Last week Jesus taught us that by observing birds we can learn of faith. Today, I would like to show how they can teach us of repentance. By watching and observing migratory birds we know that they always fly away in the Fall and make their return the following Spring.
Faith and repentance go together in the Bible. Jesus first words in His public ministry are recorded for us in Mark 1:15: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” The apostles proclaimed the same message: Acts 3:19, Acts 20;21. Faith and repentance can’t be separated. They are the two halves of the same action which results in salvation.
What Jesus and the apostles proclaimed wasn’t new since the Old Testament prophets demanded the same to ancient Israel. “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity” (Hosea 14:1). But I have discovered that the prophet Jeremiah the one who illustrated bird migration wth repentance. These are the words that God gave him to speak in the 7th century BC:
“I have paid attention and listened, but they have not spoken rightly; no man relents of his evil, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turns to his own course, like a horse plunging headlong into battle. Even the stork in the heavens knows her times, and the turtledove, swallow, and crane keep the time of their coming, but my people know not the rules of the LORD” (Jer. 8:6,7).
Israel has always been the passageway for the migration of birds. I’ve learned that many species fly south in the Fall across Turkey and down thriough Israel and the Nile valley where they will winter in Africa. But when Spring returns, without fail they return flying north and will end their journey westward to Europe or eastward to Asia.
Jeremiah singled out the stork in the above passage. What I have learned of the stork is fascinating to me. As the sun gets hot a thermal current lifts them off and they fly at the altitude of 4,000 feet. From where they winter in Southern Africa to their summer home is an 8,000 mile trip.
All over the world this same North-South migration takes place without fail every year. I wanted to know what birds migration distance was the furthest. I found that the Article Tern holds this distinction by a long shot. This four ounce bird breeds in Alaska, Canada, and Siberia and winters at the southernmost tip of South Africa and South America. Every year it makes a 22,000 mile round trip. This to me is astonishing!
By knowing what birds do by their God given instinct, humans should do so by our deliberate choice of returning from our self-centered ways back to the living God. Repentance is an act that the believer needs to repeatedly do. Our initial repentance at the time of salvation is only the beginning. We sin often, unfortunately but true, so we have a need to keep returning to Him in confession and repentance. Not in order to remain saved and one of His, but to remain in close fellowship with Him. Again, Jeremiah speaks of this in Jeremiah 8:4,5:
“”You shall say to them, Thus says the LORD: When men fall, do they not rise again? If one turns away, does he not return? Why then has this people turned away in perpetual backsliding? They hold fast to deceit; they refuse to return”.
Jeremiah instructs us here that as we stumble and fall, he says we need to turn around and retrace our steps. The people of Israel in Jeremiah’s day were stiff-necked and hard towards The Lord God. They continued in waywardness. They are an example of what we are not to follow. When we fall we must get up and go on. If we turn away from God, we must return back to Him at once. A wise Christian will not wait, but repent, confess our sin, and seek to be restored as He is always ready to do.
I have one more thought on this that I’ve learned of birds. In addition to their annual migrations, many of them have a strong homing instinct. Pigeons have been the main one that I have known of. In fact it was a pigeon that found its way back to Noah’s ark in Gen. 8.
I have discovered a homing bird that fascinates me much more than the pigeon. Off shore of south-west Wales are the two islands of Skomer and Skoholm. On these islands more than 200,000 pairs of a bird by the name of Manx Shearwaters breed. These birds are open ocean birds which winter as far south as Argentina. They come to land only to breed. Incredibly to me, they lay a single egg underground at the end of a rabbit burrow. To test these birds homing instinct a Manx Shearwater was captured and flown 3,000 miles across the Atlantic and released at Boston’s Logan Intl. Airport. Twelve and a half days later this bird had made it’s way back to its burrow home.
Spiritually, we need to have this strong of a homing instinct as the birds have physically. The more we realize that God alone is where we must “home” the sooner we will return when we stray. For when we come back, we come back home.
I have immensely loved the instructions from the birds and how they teach us spiritually. By studying this I now see why Jesus told us all to be bird watchers.
Until next time, Lord willing,