In honor of President Abraham Lincoln’s call for a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer on Thursday, the 30th day of April, 1863, Christian leaders are calling for Thursday April 30 this year to be America’s National Day of Repentance.
Let us look at the importance of repentance as we examine the lectionary scriptures for this day.
We will look at all four Revised Common Lectionary texts for the day from Luke 24:36b-48; Acts 3:12-19; 1 John 3:1-7 and Psalm 4 and focus on the topic of repentance.
Proof Jesus is not a Ghost
In Luke 24:36b-48 Jesus offers proof that he is not a ghost. The disciples see and touch him, and he ate in their presence. Contrary to the heresy of Marcionism Jesus demonstrated the physical reality of his body. The disciples disbelieved and wondered because of joy or as we would say, it seemed too good to be true. Wondering seems to get in the way of believing. Jesus then ate in their presence. Christians believe in Jesus’ words the Hebrew scriptures as summarized by the saying the law of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms. He opened their minds to understand the scriptures indicating that we too need divine help to understand the Bible. There are three parts to Jesus’ instructions here: he would suffer, be raised and so repentance resulting in forgiveness must be proclaimed to all nations.
Repentance INTO Forgiveness
The Greek in In Luke 24:47 literally means repentance INTO forgiveness of sins. The purpose of preaching against sin is not to condemn, but to lead people to be forgiven. Repentance that leads to forgiveness is at the heart of the Gospel message. We don’t condemn, but save and forgive. For Christians the opposite of sin is not moral perfection, because that is impossible in any human being and so we must have faith. The entire Old Testament proved that. Law does not work, because we utterly fail in ability to keep law. Repentance is not changing to law keeping, but changing from unbelief to faith in God. Paul taught that the purpose of the law was not perfect obedience, but to expose sin. The goal of Gospel preaching is not better morality, but forgiveness of sin, absolution.
Acts 3:12-19 (Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out)
Political Lies and Twisted Facts
In politics we are used to twisted facts and outright lies. Jesus was crucified in part by Roman and Jewish politics. In Acts 3:12-19 Peter speaks as a fellow Israelite coming from worship in the Temple. He is political in the positive sense of using the wisdom of beginning with common ground. But concluded with a damning accusation: they had betrayed the Author of life. The high priest had manipulated brutal Roman politics for his own selfish purposes. In politics it is common to blame the opposition party or anyone else, but never our own. Yet Peter blamed his own. We too are politicians. We are the Jews. We are the Romans. We are to blame for Jesus’ death. Like politicians we want to avoid personal blame, yet Jesus comes to us and says as to the disciples, “Peace.”
A Miracle at Church
Why do many people avoid church? Is it a place where people are no different to this dark world? Is it a place where people yearn for financial and health miracles, but have no interest in the miracles of repentance and changed lives? In Acts 3:12-19 Peter reminded fellow worshippers that the man they had just murdered came to change the world. Is that message also for us? Do we want churches that avoid the topics of sin and hell? Do we only want pie in the sky messages that avoid our need to repent. Do we want to do any soul searching? Jesus said repent, to change our minds. Easter is a time to remember how the resurrection changed the early church as it can change us and we can experience the greatest miracle of all, changed lives.
1 John 3:1-7 (all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure)
Sons or Children of God
The phrase sons (or children) of God in 1 John 3:1-7 refers to human beings. In Genesis the sons of God married and giants were born. Jesus said that angels cannot marry or give children in marriage, so the phrase sons of God in Genesis also means human beings. We are called children of God because of his love. He adopts us. That is not the ultimate goal. We will be like him. We will live forever. This is called theosis, or divinization, or sanctification. We are being transformed day by day to be like Jesus. As such we purify ourselves. Faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit. We are faithful to our spouses, our churches, our employers, our customers and our God. We abide in him who does not sin, and as we do, we do not sin.
Psalm 4 (Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord)
Psalm 4 is one of those Psalms that contain the word selah. What does it mean? It literally means to lift up or exalt. What could it refer to? It could be a pause for praise. It could refer to a pause similar to saying Amen or Gloria. It could also be a musical pause suggesting a moment to reflect on what was just sung. Modern religious fads seek to get rid of any idea of thought and reflection, yet repentance begins precisely in contemplation. Some even go so far as to suggest we should check our brains at the door, which totally contradicts Jesus command to love God with all our minds, as well as our hearts. Repentance (Luke 24:36b-48), a change of mind, is one of the first directives of Jesus to those who would be his disciples.
A positive change of heart is a turn to God and into forgiveness. It is a lifelong habit of continual growth and becoming more like God every day.