Aloha Friday Message – January 23, 2015 – Repenting of Repentance

1503AFC012315 – Repenting of Repentance

Read it online here, please.

1 Corinthians 7:29a, 31bI tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out. For the world in its present form is passing away.

Jonah 3:3-5, 10 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. 10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Aloha nui loa, ʻŌmea! Repent! The world is coming to and end!

We’ve seen that cartoon dozens of times. Some frazzled bearded guy in long robes and sandals is carrying a sign announcing the end of everything. We’ve seen it in the news – predictions that on such-and-such a date at some particular time – ZAP!! Everything and everyone will burst into flame and Jesus will come in the clouds. And we grin, because first of all it’s a bit comical, and secondly because we know that “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:26) We may not view that threat of imminent destruction with contempt (“familiarity breeds contempt”), but maybe we don’t take it seriously enough. Any of us could see our world end any minute now – you know, when your number is up? Even knowing that, we don’t take the idea of repentance very seriously. There’s always time for that, right? Yeah, well maybe.

Paul gave sort of the same message to the Corinthians, and everyone else he spoke to or taught: YOU need to get your act together and start following Jesus’ commands to love God and each other. Paul knew that if we just stuck with those two rules it would lead us to believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord, we would be saved. (see Romans 10:9-10) Everything about that begins with the word REPENT. We’ve defined and analyzed that word enough by now to know that it means to pull a 180 in your lifestyle and then keep going in that direction. It’s the second part of that which gives us the most trouble – keep going in that direction, the direction of good behavior. God makes it absolutely clear how he wants us to behave. For starters, we’ve got the Ten Commandments, and they don’t mince any words. Then we’ve got Scripture – lots of it! There are pages and pages of laws and regulations for better living. Histories and stories and records of judgments by Judges who weigh the Truth, prophecies by prophets who prophesy on God’s behalf, Apostles who give us the Gospels, and of course Jesus himself who wraps up all of that together when he says,  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) We also have Peter telling us how Jesus wants this to work in Acts 2:38Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” We know what to do. We even know how to do it. We seem to be lacking, though, is how to do it longer.

That’s what we see with the Ninevites. They caught Jonah’s message, and from the King right down to the lowliest donkey, everyone repented in sackcloth and ashes. When I think of sackcloth, I think of burlap – itchy scratchy stuff made of jute and sisal. In the passage in Jonah, the saq (שַׂק saq {sak}) was probably made of some sort of animal hair – often goat hair – so I can only imagine how scratchy and smelly that would be! The Hebrews, and other ancient peoples, wore it as a sign of mourning, repentance, and/or humiliation. Sometimes the prophets wore it – sort of a “uniform.” Then there’s sitting in ashes – as did the king of Nineveh – or even as some believe, on a heap of dung as Job did (see Job 20:7 comments). I seriously doubt that many (if any) of us would go that far to demonstrate repentance! It worked for the Ninevites, though, because God decided they had done their 180 and he held off on overthrowing them. But they repented of their repentance. That led me to wonder what the Ninevites did that was so egregious, so awful that God wanted to wipe them off the face of the Earth.

Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian empire. I’m going to put in a little map of Ancient Assyria, and there will also be a more modern map of the same area today.

AssyriaAreaM

 

The Assyrians were the ancient ancestors of the people who now live in Syria and Iraq. Nineveh’s ruins were discovered in the vicinity of a city we’re familiar with – Mosul. There was absolutely not a scarp or a scintilla of niceness in the Assyrians. They were ruthless, cruel, and thoroughly evil. They persecuted Israel for centuries, but not just Israel. They were constantly causing mayhem and monstrous suffering through their incessant hegemony over their neighbors. If fact, they considered their cruelty a virtue to be pursued and boasted about! They committed unspeakable crimes of violence against everyone – even their own neighbors. They cut off the heads of hundreds of people and bound them onto poles around the city or stacked them up in pillars. They peeled the skin of living people and then spread the skins out on the walls of the city. The amputated hands, feet, noses and ears, then blinded their victims and left them to die. One bragged he had murdered 3,000 people by burning them alive. They also highly valued prostitution, sorcery, divination, and immorality of every kind. That was the kind of town Jonah headed into. Knowing that, I’m a little more sympathetic about his being unwilling to go, and all the more impressed because he finally did go. What’s even more amazing in Jonah’s story is that they did repent – for a while anyway. Fast forward around 200 years and the prophet Nahum shows us that they hadn’t been able to maintain their spirit of repentance.

Nahum lived in the waning years of the 600’s BC. He is listed as one of the “minor prophets,” and wrote his prophecies (or historical account) somewhere around 615-612 BC, the time of the fall of the Assyrians and the destruction of Nineveh. His writing is in poetry, and even though it condemns the crimes of Nineveh and the Assyrians, it does so with rollicking poetry. Chapter 3 of Nahum describes God’s judgments against them. It’s every bit as harsh as what they deserved. (That’s really worth reading if you can spare a few minutes.) God had judged and destroyed other cities in the neighborhood, and had run out of patience with Nineveh. He humiliated them in grand ways, turning their boastings into accusations against them and depriving them of everything they valued, even to the point of seeking safety with their enemies. Once that nation was destroyed, it took centuries and intensive searches to find anything that remained of it. They were paid out the full wages of their sin: Death by annihilation.

There are others in our day and age who boast of their cruelty, who go to great lengths to terrorize, torture, and traumatize the world. They have turned from their opportunity to repent, and they will meet the same end as the Ninevites. They have gone “home” to their ancient territories to rebuild what they believe is the will of their gods. They will prevail for a time, but their end is ominously similar to the Assyrians’.

We have these lessons in our scriptures to teach us the difference between true repentance and false pretensions. Next time you decide to repent, God requires that you stick with it instead of saying, “Oh. It’s OK. I can always do it over again.” It is true, and I have said it many times, that there are no limits to how many times we can experience repentance. Well, it seems there is one, and the Assyrians learned about it firsthand. When we have reached the fullness of our wickedness (see Genesis 15:16), God will show us the door, and it just may be that he’s there to shut the door (see Genesis 7:16).

Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ. The “baptism of repentance” is way better than any other alternative. The world is coming to an end for someone today. Best to be sure you’re properly prepared for that!

Whatever, whenever, wherever, whoever, however, if ever, forever — at your service, Beloved

Scripture passages from

New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (NRSVCE)

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Creative Commons License
Aloha Friday Messages by Charles O. Todd, III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

 

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About Chick Todd

American Roman Catholic reared as a "Baptiterian" in Denver Colorado.

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