5. Repentance

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 5. Repentance

Mk 1:4,5 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

And so we arrive at the first historical facts of this Gospel. At a particular place in time-space history a strange prophet appears in the wilderness of Judea and starts preaching. He tells anyone who will listen that they need to repent. Talk of repentance always implies there is something wrong in our lives and we need to turn away from it. Now this is all very strange because if you were a preacher wanting to turn the hearts of your people back to God, the obvious place you would go would be to towns where there are people – for this is exactly what Jesus did when he came. But John doesn’t; he operates in the desert where people don’t reside.

Presumably he stops passing travellers and challenges them. Soon people hear there is a prophet in the wilderness and they start going out to listen to him. There is clearly a hunger in people’s hearts and people flock out to hear him. He has an uncompromising message: repent! So they do! This tells us two things: first that the nation was in spiritual decline that this needed to happen; second, that there was a hunger in people’s hearts. It had been centuries since there had been a prophet from God in the land. Over four centuries had passed since God had spoken to this people. That is a long time. Perhaps many thought that God had utterly given up on them. Where were the days of their history when God spoke and acted into the life of this nation? Is this a sign that God is coming and speaking again?

But he also baptises them. Baptism is first and foremost a sign of being washed clean. If you have truly repented then show the sign of it by being washed clean in the River Jordan.  So the crowds came, listened to him and, one by one, confessed their sins to him and were baptised by him. God is surely at work in all this for this seems just like a revival where God sovereignly moves on the hearts of people and brings them to repentance.

Lord, please have mercy on our nation. Come and speak and convict and turn the hearts of people back to yourself. Bring about a national repentance that moves people to confess and forsake their sins and turn back to you!

25. Contemptuous

Meditations in Romans : 25 :  Contemptuous?

Rom 2:3,4 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

The trouble with life is that it is so easy to jump to wrong conclusions about God. If you read the book of Job you find Job’s three friends jumping to the conclusion that all his misfortunes were the judgment of God on his sin, but the truth was that God had declared him righteous and the misfortunes were simply a test. Now I say this because so often silly people jump to the conclusion either that there is no God or that he is impotent, because they see so little of His corrective activity. The sinful man doesn’t realise that God is holding out a hand to him to save him, and because he doesn’t see God moving to deal with and stop him sinning, he is contemptuous of God’s inactivity and so carries on sinning even more. Wrong assessment of God, friend!

In the previous meditation we considered the danger of pointing fingers at other people and judging them for being less than perfect. We did stray into verse 3 and recognise that we are in trouble if we do that when we ourselves do similar things to those Paul listed, if not actually some of them.  We did observe our inability to live completely righteous lives and therefore the folly of judging others when we are just the same.

So now we move on a little bit from that and consider in more detail the second folly, that of being contemptuous of God’s grace and mercy, for that is what it is when we disdain God’s restraint in respect of us. This restraint of God has always been a stumbling block to people. We see it in the book of Job when even Job himself falls into the trap of wondering why bother being righteous when God seems to let sinners get away with it.

In fact so big a problem is it to some that even the apostle Peter weighs in on this subject when he says, By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:7-9). Yes, says Peter, there is coming a day of judgment when God will wind everything up on the earth but don’t be confused by the fact that God is waiting for this day; it is just that He is giving you every opportunity to come to repentance and be saved.

Now do you see that last bit? That is exactly the same as Paul is saying when he speaks of people, “not realizing that God’s kindness leads you to repentance.” That is what God is working for, our repentance. Repentance simply means a one hundred and eighty degree turnabout. We have been living self-centred, unrighteous lives and He is waiting for us to come to our senses and do an about turn to seek after godly and righteous lives. That is why He is waiting and not bringing destructive judgment on you. Merely because you seem to be getting away with it for the moment, don’t think that you are safe! You’re just being given breathing space in which God wants you to come to your senses and see the hopelessness of your godless situation and turn to Him for salvation that he wants to bring through His Son, Jesus Christ.

This is the frightening thing about life before God who looks on and sees all that we do. In His grace, instead of striking us down, He gives us this awesome responsibility of taking decisions for our lives, decisions that can take us further and further away from Him and further and further towards destruction. And what is even more scary is our apparent blindness while this is happening; we fail to observe the symptom of sin and its effects and we take for granted the fact that we feel miserable or depressed, that we seem to always be striving to achieve self-worth, that we seem to always be at odds with other people, that we are having money problems, sex problems, health problems and indeed, problems in every area of life. We don’t realise that these things are NOT natural, are not part of the lives that God has designed us to live, but are symptoms or effects of the sin that drives self ever deeper into these things. We seem utterly blind to these things!

And all the while, there in the background is God’s “kindness, tolerance and patiencethat continues to desire good for you.  All the while He is giving you free reign to do your own thing in the desire that you will eventually realise that ‘doing your own thing’ is not the best way. In fact it just leads you down this downward slope towards ultimate destruction – and you thought you were free! No, this is God giving you space to come to your senses. How far down the slope do you have to go before that happens? If this is you, it’s time to stop and take stock of your folly and come to your senses. You’re heading for destruction but God wants something wonderful for you – to bring His blessing into your life, to call you a child of God with an eternal destiny and a new purpose in life while still here on this earth, but that can’t come until you turn to Him. What if He calls, “Time’s up!” tomorrow. Don’t presume that His grace will last for ever. Today is a day for action.

Forgiveness by Faith

Readings in Luke Continued – No.32

Lk 7:48-50 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”  The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”  Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

We’ve said it a number of times before in these meditations and we’ll no doubt say it again, but there are times in Scripture when you wish more was said so that it was a lot clearer to us. As we read this account the woman says nothing. Everything attributed to her by Jesus is through her actions. She came, she wept, she wiped and she washed with perfume – but she doesn’t say anything. She is a known sinner in the town and Jesus now pronounces forgiveness for her. Just a minute, we say, doesn’t forgiveness come from God ONLY when there has been repentance? Yes, and so Jesus reads in her and in her actions, repentance. He even declares that it is her faith that has saved her. How come?

Go back a verse and you find Jesus explaining to Simon, summing up his chiding of Simon, following the little illustration of two debtors with, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much.” (v.47). Jesus, as we considered in the previous meditation, put a very favourable spin on her actions, he saw her actions in the best light possible. As we have previously considered her actions and considered the possibilities, we considered very human actions and responses which may well have started out with human reasoning and self-centred motivations, but we did also recognise that in Jesus’ presence her heart is broken or melted or won over and now Jesus interprets all she did in a good way.

The truth is, of course, that Jesus sees her heart. He knows what has been going on inside her and knows the transformation that has taken place. The only way that our interpretation of events could be wrong is if Jesus had previously met her, and spoke to her, so that her coming to the house was a response of repentance to his words – but there is no evidence that that happened.

Now, says Jesus, it is her faith that has saved her, so what signs are there of her faith. Well first of all there is the fact of her coming into the house and looking for Jesus. As we’ve noted previously this was quite a difficult thing for her to do. Something in her is stirring her to come and see Jesus. Jesus said elsewhere, “My Father is always at his work to this very day,” (Jn 5:17) and part of the Father’s ‘work’, I believe, is to speak to people. I am certain that God speaks to every person many times in their lives. Whether they hear and respond to Him is another matter, but Paul was to write, “faith comes from hearing the message,” (Rom 10:17) and so when there is faith, it is always responding to God’s message. Admittedly Paul was referring to the preached message in the context of what he was saying, but it is also true in respect of anything God whispers directly into our mind. The fact that the woman came looking for Jesus, is an indication that she is responding in faith to an inner prompting. But that isn’t enough.

She finds him, stays with him, and responds to him. As we’ve previously suggested, Jesus almost certainly would have acknowledged her in some way and that way indicated to her acceptance. It is that acceptance, we suggest, that breaks her heart and opens the floodgates of tears. Now we have suggested before that it is possible that she came in weeping out of anguish because of her life situation which was crushing her, but here we are now considering an alternative reason for her tears – they are tears of thankfulness – someone understands me, some knows me and accepts me. Her tears of anguish become tears of relief. When we come to see that for the first time it is a mighty liberating thing. Have you ever come to that realisation? If you have it will almost certainly have been accompanied by joy and by tears, or both. If you’ve never had that joy or those tears it is possible that you’ve never ‘seen it’ or realised it as a truth, and maybe you want to ask the Lord to reveal it to you.

If her tears are now tears in response to Jesus’ obvious acceptance of her, it is a response of faith that says, “Yes, he DOES accept me!” and that in itself is an act of faith. As she wipes his feet with her hair and then wipes perfume on them, these again can be seen as heart responses to Jesus. Yes, we have previously interpreted them as acts of embarrassment and appeasement, but Jesus interprets them as acts of faith, acts that, for whatever reason, want to please him. Her heart, in whatever way, is reaching out to Jesus, and when a person does that they let go their old life, and transfer their allegiance to Jesus, together with an allegiance to goodness and righteousness. For these reasons, Jesus looks into her and recognises genuine repentance and for that reason he pronounces forgiveness for her and declares that it is forgiveness that comes in response to her acts of faith.

We can never earn our forgiveness. We can only repent. We don’t deserve forgiveness, only Jesus has earned it: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” (Eph 1:7) It can only come to us because of what Jesus did on the Cross. As we respond to God’s drawing, as we respond to His prompting, and come in repentance, it opens the way for Him to declare the forgiveness we need. We haven’t earned it, we just come to receive it and we don’t come until we repent.

The coming is, in itself, an act of faith, and that is what the Lord looks for in us. The coming is followed by responses to Him that indicate our repentance, and that He also looks for. Jesus saw it in the woman, even though she never said a word. That isn’t to say that we are not to say a word. The words would follow with the woman. As Paul wrote: “if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Rom 10:9,10). Repentance involves confession and belief. For the woman it was ‘confession by deeds’ and Jesus was happy with that, for the time being at least! Hallelujah!

Made Alive

EFFECTS OF THE CROSS 6 of 7

Eph 2:4,5 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions

We continue to pursue these same ideas that keep coming over in the Scriptures, this same picture of us who are Christians having died and being raised by God to live new lives. We need to keep on considering this because it is so easy to misunderstand what BEING a Christian is all about. In a nutshell, it is God providing the means whereby we can receive His forgiveness and cleansing and be reconciled to Him, so that He can then empower us to live new lives, lives that we were incapable of living before.

Here in Ephesians, in our verse today, Paul is commenting on how remarkable it is that God raised us up to new life, even while we were still stuck in this old spiritually dead life characterised by wrongs. God didn’t say, try a bit harder and then I might come alongside you and help you achieve it. No, He took us while we were still complete failures and transformed us by energising us. All you did in the whole thing, was confess your state of failure, your inability to be righteous or godly, and ask for His forgiveness and His help. That was repentance. You were still in your old state when you uttered those words. You hadn’t changed, you couldn’t change. You had probably tried to change but any change had been cosmetic, purely on the surface. You were stuck like that. You couldn’t get out of it.

Imagine this picture if you will. You know, probably, that iron filings are attracted to a magnet. You perhaps experimented with them at school. It’s a strong magnet and the force of the magnet draws you, the iron filing to it. There is nothing you can do to escape its draw. It’s a scientific, physical characteristic. If you were a living iron filing you might scream and struggle to get away from the tremendous attraction power of the magnet. Now, that magnet is Sin. You may scream and shout about trying to be free from it but nothing you can do can break you free from it. Now along comes God and puts in you a stronger, opposite power to the power of the magnet. Suddenly you are free. Suddenly the magnet no longer has any power over you.

This is what God has done by putting His own life-energising Holy Spirit in you when you came to Him. Previously you were spiritually dead, attracted by Sin and totally unable to break free from it (that IS the truth!). God came to you while you were still in that state and in that state put His power into you. Instantly you were set free, instantly it was like you were made spiritually alive, instantly the power of Sin over you was broken. Just like Christ was re-energised when God raised him up from the dead (Acts 2:24), so He has now re-energised you from your old dead life. You didn’t deserve it, God just did it. That is the mercy Paul was talking about. Mercy is not deserved, mercy is not justice. Mercy is God giving you a new life for no other reason that He decided to give it to you.