Friday, August 11, 2017
Requirements of Repentance
Jer. 7:5 For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, 7 then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.
The unfaithful Israelites had broken the heart of God. Now, the prophet Jeremiah wept over what he saw among his people. With great courage he stood in the entry to the temple and preached this sermon. It was a real challenge to the religious leaders who had allowed the people of God to stray.
The call is to repentance. The people have not been following God’s commands and they are having to live with the consequences. Jeremiah recognizes that the people are headed toward destruction but repentance provides a pathway to restoration.
Restoration comes from repentance, not only of the heart, but in action. The reality is that the motivations of the heart are revealed by our actions. The motivations of the heart had resulted in injustice on the part of the Israelites. The call to repentance required a reinstitution of justice in the way that the Israelites treated others. This was the mark of their fidelity toward God. Love for God was to be revealed in love toward the other. The aliens, or immigrants among them were not to be oppressed. Instead they were to be treated with loving respect. God had always intended the Israelites to be an evangelistic people and this would be revealed in the way in which they treated those who were not a part of their original community. If they loved and cared for them justly, they would become a part of God’s community.
Our global community is made up of those on the move. People constantly move in and out of contact with the church, but the call to justice for the alien within the kingdom of God remains the same as it was in Jeremiah’s day. If the church is to be an evangelistic people, she must learn to love those who come to us from different lands. As people migrate because of geo-political issues, we must remember that we are to welcome the stranger. They may be the evangelistic future for the kingdom.
Jeremiah knew that the orphans within the community needed to be loved and accepted. Far too many people died early in life leaving numerous children without a support system. When society may have abandoned these children, God’s people were to lovingly care for them as if they were members of their own family. Whether orphans or children in a foster system, they were not to be second-class citizens in God’s kingdom.
The widows were at the mercy of those around them, especially if they were left without children to care for them. This was part of the network of society which was intended to bring strength and structure. Justice demanded that those without financial means were to be cared for by those who had resources.
The blood of the innocent was never to be shed. Far too often the weak or the innocent became scapegoats for the powerful. It became easier to blame someone else for troubles rather than take responsibility and the innocent suffered. Repentance required God’s justice when it came to dealing with those who had no voice. The powerful were to use their influence to speak up for those who could say nothing. The innocent were to be defended.
Finally the Israelites were to act justly toward God. No longer were they to seek out foreign gods and give themselves in worship to them. They were hurting themselves by this behavior. Their infidelity to Yahweh had horrible consequences, not because God was vindictive, but because they intentionally removed themselves from God’s sheltered protection.
The “If -Then” statement of repentance ends with the promise of God. If the people will repent of their ways and doings, then God will dwell with them in the land that they had been promised. They were on the precipice of losing everything, but there was still hope. Filled with love for God, Jeremiah bore the burden of calling his people to repentance. At the risk of his own life, he chose to be faithful and the call to repentance and justice rang out among the people.
The “If-Then” statement continues to be valid and true. If the church and her members are not remaining faithful to God in all things, then repentance and justice in action is demanded toward those who are desperately in need. This is the requirement of repentance.
Lord, may the voice of Jeremiah carry through the ages and speak to us today. May we live in faithful obedience to your commands, repent and turn from ways which may lead to injustice. Open my eyes to see the places in which I have not been faithful. Amen.