I've always been intrigued by the point of no return above waterfalls. For example, if you're in a boat or canoe above Niagara Falls drifting downriver there's a point that if you go by it where you can't save yourself. It's the point of no return. If you're up river far enough, you're able to paddle to shore. But if you go past the point of no return, the current will take you over the falls and there's nothing you can do about it. No matter how hard you paddle, you can't save yourself. The point of no return is an invisible line above the falls, on one side of it you can save yourself, on the other, you're lost.
Repentance can be like that. A lot of people think that they have lots of time to repent. They think that they will have until the moment of their death to repent. And that is true of some people. Consider the criminal who was crucified with Jesus. It was not until his death was very imminent that he repented and turned to Jesus. That's the way it is with some people. They have right up to the moment of their death to repent of their sins. God grants them that.
But that is not true with other people. God gives them only a certain time to repent, and after that point, it's too late, the time for repentance has passed. Even though they go on living, all that awaits them is punishment. There's nothing they can do about it—the point of no return has passed. That can be true regarding the punishment for a certain sin, or, like in the case of the unforgiveable sin, it may be that there eternal fate has already been sealed.
We see this in our text about this Jezebel, who called herself a prophetess. God said about her,
"I have given her time to repent
of her immorality, but she is unwilling.
So I will cast her on a bed of suffering…
I will strike her children dead.
Then all the churches will know
that I am he who searches
hearts and minds, and I will repay
each of you according to your deeds."
Now there's part of that text that I didn't read. That relates to those who were sinning with Jezebel. God said that he was going to make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent. There's a contrast there. God was going to give them more time to repent—but not so with Jezebel. The time for her repentance was over. Some commentators believe that Jezebel had been previously warned and had refused to repent in the time allotted to her. For example, David E. Aune writes, (Revelation 1–5, 214)
"When Christ says "I gave her time to repent" (v 21), the statement likely refers to an earlier prophetic judgment speech delivered by John or a member of his prophetic circle."
But in any case, Jesus' words indicate that the time for repentance with Jezebel is past. Herman Hoeksema writes, (p. 105)
"Her case is hopeless. She has descended into the depths of Satan voluntarily and consciously so often that she will come to repentance no more. And, therefore, the measure of her iniquity is full, and the time for judgment is come."
The great truth that we see here is that
God often gives people a definite time for repentance, after that, it is too late.
We see this principle in the book of Jonah. God's message to Nineveh was,
"Forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed."
The implication was that the people of Nineveh had 40 days in which to repent and that was it. If they didn't repent in the allotted time, it would be too late.
We see the same principle in the history of the people of Judah. They had repeated sinned against God and worshipped other gods. They had served idols and turned their back on the true God of Israel. For a long time God put up with it. But then, a point was reached when His patience came to an end. We read about it in 2 Kings 23. What was happening in Judah at that time was remarkable. The book of the law had been found in the reign of King Josiah. He was a great king. 2 Kings 22:2 says of him,
"He did what was right
in the eyes of the LORD and walked in
all the ways of his father David,
not turning aside to the right or to the left."
Under Josiah Israel renewed the covenant. He read the words of the Book of the Covenant before the people and everyone pledged themselves to the covenant. They purified the land, did away with the pagan priests and removed all the articles of Baal and Asherah. They purified the whole land, even extending their renovation to the north, to the former kingdom of Israel. They celebrated the Passover. In 2 Kings 23:22 it says,
"Not since the days of the judges
who led Israel, nor throughout
the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah,
had any such Passover been observed."
Then we read,
"Furthermore, Josiah got rid
of the mediums and spiritists,
the household gods, the idols
and all the other detestable things
seen in Judah and Jerusalem.
This he did to fulfill the requirements
of the law written in the book
that Hilkiah the priest had discovered
in the temple of the LORD.
Neither before nor after Josiah
was there a king like him
who turned to the LORD as he did—
with all his heart and with all his soul
and with all his strength,
in accordance with all the Law of Moses."
Wow. What more could be said about him? You would think that God would have been so pleased with Josiah and the people of Judah that He would turn away from His wrath and spare them.
But no! It was too late. In the very next verse we read, (2 Kings 23:26–27 NIV)
"Nevertheless, the LORD did not turn away
from the heat of his fierce anger,
which burned against Judah
because of all that Manasseh had done
to provoke him to anger.
So the LORD said,
'I will remove Judah also from my presence
as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem,
the city I chose, and this temple,
about which I said, 'There shall my Name be.''"
Just a short time later God had the Babylonians come against Judah and destroy it. Jerusalem fell and the 70 years of Babylonian captivity began.
Sometimes it's too late for repentance.
The great lesson you should take from our text is that
you should repent before its too late.
You need to apply this to your life. It doesn't matter if you're a professing Christian or not—you need to take this seriously.
First, if you're a professing Christian, take this to heart. Examine your life. Are there sins that you are refusing to repent of? If so, you're in a very dangerous situation. If you don't repent of your sin, it may become too late for you to escape some punishment for your lack of repentance.
There are two ways this may be so. First, if you're truly a Christian and not a hypocrite—God will save you, but if the point of no return comes you may have to suffer serious consequences for your sin in spite of the fact that God will forgive you for that sin. For example, the prophet Nathan said to David, (2 Samuel 12:13–14)
"The LORD has taken away your sin.
You are not going to die.
But because by doing this you have made the enemies
of the LORD show utter contempt,
the son born to you will die."
God also told him that the sword would never depart from his house and that the sin that he committed in secret would be repeated against him in broad daylight. David had passed the point of no return.
Now someone may say,
"But David's punishment had to do with his sin, not so much his lack of repentance."
There is truth in that. Yet these things are intertwined. But it is true that see that even though David repented after Nathan confronted him—it was too late. Those punishments came upon him. David repented and his repentance was real. He pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and refused to eat. He spent the nights lying on the ground. (2 Samuel 12:16) This went on for a week. But it was too late. The judgments that Nathan spoke about came upon David.
So Christian, don't delay repentance. A delay in repentance can ruin your life. God might say about you like He said about David—it's too late. Don't ruin your life by delaying repentance.
Secondly, for professing Christians, a lack of repentance is a sign that you may be a hypocrite instead of a Christian. Your lack of repentance may put you in a situation where God hands you over to Satan. The expression 'handing over to Satan' occurs two times in the New Testament. It doesn't indicate that all hope is lost—the purpose in doing so was still to reclaim the sinner. But as Philip H. Towner writes, (NICNT)
"it would seem that 'handing over to Satan' involved a last stage in which the unrepentant sinner was turned out of the church to be treated as an unbeliever (see esp. 1 Cor 5:5, 9, 11). This was probably envisioned as removal from the sphere of God's protection into the world where Satan still held sway."
It's the last stage. If that doesn't bring you back, nothing will. Your very profession of Christianity is at stake.
Secondly, for those of you who are not Christians,
there is an urgency for you to repent right away.
In 2 Corinthians 6:2 the apostle Paul wrote,
I tell you, now is the time of God's favor,
now is the day of salvation.
In Romans 2:4 he wrote,
"do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness,
tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness
leads you toward repentance?"
And in 2 Peter 3:9 the apostle Peter wrote,
"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise,
as some understand slowness.
He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish,
but everyone to come to repentance."
God is being patient with you. But don't be so foolish as to presume on that patience. It's not going to last forever. Your life is fragile and uncertain. Tomorrow hasn't been promised to you. Remember the rich fool? Jesus said about him, (Luke 12:20–21)
"You fool! This very night your life
will be demanded from you.
Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?
'This is how it will be with anyone
who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.'"
You need to repent right now. You need to forsake your sins and embrace Jesus.
Are you thinking—how long can I get away with this? How long can I go until I repent? That focus is about you. It's selfish. It's not being rich toward God like you need to be. Jesus is worthy of your service now. Any sin you see in your life should be repented of now.
There's a great reason for you to do this. It is this.
How wonderful repentance is! What a great gift from God repentance is!
A lot of people today think of repentance as somewhat of a negative thing. One of the great themes in some circles of the church growth movement is that churches should tone down repentance. They will tell you that you need to get people into churches and you want your message there to be on the positive side. You don't want to scare them off by talking about the need for repentance and telling people that they have to change some major things in their lives. They will tell you that you shouldn't do that, at least not at first. Telling people that they are sinners and that they need to recognize the sin in their lives and turn from it—that's not the way to make the church grow.
But we need stop thinking of repentance as a negative and start thinking of it as a positive. I think the reason we think of repentance as a negative is because it's associated with something that is completely negative—with sin. That's a tough association. We think to ourselves,
"Oh, no. I've sinned and now I need to repent."
There might be a tendency to think of that whole sentence as a negative. But it's not. Only the first art is. The second part is totally positive.
There are two main things to keep in mind about repentance.
The first thing is that repentance such a blessing.
Where would we be without it? We'd be lost forever. We'd be undergoing the torments of hell forever. As Jesus said in Luke 13:3,
"But unless you repent, you too will all perish."
Where is this Jezebel now? She's in hell. Why? It's because she didn't repent. She could have been saved if she repented and went to Jesus. He would have forgiven all of her sins. He would have saved her.
What is repentance? It's one of the best gifts that God gives us through Jesus Christ. It's something that's instrumental in our salvation. Wayne Grudem defines repentance this way, (Systematic Theology, p. 713)
"Repentance is a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ."
John Frame adds, (Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 188)
"Repentance is not only feeling sorry for sin but actively renouncing it. It is a heart commitment to seeking righteousness."
Repentance goes with faith in Jesus Christ. They are inseparable. John Frame writes,
"They are two sides of a coin. You cannot turn from sin without turning to Christ or vice versa. Turning from sin points you in the direction of Christ. You don't need to turn twice, only once. Faith and repentance are the same thing, viewed positively and negatively.… Faith and repentance are two names for the same heart attitude."
Or, as John Murray says, (Redemption, Accomplished and Applied, p. 116)
"True faith is suffused with penitence."
Now we need to be clear that repentance itself does not save us. We are saved by Jesus and what He did on the cross. Yet, just as faith is the instrument through which we are saved, so repentance is also an instrument and is necessary for salvation. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way, (15:3) says,
"Although repentance is not to be rested in, as any satisfaction for sin, or any cause of the pardon thereof, which is the act of God's free grace in Christ; yet it is of such necessity to all sinners, that none may expect pardon without it."
Repentance is such a blessing. It should not be burdensome to us. It is not something that we should do with regret. It's one of the best things in the world.
The second thing to keep in mind about repentance is that it's a gift from God.
In 2 Timothy 2:25 the apostle Paul wrote,
"Those who oppose him he must gently instruct,
in the hope that God will grant them
repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,"
God grants repentance. He gives it. We see this as well in Acts 11:18. You'll remember that after Peter preached to the Gentiles in Acts 10 and they accepted the Word of the Lord and received the Spirit, some of the Jewish believers in Judea criticized Peter. But Peter explained the whole situation with Cornelius to them and how God had mercy on the Gentiles and they believed. When the Jewish believers in Jerusalem heard this, they said,
"So then, God has granted
even the Gentiles repentance unto life."
God gave them repentance. They Gentile did not manufacture it themselves. It was a gift that God gave them.
Now, what does all this mean?
First, for those who are not Christians,
you should be asking that God would grant you repentance.
Plead with Him to give it to you. Salvation is all of God. Only He can give it to you. Only He can give you repentance. Plead with Him to change your heart.
Lastly, for Christians,
how you should be embracing repentance and be thanking God for this wonderful gift.
How often we are reluctant to repent. Yet that should never be. Christians, repent. Confess your sins. Turn your back on them, on misery, on death—repent and turn to Christ, for cleansing, for forgiveness, for life.