Text: 2 Chronicles 24:19, 2 Samuel 12:1-10, Isaiah 53:6, Jeremiah 35:15, Joel 2:12-13
A prophet calls for repentance. Biblical prophets often exposed the false righteousness of God’s people and revealed their desperate need for God’s mercy. When a king or a nation’s sinfulness was uncovered, the prophet would call them to repent, reminding them of the nearness and kindness of God.
I cried every Christmas morning for years. My mom graciously knew to just go ahead and prepare her heart. Every single year I would get my hopes up way too high and then I would be disappointed with the earrings, or sticker books, or puppy that I received under the tree. Nothing ever quite measured up to my idealized expectations of a perfect Christmas morning. I thought I was just a delicate and tender flower with a heart full of big dreams. But, daggum, if I wasn’t just years and years of being selfish and ungrateful.
To this day, it’s tough for me to remember that Christmas is not about me. I buy five sets of matching Christmas jammies, not really so that my kids will know the true meaning of Christ born for them, but so that I can feast my eyes on coordinated holiday squishy gorgeousness on Christmas morning. The truth is, I need to repent of even my very best moments and plans (Isaiah 64:6).
This is where the Old Testament prophets come in: they call God’s people to repentance. The idea of repentance fills us with fear because it means we have to let go and give up our pet sins. I don’t want to let go of my idealized expectations of Christmas morning. I’m afraid to repent of my desire to keep people at arm’s length—what will happen if I let them come closer?
The prophet Isaiah accused God’s people of sin and called them to repentance for thirty-nine chapters (he really drove his point home), but followed those chapters of accusation with twenty-six chapters about the hope of restoration.
The prophet Joel pleaded with the people to rend their hearts and not their garments: “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity” (Joel 2:13). In the same breath, Joel called for repentance and promised reconciliation.
With the promises of restoration and reconciliation following so hard upon the call to repent, why do we dig in our heels and hide our faces when it comes to our own repentance? God has already promised that on the other side of that scary curtain of repentance waits welcoming arms and sweet accord. We’re afraid and hesitant for the same reason Israel was: “We are stubborn and slow to hear” (Jeremiah 35:15).
The prophets of old coaxed God’s people with the sweet fragrance of forgiveness. And in spite of the profound blessing and promise in restoration, repentance remains the hardest, simplest thing in the world. But the God who calls us to repentance also longs to be gracious to us (Isaiah 30:18). It is His kindness that leads us there (Romans 2:4).