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Archive for tag Repentance

Provoking repentance - Pagans [4/4]

Imagine you've been brought up believing that you can't know God. That God is angry and remote - and as terrifying as he/she is mystifying. Suddenly you meet a guy who knows both what God is like (because he has revealed himself) and what God wants (because God speaks to him). It's huge...! It's what you've always wanted.

The shock that there is an all powerful God who can be known and who doesn't leave you guessing as to what pleases him is doubled: you find that the grumpy racist bigot, who knows all, this has decided to stick two fingers up at the heavens and go his own way. He takes it so much for granted that he doesn't feel at all compelled to actually do what God has told him to do.

The things that Jonah takes for granted (that God can be known, that he reveals himself, that he is faithful and reliable) bring pagan sailors to their knees.

Seeing their reaction, Jonah begins to recognise how great God is and how blessed he is: in prayer he contrasts the hopelessness of pagan idolatry with the knowledge of God's steadfast love (Jonah 2:8).

When someone from a non-Christian background comes to faith in Christ, typically they seem to grow - at least in the early years - much faster than someone who's been brought up in a Christian family and finally accepted it. (The puritans used to say that the same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay - and there is a real risk, particularly with teenagers, that forcing them to come to church can result in hardening their hearts against the gospel). Their lives change rapidly; they don't read the bible assuming it to (basically) validate the way they live: they read it expecting it to convict and change them. The word is fresh and, typically, causes them respond with repentance and obedience.

All of which is a great challenge to Christians who are accustomed to a more laid back, more English, approach to their faith. Whether we're talking about pagan sailors in the Mediterranean or Roman centurions who've suddenly realised that the man they've just crucified truly is the Son of God, or a Chinese student who's suddenly found out that there is a God who loves her, or guys in Paulsgrove who've found that what they've been searching is satisfied by a relationship with Jesus, the impact of the gospel when it is fresh to the soul rebukes our laxness and provokes us to repent.

Provoking repentance - Mercy [3/4]

The fact that God didn't let Jonah drown gives him room to repent. He repeatedly refers to God as Yahweh (Jonah 2:2,6,7,9) - calling God by his covenant name and thus emphasising his faith in God's mercy and faithfulness. God alone is the source of steadfast love (Jonah 2:8). He is thankful that God is a merciful (Jonah 2:9). As in Romans 2:4, the knowledge of God's mercy leads him to repent.

People get hung up on God announcing destruction and judgement. Like it's a mean thing to do. It seems that they forget the deep spiritual lessons of so many Bond films. Whenever Bond gets caught, he usually has to endure being told with great glee by the Bad Guy™ what he, the Bad Guy™, plans to do to 007. If we'd found a Bad Guy™ who shot first and explained later, the Bond franchise would have been limited to releasing prequels for years.

The deep spiritual lesson? That judgement pre-announced is an opportunity for judgement to be avoided. Jonah rightly identifies that God's non-fatal judgement is an invitation for him to change. By the time he's in the belly of the fish, he's aware that he should be dead - but finding that God has spared his life shows him God's mercy: God has not given up on him.

It works exactly the same way for Nineveh a couple of chapters later: the King of Nineveh recognises that the announcement of God's judgement (Jonah 3:5-9) is an opportunity for repentance.

And we see it at the cross - as Paul says in Romans 2:4 - God's kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. How can we treat a God willing to spare us as our enemy any more? How can we doubt that he is good? Why would we continue to rebel against him?

Provoking repentance - Wrath [2/4]

Apologies - this follow-up's been a long time coming...

The storm comes as a foretaste of God's wrath against sin - it wakes him up from his foolish rebellion; it causes him to realise his perilous predicament. He refers, in prayer, to his distress (Jonah 2:2), being in the belly of Sheol (Jonah 2:2), being cast into the deep by God [not the sailors] (Jonah 2:3), driven from God's sight (Jonah 2:4), his life fainting away (Jonah 2:7) etc. This prompted him to call to the Lord (Jonah 2:2, Jonah 2:7) and to renew his "vow" (Jonah 2:9).

We've all been to parties or family gatherings where someone's been being teased - and suddenly they snap. They've been pushed just a bit too far and immediately everyone stops teasing them. No-one meant to be malicious and so the teasing stops. What made the difference? I'd suggest that it's the display of anger which lets people know that they've gone beyond the bounds of what's acceptable. The anger causes us to critically review our conduct and often shows that we have been guilty of being unkind and unloving. It produces repentance.

God's anger often works the same way - not least because he is "slow to anger" (as Jonah himself acknowledges in Jonah 4:2). It's never that he's been having a bad day or he's just feeling plain ratty: it's always because our sin merits his anger. Here God's anger is Jonah's wakeup call: we can not run from God and expect there to be no consequences.

And the cross of Jesus should have the same impact on us: if that is what our sin cost; if that is the judgement that it deserves, then how can we continue in it? The punishment that Jesus bore should bring us up short and cause us to consider the seriousness of rebelling against God. God is no fairy - and he is rightly furious by the way we embrace (and encourage by word and deed) rebellion against him; angry with the way we arrogantly assert our own self-determination while depending on him for every breath we breathe.

Provoking repentance [1/4]

Read: Jonah's prayer in Jonah 1:17-2:10.

Jonah's kinda peeved - he's been sent to prophesy against Nineveh, but he doesn't want to go. So, in an act of flagrant disobedience to God, he runs the opposite way. Turns his back on God, his mission, his calling and heads for Spain.

God - less than chuffed with Jonah - sends a storm to halt him in his tracks.

It works.

The sailors wake Jonah up, only to be scandalised as they find out that he's running away from God. (But they still do everything they possibly can to save him). Eventually they follow his advice and throw him overboard, whereupon he gets swallowed by a huge fish which he inhabits for the next 3 days before heading out (in the words of the Veggie tales) like a human comet [Guys - you might not want to rhyme with comet...!].

And in the belly of the fish, Jonah seems to come to his senses - and repents. (He's still a self-centred, grumpy, racist bigot - but he's making progress).

What does God use to do it?

Three things - Wrath, Mercy and Pagans.