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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:The Incomparable Gift of Repentance
Text:LD 33 88-90 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Repentance
 
Added:2022-07-12
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Luke 19:1-9

Lesson: Lord’s Day 33 (Q/A 88-90)

 

THE INCOMPARABLE GIFT OF REPENTANCE

  1. The Strange Joy in Loss

  2. The Amazing Joy in Gain

 

  1. Psalm 56: 1, 3, 4, 5

  2. Psalm 32:1, 4, 5

  3. Hymn 18:1-3

  4. Hymn 1

  5. Hymn 72: 1, 3, 5

 

Words to Listen For: kiss, boots, swayed, fancy, tears

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. Come up with your own list of the blessings of God that you love

  2. What were tax collectors really like?  IRS agents?  Or something else?

  3. What was Zacchaeus’ loss?  What was his gain?

  4. What is repentance?

  5. What are the two desperately important words that we can’t miss?  What do they mean?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ our Lord,

What do you picture when you think of the blessings of God?  Of the good gifts that He gives His people?

If you were to write them down, what words might come to mind?

I think for me, I would have to put down GRACE.  The fact that our God is a God of grace is so important.  God’s unmerited favour and goodness.  His kindness shown to those who have no claim to it.  Grace is God’s free and undeserved help to a fallen creation.  I love God’s grace.

In that list it would be important to include God’s mercy.  If Grace is the kindness and favor of God, then mercy is that He spares us from the punishment we deserve.  Grace gives us paradise, and mercy saves us from Hell.

You could put down so many other things.  God’s love as foundational, that love that is foundational to our creation as well as our redemption.  The love that caused angels to cry out in awe, a love that caused the dead to rise and the blind to see.  The lame to dance and the sinner to be released from his chains.  Love has to be in there too.

And our lists might look very much the same right now, but I’d like to put one more item on mine.

REPENTANCE.

Repentance isn’t what you might expect on a list like this.  Repentance isn’t a perfection of God like His love or His mercy.  It isn’t a gift like the beauty of His creation.

And yet, here it is, on the list.  It is on this list because repentance, much like faith, is actually a gift of God.  It is something that, on first glance, we might attribute to ourselves.  Or, even if we see repentance as a gift, it still doesn’t really seem to fit with the others quite so well.

     Repentance doesn’t seem awe-inspiring like love is.

     Repentance doesn’t seem beautiful like the empty hands of faith, clutching onto God.

     Repentance doesn’t seem as amazing as grace.

This is what we think.

And yet, repentance, as the forgotten gift of God, can give us true life and true joy, perhaps unlike anything else.  This afternoon, marvel with me at

THE INCOMPARABLE GIFT OF REPENTANCE

  1. The Strange Joy in Loss

  2. The Amazing Joy in Gain

I invite all of you to think of a time when you felt the most joy you’ve ever felt in your life.  When was it?

Maybe for the children it was your first bike or pair of skis.  The first time you rode your bike really fast or skied down a mountain, feeling like you were flying.

Maybe it was graduating with honours from high school, or getting into the college program you really wanted.

Maybe it was your first kiss, or the day your spouse agreed to marry you.

It might be holding your child or grandchild for the first time.

All of these moments are joyful, but they also have another thing in common with each other: the joy comes because of the ADDITION of something.  A new child or grandchild.  A new relationship, a future set in place.

But we typically do not think of the loss of something as joyful.  Loss is automatically seen as something sad.  We don’t like to lose, whether it is something as small as a game with our friends, or as devastating as losing a loved one.  Loss is not joyful.

And yet...in both our reading and our catechism lesson, we see something strange: there is joy that comes out of loss.

Let’s take a look at both of them, starting with Scripture.

Luke 19 - Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.  A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.  He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”  So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

We all have heard the story, twice now, and we’ve all heard the song.   Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.  We know the story and the song, but do we really know too much about HIM?  Do we know the lesson of the story of Zacchaeus?

Zacchaeus was a tax collector, the most despised profession of all in Israel at that time.  And why?  Was it because he was greedy?

Tax collectors were known to be very rich, taking more taxes than they were owed, keeping the extras for themselves.  This was part of it, but not the whole story.

Instead of viewing Zacchaeus as the 1st century equivalent of an IRS agent, we should view him instead, as the 1st century equivalent of a Nazi sympathizer.

Zacchaeus was one of God’s chosen people, who decided to throw in his lot with the Romans, an evil occupying force.  The occupying force that controlled religion.  The occupying force that slaughtered any who stood in their way.  The occupying force that put their ugly Roman boots on the precious soil of the Promised Land, contaminating everything with their Gentile denial of the one true God.

Zacchaeus worked with these people who slaughtered God’s chosen ones, and on top of this, he got rich from exploiting his fellow Jews.  Zacchaes had grown rich and comfortable from his ill-gotten gains, from the blood, the sweat, and even the deaths of his countrymen.

And yet, this man, this man that none of us would choose to be part of the family of God, this man was chosen by God.  His heart was softened, and he was curious as to who this Jesus was.

And when Jesus saw this man...and think of that for a moment...Jesus saw Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus had climbed up into the tree to just catch a glimpse of the Messiah, but Jesus stopped and looked up into the tree, probably among leaves and branches and saw this little man.  This field that was ripe for the harvest, He took pity on him, and He loved him, calling out, Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.

Think of this...our Saviour singled out this one man among the crowd.  Think of those Jesus did not speak to that day.  All those houses into which Jesus did not invite himself.  The houses of the other Rabbis.  The houses of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  The houses of those who thought they DESERVED His presence.

And of course, there would be a day when Jesus would enter their houses too, calling them to repentance.  But not this day.  This day was a day of mercy for Zacchaeus - the Messiah not calling down curses on a Jew who had betrayed his fellow Jews.  This was a day of grace for Zacchaeus - our Saviour blessing this man with a visit to his home.

But the gifts from our God do not stop there...because Zacchaeus is granted one more gift, a gift that we might initially think is from himself.  The gift of repentance.

Verse 8 - Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.

It is then, and only then, that our Lord rejoices with Zacchaeus, saying, Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

But don’t get it backwards, don’t get it wrong...Zacchaeus did not BUY his way into heaven through his generosity.  He didn’t EARN salvation through his repentance.

But rather, Zacchaeus had begun to speak the language of a Christian.  For repentance is the language of one who knows that he has been shown grace.

And repentance, true repentance, also known as conversion, is something that comes with loss.

Our Lord’s Day puts it well when it says

     What is the true repentance or conversion of man?

          It is the dying of the old nature and the coming to life of the new.

Do you see?

That which was precious to Zacchaeus before he was called by Christ…

That which was so precious to him that he was willing to swindle, to weel and deal, to scam it out of the pockets of his fellow Jews…

All of his earthly riches had begun to lose their shine.  They weren’t as valuable anymore in the light of the mercy and grace he had received from Jesus.

There was joy, not DESPITE his loss, but there was joy as a direct result of his loss.

Because this is what conversion does.  This is the power of conversion in the life of a Christian.

The things that were once most important to you in your old life, the things that you thought you could never live without...all the things in which you were trying to find your value, your identity, your joy, your rest, and your happiness...they all fade away in the light of the riches of the gospel.

This is the power of conversion - it opens our eyes to the reality around us.  The reality of life without God.

Is it is a life filled with pleasure?  On the one hand, yes.  A billion dollars can buy a nice house, a nice car.  It can buy the fanciest foods, and the company of interesting people.  It can buy the smoothest scotch, and the fanciest designer drugs.  This is what King Solomon tried to do.  Read the book of Ecclesiastes, and see what the pursuit of worldly pleasures actually gets you.  It’s all...smoke, just a chasing after the wind.

But God’s grace…

When God’s grace shines into your life...

What is a billion dollars for a couple decades

compared to an eternal relationship with Christ?

What are the fleeting pleasures of drugs and alcohol

     compared to an everlasting life which begins with Jesus Christ wiping away every tear from our eye.  A life where there is no more               mourning, or crying or pain anymore?

Money can distract us for a while, alcohol and drugs can dull our senses to the pain of this world around us for a time, but it can never truly take that pain away.  When we sober up, all the pain returns, and it comes back stronger than ever.

Instead, we must fix our eyes on Jesus Christ, and repent from our former way of life.  We must take a page out of Zacchaeus’ book.

Now, some of us may look at Zacchaeus and think that repentance is a one-time thing.  Zacchaeus repented, he gave this money back to the poor, and then he never struggled again.

But, even though we don’t ever hear of Zacchaeus again in the Bible, we do know human nature.  We know how easily we can be swayed back to our old way of life.

That day in Jericho would not have been the last time that Zacchaeus underwent temptation.  After years of living the good life on someone else’s dime, this would not have been the end of Zacchaeus’ fascination with wealth and status.

And this is why the catechism goes on to explain what the dying of the old nature actually is.

In our limited understanding, we view dying as a one time thing.  Death is the END.  The END of our lives here on this earth.  Death is the END of our suffering and our pain.

But in another, very real way, death is just the BEGINNING.  Death is the first step in a process that includes dying many more times.

What is the dying of the old nature?

It is to grieve with heartfelt sorrow that we have offended God by our sin, and more and more to hate it and flee from it.

For the Christian, dying is an everyday process.

There is a main death of course.  A big “first death” to start the process off.  And this is the death that we died with Jesus Christ.  This is the death that belongs to our justification.  Being made right with God.

Our sins were nailed onto the cross of Christ, and they have been paid for.  They have been killed.  We have been crucified with Christ and we no longer live, but instead, it is Christ who lives in us.

And yet, there are other deaths.  Smaller, but still important deaths that happen each and every day.  These are deaths that belong to our sanctification.

Every day that you wake up in the morning, you must die.  Every day that you wake up in the morning, you must die.  Not because the war over sin still rages on...for it has already been won.  Definitively defeated by the cross of Christ 2000 years ago.  He died for you - once and for all.  He won the ultimate victory.  And how should you respond to His victory over the temporary and foolish things of this earth?  His victory over sin?  Will you still love them and chase after them?  Or, as a solider in Christ’s army, will you see the enemy for what it truly is?  Seeing your sins as an offense before your Most Holy God.  Fighting against them with all your might, and hating them with all your heart.  Killing them every day.

     HATE your hatred.

     HATE your lust.

     KILL your greed.

     KILL your wicked talk.

Hate your sins and kill them.  Do not feed them, do not care for them, do not let them live.  For if they live...you will die.  It is as the Puritan John Owen famously said: Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.

This is the loss that we must come to terms with in the Christian life.  It IS a loss, and don’t let anyone tell you different.

There are promises made by sin and Satan, that seem to be true for a time.  There is pleasure to be gained from sin...if there wasn’t, it would be easy to resist.

But the pleasure is empty, temporary, and destructive.

Giving in to hatred may make you feel strong,

    But all too soon, hatred makes you bitter.  Hatred makes you brittle, and you break.

Giving in to lust may make you feel pleasure,

    But all too soon, the pleasure is replaced with guilt and overwhelming shame.

Repentance requires loss, and when we don’t see the whole picture, it may seem like a steep price to pay.  The best that this world can offer seems to be good.  There is a lot of pleasure that this world can provide.  But when our eyes are opened, when we see the all-surpassing heavenly riches found in Christ, then even the best things of this life are nothing but broken and dented tin cans.  They cannot compare in value or in lasting worth to the treasures offered by Jesus Christ.  In these treasures, there is amazing gain.  Our second point.

In all this talk of repentance, we have not yet defined our terms.  As any teacher will tell you, this is an important step.

What IS repentance...really?

It seems rather strange for the catechism to see repentance as a synonym for conversion.  And yet, this is accurate.  Our understanding of repentance is too limited.  When most of us think of repentance, we think of falling down on our knees and saying sorry.  Repentance seems to be just the fancy term for an apology when it comes to God.

Simply saying the words “I’m sorry” on your knees before God is not the complete picture of repentance.  There is more to it - far more.

We see the fuller picture in passages such as Acts 3 - Repent therefore, turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.

This is the first step.  We must turn our back on our sins.  We must count them as dead in Christ, and then, we must continue to put them to death, not showing them any mercy, knowing that the prince of darkness will show us none.  This, we heard in our first point.  Repentance requires loss - but it is the loss of things that are evil and wicked.  The loss of our pet sins that we secretly love so much.

But there is more to repentance than just this first step.

We see this in the message of John the Baptist in Matthew 3: Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

Repentance is not only saying you are sorry, paying lip service to God, but it is an actual change in your heart.

It is putting to death what you used to love.  And it is, now, going after what you truly love.  What you spiritually love - those riches of our God.

The catechism puts it this way:

     It is a heartfelt joy

          in God through Christ,

     And a love and delight

          to live according to the will of God

          in all good works.

The fruit of repentance is joy.

The fruit of repentance is good works.

     It is a heartfelt joy

          in God through Christ.

This is the true repentance and conversion of man.  We saw these various steps in the story of Zacchaeus.  His conversion was not limited to his interest that made him climb a tree.  His conversion was not limited to seeing Jesus, but rather, every single word of the story of Zaccheaus that we find in Scripture is his conversion.

And though Scripture does not tell us everything, we can safely fill in the blanks.  It seems that Zacchaeus’ promise to restore everything came from inside his house, at the table with Jesus already.  Now, we do not read  how the rest of Jesus’ meal at Zacchaeus’ home went, what exactly they talked about, but there are countless examples throughout Scripture of what happens when repentant sinners encounter the Lord.

  • The praying tax collector went home justified.

  • The bleeding woman was healed and told to go home in peace.

  • The woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears was forgiven her sins.

  • The criminal on the cross was promised a glorious reunion in Paradise.

We read that Zacchaeus, a man who just wanted to catch a glimpse of Jesus from the tree, received Jesus’ invite joyfully, and we can be sure that their meal together was filled with joy as Zacchaeus made plans to restore what he had taken.  As Zacchaeus learned more and more about the salvation that Jesus had promised him.  The joy would have been inexpressible in that home, and in the days and years to come, Zacchaeus would have been a shining example to those in Israel of the power of the gospel.  The reality of conversion through faith in Christ.

He DIED to his old life, giving up his ill-gotten treasures and pleasures for the sake of knowing Christ.

He DIED to his old life, and he came alive to the new life.

A new life of heartfelt joy in God through Christ.

This joy that was found in that unmerited favour and goodness.  God’s kindness shown to those who have no claim to it.  Grace is God’s free and undeserved help to a fallen creation.

God’s mercy, God’s grace and God’s love - this is where we find our true and lasting joy.

And don’t miss out on those two desperately important words here: a heartfelt joy in God THROUGH CHRIST.

A heartfelt joy in God THROUGH CHRIST.

It is through Christ that we are shown this mercy and grace.  Because of God’s justice, He cannot simply overlook sin.  He can’t just forget our sins when we say that we are sorry.  But indeed, every sin that we commit is deeply offensive to our God.  He sees each tear that falls, He records it in His scroll.  And each sin committed against us will be paid for.  But for those who are truly sorry for their sins, those who truly repent, turning their back on the darkness of their old life, and coming into the bright light of a new life in Christ...these sins are paid for on the cross.

When our Saviour died on the cross, He suffered for each and every one of the sins of the repentant.

And it is through His death and life that we receive grace.  All those riches are ours through our suffering Saviour.

We have joy in the things of God...only through Christ.

Our new life is: 

     ...a heartfelt joy

     in God through Christ,

 

     And a love and delight

     to live according to the will of God

     in all good works.

We can think of conversion as a trade, as a complete overhaul of our system.

The things that used to tempt us have lost their grip on us, and the things that used to be a chore, the things that seemed to be so foreign to us...they become like a second nature to us.  Let me explain.

Our old nature, says the catechism so simply and sadly in Lord’s Day 2, our old nature is inclined...to hate God and my neighbour.

By NATURE, we are inclined, we are driven, we are compelled, to do the exact opposite of the law of God.

Think on that for a moment.  By nature, we want to do the exact opposite of God’s law.

When God says to us: “Follow my law.  Follow my law, love me, and love your neighbour”...our old nature says… “No thank you!  I think I’ll do the exact opposite!”

But by the power of our God, through His gift of repentance...the things we once loved are now hated, and the things we once hated, are now loved.

     Now, we hate to hate God and our neighbour.

     Now, we love to love God and our neighbour.

Through the Holy Spirit filling us, living in us, cleaning us up from the inside out, we begin to live according to God’s will.  We begin to live a life of good works.  More on those good works next time.

Because of the incomparable gift of repentance, the old has gone away, and the new has come.

Although we have to sacrifice what was once so precious to us, this is the best trade we could ever be offered.  To trade the worthless things that we can’t possibly keep, for glorious things that we can’t possibly lose. The best trade we could ever be offered.  To trade the worthless things that we can’t possibly keep, for glorious things that we can’t possibly lose.

THIS is the gift of repentance.  A gift, worked in our heart by the Holy Spirit.  A gift that shines in God’s treasure chest along with the likes of grace, mercy, and love.

Let us be endlessly thankful for this great gift, blessing God for the freedom and joy we receive through it.

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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