Half-Baked Apologies And The Repentance Games We Play

Text: Joel 2:12-19

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Do you ever notice how celebrities and politicians apologize when they mess up? Seriously, next time a celebrity or a politician land themselves in a huge scandal, watch and listen to their apology. Whether they had an affair, embezzled money, lied, or something else, their apologies are all the same. Sure, some of them may cry, while others may use a serious voice, but in the end, their apologies are all the same because they only go far enough to cover the consequence of their infraction and not an inch more.  

In other words, if they are caught in so-called minor wrongdoing, they will not give a major apology, but just a minor apology. Why give a major apology if only a minor apology is needed. If they did something that was a bit more of a more medium wrongdoing, well, they give a medium apology. Again, the degree of their apology is typically gauged in how much they messed up. If they are caught with an affair, yes, they apologize for the affair but certainly won’t bring up the other affair that they had the year before.  

But don’t we all do this? We do!  

Dear friends, consider the fact that we really do not like to apologize in the first place. We simply don’t. Our old Adam is stubborn. We don’t like being wrong. And it really grinds our gears to admit when we are wrong and to say we are sorry. But when we do apologize, the majority of our apologies tend to be half-baked. We surrender our ego and cough up a superficial apology only when we need to, and often to just make our problems go away.  
Say you’re sorry! “I’m sorry!”  
Well, that did not sound like you
meant it, but good enough.
Now, go your separate ways.  
We apologize just enough to make things right. Kids apologize to mom and dad just enough to make sure that they don’t lose their cell phone or the keys to the car. Husbands apologize to their wives just enough to make sure that the bedroom sheets don’t grow too cold. Wives apologize to their husbands just enough to make sure he doesn’t think twice about getting her that new ring. You get the point.  

But this brings up an interesting point; why apologize with a level 10 apology when only a level 3 apology will do the trick? Well, I guess we have to admit that this is how the world often works. Our world is pretty superficial and shallow when it comes to the issue of repentance.  

You see, more often than not, when a person does wrong in our world, an apology is needed to recognize that a wrongdoing has been committed. And then an atonement is then needed to appease the wrongdoing. For example, if a sports athlete slaps a woman around, he must say sorry, shed at least two tears, and then check himself into anger management. For the world, repentance on the outside is all that is needed. But this is not true for God. It is not true for the Christian faith.  This is not how it works for you.  

In our reading from the Old Testament book of Joel, we hear about repentance. God calls the people of Judah to repent. They were to put sackcloths on their heads. They were to stop eating food for a time. They were to weep and lament. They were to tear their clothes.  

Now, our immediate reaction to hearing all of this is that this would be a level 10 kind of repentance. It would be a major apology. But truth be told, sackcloths on the head, no food for a time, crying, and lamenting before God – for sin – is still not enough. Instead, God tells us that we are also to rend our hearts.  

The word ‘rend’ is not a very familiar word to us.    Nevertheless, it is a word that means: to tear, to rip into pieces. In other words, in the ancient Biblical world, when a great terror, or a great problem, or great grief came upon a person – something that was out of the ordinary, some pain that was too deep to even comprehend – they would grab their clothes on their bodies and tear them. Tearing your clothes was an expression of extraordinary and uncontrollable emotion.  

And so, the point being, God is calling the people of Judah not only to tear their clothes but also to tear their hearts. 

Dear friends, you see, when it comes to sin, our God is not interested in a half-baked apology. Our Lord is not content with a superficial, “I’m sorry.”  The reason being? Well, sin is not child’s play. Sin is not a drop in the bucket. It is not small potatoes. It is not a breeze. Sin damns. Sins kill. Sin deserves wrath. Sin merits hell. Sin earns punishment and condemnation.    And so, when we sin, anything less than rending our hearts – splitting our hearts into pieces – is shallow and careless.  

But this sounds mean! Why would God want our hearts to split into a hundred pieces? Well, it is quite simple. The Lord God wants you and me to get into touch with reality. He wants us to sober up to the damning reality of our sin – and to weep.  

You see, repentance is nothing more than you and I coming back to the reality of who we are and what we have done because of our sin. Repentance is not offering a half-baked apology and a silly atonement for our mistakes. No, repentance is us coming all the way back to the reality that we are poor miserable sinners who deserve God’s wrath and punishment.  

Repentance is saying our confession of sin each Sunday morning, beating our chest, and saying, 
“God, you could kill me and send me to hell, for that would be fair and right because I am a poor miserable sinner who has failed you and my neighbors by my thoughts, words, and deeds.”  
Now, some like to think that if they truly rend their hearts - that if they properly come to the end of themselves that God will stand up, clap His hands, and say, 
“Wow, well done. You have repented correctly.  That was a 10+ apology.  You sure landed that! I guess I now owe you forgiveness because you apologized correctly.”
Dear friends, when the reality of our sin and the condemning force of the Law grind us to a fine powder and leave us with a shattered heart, God does not owe you and me a single thing. 

Even if you get in touch with reality and recognize the magnitude of your sin, God does not have to forgive you. He owes you nothing. You could perfectly confess your sins, and God could still send you to hell, and that – yes, that – would be perfectly fair. It would be perfectly just of God.  

But, Baptizes Saints, He doesn’t!  

Your God is kind and merciful. He is patient. He shows pity.  

How do you and I know this to be true?  

For God so loved this world – He loved you – that He gave His Son, His one and only Son. And this is why: so that you would not be destroyed; so that you would not be condemned; so that hell would not burn you.  

He forgives you not because you are perfectly repentant, as if you are worthy of reward. No, He forgives you because of Christ, who died for the ungodly.  

You see, the forgiveness of Christ is not for you when you are doing well at being sorry. No! The forgiveness of Christ is for you and me because our Lord is rich in mercy and abounding in love for people who are too weak and sick in sin to do anything to get themselves ready for God’s favor. Christ comes for empty-handed, dead, beggarly, and poor sinners to forgive and cleanse.  

Listen up, Baptized Saints! 

We are spiritual orphans, this is most certainly true.  However, we are adopted in Christ.  

We are guilty, this is most certainly true.  However, we are justified in Christ.  

We are enemies of God but are made friends in Christ.  

We are dead in sin but are made alive in Christ.  

We are blind to righteousness but are given eyes to see in Christ.  

We deserve hell but are given heaven in Christ.  

We deserve wrath but are given grace in Christ.

And so, repent boldly, dear Christians, for this is the life of a Christian. However, hear the good news of the Gospel even more – you are forgiven in Christ, for Christ comes only for sinners and considers it well-worthwhile.  

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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