Sermon for Pentecost 7, Proper 9B, preached on Sunday, July 8, 2018, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.
It’s been said by some that Christians don’t need repentance. Once a person becomes a “true” Christian they sin no more, or at least they don’t need to repent anymore because they’ve already been forgiven. Well, I’m going to be frank: this is wrong!!! It’s wrong to think Christians don’t sin. It’s wrong to think we don’t need repentance. This ignores the fact that we’re at the same time saints & sinners. This ignores the fact that the Lord’s Prayer, the very prayer Jesus gave His followers, asks for forgiveness. The truth is repentance is a very Christian thing. The Lord continually calls us to repent because we continually turn from Him. We sin and we need His forgiveness.
We see this need of repentance in the people of Israel. A quick look at their history reveals they repeatedly turned away from the Lord. There’s not a time in their history in which they didn’t rebel. In the book of Judges there’s a constant refrain that can be heard: “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” (Jgs 3:7, etc). This refrain could be sung in every generation of Israel; from their grumblings in the Exodus after God freed them from slavery, to the time of the divided kingdom when many worship false gods; from their exile when they were forced from the Promised Land, to their return and the rebuilding of the Temple. Even when Jesus, the Son of God walked among them, they still did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, rejecting the promised Messiah.
Throughout this history, God had every chance, every right, to leave His people, but He didn’t. Over and over and over again God showed them grace and mercy. Over and over and over again He rescued them. Even though Israel repeatedly turned their back on God, He never turn His back on them. He continually sent His prophets to call them back.
He sent Ezekiel saying: “I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them and you shall say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD’” (Ezk 2:3-4). God couldn’t turn His back on Israel. Even though they were impudent and stubborn, continually transgressing against His Law, doing what was “right in their eyes,” (Jgs 21:25) and “evil in the sight of the LORD,” (Jgs 3:7, etc) God loved them. He sent men to call them back so they might receive His great and merciful blessings.
The words of the Lord that Ezekiel proclaimed was both Law and Gospel. He spoke out against their sin, warning them of the just punishment they deserved. But He also spoke God’s promises. About halfway through Ezekiel’s book, we hear God say: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked,..., and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?...For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone,...so turn, and live” (Ezk 18:23, 32). God’s desire isn’t to punish people for their sin. His desire is for people to repent, to turn from sin and death and receive His forgiveness and life. This is why He sent His prophets. This is why Jesus sent out the twelve. And this is why He continues to send His pastors today, to proclaim repentance to His rebellious people.
We are a rebellious people. We’ve stubbornly transgressed against God’s Law. Each and every one of us, Christians born to new life in Baptism, we turn from God to sin. Looking at God’s Law, who of us can say that we’ve kept it perfectly? Who of us can say that we haven’t willingly transgressed it? We know God’s Word. We know what sin is and when we’re tempted to sin, and yet we give in to that temptation. We continue to sin our pet sins willingly. What is this if not stubbornness? We need to repent of this, just as Israel did. We need to turn from sin to God; to come before Him in faith, confessing our sin so that we might receive His forgiveness.
It’s not easy to repent and confess our sins. This requires us to admit our guilt and just condemnation. Because of this we dread repentance and struggle to confess, to name our sin before God, His pastors, and each other. But this shouldn’t be the case. Confession instead should be a joy because of the forgiveness we receive.
The idea that Christians don’t need to repent because they’ve already been forgiven once denies God from continuing to pour out His grace on His people. God’s forgiveness isn’t a onetime thing. It’s God’s desire to forgive. Look again at Israel’s history. Every time they repented, the Lord was there with His forgiveness. The OT is filled with examples of how God met the repentance of His people with His forgiveness, and the same is true for you.
Every time you repent, the Lord is there with His forgiveness. He’s there to release you from the condemnation of sin. This is the whole point of repentance and confession. This is why confession is a joy, because God is there answering your repentance with forgiveness.
We’re familiar with Peter’s question to Jesus, asking how many times he’s to forgive his brother. Jesus’ answer: “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22). Seventy times seven is symbolic speaking to the limitless amount of forgiveness. If we’re always to forgive, will not God? God’s forgiveness is limitless, always there. And His promise to you is that He’ll answer your repentance and confession with His life giving forgiveness.
This isn’t because your repentance is a good work that earns forgiveness, it’s because Christ died for you. It’s for Jesus’ sake that you’re forgiven. It’s out of God’s grace and mercy that you’re forgiven. Your repentance doesn’t deserve forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift and no gift is ever deserved or earned. But God graciously answers your confession with His forgiveness because Christ Jesus took the punishment of your sin upon Himself. God’s Son willingly and lovingly suffered the punishment of your sin. He suffered the wrath of God on the cross, being your substitute, so that you might receive His life and His forgiveness. This forgiveness God delivers to you in the waters of Baptism. This forgiveness He gives to you every time you hear His word of Absolution. And this forgiveness He gives to you every time you partake of His Holy Supper. There’s no end to His forgiveness.
The people of Israel constantly needed to repent. They turned from sin only to fall back into it again. God sent His prophets to proclaim repentance, and God continues to make this proclamation. He continually calls us to repent, and we need to hear this call. Like Israel, we repeatedly give in to sin so we continually need His forgiveness. We need to answer God’s call of repentance with faith, trusting in God’s promises, trusting in His desire for us to live, and trusting in Christ Jesus’ cross. Thanks be to God that He’s always there with mercy, forgiving our sin. In Jesus’ name...Amen.