“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)
We long for revival. We proclaim the Gospel of Salvation into the four corners of the world. We pray that the sinner, the one who does not know Christ nor delight in His righteousness, would repent and turn to Jesus.
But what is our reaction when this actually happens?
Today I was reading the story of King Ahab – whom the author of I Kings says, “He erected an altar for Baal… made an Asherah… did more to provide the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger, than all the kings of Israel” (1 Kings 16:30ff.). Ahab was a horrid man. And, at times, he acted like a spoiled two-year-old.
When rebuked by the prophet of the Lord for not killing the king of Syria, Ahab when to his house vexed and sullen. Again, when Naboth refused to give him his vineyard, Ahab when to his bed “vexed and sullen,” refusing to eat, pouting because he didn’t get his way. To cheer him up, Jezebel has Naboth falsely accused of cursing God and the King, and immediately stoned to death, just so that Ahab could have a new vegetable garden.
What a wretched man!
Fittingly, Elijah the prophet comes to condemn Ahab and Jezebel. One of the most vivid prophetic curses comes against these wicked rulers: Ahab would be burned up and cut off, while the dogs would eat Jezebel’s body in the streets. Serve them right, right?
Just when you think that justice will be served, something unimaginable happens – Ahab repents. He genuinely repents. He tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, and fasted. These were signs of penitence, of remorse for one’s sins. And in mercy, God relented from bringing judgment upon the house of Ahab. “Because he has humbled himself before me,” God said, “I will not bring this disaster in his days…” (1 Kings 21:29).
How could Ahab repent? Why would God allow that to happen? If ever there was an argument for lightening striking a man down, wouldn’t Ahab be the #1 choice?
How would you have reacted had you been Elijah and you heard God’s decision to withhold punishment because of Ahab’s repentance? What if you were Naboth’s family? Here’s a little test, read through the story of Ahab, but instead of saying “Ahab’s” name, insert the another name: ISIS, the Taliban, Donald Trump, Arminianism… Now how does that repentance sit with you?
Can you understand how Jonah felt when God sent him to proclaim judgment on Ninevah? He knew that if he pronounced judgment, there was a good chance that the people would repent, and that God would be merciful. The Ninevites were merciless enemies of the people of God; why would Jonah preach to them and give them the opportunity to find grace?
Can you understand how the prodigal’s older brother felt? He looks out and sees the kid who’s squandered his inheritance in wild and wanton living, only to come home and be received as one who’s come back to life. And Father wants him to come to the banquet!?
When we pray for the salvation of sinners are we praying for those who have really done a bang-up job of it? Are we praying for those who have fallen into serious sin, who’s wickedness has caused emotional, financial, and even physical harm to us or those we love? Do we have our enemies in mind, or are we secretly wishing that God would pour out his wrath upon them?
The grace of God in Jesus Christ is freely offered, but it still has a cost. It cost the life of the perfect Son of God, and it requires that we take up our cross and follow Him. We must lay down our lives to live in His grace, letting go of our tight-fisted grip on the old life and the old way of thinking. In His grace, we die to self-righteousness, so that we might live in the righteousness of Christ. In that grace, we lay down our desire for vengeance, for retribution, for “just-deserts.” We forgive, even as we have been forgiven, and we pray for the salvation of our enemies.
The grace we live in, the grace that saves us, is the same grace offered to all who will repent and turn to Christ for their salvation. There is no difference in the fare. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:23-24). When, by the grace of God, a sinner is brought to life by the Spirit and awakened to the reality of his depravity, receiving and resting in the saving work of Jesus Christ, there is rejoicing in heaven. Why, then, would we not rejoice here?