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Ahab, the cross and the heart of God

At Easter, in church, we usually focus specifically on the Gospel accounts of Jesus death and resurrection. Makes sense. This is the time of year we have dedicated to special reflection on these particular events. But, partly to be a bit different, and partly because it's fresh in my mind, I thought I'd just share a recent reminder I've had, that the Gospel is everywhere in the Bible and that the significance of the cross of Jesus rings throughout even the Old Testament. And so I'd like to share an Easter message with part of the story of Ahab, King of Israel because I think it is hugely helpful for us today in responding to the cross of Christ.

Ahab was a lousy king. Son of Omri, we learn in 1 Kings 16 that he did more evil than all the kings who had come before him and did more to provoke God than all the other kings who had gone before him. He married a devious foreign wife who tried to kill the prophet Elijah, he worshipped foreign gods and he was a miserable childish sulker who did what he pleased and took what he wanted. Now the account in 1 Kings of Ahab is one of the longer accounts of kings of Israel and Judah. It overlaps with the accounts of Elijah and Elisha, but there it's interesting how much the writers of this book have gone to record all of Ahab's evil deeds. After a few chapters of his unrighteousness being recorded, we get the account in 1 Kings 21 of where Ahab tries to buy Naboth's vineyard. Naboth says no. The vineyard is the inheritance of his family line and he's very unwilling to sell. Ahab goes home, sulks on his bed for a bit. Jezebel, who is perhaps arguably even more evil, devises a plan to get Naboth killed so that Ahab can claim the vineyard without opposition.

Now, as you read this account of Ahab, he becomes like the character in a novel you just love to hate. It's hard not be repulsed by his behaviour. And by this point, God it seems has had enough, too! God sends Elijah to pronounce judgement on Ahab. God promises to cut off every male, slaves and servants as well as sons and male relatives. God is making sure Ahab is utterly abolished from the earth. Not even his descendants are allowed to survive. Then you sort of breath a sigh of relief. Justice is done, and you feel a bit glad that God has gotten rid of this guy.

And so, what happens next comes as a bit of a surprise. Firstly, Ahab repents. Now, you just get the impression that Ahab is a little bit beyond repentance. It seems unlikely that someone so evil, so hard-hearted, so sinister would be able to repent. And so you think, well it's obviously insincere repentance. How can he repent wholeheartedly so immediately after such a gross sin, on top of a life of gross sinning? Surely God will see right through it. Yet, God responds. God looks on the repentance and seeks to respond to it and allow Ahab an amount of relief from the punishment He previously spoke through Elijah. Ahab will not see the disaster in his own days, but God will enact His vengeance in during the lifetime of Ahab's sons. Ahab is still guilty, his previous acts must not go unpunished. But clearly, Ahab is not beyond repentance, and certainly not beyond God's grace.

As I thought about this it, it struck me just how quick God was to show grace. It's almost as if He was in the starting blocks, waiting for the gun to fire so He could get off the mark for Ahab and see him restored. You'd think that God would be slow to respond to that kind of repentance. That Ahab's previous life of extravagant evil would have put him beyond grace, but, as God is slow to anger, He is also quick to grace. Really quick. And that's because, no matter how sinful we are, no matter how evil we are and how wickedly we live, God is still desperate to show grace and give people the chance of restoration and salvation. He holds out until the 11th hour, keenly keeping His eye out for those whom He loves, not wishing that any should perish. And I just loved seeing this, the heart of God in the account of King Ahab.

I'm sharing this now because it reminded me of the repentant thief on the cross. The thief who repented was closer to death than Ahab at the moment of His salvation. He had hours left before an eternity cast out of the presence of God. His life of sin had brought him to a bloody end, being punished by both man and God. And as you read the Gospel accounts, you are drawn to thinking, how can such late repentance and be genuine? Why would God respond so late in the day? doesn't God want some evidence of a changed life before He forgives this guy? But as the thief asked Jesus to remember Him, we see once again how quickly God is willing to act for those who repent and believe in Jesus. You see, the reason God put Jesus on the cross is so that we would see His heart, His passion and His commitment to saving people. As we look at the cross we should see a God who is so eager to save and show mercy that He is even willing to divert His wrath at His own son for the sake of some who will repent. And we must have this image of God in our minds. Yes, He punishes sin, He needs to act justly. And yes, we begin life guilty and deserving of that wrath. And it's good to acknowledge these things. Yet we should never ever forget how quick God is to save. So when we are conscious of sin and feeling guilty or far from God, or if we think we are somehow beyond repentance or forgiveness we should remember this heart of God. That whilst he's angry at sin, he's slow to anger. But he is quick, so very very quick to save and give grace. It's almost like God is in a posture ready to save. He's poised and ready. He has applied His wrath to His son. Jesus on the cross takes away God's concern with punishing us if we trust Christ. Christ has been punished for us. And now He can focus saving us, on responding to our repentance and going out of His way to deliver us no matter how far we might stray. The cross meant that God was able to respond even to Ahab's repentance. And surely now, after the fact, God will respond to ours. And he will be so utterly delighted to do so. Know that God is ready and waiting to pounce on you with a heaped dose of grace and mercy. So do not delay your repentance this Easter time, because God will not delay His grace.


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