and others’ big prayers when millions were being slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, when a mudslide killed 30,000 Columbians in their sleep, in a matter of minutes, when disasters of all kinds caused by humans and by nature happened in the world? 
Many of us have had these doubts. If you are new to Christianity, you can look at Hosea and say: “How could God be so cruel? Weren’t God’s people trying to worship? Why would God be so mean to those who get it wrong?”
But in worship, particularly false worship: it’s not that “we give it our best shot.” It is not as if God’s people just got the wrong name for god but still worshipped a higher power. Rather we know who we should worship. We know Him—the God of the Bible, because we’ve been made in His image. WE SUPRESS THAT. WE WILLINGLY AND KNOWINGLY REJECT GOD. We need to realize our hearts our idol factories. We produce alternate ways to worship God all the time.
Second, with respect to suffering. Not all suffering is caused by our sin. For example:
John 9:2-3 2 And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" 3 Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
It’s easy to look as Hosea and say: if God does this to his people I can’t worship that God. But what God does in cursing his people, removing all their blessings and then giving them grace precisely because they did not deserve it GOD SHOWS THAT HE MUST BE WORSHIPPED. Not because God is selfish. He shows He is infinitely worthy: He loves the unlovable; He forgives the unforgivable.
God was right to judge them. They divorced Him first. God was “the victim”. YET God who restores His people and gives grace. He shows He is worthy of worship… what did Baal do?
If you say suffering shows there is no God you have to reverse the question. If there is no God how do I explain something truly ‘good’? If there is a “problem of evil” then there is a greater “problem of good”. Without God we can say things are ‘better’ but not good in a moral sense of good/right. What brings a sense of ‘rightness’ to the restoration promised to Israel?
C. WHAT IS THE CHURCH’S BAAL TODAY? Let me suggest two:
1.Prosperity. The church has looked for worldly success. We have looked for prosperity. We assumed that we find God’s blessing in our worship: how are our “Sabbath’s” do we have exciting “festivals” and “new moons”. How much gold, silver and new wine do we have in the offering plates. These are the idols we worship. WE PLACE THE FORMS OF WORSHIP, THE STYLES, THE EVENTS THAT TAKE PLACE IN SERVICES OR PROGRAMS… THESE BECOME MORE IMPORTANT THAN GOD!
We look for creativity and excitement. We look for entertainment. Sometimes we look for ‘tradition.’ We say “What must I do to attract people… how can I appeal to them.” Or we ask “What can I get out of this?” –When we do this we erect a Baal. If we are looking to enjoy our ceremonies rather than enjoying God—we have like Israel created a Baal. She loved her events…but she had replaced the object of her worship.
2. Greed. We look in the church for economic prosperity. “How big is your budget?” We assume that if we grow to 500 and have a million dollar budget we must be a success because God blesses success! Like Israel we focus on the incident and they become our idols! Church’s look for physical growth, we even “whore ourselves to culture…” –we say “how much can I change to show I am appealing… it is like Israel the marks of adultery between our breasts—dressing to allure; showing off a little so we paint our faces, changing who God has called us to be so we can allure. It is our shame. We want to entice—we have become clowns pursuing the trivial—a farce. BUT WE HAVE MADE THE OBJECT OF OUR PURSUIT SOMETHING OTHER THAN GOD! (cf. David Wells’ The Courage to Be Protestant or Above All Earthly Pow’rs). Israel’s idolatry serves an example and warning ‘for those of us on whom the ends of the ages has (already) come’ [1 Cor. 10:11].
D. What is the solution to our idolatry?
1. Jesus Christ crucified and risen. In Christ, in our union with Him, we become God’s forever.
2. We need to realize it is not we who pursue God rather it is God who pursues us.
3. We want a god whom we can pursue. Who is our leisure and fulfills our purse and purpose.
4. The church is declining in America—and maybe it is like in Hosea: God is walling us up, hedging us in. Perhaps He is showing us: will you do what matters? Will you return to the Biblical functioning of a church?
5. God’s call: Pursue me and the means that I have ordained for worship. Don’t pursue all the fancy trappings so that you can change. Look for my grace. Minister my word and my grace. Call to me ‘my husband’—have we removed the ‘Baal’ from our mouths?
6. God alone plants His people. He alone “in that day” makes a marriage with us.
7. The New Testament teaches us that the “that day” has “already” begun in Jesus—we are married to Christ. There is a “not yet”. The beauty of the Lord’s return is that we become a bride clothed in righteousness, justice, compassion, and faithfulnesss.
8. The prosperity and growth have in the New Covenant comes from the Spirit. The Spirit brings new fruit. He is the down payment of our inheritance; a greater inheritance than the shadow/type of the land. The seal of our marriage. We who were not God’s people have become God’s people.
9. While we wait: are we like an engaged women: longing for her husband to come? Or are we like Israel—out playing the harlot? Are we dolling ourselves up, painting our faces, and showing a little leg or cleavage? Trying to allure the world and the Baals? The church is called to do those things God has ordained for worship until He returns. We are called to pursue God’s righteousness, justice, compassion, and faithfulness, knowing that God is transforming us. Are we chaste or are we the harlot?