Motivating men to repent

In the last post, I mentioned how we have shunned Christ’s teaching. In this post we will consider some of that shunned teaching. We’ll see how he called sinners to repentance, and we’ll ask ourselves whether we might speak of sin and judgement like he did.

Jesus, who knew God better than any of us, often spoke of sin and the coming destruction of sinners. He thought it was important to tell the people of his generation about their impending doom. He actually took the advantage of news events as they occurred and used the opportunity to talk about the moral state of man and the coming day of reckoning.

There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

Luke 13:1-3

Why would we find this strange? After all, Jesus was a man who set out to preach repentance. You see, Jesus had a living relationship with the Father. He knew that sin stood between man and God and that it was his mission to bring reconciliation. Jesus understood temptation, and he had compassion on his fellow human beings. But he was under no illusion that what stood between man and God was ignorance or even apathy. He knew it wasn’t a coincidence or an accident. It was willful rebellion.

Knowing the pure holiness of God, Jesus fully realized that no man could approach God unless his sins were forgiven. This did not mean that God could not reach out to man. Jesus himself is the greatest possible example of God reaching out to man. The greatness of it is that God desired peace for those who deserved no peace. There was not a soul alive then or now, save Jesus himself, that did not choose evil over good.

Do you realize what that makes us? Each of us has faced the choice, we could have chosen righteousness, and instead we chose evil. Noah, saved from the world-ending flood, chose drunkenness rather sobriety. Moses, commanded to speak to the rock which represented Christ, struck it with his staff instead. The patriarchs of Israel were barely restrained from murdering their brother Joseph, and they lived with guilt the rest of their lives.

When Jesus said “you will all die,” he wasn’t being hyperbolic. The word “all” is not an exaggeration. Jesus meant what he said.

He also meant it when he said “except ye repent.” Repentance isn’t optional. It isn’t a suggestion. If sin is what stands between men and God, is it possible to cling to sin and yet be reconciled to God? Will God abandon his holiness and join us in sin? No. Then we must join him. That requires a repudiation of sin. We must acknowledge our various betrayals of decency. No more justifying, no more rationalizing. No more pretending.

From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Matthew 4:17

Jesus’ life and ministry motivated men to repentance in a variety of ways. His virtuous living, his merciful healing, his authoritative teaching, his railing against hypocrisy… all these beckoned men to repentance. So did the way he exposed sin, his confident prediction of judgment and his gentle reception of sinners.

He proved that the kingdom of heaven was at hand by the miraculous deliverance that he brought. God was paying attention. If God is through with you, and will give you no further chance to repent, then why bother? Many sinners have reasoned exactly along this line. When Jesus reached out to heal, it was proof that God was not through with them. God was visiting them in their suffering. There might yet be reason to repent!

Jesus’s virtuous life was an example of the good that we have all spurned. He lived with a purity that compels us to ask, if one man can do it, what excuse do the rest of us have? We ought to repent!

For those who thought themselves righteous, Jesus expanded the definition of sin. He taught the difference between sin and righteousness explicitly. He put it in no uncertain terms, teaching that even the person who is unjustly angry will be condemned to hell. Every idle word must be answered for. Even the most righteous among us are not safe, we must repent!

For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:20

Jesus taught the urgency of repentance by making reference both the unpredictable mortality of man and the certainty of judgment. He made clear that the day of reckoning is inexorably approaching. The time to repent is now!

When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.

Luke 13:25-27

Likewise, Jesus gentle reception of sinners encouraged others to come forward. He spoke of the great joy in heaven over even a single sinner who repents. The analogy of the shepherd who leaves the flock to seek after that one lost soul is a poignant grace, but it can only be accepted by the humble. For the self-righteous or the one who clings to his sin, there is only the fearful certainty of judgment. But for that one who acknowledges his sin and repudiates it, his hope is the very face of Christ himself.

Perhaps you recall the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Who can say what combination of all these qualities was required to reach her sinful heart. But the call did reach her, and galvanized within her the decision to act. The love that she poured out demonstrated that she had come to understand both her own guilt and the generous forgiveness that was extended to her.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved

None of the teachings of the Lord Jesus are unnecessary, and his example is not haphazard. We need all of his teaching, and all of his example. He not only took opportunities to speak about sin and judgment, he made opportunities. If we avoid speaking of sin and judgment, we hide the truth from our generation. But wouldn’t it be better if we followed his example?


tiny lantern

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