Tag Archives: repentance

God’s road construction project [Second Sunday of Advent, Part 4]

13 Dec

Road construction, as we said in part 1 of this series on the Lectionary readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, is usually a nuisance.  Today we learn that God wants to do a major road construction project.  Will it be a nuisance?  Do we need it?  Let’s move to the third reading, Luke 3:1-6, and find out. Who do we meet there? Zechariah’s son, John, now an adult.  Remember Zechariah the priest from the second reading?  Review his story here.  He had a son, John, and now that son is grown up, and we find out that his son is quite a character.   Let’s take a look at how John fits with the readings so far this week.

We start with verses 1-3 which is simply a historical placement of John’s ministry in the First Century Roman Empire, and we read in verse 2 a familiar phrase, “the word of God came to John.”  That phrase is used frequently in the Old Testament describing the prophetic ministry of many people whom God spoke through.  Luke is clearly saying that this John, the son of Zechariah, was a prophet.  He tells us that John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, exactly like his dad, Zechariah, in his psalm Luke 1 which we studied in part 3, said John would.

Luke goes on in verses 4-6 quoting one of those Old Testament prophets, Isaiah 40:3-5, showing John as fulfillment of the prophetic words in Isaiah 40.  We’ve already seen how John was the first messenger prophesied in Malachi 3, and now we hear a bit more about the first messenger’s prophetic task. 

Remember how the first messenger prepares the way for the second messenger?  In Isaiah 40, that ministry of preparing the way is illustrated with amazing images. It is a massive earth-moving project used to depict personal repentance. 

Look at the images in Luke 3:4-5: “Make straight paths, Valleys filled in, Mountains and hills made low, Crooked roads straightened, Rough ways smoothed.”  That is some serious demolition work done by this first messenger. But that’s what you do to prepare the way for the king.  You don’t want the king’s vehicle to be driving down a road with potholes and crazy curves and dangerous debris.

When we lived in Jamaica, we experienced some of the roughest roads ever. But what was interesting was that the road from the airport into the city was really nice.  They took care of that road.  They wanted visiting dignitaries to think that Jamaica had nice roads. 

How does this relate to people?  The first messenger wasn’t a road construction worker with dynamite and a jack hammer, a paver and roller.  Nope, John preached to people a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 

The messenger’s ministry was one of helping people smooth out the rough patches of their lives. He encouraged them to get ready spiritually for the coming of the king. That is what the Season of Advent in all about.  And that is what the first messenger was doing to help people get ready for the arrival of the second messenger, the Lord.

Why? As we read in Luke 3:6, so that all mankind will see God’s salvation.  God wants all people to repent and come to him and be saved.  It doesn’t mean that all will.  It is still a free choice.  But God is saying that he desires all to repent.  What that means is our theme continues.  Though the word isn’t used,God wants all people to experience righteousness.

In part 5 of the series, we’ll look at our fourth and final reading, examining how the theme of repentance and righteousness matters to our lives and our world.

The surprising value of repentance [First Sunday of Advent 2019, part 2]

4 Dec

Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash

I don’t like to be in the wrong.  It feels terrible.  When my wife points out something I did wrong, inwardly I immediately start thinking of ways to respond to justify my actions.  Sound familiar?  Today we learn about the right way to handle it when we are confronted about being wrong. 

In part 1 of this series on the lectionary readings for the First Sunday of Advent 2019, we learned that there is hope in dark times.  In the prophet Jeremiah’s day, life was grim in the city of Jerusalem, as the armies of Babylon held the city in siege, slowly choking it to death.  We read in Jeremiah 33 of the prophecy of a new day, of hope for a savior to come from David’s line.  And in Luke 1, about 600 years later, we read about a poor peasant girl, Mary, astounded at the news from an angel that she was going to have a son who will be on the throne of David!  And he would have a kingdom that will never end.  What does it mean?

To get some perspective, let’s turn to the second reading: Psalm 25:1-10.

With all this talk of David, it is quite fitting to read a Psalm written by King David himself, talking about repentance for sins, trust in God, and a plea to God to teach David God’s ways.  This is a psalm that shows us David’s honesty and humility.  David is aware of his own sins, and he calls out to God for repentance. He wants God to act in mercy.

The attitudes and actions that David describes are ones that the king and people in Jeremiah’s day should have been practicing but didn’t.  God is rightly very upset with his people in Jeremiah’s day because they turned away from him.  But look how David describes God: “Truth…great mercy and love…you are good, O Lord…Good and upright…all the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful.”

David, like Jeremiah, had plenty of times in his life when he could look around and feel like his world was falling apart.  Read the life of David sometime in the biblical books of 1st and 2nd Samuel.  It’s basically a historical thriller. David knew well what it was like to have his life threatened.  And many times in his poetry, what we call psalms, David writes things like “Where are you God?  Why are you taking so long to rescue me?”  And yet here is David reminding the people of who God is.  David went through so much hardship in his life he could have easily turned bitter toward God, but in Psalm 25 we see David calling us to dwell on God’s love and mercy and faithfulness.

Therefore David tells the people to hope in God, to be humble, to obey.  With this kind of teaching, and with an example like David leading them, you’d think that his descendants would follow David’s lead, so there would be a Davidic king on the throne in Jerusalem for a long, long time. 

But even David’s own son Solomon turned away, in part.  Right after Solomon, the nation had a civil war and split in two, north and south.  The kings in the north, which became known as the Kingdom of Israel with a new capital city, almost to a man turned away from God.  The kings in the south, which became known as the Kingdom of Judah, which was the tribe David was from, still ruled from the capital of Jerusalem where the temple was.  Those kings were a mixed bag, some good, some bad.  But by Jeremiah’s time, there had been a string of evil kings in the south, kings who turned away from God. God, through his prophets like Jeremiah, tried to call them to repentance, but they still turned away.

So David’s reminder in Psalm 25 was needed badly then, and we need it today too.  We need repentance, to turn to God.  Do you need to repent of anything?  Ask God’s Spirit to examine you, to see if there is anything you need to confess to him or to others.  Advent is about preparing ourselves spiritually for the coming of the King, being ready for his return, and God calls to being the readying process through the act of repentance.  Take some time to repent to God, and ask him for the strength to obey him, just as David teaches in Psalm 25.

And perhaps that’s what the Apostle Paul had in mind in our third reading, which we will look at in the next post.

How repentance is actually beautiful – Luke 3:1-20

14 Jan

The word “repent” conjurs up horrible images.  Awful, judgmental images.  Hellfire and brimstone preachers. They scare me. How could “repent” be anything but an ugly word?

Angry-ChristianThis past Sunday we studied John the Baptist.  You can check out the sermon here.  It was looking at Luke 1:80 briefly and then Luke 3:1-20.

Luke records John sermonizing with some pretty harsh comments. He seems to have been like those street corner doom and gloom preachers.  Check this out:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Imagine being in the crowd that day.  How would those words make you feel?  What would you say?  Walk away?

In verse 10 the people respond. They question, “What should we do?”  As John looks at specific people in the crowd, they ask him the same question over and over.  It is a very good question.

It is a life-changing question.

It shows they are at a point to make a change.

What is John’s answer?  He said it already: “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”  Fruit is a beautiful thing.  Repentance seems ugly.  People across the centuries have painted and photographed fruit because it is so beautiful.  What about repentance could line up with the beauty of fruit?

When you repent you change. It is not just a change of mind either. The specific word used is to change your mind so thoroughly that you also change your actions.  Change is hard, but it can lead to exquisite beauty.

Your life should show that change.  Things that do not change stagnate, wither and die.  That’s why the question “What should we do?” is so good.  It not the questions of “What should we think?” or “What should we feel?”  While our thoughts and feelings are involved, they should flow into action.  A change of heart and mind, properly placed, must lead to visible action, must lead to something that we actually do.  Or perhaps something we stop doing.  Or maybe something we do differently.  Good change, right change, leads to beauty.

To the person with two cloaks, John gave them something beautiful to do: “Give your extra cloak to a person who needs one.”

To another who had lots of food, more beauty: “Give your food to him who has none.”

To the tax collector, “stop cheating people.”

To the soldier, “stop extorting.”

All very doable and very beautiful things.  When you repent, you actually have something wonderful to do.

The aftermath of my freshman year in college left me with a need to do specific things.  I, a Bible college student, cheated on a Bible test.  Nice, huh?  I strongly disliked a gen. ed. class, and falsified my attendance record.  Eight skips were allowed.  I think I missed 15-20 times.  When a guy in the dorm rigged the hall phone to make free long distance calls (cell phones still rare in those days), I partook frequently.  That year I also allowed myself to be very selfish in a dating relationship.  All of these I needed to deal with.  I met with professors, the school finance office, and wrote a letter to the parents of the girl I dated.  It was confession time.  That’s how repentance started for me.  It wasn’t easy, but it was so good.

This business of producing fruit in keeping with repentance is practical. It’s not just in the head. It’s not just belief. It matters to our real lives. Repentance means that we stop doing the wrong things, and start doing the right and beautiful things. It means saying “I was wrong.” And it means saying “I need to change.”

Specific change.

Our lives should be a lifestyle of repentance. We should see the fruit in keeping with repentance. It means repentance might need to happen over and over again.

See repentance as a spiritual discipline. Check yourself over and over.

A symbol like baptism, such as what John was doing there in the Jordan River, can lead us to a false belief of “yeah, I’ve been baptized…I have the golden ticket.”

But that’s not a lifestyle.

Instead when we repent we do not ignore social change. Because of our hope in Christ we enact that kind of change.

It is so fascinating that John didn’t tell the people in the crowd that day that they should do what he did. He went out and lived in the desert. Instead he told them to live out their faith in their real worlds.

Bearing beautiful fruit in keeping with repentance needs to happen in our jobs, in our homes, in our schools, in our communities.

By the choices you make, the people in your life, such as your neighbors, your classmates, the other kids on your sports team, your co-workers should be able to say “That is a person who is living a repented lifestyle.” They might not use the words “repented lifestyle”! But they will think of you something like this that you are beautiful, lovely, and they will know that you love Jesus and are actually trying to do what he wants you to do.

So do you need to repent today?

Are there things that are a part of your life that do not honor God?

What could it look like for you to live a repented lifestyle?

Do you see the fruit of repentance in your life? Do others see it?