The texts for this evening were Joel 2:12-19 and Matthew 6:16-21.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In our Old Testament lesson, God called to His people (v. 12-13), “Yet even now, return to me with all your heart with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster.”
Let’s break this down. “Yet even now.” Those are such beautiful words of Gospel. “Even now.” After everything you have done and left undone. After failing again and again into the same sin over and over. After refusing again and again to do the good God put you there to do for your neighbor. After you have broken trust, broken relationships, broken the hearts of those you should mend, even now, return to the one, true, holy, God.
But repeatedly in Scripture, God’s holy presence is the last place that sinners want to be. Adam and Eve hid from God’s holy presence after they had sinned and realized their nakedness. Standing in God’s holy presence, Isaiah said, “Woe to me, for I am undone.” Jonah fled from God’s holy presence when God called him to preach to Nineveh. Peter asked the holy Son of God to depart from him because he was a sinful man.
Holiness and sin cannot coexist. Just as light destroys the darkness, the brightness of holiness destroys the darkness of sin. But if we think that our sin has forever separated us from God, we are defying the very words of God in this text, “Yet even now, return to Me,” says your Holy God. This returning is repentance.
Return and repent with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Return and repent because the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Repentance has us saying, “Amen,” to God twice. “Amen” simply means yes, truly, absolutely, correct, right. We say “Amen” when God’s Law tells us that we are guilty of sin, when the Scriptures tell us that we deserve God’s wrath and punishment for our sins now, in this moment, and for all eternity. But repentance doesn’t stop there either.
Repentance says, “Amen,” when God speaks His Gospel over us, when God says that we are forgiven for Christ’s sake. That the suffering and death of Jesus has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west.
The first “Amen” is not easy to say. We don’t like to admit our failures and sins. We don’t like to admit that the wages our sin has earned is the bitterness, sickness, and hardships we face in this life. Instead, we blame others for the burdens we bear.
But the second “Amen” isn’t really any easier than the first. The devil and the world scream at us that the sacrifice of Jesus isn’t really enough. Our own flesh even says, “Well, it can’t be so easy as simply believing in Jesus.” But dear saints, that is when we need to say, “Shut up,” to the devil, the world, and our own flesh.
Just as God means it when He speaks the Law to say that your sins harm you and your neighbor, and more importantly that your sins separate you from Him, God also means it when He says that for the sake of Jesus He has forgiven you and blotted out your sins.
Through this Lenten season, we are going to be considering the Ten Commandments, and this will give us ample reasons to weep, lament, mourn, and rend our hearts because of our sin. However, we will also see the great gifts God is giving to us in each Commandment as well. But most importantly, we will see how Jesus has delivered us and calls us, “Even now, return to Me. Return to Me for I am gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
Your God has no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked. Instead He would have you repent. Say, “Amen,” to His Law and to His Gospel. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.