“Return, Virgin Israel, return to your towns. How long will you wander, unfaithful Daughter Israel” Jeremiah 31.21-22From David King
When we have sinned, can we be more than just forgiven – can we be restored, such that it is as if we had never sinned? In the verse above, the answer is “Yes!”
Look at it closely with me. In Jeremiah’s great chapters of hope (30-33), God holds out the hope of how he will save his people. On two occasions he refers to them as “Virgin Israel”. This is really surprising, as one of the themes of God’s charge against his people in Jeremiah is that they have been unfaithful to him. In fact, it says precisely that in the verse above. God’s people have played the whore. The last thing they could claim to be, was a virgin. Once you’ve lost your virginity, surely that is it?
And yet God addresses them as Virgin Israel.
He offers them a whole new beginning – a whole new birth.
Perhaps this is why the sex workers of 1st century Judah were amongst the first to recognise who Jesus really is.
I think that sometimes I fall into the notion that forgiveness is a bit like being in crippling debt for years and it suddenly being paid off. That would feel wonderful. It would feel like a fresh start. And yet there would also be the sense of years lost to the debt – years that could never be recovered.
In 2 Corinthians 5, having spoken of Jesus’ death for us bringing salvation – Paul concludes with “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation”. In Romans he talks about the moment of someone becoming a Christian as the moment they die with Jesus and rise to life with him. Jesus talks about his followers being born again in John 3.
So, salvation is not just about forgiveness, it is about restoration of what we have lost through our sin. Maybe today you know that you have been forgiven your spiritual adultery (or even physical adultery), but that you have a sense of sadness that you have lost your spiritual virginity. Perhaps you feel a second-class Christian – someone who might be welcomed into heaven reluctantly as a servant. The truth is that you have been born again and so you are embarking upon a completely new beginning, a completely new birth. You are welcomed into heaven as the bride of Christ.
And the gateway to this? – the healing medicine of repentance.