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).

tenor

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

Broken People Do Broken Things

“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

“Broken people do broken things.”

I first heard this nugget of wisdom form a funeral home director.  He and I were riding in the hearse to a graveside service after having left the funeral home and a family that was fighting with each other.  I don’t remember why they were fighting (probably something to do with inheritance), but I was visibly shaken and the director could tell.  I remember asking why they couldn’t get past their difference for at least an hour and be civil with one another during the service, and that’s when he said it, “Broken people do broken things.”

I don’t think he meant it to excuse their behavior, but perhaps to change my perspective on the world.  The world is full of broken people.  Some have managed to put a good spin on their brokenness, their sins are the acceptable kind that are given a wink by society.  For others, their brokenness is clear for everyone to see, and often that brokenness is worn as a “red badge of courage.”

Hasn’t the brokenness of the world reared its ugly head this week?  Over the weekend we heard of ISIS having beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians , and this just after the news of the death of Kayla Mueller, the burning of the Jordanian pilot, their names added to a very long list of victims of horrible terror . (I read just this morning of another report that ISIS had burned to death another 45  people in an Iraqi town.) There was the shooting rampage in Denmark, the foiled terror plans in Canada, the murder of three students at the University of Connecticut.  Add to that the horrible news coming from Lennox, SD, where I’ll soon be moving, of a gunman who shot two people and then killed himself – all because of an argument over a delivery.

It’s all the kind of thing that makes you not want to get out of bed in the morning.

I make no effort to make sense of senseless violence. You cannot explain or rationalize brutality like this. Sometimes, all it feels you can do is throw up your hands, keep your head down, and resign yourself to the fact that “lost people do lost things.”

But that is not the Christian message.

I don’t purport to have all the answers regarding evil and it’s place in the world.  I must leave that discussion to better minds than mine.  But I do believe that our faith has something important to say in the midst of such atrocities.

First, we must realize that evil is real, and we live in a fallen world.  Since Adam’s fall, all the world has been subjected to futility, and creation itself awaits the revealing of the sons of God in which it too will be released from its bondage to corruption (see Romans 8).  Suffering and violence, natural disasters and wars, these are symptoms of a greater sickness, namely, we live in world that subjected to corruption because of man’s sin and rebellion from God.

Second, I believe Scripture teaches that God has a purpose in everything, including the evil we face in this life.  Often it is hard to see and difficult to understand – and we may never find in this life the ultimate meaning that is hidden in the heart of sorrow, disappointment, and grief.  But we remember the words of Joseph to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen 50:20).  Even more, we see God’s providence working even in the death of Jesus Christ, who was holy and without sin, the greatest tragedy ever committed on the face of the earth, and yet through His death and resurrection, we find the salvation of all who would call upon His name (Acts 3:13-16).

Finally, we must remember, evil does not have the last word.  Though their powers may flare and cause us to tremble, though

this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear for, God hath willed his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

We abound in hope, even in the face of evil, tragedy, and loss. We abound in hope because we know that because Christ has been raised in victory over death, those whose lives are hidden in Him have received that victory as well.  We know that no matter what we face, even if we are handed over for tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or the sword, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us…” and nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:31-39).

In John 16:33 Jesus says, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Christ has overcome!  Therefore, in good times and in bad, let us look to Him that we may be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord [our] labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58).

SDG