2020 has been a doozy of a year. A frightening pandemic, made worse by conflicting reports from ‘experts’ and a dishonest media corps; escalating ethnic tension, and violent riots in major US cities. They say, “Hindsight is 20/20.” I can’t wait until 2020 is in hindsight. I don’t know if 2021 will be better, but I know this much: when things go wrong, people want an explanation.
In 1927 the American playwright Thornton Wilder published the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Bridge of San Luis Rey. The book describes the collapse of a walking bridge over a high gorge, killing the five people who were crossing it at that moment, and the subsequent investigation by a Catholic monk as to why those five people, and the question of whether there was a divine plan in all of it.
On Wednesday, August 21st, 2009, in downtown Minneapolis, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America formally voted to authorize the ordination of openly identifying homosexuals. At 2:00 pm, literally just as the voting began, right out of nowhere – and on a day when no unusual weather was forecast, a tornado touched down directly in the area downtown where they were holding the meeting – the first tornado to touch down in Minneapolis in nearly a century! Some suggested that it was God demonstrating His wrath.
It makes for interesting speculation. But I see two problems here: 1) As soon as we begin down that path of theorizing what God does or doesn’t cause to happen, we tread dangerously into presumption. We risk thinking, believing and saying what is untrue about God. And, 2) when we focus our attention, our energy and our anger attempting to fix blame on “them,” and begin debating theology – why God let it happen – we conveniently allow ourselves to be distracted from a more immediate issue: our own need to repent. I have three main points this morning: The need for repentance, the nature of repentance, and the outcome of repentance.
I. THE NEED FOR REPENTANCE
We have come to the Day of Atonement. This seventh month of Tishri is the most sacred and somber of all. It is a time of God’s judgment. It is a time for repentance.
We all need to turn away from our sin and turn toward the Lord. Rabbi Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, saying, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and cites the words of Psalm 14, “There is no one who does good, not even one.” It’s all too common that we allow ourselves to focus on somebody else’s sin and ignore our own. It is too easy to theorize about catastrophic events, attempt to assign guilt, all the while ignoring our own. Let me share with you some examples of this – two incidents which took place during Yeshua’s ministry.
“And as He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” Yeshua answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1-3).
Yeshua’s disciples, had a certain world-view, a formula, a grid by which they evaluated the circumstances around them. In their defense, let me say that this was a very common first-century Jewish view. But it was flawed. The disciples, like many others, had reduced life’s tragedies to a formula. If disaster X happens to person A, then person A must have condition Q. Bad things, they presumed, happen to bad people. To them, tragedy or adversity was a sign of God’s disfavor. So, when they passed by this man who had been blind from birth, they naturally assumed it was on account of some hidden sin. The only question was, whose?
Now, aside from the disciples’ disregard for the dignity of the man they were talking about in third-person (and he’s sitting right there), and aside from the fact that they didn’t really seem to care about his plight, Yeshua told them flat out that they had it all wrong. To the disciples, the man was a theological test-case. To Yeshua he was someone who needed a healing touch from God. And he got it!
Listen to this exchange, from Luke 13: Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him (Yeshua) about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but, unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)
If I understand these passages correctly, Yeshua is telling us three things: 1) we risk presumption when we attempt to interpret tragic events theologically, 2) that as often as not we draw wrong conclusions, and most importantly, 3) that we should not point fingers, but face our own need to repent, lest we perish – and He is speaking of eternal spiritual death
Remember Job, the guy who went through all the tsuris? Remember his friends, the ones who came to comfort him? Instead of just offering him consolation, they began urging him to ‘fess up to his grievous sin. They interpreted his terrible misfortune to be the result of hidden sin. They proceeded to utter their ‘wisdom’ about God’s ways, reducing Job’s suffering to a pocket-sized theological formula.
For the next thirty-five chapters of the book of Job we are forced to endure their theologizing. In chapter 38, however, God decides to chime in and offer a perspective on God. He rebukes Job for his having spoken presumptuously. Job repents with these words: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Your can be thwarted…I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes.”
But Adonai wasn’t nearly as upset with Job as He was with Job’s three friends. The chapter goes on to say: And it came about after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right… Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams… and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves… so that I may not do with you according to your folly” (Job 42).
II. THE NATURE OF REPENTANCE
- No one is exempt from the need to repent by reason of ethnicity
Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…” and the people were being immersed by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Saducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance…” (Matthew 3:1-2, 5-9).
“You brood of vipers” – that’s pretty harsh. Skeptics have mischaracterized John the Baptist as anti-Semitic. First of all, he himself was Jewish, so you can forget that. Secondly, the prophets of Israel frequently spoke scathing judgments against their fellow countrymen; precisely because they loved and cared about them. The problem was that our people were so often in rebellion against God. John was speaking no differently than any of the other prophets.
He went on to say to these Jewish religious leaders, “… do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Avraham for our father,’ for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Avraham” It wasn’t enough back then to claim Jewish ancestry as a ‘free pass’, and it isn’t enough today. Heaven is reserved for those, both Jew and Gentile, who have had their fill of their own ways and turn, by faith, to Yeshua the Messiah
- No one is exempt from the need to repent because they are a “good person”
Who needs to repent? Everyone! Mafia hit men need to repent and so did Billy Graham, and so do you, and so do I. Not one of us dares stand before God clothed, as it were, in the garments of our own goodness; unless you think you’re more righteous than the great prophets Isaiah and Daniel.
Navi HaTzadik Yeshayahu (the righteous prophet Isaiah) needed to repent
Though he was arguably the most righteous man on earth in his generation, when he came face-to-face with God, Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:1-5).
Navi HaTzadik Daniel (the righteous prophet Daniel) needed to repent
Likewise, in his generation, Daniel was a singularly courageous and righteous man, consistently doing what was right, even at the risk of great peril. Yet, when Daniel prayed, he included himself in the collective sin of the nation, saying, “Alas, O Lord… we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly, and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances… Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame… (Daniel 9:3-7).
- Repentance produces visible, tangible results
When John confronted those Jewish leaders, he said, “Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance” Talk is cheap. “Bring forth fruit” means if it’s genuine repentance, there will be observable change! Remorse doesn’t equal repentance. Remorse is emotion. Repentance is action. It is an abrupt about-face (a 180° turn).
But hear this: repentance isn’t a matter of ‘cleaning up your life’ and then presenting yourself to God. If you intend to wait until you get your act together, forget it. It will never happen. Even supposing you could kick every habit, amend all your ways, and do many charitable deeds, you would still be unworthy even to come into His presence. The prophet Isaiah declared, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” – a shmattah! God knows we are too weak to ‘reform’ ourselves. Even assuming you could, you would be coming to Him thinking you had earned the right, which is pride, and then you’d have to start all over again, beginning with your pride issue.
- Repentance is not the same as religious observance
“Yet even now,” declares Adonai, “Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.” (Joel 2:12).
It is all too easy to make your way through a High Holiday season, and tell yourself that you are sincere, and you stayed for all those prayers, and maybe that will do. Remember, the word for repentance, T’shuvah, means “to turn”. You don’t have to be religious to turn. You do, however, have to first stop going in your present direction. We have a sickness, and God has a cure. Our sickness is sin, evidenced by our slander, gossip, arrogance, virtue-signaling, ingratitude, impatience and holding grudges.
The cure isn’t more religion. It is summed up in Yeshua’s statement: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. The beginning of repentance is the recognition that we are spiritually impoverished. When I hear someone say, “I’m a very spiritual person” that’s the first clue that they aren’t. I’m rather unspiritual. I depend on the mercy of God. That’s not religion, it’s trust.
Yeshua told a parable to illustrate the difference between religious observance and genuine repentance: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax-collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14)
- Repentance means something different for believers and unbelievers
If you are a follower of Yeshua the Messiah, then repentance consists of drawing close to God daily, keeping short accounts with Him, asking Him to cleanse you and renew you, and give you victory in your areas of temptation. Repentance for the child of God isn’t an issue of whether or not we will be in Heaven.
If you aren’t a believer in Yeshua, repentance for you means exactly one thing, and until it’s handled, all your religious observance means nothing: Stop your defiance. God the Father sent Messiah Yeshua, saying, “This is My beloved Son in whom I delight.” If you persist in rejecting the Son, you disrespect the Father who sent Him. For you it IS a question of whether or not you will be in Heaven. Yeshua said truthfully and most emphatically, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6). If you have not yet surrendered your life to God through Messiah Yeshua, please don’t leave here in that condition. Come and talk to us. The one thing God really wants from you is to hear you say, “Yes” to His offer of eternal life – “Yes” to Yeshua.
III. THE OUTCOME OF REPENTANCE
This is the best part of the message. It is the simplest to deal with, and you’ll be glad to know it’s the conclusion. God’s promise is summed up with these words, found in 1 John: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If (however) we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
It’s no fun to be confronted, and have to acknowledge our sin. But it is well worth it. The author of the letter to the Messianic Jews wrote: “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:11)
It’s a lot like going to the chiropractor (describe the ‘defiant muscle’ and the need to yield to the pressing if you hope to be corrected and be better).
The Lord’s discipline is for our spiritual well-being. It may not feel good at the moment, but when you yield to His discipline, your life is infinitely better off for it.
If you desire to genuinely repent this Yom Kippur; if you want to fulfill the purpose for which God ordained it, then TODAY yield your life to Yeshua, the Righteous One, who carried your sins on Himself and took the punishment you deserved, so that you could be forever reconciled to God. It won’t cost you anything, except perhaps the shallow and fleeting approval of the world.
So, what do you say?