“Do not now be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the Lord.”
– 2 Chronicles 30:8
Within the last few decades, there has been a growing liturgical trend in many churches of removing the General Confession from any services of Holy Communion during the season of Easter. Leaders often say that they take out this prayer in order to allow the unfettered joy and light of Easter to dominate the whole worship service, rather than dwelling on the darkness of sin. However, the admission of sin in our lives and in our hearts is a way of regularly exposing the darkness to the light of God’s salvation through Jesus.
The three chapters assigned for today’s reading, along with the passages assigned for tomorrow, brilliantly illustrate why regular repentance is necessary, how it happens, and what the benefits are.
The reign of Judah’s king Ahaz is marked by extreme apostasy, as this descendent of David “did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord . . . but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel” (2 Chron. 28:1-2). The moral deterioration of Judah has gone unchecked to the point where the southern kingdom resembles the northern kingdom in its commitment to idolatry. Ahaz deals with his distress over Judah’s seemingly inevitable hostile takeover at the hands of foreign nations by becoming “yet more faithless to the Lord” (2 Chron. 28:22).
In the words of William Butler Yeats, “things fall apart, the center cannot hold” when human beings are at the helm. We experience this in our daily lives and relationships every time we disappoint others by hurting their feelings or failing to put their needs ahead of our selfish desires. We see this in our jobs—when we drop the ball in following through perfectly on our unending task list. We see this in larger groups, too, when organizations that strive for good fall inevitably short of their common ideals.
Ignoring the reality of human failure—others’ and our own—only leaves us, at best, with a sense of discomfort and unease. In our worst moments, we might feel like Ahaz, as though we would do anything to make our situation better – except to admit that we are wrong.
Repentance can only happen after conviction, and conviction happens through hearing the word of God. The Chronicler gives us two great examples of this proclamation: in 28:8-15, when the prophet Oded declares to the army of Israel how wrong their actions were in capturing Judean slaves as the spoil of war; and in 30:6-9, when King Hezekiah sends couriers throughout Israel and Judah urging the people to return to worshipping the Lord.
The leaders in Samaria hear the word and repent, tending to the captives’ physical needs and returning them to a Judean town. With Hezekiah’s proclamation, we read that some mock and scorn the bearer of good tidings, refusing to humble themselves (2 Chron. 30:10).
However, there are some who hear the news and show that they are not “stiff-necked,” by humbling themselves and obeying (2 Chron. 30:11). They yield themselves to the Lord, like stubborn animals finally now allowing their master to lead them.
One of our Leighton family pets was a large male chocolate Lab named Leroy, who was very strong, with a mind of his own. If we were walking outside together, even while he was on the leash, I had to take in all our surroundings carefully, because if we found ourselves near any kind of detritus that would allow alpha Leroy to mask his own personal musk, he would dive into it with such force that it would take several baths to get him clean.
This notoriously included decaying animals in the forest and rotting clams on the beach. I would try to yank his leash to keep him from diving, wishing that we had a less stubborn dog. Leroy’s neck was stiff—desiring only to do what he thought was best, unyielding to the will of his true master.
The Chronicler tells us that those who repent and come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover experience a great blessing. Not only are their necks now looser, but through the unleashing of God’s forgiveness, they experience a great spiritual release manifested in unparalleled joy, worship, and answered prayer. In addition, when they find themselves next in the midst of great trouble (see Chapter 32, tomorrow), those who have repented are empowered by God to have peace and confident trust in him, even though it seems as though the world might be ending.
Regular repentance brings so much peace and joy—why would we stubbornly want to deny ourselves this blessing?