WORDS OF JESUS – “REPENT”
Matthew 4:17 – “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Let us turn now to the Word of God. The theme is the WORDS of JESUS, and we trust that everyone will be encouraged, inspired, and instructed; for if we receive the witness of men, surely the witness of God is greater. And again, it is written, “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him (you) in the last day.” (John 12:48).
The WORDS of JESUS have a very personal application. Even though at times He spoke to multitudes, He always addressed Himself to the individual; for it is the individual that must give an account of himself to God. We have chosen just one word for our consideration this morning, it’s found in the Gospel of Matthew 4:17 – just a short word of six letters, with only two syllables; but eternal issues are settled for good or for ill, for woe or for weal, according to the attitude of the individual to this word that is spoken. It is a word that could be likened to a hinge, for on it turns the whole course of human destiny.
It is also like a key, for it opens the storehouse of God’s blessings, and makes possible the receiving and enjoying of all that has been provided through the last Will and Testament of our LORD Jesus Christ. It is God’s only requirement, regardless of the condition of the hearer. The worst of men may repent . . . Yes, that’s the word “REPENT,” and the worst of men may repent, and the best of men must repent before they could ever hope to obtain God’s favor and enjoy His Great Salvation.
Repentance was the key word in the ministry of John the Baptist, and as he laid down the banner and paid with his life for his fearless declaration of the truth, it was picked up by Him, of whom John bare record – even Jesus Christ. From the beginning of His public ministry in Galilee, to His final message to the Jews in Jerusalem, there was but one word for them all, and that word was “REPENT!”
Jesus said, in Matthew 9:13, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Then, in Matthew 11:21, “Woe unto thee, Chorazin; woe unto thee, Bethsaida; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”
Then, in Matthew 12:41, “The men of Nineveh shall rise up in the Judgment with this generation and shall condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, a greater than Jonah is here.”
Then, before Jesus left this world to return to the Father, He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “I will give to you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 16:19). In other words, He gave them authority to open the door to the everlasting Kingdom. And we notice that on the birthday of the Church, the day of Pentecost, when Peter had preached his first sermon after the resurrection, and the people were mightily convicted of their sins and cried out saying “men and brethren, what shall we do?” that Peter said, “REPENT!” (Acts 2:37).
Many years later, we find the Apostle Paul preaching to the men of Athens on Mars Hill, and after reviewing past history, he said to them, regarding those days of pagan darkness, that “the times of this ignorance God winked at,” or overlooked, but now, said he, “God commands all men everywhere to repent.” You can read that in Acts 17:30.
We read the last writings of the aged Apostle Peter in 2 Peter 3:9. He is explaining why the Day of Judgment has not yet come, for, said he, “The LORD is not slack, concerning His promises, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish; but that all should come to repentance.”And so, we can trace this great little word right into the Book of Revelation, and find that it is absolutely universal in its personal application.
Now, let us consider what is meant by this all-important word, which all of us must face. The most perfect example I can think of in Scripture is that little story in (Matthew 21) – the story of the man who had two sons. The father said to the one, ‘Son, go work today in my vineyard,’and the son answered, ‘I will not.’ But afterward he repented and went. Here was a complete change in the son –in decision, –in attitude, –in desire, and –in action. Notice that he repented and went. If he had not gone, it would not have been true repentance.
We see, then, that repentance is not just being sorry for wrong actions, though in all probability this young man was really sorry for his behaviour; but he sorrowed to repentance. He was sorry enough to quit his stubborn, rebellious attitude and do the thing that he knew he ought to do. How many people we meet, along the way, who are so sorry for their sins –for their outbursts of temper –for their weakness toward the bottle. They shed many a bitter tear over their surrender to temptation; but scarcely are their tears dried, than they are found going down the same path they have always gone.
We read of Esau, who sold his birth-right for one morsel of meat he; but afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears. (Genesis 25; Hebrews 12:17).
Notice again that repentance is not penance. It is not afflicting the body for the sin of the soul. It is not doing something else to compensate for what has not been done. This young man repented and went. He did the thing his father had told him to do, and not something else as penance for his disobedience.
We need to be reminded that God’s favor cannot be purchased by fasting and praying. He will not be induced to overlook our transgressions because we have increased our donation to the church, or gone without meat during Lent. There is only one thing we can do that will bring us to the place of blessing, and that is to “REPENT!”
Now that we have considered a few things that repentance is not, let us think now of the positive side of the word. It is first and last a complete change of attitude toward God.
The people of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah. That is, they broke right off their sinful ways and called on God for mercy. Until this time, they had little or no concern about the Majesty in the Heavens, and cared nothing for His commands, or His desires. Before, to their way of thinking, the only right way was to go the way they wanted to go; the only wrong thing to do was whatever they didn’t want to do. But now they have been brought face to face with certainty of Judgment just forty days away. The prospect was so terrifying that they repented. They changed their minds entirely about God, when they thought about meeting Him.
Just by the way, I would like to point out that Judgment for some of us may be less than forty days away; and in any event, it will be sooner than we think.
Notice, now, that their repentance is toward God; and because it is toward Him, they have changed their minds about themselves. Their king got down from his throne, servants were taken from the mill, and with one accord they called upon the God of Heaven. The sense of their own importance was lost in the sense of their awful guilt. They knew now, as never before, that they were on the wrong track, that the Day of Reckoning was at hand, and they were all transgressors. Any good deed they had ever done was forgotten with the memory of the multitude of things they ought not to have done.
As I read the account of the mighty awakening which took place so long ago, and that great city was spared by the mercy of God, my heart cries out, ‘My LORD, let there be a revival of repentance in our land today.’ For just as surely as there is a God in heaven, nothing can avert nor avoid the Judgment of God on this fair land of ours, unless our people repent.
Jesus said that the men of Nineveh would rise up in the Judgment and condemn the men of His generation, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now a Greater than Jonah was there (Matthew 12:41). And of how much sorer punishment, do you suppose, shall he be thought worthy of, who is unrepentant –after nearly two thousand years in which the mercy of God and the power of God has been demonstrated. Yes, and God’s judgments, too, have been manifest in the earth, and men are still unrepentant! Then, I say, of how much sorer punishment shall those men be thought worthy of?
Notice now that they not only changed their attitude toward God, and toward themselves, but they also changed their attitude toward their sins. And this is the acid test of true repentance. AUGUSTINE said, ‘He has but ill repented who repeats his sins.’ The young man we read about quit his obstinate attitude toward his father’s will, and did it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t like the work any better than before, but he went at it anyway. Even if you can’t enjoy the work that the Father wants you to do, you can enjoy doing the Father’s will.
As for the people of Nineveh, there is everything to show that, with one consent, they broke with the old life of sin and set their hearts toward God. The drunkard did not determine to only get drunk once a week, now, instead of three times a week. The liar did not decide to reduce his lies to three a day, in hope of overcoming the habit. The murderer did not resolve to kill fewer men in the coming year, in hopes that Judgment would be averted. NO SIR! They QUIT them, and God saved them. They stopped doing it, and God took the desire for it out of their hearts. How can God save a person from his sins, who keeps right on practicing them?
Jesus said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” The King of the Heavens has come with all the authority and power of Heaven’s parliament, and stands ready to bring the virtue, the purity, the holiness, and the very nature of Heaven’s King into the life of repentant sinners –only on condition that we repent and believe the Gospel.