Our first lesson was on acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah. Well, if we accept that Jesus is Messiah and Lord, the one sent to save and to rule over all – then we need to listen to what he says to us.
And his message is summed up in our focus verse for this lesson from Matthew 4:17:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
This is the second step to new life in Jesus. We begin with the question . . .
What is repentance?
Jesus’ parable in Matthew 21:28-31 gives us a nice definition of repentance. He said,
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?”
The answer, of course, is the first son. He changed his mind and did his father’s will. And this is a good way of explaining what repentance means – We change our minds and begin to do our heavenly Father’s will. This leads us to the next question . . .
Why do we need to repent?
We need to repent because we all give in to our “flesh.” That is, our human desires that lead us to do things that are sinful, evil and wrong. This is human weakness that leads us to be self-centered instead of focused on God and doing what is right.
As Jesus said in Mark 14:38, “the flesh is weak.” He means weak with regard to doing God’s will. God asks us to some things that are hard (as we will see below); and it seems easier to do our own thing than to try to do what God asks of us. We want what we desire, what is easy, what is comfortable.
We also all give in to “the world,” that is, the people, values and ideas in this world that are not submitted to God and thus pressure us to sin. We give in to this peer pressure; we go along with the crowd. We don’t want to look silly or un-cool.
Jesus said in Matthew 18:7 – “Woe to the world for temptations to sin!” The world is all about tempting and pressuring us to sin.
And behind all of this is Satan, the ruler of this world (Luke 4:5-6), who seeks to tempt us and pressure us to sin. He tests us by putting us into difficult situations, circumstances that test us, or tragedies that try us. And then he tells us, ‘its alright to sin; to act on your desires, to give in to your weaknesses, to take the easy (but wrong) way.’
And the bottom line is that, we have all given in. We have all sinned and done what is wrong. Jesus spoke of this in several places.
Jesus said that all Israel were sinners. Luke 13:1-5 says,
“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’”
Jesus said that all Galileans and all those who live in Jerusalem (all Israel) were sinners in need of repentance. And if the people of God (Israel) were all sinners, how much more the rest of the world that did not even know God?
Jesus also spoke of humanity as “evil” in Matthew 7:11. We have all sinned.
A summary of repentance
Given all this, repentance means having a change of heart and mind that leads us to turn away from our sins, our selfish desires which are the root of our sins, and as well, the world and Satan who pressure us to sin – in order to live a new live according to God’s will from now on.
So there is a backward looking part – turning away from our sins, and a forward looking part – living a new kind of life. Now lets look a bit more at the backward part. That’s because repentance means we have to . . .
Deal with past wrongdoing
This includes our acts of sin against God and others. In other words, we don’t just stop doing wrong, we deal with the fact that we have done wrong things.
We are to confess our sins: An example of this comes from the story of the prodigal son. After he squandered his father’s money he came back and said, “Father I have sinned against heaven and before you” – Luke 15:18. It takes complete honesty; you have to come clean about what you have done.
We are to be humble and sorrowful: Again from the example of the prodigal son, he said to his father, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants” – Luke 15:19. From another parable Jesus talks about a tax collector who, “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” – Luke 18:13. When you have done what is wrong – humility, sorrow and regret are the appropriate responses.
We are to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions: This includes trying to fix broken relationships. As Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your sister or brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24. This also includes trying to make amends for damage done to others. An instance of this comes from the real life example of Zacchaeus’ repentance. He said, “if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” – Luke 19:8. He had cheated people out of money as a tax collector and he makes amends for it here. He tries to make things right.
If this is the backward looking part of repentance, the forward looking part is to . .
Live a new life according to God’s will
Jesus didn’t just call us to live this new life, he came to show us what it looks like, through his teaching and example. We’ll look at this much more in later lessons, but for now just a few examples:
- Don’t speak out angry words that tear others down – Matthew 5:21-22. This is a form of murder.
- Be sexually pure – don’t engage in what God forbids. Matthew 5:27-28 gives one example, lusting after another person sexually.
- Love your enemies – Matthew 5:43-48. Instead of returning harm for harm, return good for harm. Don’t just love those who treat you well, love those who hate you.
- Keep your word without swearing promises – Matthew 5:37. Simply let your yes be yes and your no, no.
- Share your resources with the poor – Luke 12:33. Don’t keep more than you need for yourself. Use your abundance to help those in need.
- Be a witness for Jesus, even if others ridicule you – Matthew 5:11-12.
Now as you can see from all this . . .
The life Jesus calls us to isn’t easy
That’s because repentance requires us to start all over again with our lives. Matthew 18:3 says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is saying that to follow him, we must relearn how to think and act and live. Just like a child has to learn everything, so we have to start over and learn what it means to live according to the values of the kingdom of God, which are often the polar opposite of how the world thinks and acts.
Repentance also requires us to take the hard road. As Jesus said at the end of his Sermon on the Mount, where he teaches about God’s will, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14. It is easy to go along with the world; the crowd. But “The gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life.” The demands of obedience, of following Jesus, are difficult. And that’s why Jesus teaches us that . . .
It will take your complete commitment
It must be your highest priority in life. As Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” – Matthew 6:33. Following Jesus is not a casual thing, something you do on the side. It must become the supreme focus of your life, even above providing for your material needs (your career), which is the context of this verse.
It involves sacrifice. “And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” – Matthew 18:8-9. We must be willing to make whatever sacrifice we need to, to enter the kingdom. We cut off whatever gets in our way.
It will cost you everything. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” – Matthew 13:44. We must be willing to give up everything, in order to gain it.
Because it takes our complete commitment, Jesus calls us to “count the cost” of what it means to follow after him in the path of life. Luke 14:25-33 says,
“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.’”
Jesus is saying, understand what you are getting into, and make sure you are willing to do what it takes to meet the demands of repentance – before you choose to follow him.
Now, having said all this and emphasizing the demand of God upon us, let me also say at the end . . .
Repentance and new life is possible with God’s help
We can’t do this in our own strength. That’s for sure. God has to come in and change our hearts. And God has to strengthen us to do what he asks of us. We will look at this in our next lesson.