Rev. Douglas Kuiper
Psalter Numbers: 87, 6, 23, 384
Text: Jeremiah 8:6
(Sentences and paragraphs in parenthesis may be included when this is read for a preparatory sermon, and omitted otherwise, at the reader’s discretion)
Beloved saints in Christ,
Our text reminds us that Jehovah is the all knowing God. He sees all that His people do, including our sins. And He listens to all that we say, including whether or not our speech gives evidence of sorrow for sin.
The child of God, who understands that his actions and words are ever before Jehovah, thus understands the necessity of true repentance. Jehovah will not have fellowship with His people who are impenitent in sin. Through Jeremiah, Jehovah speaks to Judah of the certain judgment of the captivity. Judah has sinned. She has committed idolatry, adultery, murder, and theft; she has forsaken Jehovah as her God; and she has refused to repent at the call of the prophet. None repented! No man asked, “What have I done?” So she must be judged. Also we stand in need of judgment and correction, if we do not manifest true repentance.
But our text also answers the question, “How ought true repentance be manifest in our lives?” God, looking at us to discern if we are penitent, requires us to see our sin for what it is, express by our words that it is abhorrent and repulsive, and turn from it, unto obedience. Let us take this instruction to heart, by learning how rightly to ask the question which Jehovah sets forth as one token of true repentance:
“WHAT HAVE I DONE?”
1. A Question of Self-Condemnation.
2. A Question Which Manifests True Repentance.
3. A Question for Which Jehovah Listens.
1. A Question of Self-Condemnation.
Using a different pronoun, this question is often asked of the accused by a judge: “What have you done?” This question God asked Eve when she was beguiled, and Cain when he killed Abel. Joshua asked it of Achan, when he stole the accursed thing. Pilate asked it of Jesus, when the Jews had delivered Him. In other words, it is a question often asked in a situation of judgment. The accused is asked to confess his deeds.
In our text, the judge and the accused are one and the same. Our conscience accuses us of sin; we know the accusation to be true; and we ask ourselves, “What have I done?”
The question indicates two things on the part of the one asking it. First, it indicates that we condemn the deed we have done as being sin. It can only be that the deed to which we refer is one of sin. The text requires it: “no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done?” But also, the child of God would never ask the question, “What have I done,” with regard to his obedience to the law, for then the question would be one of boasting. With regard to our sin we ask the question. We ask it, seeing that our deeds are sinful; and realizing that we, who are children of God, delivered by grace in Christ from the pollution of sin, have by sinning acted contrary to our confession.
Second, the question indicates that we abhor our sinful deed. It is one of horror, that we have come to this; that we have allied ourselves with the devil; that we have done what God hates and forbids. The question manifests a hatred of our sins, and a holy repulsiveness that we have committed such!
Do you ask the question of yourself?
It was the case in Judah that no man asked it of himself. The text is absolute here: “no man repented of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? Every one turned to his course.” More accurately, of those in Judah who had turned aside to wickedness, no man repented. God still preserved a people that did not turn to gross wickedness to begin with; Jeremiah was an example. But when Jeremiah, in the name of God, called the people to repentance, no man repented. The distinct impression is given that the thought of repentance never crossed their minds. Each turned to his course, as a horse runs to battle! Each ran to worship their idols, hurried to commit adultery again, and hastened to steal and murder! They were not willing to condemn themselves on account of their sin, but justified themselves in it, and showed they loved it!
Are we willing to ask it of ourselves?
It is a hard question to ask. It means we see the ugliness of our sin. The grace of God alone will cause us to ask it. But we have this grace! At least, we confess we do! So . . . do you ask the question of yourself?
If you have deliberately transgressed God’s law, have you asked this question, and are you willing to? Perhaps you are sexually active before marriage; or are unfaithful to your spouse; or are caught in the trap of pornography. Are you willing to hate your sin, and say, “What have I done?”
Perhaps you enjoy coming under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and this has led you to do things you should not have. When sober, do you ask with horror: “What have I done?”
Perhaps you steal by shoplifting or cheating; perhaps you desecrate the Sabbath regularly; perhaps you have not honored your parents as God commands you to do. Do you see your sin? Do you hate it? Will you ask: “What have I done?”
Do you remember that Jehovah is listening, whether you will ask the question?
Not only when our transgressions are deliberate, but also when we have sinned against our will, this question is pertinent. An unkind word slips out of our mouth; a wicked thought crosses our minds; an evil purpose arises in our hearts; and Jehovah listens to hear whether we condemn our sins in horror by asking, “What have I done?”
(As we prepare to come to the table of the Lord, God requires us to examine ourselves. We must see our sin, our guilt, and the curse which we deserve. We may not come to the table next week, except we condemn our sins as sin, and see their horror, and ask this question of ourselves.)
2. A Question Which Manifests True Repentance.
It is a small step from condemning one’s actions as sin, to repenting of that sin. It is a small step, because to condemn one’s sins, and stand in horror of them, really is the fruit of God’s grace which leads us to repentance. So our text indicates, too, that this question manifests true repentance, for we read, “No man repented him of his wickedness, saying, “What have I done?”
The text indicates three ways in which true repentance manifests itself.
The first is that of seeing one’s sin for what it is. This leads us to condemn our act as sin, and ask the question.
The second is by speaking aright. To speak aright is to speak that which pleases God. This we do, when we confess our sins, when we express our love for God’s law, and when we pray to God for grace to keep that law. True repentance always manifests itself by praying to God.
The third is by turning from sin. No longer to turn to one’s course, as a horse rushes to the battle, but to cease from that course, and to walk the new course of obedience, manifests true repentance.
True repentance, then, is a genuine, heartfelt sorrow that we have sinned against God, which leads us to guard and fight against that sin for the rest of our life. By contrast, false repentance is a remorse that one must suffer sin’s consequences, but not a sorrow that one has sinned before God. False repentance indicates that, given the opportunity, one would commit the sin again, if he thought he would not be penalized for it.
False repentance is always the response of natural man, apart from grace. By contrast, true repentance is always a fruit of God’s grace in us. It is a gift of grace which Christ earned for sinners by His death on the cross, and which He arose to work in the hearts of His people by His Spirit. The grace of true repentance begins with God! True repentance is not something I do outwardly, then hope it takes root in my heart; true repentance is not something I choose to do; true repentance is something God makes me want to do!
God works this repentance by the preaching of the gospel, as He calls us, just as He called Judah through Jeremiah, to see our sin, to turn from it, and to trust in Christ for full forgiveness.
Are you truly penitent for your sin?
The wicked in Judah were not. Why were they not? We must not blame Jeremiah’s preaching, and God’s call through it, as being ineffectual or insufficient, for God’s call always accomplishes its purpose. And we must not resort now to the doctrine of reprobation, saying that God decreed they would not, for some were elect - God still calls them in verse 8, “my people.”
The wicked in Judah did not repent, because they loved their sin. Jehovah Himself said in verse 5, “They hold fast deceit, they refuse to return.” Some refused, because they were totally devoid of God’s grace; their sinfulness indicated that they hated God Himself, from the bottom of their heart. Others refused, because they chose to believe that they could still enjoy God’s love and blessing even though continuing in their sin. God will bring these into captivity to teach them the error of their deceitful thinking.
Are our hearts as hard? The grace of God calls us to penitence. The consequences of sin are set forth - captivity for Judah, and judgment for us. This judgment is that of hell for those who will never repent; but for God’s people whose hell Christ bore, the judgment of separation from God’s fellowship for a time. The gospel is preached, and we hear that God’s grace in Christ is sufficient and effectual to turn His people from sin. The promise of the gospel, that of the certain enjoyment of God’s blessing in the way of faith in Christ and obedience to God’s law, is set forth.
Does this work true repentance in you? Do you ask, “What have I done,” as if to say, “How far I have fallen from God; how greatly I need His grace; how I long for Him to turn me, to restore me, to bring me close to Him now and always!”?
(In the week of preparation that lies ahead, may God work in us such repentance, that we ask the question in this sense).
3. A Question for Which Jehovah Listens.
The most striking point about our text is this: Jehovah is listening to see whether those who claim to be His covenant people but have given themselves over to sin will indeed ask this question.
Some think that the text speaks not of Jehovah listening, but Jeremiah; that Jeremiah “hearkened and heard,” and determined that no man repented. But it cannot be so. First, the context will not allow it. Although Jeremiah does relay this word to Judah, he speaks in Jehovah’s name, what Jehovah commanded, according to verse 4: “Moreover thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD . . .” And in verses 10 and 11, part of the same word of Jehovah, it is clearly Jehovah who uses the first person pronoun. So it must be also in our text. Second, at times the people of God ask the question “What have I done?” in the privacy of their closet, or in the innermost recesses of their heart. Jeremiah could never have heard the question then; but Jehovah could, and can.
Jehovah pays attention; He listens! As men foolishly turn to their sinful way, with the eagerness and swiftness of horses to the battle, denying that Jehovah exists, or denying that if He exists He knows, or denying that if He knows He cares, Jehovah watches and listens from heaven. He listens carefully, to their every word. What will they say?
That we are always in Jehovah’s presence, we often forget. But let us remember it, and let the remembrance of it lead us to condemn our sin as sin, and to repent of it. For Jehovah condemns our sin, and it must be our desire to conform our judgment to His.
Why does Jehovah listen for this question to come to our lips, or arise in our heart?
He does so first, because in the event He does not hear the question, He will use this fact as evidence of our impenitence. After all, it is not every sinner who must experience Jehovah’s wrath; (and it is not every sinner who must keep himself from the table of the Lord); it is the impenitent sinner who must do these things. If Jehovah detects impenitence in us, He will either prepare us for everlasting destruction, or must prepare some great chastisement for us, to turn us.
(Jehovah listens this week to what we say and do. If in this week He says of us, “I did not hear you ask, “What have I done?”, then we partake of the Supper next week to our judgment).
But secondly, He listens for this question, in order to visit His gracious blessings upon those who ask it. We realize that the asking of this question is not a condition to receiving His blessing; we know that His blessing is not something we can earn; and we realize, too, that it is deceitful to think that the mere outward asking of the question, without being truly penitent, will fool Him. But in the way of true, genuine penitence, Jehovah visits His blessings upon His people.
Such blessings as the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins! And the promise of grace to fight against sin, and find the victory in Him! And the assurance of being loved, as the father of the prodigal loved his returning son, assured him of favor, and promoted him to highest honor!
Such blessing as required the death of Jesus Christ our Lord (which will be pictured for us next week in the Supper), to bear God’s wrath and take away the curse which we deserve! And such blessings as now must be poured out upon us, for Christ’s death was complete and full atonement!
Our asking the question, “What have I done?” with genuine horror at our sin, and manifesting the grace of repentance, is itself the testimony of God that He will bestow such blessings on us. (It is itself the testimony that He will receive us in mercy at His table next week). For apart from His grace, we would not ask the question. Asking the question by the power of His grace is assurance that He will continue to work that grace in us, cause us to enjoy His blessing and favor, and finally, one day, receive us into glory.
May our gracious and covenant keeping God, Jehovah, who listens attentively to our words, work in us to ask this question, preparing us to enjoy His favor. AMEN.