The Joy of Repentance


Sermon Text: Judges 16:1-31
Sermon Series: “Judges” (#23)

Main Points:
I. Samson represents Israel’s sinfulness
II. Samson reveals God’s work in the life of His people
III. Samson reflects the joy of repentance

Today, we see the end of Samson’s life and ministry as an Israel’s judge. By seeing his end, we’ve reached almost the end of our contemplation of the message of Judges. Although Eli and Samuel of 1 Samuel are technically judges of Israel, Samson is the last judge recorded in this Book of Judges. We remember the judges before Samson. We had Othniel the shy, Ehud the tricky, Deborah the heroine, Gideon the doubter, and Jephthah the illegitimate. Reading and meditating on their lives and works really seemed to be riding on white water rafting, rushing down the river in the valley of troubles. But it was a good opportunity for us to find or rediscover two important truths, that is, man’s sinfulness and God’s faithfulness, thus, man’s ultimate need of the grace of God. All judges of Israel were, without exception, unsuitable for their task of saving Israel, let alone saving themselves. But, God was always faithful, unchanging, and He strengthened each of them called to be the judges over God’s people and, through their hands, delivered Israel from the enemies. Furthermore, while Israel forsook their God and turned to false religions, bowing to various false gods, God never turned His face away from them but always remembered them, keeping His ears always attentive to their call for help.

We find the same message again in today’s text passage. In this chapter, we find sinful men and faithful God. Man as represented by Samson is self-centred, yet, God is full of grace; man fails, yet, God sees sinner’s penitent heart and hears his call for help. Through it all, God fulfils His divine purpose, that is, saving His elect and bringing them into His eternal kingdom. I want you to know and remember that this is the message of God for you and me especially in this evil generation.

When God saves sinners, He leads them, leads us, to have His goodness and participate in His heavenly joy, that is, the ‘joy of repentance.’ And Jesus tells us of this joy in Lk. 15:7 which we’ve read earlier today that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.

In this last story of Samson’s life, we find the evident joy of repentance. Hearing this, someone might ask and say, ‘Where in this chapter is such joy? Isn’t it a sad story of killing and being killed?’ Oh, yes, it is about the darkest moment and sad end of a mighty man, Samson. But, surely, Samson’s heart was filled with the ‘joy of repentance’ and this part is one of the good examples we find in the Bible that tell us of the joy of repentance. After all, the joy of repentance is given to a penitent and forgiven sinner at the moment of death of sin in him.

Having said, let us focus on Samson of this 16th chapter. As we read from Jdg. 13 and up until the 2/3 of ch. 16, we found Samson a reckless man. Reckless of his God, his parents, his people; reckless of anybody else, but he simply followed the desires of his own eyes. You know the story and how and why he did what he did. Although God turned Samson’s evil deeds to fulfil His divine purpose for all, Samson was still responsible for the evils he had committed.

Because of such a nature, Samson’s spirituality fittingly represents that of his fellow Israelites. He is the perfect representative of Israel; his life is the summary of the life of Israel. Samson did what seemed to be good to his own eyes, and that was the motto of Israel since her existence as a nation. As soon as God led the descendants of Jacob out of Egypt, what did they do? Complaining, rejecting God and Moses, not once or twice, but over and over again. In fact, the Israelites at Samson’s time were continuing that ‘tradition’ of their forefathers. They were reckless of God and His words, and so was Samson. Altogether, their hearts were far from God, and Samson was like a symbol of Israel’s unfaithfulness.

If you see in what way Samson represented the spirituality of his fellow Israelites, then, you’d agree that he also represents all men and women of the present world. Being self-centred and careless of God and His name, he is exactly like all men and women in humanity. Although there’s the true King (with capital K) of the entire universe, every individual human being considers himself/herself as the supreme being of one’s own life; although there’s the ultimate Truth (once again with capital T) over everything of the created world, all have one’s own rules, rejecting the Creator’s ultimate and eternal Truth. In a word, as Jdg. 17:6 says, ‘everyone does what is right in his own eyes.’ In this sense, therefore, Samson represents both his contemporaries and all in humanity who are altogether sinful.

However, that isn’t all Samson reveals to us. He reveals to the eyes of the world the way of God’s working in people’s lives. Looking at Samson’s life, you find out how God works in the life of a sinner and how God accomplishes His own divine purpose. This is what we’ve heard last Lord’s Day. But let me remind you briefly what it is about. Although Samson lived his life according to what seemed best to his own eyes, although he was careless of God, careless of Israel’s fate, ready to please his lust, but God worked through Samson and, at last, delivered Israel from their enemy. God did not do it as a wirepuller or puppeteer playing and controlling Samson to defeat the Philistines. God never did. Instead, Samson made his own decisions in various situations. Despite Samson’s sinful will and deeds, God delivered Israel as He had planned and that through the hands of Samson.

What it means is that, as God never forced Samson, so He doesn’t force His people, He doesn’t force you or me, but kindly works through each one’s desires, plans and deeds only to fulfil what His divine heart planned to achieve. Meanwhile, our God waits patiently for His people to discover God’s kindness and helping hands; He mourns deeply over the inclinations of our sinful heart toward evil.

See how God worked through Samson in this chapter. This reckless man went to a Philistine city called Gaza which was the farthest Philistine city from Samson’s place. Though he committed a terrible sin there, that is, spending a night at a prostitute’s place, God used him to turn his enemy’s plot into a mockery. As you’ve heard, Samson escaped the city, breaking through their ambush at night. Moreover, he carried away on his shoulder what could be the pride of that city, namely, the doors of the city gate, and placed it on a hill, as a clear display of fooling the enemy.

However, Samson who had once killed a thousand men with a fresh jawbone of a donkey and uprooted the gates of a Philistine city which used to be the pride of the enemies, became a mockery himself in the eyes of his enemies because he could not withstand the wiles of a Philistine woman and gave her the secret of his strength. Yet, God worked through him and used him once again to turn that enemy’s victory cry into a deep silence which was, in fact, louder than mourning or wailing – if you know what I mean. As we’ve read, Samson killed more enemies at the end of his life than all he had killed previously.

This and other numerous lives of God’s people recorded in the Bible prove the truth Rom. 8:28 explains – that famous verse which says, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” Samson did all sorts of things according to his sinful lust, but because he was an elect of God, because he called by God His Saviour and received the Lord’s favour, all things of his life worked together for ‘good,’ namely, accomplishing God’s plan, will and purpose! In all, he brought glory to God his Lord!

The important point you and I must remember is this that such was Samson’s life, so is yours and mine. God cares for His own people like Samson, like you and me; God works in the life of His elect like Samson and like you and me; and He graciously leads us to the glory of God as He led Samson. In this faithful God, we can put our full trust! And Samson is a witness of this truth.

Yet, the most important point for you and for me is, as I said in the introduction to this sermon, the ‘joy of repentance.’ Where is such joy of ‘repentance’ explained in this chapter? I want you to focus on some verses at the end of this chapter and you need to read between the lines of these verses. They remind us of elsewhere of the Bible like Heb. 11:32-40 that teach the joy of repentance and overflowing grace in a believer’s heart and soul.

Let me explain what I mean, and please look at v.28 in today’s passage. There, Samson says this as a prayer to God: “O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.” Did you know that, in the four chapters which cover Samson’s birth to death, this is the only verse that records Samson’s genuine and deep prayer to God? Only prayer we find other than this is in 15:18 but that prayer doesn’t seem to be a prayer coming from a penitent soul. Like his contemporary Israelites never pray to God for help despite the Philistines’ oppression, Samson has never prayed before this very moment. Then, in a deep agony, he cries out to God, calling Him as ‘Lord GOD,’ that is, ‘my Lord, Yahweh’ – the covenant name of the sovereign God. In this cry for help, he’s saying that he has lost all, and remembers at last to whom he must turn and put his trust.

He first calls upon God to ‘remember’ him, as if the Lord has forgotten hm. If I may paraphrase, he’s saying this: ‘I’ve forgotten You, the Lord God, in my life; but, please remember me in Your grace; I’ve forgotten Your grace and love for me in all my life, but please remember me in Your mercy.’ After losing his strength, Samson has lost everything. Both of his eyes are gone now. While he had those, he lived and did what was right in his own eyes. While he had strength, he lived and did what seemed to be pleasant to his heart and body. But now, he finally understands that those are temporary and even toxic to his soul; he now remembers that the sweetness of God’s presence with him is the only comfort and joy he should’ve sought. So he calls his God, “O Lord GOD,” and prays to Him, “please remember me!” He now remembers God and depends on Him only – he repents of his sins!

Then, he asks God to strengthen him one last time. Now, he no longer seeks strength for his lustful eyes – they’re gone not only physically, but also spiritually in his repentance. He asks strength for the Lord’s cause and glory. So he prays in v. 30, “Let me die with the Philistines.” On the surface, it seems that Samson wants to revenge on the enemy’s gouging out of his eyes. But, underneath it, Samson seeks to emerge himself fully in the grace of God, thus, bring glory to his God. He says, “Let me die with the Philistines.” The condition of his wish and prayer of dying with the enemies is God’s presence with him. He is now fully assured that, if the Lord is with him, his revenge on the enemy would surely bring deliverance to Israel.

With this wish, I believe that Samson has realises the sacrifice God has made for his salvation as well as for all God’s elect. From birth, God has patiently and carefully waited for Samson to open his spiritual eyes and see how rebellious he has been; God has never left him alone despite his departure from God, being selfish and self-centred. Even he is reckless of God’s commands, God has never let him go! In all of that, God has sacrificed for this sinful maggot, Samson! So, he says, “Let me die with the Philistines”! It sounds exactly like John Newton, the author of the famous hymn ‘Amazing Grace,’ confessing in his hymn, ‘Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me’! Samson says, “Let me die with the Philistines”!

He now knows that being remembered by God is all that matters; living in God is the only hope for him as for all men and women. The former lusts of his eyes, the desires pumped up from his heart no longer grab his soul because his soul has found something that is far better than all those things he once indulged himself in. Because of this new discovery, Samson and the Apostle Paul alike say in unison, ‘to die [in Christ] is gain’! This is ‘the joy of repentance.’

Imagine that you were Samson of especially vs. 28, 29 and 30 of this chapter. You’ve finished praying to God and now stretch your arms against those pillars and push them hard, very hard, with all your strength. Then, suddenly, you feel that the Lord’s power returns to your arms and legs and body once again! The Lord has heard your prayer; He answers to your soul’s wish; God has received your penitent heart! Now, you’re forgiven! Then, the pillars are bending and you hear cracking noises from the upper floors and the roof. Most of all, you hear the enemies’ cry in deep despair! Your enemy sin faces the end of its dominion over you and your soul! What a joy it must be!

What do you think would go through your heart and soul at that very moment, if you were Samson? Wouldn’t you thank the Lord for His gracious forgiveness? Wouldn’t you cry out with full joy, saying something like, ‘Lord God, my Heavenly Father, I thank You for answering to my prayer!’? Or, ‘Lord, receive me to Your kingdom today!’?

I think all of you will surely do – and many, if not all of you have done. Samson had the full joy of repentance and faith in his Lord and God. That is why Samson is listed alongside all men and women of faith in Heb. 11:32. Surely, not only Samson, but also all who repent of sin, thus, have the joy of repentance will be listed in the book of life.

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, Samson died, knowing this joy of repentance. And so do many others – in fact, innumerable people. A great number of people are continuing their life on earth, knowing the same joy of repentance. So, my question is, ‘Do you know this joy of repentance?’ ‘Do you know how great and blessed it is to come to God, repenting of your sins in the name of the Lord Jesus?’

If you know and have this joy, give your thanks to God for His grace in His forgiveness of your sins, and ask Him to deepen your joy by enabling you to follow the Holy Spirit in every moment of your life. But, if any of you desires to know and have this joy, pray to God for His mercy in order that you may find it and know how sweet it is. And Jesus has guaranteed the Lord’s hearing your voice and answering you by saying in Mt. 7, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; … your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” ***

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