So What Does it Mean – REPENT?
Rev. Jeff Wood
Sept. 27, 2015
Last week we took a core word of the Bible that we speak with mystery but keep at arm’s length, holy. It’s deity plus moral sanitation. We say it in a hush but we don’t like the idea of holier-than-thou or holy roller or the Latin sanctus for holy, sanctimonious. And we moved into the Bible for its central meaning of promise, rest, adventure, and goodness. This life God has called us to and wants to bring us into is not something meriting heel marks on the carpet. Rather it is the good that we all deeply desire. It is a pearl of great price.
Today, we take yet another biblical word for our glossary of faith. It is a word which, perhaps more than any other, is associated with religion. It is another that we probably hold at arm’s length. It is the word, “Repent.” Can’t you see a preacher dressed in black, with an angry gnarly face, hanging over the pulpit, shaking a long finger down at you, and scowling while saying to you, “Repent”?
I remember once meeting a neighbor who when I asked her about coming to church said, “I already feel bad enough about my life. Why should I come and feel ‘more bad’?” Repent falls in with that thought “more bad”– if you have religion, you have “feel bad.”
But there is more to repent, actually most of it is something other than feeling bad. It is quite, quite fascinating. Let’s see.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit then, these words: Mark 1:9-15
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."
 At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert,  and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.  "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth and from his fullness have we all received grace upon grace.
From the first to the last of the prophets, they preached it – “Repent.” Yes, from Elijah to John the Baptist, they preached it – “Repent.” Jesus sent his 72 disciples out to preach it – “Repent.” After his resurrection and ascension – Peter preached it to 3000 – “Repent.” Paul preached it throughout Asia Minor – “Repent.” And in between it all Jesus preached it, as we see in our text today – “Repent and believe the kingdom of heaven is here.”
Garrison Keillor, the man on the radio with all the stories about his fictitious Lake Woebegone, a town in Minnesota, tells a story of Larry the Sad Boy who twelve different times fell upon the altar rail of his little Lutheran church wailing and confessing and generally feeling miserable. He was Sad Larry because he so often felt sad about being bad. We often think that there is something called feeling bad about doing wrong but when we feel really bad about doing wrong, then that’s called repentance. Is that what Jesus said, “Feel really bad and believe, the kingdom of heaven is near”? I wonder.
Dallas Willard is a favorite author of mine. Repentance is a Greek word meaning change your mind. Dallas Willard nuances it, I think helpfully, to “Reconsider – reconsider specifically your strategy for living.” Reconsider is change your mind. Reconsider your strategy for living. A strategy is a mind product. Change your mind equals reconsider your strategy for living.
We in the Wood family have five boys. I’ve noticed a thing or two about them. One thing I’ve noticed is that there is a big difference between a boy going into junior high school and a boy coming out of junior high school.
A boy going into junior high school wears crumpled t-shirts with jelly stains on them. A boy going into junior high school rolls out of bed and walks out the door without combing his hair. A junior high boy has no idea on earth what deodorant is nor why anyone would need it. The boy who goes into junior high school has a basic orientation of, “Girls, yuck!” However, the boy who comes out of junior high school is wearing a cleaner t-shirt (I didn’t say clean, I said cleaner). He has discovered the mirror and the comb for his hair. He has become a connoisseur of deodorant actually needing “Red Zone not Right Guard, Dadddddd!” The boy who comes out of junior high school has a different orientation of, “Girls, hmmmmn.”
I look at all this and think of the old west. In the old west women were often few and far between. With no prospects of ever having a life with a wife, the men lived like junior high boys. But when there was the prospect of having a life with a wife, the men shaved and put on cologne.
The difference for the men of the old, wild west causing them to go from no cologne to cologne and the difference for the young teen age boy causing him to go from dirty t-shirt to cleaner t-shirt is that one side has no thought of, or no prospect for, life with a gal … and the other one does. When there is no possibility or thought for life with a gal, we live one way. When there is that real possibility, we live another. Now hold this point in mind. We are going to come back to it.
Jesus’ first work really is to proclaim. What does Jesus proclaim? Here’s how Mark summarizes it – boil it down and Mark says that Jesus preached, “Repent and believe, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Here’s the simple outline of Jesus … appearing, being baptized, being tested, and trying to get people to deal with the kingdom of heaven at hand. But now look at the background of the Bible. The Hebrew people appear, are baptized by passing through the Red Sea, are tested in the wilderness and they also find themselves dealing with a kingdom at hand. They called it the Promised Land. But it, too, was good news requiring both belief and a strategy. Remember we said that repentance is reconsidering your strategy for living.
Here’s how the matter of a kingdom, belief, and a strategy for living worked out for the Hebrews. The land was right there. They sent in twelve spies to check it out. Ten, basically, couldn’t believe life there in the Promised Land was possible for them and, consequently, could envision no strategy. Their position was, “Avoid.” Two spies, Joshua and Caleb, could believe the land was theirs and strategize how to enter it. Take that God sprung us from Egypt, has travelled with us, has promised us this good place, and will be with us going into it … we’re taking all that into our strategy for living. They were outvoted. But here’s the key: belief impacts thinking and thinking impacts plans and plans impact actions. Ten couldn’t get their arms around the Promised Land being really and truly theirs and therefore said “Avoid.” Two could and said, “Forward.” Repentance is what the two did.
Now let’s go pick up that idea of how men of the wild west and boys of the junior high school change based on the nearness of gals and the prospect of life with one. If they came to believe it was realistic that a gal is near and you could live with one, that belief impacted thinking and action. They said, “Forward.” But if they didn’t believe that, or if they did and there were no changes, then for all practical purposes with respect to gals they would be in retreat.
And, of course, we are talking more than gals, or some piece of ancient territory. Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven. He’s talking about us, as we move about this flesh and blood life, entering a spiritual realm – finding life infused with heaven.
Just as you’d walk up to the door of the sanctuary and say, “Look, the sanctuary is at hand,” invisibly we come to a spiritual dimension which is at hand and we may go into it in just the same way we may go into a sanctuary. Or just as when we see a gal and said, “Oh, I could have a relationship with her,” we can say, “Oh, I could have a relationship with him.” If we don’t believe that’s realistically possible, we live one way – in retreat. If we believe it is realistically possible, we live another – advance. If we believe it is realistically possible but don’t change our behaviors to fit the belief, then for all practical purposes we are also in retreat.
A guy I know had parents who said to his sister about pierced ears, “No.” She seemed to want it more than anything. They said, “You’re not old enough.” On and on this went year after year. One day they handed her a wrapped present and she opened it to find earrings, the kind you needed pierced ears for. They said, “The time is here.” Or the kingdom of pierced ears is at hand. If the girl says to her parents, “I don’t believe the time is here and this is all a bunch of baloney,” she retreats. If she says she believes but does nothing, for all practical purposes she retreats. She doesn’t feel sorry in order to get earrings for pierced ears. But she has to receive what is being offered. Her reconsidering a new strategy is to go get her ears pierced.
What do you really, really, really long for? A life with the profound realization that God knows you and will walk with you? The time is here. That promised land is something you can step into. Do you believe that? Do. But also hear that Jesus says this belief means stepping into, strategies for occupying the land, a/k/a changes in your life.
People do this. I ate breakfast with some pastors the other day and one guy was eating oatmeal. Someone asked him why and it was because he had had bypass surgery some years ago. He wanted the promised land of continued life and cardiac health so he reconsidered his strategy of eating. He didn’t just feel bad about how he had eaten. He didn’t just make plans to eat differently. He, most importantly, reconsidered his strategy and implemented it.
Alcoholics reconsider and elevate sobriety and restructure so that on holidays they don’t gather with old friends and drink but gather with others set on sobriety. It means saying good bye to some things and establishing new habits about others.
Kimberly Clark was a famous company that began with paper mills. That was the heart of the company. They made coated paper. Darwin Smith became CEO in 1971 and came to realize that the company, for whatever reason, could not be a great company, could not really compete successfully in the paper business. So he reconsidered Kimberly Clark’s strategy for living. In that world what happened is known as a corporate restructure. They sold what they were known for, the paper mills. They laid off personnel. They made new investments. It was tough. It took courage. He didn’t just go through the motions. He did what it took to implement the strategy. In that world what they did is known as a corporate restructure. It was getting into a new place for a viable future. Another word for what Darwin Smith did with Kimberly Clark is repent. It is to see what is essential to the business and making that the focus. Turning from all else.
The repentance restructure that the Bible talks about that leads to life puts Jesus on top and does whatever he says. So repentance is a strategy for living in the light of the kingdom of heaven but it is a strategy for living that is all about the essentiality of Jesus. Here’s the strategy he bids us adopt: seek first the kingdom of heaven.
The one we call the rich, young ruler was analyzing his strategy for living with the thought of ‘what if you could live forever and everyone didn’t just automatically go there?’ He was strategizing on what he should do. Jesus said there was one thing in his life that was ahead of seeking the kingdom and seeking the kingdom must be first. Sothe man sought but he didn’t repent.
I talked to two men last night that are dying. They are on hospice. I asked one what he was thinking of his life. He was quiet. I was so hoping he wasn’t going to say, “I lived with the wrong strategy of life.” So many do – I lived for career and now it’s over and my marriage is gone and …. So many can figure out a strategy for the career advancement, for their pension, for how they’ll manage their health care and estate, for … but what is the plan for the most important of all – God?
Fortunately, this man said, “I had a good strategy living to help others. It’s the way to go.” And he had gotten that from a life of faith built on Jesus Christ.
There really is a kingdom and a king. How do you want to live in the light of it truly being accessible to you? What do you need to rethink? Change?
We can have 99 plans that include lots of going to church and reading the Bible even. But if there is not plain ol’ giving your heart to Jesus … to do whatever he wants, then we have not yet repentance.
I was thinking that with that junior high boy, that if he had a plan that involved clean t-shirts and cologne and all the rest, that would be good, very good. It really will help. He might even win the girl. But if he just works his plan and never just gives her his heart, he really hasn’t figured it out.
How about you today? Want a minute to think about surrender to Jesus … to restructuring your life about him as the most important bottom line ever, entering his kingdom as the most important thing ever? I say to you and to me, “Yes, let’s pray and repent.”
If you would like to talk with someone about this message or your spiritual life, or to have someone pray with you, the pastors and elders of the church would welcome your call.
Pastor Jeff Wood has been a pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Sebastian since 2014.