Genuine Repentance (II Kings 23:1-27)
Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Passage: 2 Kings 23:1–23:27
I. Repentance on 9/11
When you think about the date September 11th, a certain year will undoubtedly come to mind. But this morning, I’d like to take you back a few years even earlier. Speaking about his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, President Bill Clinton acknowledged at a prayer breakfast on September 11th that his nationally televised speech the previous month, a speech about the affair, had not been “contrite enough”. Listen to how one article reported the rest...
...Bill Clinton told the religious leaders that more than "sorrow" was necessary on his part now. As the President put it, one of the things he should demonstrate is a “genuine repentance, a determination to change and to repair breaches of my own making," the president said, adding: "I have repented."
If you remember this event, then you might also remember that, not surprisingly, the president’s confession was received with both approval and skepticism. Whatever your thoughts are of Bill Clinton, his declaration of repentance raises an important question: What is, as Clinton put it, “genuine repentance”? How we can know if we’ve actually seen it or not? How can we know if we’ve actually experienced it or not?
To help us think about these issues, let's go back to the closing chapters of II Kings and to an ancient picture of genuine repentance preserved for us in II Kings 22 and 23. Turn there if you haven’t done so already.
II. The Passage: “Because Your Heart was Penitent” (22:8-20)
Now if we were to read all of chapters 22 and 23, we would see that the word “repentance” is not found in either of these chapters! So how can we talk about genuine repentance if repentance is not found in these verses? Well, the word “repentance” might not be present in this passage, but repentance itself definitely is. You may remember from last time how 22:19 described Josiah’s repentance. Through the prophetess, God declared to Josiah:
“…Because your heart was penitent [or tender], and you humbled yourself before the LORD, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the LORD.”
In verse 25 of chapter 23, we are given another description of Josiah’s repentance. Look there if you would. It says: Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.
Here repentance is described with the very common OT phrase, “turning to the LORD”. The word ‘repentance’ is actually rare in the OT. It is this word, ‘turn’, that is most often used to described what we think of as repenting of one’s sin. And it's a really helpful word. Listen to how the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) captures this idea well when it tells us that…
Repentance to life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it to God… (Question 87)
But look with me at how Josiah’s repentance can teach us even more about genuine repentance.
1. Genuine Repentance Begins with The Truth (22:11; 23:1-3)
The first thing we learn from this passage about genuine repentance is that genuine repentance begins with the truth, the truth of God’s word. This is what we learned last week, when we talked about Josiah's repentant reaction to the rediscovered “Book of the Law” (i.e., Deuteronomy).
But look at what we also read in verses 1-3 of chapter 23:
Then the king sent, and all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem were gathered to him.  And the king went up to the house of the LORD, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the LORD.  And the king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant.
Hear we find the king reading this newly discovered book of the law before all the people. And even though it mentions that all the people entered into this covenant, it is Josiah as leader who is truly the focus of this section. Repentance is a heart-response. Whether another brings it to us, as it was in this situation, or one finds through personal Bible reading, or God digs up the word buried in our heart, repentance always begins with God’s word.
There is a so-called repentance that does not begin with God’s word. It begins with being caught in sin, or it begins with a desire to escape the consequences of one’s sin. While these can eventually lead to genuine repentance, only God’s word can reorient us back to God and His ways.
We all know that we’re going to struggle in this life. Struggles are a regular part of following Christ. But when those struggles come, and when we succumb to temptation, is God's word present enough in our lives so that He can regularly use it as we regularly struggle?
2. Genuine Repentance Means a “180” of the Heart (23:4-20, 24, 25)
The second thing we learn from this passage about genuine repentance is that genuine repentance means that our hearts do a “180”, a 180 degree turn, all the way around, all the way back to God. Remember that word, “turn”. Look at 23, verse 4. We read:
And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the keepers of the threshold to bring out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron and carried their ashes to Bethel.
What's happening here? Well, like many of the kings before him, even those whose hearts were inclined toward God, Josiah had probably grown accustom to the idolatrous vessels and the idolatrous priests and the idolatrous high places that had multiplied throughout the land in the preceding years. But when he was confronted by God’s word, by God’s truth, his heart turned and he recognized that all of these things needed to go. As Josiah himself would have read in Deuteronomy 6:13...
“You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him, and swear by His name.”
You see, there is no almost repentance. There is no pretty-much repentance. There is no kind of repentance. You’re heart has either turned and gone the other direction or it hasn’t.
Just scan over vs. 4-25. The sheer volume of detail here, the sheer comprehensiveness of these verses is meant to tell us that Josiah’s heart turned all the way around. To leave even one altar or priest or vessel would say something about Josiah’s heart. It would be like a supposedly repentant adulteress holding on to just one picture of her former lover, or a supposedly reformed serial killer holding on to just one of his murder weapons.
When our hearts do not turn all the way around, then we find ourselves rationalizing and justifying this or that, or minimizing our sin. We find ourselves making allowances and excuses. But that is not genuine repentance. genuine repentance is a 180 degree 'U-turn’ of the heart, an inward 'U-turn' that inevitably leads to outward action, just as we see here.
3. Genuine Repentance Leads to Genuine Obedience (23:21-23)
Now the third thing we learn from this passage about genuine repentance is that genuine repentance leads to genuine obedience. We see this beginning in verse 21. Look at what it tells us:
And the king commanded all the people, “Keep the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant.”  For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah.  But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was kept to the LORD in Jerusalem.
Not only do we read that Josiah was faithful to turn from the path of darkness, but we read here that he then proceeded to walk in the light. Remember, what we are looking at is evidence of where his heart was. The writer’s point here is not that the people simply celebrated the Passover, but that they celebrated according to what was written in this book of the covenant. It appears it hadn’t been celebrated according to God’s heart since the days of the judges; and those days ended with Samuel. Evidently Josiah even outdoes David here!
But think about it. What we see here is that our turning from sin is not aimless. Our turning from sin will mean turning and embracing God and the life that God has for us. To run from sin should be to pursue God.
But we cannot confuse repentance and obedience. Repentance does not mean getting your act together. Repentance is a heart change. But genuine obedience is the fruit of genuine repentance. Listened to how John the Baptist described this:
genuine repentance leads to genuine obedience. The full quote from the Westminster Shorter Catechism affirms this idea: Repentance to life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it to God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.
4. Genuine Repentance Does Not Always Change the Consequences (23:26, 27)
Now finally, the last thing we notice from this passage is that genuine repentance does not always change the consequences of sin. Notice what we're told in verse 26, 27 of chapter 23:
Still the LORD did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him.  And the LORD said, “I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there.”
The reforms made by Josiah did not free the nation from the consequences of its sinful past. The people’s participation in reaffirming the covenant did not change what God had ordained because of the hundreds of years of covenant disobedience. Although Josiah would go to his grave without seeing these consequences, he knew the nation would not escape.
Was this punishment? Yes. But we can also understand it as God's correction. Why is this important? Because the heart that humbly recognizes the error of its ways is the heart that humbly accepts whatever consequences God brings, because it has given up trusting in human wisdom and is now holding on to God’s grace, wisdom, and loving intentions for His children.
III. Reexamining Our Repentance
Through Josiah, God has given us a powerful reminder, But also listen to how the prophet Joel expressed God's call to repentance: ...rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love... (Joel 2:13). Maybe this morning, as you sit here, you know that you’re going in the wrong direction, or maybe God’s got you in the process of turning. I want to encourage you with the words of Psalm 34:8, “Taste and see that Lord is good.”
It is only the goodness and beauty of Christ that will help us to recognize the deceitfulness and ugliness of sin. Repentance is the first word of the gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. genuine repentance is not possible apart from the transforming work of Jesus. Only because He suffered in our place on the Cross can our eyes be opened to sin. Only through Him can we be soft toward God. Only the power of Jesus’ resurrection can give us the power to hate sin and run from it. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. Who or what is your faith in this morning. Who or what are you trusting?
Will you consider this morning both your need to repent and your understanding of genuine repentance? By God's grace, may it be said of us, as it was said of Josiah, that we have turned [and are turning] to the Lord with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our might…
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