When Sinners Repent

“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).

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What!?!? Seriously!?!?

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?

SDG

Nevertheless…

“Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away.
The people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places.”

(2 Kings 15:4)

My Bible reading plan (I am using M’Cheyne’s plan, which has you read all of the OT once and the NT and Psalms twice over the course of one year) has me reading through the book of 2 Kings right now.  I am always fascinated by the records of the kings, and there is always something new to discover there.  Be it the succession of notoriously bad kings in the Northern kingdom of Israel, who continually led their people astray by requiring they worship the golden calves at Bethel, or the turmoil of inconsistent leadership in the Southern kingdom of Judah, the stories of the kings hold so much wisdom and truth for us today.  The only thing that each king had in common with the kings that went before: they all died and someone else reigned in their place.

One of the things that caught my attention in this reading of the kings was the heritage that was left from one king to the next.  With every king from the north we are told that “So-and-so did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers had done…”  Sometimes the indictment is even worse, as with Ahab, of whom it is said, “as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him.  He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Ball, which he built in Samaria.  And Ahab made an Asherah.  Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:31-33).  No matter how strong the economy might have been under the reign of the king, no matter the what his public opinion poll might have said, because the kings of Israel continued in the sin of Jeroboam – worshiping the golden calves – the legacy they left to the next generation was one of sin and corruption.

But that’s not to say that the southern kings did a whole lot better.  True, a majority of the southern kings, we are told, “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 14:3).  Some kings made foolish allegiances with surrounding nations, leading the people of Judah astray and into oppression.  But the kings of the south had a heritage of worship in the Temple of the Lord and they ushered in periods of religious and political reform according to the word of God.

And yet…

With just about every king of Judah, even though we read that they did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, there always seems to be a caveat.  We keep coming back to the word “Nevertheless.”  Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away…  While the national religion was still practiced in the Jerusalem Temple, the people still had their own private altars, and the faith of the nation was not kept pure.  The legacy of the southern kings was one of obedience and walking with the Lord, yet not in a wholehearted way.

And do you know what happened to both the northern and southern kingdoms?  They were both destroyed, carried away by conquering kingdoms, and the people were scattered.  The legacy of the kings, while greatly different, each led to the same end.

So here’s something to think about:  What legacy are you leaving the next generation?  Have you lived a life of wholehearted faithfulness to the Lord, or are there things in your life that you know don’t belong, but you lack the strength to remove them.  What are the high places that need to come down, so that your worship of God may be pure, and your heart undivided before the Lord.  What are the pressures and powers of this world to which you still bow down, when there is only one name in heaven and on earth for which our heads should bow?

When your life is gone and your story is told, will there be a “nevertheless”?  He was a really nice guy, but…

My hope and prayer is that the stories of the kings, if nothing else, will remind us of our need to cast out the idols that this world offers, and to cling wholeheartedly to our savior Jesus Christ!

Now that’s a legacy worth leaving.

SDG