Allen Jackson - The Practice of Repentance - Part 2
Well, in Daniel chapter 9, do you remember Daniel's story? We meet Daniel. He's Jewish, but he's a captive. He's a slave actually in Babylon. Jerusalem has fallen to the Babylonians. The temple is been destroyed. The city is been leveled. Much of the population has been slaughtered. The Babylonians have a habit of exporting some of the brightest and the best of the young people back to Babylon for court service. So Daniel is a slave serving in the court of the empire that destroyed his people, and maybe you think that might be a place where bitterness could take root. And that's really the only window we have of Daniel.
Now, he is quite a remarkable character in Scripture, but by Daniel chapter 9 he has proven his value to more than one empire, to more than one ruler. He's established himself. And in Daniel chapter 9 we get this very interesting, he says, "In the first year of Darius, the Babylonian empire has been displaced by the Persians who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom. In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel understood from the Scriptures, according to the Word of the Lord given to Jeremiah, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last 70 years". Daniel said, "I was reading Jeremiah and I understood we've only got to be out of the land for 70 years". And he said, "I've done my math. It's time to go home". Imagine that. Imagine that. He said, "We're done with this. We are going home".
If that was us, we would have started an ad campaign. I'd have had a banquet. In fact, I'd probably had a series of banquets. I'd have eaten chicken and green beans across the country telling everybody the good news. That's not how Daniel responds. He said, "So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes". Fasting, sackcloth, and ashes are phrases that suggest to us humility before God. He really has a revelation from Scripture that their exile is about over. "I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed". Now listen to his prayer. "O Lord, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled. We have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants, the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land".
Did you catch the pronouns he's using? They're plural. They're inclusive. He's put himself into the mix. He said, "We have been wicked, and we have rebelled, and we have turned away from your commands, and we didn't listen to your servants, the prophets, who spoke to our kings". Daniel never lived in Jerusalem when Jeremiah was there. He didn't hear Jeremiah. If he did, he was just a boy. But he is identifying with the rebellion of the generations who preceded him. He said, "We are here as an expression of your justice, and I'm coming to confess our sins". See, I think we have stood apart from our culture and we've wanted to talk about how wicked it is and how bad it is and how immoral it is and how ungodly it is and how economically irresponsible it is, and we act as, we're like Pilate washing our hands in the basin, going, "I'll have nothing to do with this".
Well, I mean, except the fact that you're going to condemn the guy to death. Do you really think that little pool of water where Pilate washed his hands absolved him of his involvement in that day? Do you think that sitting in church absolves us of the responsibility for the culture in which we have been distributed as salt and light? Is it possible that we should be willing to come to the Lord and say, "Lord, we're sorry"? We have lots of voices telling us our history is illegitimate and the founders were illegitimate and 200 years ago we were really bad people. We're pretty reluctant to look through the window and go, "You know, we're working on ungodly pretty well right now for ourselves".
God, be merciful to us. It took a pandemic before we even woke up to what they were teaching our kids. We had to stand behind the computer screen to hear what was going on. Lord, be merciful to us. You see, repentance includes this idea of confession. In fact, I want to submit to you that confession and repentance go together. We've come a long way away from any ideas of confession in the church. Now, I know it's been misused and it can be used in a very manipulative way, but, you know, in a fundamental way let's talk about confession as a willingness to acknowledge to God that we have sinned; in the plainest of language to say to the Lord, "You know, I'm wrong. No excuses, not my parents' fault, not the culture's fault, not the existence of evil's fault, not the forfeitures, I was wrong". And to acknowledge our sin in the plainest possible language.
Proverbs 28:13 says, "He who conceals his sins doesn't prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy". I would prefer mercy and prosperity. How about you? Well, the pathway is identified there. There are some very plain markers. You can't conceal your sin, and you have to be willing to acknowledge it and to renounce it. You not only acknowledge it, you renounce it. You turn away from it. Sounds like repentance to me. Let's go back to Daniel chapter 9. I want you to see the outcome of that prayer. It's the next passage in your notes. Daniel finishes his prayer. He says, "While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel". So Daniel is self-consciously acknowledging his identification with the sins of those people. We've been very self-righteous.
In Luke, Jesus tells a parable about a Pharisee, a very public religious character; and a tax collector, a very public sinner; and he describes their prayers. He said the Pharisee stands on the square in the street and says, "I thank you that I'm not like these people". And then the Pharisee begins to list and numerate all of the good things he does. And the tax collector said he wouldn't even lift his eyes to heaven, but he said, "I'm not worthy to even address you". And Jesus said the tax collector went home forgiven and the Pharisee didn't.
So Daniel has my attention. He's this most remarkable character. God has given him dreams and interpretation of dreams and established him in a powerful way in a foreign nation, and he is reading Jeremiah and he has this insight that it's time to go home, and he begins to repent and he said, "While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill, while I was still in prayer, Gabriel", that would be the archangel, "Gabriel, the man I had seen in an earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. He instructed me and said to me, 'I have come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given. I'm come to tell you because you are highly esteemed.'"
I want to get in that line. How many of you would like Gabriel and the angels of heaven to understand you are highly esteemed by the creator of all things? Yeah, I think I'd be all right with that. Daniel was confessing his sins, and they weren't even sins that he'd had direct involvement in but by identification. He said, "We need to pray about that. I need to talk to you about that". 1 John 1, verse 9, "If we confess our sins, he's faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we haven't sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his Word has no place in our lives". If we confess our sins, he's faithful and just and will forgive us and will purify us from all sin.
And when the Lord begins to do that, you know, often God speaks into my life and ministers to me through people, and I don't mean people that I've said, you know, "Would you please minister to me"? I mean, sometimes it's people I don't know and people I don't really want to hear from, and they walk up and they say something and it's not pleasant and I have to decide if it has any value or any merit. And will I be angry and respond in resentment or bitterness, or will I listen? Not necessarily to the person. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. But are you willing? It can come through a book. It can come through a song. It can come through a message that you just recognize was addressed to you even though it wasn't intended for you. "Father, if there's anything harmful in me".
Look in Matthew 26. This is Peter. It's the evening of Jesus's arrest and betrayal. They're having a hard time. "After a little while, those standing went up to Peter and said, 'Surely you're one of the disciples. Your accent gives you away.' But he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, 'I don't know the man.' And immediately a rooster crowed". Remember Jesus said the rooster would crow by the third time, or he would deny him three times before the rooster crowed. "And Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: 'Before the rooster crows, you'll disown me three times.'" Look at the next phrase. "He went outside and he wept bitterly". Lot of remorse in Peter. Peter didn't say, "Well, everybody else did it too. There wasn't anybody standing with Jesus tonight. I mean, I may not have done great, but John didn't do any better".
Peter went out and wept bitterly. We're not done with that. I want to come back to it in a moment, but I want this idea of remorse and repentance and confession to have a little bit of a new place in us. It's foundational to us growing up in the Lord. You see, the message that I have heard most predominantly, and it may be in the way I heard it, but the message that I have heard is been about confession, profession of your faith, a conversion experience, salvation, perhaps a journey through a baptismal pool. And some Bible study would be a good thing and occasional service point would be nice and a little bit of generosity being expressed would be helpful, but if you come back and if you've said the prayer and you've been through the pool, you can kind of just coast it out. You don't have to be a zealot. You don't want to be a crackpot. You don't want to be one of those freakish fanatic kind of people. "Yes, I do".
I want to go back into that narrative with Peter for a minute. We're going to follow this through for a bit. Peter makes a declaration of his faith. Look in Matthew 26. We read the end of the chapter. We're just going to step back a few hours. "Peter replied", Jesus is speaking. He's telling them that they're all going to step away, and Peter replies, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will". And I can see it. When he's doing that, he's looking at the others. "Yeah, Lord, you know, they look kind of scruffy to me too, but I'm in". Maybe he's boistered by his declaration at Caesarea Philippi. Remember that? A few months earlier, they're in the northern part of Israel and Jesus said, "Who do you say that I am"? And Peter said, "You're the Messiah". And Jesus said, "That was revealed to you by God, not by men".
Maybe Peter has been a little boistered by that. I don't know though the origins of it, but once again he speaks up. "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will". So Jesus answers him, "I tell you the truth. Tonight before the rooster crows, you'll disown me three times". Bleeders, Peter is not backing up. He said, "Even if I have to die with you, I'll never disown you". It's more than bluster. I think he believes it. You see, sometimes we have to come in humility to the Lord because even with our best intents we fail. We're fractured folk. Our character is inconsistent. And the goal of my faith isn't fooling you. The goal of my faith isn't public perception. The goal of my faith isn't what will others say. The goal of my faith is that the creator of all things would be pleased with me. And so I've got to cultivate the habit.
Now, he knows all things. He knows the thoughts and the intents of my heart, not just the words that escape from my mouth when you're listening. I've got to be willing to say to him, "I need an adjustment". Peter said, "Even if I die with you, I'll never disown you". And all the other disciples said the same. You need that. All the others followed Peter. "Well, if he's in, we're in. He's not jumping out of the boat without us again. Almost drowned that night, none of us got that wet, but we're not finished". Peter does deny the Lord. Post-resurrection, Jesus meets with the disciples in Galilee. They've gone fishing. They're broken. And Jesus turns to Peter after breakfast. They've had breakfast together. It's a public setting, and he turns to Peter and says, "Peter, do you love me"? And he said, "Lord, you know I do". And he said, "Well, feed my sheep". And he repeats it. He repeats it the third time. He asked him once for each time he denied him.
You know the story. It's in your notes. It's John 21. "The third time he said to him, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me?' And Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, 'Do you love me?' And he said, 'Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.' And Jesus said, 'Feed my sheep.'" I think it's noteworthy that Peter's failure, even though the rest of the disciples said they would stand with Jesus and they failed, Peter had made a boast, a public one, even called in to question his fellow travelers. And so his pathway to restoration is more than a casual, "Hey, I'm sorry". It's more than a gentle nod. Jesus, in his own way, calls him out in public. He's doing this in a public setting. The other disciples are present. I'll show you that in a moment. In front of the rest of them, he says, "Peter, do you love me"? "Lord, you know I do". He repeats it until Peter is hurt by it. He's offended by it. Said, "Lord, you know all things".
You see, repentance is not casual. It's not sloppy. It's not without emotion. Doesn't have to be driven by emotion, but it shouldn't be imagined to be totally separate from that. He goes on to say, "I tell you the truth". And you know by now when you see that phrase, something's coming, right? Something startling is coming. That if Jesus didn't say, "I'm telling you the truth," he wouldn't believe it. He said, "Peter, I tell you the truth. When you were younger you dressed yourself and you knew who you wanted, but when you are old you'll stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead you where you don't want to go".
Now then John slipped something in. See, the Gospels are written after the fact. They were present for the events, but they wrote it down sometime later. So sometimes there are these insertions that reflect what they've learned since they were there that day. And John inserts in verse 19, "Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death that which Peter would glorify God". Church tradition says he was crucified upside down by his request. He said, "I don't deserve to die in the same way my Lord did". And then Jesus said to him, "Follow me. Follow me". And Peter did, but he didn't stop there with Peter. Jesus goes back to heaven in Acts chapter 1. In Acts chapter 10, Peter is in Jaffa. It's a port-side city. He's gone for a few days at the beach. And he's waiting for lunch to be prepared, and he's on a roof and he has a vision. And in the vision there's all these things that he's not allowed to eat, and then he hears God say, "Kill and eat". And he said, "Not me. I'm not eating that stuff. I'm a good boy". And God said, "Don't you call unclean what I call clean".
It's in your notes. It's Acts 10. "Surely not, Lord. I've never eaten anything impure or unclean. I've never done that". He's back over in the bucket talking about how good he is. "I mean, I know some people who have eaten that stuff, but I have never done that". Have you got I've-never-done-that list? I bet you do. I got one. Now, I don't want to talk about what I've done on my list, but I can wax eloquent on the I've-not-done list. It's not very long, but I can wax eloquent. "The voice spoke a second time, 'Don't call anything impure that God has made clean.' It happened three times", seems like Peter needs three times. That's kind of a, "Happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back up to heaven".
You know this story. They finished that, and there's a knock on the door and there are some non-Jewish people downstairs, said, "We want you to go to Caesarea with us". Observant Jews don't go to Caesarea. It's a pagan city. They just don't go there, and they certainly don't go with non-Jews. That's just offensive for somebody knocking on the door with an invitation to a strip club. "No, no, we don't do that". But he's just had this vision. God's bringing change to Peter again. He's going to have to repent. He's going to have to confess it, and before he's done he's going to have to say it out loud. He goes with them to Caesarea. When he gets there he's met by Cornelius, a Roman soldier. He goes into the home of a Roman soldier. They killed Jesus. And he says, "Why did you send for me"? He's hardly friendly. He said, "Okay, you send somebody to get me. I'm here. What do you want"?
He's not warm. There's no change of pleasantries. "Just exactly what do you want"? "Well, we saw an angel, and the angel told us we were supposed to go get you". So Peter starts to tell him this Jesus story, and the events of Acts chapter 2 are replicated in that pagan's house. It's in your notes. It's Acts chapter 10. "Talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people, and he said to them, 'You're well aware it's against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or even to visit him.'" He just had a vision. "You know it's against the law for me to be here, but God has shown me that I shouldn't call any man impure or unclean". He's confessing in front of a bunch of pagan strangers. "God has shown me that you're okay. God has shown me I was wrong".
You know how hard that would be to do? Do you know how uncomfortable that would be? "So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you send for me"? Before they get down to any business, he said, "Listen, I was wrong. God showed me I was wrong. So I'm here. What you need"? Same chapter, verse 34, "Peter began to speak, 'I now realize...'" This is after the Holy Spirit's poured out. It says that the Jewish people with him were astonished. They're completely stupefied. They've got no response. So Peter said, "I realize how true it is that God doesn't show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.
You know the message that God sent to the people of Israel. He didn't send it to you. He sent the message to the people of Israel, telling them the good news of peace through Jesus Christ who's Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea beginning in Galilee after the baptism. God sent a Messiah to us. And until today we thought you were on the outside of this thing, but God has shown me we stand together". What do you call that? A change of thought and a change of behavior. What's the biblical word for that? Repentance. You see, Peter couldn't continue to grow up in his assignment unless he continued to change how he thought and how he behaved. He's born again. He's Spirit-filled. He's a leader in the church. His shadow falling on people is bringing healing. He's pretty plugged in, and yet it requires supernatural intervention to get him to humble himself and say, "I need to think in some new ways".
Just how turbulent does the world have to get before we'll begin to say to the Lord, "I'm willing to change"? Are we going to keep pointing at our credentials and our experiences? Are we going to begin to say to the Lord God, "We need a different outcome? Our children are at stake. Our future is at stake. Our freedoms are at stake. The opportunity to share the gospel is at stake. They're closing churches. There are fewer people participating in worship than at any time in the history of our nation as a percentage". Just when is it we're going to begin to say to the Lord, "Perhaps we could be different"?
And one of the greatest challenges we face as we grow in the Lord is that we not get stuck. Self-righteousness is a unique disease of religious people, and I'm one of those. We can't afford to get caught in that trap. It takes humility to continue to say to the Lord, "I want to grow. I want to think new thoughts. I want to walk in a new way". If it was a struggle for Peter after 3 years with Jesus and it's the most remarkable outcomes in his life, I think it's probably a challenge for us. Let's invite the Holy Spirit to help us:
Heavenly Father, if there's any place where we are stuck in our thinking, where we hold to a tradition or an idea or a point that limits what you would do, help us to lay it down. I thank you for it in Jesus's name. Amen.