Tonight Pastor Choi talked about three characteristics of repentance. First, everyone needs to repent of evil in the sight of God. Kings, rulers, old and young, male and female, parents and children, even priests and churches. Next, in our repentance, God wants us to rend our heart, not outside clothing. Genuine repentance always brings forth inner change. It never means only carrying outward signs such as sitting in ashes and tearing the clothing we wear. Finally, repentance never brings us down. It, rather, brings us up to where we should be: the children of God. It restores the joy of salvation to us. It also restores our relationship with each other.
Following is a summary of the sermon:
Title: Concerning Repentance
New International Version (NIV)
Rend Your Heart
12 “Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
13 Rend your heart
and not your 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.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent
and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings
for the Lord your God.
15 Blow the trumpet in Zion,
declare a holy fast,
call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people,
consecrate the assembly;
bring together the elders,
gather the children,
those nursing at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room
and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord,
weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord.
Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’”
Psalm 51: 10-12, 16-17
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
Begin with the story of Professor Hong Won Tak in my graduate school days: “Summarize the entire article in one sentence.”
One word that summarizes all the texts we read tonight: REPENTANCE.
Before I proceed, though, I need to talk about sin first. Without sin, there is no repentance. Without sin, there’s no need to talk about repentance.
What is sin? It is “an offence against God or against a religious or moral law; the act of breaking a religious or moral law” (the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary).
The Scripture defines sin in the following five ways: a. violation of God’s commandments (Leviticus 26:43): any violation of the Ten Commandments is sin. Here are some examples from Jesus’ own mouth: Sin is what defiles a person before God and it comes from our own heart such as evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, and slander (Matthew 15:19-20). More specifically, people commit the sin of worshiping money and idols, the sin of self-loving and God-hating (there are flagrant and blatant attacks against Christianity in America). People live a life unholy, ungrateful, and unforgiving. They are haughty and boastful. Many are rebellious and disobedient to parents. Greed, covetousness, cheating, sexual immorality, gossip, and false testimonies are rampant in our society. b. violation of the covenant between God and His people (Joshua 7:11) c. all types of wrong doing (1 John 5:17) d. not believing in the name of Jesus (John 16:9) e. whatever is not from faith (Romans 14:23).
The Hebrew word (hataat) or Greek word (hamartia) both carry the meaning of “missing the mark” when you shoot an arrow. Therefore, I can say that sin is missing God’s way, missing the mark of God’s glory and honor; sin is wrong-doing (trespassing) against God and against others.
Now, we are ready to talk about repentance.
Tonight, I would like to share with you what God has spoken to me through Psalm 51 and Joel 2.
Three characteristics of repentance stand out in tonight’s readings.
First, repentance is for everyone. Repentance is a good thing, because it restores us back to God after we have committed a sin. It not only is a good thing, also is a necessity. We need it available to us, 24/7 and unlimited. Who can afford a life without repentance—the second chance? Everyone needs repentance; only God is exempt from it. The rest of us must have it, because we constantly trespass against God and against each other. You may claim, “Not I! I have nothing to repent of, because I haven’t done anything wrong in my entire life.” Really? How then would you think of Jesus who said, “No one is good except God”? The Bible also differs from you. It clearly states that no one but Jesus in human history can make a claim of sinless-ness. Rather, listen to the Word of God that declares we all are sinners; if we have sinned, then we are in need of repentance (Romans 3:23). When we break the human laws, we need to repent. When we do and say hurtful things to each other, we need to repent and ask for forgiveness. Sometimes we may think we are perfectly right in human laws, but our lifestyle may be in a clear violation of divine laws. E.g. The rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. Is it right to live in a 12 million dollar worth of three bed-room apartment with floor and a bath tub made of Italian marble (in NYC)? It may be perfectly legal (after all, it is your money, but is it right before God?)
Consider King David for a while. One night, he was strolling at the roof of his palace looking down around. Obviously, the palace was built on a hill higher than all the houses around in those days. Lo and behold, he saw in a distance a woman bathing on the roof of her house. Immediately, he felt his male hormone surging to its maximum level, and soon he summoned the woman and that night he lay down with her. The trouble was that she was the wife of one of David’s soldiers who was away in a war at that time. Later, David got a message from the woman: I am pregnant. What would I do? He thought. Cover up! How? Bring the husband back and send him home so that he may sleep with his wife. Clever, isn’t it? Well, it didn’t work as David wished. Back in town, Uriah the husband never went to his house. Why? He felt guilty being home while others were dying in the battlefields. So, instead of sleeping in his own bed, he chose to sleep outside home along with other soldiers in town. So, it’s time for Plan B! Kill him! So did he. David ended up murdering the innocent husband.
Well, David covered up everything very nicely before human eyes, but not before God. The Bible says that his act was evil in the sight of God. One day, God sent His messenger Nathan and confronted him. Then, David humbly admitted of his sins (adultery and murder) before the Lord and before people (2 Samuel 12). Psalm 51 was his confession as he was repenting of his sin before God.
Kings and rulers need to repent. So do the old and young, great and small, male and female, parents and children. So does God’s Church. In the book of Revelation Christ wrote letters to seven churches in Asia. He asked them to repent of their sins (all five churches received Christ’s warning except the two that were going through severe persecution).
Even the ministers of the Gospel ought to repent at times their sins of hypocrisy, professional mannerism, laziness, and lack of empathy or compassion. As a minister of the Gospel, I must confess that I haven’t spoken often enough about ‘sin’ or ‘repentance’ in my teaching and preaching in the past 24 years of ministry. I also repent of the preachers’ sin in America that we failed to preach the wholesome Gospel, the whole truth of the Gospel. We chose to please the crowd, not God. We chose not to offend them at the expense of God’s truth. It is no secret that believers in America don’t like to hear such words as sin and repentance from the pulpit. They want to stay away from anything that sounds negative or anything that would make them feel guilty. So we the preachers stay mum about those words. Although we need a healthy balance between God’s holiness and goodness, we the preachers have been preaching the goodness of God too often and too much at the expense of God’s holiness and righteousness. We’ve been silent too long on sin, repentance, and God’s holiness in pursuit of God’s goodness. For that, I repent and ask for God’s forgiveness.
Please bear with me. If you read the New Testament very carefully, you will find that there is an inseparable relationship between repentance and the Good News we preach. Almost anywhere we turn to in the New Testament, we see John the Baptist, Jesus, and Christ’s apostles proclaim both repentance and the Good News together, never separately. Repent, for the kingdom of God is near; Repent and believe in the Good News; Repent and be baptized; Repent and turn to the Lord…. Repentance and the Gospel always go together hand in hand. If the Church of God had been preaching only the Good News, only baptism, and only turning to the Lord, all without repentance, then, are we not guilty of preaching only the half-truth? Are we not guilty of being not faithful messengers of God? That’s the sin I believe the churches in America should repent of.
Second, repentance means inner change, not carrying outside signs. In the Old Testament times, to demonstrate their repentance to God, the people of Israel would wear sackcloth, sit on ashes, throw ashes on their heads, and even rend their clothes in front of others. Although all those outward signs were begun with good intentions, as the time went on, people began to focus more and more on the outward signs and less and less on the inner change of the heart. “As long as I do these outside acts,” they believed, “I will be OK with God.” The skeleton of tradition continued on strong, while the inside, the heart of repentance, was gone.
Don’t be fooled: To God, those outward signs of repentance mean nothing, because He always looks on the heart inside. King David knew exactly what God wanted from him during his penitence. In Psalm 51:17, he said, God wants a broken and contrite heart, not sacrifices or burnt offerings. Joel echoes with David; rend your hearts, not clothing (Joel 2:12ff).
When John the Baptist baptized the crowd, they asked him, “What shall we do?” He answered them to bear fruit worthy of their repentance. For instance, to soldiers, he said, “Stop being cruel to civilians and use your strength to protect the weak.” To the tax collectors, he said, “No more exploitation. Be fair to all.” To those rich folks who had not been sharing their wealth with others, he exhorted, “Share your blessings with others.” It is simple and clear that true repentance brings forth a fundamental change in heart and life-style, rather than just lip service.
Thirdly, repentance never brings us down. Rather, it builds us up and always restores us back to where we should be: the children of God. It restores our relationship with God that was broken due to our sins. Repentance always restores unto us the joy of salvation. It removes the barrier that blocks our prayers to God. It also restores our relationship with others. When we repent, there is joy among us and in heaven. Consider Luke 16—the story of Prodigal Son—the story of Rod Colby (who repented of his racial prejudice after years of practice against African-Americans).
III. Concluding Remarks
Lent is a period of “repentance, preparation for baptism, and renewal of baptism into the Easter (Paschal) mystery” (United Methodist Book of Worship). It is a great time to pause and ponder over our Christian life. Since nowadays we virtually have no time to ponder how we are doing before God, these forty days of Lent will serve us well to reflect on our Christian walk with God.
May the Lord help us to use this time wisely to count God’s blessings upon ourselves, our family, our church, and our society.
May the Lord also open our eyes wide to clearly see the areas that we have lapsed and help us to turn away from our sins.
Finally, it is my prayer that the Lord would restore the joy of salvation through our genuine repentance and enter into Easter with great joy and thanksgiving. Amen.