INTRODUCTION – For the last five Sundays we have been attempting to explain and proclaim and seek first together – the Kingdom of God. We have discovered that while it is a huge theme in the Bible, and while it is the main thing Jesus talked about – both in His earthly ministry before His crucifixion and resurrection; and in those 40 days after His resurrection before His ascension – – many Christians find it to be a very ambiguous and nebulous subject – – certainly not one that keeps them up at night. Even though Jesus clearly spoke in Matthew 13 of the value of the kingdom of God being so great that people who found it were willing to sell everything to obtain and keep it.
This morning I want us to wrestle with the kingdom of God and repentance, for that is how the kingdom of God is introduced to us through both the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. Matthew – in his gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ – tells us in chapter 4 that Jesus began His ministry soon after His 40 days of fasting and prayer in the wilderness and after He heard about John the Baptist being arrested. Vs. 17 says, “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Now we know from studying the gospel accounts of Jesus’s life and ministry that He preached some pretty long sermons; and He preached many sermons, and beyond those sermons – – He had many conversations with many individuals. But what Matthew is trying to tell us is – that if you were to sum them all up – – the gist of them all would be, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God is at hand.” Now I’m not saying that Jesus didn’t speak these exact words. Matthew says He did. What I’m saying is, we know He preached and said much more than this one sentence. But no sentence like this one capsulizes all that Jesus preached and taught in His earthly ministry.
The questions I want us grapple with this morning are: What is it about the breaking in of the kingdom of God into one’s life and reality that demands repentance, and what is this repentance stuff all about anyway?
Well first let’s make sure we are all clear about the spiritual state we are all in when we first hear this message or encounter this kingdom. Jesus Christ and the other New Testament writers have made it very clear that every man, woman, young person and child is born into this world with the disease of sin having already infected the core of their nature – having been passed down from our parents; and we have all been born into the kingdom of darkness that Satan himself rules. Every person on the planet is born into and is a slave in the kingdom of darkness or kingdom of satan from the day they are born until the time God rescues and delivers them out of it through Christ. Their world view and way of seeing and living life is all a product of being trapped in this oppressive and dark – albeit unseen kingdom. That’s why Paul in his letter to the church at Colossae wanted to make sure they never lost sight of this fact when he said, “For He (that is God) rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” To the church in Ephesus he reminded them in ch. 2 vs. 1 and following, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”
For some of us, living and being trapped in that oppressive kingdom for however many years until we were born again and delivered from it – was an awful and devastating experience. For others of us, the effects were more subtle. Especially if we were able to attain to some level of success (as the world defines success) and material comfort.
One of the thrilling parts of my job – is that for all these years, I have had the privilege of hearing your stories and the stories of many others that were a part of our congregation for a time – – regarding how you (and they) lived before you were born again by the Spirit and power of God; and the significant changes the kingdom of God has brought about in your lives and families. Some of you were addicted to alcohol and drugs and porn and other things; some of you had horrible tempers; some of you were hateful and contentious and couldn’t get along with anyone – estranged from various family members. Some of you were very skeptical about the message of Christ and the Bible, and totally blind to the spiritual world. And yet – many of you would have scoffed if I had told you before you were saved that you were slaves in the kingdom of darkness. But none of you would deny that now – now that you have been introduced to the kingdom of God, and can see with spiritual eyes how messed up and oppressed your life really was in those dark days.
Well I say all of this to say, when John the Baptist and Jesus Christ and the apostles and disciples began to proclaim this kingdom message – – most everyone they preached to was in this predicament. The people they preached to didn’t know anything other than the world view and attitudes and habits and practices that the kingdom of darkness had produced in their culture and society. They didn’t know there was anything else. They didn’t know that their every thought and word and attitude was displeasing to the King of Kings and totally in opposition to the kingdom lifestyle and values and culture that He had established. They didn’t know the world system they were engulfed in was actually inspired by satan himself.
So whenever these people encountered either the King Himself or others who proclaimed Him and His kingdom – – they had to know that an overhaul was required – – a spiritual overhaul was absolutely necessary. You see – when the kingdom of God – – when the present rule and reign and realm of the risen Christ – – invades your reality or mine – – first of all – – the very presence of the holy and righteous and absolutely pure and perfect Son of God is before you and near you. And His presence is like a searing mega flood light that makes everything hidden in the darkness all of a sudden very visible. All of a sudden we know our mail has been read.
Second His way of seeing life, feeling about people and situations, dealing with people and situations begins to become known to us. And as that happens, you and I begin to realize some thought patterns and attitudes and habits we have developed over time must go.
One of my favorite examples of the impact – the presence of Jesus Christ has on people is that of Zaccheus in Luke ch. 19. As he encountered Jesus and His kingdom, repentance effortlessly seemed to flow. Listen to Dr. Luke’s account of this – starting with vs. 1. “He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house,….” Luke 19:1-9
What’s amazing about this passage is – Zaccheus evidently did not hear Jesus preach or teach or do any miracles. It appears He was just walking by. But just having Him look Zaccheus in the eye and speak a few words to him, and then start walking down the street with him was all it took for Zaccheus to want to right every wrong in his life – especially in the realm of finances, an area where he evidently sinned greatly.
For Zaccheus – he encountered Christ and His kingdom face to face. For most of us – we encountered Christ and His kingdom through servants or sons and daughters of the King, or perhaps through reading the scriptures.
Some of you know I moved to San Jose a few months before my 20th birthday on my own at a point of great personal crisis and desperation. What you may not know is the man, who had been my youth leader in high school, and who had then moved to San Jose about the time I graduated from high school in 1973 – – for two years – wrote and called and visited me when he was back in Knoxville – trying to get me to move out there and be discipled by him and the Navigator ministry at San Jose State. Well I resisted his invitations initially, but my resistance slowly began to crumble largely through a series of failures and through exposure to His kingdom culture via servants who were submitting to His kingship and embracing His kingdom culture and agenda.
One of the first areas of my life that King Jesus began to put His spotlight on was my temper – especially when on the golf course – – you see I prided myself in being a good athlete, but trying to get that little white ball to go where it was supposed to go brought out the very worst in me. Perhaps the defining moment for me and my temper and golf was when I was invited as an 18 or 19 year old to play golf with the director of the BSU & some older U.T. students, who were not only older than me but more mature in the Lord than me. I believe there were five of us playing together; none of us were pros; but one of us hadn’t accepted that reality yet, and I cussed and threw my clubs and made an absolute fool of myself for 18 long holes – – knowing full well by the end of it that I had a big problem that needed a big solution.
Well not only did I meet young men at the Baptist student union, who over time helped me see how messed up I was, often without really having to say anything – – but I also met some young ladies, who also were older and more mature than I in the Lord- – a reality that was never more obvious than the night I invited two of them to go to a drive Inn movie with me. I chose the movie, and afterwards we got into a quite a discussion about why I thought Jeremiah Johnson’s indian girl friend and their relationship was so cool and enviable. Now grant you – neither of them were saved; neither of them communicated verbally much at all and she didn’t speak any English initially; neither of them had a clue what a godly marriage might look like; nor did they have a clue who God was; and they were living out in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness with no community – – but for reasons I will not enunciate and that clearly didn’t come from the kingdom of God – – I thought Jeremiah Johnson (played by Robert Redford) had it made! Camille and Quinn – – looking back – – were very gracious to me. I think they were wise enough to know that just their probing questions deep down had me spinning. Little did they know their probing questions and that disturbing conversation would mark me for many years to come, and was a huge stimulus in my decision to move to San Jose, along with my explosive temper, and some other kingdom of darkness leftovers.
Being able to hang around with folks who were much farther along in living a kingdom lifestyle in submission to the King than I was was crucial for me to see how and why I needed to repent – – why I needed to turn from old patterns to the kingdom way.
So let’s stop right now and Define repentance: – Repentance is turning away from sin and evil; and turning to God and righteousness. In the N.T. we see both the call to initial repentance – – where we recognize we are a sinner in need of a Savior – – and that Christ calls us to quit living for ourselves and to begin to live for Him. And we also see an ongoing call for believers and disciples to repent as a lifestyle as we see the King and His kingdom in greater clarity and glory, and in that light begin to see our own unrighteousness and leftovers of the kingdom of darkness.
Whether it be the 12 disciples that Jesus sent out to preach “that men should repent” (Mark 6:12) Or Peter in his first two evangelistic sermons in the book of Acts in ch. 2 & ch. 3 or Paul to the Athenians on Mars Hill (Acts 17:30) and to many others in many other places according to Acts 26:20 – – there was a consistent expectation in their preaching and proclamation – – that when people first encountered Christ and His kingdom – repentance would follow. As Brian Richardson noted some time ago, “There is no Christianity unless first there is repentance. And it is not just, “Well I am guilty.” It is not just a conviction. It is a conviction plus a desire to turn away from those things.”
But what about those of us who are clearly saved and clearly sons and daughters of the King? Should repentance be a normal part of our lives? Well the answer is an emphatic Yes, as can be seen in the following scriptures:
Paul in his second letter to the church at Corinth, wrote, “I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced.” II Cor. 12:21 Clearly there was the expectation that now that these Corinthians were believers and had been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son – – that they would turn from their sinful practices and begin to practice righteousness – specifically in this case in sexual matters. Have you ever noticed how many times Jesus exhorted the churches to practice repentance in Revelation chps. 2-3? If you are not familiar with that passage, Jesus Christ through the apostle John sent specific messages or letters to seven churches that had been established in the first century. In these letters He spoke to specific situations in or among these churches or congregations that either were pleasing to Him or that needed to change yesterday. In five of the seven He specifically commanded them to repent of specific things, and in each of those He warned them of severe consequences if they did not do so.
Listen as I quickly read them without commenting on the context: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent.” Revelation 2:5 “Repent therefore; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.” Rev. 2:16 “And I gave her time to repent; and she does not want to repent of her immorality.” Rev. 2:21 “Behold, I will cast her upon a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds.” Rev. 2:22 “Remember therefore what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. If therefore you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.” Rev. 3:3 “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent.” Rev. 3:19
One of the primary ways we can know if God has answered our prayer when we pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done” is when the people of God around us practice repentance as a lifestyle. Charles H. Spurgeon said of repentance, “There is no repentance where a man can talk lightly of sin, much less where he can speak tenderly and lovingly of it.” One of the reasons we need to continue to pray this prayer is because only as the King and His kingdom are manifested in greater and greater ways will any of us have any real motivation, much less power to truly repent.
One of the ministries that has been a huge encouragement and help to Anne and I in terms of learning to live or even want to live a lifestyle of repentance is the ministry of Basilea Schlink. Basilea for many years was the founder and director of the evangelical sisterhood of Mary in Germany. Don’t let the lingo throw you. Basilea knew and walked with Christ like few others ever have, and she demonstrated it in many very practical and tangible ways – including standing against the anti-Semitism of Hitler’s day – and risking her life to protect and rescue Jews from Hitler’s scourge. Anne has read many of her books. I am reading through one now called, “Repentance – The Joy Filled Life”. Here’s a short excerpt: p. 49,50, 51 CONCLUSION –