Repentance Proclaimed

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?

“Repent!”

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.

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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?

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the Gift of Repentance Outline

Hello, lovely readers! I didn’t quite have this ready for you prior to starting the study, and for that, I apologize. But here is the downloadable and printable PDF of an outline for this study on the Gift of Repentance that started today.

Your sister in Christ,

Sarah

Gift of Repentance – Outline

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What is Repentance?

Repentance has always been a slightly problematic concept for me. I don’t think I have a lack of it in my life—I remember even as a child feeling moved by the pricking of conscience when I did wrong, and still feel that. But I’d never felt that my grasp on what it is and what it means was strong.

I remember being a child and hearing my pastor, in a sermon, describe repentance as having a sense of turning from a path, a way of walking. I can’t quite recall if he was talking about a Hebrew or Greek root word that was translated as repent, but I really liked that imagery and how active it was. It’s more than just feelings of sorrow and contrition.

But actually doing the action of repentance – making changes and working to walk, to live differently – it isn’t easy to do. And so despite how the imagery resonated (and still resonates!) with me, the idea tripped me up. In fact, as sinful human beings, we can’t even make a start at repentance.

Read Ephesians 2:1-3.

If you are dead, can you move? Are you capable of doing anything about your state of “deadness”?

Silly questions, yes, but let’s apply it to being “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked” and ask again: Can dead people change their course?

Of course not.

When we look at the whole of those three verses, there’s a lot of description to say that someone is sinful. Paul almost seems to be harping on it. (Those of us who are parents or who have parents: Does this seem familiar? Child does something wrong, parent maybe goes a little overboard with correction? I’m guilty, on both sides of this.) Consider, though, how the volume of the description illustrates the significance of what he is writing. Not only were you sinful, Paul says, but you were dead and lost! You were beyond saving…by any earthly force. More on that later. 😉

Notice how in Ephesians 2:3, Paul identifies himself also as one who was once dead – “we all once lived in the passions of our flesh…”

Who in your life has identified or related himself with you? Who has sat down with you in the muck of life, saying “I’ve been in similar places, too. I’ll sit with you here, in yours.”? What did that do in the midst of your struggle? If no one has ever sat with you in this way, consider how it would have impacted you. To whom might you offer that relationship?

Let’s continue reading in Ephesians 2: 4-7.

“But God…”

Did you feel the coming contrast in the words? This is a stop-and-take-notice moment. Paul has, for lack of a better term, lambasted his readers with the severity of sin’s former hold on them. But God.

But God wasn’t content to leave us in our misery, because He is love.

But God had a plan from the beginning, because He is rich in mercy.

But God knew that even the most faithful of Christians would struggle, so He helps us in our weakness.

Think for a moment about the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. We see amazing miracles, heart-touching scenes of mercy, strong words spoken with authority…now look in the background and observe the disciples. Do they have it all together? Sometimes, yes, it seems like they do. Look up the following passages. What do the disciples “do right” here?

Matthew 4:18-22; Matthew 9:9-13

Luke 10:1-20

Mark 8:27-30

But we all know that the disciples weren’t always on point when it came to their faith in Jesus. Look up these verses; how did they “fail”?

Mark 8:31-33

Matthew 26:56

But God didn’t act based on the disciples’ ability to get it together and do what they should. And neither does He act now based on our ability to do what is right, to repent sufficiently, to follow Him as we ought. Because we can’t do it, except with His gifts of repentance and faith through grace.

Repentance is about so much more than Merriam-Webster’s definition of turning from sin or feeling regret or contrition. Repentance is about God coming to be with us in our messes, in our struggle, in our heartache.

Read again the blessed words of His mercy:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

Sin is no small thing. It’s serious enough that God can’t simply ignore it, we can’t sweep it under the rug or hide it behind the couch. It needed to be addressed and further, atoned for. It’s bigger than we can handle. Period. No “handle on our own” or “handle without help”, just “handle.” As the verses at the beginning of Ephesians 2 describe, someone who is dead can’t handle anything.

“But God…”

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During these weeks leading up to the time that we remember and even rejoice in Christ’s Passion – His suffering and death – and celebrate His Resurrection, I pray that this time of reflection upon and studying of repentance will be a time that God immerses you in His love, poured out on the cross and living in our hearts.

For quiet devotional time, I invite you to pray Psalm 51.

If you are a journaling type of person, consider writing about this today: What “But God…” moments have you experienced in your life? Maybe you’re in the midst of one now, maybe you have too many to count. Even in the middle of muck and heartache, remember that God is faithful, and that He is rich in mercy for you.

Comfort in Repentance?

Lately, my thoughts have been turning toward the cross. Of course, we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (throwback to our Advent devotions- yay!). However, as the rhythm of the church year carries us through Christ’s life, we reach a point at which we turn our faces to Jerusalem, as did our Lord. Because of His great love, we will never endure what He did; but led by His Spirit, we continually live in repentance.

But it’s never fun to examine one’s life and see what sins might be lurking. It’s hard. So hard.

But this is part of what we’re called to do as Christians. We don’t allow the devil a foothold as we strive to follow Christ. The funny thing of it is, though, that it isn’t something we can do. Even repentance. It’s something that God grants us.

Hang on. Repentance, and the guilt that precedes it, is a GIFT?

I don’t like that kind of gift. It’s not comfortable.

But how necessary! To remain blind to the thing that’s killing me—that’s a terrible place to be.

In that vein of thought, I invite you to join me this Lenten+ season in examining this gift of repentance. And in the process, we pray that God will guide us to a fuller understanding of repentance and a deeper relationship with Him.

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How it will work:

Every Tuesday and Thursday (beginning with the Thursday, the 15th of February), we will be examining a different aspect of repentance. Each day will focus on a verse that mentions it, describes it, or tells a story about it. It won’t be terribly long, but I pray that the time spent will guide us all to a deeper understanding of repentance and a more thorough examination of what God is doing through the repentance that He gives. If you’d like to receive these posts directly to your email inbox, be sure to subscribe to the blog via email!

For thought and discussion: What comes to mind when you hear the word “repentance”?

 

+Lent, or the Lenten season, is a part of the church year where we focus on Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness, as it corresponds to the Israelites’ time in the wilderness before reaching the Promised Land, and also as it corresponds to our own temptations and sins, remembering that it is for those sins that He died. During this time, we are also looking ahead to Holy Week, the week preceding Easter—it holds not only the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, but Maundy Thursday (Last Supper, when Jesus gives His disciples “a new commandment” {hence the “maundy”—it comes from the same root as “mandate”} to love one another) and Good Friday (the day remembering Jesus’s crucifixion). Lent ends with the triumphant celebration of the Resurrection, on Easter Sunday.

Broken Christmas?

I bought a Christmas cactus this year. I was so excited to bring it home, but after I did, I noticed that it was pretty droopy (maybe that’s why it was on sale for such a good price?), and then about two weeks before Christmas, it bloomed. Not really how I was imagining my Christmas cactus to behave, how I thought it should be.

It seems as I get older that Christmas is just never quite the same as it was when I was a child. The wonder and excitement get lost in the hurry, in the stress, in the I-have-to-get-everything-done-and-done-well. My stress increases just thinking about getting cookies done and the mess they make–both in prep and in eating! I worry about having everything for the meals and whether I’ll have time to clean the house before guests arrive. It’s just considered bonus if I have time to put on makeup and fix my hair. I’m anxious about the kids being disappointed on Christmas morning. Not to satisfy their every whim and desire, but sad kids because of disappointed hopes are a bummer. Or something small happens, like my cactus blooms two weeks early.

And sometimes the things that bring us down at Christmas aren’t even as mundane as those I just listed. Maybe the usual cookies won’t be made because health concerns prevent it. Maybe there will be no guests because of a death or other loss. Maybe there are no children to fuss over.

Christmas in a broken world means a broken Christmas. It just won’t ever live up the expectations we place on it. Because our expectations miss the mark.

Christ came to us, in our broken world, because it is broken, because it misses the mark. It had been broken so long that most people didn’t (and still don’t!) recognize that it is broken besides a vague feeling of discontentment, or a sense that things just aren’t quite right.

Christ came to our broken world to turn it on its head, to set things where they should have been all along. It feels foreign and uncomfortable because we’ve lived with broken for so long that it’s become comfortable. Or at the least, familiar.

But God says, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” See Isaiah 43:19 for the full verse. This new thing He is doing? It’s newness in Christ. It’s something unexpected. It’s making a Way for atonement and redemption and propitiation and reconciliation–so much more than we could ever imagine.My Christmas Cactus. It’s perked up since I brought it home. :)

So if your Christmas cactus bloomed too early and just looks like a blah plant this Christmas, rejoice in the gift of Life given at Christmas! If your house didn’t get quite as clean as you’d wanted, rejoice in the shelter from God’s wrath over our sin that the Christ-child gives! If your Christmases will never be the same because you’ve lost a loved one, rejoice quietly in the hope offered in Christ’s resurrection.

We’re broken now, living in a broken world, with the reality of broken Christmases. But because of that brokenness, Christ’s love shines all the brighter.

May He keep you this Christmas and always in His mercy and love.

Above All Names: Savior

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Luke 2 is the beautiful narrative of a tiny human’s emergence in this great big world. Tiny fists that would grow to bear nails meant for us. Tiny feet that would walk alongside fishermen, teachers, homemakers, farmers, business owners, tax collectors, and children. He would hold hands, start conversations, and eat among them, with eyes fixed on Calgary. It is also the narrative of a tiny heart beating wildly for those He came to save. Saving is really the work of God, of Christ, alone. He was born to save us – from death, from our fears, from our doubts. Jesus saves – tiny Baby Boy, Man convicted to death on a cross, living Savior of your heart and soul.

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Above All Names: Propitiation

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Some translations of Scripture use the words “all-atoning sacrifice” in place of “propitiation” in this verse. While certainly a true representation of what’s happening here, and more easily understood than “propitiation”, it loses some of the depth of what’s happening here. This isn’t merely a sacrifice, like the countless bulls, lambs, and doves sacrificed in the Temple for years. This is a laying down of Christ’s life. His sacrifice absorbed the wrath of God against a world of people entirely lost in their sin. The depth and breadth and width of such love cannot be measured, and it cannot be comprehended. But we thank and praise Him for it just the same, and rest in the knowledge that His love accomplished this on our behalf. Savior, You stand as our propitiation, welcoming us into Your loving arms. Thank You!

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Above All Names: Prophet

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How it must have hurt Jesus that His family, His hometown withdrew honor from Him, doubted Who He was. Mark 6:6 tells us He “marveled at their unbelief.” When we share the Word in Truth and Love, and people look at us blank-faced, perplexed, or even with laughter, we can know that the Savior Himself received the same response! Jesus, the Prophet, came and fulfilled every Word spoken of Him since Genesis, without fail. Yet, it was still difficult for those closest to Him to grasp. Lord, today we pray for all those who do not honor you and those who do not grasp you. You are Prophet, Priest, Savior, and King!

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Above All Names: Immanuel

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Not only is His very birth a miraculous paradox, but by His name, Immanuel, Jesus is God with Us. He is this Immanuel, who comes to sojourn with us in our weakness and humility, who takes our sin upon Himself and makes full atonement for it. Not because there was anything in us to make us deserving of His sacrifice or even presence, but His love for us was — is! — so great that He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He rescued us on Calvary and still rescues us every day by His great love and compassion. Where do you see His rescue in your life? Even when it’s hard to see, we stand on truth – He is our Immanuel – God with us.

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Above All Names: Great High Priest

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In Judaic religious practice, the priest was the one who would make intercession for the people by performing the sacrifices of the offerings people brought to atone for their sins, acting as intercessor between the sinful person and Holy God. Once a year, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies, where he performed an atoning sacrifice for the sins of Israel, again in that intercessory capacity. Adding “Great” to that title in reference to our Great High Priest indicates the all-encompassing nature of what He has done on our behalf. Not only has He interceded for us, but He did it with His own body, broken, and His own blood, outpoured. His sacrifice and His acting as Great High Priest, has bridged the chasm between sinful humans and Holy God. Celebrate this season knowing your sins are covered!

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