Words: Repentance

Good morning and welcome to Journey.  My name is Phil Human and today we are going to talk about reality.  And to start I want us to watch a clip from the 1999 movie, the Matrix, in which the hero of the movie, Neo, is offered an invitation from Morpheus to enter reality.

Imagine that you and I – the real you and I are right now cocooned in a chamber with wires coming into and out of our brain and bodies – imagine that all we see here today is actually virtual reality – images and ideas being fed into our minds.  That’s the basic idea of the movie – better seen than explained – but in this scene, Morpheus had entered the fake reality called the Matrix, and is offering Neo two options.  He can take the blue pill and stay ignorantly blissful in fake reality.  Or he can take the red pill, and he will leave the virtual reality world and enter the ‘real world’…

Here’s the famous scene.
Which pill would you have chosen?  Today we are going to begin a new series we are simply calling – Words – There are some words that show up in the bible that, if properly understood, would help us understand all of scripture better.

Today the word we are studying is ‘repent’.  What do you think of when you hear the word ‘repent’?  How many immediately think of people holding signs in the street?  I did.  Repent for the end is near, right?  Sandwich board.  Did any of you have an image that popped up like this – someone with their hands in their face – this is one of the most popular images in a google search of the word repent.

The word is an important word.  Did you know that according to Matthew 4:17  From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

This is the theme of Jesus’ preaching.  Repent. Not only is it how Jesus begins his message, but it is also often how he ends his messages.  Two times in Luke 13, Jesus talks about tragedies that occur – one time some Galileans were killed by Pilate, and in the news that same day a tower had fallen and killed some people, and Jesus asks – do you think it happened because they were worse sinners than you?  And he says this both times….  I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” NASB

These are startling words.  Oh No – Have I repented?  Have I done this right?  What does it look like to repent?  And it can make us fearful that somehow God is on the lookout to specifically punish those who don’t repent.  And we will come back to this verse at the end of the sermon.  I will tell you exactly what Jesus means.

So let’s jump in – what does the word “Repent” mean?  The greek word – the word Jesus used – is “metanoeite” – and it means – literally – and we will blow it up more – “to change one’s thinking.”

Jesus starts his sermons – with a plea to change the way we think. Well, what does Jesus want me to rethink?  And the answer is – “Reality itself.”  Jesus wants you to think differently about reality itself.

Jesus wants you to rethink everything you think you know about the world and how it works.  Rethink reality itself.

See, lots of people – they have a wrong understanding of repentance.  See they think they already understand reality – and they think that Jesus came to make reality slightly better by forgiving my sins and letting me into heaven when I die.

Nothing about my reality changes if I think that Jesus came to earth to do something nice for me.  He died on the cross to take away my sin, isn’t that sweet of him?

But nothing fundamentally changes in my life.  there’s no difference between me and a complete pagan other than I get to say, well I learned the secret to getting into heaven.

For those of you who are skeptical about this Jesus thing – wouldn’t you rank that pretty high on your reasons why you are skeptical about faith?  You look at people who claim to be followers of Jesus but you struggle to find anything different about them other than they appear slightly more intolerant?

Know why?  Because they haven’t repented.  Repentance is the red pill, or the blue pill.  Jesus’ message is not “I have come to make your life slightly better.”  Jesus message is “Repent.”  Change the way you think about reality itself.   Everything you thought was true about the world goes away.   There’s no turning back.

When Jesus tells us to repent, he is inviting us down the rabbit hole with him, into an entirely different universe – he calls it the kingdom of God – a place where God promises to protect and provide for us while he transforms into different human beings entirely.

Jesus wants us to repent – to change the way we think about reality.

Now let’s get specific.  Some of you don’t believe that God, any god, exists.  You are naturalists – and I want to urge you to repent.

Your reality as you know it has been shaped by people who have told you that nothing exists outside of the material universe.   You think that the only thing that is real is something that can be touched or tasted or viewed through a microscope or telescope.  Or proven with a calculator.

Jesus says – Repent.  Change the way you think about reality.  It’s not science or faith.  It’s science and faith.  Jesus offers you reality. And the reality is that Newton wasn’t the real author of the Law of Gravity.  There is a Good and Beautiful God behind the order of the Universe.  And He invites you to be part of it’s operation.

Some here believe there is a God but you need to repent about which “God” is real to you.

We live in a society that fancies options when it comes to God.  And all of them are supposed to be equally valid.  Try one on and see if it fits.  Hindu, Mormon, Muslim, Buddhist, oh – that one looks darling on you!  Isn’t that the way the world thinks?

Repent!  Change the way you think.  Jesus said that he is the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through him.

“Oh, that’s the problem with you Christians, you are so narrow minded – stop imposing your religion on me.”

But you know what’s interesting, I never heard someone say, “Stop imposing your mathematics on me.  Or stop imposing your Chemistry on me.”  Why?  Because we think that math and science belong to ‘reality’ and belief in God belongs in fairytale – But hey – whatever works for you!

But the Bible is clear – if we think that all roads lead to God and it doesn’t matter what you believe –  then you will never enter reality.  It’s blue pill for you.

The bible tells us about one time Paul, who was an important leader in the first church – was walking through Athens – a city renowned for it’s religious tolerance.   tolerance.  Everywhere he went he saw statues celebrating various gods.  And here’s part of what he tells them in Acts 17.

22 So Paul addressed them as follows: “People of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way…  Then he says – let me tell you about the God of the Bible.

24 “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 

27 “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist.

What is Paul doing here?  He is offering reality to a group of people living in unreality.  God is not far away.  Not unknowable.  We live in a world that is saturated with God’s presence.  In Him we live and move and exist!

You think you are in control of your breathing?  You think your alarm clock woke you up today?  Repent.  There is a God.  And in him we live and move and breathe.

Moving on – there are some who believe in Jesus – but have a wrong image of God and how he operates.  And I’d encourage you, as would Jesus – repent!  Change the way you think about God!

Perhaps you think of God as an angry tyrant, constantly scanning the globe looking for infractions, looking for people to bust.  They think of God is perpetually annoyed with them.  Some even feel that God hates them, or God is tormenting them, or holding grudges.

Repent.  It’s time to change your thinking about God.  Stop demeaning God by making him a tyrant who cannot be pleased.  For God loves the world!

Some here might need to repent of the other extreme.  If you view God as nothing more than a big teddy bear, who loves you so much he would never ask you to change, repent!  Change your thinking.  He wants us to live life the way Jesus taught us to live it – for our own good!

I’ll tell you, quite honestly, many people are basing opinions about God on a view of him made up completely in their own head.  If you think that God is not just – and would never judge anyone – you certainly aren’t reading much of Jesus’ teaching.  And you aren’t thinking clearly about that.  Who wants an unjust God?

Are you willing to repent?  To change the way you think about God?  There’s no turning back if you do.

Red pill, or blue?  Do you want to know reality?  Or are you content with “Reality to me”.  Repent.  Think differently about reality itself.

What does  reality look like?  Well, we will begin to see that God is everywhere. He is near.  He’s not up hiding behind the moon.  He’s as close to you as the shirt you are wearing.

Which is only good news to learn if God is also good.  And is he ever good!  He is near and good and he is great.  He can do anything.  And the reality is that He is for us.

Through faith in Jesus we are ushered into a new kingdom – the Kingdom of God.

And we get to live in a place where we no longer have to scratch and claw my way anywhere.  Instead, I am invited by God to work with him in changing the very essence of life as other people know it.

It doesn’t matter our past, our problems, whether the president or in prison, we are extended an invitation to live a significant, important life.

We are transformed slowly over the course of a lifetime into the kinds of people other people thank God for.  Jesus said you become the salt and light of the world, other people watch you and look to heaven and thank Him that you are part of their life.

Your life was built to count.  And it will if you repent and think differently about reality itself – made available to us through faith in Jesus.

Now if all that is true, then let me push repentance into uncomfortable terrain.

If it’s true that God is working all things together for good in my life, and it’s true that God is with me and I need not fear, – If I say all that but am a worry wart?  Then I need to repent.  I need to think differently, don’t I?

If I am a follower of Jesus but don’t regularly give money to help the poor?  I need to repent.

I need to think differently about “my money” and “my time”.  If God is the one who gives me my daily bread, then why exactly am I reluctant to share it with another?

Now I could go on and put more examples – We can talk about sexuality, about honesty, about anger, about lust.  If we do that then suddenly we see that repentance digs much deeper than – pray a prayer to get into heaven.  Repentance becomes a daily discipline.

Daily I am matching up my actions against what I believe to be reality.  And when I begin to act in a way that places me and my will ahead of God’s, then I need to repent.  I need to change the way I think about reality.

Now – let’s talk about what repentance looks like.  What does it look like to repent?

And it’s important that we understand this – when we repent – and we change the way we think about God and reality – then the changes don’t stop with our thinking.  It has to reach our heart – the core of us.  So let’s adjust the definition slightly but importantly.   Repentance is a change in thinking that results in a changed heart.

If we really change the way we think about reality, then we will see three things resulting from a repentance heart.

We will confess out sins to God that we’ve been wrong all along.  We will not be able to do anything other than to say, I was wrong.

And when I say confession by the way – I’m not talking about sitting in a booth telling a priest all the ways you’ve sinned.  Confession is simply admitting to God that I am wrong.

I often tell people when I perform wedding ceremonies that the most healing sentences we can speak in a marriage are often three words long. I was wrong.  I am sorry.  Please forgive me.  These words are the essence of confession.

And we need to be ashamed to speak with God as we speak to a friend that we’ve wronged.  We need never fear telling God – I was wrong.  I am sorry.  Please forgive me.

Second, we will feel genuine contrition.  A change in thinking leads to a changed heart.  A heart that feels not only remorse, but feels contrition.  Genuine sorrow for our sin.  Listen to David in Psalm 51, after he comes to terms with his sin… This is contrition…

Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.

16 You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

A repentant person will have a repentant heart – marked by contrition.  Now just a reminder – get the order right.  You don’t act contrite to get God to like and accept you.  You aren’t trying to manipulate God – repent – change the way you think about him.  He loves you enough to die for you.

Once we understand that – then naturally, we let our guard down – our hear follows – and we naturally are able to confess our sins, and our heart naturally is contrite.

Changing your mind about reality itself through faith in Jesus changes your heart.

The last result?  You will begin to Change

One day Jesus decides to have dinner with a tax-collecting thief named Zaccheus.  Of course it drives the religious people crazy that Jesus enjoyed being around people the religious folk called “Notorious sinners.”

After spending some time with Jesus, Zaccheus repents!  He changes his thinking about reality itself.  And what does he do?  His actions change.

Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”

Confession, contrition, and a changed heart.  All resulting from repentance.  And how could we not be changed.

If we understand reality as God being for us.  With us.  What do we have to fear?  Where is there room for worry?

I think – if we go back to Paul again – we read in Romans 8 – what I think might be the best chapter in the bible.  It is the attitude of a man who understands reality.

If God is for us, who can ever be against us?

won’t he also give us everything else?

Who dares accuse us?

Who then will condemn us?

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?

 Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble

No!  Overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is reality, and it is made available to us through faith in Jesus Christ.  No other way.

So let me go back to Luke 13, where Jesus says, repent or perish.  Is Jesus threatening us?  No, he is in fact simply describing reality.

If you want to live your life as if God doesn’t exist?  Well, blue pill for you.   God will not run you over to get you to follow him.

If you don’t repent – you don’t change the way you think about reality itself – then you are choosing the blue pill – and you will continue to float away from God and you will float away from God for eternity.

But the invitation from Jesus still stands.  Repent – for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

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