Saturday, October 31, 2009

Repentance

I realized last night that related pieces of information have rattled around in my brain for at least 30 years without my making any correlation. Sometimes I'm slow. Now that you're curious, I'll pose the topic of my enlightenment as a question:

To the prayer of what former king of Judah was Jesus alluding when he told the scribes and Pharisees, "I have not come to call righteous ones, but sinners unto repentance."?

For those who know the answer, pat yourselves on the back. It took me thirty years to figure it out. For the rest of you, I'll simplify the question:

What former king of Judah is credited with the following prayer?

Thou therefore, O Lord, that art the God of the just, hast not appointed repentance to the just, as to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, which have not sinned against thee; but thou hast appointed repentance unto me that am a sinner: for I have sinned above the number of the sands of the sea. (King James Version)

If you answered either question correctly, I commend you for your extracurricular reading in the Apocrypha. The scribes and Pharisees had complained that Jesus and his disciples ate with sinners, and Jesus answered them, "No need do the ones being in health have of a physician, but the ones having illness. I have not come to call righteous ones but sinners to repentance." Luke 5:31-32 (AB)

In fairness to scholars, although The Prayer of Manasseh is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 33:18-20, there is no continuity of manuscripts proving that the apocryphal version was penned by Manasseh. Perhaps it was re-inked at a later time from oral tradition. That Jesus alludes to it, justifies our study of it especially if we contemplate why Jesus referenced the prayer.

When Jesus encountered the Jews, he always confronted them with his identity. One technique he used was to quote Scripture to associate himself with his divine nature. Luke 20:42 is an example of this. Jesus asked the scribes,

How do they say the Christ [is] the son of David? And he, David says in the book of the Psalms; "The LORD said to my Lord, sit down at my right hand, until whenever I put your enemies as a footstool for your feet." David calls him Lord, so how is he his son?

Luke 20:41-44 (AB)

Jesus refers to the Christ as being both David's son and David's Lord and then asks the Jews to explain this. Of course, they could not explain it unless they changed their theology. Were they interested in knowing the Truth, or were they content to remain muddled in their belief system? By challenging the knowledge of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus also invited the common man to consider the meaning of the Scriptures.

When he alludes to The Prayer of Manasseh saying, "I have not come to call righteous ones but sinners to repentance," Jesus associates himself with the subject of Manasseh's prayer. Manasseh prays to God saying, You have not appointed repentance to the just, but you have appointed repentance to me because I am a sinner. Who appoints men to repentance? Who calls men to repentance? Through literary allusion, Jesus confronts the Jews with his divine identity. The subtle message that Jesus conveyed was not that the scribes and Pharisees did not need to repent. Rather, Jesus conveyed that he was indeed the one calling upon all men to repent.

Manasseh was a bad character. As king of Judah, he imported foreign gods, built idols, and initiated sacrifices on the high places. God sent the Babylonians to conquer Judah, and they carried Manasseh into prison. Manasseh repented and God restored the kingdom to him. Upon his return to the throne, he destroyed the idols and commanded Judah to worship only the God of Israel. Upon Manasseh's true repentance, God turned from wrath to favor with respect to Manasseh and Judah.

Manasseh seems to make a theological faux pas when he says that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had not sinned against God. However, when we consider Manasseh's words we should realize that the Patriarchs lived prior to the Law and God attributed them righteousness according to their faith (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6, James 2:23, Hebrews 11:8-9). No where in the Old Testament does it give an account of the Patriarch's repenting. While each had his faults, their attitudes toward God expressed unwavering faith. Abraham was justified by his faith before the Law was given. Paul explained in Romans 5, "sin is not taken into account when there is no law." Even under the Law an act of faith was credited as righteousness (Psalm 106:31). When Manasseh says that the Patriarch's were not appointed unto repentance, it need not mean that they had never sinned. Rather, he recognizes that their lives exhibited the faithfulness that his own life did not.

So who does Jesus call to repentance—all men everywhere. Paul explained to the Romans that "All have sinned and lack the glory of God." Romans 3:23 (AB) Paul declared to the Athenians at the Areopagus:

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. "For in him we live and move and have our being." As some of your own poets have said, "We are his offspring."

Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.

Acts 17:24-31 (NIV)

Jesus came to call sinners to repentance. However, as Paul also said, the same one calling men to repent will someday judge all men. Though Jesus said he came to call men to repentance by faith, he also said he was given authority to judge.

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

John 5:24-30 (NIV)

When we consider that Jesus has both the authority to call men to repentance and to judge the unbelieving, we should acknowledge our condition and pray as Manasseh did, saying, "You have appointed repentance unto me because I am a sinner." Just as Manasseh's repentance turned God's judgment into reconciliation and restoration, our repentance to faith transfers us from realm of death to eternal life in Jesus Christ.


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