Have you ever watched a movie or seen a play in which a proclamation is made by a king or other important individual? I can picture in my mind’s eye a certain Cinderella production; the king proclaims that all of the young maidens in the kingdom are invited to the ball. He sends out his fancily-dressed servant, accompanied by trumpeters in equally fine clothing, and he reads the words of the king in the town centers for everyone to hear.
The gospel of Luke gives us a very different kind of proclamation, through a man named John. Read Luke 3:1-6 in your Bible or by following this link.
This is quite a different picture from the one that popular stories (like Cinderella) would like to tell. First of all, there are no trumpeters, just a lone proclaimer: John in camel skins. And where does he do his proclaiming? In the wilderness! Not in the center of Jerusalem, not in the middle of the villages scattered along the Judean countryside, but by the Jordan River. And his message?
Proclaiming repentance is nothing new. The Old Testament proclaims the same message. Let’s look at one such instance, in the Book of the prophet Jeremiah. Before we read, let’s recall that Jeremiah was a prophet called by God to speak to an unrepentant people who should have been following God as His chosen people, but had instead chosen to turn aside to their own way and to follow their own desires. Jeremiah is feeling that he’s facing an impossible task and in his frustration with Judah, rails at God to ask why He has asked so much of him. Read Jeremiah 15:15-21 in your Bible or following this link.
There is a movement here, from Jeremiah describing his anguish and frustration to God, escalating to verse 18.
Why is my pain unceasing,
my wound incurable,
refusing to be healed?
Will you be to me like a deceitful brook,
like waters that fail?
Have you ever prayed such a prayer? God, why are You failing me?
There are times in life when hope seems such a distant dream and healing feels too far off to be real. There are times in life when we wonder what God could possibly be doing, if in fact the words of Romans 8:28 are true: that for those who love God, all things work together for good. Jeremiah here is wondering, “Where is the good?”
After asking God for vengeance (Jeremiah 15:15), he points out his faithfulness in following God’s direction (Jeremiah 15:16-17) and then comes the question. The problem with his question isn’t that God can’t handle the hard questions. He can. Do you hear the barely-concealed contempt in the prophet’s words, asking if God is going to be like a deceitful brook, that He will fail? This isn’t a request for strength, it’s an accusation.
When we read on, we see that God can handle even accusation, as He handles all sin: with a call to repentance. Read in verses 19-20:
Therefore thus says the LORD:
“If you return, I will restore you,
and you shall stand before me.
Who can stand before God but one who has been strengthened by God Himself for that very task?
If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless,
you shall be as my mouth.
What words do we use when we’re sitting in the hard times of life?
They shall turn to you,
but you shall not turn to them.
And I will make you to this people
a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you,
but they shall not prevail over you,
for I am with you to save you and deliver you,
declares the LORD.
God promises Jeremiah the strength he needs to continue in his task of speaking God’s message to unrepentant Judah. God promises that He will make Jeremiah like a strong, metal wall.
I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked,
and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”
I love that here we see how well God knows Jeremiah’s heart. Even if Jeremiah’s accusations are subtle, they’re still there. God could really have taken him to task for those words. But I imagine that Jeremiah’s heart is already battered, that his strength is already feeling the pressing of God’s Law telling him that he isn’t enough for this task. God applies His Law, rightly so, but He does it gently. He knows Jeremiah so deeply and knows exactly what Jeremiah’s heart needs.
God knows your heart equally well as He knows Jeremiah’s heart. Read Psalm 139 in your Bible, or follow this link to read it in a web browser. As a child of God, what does this psalm say to you?
He calls you not only to repent of your own sin, but to rest in the knowledge of His care for you. Read Ephesians 3:20-21 in your Bible or with this link. God may not always give as we would expect or even think the way we want Him to give. But know that He is always working for good – your good, and the good of those who are being saved. When in your life did God answer prayer in an unexpected way? How did you feel about that at the time? And now?
When God promises to be with us, strengthen us, and give us all that we need, not only does He provide for our bodily needs (food and water, shelter and companions), but He provides all that we need to accomplish what He asks of us: to carry out the mission that Jesus had when He was living on this earth and that He gave to His disciples before His ascension.
Read Luke 24:45-48 in your Bible or using this link. What does He say should be proclaimed in His name? Repentance and forgiveness of sins. Because without forgiveness, repentance is only going to leave someone feeling bad about their sin, unable to do a single thing about it. But because of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, forgiveness can be proclaimed, too.
He proclaims it to us. We proclaim it to one another and to a world that desperately needs to hear.
For quiet devotional time, I invite you to pray Psalm 32.
For further contemplation or journaling, think back to our juxtaposing images of a king’s proclamation and the King’s proclamation. What similarities can you find? (hint: think about the invitations extended in each) What does this mean in your life, today?