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Lake Region Baptist Church

Repent, For the Kingdom of Heaven Is At Hand

One of the wonderful (and often painful) things about the Word of God is that it is brutally honest about the nature of men. When God tells us about His great heroes of the faith, He doesn't hide their darker side, but He presents them “warts and all.” To me, this is one of the “evidences” that the Bible is truly from God. You see, when you or I are telling the story, we're all “above average,” in our own estimation, aren't we? We always do things from the right motives. It's always the other guy's fault, isn't it?

The Bible, however, accurately portrays the true nature of man. There is no pretense of sinlessness, even in men who truly were spiritual role models (for the most part) in their lives, such as King David.

You all are aware of King David's great moral failure with regards to his adultery with Bathsheba, and the murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite. But this was not the only sin of King David that the Scripture tells us about. Please turn in your Bibles to 2 Samuel 24. David reigned over Israel for 40 years, and this story comes from near the end of his reign and his life.

2 Samuel Chapter 24

1 And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.

 

Now in 1 Chronicles 21:1 there's an interesting and important clarification: “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” You see, God, according to His own sovereign purposes, will sometimes allow Satan to tempt us to sin. This does not mean that God is tempting us, nor does He desire us to sin, but He allows the Devil the opportunity to tempt us. If this whole idea troubles you, you can see more about how it works by reading the first and second chapters of the book of Job. But that's as much as I'm going to say about that for now.

Let's read on in 2 Samuel 24...

2 For the king said to Joab the captain of the host, which was with him, Go now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beer–sheba, and number ye the people, that I may know the number of the people. * 3 And Joab said unto the king, Now the Lord thy God add unto the people, how many soever they be, an hundredfold, and that the eyes of my lord the king may see it: but why doth my lord the king delight in this thing? 4 Notwithstanding the king's word prevailed against Joab, and against the captains of the host. And Joab and the captains of the host went out from the presence of the king, to number the people of Israel.

 

5 ¶And they passed over Jordan, and pitched in Aroer, on the right side of the city that lieth in the midst of the river of Gad, and toward Jazer: * 6 Then they came to Gilead, and to the land of Tahtim–hodshi; and they came to Dan–jaan, and about to Zidon, * 7 And came to the strong hold of Tyre, and to all the cities of the Hivites, and of the Canaanites: and they went out to the south of Judah, even to Beer–sheba. 8 So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. 9 And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.

 

10 ¶And David's heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the Lord, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O Lord, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.

 

Now, there are a couple of difficult things with regards to this passage. First of all... what in the world was David's sin? It really isn't terribly clear, but some have suggested that “the fault was that he did not require the half-shekel, which was to be paid for the service of the sanctuary whenever the people were numbered, as a ransom for their souls.” (MHC) This command is found in Ex. 30:12 “When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them.” That seems like a good possibility...

Others suppose that perhaps David was just succumbing to pride, attempting to get the measure of his kingdom and his military strength in order to favorably compare himself against the surrounding kingdoms... you've seen it... an elderly statesman writing his memoirs, trying to influence how others will remember him when he is gone.

 

Well, whatever the sin was, not only did David recognize it, God did, too.

 

11 For when David was up in the morning, the word of the Lord came unto the prophet Gad, David's seer, saying, 12 Go and say unto David, Thus saith the Lord, I offer thee three things; choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee. 13 So Gad came to David, and told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days' pestilence in thy land? now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me. 14 And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let us fall now into the hand of the Lord; for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man. *

 

15 ¶So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beer–sheba seventy thousand men. 16 And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. And the angel of the Lord was by the threshingplace of Araunah the Jebusite. * 17 And David spake unto the Lord when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father's house.

 

18 ¶And Gad came that day to David, and said unto him, Go up, rear an altar unto the Lord in the threshingfloor of Araunah the Jebusite. * 19 And David, according to the saying of Gad, went up as the Lord commanded. 20 And Araunah looked, and saw the king and his servants coming on toward him: and Araunah went out, and bowed himself before the king on his face upon the ground. 21 And Araunah said, Wherefore is my lord the king come to his servant? And David said, To buy the threshingfloor of thee, to build an altar unto the Lord, that the plague may be stayed from the people. 22 And Araunah said unto David, Let my lord the king take and offer up what seemeth good unto him: behold, here be oxen for burnt sacrifice, and threshing instruments and other instruments of the oxen for wood. 23 All these things did Araunah, as a king, give unto the king. And Araunah said unto the king, The Lord thy God accept thee. 24 And the king said unto Araunah, Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing. So David bought the threshingfloor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. 25 And David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord was intreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel.

 

Have you ever dug yourself into a deep hole like David? Maybe you've got lots of holes! Perhaps it was a relationship that you came to realize was displeasing to the Lord, but you were so far into it that the prospect of cutting it off appeared so difficult that it was just a lot easier to let it ride.

Perhaps it was a career path that made it extremely difficult to maintain your family relationships, or made it impossible to be involved at church, or it tore you down spiritually, instead of building you up. But, “boy, it sure pays good!”

Maybe it was just an “attitude” that grew inside your heart like a nasty weed, but you didn't know how to pull it out. Or, maybe you even kinda liked it?

 

This is a picture of Calvary Baptist Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I worked from Feb. 1, 1985 to the end of Aug., 2004. To save you from doing the math, that's over 19 1/2 years. During the first 10 years or so of my service at Calvary Baptist Church, Grand Rapids, MI, I worked under a fellow by the name of Jim White. (picture of Jim) Jim and I worked together quite well: he was the Building and Grounds Supervisor, and I was the “Janitor/Building Manager.” He was responsible for mowing, Snowplowing, Bus and equipment maintenance, etc.

I, on the other hand, was the head custodian. I was the one responsible to see to it that the church was ready for all events and services. My personal calendar was tied to the church calendar, and often was pretty much controlled by it, much to my dismay at times. I was responsible to schedule the regular help, and hire enough temporary help to get things ready for the next wedding, the next large banquet, the next regional Sunday School Conference, the Church Missionary Conference, etc. There were Sunday School rooms to set up, piles and piles of trash to haul out, unwelcome tenants to evict, such as ladybugs, ants, snakes, etc. There were closets to keep orderly, helpers to train and direct, the sanctuary to clean and reset, floors to mop, many bathrooms to clean, literally hundreds of chairs to move regularly, and miles of carpet to vacuum and clean. Even after a huge conference or wedding, it was my goal that when people walked in Sunday morning, they would not see anything out of place that would “clue them in” about what had happened there the day before.

Because of all the pressure of these activities, and especially since I really had no personal control over the church calendar, (I mean, it wasn't like I could just say, “No, we're not going to do the Church Ministries Conference this year!”) there was a little weed of an idea that sprang up in my thinking, and I failed to recognize it and yank it out in a timely fashion. You see, I began to covet Jim White's job. I felt that if he ever retired, or moved on, I should be the one to move into his spot! I didn't resent Jim having the job, I just wanted it when he was done with it! Oh, how I wanted the freedom of “just being the maintenance guy!” No more weddings or banquets or conferences to plan for, no more constant weekly pressure of turning rooms over for multitudes of activities! I could just tinker around over at the bus garage, building things, fixing things, or if I wanted, I could go out and mow grass, or plant trees, or plow snow, or whatever! I would get to do all the “fun” stuff like Jim gets to do!

As you might guess, my wise Heavenly Father had a different plan! When Jim White retired, God led the church to use the money that was now freed up in the budget to hire a business manager. Oh, and by the way, they gave me many of Jim's maintenance responsibilities in addition to my normal job, rather than instead of! This did not suit my thinking in the least, and my frustrations with the pressures of my job began to build up into anger.

The interesting thing, however, is that I really did not recognize at the time that I had an anger problem. You see, I knew that anger was something a Christian was supposed to control, and so when I felt angry, I trained myself to put it away, and did not express it outwardly. But I never really dealt with the underlying issues. I think that I truly believed that I was not angry. Unhappy? Maybe. Frustrated? Definitely! But not angry. And because of my denial, I did not recognize or root out that “weed of an idea”... coveting a job that wasn't mine! I think I went on for two or three years like this. God was very patient with me, however, and He was working “behind my back” for my benefit!

Our Senior Pastor, (the guy whose fingerprints were all over that “business manager” decision!) in an attempt to build staff unity and mutual understanding, started doing a staff evaluation program. This consisted of an evaluation form, maybe 10 pages long, in which we were supposed to evaluate ourselves and our performance and attitudes on paper, then review it with him. Now, this really annoyed me, and I felt it was a colossal waste of my time. Here's how I thought: “If you want to do a staff evaluation, EVALUATE me! Just tell me how you think I’m doing, and what I need to change, and I’ll do it and we’ll move on! Don’t make me evaluate myself with all these “touchy-feely” questions, like “How do you rate yourself in regards to being a team-player?”

The first year, kept my mouth shut, and went along with it, and then forgot about it. But after another whole year of new pressures, new frustrations, and stuffed anger... when that staff evaluation form landed in my mailbox, I POUNCED on it! I exploded all over that paper! After an hour or two of pouring out all my “touchy feelings” in written form, I sat back to re-read it. And THAT was when I felt God tapping me on the shoulder to ask me, “Where did all that come from?”

He reminded me of Matthew 12:34: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh!” Whatever is in your heart is what spills out when you get bumped! This was my first clear realization that I was “genuine, bona fide” angry! The Good Shepherd was doing some heavy-duty shearing on this sheep, attempting to relieve me of a tremendous weight, and here I was fighting Him!

This is what I came to realize: if I really believed in the sovereignty of God, (God Rules in the affairs of men) and if I was angry, then it logically follows that I was angry at Him! This is not a good position to be in! You always lose!

God graciously showed me that I had wrongly coveted a job that was not mine, and I had allowed my heart to “seek great things for myself”, which God commands us not to do (And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: Jeremiah 45:5). I had some serious repenting to do! When I acknowledged that “God had meant it to me for good,” and I submitted willingly to God's purposes in denying me the position I had coveted, God did a miracle of grace in my heart. He made it so I could go to work happy again. I could truly enjoy serving the church again, trusting God's purposes and wisdom.

 

Now, we are beginning a series today on the Commands of Christ. Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Keep my commandments. Guard them. Treasure them. So what do you suppose is the very first general commandment that Jesus gave his disciples? What is the first Command of Christ in the New Testament?

 

Who has a Bible with the words of Jesus in red? Let's turn to the start of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, and start looking for those red words...

Chpt 1... nothing

Chpt 2... nothing

Chpt 3... some interaction with John the Baptist...

Chpt 4:1-11... some discussion with the Devil... no direct commands to his disciples yet, until you get down to verse 17:

 

17 From that time, Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! (Matthew 4:17)

 

This is the very first general command we hear from Jesus... the first one that should be applicable to all of His disciples of any age. Repent!

Now, repentance is not a familiar concept to modern man... so let me go back to my story to help illustrate the meaning of the word.

First, repentance involves understanding and acknowledging our sin. I had to understand and acknowledge that I had disobeyed God's commandment “Thou shalt not covet.” I was “coveting” something that wasn't mine.

Secondly, repentance involves understanding and acknowledging that God is Sovereign and Righteous. He rules the world! And He has every right to! He made it! And it belongs to Him! I had to understand and acknowledge that God was the One behind the decision made by the church leadership to hire a business manager. You see, God can see things that we are totally blind to! He has plans and purposes that we know nothing about, nor is He obligated to tell us! But those plans and purposes are always right! And always for the benefit of those who love Him!

And finally, repentance involves willing submission to God's plan and purposes from the heart. I had to get up and go to work again the next day with a new-found humility. I had to meet with that dear pastor to discuss what I had written all over that paper! You know he prayed about that meeting beforehand! And so did I! And he was very kind and understanding! And God graciously allowed me to show my willing submission by joyfully serving that congregation for several more years, including that Business Manager, who became my direct supervisor, and the Business Manager that followed him!

You see, repentance is not something that we do just once, in order to be saved from hell, and then forget about! Yes, we absolutely must repent from our sins when we come to Him to be saved... that is the only way any one of us can approach God for salvation is in an attitude of humility and repentance and faith. But "Repentance is not a one-time act. It is a continual attitude of a humble and contrite heart toward God and toward others." (Bill Gothard)

It also is one of the LAST commands of Christ! When Jesus said His “final words” to the churches, in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, He repeats this command several times!

To the church in Ephesus He writes, (Rev. 2:5) Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

 

And to the church in Pergamos He says: (2:16) Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

 

He writes to the church in Sardis: (3:3) Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent.

 

And finally, Jesus says to the church of Laodicea, these famous words: (3:19-20) As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

 

Isn't God amazingly patient? God waited 2 or 3 years for me to come to my senses about my coveting. How long has Jesus been knocking at your door? Hear His voice! Open the door! He WILL come in and fellowship with you!

 

Let's pray!

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