Chapter 5: Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent

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“Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent.”
{Matthew 4:17 KJV}


First of all, I think it’s important to point out that the above passage isn’t saying: Jesus began this particular sermon on the subject of repentance, but rather: Jesus began His public ministry with the message—repent. And while I would stress to you the exceeding importance of that fact, I would also stress to you—in the light of not just that one passage, but as you’ll soon see, an abundance of passages showing just how important repentance truly is—that something is definitely wrong, because this message of repentance that Jesus and the Bible so clearly teach simply doesn’t hold the place that it should in much of today’s Christianity.

This chapter won’t need to be long; and it certainly won’t be difficult. For the most part the different passages that I’ll be sharing will speak for themselves. I’ll just be adding a few thoughts as I think helpful. I’ll start at the beginning of the New Testament and pretty much work my way through.

But before beginning I think it would be helpful to share with you the definitions of repent and repentance. I’ll be using what for me has become a valuable tool when it comes to understanding words as used in the Bible—the original 1828 Noah Webster dictionary. As you’re reading through these definitions I would ask you to especially take note of the distinction Noah Webster makes between definitions 2 & 3:

1. To feel pain, sorrow or regret for something done or spoken.
2. In theology, the pain, regret or affliction which a person feels on account of his past conduct, because it exposes
him to punishment.
3. Real penitence; sorrow or deep contrition for sin as an offense and dishonor to God, a violation of his holy law,
and the basest ingratitude towards a Being of infinite benevolence.
Repentance is a change of mind, or conversion from sin to God.
Repentance is the relinquishment of any practice, from the conviction that it has offended God.

In a nutshell, true Biblical repentance includes two things—sorrow for sin, and then because of our sorrow for it, a turning away from it.

Now to begin. Before Jesus appeared on the scene God sent a man to prepare the way for Him; a man of whom Jesus Himself later gave what is possibly the greatest commendation ever given a human being: “I assure you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11:11 NLT) Here’s a little bit of what the Bible tells us about John:

“In the book of the prophet Isaiah, God said, “Look, I am sending my messenger before you, and he will prepare your way…” This messenger was John the Baptist.”  {Mark 1:2, 4 NLT}

“Then his father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy… “And you, my little son, will be called a prophet of the Most High; because you will prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell his people how to find salvation.”  {Luke 1:67, 76, 77 NLT}

“The word of God came to John… He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching…”  {Luke 3:2, 3 NIV}

Among the many things we’re told in those passages is that God Himself sent John and called him “my messenger,” that he came to “prepare the way for the Lord,” that he would “tell his people how to find salvation,” that “the word of God came to John,” and that he came “preaching.” Obviously, being God’s messenger he would be preaching God’s message. And as we’re told, it would be a message “telling his people how to find salvation.” So what was that message? “Repent.” And to help fix our definition of repentance in our minds I’ll quote from two translations:

“John the Baptist came preaching… saying ‘Repent.’”  {Matthew 3:1, 2 NIV}

“John the Baptist began preaching… His message was, ‘Turn from your sins and turn to God.’”  {Matthew 3:1, 2 NLT}

From there we come once again to our title passage:

“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  {Matthew 4:17 KJV}

After this we read: “He called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth… And they went out, and preached…” (Mark 6:7, 12 KJV)

Surely Jesus must have instructed His disciples what it was they were to go out and preach; and surely they “went out and preached” what He had instructed them to go out and preach. And what was it that they went out and preached?

“And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth… And they went out, and preached that men should repent.”  {Mark 6:7, 12 KJV}

From there I’ll pass on to a talk Jesus had with His disciples after His resurrection. And I would ask you to notice what it is that He says “will be preached in his name to all nations”:

“Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.”  {Luke 24:45-47 NIV}

Next we come to the book of Acts, where we read of Christ’s apostles turning the world upside down with their message of a crucified and risen Savior. Their public ministry begins in chapter two, where Peter’s preaching was so powerful, and so blessed by God, that “about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (vs. 41) I’ll begin at verse thirty-six:

“Let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  {Acts 2:36, 37 NIV}

I suppose by now you can probably guess what Peter’s reply was:

 “Peter replied, “Repent.”  {Acts 2:38 NIV}

In the very next chapter we find Peter preaching once again:

“God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, by turning each of you back from your sinful ways.”  {Acts 3:26 KJV, NLT}

It’s no mistake, and it’s no small thing, that Peter follows that wonderful truth, “God sent His Son to bless you,” with those words, “by turning each of you back from your sinful ways.”

Now I want to share with you what may possibly be the two most important passages in all the Bible on repentance. Simply read and contemplate—especially the last three words of each:

“When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.”  {Acts 11:18 KJV}

“Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation.”  {2 Corinthians 7:10 KJV}

Hopefully you’re beginning to see why I say something’s definitely wrong that so many churches have so little to say about repentance. And it must be made clear to all who will listen: just as there’s no “life” and no “salvation” without Jesus, so there’s no life and no salvation without repentance.

Next I want to share with you another set of two passages. Notice how in the first, after stating that he “kept back nothing that was profitable unto them,” what two things Paul then goes on to mention; and then notice in the second passage how he again points out those two same things, this time calling them “the basics” and “the foundation”:

“I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”  {Acts 20:20, 21 KJV}

“So let us stop going over the basics of Christianity again and again, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God.”  {Hebrews 6:1 NLT, KJV}

Concerning that Hebrews passage: My wife said that to her it was confusing and that I needed to explain that Paul there wasn’t saying that we shouldn’t preach repentance. First, if Paul there is saying that we don’t need to preach repentance, then he’s also saying that we don’t need to preach faith, because faith is mentioned in that passage right alongside repentance; and of course no one thinks that. All he’s saying is that repentance and faith are such “basic elements of Christianity” that we shouldn’t have to continually establish them as such with those who have been longtime members of the church: “You have been Christians a long time now.” (Hebrew 5:12 NLT)

Because it reminds us what exactly repentance is, which I think is so important, and because I think it reads so well, I want to re-quote the Acts passage again from the New Living Translation:

“I have had one message for Jews and Gentiles alike—the necessity of turning from sin and turning to God, and of faith in our Lord Jesus.”  {Acts 20:21 NLT}

Now, because I believe there tends to be some misunderstanding in regard to this next aspect of repentance, I want to share another set of two passages:

“The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.”  {Acts 5:30, 31 NIV}

“The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.”  {Romans 2:4 KJV}

We’re told in that first passage that repentance is something that God gives to us. Like every other blessing in the Christian religion it originates—not with ourselves—but with God, and comes to us through Christ. And as Paul so clearly tells us in that second passage, it’s not our own goodness that leads us to repentance, but “the goodness of God” that “leads us to repentance.”

Something else in connection with that Acts passage that I think needs pointed out: while it’s true that repentance is something that God gives to us, Jesus informs us that He doesn’t force us to accept it:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… I have longed to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”  {Matthew 23:37 NIV, NLT}

One more passage before I bring this to a close:

“The Lord… is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  {2 Peter 3:9 NIV}

I just want to say a few things before finishing. First, just as God commands us to do certain things because He loves us and knows that the doing of those things will bring us true happiness and true life, so likewise, He commands us not to do other things, or to turn from doing those things, which of course is what repentance is, for the exact same reason, because He loves us and knows that the doing of those things He’s told us not to do won’t bring us happiness or true life. As a matter of fact, they bring us just the opposite.

Secondly, and closely connected to what I just said, sin is a horrible, horrible thing—it killed God’s Son and it will eventually kill everyone who doesn’t separate from it:

“Sin, when it is finished, brings forth death.”  {James 1:15 AKJV}
“Sin… was producing death in me.”  {Romans 7:13 {HCSB}

God knows perfectly well that “sin brings forth death,” and He wants us to know it too. And the more fully and perfectly we realize the horrible, deadly thing sin is, the more willingly, gratefully, and joyfully we’ll accept and even desire His message and His gift of repentance.

Lastly, because I believe its value isn’t understood and appreciated as it should be, I want to include two passages from the Old Testament. The first is a passage we had in an earlier chapter that I think deserves to be included in this one as well; the second shows how things haven’t changed much in 2500 years.

“This is what he says to all humanity: ‘…to forsake evil is real understanding.’”  {Job 28:28 NLT}

“Again and again, the LORD has sent you his prophets, but you have not listened or even tried to hear. Each time the message was this: ‘Turn from the evil road you are traveling and from the evil things you are doing.’”  {Jeremiah 25:4, 5 NLT}

I’ll finish with two final passages:

“I have come to get sinners to turn away from their sins.”  {Jesus in Luke 5:32 NIrV}

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and turn away from your sins.”  {Jesus in Revelation 3:19 KJV, NIrV}

Similar to what I said at the end of chapter two: It’s critical that we understand and accept that it’s God, not us, who determines what is sin.