2 Corinthians 7: 10
Job 42: 1-6
Acts 2: 36-38
I would like to say a simple word as to ‘the way of repentance’. We sang about it: ’The way of repentance’, Hymn No 257. What is the road along which repentance is found? Who is on it? And where does it go? Who made it? Maybe we have not thought about the question in exactly those terms.
The gospel is preached, beloved, because God has come out. God has come out in the Lord Jesus Christ. He has come where His creature man is found. He has come to sinners; He has come to a world full of sin. It is a long way to come because, as we all have found, man in his sin is a long way from God. In fact, the nature of the distance is such that the cleverest engineer could not make a way back. So the way of repentance has been laid by God Himself. He has made a way along which He Himself can first come out. His purpose in coming has been to draw near to you. I expect that on other occasions, perhaps in other preachings of the gospel, or maybe in some private reflection or prayer or waking thought, you have had the sense that God was near to you. This might not be the first time. You would not be the first person to say that there have been occasions when His nearness, His presence, has felt unwelcome. It is a sad thing that that should be: God is full of goodness, the source of all our blessings, the Creator of the world on which we live, the holder of our breath; but His presence has become unwelcome. The reason for that is that sin has taken us away from Himself. We want to hide; the sinner is actually quite glad that there is a distance. But God has covered that distance; He has not left the sinner a long way away. He has come and lived in the midst of people like us, in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He came into the world as light (John 12: 46), and of course that light revealed what the world was like, and it reveals what we are like; but it told the wonderful story of what God is like as well. If God has come into what was His and found it so corrupt and away from Himself, it would have been open to Him to come to cleanse it and to remove and subdue all manifestations of wills contrary to His own. There is a day in which He is going to do that. I could have read a scripture in the Acts in which Paul uses that great truth to enjoin people to repent, Acts 17: 30.
But when God appeared in the person of Christ, it was in grace. “The grace of God which carries with it salvation for all men has appeared”, Titus 2: 11. It appeared in the midst of a world of sin. It appeared to people whose hearts and lives are racked by that very thing. The Lord Jesus has come not simply to challenge that state of distance and darkness, but He has come to resolve it. He has come to make a way, come to allow God to reach out to guilty sinners in love; and in order to do that He came to die. It is not that the sentence of death lay upon Him; it lay on everyone else, but not Him. So, in submitting to the power of death, it was as taking the place of others. If He bore the penalty that was due to others, it must be that He has also borne the guilt that was due to them, that lay upon them. That is what the Lord Jesus has done. He has taken a place under the awful wrath and unsparing judgment of God and borne it all. He did that when He was here, and it was on that account that He died; and He lay in the heart of this very earth. Think of that, Jesus dying having borne God’s judgment upon sin. That is what God has done. He has raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, a wonderful testimony that His work was accepted for whatever purpose it was done, and the Lord Jesus is now exalted at the right hand of God. Well, He is not here any more; but that does not mean, as some might imagine, that the distance at which man was from God has returned. It is not that God has paid just a passing visit and gone back to heaven leaving the earth to men to please themselves, to do their own will, to carry on in sin. The fact that God has drawn near in that glorious history of love demonstrates that He has come near to us and, although the Lord Jesus has returned to heaven, the presence of God is something that may be very easily found.
We might ask why the Lord Jesus came that way. Why was it necessary for somebody to die, what is this guilt that He bore, what had happened, who had done it? The fact is that the distance of which I have spoken can be explained as the immediate consequence of sin. It is sin that has done it. When I speak of sin I do not speak only of things of which you and I might be ashamed, judging against the yardstick of current morality; or just something of which those among whom I move would be surprised. I do not speak only of things that might bring public disgrace either for myself or for those whose company I keep. I speak about things that have been against God. That brings us to the question that we need to think about. This is a God who has been offended by sin, but not a God whose claim can be ignored because He is a long way away. God has drawn near; and, if God has drawn near, the fact that I have offended against His holiness and against His rights has to be faced.
I read this passage in 2 Corinthians, but I will not go in detail into the background. There had been a scandal in Corinth, and a man had committed a sin that even the immoral Corinthians thought was objectionable; and the company had been scandalised because it was reputed in the city and abroad that the kind of thing this man was doing was tolerated by the Christian believers in Corinth. The company were all very outraged about that once it was pointed out to them, and took a very hard line about it. It was not perhaps simply because someone had been sinned against, which was true, but the company had been scandalised by what had happened. Their first reaction was to look at the matter as the world might look at something: how does this affect my reputation? How does this affect the standing in which I am considered to be by other people (who may be quite immoral themselves), who might disapprove of the things I have done? So it made the Corinthians angry and it made them grieved. But Paul says “the grief of the world works death”. I read this partly to show that that is not the way of repentance: the way of repentance does not lead to death. In fact, on the contrary, you will find a verse in the book of the Acts 11: 18 where it says that it is repentance to life! It shows, does it not, that this way, the world’s way, is not the way of repentance? It goes the opposite way; it goes down into a condition of despair. But the other reason I read this is simply to show that there is “grief according to God”. And the point I wanted to make from this and also from the passage I read in Job is that repentance is something you arrive at in the presence of God; and that is why God has drawn near to us. He has drawn near to us so that we can be in His presence. You might say, ‘Well, I am afraid to go into the presence of God; I know what He will say; I know He will condemn what I am and what I have done’. But God invites you to come! - even though that is all true, and He knows better than you that it is true. It is much more horrible to Him than it will ever appear to you, and yet He invites you to come into His presence. He has made a way of repentance, and those who come along it find themselves in the presence of God.
There are several things you will see in the presence of God. You will see what He is, you will see what He requires, you will see how things appear to Him, you will see His standard, you will see how things that have been acceptable and pass to you do not pass at all to Him. You will also see how you are: God’s light is the truest light there is! It does not cast any shadows and it shines in such a way that it lights up not only what you are outwardly, as we are here in this room, but it shines a light into your heart. You get the impression not only that God can see right inside you, but you get a clear view yourself of what you are inside. You will find the Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of God. There are two things you will find when you look at Him: the first is that He represents what God has sought from man, there is a perfection there that will draw you but at the same time challenge and, dare I say, condemn you. But then you will see that it is His mighty work that means that God can allow you to come into His presence, because He wants to talk to you about how that work might be to your advantage and your salvation. So it says here “grief according to God works repentance to salvation”. The way of repentance goes on past the point of repentance, and if you travel along it in the right way you will come to salvation.
I read about this man Job, and a very remarkable man he was. He is remarkable to me because I compare him to Abraham. I think I am right in saying that he lived about the same time as Abraham. We hear a lot about Abraham; we hear about God’s ways with him, and we hear about the call, and we hear about the way God blessed him, and how God gave him an inheritance and so on; but I do not think that we ever read in the history of Abraham of his being called to repent. I am not saying he did not repent, or was not repentant, but we do not get that story with Abraham. The story we get with Abraham is that he was taken up in grace, and he received blessings because he believed God. I make that point because it is important. I am presenting to you a wonderful story in the glad tidings, a wonderful proposal that God is making; that someone so glorious as the Son of God should have hung on Calvary’s cross and borne the judgment of God to the sinner. I invite you to believe that, and I invite you to believe that God has accepted that work, and has put the Man who did it at His own right hand. You might say, ‘That is so good; why would I refuse?’. It is, is it not? Why would you refuse? It is presented freely in the grace of God and it is simply presented for the obedience of faith. But the fact that this other man Job went through all that is in this book proves to us that simply to believe that offer, and to be minded to accept it is not enough by itself. Job had lived a long time, and was a very good man, probably more upright than me. He had a relationship with God, and God liked him; he drew the attention of others to Job, but there was something that Job had to come to. The problem was that all this rightness in the heart, and life, and circumstances in the household of Job had made him proud; proud of himself. He was not only thankful to God for what God had given him, but proud of what he himself had done and what he himself was able to maintain. Alan McSeveney preached here the other week, and he made an interesting comment which maybe some of us remember; he said it does not say in the Bible that God sets himself against the drunkard, it does not say that He sets Himself against the drug abuser; but it does say that God sets Himself against the proud.
Job’s three friends come and try to knock him down; they try to undermine his reputation and they try to undermine his faith; and they fail. Job stands in his integrity. But what comes out in the ways that God took with him, which were very severe, was that he really objected to what God was doing because he thought he was too good to deserve it. He thought he knew better than God about whether he deserved it or not; so he started questioning why God was doing things. In this verse 3, which may seem a bit strange, Job is echoing what God Himself had asked Job. Job is saying ‘Well, that really is the question, is it not? Why did I say that, why did I say that the ways of God could not be discerned and that it is all very unfair; why did I say that? The reason I said it was that I was proud’. Job was nothing like the man we read about in Corinthians. There was no public scandal, no disgraceful immoral behaviour with Job: on the contrary! But he was proud of himself. What happens here is that at the end of these forty-two chapters he realises that he is now in the presence of God. So real is that to Job that he says he can see God. It is not only that he can see God, but he gets an entirely new look at himself and it is all turned to ashes. What he had taken a pride in belonged to his fallen condition, and it could never please God. He repents, and what that simply means is that, faced with a view of himself from a point of view from which he had never considered himself before - that is, God’s point of view - his view of himself is turned upside down. He realises for the first time that, whatever his respectability and whatever his reputation, and however his righteousness might surpass that of these godless friends he had, he was a sinner in the sight of God. Beloved, that is what we have to come to in the gospel. The salvation of which I have spoken, the glorious work of the Lord Jesus of which I have spoken is not for righteous persons; He says that (Matt 9: 13), but it is for sinners. The way of repentance was made for sinners: so come into the presence of God. Be as open with Him about what you are as He can already see. Acknowledge in the presence of God in relation to specific things you know you have done that you are a sinner in the sight of God, and that you need the Saviour that He has provided.
I go back to these passages in the New Testament because Job’s repentance is quite remarkable in a way: he repented without having been presented with a Saviour. He cast himself on the mercy of God and he found it. He longed to find a Saviour; he says that, and Elihu talks to him about it. He asks if there is an umpire, someone who can mediate, someone who could pay a ransom, who could deliver his soul from going down into the pit. Job asks these questions and, if you read to the end of the book, they are not answered. But they are answered now. The glad tidings of repentance are preached on the basis of the work of Christ and on the basis of what He is in His Person. It says here in Luke 24 that repentance and remission of sins is preached in His Name. Beloved, there is no other Name. As Peter says in his preaching, “neither is there another name” (Acts 4: 12), but what a wonderful thing it is to come before God and feel that everything, even the things I would cling to, to the last resort, have turned to dust and ashes. They are worth nothing in the sight of God. In fact, they condemn me to be banished from that place forever. But now, remission of sins is preached in His Name, and you can confess things before God on the understanding, established by God in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, that if you confess your sins they will be put away. Therefore the barriers, the inhibitions that might lead me to withhold a true judgment of myself in the presence of God, can melt away because God provides not only the question which challenges what I am, but provides His answer to it. What a wonderful thing that is - repentance and remission of sins, preached in His Name. It lies at the heart of a full gospel. The full gospel is about Christ: He is the answer to the sins I discover in the presence of God; and I confess those sins to God in order to lay claim to His salvation.
I just add this verse in Acts because the way of repentance goes on a bit further. As I said, the way of repentance leads to life, according to Acts 11; the way of repentance leads to salvation, according to 2 Corinthians 8; and the way of repentance leads to the reception of the Holy Spirit. Is that not a wonderful thing that the God who has given His Son does not stop at that wonderful gift but now He gives the Holy Spirit to be received by those who repent? They recognise that their power has gone. If it is there, it is the power to do what is wrong, and the power to offend God, and the power to keep themselves at a distance to Him. But God is offering a wonderful proposal, not only that you come into His presence but that God Himself will come and dwell in you. I no longer need to make any journeys: this is not something I need to reach out for, because God in His wonderful love and grace has sent the Holy Spirit to be received; and what the reception of the Holy Spirit means is that now He dwells in the heart of the believer; He dwells there. The presence of God becomes a constant assurance to me, not something I have to keep reaching out to; it is something I know within. God has come so near to me, not simply to be alongside me as He was in the Person of the Lord Jesus but to dwell in me. Of course, conditions in my soul must be right for the Holy Spirit to dwell. He can be grieved, He can be quenched, He can be hindered, but He would keep us in the way of repentance so that His power and His grace might be our enjoyment for the rest of our way down here. These things lie at the heart of the gospel. There is more to the gospel than believing the offer that God has made: the offer God has made is to people who are honest with Him about themselves. His goodness leads you to that honesty. It is not a matter of effort or contrivance, the goodness of God leads you there; and when you are there, it is not a place just to hide in, but to have everything out with God, knowing that He has already met everything that comes out and covers it in the work of salvation that He presented to you.
Well, beloved, may we be helped to find the power that comes from having to do with God and the salvation we receive practically from doing so. May He bless the word.
9th December 2012