This Lenten season I have been reminded of God’s enduring patience. Many people associate God with vengeance and wrath throughout the Old Testament. While it’s true that God exercises vengeance for disobedience, it is never without warning. In fact, many times generations elapsed as God patiently waited and gave many opportunities to repent. To repent means to turn back. We are each born with our backs to God, and some of us wander away further than others. Repentance is recognizing God’s role in our lives and choosing to turn back to him rather than continuing to aimlessly wander.
God told Abraham that it would be many years before his descendants entered the promised land because the time for judgment of the current people had not come.
Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”Genesis 15:13-16
The same was true with the Israelites after they entered the promised land and later strayed from God. God not only prewarned them of the consequences, but also sent multiple prophets to call the people back. Fourteen prophets were sent over a span of 350 years to warn Israel before it was destroyed. That is what I call enduring patience! Why is God so patient with us? Because we are his children and he loves us, but he also has unchanging laws that we must abide by. Therefore he gives us every opportunity to change.
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.2 Chronicles 7:14
“Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!Ezekiel 18:30-32
There are many scriptures in the Old Testament that tell of God’s mercy. We are not condemned by our actions but by our hearts. God knows we are imperfect; we each go our own way, fall short, and sin. Yet, when our hearts are turned towards God we continue to get up and try again, and our merciful God forgives us.
“But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die. None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live. Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?Ezekiel 18:21-23
However, when our hearts are hardened we don’t care to please God. We only care about our own sinful desires which makes us enemies of God.
“But if a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked person does, will they live? None of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness they are guilty of and because of the sins they have committed, they will die.Ezekiel 18:24
Jesus is a beautiful example of God’s love and mercy. We have known since creation that the penalty for sin is death.
…but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”Genesis 2:17
Jesus willingly paid the price for our sins. Only through grace can our broken relationship with the Father be restored. Jesus didn’t come to save those who already counted themselves as righteous. Rather, he was sent to seek the lost, the ones marginalized by society. The lost sheep of Israel were the sinners, the tax collectors, the sick, and the broken. Because they had already been rejected and humbled by life, they received his message with joy. The parables of the lost coin (Luke 15:3-7), the lost sheep (Luke 15:8-10), and the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) tell us of the joy God feels when the lost are found.
I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.Luke 15:7
Finding new life in Jesus frees us from the burdens of sin and shame. His victory over sin and death provides us with hope when we grow fearful in a world filled with darkness. We no longer have to walk the road we have been traveling because he has already made a way for our return. No matter how far we have strayed, no matter what we have done, it’s not too late. We are really only one step away from God. He is patiently waiting for us to turn around so we can receive his mercy and grace.