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Dear Christian friends,
Going to the doctor doesn’t give me a warm fuzzy. I don’t think it does for anyone, does it? This Wednesday I have a regular appointment. It begins with the fast. No food for twelve hours. Then there is the usual wait. I once waited two hours to see the doctor. How could I express discontent when he was somewhere helping someone else? Then there is getting on the scale. “Oh, Governor Christie, you’re here to see us again!” says the nurse. “Hey, Nurse, you could lose a few yourself!” Then there are the vials of blood! How many vials this time? Three? Then I find out the one I told she could lose a few pounds is the one who is drawing the blood. Poke, poke, poke. “I can’t seem to find a good vein, Governor!” Poke, Poke, Poke! “Well, Nurse, why don’t you just cut my arm off and take it to Golden Corral. They can grill it. It is tender enough!” Melodramatic? I guess! But I would rather spend two hours of my time someplace else than in the doctor’s office. Going to the doctor isn’t something you do for fun; you go because it is necessary. It might be painful, but then if I don’t go it will be painful later.
Now that I got that off my chest, do you want to hear about what I think about algebra or eating broccoli? The point is that life isn’t always fun but you have to endure. It is only going to be pleasurable when we get to heaven. But until then…
Today we are talking about a tough but necessary subject that needs to be in the life of every single person – “The Need for Sincere Repentance.” With God’s servant, John the Baptist, to guide us, let’s talk about “The Need for Sincere Repentance.” 1) The real definition; 2) The real goal.
Did you notice the first part of today’s sermon - ‘the real definition?’ Is there a false definition of repentance? Yes, there is! Repentance deals with sorrow over sin. The apostle Paul says there is a right and a wrong kind of sorrow. He wrote to the Corinthians, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” A lot of times people, even we, are sorry because we got caught. A lot of times we are sorry because what we did makes our lives more difficult. A lot of times sorrow is purely selfish and self-centered. An example - I blow leaves onto my neighbor’s lawn because I ran out of trash bags. I am sorry because I have now caused a rift between my neighbor and me. Other neighbors saw me and now they think I am a jerk. I am sorry because I made my life difficult. That’s worldly sorrow!
Godly sorrow knows that not loving God and my neighbor is sin. If I don’t love my neighbor, I am not loving God either. That’s godly sorrow.
John the Baptist was sent by the Lord to teach sincere repentance. Luke says, “John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” Strong words from a strong man. In movies about the Bible, John the Baptist is always played by strong actors. Charlton Heston was my favorite. John the Baptist was devoted to the Living God. It is evident that the rabbis of his day didn’t supply the willingness to tackle the truth like John did.
When you have bad teachers you have bad students. When you have bad parents, children turn out that way too. Statistics tell us “children from single-parent families account for 63 percent of all youth suicides, 70 percent of all teenage pregnancies, 71 percent of all adolescent chemical/substance abuse, 80 percent of all prison inmates, and 90 percent of all homeless and runaway children.” Parents are in the position to be the best teachers a child can have. If parents don’t model and teach their children because they are absent and don’t live up their God-given position, the statistics tell us what is likely to happen.
The religious leaders and teachers among the Jews were like bad parents. They didn’t carry out their God-given responsibilities. When John came along and preached that good old time religion about the need to produce sorrow over sin and to acknowledge the need to for God to be merciful, God blessed the message and people went to see him in droves.
Even the teachers that weren’t doing a good job did too. There seemed to be a problem; they didn’t seem to take it to heart. They went not because they were beggars for God’s mercy, but for other reasons. Perhaps it was politically expedient. It was good to be seen there since everyone else seemed to be there. Perhaps it was simply curiosity. Perhaps they simply wanted to know what the fuss was all about. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”
How important for all of us to take this to heart too and ask “Why do I come to church and, among other things, confess my sin?” To save face with the family or some good friends at church? So you won’t be hounded during the week? To keep Mom and Dad happy? To get people off your back? Perhaps it is just curiosity! Perhaps there is someone I wanted to see at church.
Repentance is serious because the sin we repent of is serious. All the death and dying around us and will one day get us too was brought about by sin. Isaiah writes, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” It separates us from God. Without forgiveness, sin will be punished. “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Acknowledge your sin; Hand your sins over to Jesus, the great redeemer. Repentance is serious business.
Repentance is personal. Each one of us needs to repent. “Jesus said, “And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” Being right with God has nothing to do with bloodlines. The Jews couldn’t say that because they had Abraham blood in them, they were all right with God. Repentance leads us to see how badly we need the blood of Jesus through whom all sins are forgiven. I've been reading posts and blogs all day about hugging your kids. But I have to be honest, that wasn't my first thought. My first thought was to make sure you don't leave a life lived with Jesus as something for your kids to decide about when they are older. What if one of those children had parents who didn't share Jesus with them? Do more than hug your kids - tell them about their Savior. May God forbid such a thing happen to any of us; however, if it did, there is peace in knowing that your child is with their Savior in heaven. In the same way you make sure your children wear their seat belts, take vitamins and eat their veggies, take them to church. Grow them up with Jesus. Don't wait! You really don't know if a car accident or illness or tragedy will strike. It could be tomorrow for anyone of us.
No one saves you except Jesus - not your Dad, not your Mom, not your wife, not your husband, not your child…only your Savior whose blood cleanses you from your sin. Repentance is personal.
Repentance is sincere. Unforgiven sin puts obstacles in the way of our relationship with the Lord – sin for which you and I have to accept responsibility. Think about the confession and absolution part of the service every week. How about the one for today?
1) “Holy and merciful Father” We address our holy God who does no wrong and accepts no excuses. Yet he is merciful and forgives.
2) I confess that I am by nature sinful – I am sinful inside. No one needed to teach me to do evil. I am a natural. I was born with it.
3) I have disobeyed you in my thoughts, words, and actions. My sin doesn’t stay inside of me. My mind so easily slips into sarcasm and criticism and pessimism. My mind is so quick to think evil about people and situations. I don’t weigh my words. Even when I do, I don’t always mean it. I simply do bad things that make me ashamed. I accept
4) I have done what is evil and failed to do what is good. I have committed sins of omission, not doing what I ought, and sins of commission, doing what I shouldn’t.
5) “For this I deserve your punishment both now and in eternity.” To have a good relationship to you Lord is totally dependent on your mercy. My behavior only deserves that you turn away from me. I deserve your punishment. I plead for mercy.
Sincere repentance is followed by much needed absolution. What a privilege God gave me. As someone called by God to this church, I got to stand in Jesus’ place and he authorized me to forgive you in the name of the Triune God. Repentance is sincere and so is God’s forgiveness.
Repentance brings forth changes.
John proclaimed, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Full and sincere repentance goes beyond confessing sin. It also entails seeking and receiving forgiveness from our merciful Savior through his representative. It also includes producing fruits. It means bringing forth changes for the better. Repentance means loving people up, not shooting them down.
Think about this. The crowd around John asked,“What should we do then?...John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same. Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” Sincere repentance produces good works.
Friday was such a tragedy to have so many killed by someone whom Satan certainly was in control of. Now look what is happening. Some people think that gun control is needed; others quite the opposite. I read how some want to arm teachers so that no one would dare to enter a school like they have in the past.
Let me say it like this. Instead of talking gun control how about talking about repentance? It is time to listen to the message of John the Baptist who tells us that there is not only a God but a God to whom we confess our sins and acknowledge that he wants to love more than punish. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.” It then means taking seriously everything said to the crowd be charitable; to the tax collector be fair and honest; to the Romans soldier to see himself as a servant and not one to intimidate and cheat people. Unfortunately, Mr. Lanza didn’t know about repentance and the real fruits it produces.
Repentance has the goal of bring people to see Jesus and everyone’s desperate need for him. For centuries Israelhad been waiting for the Promised Redeemer. The prophets had predicted him hundreds of times. John pointed people to him too. Many were misguided. Luke tells us they, “were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.”
John answered them, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” That one more powerful one was Jesus, born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth whose ministry centered in Galilee. He was more powerful and mightier than John. While he slept and ate, he also healed the blind, the lame the deaf; he even raised the dead. He did so to show he was indeed the Son of God and that “by believing in him we would have life in his name.” He was mighty in person.
He was mighty in work. So many benefitted from John’s work. He baptized and forgiveness of sins was brought to so many personally. But that forgiveness was really tied to Jesus. Without Jesus and his promised work John’s baptism wouldn’t have accomplished anything. John prepared for salvation, but it was Jesus who was powerful in his work.
He was powerful in his mercy, “But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” John made a confession here, didn’t he? Jesus was the true and holy and everlasting Lord. John knew himself to be what you and I are – poor, miserable sinners. The Mighty, Jesus – no John - came to save. How? By humbling himself and becoming the servant of all.
I said in the beginning that we often need to hurt in order to get better. Repentance is a painful project, isn’t it? We need to make admissions about ourselves. But once we get through that simply put our trust in that Savior who hurt for us on the cross to take away our sin.