The Ten Days of Awe between the Feast of Trumpets and Yom Kippur are time when Jewish people traditionally think about repentance. Repentance is a familiar word with a murky meaning for so many. What is repentance exactly, and why does it matter?
The escalator analogy
Ironically, some of the best explanations I have come across have come from some unexpected places. I met a child once who suggested this analogy: there are two escalators, one going up and one going down. It doesn’t matter so much how far up or down you are, but only the direction you’re travelling in. Someone might be headed downwards but miles higher than those at the bottom heading up. They might seem more righteous and holy, but their trajectory is not good! In his analogy, repenting is getting off the downward escalator and changing direction completely. Another non-believer suggested that it was a matter of “regretting”. This is also a pretty good sense of what repentance is. We have a change of mind, and a change of direction. We have been prodigal sons wandering off, but we have a change of heart set off back to the place where we truly belong. We head for home.
Embrace of reconciliation
Jewish people will be raking over the past year and preparing their hearts for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It’s a time to put things right in ourselves, with others, and with God.
But we who know the Lord personally, by virtue of our Messiah, don’t have to wait a whole year for that squeaky clean feeling of an absolved conscience.
We have the privilege of coming to him any time we like as His children, knowing that we have forgiveness as soon as we ask it, because the price has already been paid.
It is a promise of God:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
The key word here being “if”. The Prodigal Son had to first give up on his ill-considered lifestyle choices, and to get up and go back home to his father. In the same way, we need to consciously let go of the sin that so easily entangles and to make a decision to come back to God. We can be sure of a warm welcome when we do! Yakov, brother of Jesus (aka James) assures us that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us (James 4:8). This reminds me of the way the father didn’t wait until his wayward son arrived at the door, but ran out to meet him in the road! Reconciliation is made possible by God but is triggered into action by our volition, and leads to both God and man meeting in embrace.
Returning to the answers
In English we talk about the “Ten Days of Awe” in the Jewish calendar, but in Hebrew it’s ten days of “teshuva” or “returning”. The Hebrew expression often used for repentance means “to return to the answers”. Even the Hebrew word “answers” has connotations of returning, just as it does in the English word “reply” – the concept is to return, go back, or respond.
“Therefore say to them, Thus declares the Lord of hosts: Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 1:3)
It has recently been pointed out to me that in this one verse in Zechariah, we see the Lord of Hosts features three times in one sentence! It’s the only place it happens in the Bible. God is passionate about this mutual reconciliation between Himself and His people, and will ultimately mobilize all the hosts of heaven to bring it to pass. It is during this holiday season of reflection and repentance that many Israelis join the dots and put their trust in Yeshua as their Messiah, their Savior. Let’s pray many more would join their number in these days.
Parties in heaven!
God gets seriously excited when sinners repent. My pastor once asked us: what causes parties in heaven? The good deeds of the righteous? Or sinners repenting? Jesus, an eye witness from the heavenly places assures us:
“I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one repenting sinner than over the ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” (Luke 15:7)
But the celebrations will go into overdrive when finally the whole house of Israel recognise their Messiah! Paul explains that Israel has been “partially hardened” for the sake of the Gentiles, so that the Gospel would go out from Israel and all around the world to the Gentile nations who were ready for the glorious good news. However, when the fullness of the Gentiles comes in, he says in Romans 11:25, this hardening of Israel will come to an end. God is able to graft them in again, we read in verse 23. Zechariah 12 paints a picture of every tribe and every clan of Israel repenting as they ultimately realize who Jesus is: their brother, their Messiah, their Redeemer, and their Savior. We believe that we are nearing that time. The Gospel has now been preached in every country on earth. There are still unreached people groups within those countries who need to hear about Jesus, but we are close to completing the Great Commission Jesus gave us to make disciples of all nations. We are in very exciting times.
For if their rejection leads to the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Romans 11:15)
Heaven and earth will rejoice as Jesus is loved and magnified by all the peoples of the earth, including His own covenant people of Israel, the apple of his eye. What a homecoming party that will be!
And how about you? Do you feel safe at home with God today? Or perhaps you feel that there’s a distance between you and God at the moment? If feel you’re out in the cold and long to come home and enjoy God’s embrace, be encouraged: Repentance is only a prayer away and your Father is already running to welcome you.
Photo by Valentina Locatelli on Unsplash