1 John 2:1 (NIV)
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
Yesterday and today, in Washington, D.C., there is a gathering … there is a call for the Body of Christ, the Church, to “RETURN” to the Lord our God! The message is for repentance to fall upon every believer … for being too casual about sin … for being lukewarm in our hearts … for leaving our first love. Indeed, our concern should be about our own sins … the sin of apathy, the sin of hardness, the sin of injustice, the sin of selfishness, the sin of pride, and yes, all the secret sins that lie within our hearts – yet exposed before God. As we point our fingers at the world around us, know that more fingers are directed at ourselves. It reminds me of some familiar Scriptures that we know, but often fail to apply to our own hearts:
Matthew 7:1-5 (NKJV)
1 “Judge (Condemn) not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment (condemnation) you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck (of sawdust) in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Romans 2:1-11 (NIV)
1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.
Psalm 62:11-12 (NIV)
11 One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: “Power belongs to you, God, 12 and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”; and, “You reward everyone according to what they have done.”
Proverbs 24:10-12 (NIV)
10 If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength! 11 Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. 12 If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not He who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not He who guards your life know it? Will He not repay everyone according to what they have done?
As we think about these words of judgment, they fall upon an appointed day. For today is Shabbat Shuvah or the Sabbath of Return! It is the Sabbath that falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And in Hebrew, the word Shuvah is the root of the word teshuvah … which means “repentance”! And that is the core concept of what today is about for the people of God. The call of repentance is the sound of the shofar – calling an assembly, a people united in fasting and prayer before God. The Scriptures read in the synagogues today are reprinted below for us:
1 Return, Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall! 2 Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him: “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips. 3 Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount warhorses. We will never again say ‘Our gods’ to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion.” 4 “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. 5 I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots; 6 his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon. 7 People will dwell again in His shade; they will flourish like the grain; they will blossom like the vine— Israel’s fame will be like the wine of Lebanon. 8 What more has Ephraim to do with idols? I will answer him and care for him. I am like a flourishing juniper; your fruitfulness comes from me.” 9 Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.
Joel 2:15-27 (NIV)
15 Blow the trumpet (shofar) in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. 16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. 17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar. Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” 18 Then the Lord was jealous for His land and took pity on His people. 19 The Lord replied to them: “I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil, enough to satisfy you fully; never again will I make you an object of scorn to the nations. 20 “I will drive the northern horde far from you, pushing it into a parched and barren land; its eastern ranks will drown in the Dead Sea and its western ranks in the Mediterranean Sea. And its stench will go up; its smell will rise.” Surely He has done great things! 21 Do not be afraid, land of Judah; be glad and rejoice. Surely the Lord has done great things! 22 Do not be afraid, you wild animals, for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green. The trees are bearing their fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their riches. 23 Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for He has given you the autumn rains because He is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. 24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil. 25 “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten— the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm— my great army that I sent among you. 26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. 27 Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed.
And so, I pray that we will surrender our hearts today and seek the face of God in repentance. For He has said: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. (2 Chronicles 7:13-16) Yes, the people of God, need to humble ourselves … we need to turn from our own wicked ways … and consecrate ourselves to the Lord. Then will He hear our prayers and supplications for our homes, for our communities, for our churches, for this nation … to forgive and heal our land. Yes, our sins and the sins of this nation can be covered. We have an Advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ the Righteous One. It is His blood … the blood of atonement that redeems and restores us to the Father! That is the message of The Return! “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)