Sermon preached on November 3, 2011 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs comes out tomorrow. I'm looking forward to reading it. According to some leaks that have come out, one of the things that the biography reveals is that after he discovered he had cancer in 2003 Jobs at first resisted surgery. Biographer Isaacson asked Jobs why he didn't get the operation earlier. He said that he thought it would be too invasive. He said,
"I didn't want my body to be opened… I didn't want to be violated in that way."
His wife and friends urged him to get the surgery but he delayed and instead tried alternative remedies including exotic diets, herbal remedies and acupuncture. But that didn't stop the growth of the cancer and finally, nine months after he was diagnosed, he consented and had the surgery. But the cancer spread and earlier this month, after a long battle with his cancer, Jobs died. Some doctors have suggested that if he hadn't delayed getting the surgery, he might have been completely cured. Jobs himself said that he regretted his decision to delay surgery. It wasn't the right thing to do. He should have had it right away.
There's a parallel between that story and repentance. Repentance involves one thing that is not pleasant—sorrow. Yet it is an experience that, if one does it in a timely manner, saves one from great sorrow afterwards. This morning we're going to look at how wonderful repentance is—it is a means that God uses to save us from the horrible consequences of sin. It's one of the things that gives urgency to repentance—it saves us from so much grief and sorrow. In verses 21-22 Jesus said about Jezebel and her followers,
"I will cast her on a bed of suffering,
and I will make those
who commit adultery with her suffer intensely,
unless they repent of her ways. 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."
Notice that phrase, 'unless they repent'. That's key. It makes all the difference. Those who were following Jezebel had a choice, they could continue to sin and suffer intensely, or they could repent and be spared the suffering.
One of the truths we see here is that
repentance is a means that God uses to save us from great suffering.
The consequences of refusing to repent are very severe. There are three judgments mentioned in our text. First, consider Jezebel. Because she refused to repent she was going to suffer greatly. Jesus was going to cast her on a bed of suffering. In other words, she was going to afflicted with a great illness. Secondly, those who committed adultery with here were going to suffer intensely unless they repented of their ways. Literally, they were going to experience, 'great tribulation', a theme that is mentioned more than once in Revelation. (See 7:14) This is an expression that indications horrible suffering and hardship. Thirdly, Jezebel's children were told that they were going to be struck dead. The reference to children most likely refers to her followers, not her literal children. It's interesting that in the Old Testament, we read that the seventy sons of Jezebel's husband, King Ahab's were put to death because of Jezebel's sin of killing Naboth and taking his vineyard. It also reminds us of 1 Corinthians 11 where the apostle Paul told the Corinthian Christians that some among them were put to death by the Lord because of their abuse of the Lord's Supper.
The point of all this is that a lack of repentance leads to great suffering and even death. We need to take this warning seriously. We saw last week that we shouldn't presume on God's kindness because God often puts a time limit on the time for repentance. Here we see that the consequences of a lack of repentance should be a great motivation for us to repent.
Our text points to a great way to escape punishment. It says that they will suffer intensely,
"unless they repent of her ways."
Thus the first wonderful truth we see about repentance in our text is that
repentance is the means by which we are saved from the punishment we deserve.
How precious repentance should be to you. It is such a blessing. We are saved by Jesus and His work and repentance is the grace that God gives that enables us to be sorry for our sins, to hate them and turn from them and to turn to Jesus for salvation. One of the great things about repentance is that it enables us to escape the sorrow and suffering that our sins deserve.
Repentance involves sorrow for sin. This sorrow, is, in a certain sense, displaced. It's one aspect of the wonderful works of Jesus on our behalf.
By that I mean that
Jesus experienced sorrow because of our sins.
For example, in Psalm 69 which is a great Messianic psalm, with many references to the work of Jesus, verse 7 says,
"shame covers my face."
Sin brings shame. Of course Jesus had nothing to be ashamed of in Himself. But He endured shame and humiliation for our sins.
In Isaiah 53:4 we read about Jesus. It says,
"Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,"
Jesus felt sorrow for our sins. He was greatly grieved because of them. In the Garden of Gethsemane our sins almost overwhelmed Him. He endured grief and sorrow because of our sins.
In another great Messianic Psalm, Psalm 22, part of which Jesus quoted on the cross, Jesus said, (verse 6)
"But I am a worm and not a man,"
In verse 14 Jesus also said,
"My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted away within me."
Now, we should have sorrow for our sin when we sin. We should repent of it. Part of repentance is having sorrow for our sin. We should hate it. It should be vile to us.
But because of what Jesus did for us, our sorrow should, to some extent, be mitigated. By that I mean that our sorrow for sin should not lead us to despair.
For the ungodly, their sins are going to lead them to despair. Some time in the future they are going to experience great sorrow because of their sin. That sorrow may begin in this life, as we see with Jezebel and her children—but in any case there will be incredible sorrow when this life is over. In Matthew 8:11-12 Jesus said that many would come from the east and the west, and take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,
"But the subjects of the kingdom
will be thrown outside,
into the darkness,
where there will be weeping
and gnashing of teeth."
There are different theories as to what the weeping and gnashing of teeth refer. Some understand that it refers to rage and anger. That may be part of it. But I think it's hard to exclude self-reproach and sorrow at what they will experience because of their sin. It is difficult for us to imagine the horror that those who are cast into the darkness will experience. To know that their sins have doomed them, to know that their case is hopeless, to know that they will be consigned forever to the place of torment—how they will be filled with unbearable sorrow and anguish.
But with us it is different—because of what Jesus did for us.
With our repentance, there is sorrow for sin. But that sorrow is of a much different than the sorrow and anguish that the lost will experience in hell—the sorrow of repentance differs in degree and in length. It's not a sorrow that is hopeless. It's not a sorrow that is eternal. With true repentance there is sorrow, but it is followed by joy because we know that Jesus has washed our sins away. We are cleansed from them. We are forgiven.
Isn't it wonderful that God enables us to have sorrow for our sin but that that sorrow is temporary. It is not eternal. There is joy afterwards because we know that our sins are forgiven. As we read in Psalm 30:5,
"For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may remain for a night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning."
That's the way that it should be with our repentance.
Now one application from this is that
you should not despair over your sin.
Yes, sorrow is appropriate over your sin. Jesus said that those who mourn are blessed. I believe that that the mourning He mentioned refers, in great part, to mourning over our sins. But I've heard of some Christians going overboard in this regard. William Cowper, the great hymn writer was one of them. He had such a sense of the horror of his sins that he want into depression and hopelessness. He lost all joy and he fell into despair.
No, no. Jesus has forgiven our sins. We need to rejoice in that.
The second wonderful thing about repentance we see in our text is that
it enables us to be open and honest with God, it keeps us from hypocrisy.
If you don't repent God knows it. He knows your sin. He knows your deception. It says here that
God searches hearts and minds.
This harkens back to verse 18 where Jesus is introduced as,
"the Son of God,
whose eyes are like blazing fire…"
G. K. Beale writes, (Revelation, p. 264)
"His knowledge pierces to the core of our being…"
God knows exactly what we are like. Proverbs 5:21says,
"For a man's ways are
in full view of the LORD,
and he examines all his paths."
And Proverbs 15:3 says,
"The eyes of the LORD are everywhere,
keeping watch on the wicked
and the good."
Psalm 51:6 tells us that God,
"desire(s) truth in the inner parts;"
Now what this means is that
you should take repentance so seriously that you actually do it.
You should be confessing your sins to God and turning from them. Know that God knows your heart. He knows your motives. He knows your deceptions. The only way to deal with this is to repent of your sins and turn from them. Be open and honest with God. Nothing else will work. There is no place for hypocrisy in the life of a Christian.
The third thing that our text shows us about repentance being wonderful is the fact that
it enables us to walk with God and so be blessed by Him.
In our text Jesus says,
"and I will repay each of you
according to your deeds."
What does that mean? Does it mean that we are admitted to heaven on the basis of our works?
No. We are saved by Jesus and His work on our behalf. We must not confuse repentance and justification. We are justified through faith. In justification our sins are forgiven and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us. Justification is God's legal declaration about us that we are righteous. It happens as soon as we believe.
Repentance is having a sorrow and hatred for sin and turning from it to God. Justification and repentance are distinct and separate. Yet they go together.
We're not saved by our repentance or by our works. We're saved by Jesus and His work. Yet, through God's grace, when we repent and turn from our sins, we walk with God in righteousness. This is the way of blessing.
So when the Bible says that God will repay each of our according to our works, it is not talking about our acceptance with Him. For example, in Revelation 20:12–14 we read,
"And I saw the dead,
great and small,
standing before the throne,
and books were opened.
Another book was opened,
which is the book of life.
The dead were judged
according to what they had done
as recorded in the books.
The sea gave up the dead that were in it,
and death and Hades gave up
the dead that were in them,
and each person was judged
according to what he had done.
If anyone's name was not found
written in the book of life,
he was thrown into the lake of fire."
The determining criteria by which people will go to heaven or not is the book of life, or as it is called in Revelation 21:27,
"the Lamb's book of life."
Whether you believe in Jesus is the key. That determines your eternal fate.
Yet it is also true that those who believe in Jesus walk with Him. It is inevitable. Their works prove that they are in Jesus. God is going to reward them on the basis of their works. The fact that we are judged by our deeds shows that true faith in Jesus is a living faith that produces works. We see this point made in the epistle of James.
But these works are not something for us to boast in or to think that we merit heaven by them. No. As Ephesians 2:8–10 says,
"For it is by grace you have been saved,
through faith—and this
not from yourselves,
it is the gift of God— not by works,
so that no one can boast.
For we are God's workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
which God prepared in advance for us to do."
The fact that we are saved by grace apart from works does not mean that we can dispense with good works. We were recreated in Jesus Christ to do good works.
Again, this is a great motivation for us to repent of our sins and walk in righteousness. God in His grace gives us works to do, and, if we do them well, He will richly reward us.
Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians, this means that
you need to repent now.
Our text shows us that sins cry out for punishment. They are evil.
Jezebel and her followers were harming the church. They were leading Christians astray. They were ruining the witness of the church.
I'm shocked that Jesus didn't punish them right away. I'm shocked that He gave Jezebel time to repent while she was doing such great harm. I'm shocked that He was still being lenient with those who were greatly sinning and being such a bad example in the church.
Sin cries out for immediate and terrible punishment. Yet God is patient with sinners, giving them time to repent. What love! What kindness!
Right now He is being patient with you. Your sins are hideous in His sight. They are vile and disgusting.
I ask you, are you going to presume on His kindness? Are you going to test His patience? Refusing to repent is like spitting in His face. Don't delay your repentance. The consequences are too horrible. Where you will spend eternity is at stake. Go to Jesus now. He has been patient with you for so long. He will accept you. Turn from your sins and find life in Jesus. Do it now.