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“ ‘Return to me . . . and I will return to you,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 1:3).

THE MESSAGE PREACHED BY THE PROPHETS WAS THE MESSAGE OF REPENTANCE. Despite their blessings, Israel had frequently strayed from God, and they needed to turn back. This was not a popular message. Nobody ever likes to be told that they have departed from God, but in Israel’s case, this would have been especially true. Given the privileges of their role in God’s plan to save the world, there would have been many who presumed that Israel’s unique relationship with God guaranteed that His favor was automatically theirs. So when the prophets called upon the Jews to return to God, many in the audience might have said, “What in the world are you talking about? We’ve never left God.”

Yet Israel did need to return to God. The preaching of the prophets was desperately needed (even if it was not wanted). And today, we need to hear God’s appeal no less: “Return to me . . . and I will return to you.” It does no good to suppose that (a) we have such a privileged status before God, or (b) we are such good people, there could never be a breach between us and God. Both John the Baptist and Jesus preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:1,2; 4:17), Peter preached repentance on Pentecost (Acts 2:38), and Jesus even called upon several of the congregations in Asia to repent (Revelation 2:5; etc.). And not only is there a universal need for repentance; there is a universal possibility of repentance. The fact that it is commanded presumes that it is possible for us to do it. While there is still breath in our lungs, none of us is a hopeless case. We are never so distant from God that, by His grace, the trip back home can’t be made.

As long as we sojourn in this world, God will never give up on us. He will always, always, always be calling us to come back home, just as He called Israel through Zechariah. Since God gave us a free will, the decision to return is one that only we can make, but we shouldn’t underestimate the desire with which He longs for us to make that choice. He loves us more than we can imagine, and He will pursue us down all the hard pathways of life, persistently pleading, “Return to me . . . and I will return to you.”

“I strayed, and yet I remembered you. I heard your voice behind me, telling me to return” (Augustine of Hippo).

Gary Henry — +

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