In the movie The Shack made from the very popular book of a few years ago, there is a conversation between the central character and a figure that it representing God, the Father. They were talking about God’s love for people and the central character asks “but what about your wrath?”. The God figure responds, “My what?”, not seeming to know what the questioner is asking about. The author obviously doesn’t like the concept of the wrath of God. Yet one cannot read the Old or the New Testaments without encountering the truth that there must be a separation of the sinfulness of mankind from the holiness of God. God is a God of love, a deeper love than we can imagine, but one cannot look at the cross of Christ without realizing the depth of God’s wrath upon the sin that separates mankind from His love. It is at the cross that both the love of God and the wrath of God meet in the most extreme act of God grace. St. Paul then asks the question, “Should we continue to sin that grace may increase?”.(Romans 6:1) Of course not. Our response to that love is to humble ourselves before the cross in repentance, and seek to live in ways that bring honor to our Lord.
English poet John Donne, writing in the 17th century, famously wrote that “no man is an island,” comparing people to countries, and arguing for the inter connectedness of all people with God. We need to think about this in light of the mass shooting that have occurred in recent weeks. What is displayed in these horrible events is the sin that resides in each human heart. I didn’t do the shooting. I don’t know the shooter or anyone involved. Yet I need to cry out to our Lord for forgiveness and mercy, because of what our fallen nature is capable of. I can’t just be glad that the shooter was killed, or a murderer is sentenced to death. (I’m not opposed to capital punishment, by the way.) But that, or more gun control, or stricter laws, doesn’t change the evil in man’s hearts. I believe we, as Christians, are called to implore the Lord for mercy, and for a heart change in all people. Read again the prayer in Daniel 9:3-19. Is this not what is truly needed?
There have been many bad times in history with wars, plagues, famines, and natural disasters. Certainly we have seen a number of these in recent months. Today brings the news of a mass shooting in Las Vegas where 50 people were killed and many injured. That is not a natural disaster, but a serious problem in the heart of a man. And, as we have see with these events in many other places around the world, an infection in the hearts of mankind. We certainly pray God’s help, comfort, and strength for the victims, but our prayers must be more than this. We need to cry out for God’s mercy on us all. He alone… He alone is the One who can change the hearts of mankind. It is time to stop blaming this condition or that, and looking for stricter laws, and more security. Our security is only in humbling ourselves before the God who created us, and come in repentance, pleading for His mercy and healing for hearts that we have allowed to become corrupt in so many ways. We are never without hope in our God who loves us, but we must turn to Him in humble repentance seeking His mercy.
Some people will say they don’t feel the need for repentance, that they try to live right, and help others whenever they can. I’m afraid I can’t share that sentiment. I try to live right and help others whenever I can also, but I’m very aware of my own frailty. Through Scripture and all that is around me in the wonder of the created world I see the greatness and absolute holiness of Almighty God. This also makes me aware of how often I fall short of that holiness. Repentance causes me to turn and again cling to the foot of the cross where I find my only hope of being in God’s presence. So repentance is an ongoing part of life, holding to the cross from which I am again given the gift of righteousness, and enabled to stand with Jesus in the holy presence of our God. Far from not needing it, true repentance at the cross of Christ is the only source of life and hope.
Almost 30 years ago Dr. Karl Menniger wrote the book Whatever Happened To Sin? In his practice of psychiatry he noted that the word “sin” has almost disappeared from our vocabulary, but the sense of guilt remained in our hearts and minds. If the disappearance of sin was true 30 years ago it is many times more so today. And as far as guilt is concerned we have applied ample measures of tolerance and self-justification. But somehow we cannot get away from the truth that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.(Romans 3:23) God’s glory is still the standard against which all life must be measured. By that measure all of us fall short and are unable to stand in the presence of our absolutely holy God. Today is Ash Wednesday, beginning the season of Lent and bringing the message that God, Himself, provided the only solution to our deepest need – our sin that separates from Him. That solution is in the atoning sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, the Christ. In humble repentance and hearing the words of God’s forgiving grace is our sin forgiven and our burden of guilt removed. “In Jesus is life, and that life is the light of all people.”(John 1:4)
The central tenant of our Christian faith is the cross. Oh not just wearing pretty crosses as jewelry, but what the cross stands for in one’s life. The cross means the atoning sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. Mankind, that means all humans have a sinful nature and are separated from God. It is only the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross that makes us able to stand in the presence of a holy and righteous God. Jesus calls all to “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand”. If there is no sin, then the cross is not necessary, and Jesus, himself, is no more than another moral teacher. Further, there is no meaningful Christian faith. I have a problem with one of our presidential candidates in this regard. He has said on numerous occasions that he has no need for repentance, or repents only occasionally when he has done something wrong, which isn’t often. There is no understanding here of the nature of man, the nature of a Holy God, or what it means to be a Christian. Yes, I am making a judgment, a judgment within the context of our faith, and based on the words that are spoken. These are judgments we must make. Otherwise we diminish the saving work of our Lord Jesus, and He becomes meaningless.
The tragic shooting in Orlando is again eliciting calls for more gun control, more laws, tighter security. A former congressman made the statement that “thoughts and prayers are not nearly enough”. But that is the only thing that will be enough. This is not a physical battle with some deranged people or a larger terrorist network. It is a spiritual battle with the prince of darkness. Prayer alone is our only right action. The only change that ever came about for the people of Israel was when they humbled themselves before God, confessing their sins, and crying out for mercy. Yes, this Old Testament image has a direct application to today’s situations. What is needed is change in the heart of men, and only God can bring that about. It is true that it s not enough just to pray for comfort for the families who have lost loved ones. We are called – we, as many in our nations that have some belief that there is a God who has control of life – we are called to humble ourselves before Him, confessing our sins, and crying out for His mercy and intervention. No change in our laws or in our political leadership will bring about the change we need. Only a willingness to humble ourselves before God and seek His mercy. Do we believe this?
Jeremiah was charged to bring words of correction from the Lord to the people of Judah. They didn’t like it and sought to kill him, as they had with other prophets the Lord had sent. At one point a few wiser heads prevailed and they spared his life. The comment that seemed to turn the situation around at that time was like this. “If we do this we are committing a great evil against ourselves.”(26:19) That is the point of sin. It is not that God takes pleasure in bringing judgment upon those who reject His will. It is that they hurt themselves, and separate themselves from the good God desires for them. The point of all God’s commands is not to restrict us, denying us pleasure, but to guide us in finding the best life possible. There are God given absolutes established for life. They are meant to give us blessings and joy. Sin, ignoring God’s absolutes, only blocks that, and we hurt ourselves. Our Lord is always calling us to repentance, receiving His forgiveness, and finding our good life in Jesus.
The western world has wanted and substantially achieved a secular society. From the time of the first rebellion from God the battle has always been over the question of who holds the center of life? Is it God, or is it man? We have largely answered that man is the center of life. Even my point yesterday that for most people the message of Christmas is peace and good will is a man centered answered. We do it. We achieve it. We just strive to be nice to one another, and then pile more laws on top to see that we are. It doesn’t work. It has never worked. If we learn anything from the history of ancient Israel it was that only when they were willing to look beyond themselves, and fall humbly before God in repentance, looking for and trusting Him to intervene that change came. But that is not practical! That is not doing anything! Oh, but it is. It is the most powerful thing we can do, because our Lord is the only source of true strength we have. Yes, there are many who are doing fine, self-sacrificing works for the good of others. We must all strive for this in whatever ways God leads. But this will not ultimately change the direction of society. It is for each believer to come humbly before our Lord, asking for forgiveness of our sins, and the sins of our people, and imploring Him to come and redeem us. That alone will bring change.
A recent issue of Time magazine had an article on a medical procedure for freezing a young woman’s eggs so that they can be fertilized and re-implanted at a later age when she is ready to have children. The woman in the article is quoted as saying “I just don’t want to suffer any consequences for being ambitious in my 20s.” That is a very telling remark covering a whole number of areas in our modern era. Particularly, areas related to our sexuality. We want to have our way without having to face any consequences for our decisions. Scripture refers to this as idolatry. The tragedy is that this young woman, and millions like her, don’t know there is a different way. Since we, society as a whole, have long ago abandoned any absolute moral values by which we are governed, especially values given by God who alone determines all that is right or wrong, we have freed ourselves to do whatever seems right in our own eyes. Above all we don’t want consequences for our choices. But there are consequences. Paul wrote to the Galatian church, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction;…”(6:7-8) We are seeing that reaping in many areas of our world. There are consequences, but there is an alternative. God continually calls us to turn and repent. He can heal and change lives for any who are willing to humble themselves before Him. Paul completes that eighth verse in Galatians with the assurance that “whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”