The sermon from last Sunday evening ended too soon. It was missing something important.
Last Sunday night the sermon was an examination of how challenging it can be to repent and avoid the judgment of God. In specific, we looked at the reasons it would have been difficult for the people of the northern kingdom of Israel to heed the repeated warnings of the prophets and avoid the destruction God brought upon the people through the Assyrian army. The point of this was to challenge ourselves to be prepared to do whatever it takes to avoid the Judgment of God recognizing that much may be required of us.
Here are the challenges the sinful people of the northern kingdom of Israel faced:
- They had to repent from long standing, widely accepted traditions. The sins of Jeroboam had been in continual existence for over two hundred years when Israel was destroyed, but in order to avoid God’s judgment the people had to recognize such practices as being wrong no matter how long the traditions had existed.
- In order to avoid the Judgment of God the people had to heed the warnings of prophets which had been ignored by the majority for a very long time (II Kings 17:12-14). In addition, the prophets had been warning of a coming punishment which was not realized for many years. It would have been easy to dismiss their message. We are told that many will reject the doctrine of the final judgment for the same reason (II Pet. 3:3-4)
- The people had to be willing to make a tremendous financial sacrifice or force one on others in order to repent and avoid God’s judgment. The priests in the north had no right to be priests (I Kings 12:31-32). If one of them repented of their sins, they lost they only job they ever knew and were possibly left without the skills necessary to make a living. At the same time, if the whole nation repented, it would be forcing this situation on every priest in the kingdom. These were real people who had been serving the nation all of their lives, but this was what it would take to repent and avoid the judgment of God.
- The people had to humble themselves and recognize that the true religion did not belong to their kingdom. In order to follow God correctly, they had to accept that the center of their religion was not in their kingdom but in some other kingdom. Jerusalem was the place of the true temple of God and the followers would have to rely on the southern kingdom in order to properly follow God. Jeroboam so feared this idea that he created the sinful religion (I Kings 12:26-27).
- In some ways, repenting and avoiding the judgment of God required a person to be perceived as a traitor. The sinful religion of the north was the king’s religion (I Kings 12:26-33) and the people’s religion, but the prophets were calling on the people to turn their backs on these things and thus, in some way, turn their back on the king and nation.
- In order to avoid the judgment of God, each person was being called upon to go against the majority. In the entire time the Northern kingdom existed the sinful worship was accepted and widely practiced. At one time, only seven thousand people in the North had rejected that sinful religion (I Kings 19:18). Therefore, in order to repent and avoid God’s judgment the people had to go against the crowd, and that can be very intimidating and difficult.
- This also means that the prophets were calling on the people to turn their backs on their families. Their fathers and grandfathers and great grandfathers had been worshipping the golden calves. To heed the prophets was to declare the previous generations to be wrong and sinful. Many are unwilling to follow the truth because it indicates that loved ones are lost, but that’s what it takes to repent and avoid God’s judgment.
- The prophets were also calling on the people to worship God in a less convenient way. The golden calves were conveniently located so that no matter where in the Northern kingdom you lived it was easier to get to a calf than to get to God’s temple (I Kings 12:26-27). Therefore, the people had to go further multiple times a year if they wanted to avoid God’s wrath (Ex. 23:14-17).
- The people of the North had to overcome grudges if they were to repent and avoid God’s judgment. The northern kingdom and southern kingdom had been at war many times. On one occasion, the southern army killed half a million northerners (II Chron. 13:17-18). Imagine how much the northern survivors must have hated the south for doing that. But the prophets were calling on the people to worship in the south. Many had longstanding grudges that they needed to overcome in order to avoid God’s judgment.
Many people face similar challenges today in order to repent and avoid God’s wrath. Clearly we can face many difficult and painful challenges when called upon to repent.
So what was the lesson missing? One thing…hope. In the face of such challenges and an entire nation that repeatedly failed to heed the prophets’ warnings it would be easy to think that we can’t succeed either. But we can, and it’s been proven many times in the past.
The people of Nineveh heeded the warning of Jonah. To do so, they had to listen to a prophet who was a foreigner from an enemy nation. They had to listen to a prophet who was from a lesser nation (in terms of size and power). They had to turn their backs on practices that were widely accepted (notice that God was condemning the entire city, not just a few). They had to heed the warning despite no signs that doom was imminent, and it would have been easy for such a powerful nation to think of itself as invulnerable. They had to repent with no assurance that God would change His mind about their punishment (Jonah 1:1; 3:4,7-9).
The people of Nineveh had many challenges they needed to overcome in order to repent of their sins and avoid God’s judgment. But they did it! This city of sinners believed in God, repented and avoided God’s judgment. If they can do it, so can we!
Nineveh isn’t the only example either. King David overcame many things to heed the warning of Nathan the prophet. Paul overcame many challenges in order to become a Christian. The pagans overcame tremendous obstacles in becoming Christians.
The Bible is full of examples of people who heeded the warnings and avoided God’s judgments. So while we would do well to prepare ourselves for the challenge of answering God’s call to repentance we should also be encouraged to know that we absolutely can succeed.