God desires nothing more than that we come to the water and drink. God offers us, without price, the bread of life and the sweet wine of salvation, but we often seek food and drink that does not satisfy. Though the ever-lasting covenant God made with David holds still, we do not get a free pass-the unrighteous are called to change their ways, and woe to us if we too quickly count ourselves among the righteous! This third Sunday in Lent makes it clear that we must repent or perish. Jesus’ parable of the fig tree echoes Isaiah’s challenge, “Let the wicked forsake their way” (Isaiah 55:7). Paul warns that our ancestors ate spiritual food but strayed from God’s paths and perished. We are called to repentance that we may partake of the abundant life God offers us (B J Bue).
Repentance has been central to God’s dealings with his children since they were first placed on the earth. Old Testament prophets constantly called the children of Israel individually and collectively to repent and turn to God and righteous living from rebellion, apostasy, and sin. In New Testament times, the work of Jesus Christ on earth may be described as a ministry of repentance—that is, of calling on God’s children to return to their God by changing their thinking and behavior and becoming more godlike. The Savior taught, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Christ’s apostles were called primarily to preach faith in Christ and to declare repentance to all the world (Mark 6:12). In modern as in earlier times, the term “repentance” literally means a turning from sin and a reversing of one’s attitudes and behavior. Its purposes are to develop the divine nature within all mortal souls by freeing them from wrong or harmful thoughts and actions and to assist them in becoming more Christlike by replacing the “natural man” (1 Cor. 2:14) with the “new man” in Christ (Eph. 4:20-24).
“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’ “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. (Luke 15:17-20 NIV)
I know of no more beautiful story in all literature than that found in the fifteenth chapter of Luke. It is the story of a repentant son and a forgiving father (The Parable of the Lost Son). It is the story of a son who wasted his inheritance in riotous living, rejecting his father’s counsel, spurning those who loved him. When he had spent all the inheritance and was hungry and friendless then coming to himself. He went back to his father, who, on seeing him a long way off, ran and with open arms, embracing his son and kissed him.
Like the prodigal son in the swine yard, we find ourselves living in a telestial world of sin and impurity, a world that has chosen separation from God. The swine yard symbolizes spiritual death, which is quite simply a rejection of the love of our Heavenly Father. The whole purpose of the Atonement of Christ is to restore us to the love of our Heavenly Father to be once again “at one” with Him, to belong to Him, to be His child in the eternities. To merit this blessing, however, we must do as the prodigal son did “when he came to himself.” This “coming to ourselves” is to realize our true place in relation to God, to recognize the power that sin has over us and to understand the spiritual famine in which we find ourselves because of our own poor choices. We must come face to face with ourselves and repent if we are to qualify for the blessings of the Atonement.
Only true repentance enables us to see ourselves for what we really are unworthy in every way of the blessing of belonging to our Father’s house. Although we cannot minimize the seriousness of some mistakes, we can be washed and pronounced clean from all but unpardonable sin if we will but honor the Lamb of God.
As long we refuses to forgive, we remains outside the family circle. We cannot be “at one” with the others. By this refusal we literally rejects the Atonement. There can be no “at-one-ment” if unkind feelings remain between brothers and sisters. We each therefore have it in our power to include or exclude ourselves from the blessings of the Atonement. We can choose to stay outside if we want to.
The invitation is to all to “come home,” to come unto the Christ who atoned for our sins, who made it possible for each of us to enjoy once again the warm embrace of our Father in Heaven.