A friend of mine writes, “You may not know it, but unbelievably rich spiritual power is available to you. This power is not the result of being more religious, acquiring more knowledge about God, moving to a monastery, being more obedient, or praying more often. I suppose there is nothing wrong with those things, but they don’t yield spiritual power. The source of spiritual power is repentance…Repentance isn’t what you think it is. It’s so very different from what most people think that I tried to find another word for it…When repentance comes up, most of us think of a … “turn or burn” message directed at horrible sinners to scare the hell out of them. That’s not what repentance is at all. In fact, it’s a wonderful word…Repentance is from a Greek word meaning, ‘to change one’s mind.’ It means that you recognize God is God and you aren’t…that you don’t get a vote on what’s right and what’s wrong…In short, repentance is knowing who you are, who God is. It’s knowing what you’ve done or haven’t done in light of His truth, and then going to Him in agreement with Him and His assessment.”
No one agrees with my friend’s assessment of repentance any more than Matthew, the gospel writer. For Matthew there’s no picture of Jesus standing in His hometown synagogue and saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor…” (See Luke 4:16f).
The first word out of Jesus’ mouth, fresh off His tussle with Satan, is “Repent.” But it’s critical to know why Jesus says that. He tells us, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” You see, repentance is not something you do to gain the Lord’s attention or favor; it’s something that occurs when His attention and favor is already on you and you have a change of mind and tell Him so.
This Sunday we continue our series, “A Charge to Keep”, by examining Jesus’ first command. Our text is Matthew 4:12-17 and our companion text is Luke 5:27-32. As we dive into the first thing He commands us to teach others to observe, it’s instructive to note how positive a command it is. There’s no conditionality to it. He doesn’t say, “Change or else”. He rather says, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repentance is not a necessary work to bring the kingdom near. According to Jesus, it’s already here. The question is - do we recognize it?
In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:
- What are the similarities and differences between the command of John the Baptist in Matthew 4:7-9 and Jesus’ command in Matthew 4:17?
- What does Jesus’ audience tell us about His view of repentance?
- What’s the connection between the quoted words of Isaiah in 4:15-16 to what Jesus says in verse 17?
- What is the common definition of metanoia – “repentance”? Why is that definition incomplete?
- What do you make of Paul’s words in II Timothy 2:25-26?
- How can repentance be considered a gift?
- Someone has said, “Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin.” What’s that mean?
- How is this first command of Christ foundational to all the others?
- What was the first thesis of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses?
- Look up Question 60 of the Heidelberg Catechism. Do you see a perfect correlation to biblical repentance? (Hint: You should!)