- 21 March 2022
- Stuart Robinson
Jesus gives us (limited) time to repent
I Corinthians 10:12-13
I was in the IKEA floor coverings section – and there’s a huge hinged rack section where rugs are hung vertically.
I was intrigued by the free-flowing, if not rather messy, pattern of one colourful rug and as I turned the giant hangers to look at the next one I laughed as I’d been looking at the underside of the previous rug; lots of loose ends and indistinct images – whereas from the other side (the right-side up) the image was sharp and clear and rather fetching.
Now it made sense.
With risk of being trite, in some ways, life this side of the grave is like that.
A great many loose ends, and images, or patterns that just make no sense.
They are ugly, even.
Need I rehearse the appalling terror and gut-churning violence which is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
The ‘this makes no sense’ question has been asked time immemorial.
In Luke 13, as Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem – to the cross and to death, he engages with a group who report a local atrocity at the hands of Pontius Pilate – and they wonder if these poor people (the ones who’ve been murdered) were in fact being punished by God for some form of transgression.
Jesus responded by saying they were no more, or no less sinful than the 18 locals who were crushed by a crumbling tower in Jerusalem.
They were not being punished.
‘Here is what makes sense’, Jesus in effect says.
The blood and the rubble remind us that life is both short and unpredictable: be sure therefore that you are right with God.
Jesus uses the word ‘repent’ in connection with being right with God.
It means a change of mind that results in a change of behaviour and perspective.
It means a life lived in accord with God’s agenda and his priorities.
It means turning or returning to our Heavenly Father who promises to slake our spiritual thirst (Isaiah 55) and enfold and protect us in ‘the shadow of his wings’ (Psalm 63).
St. Paul pleaded with his readers (in I Corinthians 10), believers, mind – to examine their hearts, to turn to God in the face of temptation and adversity, to repent, to look to God for deliverance and strength.
Like a skilled physician, Jesus rehearses the symptoms of sin; things that will drag us down and from which we need to repent – this is the Mark 7:20-23 ‘list’:
20 Jesus said, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”
Beloved, do please note the urgency in what we are hearing; there is no room for complacency; even what might be deemed innocuous or even socially acceptable vices like pride or envy, defile us – i.e. render us incapable of enjoying fellowship with God.
Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God declares (and do please note again, the urgency) – ‘Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.’
In Luke 13:6ff Jesus then told a story that reminds us that judgement is imminent, time (to seek the Lord) is running down.
Like the owner of a fruitless fig-tree, who graciously allows the gardener one more year to do all he can to stimulate growth and fruit, God is staying his hand so that people might bear ‘fruit that befits repentance’ (Luke 3:8) in the light of the approaching judgement.
Do you believe that?
Selina Hastings did.
Selina Hastings was born on August 24, 1707, the daughter of Lord Washington Shirley and Lady Mary Shirley. A child of privilege, she spent her childhood in Leicestershire and her family’s Irish estates. In 1728 she married Theophilus Hastings, the ninth Earl of Huntingdon, and this marriage gave her the title, Countess of Huntingdon.
Selina lived a virtuous life and believed that her own righteousness would merit favour in God’s eyes.
That self-confidence was unsettled in 1737 when she heard the Reverend George Whitfield declare that it is only through faith in Christ’s sin-bearing death and life-giving resurrection that a person is put right with God. Then as she lay on a sick-bed and seemed near to death, she especially felt the worthlessness of her self-trust.
Helen Knight, her biographer, continues the narrative:
“Then . . . from her bed she lifted up her heart to God for pardon and mercy through the blood of his Son. With streaming eyes, she cast herself on her Saviour: “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief!” Immediately the scales fell from her eyes; doubt and distress vanished; joy and peace filled her bosom, and with appropriating faith she cried, “My Lord and my God!”
Immediately Selina bore fruit that befitted repentance.
She used her station and her resources to build hospitals, fund the training and deployment of missionaries and evangelists in the UK, US, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and in Sierra Leone, Africa.
Selina personally financed the planting of 64 congregations and chapels in England and in Wales, underwrote the ministries of John Wesley, George Whitfield, and a great many of their contemporaries, and she became the first principal of a men’stheological college in Trevecca, Wales.
Fruit that befits repentance.
Do you see?
And a time is coming when the mess will make sense, and the disparate patterns will become glorious vistas; a time when our understanding will be complete and our worship – in Christ’s presence will be eternally fulfilling – I Corinthians 13:12.
In the meantime, we are called to bear fruit that befits repentance – so let me close with St. Pauls very clear explanation of what that will look like;
Romans 12:9 NLT
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection and take delight in honouring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!
17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honourable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God.
20 Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.