(Here are my notes from week 3 of our series on the Kingdom of God that I shared with Missio Dei)
The Kingdom of God is about repentance
The first words of Jesus in the gospel of Mark are “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” These are also the first public words of Jesus in Matthew. This is consistent with the words of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was a figure like an OT prophet who was calling the people to give up their evil ways and return to a right relationship with the Father.
What we need to do is look back at what the people were hearing when John and Jesus called them to “repent”.
The Basic Definition of the word “Repent”
At its most literal definition, repent means to change one’s mind or, better, change one’s way of thinking. But it came to mean a bit more than just to change one’s thinking. It also implied a change of behavior prompted by your change of thinking. Josephus quote?
We most often see this term or concept in the OT in the idea of turning toward or away from something and also a sense of returning (mostly returning to God after periods of straying).
Just to get a fuller sense of this word, we see Moses asking God to turn his anger away from his people:
Ex. 32.12 - Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.
But most of the instances is it a prophet or prominent figure calling the people to turn away from their sin.
King Solomon prays to God that he will respond with forgiveness when the people “turn” from their sin and pray.
1 Kings 8.35 - “When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and give praise to your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel.
Here are few episodes of the prophets calling their people to turn to God and turn away from their wicked ways:
Hosea 6:1 - “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.
Jer. 26:3-5 - Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from their evil ways. Then I will relent and not inflict on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done. Say to them, ‘This is what the LORD says: If you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, and if you do not listen to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city a curse[a] among all the nations of the earth.’”
Ezekiel 18.21 - “But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die.
The Kingdom of God and repentance
John the Baptist– our gospels begin with John the Baptist coming like one of these OT spokesmen, the prophets, with a similar message, turn away from your sins and turn to God. John was fully expecting God to come as king and judge to conquer all of Israel’s enemies and to rule from his throne in Jerusalem. John quotes OT passages where “a voice of one calling in the wilderness” prepares for the coming of God the Father himself. His role was foreseen by one of the OT prophets,
Malachi (4.5-6) who stated that the prophet like Elijah would come prior to the appearance of God. His message was to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the hearts of the children to their parents…
John was calling everybody to repentance that is to turn from their ways of doing things and calling them to new action. This repentance was more than just sorrow for their sins or even more than just mere confession. It was a call to a new way of life.
In Luke’s account of the life and message of Jesus (Luke 3:10-14), John tells the crowd that they need to be generous and share with those who are needy.
He tells the tax collectors (who were hated because they cheated the people) that they were not to collect any more than they were required to do (do your job honestly).
He tells the Roman soldiers of all people that they should stop taking bribes and blackmailing the people.
In Matthew’s account of the same thing, John tells the religious people they need to repent as well. He calls them a pack of snakes and tells them that they are not exempt from judgment. They were relying on their religious practices to make them right before the Lord. John tells them to
Matt. 3:8 to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. That is, you have to give evidence in your life that you are truly following God. It is more than just following a bunch of rules, it involves truly loving God and then, truly loving your neighbor. Jesus would later come and reveal to the religious people that their inner attitude of their hearts was keeping them from truly honoring God and keeping them from being accepted by him. John was warning them first that your religion (or the things that you do that you think make you right with God) were not good enough. They needed truly changed lives and changed hearts.
So, for each group that John the Baptist calls to repentance, it involves the acknowledgment of one’s sinfulness as well as taking on a new pattern of behavior. The symbol of this new life was baptism. In Judaism, it symbolized that a cleansing was taking place and a new pattern of behavior was following from then on. And that was John’s major role, calling people to new lives and providing this symbol of baptism as a visible symbol that there would be change.
Jesus – Jesus continues to call people to repentance, though there was a slight shift in emphasis from John and Jesus. John was calling people to repent because he thought the end was near and that people needed to get right before judgment. Jesus however, saw that the kingdom that he was inaugurating was actually the beginning. God was doing a new thing through his people. He was ushering in, not judgment, but a new age of salvation.
Repentance to Jesus was a change in agendas. It was saying that my agenda and my way of doing things just isn’t going to work anymore. I need to trust God’s agenda and be committed to God’s way of doing things. Jesus reveals to us that God’s way of doing things is following Jesus. Repentance is more than confessing our misbehavior (or sin), or our rebellion against God, it is more than being sorry or remorseful for our sin. It is radically altering our lives to follow Jesus. Thankfully, when we commit to doing that, God gives us the power of his presence that is the Holy Spirit. That is why John says that the one who comes after him (Jesus) will baptize with the Holy Spirit
From sinful ways – this is the most obvious. We need to turn away from the behavior that alienates us from God and shows to the world that we do not reveal Jesus’ character in our lives. There is a wonderful story in Luke’s account of the life of Jesus. In Luke chapter 7, a “sinful” woman interrupts a dinner between Jesus and a religious man. The woman cleans and anoints Jesus’ feet because he had shown kindness on her and offered her forgiveness of her sins. She, in turn, offers a great display of appreciation of Jesus for what he has done. (Discuss the alabaster jar from Luke 7). She is showing Jesus that she is giving up her former sinful way of life because he has offered her forgiveness. This is a picture of repentance.
Another picture of repentance also comes from Luke’s account of Jesus’ life in chapter 19. One of the tax collectors displays faith in Jesus. Tax collectors were hated by normal citizens because they would collect the taxes for the Romans, but they would at times collect more than what was truly owed. So they were seen as collaborators with the Romans and cheaters of their fellow countrymen. This sinful tax collector displays faith in Jesus. He displays his repentance in that he will now make amends. His behavior will now change.
Luke 19.8 – Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount. Jesus replies that salvation has come to his house. Not because he believes the right things about Jesus now. Not because he promised to start going to church. Not because he feels bad about his sin. Salvation has come because he has repented. He is changing his behavior. He is putting his belief into action. He is getting right with God and his neighbors.
From wealth and possessions – It is easy to see how sinful people need to turn away from their evil deeds in order to repent and become right with God. But does Jesus call us to turn away our wealth and possessions in order to turn to him? Is that part of repentance?
One man wanted to know what he needed to do to gain salvation. He followed all of the rules but Jesus tells him that he lacks one thing:
Mark 10.21 – One thing you lack. Go sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…
When the rich man went away sad, Jesus told his disciples that it is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God. The wealthy have less need of God than the poor or the needy. They can rely on their wealth. But repentance means that you turn away from your wealth as a source of security and salvation and you turn to God in faith and trust. Look at the disciples reaction:
10:28 – We have left everything to follow you…and Jesus tells them, because of their willingness to give up everything and follow him in trust and obedience that they would receive so much more in eternal life.
From religion – aren’t we pastors trying to get you to always do good and religious things? Isn’t that how we get saved? The more religious things we do like going to church and giving and stopping all of our “fun” things, isn’t that how we get into heaven? Not quite. There were a group of religious people who followed all of the rules and by doing so they felt like they were owed by God eternal life and blessings. They revealed selfish hearts. They didn’t serve God out of love but in order to get paid back.
Jesus confronts them in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life:
Matt. 23.23 – Jesus says to these religious leaders: Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisee, you hypocrites! Sure you tithe but you neglect the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. On the outside you appear quite holy, but on the inside you are filled with greed and selfishness.
Doing religious things does not save you. Jesus told them to turn from trusting in their religious duties for salvation and turn to more important matters like working for justice and showing mercy to your neighbor.
Tim Keller had a great quote about the difference between religion and discipleship. A religious person thinks, “I serve God, therefore I will be blessed by God.” The disciple thinks, “God loves me, therefore I will serve him.” The first performs in order to place God in their debt. The second acts because they have received the mercy of God.
Turning to – discipleship (or turning to Jesus’ way)
We see this played out again in Jesus’ relationship with a tax collector, a bad guy, a sinner. Jesus doesn’t tell him to get his act straight before becoming a follower; he just calls the man to follow him.
Matt. 9:9 – As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. Matthew then had Jesus and his disciples over to dinner and it seems that Matthew invited all of his “sinner friends”. Matthew understood repentance. He changed directions in his life and then went and invited his friends to learn more about this man who offers forgiveness and calls people to follow him.
Motivated by God’s grace (mercy) – as we have seen by some of the reactions of those who chose to repent and follow Jesus, they were motivated by his offer of forgiveness. And they were motivated to repent, change their agendas for his because he offered them a new life.
Result: rejoicing and celebration – what is the result of our repentance. Is it watchful eyes who can’t believe it took us this long to turn from our ways to God’s ways? Does God heap new rules on us to keep us in line? No, the response from heaven to our repentance is rejoicing and celebration.
If we could impose ourselves into this picture, we’d probably expect a lecture from our father, a strong speech of disapproval, anger and resentment. But he is surprised in that not only does his father take him in, not only is the father glad to see him, but the father throws a big party when his son returns home.
This is a picture of our God when we repent. We may be sitting here afraid to commit to God because we’ve been too messed up for God to use us. We need to get our act together, become holy, do all the right things first, and get cleaned up before we can approach our heavenly Father. But that is not the case. Repentance is turning to the Father. It is confessing our sins in humility. It is the action of changed life, but we need to realize that this ability to live a changed life comes from God after we turn to him in repentance.
Bestowal of his Spirit that enables us to follow Jesus which is true repentance.