Monday, February 11, 2013

Never Too Late for a U-Turn

How often have you heard the phrase "it's too late for him" or "she'll never change."

Human beings in general have a bad habit of giving up on others around them.  We grow impatient, weary at the lack of progress, and express dismay or despair over friends and family walking a toxic, destructive path.  Even within the church, the general consensus is that the bulk of mankind has already passed the point of no return and is heading downhill to certain destruction.

We sigh.  We shake our heads.  Sure, we want to have hope, especially with that person keeps a permanent residence in our hearts.  Still, the mustard seed of faith doesn't match up to the words on our lips--totally devoid of hope, no chance left, not worth my time, why bother.

Or perhaps that person is even closer.  Perhaps you are the one who believes you've gone too far and God could never have a place in His kingdom for someone like you.

God's Word begs to differ.

In a Bible that covers thousands of years, God minces words.  Still, sometimes, he repeats the same concepts over and over (and over) so hard headed humans like us get the point.

One such repetition is of the word "turn."

The prophet Ezekiel uses the word "turn" twenty three times.  The prophet Jeremiah uses the same word, "turn," twenty seven times.  That means not even looking into the other sixty-four books of the Bible, the word "turn" appears in just these two books a whopping total of fifty times.

Its placement on these particular pages is vitally important to anyone who thinks he is beyond God's grace.  Jeremiah and Ezekiel were writing to such a people as this, those who had endured (and were still enduring) God's seventy-year judgment for their disobedience to God's commands.

In the midst of the judgment, though, God used these two men to also prophesy a hope of restoration for the remaining remnant.  The key to such a restoration?  The word turn.

Jeremiah prophesied from 627 to 574 BC, before and during the three waves of exiles sent to Babylon.  Ezekiel's prophesies overlap Jeremiah's, his from 593 to 559 BC, before the last wave of exiles was sent from Jerusalem after the final destruction of the temple.

Living in exile, the remaining Israelites thought God's judgment of them meant all was lost.  Some said, "'Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we are rotting away in them; how then can we survive?'" (Ez. 33:10).  Others said, "'Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished.  We are completely cut off'" (Ez. 37:11).

God's chosen people felt defeated, without hope, worthless.....beyond redemption.

Yet God tells Ezekiel, "Say to them, 'As I live!' declares the Lord God, 'I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.  Turn back, turn back from your evil ways!  Why then will you die, O house of Israel?'" (Ez. 33:11).

The word "turn" correlates with repentance, which is more than mere sorrow over sin.  It also denotes turning one's back on that sin and doing it no more.  In other words, there was still hope for even those people who were feeling the sting of God's judgment.  All they needed to do was repent of their sin, their wicked practices, their unrighteousness and turn back to God.

As God later said, "'For, behold, I am for you, and I will turn to you, and you will be cultivated and sown..." (Ez. 36:9, my italics).

This God who sent His own precious people into exile, who allowed thousands to be slaughtered by the sword of the Assyrians and the Babylonians, who poured out his full bowl of judgment and wrath upon an entire nation that defiled His holy name...this is the same God who sent prophets to speak to the remnant still living in captivity.  This is the same God who says, "I want you to live!"  The same God who says even today, "I am for you."

As long as there is a person has breath in his/her body, there is still hope.  Even if we or those we know are currently experiencing the lash of God's judgment, even if that same person feels abandoned by God...we must know the truth of Scripture that any judgment is for the purpose of purification, for causing us to turn from our sin and back to Him.

We serve a God who is for us, a God who longs for us to turn from evil and embrace Him with our everything.  Praise be to His name.

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