Wednesday, December 7, 2011

repentance and the character of God

"Yet even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.
Joel 2:12-13

As we have seen already in the first chapter of the prophet Joel, an awful natural catastrophe had come to Israel. A famine in the wake of drought and a disastrous locust swarm had left the country desolate. It served as a picture of what God's future judgment upon humanity would look like in the Day of the Lord. And the Lord uses the moment to pull Israel close and offer a chance for repentance. That is the appeal being made in this passage. It is worth breaking down and thinking through.

First, it is good to know that NOW is always the time to return to God. There is no bad time to come to God in this life. God declared to Israel that even in the wake of His discipline, they would find mercy with Him if they would just return to Him. God's heart is to always honor the return of the repentant sinner. And that is what he is saying to His people with this passionate plea. "Even now" He would take them back into His grace.

It is also important that actions will accompany a repentant heart. They flow out of a commitment to return to God. In this case, God saw His people fasting, weeping, and mourning with broken hearts over sin. That was the way to show that the genuine repentance was serious. Their hearts were split by a godly sorrow over sin. This was more than the pain of a national tragedy. This was true brokenness over sin and its consequences. And it led them to return to the LORD.

Finally, repentance helps us see God in new relational ways. The text reminds us that God is gracious and merciful. He is not miserly with His love and forgiveness. He is a merciful God Who will bless the lives of sinners who come to Him and beg for His mercy, acknowledging their weakness and His greatness. He is not slow to be gracious. However, He is slow to anger. He does not want to define His relationship with humanity by wrath and judgment of our sin. He wants to forgive us. He wants us to know His steadfast, abiding love. And repentance is our path to finding that real love!

The final note to look at comes with the unique experience that follows repentance. A repentant people sometimes experiences the good purposes of God instead of the judgment that their sins truly deserved. God revealed this in the story of Jonah and the city of Ninevah. And He is the same God to repentant sinners today. His will may be to respond to our repentance by relenting of judgment and showering us with grace. That is a great thing about God!

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