1 Corinthians 12:1-11
"Repent and believe in the Gospel!" Repent is a word we hear a lot at church. But do you know what it means? To repent means, literally to turn. If a person is going down a road to destruction but then turns around and goes toward safety, he has repented. Everyone must repent or they will be condemned. To refuse to repent is to continue on your own way and not to turn to God's way. The Lord describes unrepentance in our OT lesson, "Like a horse plunging headlong into battle." Repentance involves a change of mind and behavior; to go down a different path than you are currently following.
We speak of repentance in two ways: first, to repent from unbelief to faith in Christ. This is called conversion. The second is daily repentance. This means that the Christian, who is daily plagued with temptation and the weakness of his sinful flesh must also daily turn from his sin and follow Christ.
The first repentance, that is, conversion is quite literally impossible. No one has the ability to convert to the true Christian faith by his own strength. This is because if you do not have faith you are spiritually dead and you have no ability to make yourself spiritually alive. Our Epistle lesson today proved this to be true. St. Paul writes, "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except in the Holy Spirit." Because of this and many other passages in Scripture, we teach our children to confess in the Small Catechism, "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified, and kept me in the true faith."
This means that it is impossible for you to choose to be a Christian, but rather the Holy Spirit creates faith in your heart without your cooperation, before you can choose Jesus. He does this through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus and Baptism.
Now this teaching creates problems in our minds. If no one can choose to come to faith, but only the Holy Spirit can create faith, why doesn't the Holy Spirit create faith in everyone, so that all people will be saved? Why do some not believe and go to hell, while others believe and go to heaven?
Many have tried to answer this question. Some have determined that God did not intend to save all people and that Jesus only died for the few people he chose to save. This teaching must be rejected, because Scripture teaches the opposite. St. Paul writes in 1 Timothy chapter 2 that God "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." And Jesus did not die for some people, but for all people. St. John writes that Jesus Christ is "the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2) And Jesus demonstrates in our Gospel lesson that he desires for Jerusalem to repent and be saved by his weeping for that apostate city. God does not desire for anyone to go to hell.
Others have tried to answer the question by saying that it does not depend on God, but on us. They say we have the ability to either choose God. It's up to us. But we must reject this teaching too as it clearly contradicts the Bible as we just heard. Instead, we must put this mystery in the category of things God has not chosen to reveal to us in this life. We confess that those, who are saved, are saved by grace and are converted by the Holy Spirit without any cooperation on their part. Yet we confess that those who are condemned are condemned of their own fault for rejecting Christ and the Holy Spirit. They cannot blame God for their just condemnation just as we cannot take credit for our undeserved salvation. This seems to be a contradiction. But we accept it by faith. We leave the mystery to God.
Yet this does not mean that we should be apathetic about God's Word. The Holy Spirit works through the word of God to create faith. This means we should baptize our children, because there is the promise of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). We should confess Christ to others and hear his words ourselves, for "faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of Christ." (Rom. 10:17)
When God converts you to trust in Christ, he does not do so, so that you can continue in sin, follow your lusts, covet, steal, and hate. "That is not the way you learned Christ!" (Eph. 4:20) Instead God intends you to walk in his way, to fear, love, and trust in him above all things, to love your neighbor and consider others more important than yourself, to curb your sinful passions with the word of God and prayer.
This is not an easy task! We have received the Holy Spirit and the new man in our conversion. Before our conversion we were incapable of cooperating with the Holy Spirit, but now that God has enlivened our new man in us, we can cooperate with the Holy Spirit to do good. Yet we still remain sinners in the flesh! We complain with St. Paul, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out." (Rom. 7:18) We must repent every day, because every day we turn from God's path and walk in our own way. This is our sinful nature. We must fight against our sinful nature. To refuse to repent is to reject Christ, who bought you.
This is a very serious issue, because not one of us isn't plagued with temptation every day. Yet it is the call of many loud voices, including voices claiming to speak for Christ, that you do not need to repent. That whatever makes you "happy" is good and you should do it and not let anyone judge you for it. They say God loves you just the way you are, so you don't have to change a bit. Just keep doing what you're doing.
But this is a very dangerous teaching. God forbids you Christians to covet your neighbor's stuff, to steal, to hate and murder, to fornicate or engage in any form of sexual immorality, even to lust, to get drunk, to gossip, to despise hearing his word, in short, God forbids you from following your own path. He has bought you with a great price. People think it is freedom to do whatever your flesh desires. But this is not freedom. St. Peter warns against these false prophets, "They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved." (2 Peter 2:19)
The proverb goes, "The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire." (2 Peter 2:22) That describes each of us, doesn't it? So, we must turn from our wicked desires and ways each day and devote ourselves to God. There is not a day that we will not have to battle sin until we die.
Battling sin is certainly a daunting task, so it is no surprise that people have always followed prophets, who give an easy way out. The Lord condemns the false prophets in our OT lesson, "They have healed the wounds of my people lightly, saying, 'Peace, peace,' when there was no peace." In other words, these prophets didn't heal the wound of the people's sin at all. They simply said, "Oh, it's not a big deal. God isn't upset at you. You aren't sinning. Just keep doing what you're doing." Now while that certainly put a smile on their faces at the time, it led to their ultimate destruction. It led them away from God. It caused them not to repent!
Jesus mourns over Jerusalem in our Gospel lesson, "Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!" The false prophets gave them peace without repentance. They offer the same peace to us today. But this is not true peace. True peace comes from the one and only Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. He died for the sins of all sinners, so that whoever repents and believes in him shall have true peace.
God does not desire to condemn anyone. A few verses after our OT lesson the Lord says, "For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded; I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me." See the sorrow our God feels over the sin of his people! It is the same sorrow Christ displays as he enters Jerusalem the very week he will be crucified. You see, God does not grieve over our sins, but then look away the way we might see something disturbing on the news and turn the channel. Our sins actually wound our God. Our wound became his wound when he hung on the cross winning true peace the false prophets would never understand.
Jesus tells us that Jerusalem would be destroyed, because they did not know the time of their visitation. That is, they did not recognize Christ and repent of their sins and believe in him. And Jerusalem was destroyed. In 70 AD, about forty years after Jesus spoke these words Roman troops surrounded Jerusalem, killed hundreds of thousands of Jews, and burned the temple to the ground. God punished them for their unbelief and this is a warning for us to repent.
Do you know the time of your visitation? This might sound threatening after all this talk of sin, punishment, and repentance. Repentance itself seems like a scary thing. What if I don't repent well enough? Will I ever be good enough for God? And if I keep on returning to my sin, what's the point? But repentance doesn't simply mean to turn from doing what is bad and do what is good. If that were how you were saved, you would never be saved. To repent means to turn from your way to Christ's way. This means to turn to Christ for forgiveness.
God asked at the end of the chapter where we find our OT lesson, "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?" God wants to heal his people. He wants to heal you. You don't know the time of your visitation simply by recognizing your sins and trying to do better. You recognize the time of your visitation by recognizing the Balm of Gilead, Jesus Christ your true Physician. God is angry at the false prophets because instead of turning his people to true medicine and healing, they drive them deeper into sickness and death. God doesn't simply want you to recognize your disease. God wants you to recognize the true medicine that cures your disease.
Jesus Christ is your true medicine. I hope by now you recognize your disease. You're a sinner. You need to repent every day. But repenting doesn't do you any good if you don't get healed. If you don't turn to Jesus, you'll just keep returning to your vomit and wallow in the mire. If repenting doesn't lead you to Christ's forgiveness, your constant repenting will simply exhaust you, so that you give up. But when you truly recognize your visitation, you recognize your Savior Jesus. You see that you don't simply turn from a path of doing bad things to follow a path of strict rules. Rather, you turn to Christ, who lovingly forgives you and gives you his Holy Spirit to guide you on your path.
You recognize your Visitation where Jesus promises to come to you. In church we begin each service in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Because Christ first visited you in your life when he Baptized you in this name. You recognize Jesus' visitation when you not only repent of your sins, but believe in Christ's forgiveness earned with his blood. You recognize your Visitation in bread and wine, believing that here Christ's true body and blood are the balm that heals your body and soul from the sin from which you've turned.
Repentance won't do you any good if you do not turn to Christ for free undeserved forgiveness. But every time you turn to Christ he does heal you. No matter how many times you turn, how many times you repent from sins that keep haunting you, Jesus heals you. To know the time of your Visitation is to recognize that Jesus saves you a sinner and gives you true peace with God purely through faith in him. Amen.