Based on: Judges 10:6-16
One of the main themes of Lent is repentance – the focus for today. Repentance has two parts. First, it is a sorrow over sin that shows itself in words and actions; then repentance is also a trust in God’s forgiveness. These verses from the book of Judges describe the repentance of the people of Israel and are a good way for us to look at repentance. We are so much like a them.
I must admit that even though I have read the book of Judges a number of times before, these words never struck me as they did it this past week when I read them. In particular, the last words of this section are beautiful words describing God’s grace, “he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.” Isn’t that what Christianity and in particular the season of Lent, is all about? God saw how great our misery was and had to do something about it. He could bear your misery no longer and so he sent his Son.
As we talk about repentance let’s first look at what happened to Israel, then we will consider just how much we are like Israel and apply their situation to ourselves.
We start with Israel’s sin. The very first word that we read is the word “again”. “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” This was by far not the first time that they had sinned against God and it certainly wasn’t even close to being the last time they would sin against God.
We hear about the many different directions they went. “They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines.” It seems that either Israel couldn’t decide which god to follow or they just weren’t very picky about their gods. I think it was the latter – any god was good enough for them as long as it wasn’t the one true God.
But these were God’s chosen people and he wasn’t about to allow them to destroy themselves for all eternity by turning to these false gods. He sent other people to oppress them. There were the Ammonites from the east and the Philistines from the south and west. For 18 years these two nations pressed Israel from opposite sides. Finally, Israel had to admit, “We cannot save ourselves. Only the one true God, only the Lord can save us.” And they cry out to the Lord, “We have sinned against you.”
How did God respond? He reminded them about all the times in the past that he had rescued them, but even though he had been good to them they rejected him. God told, “you have chosen your gods, let them save you.” Wouldn’t you do the same thing? If someone keeps coming to you for help in doesn’t seem to appreciate your help, are you eventually going to turn them away?
Israel persists. The people of Israel want to show that their repentance is genuine. They back up their words with their actions. It has to be that way. If there is sorrow in your heart over your sin then you will not just express that sorrow with words but with your actions. You will do all you can to get rid of the sin in your life.
Israel turns to God not just with words, but in true repentance and they ask God to rescue the from their miserable condition. They trust that the Lord will save them, in fact, he is the only one who can save them. God responds and we hear those beautiful words, “the Lord could bear Israel’s misery no longer.” Doesn’t that remind you of John 3:16? God so loved Israel that when he saw their misery he sent someone to rescue them.
God did send someone to rescue them from their enemies – the Ammonites and the Philistines. God gave them peace.
As you think about the Israelites can you see yourself? We are so much like those Israelites. Fortunately, the Lord’s attitude toward is is the same as his attitude toward them – the Lord could bear our misery no longer.
Just like the Israelites that little word “again” applies to us. Again and again we do things that offend the Lord. We chase after other gods. It could be money, work, hobbies, leisure, or wherever we try to find happiness or protection. It seems that sometimes we just aren’t very picky. We are willing to let anything distract us from God and his word. So many things can become an excuse to miss church or to avoid Bible class. So many things can fill up our day so that there is no time left for God.
So what does God do? He sends enemies into our lives to oppress us. Think about some of the things that have happened in recent history: the airplanes crashing into buildings on 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti. After each one of those I think you would find that church attendance in general in the country went up for a period of time. God is calling people to repentance. On a personal level, this can take the form of illness, an accident, financial troubles, or a number of other things. Certainly, not every illness, accident, or financial trouble is a call to repentance, but they are always opportunities to draw closer to the one who can rescue us from all our enemies.
Many turn to God for a time and then eventually go back to their false gods. Perhaps, even as Christians, we refuse these opportunities to draw closer to God and instead we keep pursuing our own priorities with the same zeal we did before. But where is the wisdom in that? Are any of those other things going to save us? What will happen when life overwhelms us or when the fact of our own mortality confronts us? All those false gods in our life are not going to help us. All those things that divert all attention away from the Lord will have no value.
Through repentance we realize the misery we are in. We say along with Israel, “I have sinned by chasing after those other things, I have not made the Lord the only important thing in my life. I have not treated his Word as the one thing I need. I have caused my own misery and only the Lord can save me.”
But repentance is not just words. Repentance also does something about the sin in our lives. It works to get rid of sin. It has been said that true repentance is not like having a friend leave your house hoping he will come back soon, but instead it is like throwing your worst enemy out the door and praying that you will never see him again. This type of God pleasing repentance can only come from a heart of faith.
Repentance is also something we need daily. Luther said the whole life of the Christian is one of repentance. We sin daily and every time we come to the Lord in repentance and hear his words of forgiveness, he draws us closer to him and strengthens our faith.
Just as the Lord could bear Israel’s misery no longer, he could bear our misery no longer. In that phrase you hear only gospel, only God’s love for you. He saw us in the miserable condition of our sin. He sent Jesus Christ to bear the misery of our sins for us. On Calvary he bore the guilt of all our sins so that in the Christian’s life of repentance there is no guilt. Now every time we come to our Lord and repent he says, “I can bear your misery no longer. Because of Jesus you are forgiven.” We carry no burden of unpunished sin. We have no fear of punishment in hell. We have an eternity of peace and safety from all our oppressors.
This Lent watch Jesus bear your misery for you, because he could bear no longer to see you in your misery.