|Jeremiah, by Michelangelo|
from the Sistine Chapel
THE LORD SEEKS YOUR REPENTANCE.
In the name + of Jesus.
Lent is a penitential season in which we take stock of our lives and ourselves, to be aware of our sins—especially of those pet sins we are accustomed to doing—and to root them out of our lives. The point of Lent is not to make ourselves feel bad. The Lord does not want us to self-flagellate or to punish ourselves. God is not a Sadist. But our Lord Jesus Christ did proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) Repentance is not mere sorrow over our sins. It is turning away from them because we recognize that they are evil and opposed to God and his will. And though being aware of your sins will make you feel bad, God uses that remorse for a godly purpose. It is to drive you all the more fervently to Jesus for forgiveness and consolation. And that, finally, is the point of the Lenten season. It is about pointing people to Jesus who has made himself the atoning sacrifice to free you from your sins, to make you into a new creation, and to set you apart for good works and not for sins. The Lord seeks your repentance.
The Lord had sent the prophet Jeremiah to preach repentance to the people of Israel. He did not send Jeremiah to the rougher neighborhoods of Jerusalem to confront the riff-raff. He sent Jeremiah to church. Jeremiah entered the temple to preach to the church-goers and to the clergy. It was not enough that the people went through their rituals. Their hearts were not conforming to God’s word, and their lives were not demonstrating God’s love. The Lord is not pleased when we merely play church or when our faith remains merely a mental exercise. What you believe in your heart finally comes out of your mouth and your body—whether good or bad. And things in Jerusalem were not good.
The Lord sought their repentance rather than their destruction, so the Lord sent Jeremiah to preach. In the past, the Lord demonstrated his judgment against Israel by destroying the tabernacle at Shiloh. The Lord did not care about the structure in which the sacrifices were made, not if the people were persisting in their sins. For the same reasons, the Lord would not spare their temple. Jeremiah warned that judgment would come in violence and bloodshed and travesty if they did not mend their ways and their deeds. It was not because God is a Sadist. It is because the Lord seeks repentance.
If you notice who sent Jeremiah and who Jeremiah spoke for, you will see it is the LORD. That is spelled in all capital letters in your English translation. When LORD is in all caps, it is the special name by which God revealed himself to Israel. This is Jehovah, or more likely pronounced, “Yahweh.” Yahweh is the God who acts to deliver his people. He is the God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush to send him back to Egypt to deliver Israel from bondage. He is the God who parted the Red Sea so that Israel could cross on dry ground and so that their enemies would be drowned in those waters. He is the God who provided for Israel in the wilderness and then brought them into the Promised Land. This Yahweh sent Jeremiah to call the people of Israel to repent of their sins. The Lord was not interested in destroying his people, but saving them.
The Lord seeks your repentance too. Your Yahweh calls you to assess yourself, even if you have been a church-goer your whole life. There is a tremendous blessing in being a life-long Christian. You have known your whole life that you are a child of God and, therefore, an heir of eternal life. But if there is a danger in being a life-long Christian, it is that you may think lightly of your sins. After all, you know the rest of the story. You know that, after I call you to repent of your sins, I am also going to proclaim that Jesus Christ has paid the price for all your sins so that you are forgiven. And this sermon will be no different. But that also may lead you to think that your sins are no big deal. After all, if your sins are forgiven, why should you be bothered by them, right?
Dear children of God, there is no place in all of the Bible where the Lord tells you that sins are no big deal. Sins are rebellion against God and against his word. God never regards that as no big deal. Sins damn, without exception. To get comfortable with your sins is to play with hellfire. To dismiss them is to fail to recognize how deadly they are. And if you let sins become habit, they will make themselves at home with you. And if sin is at home with you, then you will grieve the Holy Spirit and cause him to depart. Your Yahweh does not seek to desert you or to destroy you; the Lord seeks your repentance. Therefore, repent.
The prophet Jeremiah spoke to the church-goers and clergy in Jerusalem: “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God, and the Lord will relent of the disaster that he has pronounced against you.” (Jeremiah 6:12-13) The prophet calls you to make your ways right, that is, to put away every wicked thought, word, and act, and to conform your life to God’s Commandments. We do not do this because our good works save us, but because good works are God’s will.
The Lord does not delight in inflicting pain or punishing you for your sins, and he does not reject you because you are not perfect. The Lord is your Yahweh. He is the God who delivers you from all your sins. Jesus Christ has shed his innocent blood for our sins. God has been pleased not to afflict us with violent judgment and an accursed death—even though that is what our sins deserve. Instead, Jesus was afflicted with violent judgment, an unjust sentence, and an accursed death. He willingly accepted our judgment and bore our accursed death so that we would find forgiveness for our sins. Sins damn, without exception. Every sin is a big deal; for every sin is rebellion. But Jesus was damned for us for all our sins. Jesus’ death on the cross was a big deal because that is where the Lord took care of all our sins.
The Lord seeks our repentance, but even when we commit ourselves to doing better, we recognize that we still do not do the good we want to do. And even the good we do is often done begrudgingly. Husbands run the errands with a groan. Mothers fix meals for their children when they would rather be reading a book. You do your job with a smile pasted on your face because you despise the customers you are waiting on. In other words, we prove that we are sinners. But the Lord does not inflict punishment upon us for our sins. Our Yahweh is not eager to smite us. In fact, despite our own sinfulness, the Lord still blesses us and manages to provide blessings through our imperfect actions. The errands still get done, the meals nourish the children, and the customer gets served. But it is not because we are good. It is because the Lord Jesus Christ renders our service good. He purifies what is imperfect in us and declares it good.
Jesus set you free from all your sins so that they will never condemn you and so that they will no longer own you or control you. One who is freed from a death sentence does not make efforts to go back to doing what brought death upon him. Therefore, since we have been set free from our sins, we repent of them and flee from them. Lent is not about feeling bad; it is about Jesus who produces in us the joy of knowing that we are forgiven of our sins. It is about Jesus who sets us apart from death and destruction and who sets us apart for good works. It is about the God who remains our Yahweh—the God who delivers us from sin, from death, and from hellfire.
For, the Lord is not a Sadist. He does not delight in inflicting pain, in destroying people, or even in the death of the wicked. The Lord seeks your repentance, and your Yahweh provides your deliverance and forgiveness. That is who he is, and that is what he does.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.