Click here for the reading: Joel 2:12-19.

In this great age of compromise and equivocation, the temptation to soften the language of “return” or repentance is strong. Yet the message God gives to the prophets is clear: “return to me with all your heart.” The Lord promises mercy to those who return to Him.

The call to repent goes out to all. “Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.” What does repentance look like? Is it different for the young and the old? In what ways do we hesitate to preach, ponder, and exercise repentance, and why?

Contrition and repentance go hand in hand. We must be humbled by the knowledge of sins, knowing first of all that we have offended God and wronged ourselves by giving way to passions and sins.

There is an outward element to repentance that is often lacking and important to highlight as we observe Ash Wednesday. The Word of the Lord says “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.”

It is true that the Lord looks upon the heart and not the outward appearance. It is likewise true that the Lord breaks our hearts to bind us closer to Him. The contrite heart at times gives ways to tears, to mourning, to lamenting what we have done. Do not be ashamed of such things. Be ashamed of sin but never of godly contrition that leads to repentance.

The sinner is called to repent, to turn to the Lord, rending his heart, and He responds with mercy.  “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”

The Lord Jesus Christ forgives sinners. He forgives those who know they have sinned and turn to Him. We should not be afraid to repent. We should repent daily and mean it. We should let God’s Word work in our hearts, that they be broken and turned to him. He does not turn away the brokenhearted, but binds them up and washes them clean.

Fear not the Lord’s call to repent. Fear not to proclaim the urgency of repentance. Fear the Lord, not men. Trust in Him. It is only in the preaching of the pure Word of God that true repentance is given, that saving faith is kindled, that men reach their heavenly goal.