Jesus Quoted John
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 4:17c (Holman) “. . .Repent,. . .”
Words were Jesus’ weapon of choice in spiritual warfare. A favorite term in His arsenal was “repent”. John the Baptist had used it as the keynote of his ministry (Matt. 3:2). Herod, by killing John, silenced one voice, but a louder, stronger voice took up the mantra. By following John’s lead, and quoting Him, our Lord put high honor on the Baptist. Their ministries were so similar that Herod later thought Jesus was John raised from the dead.
Repent was the theme of Jesus’ public ministry from the first day to the last. He started preaching it in our text, and proclaimed it till He gave us His Great Commission, when He predicted, “Repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations” (Luke 24:19).
We frequently hear the word “repent”, and often misunderstand it. Some say it smacks of legalism, but it is actually produced by grace. “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear.” Grace works repentance in us.
It is wrong to think the command to repent is a form of punishment. It is a kind word, reminding us Christianity was the first religion ever to offer forgiveness without sinners having to suffer. Someone Else did the suffering and the benefits of His pain come to sinners by their repentance. Stuart Townend’s question defies answer, “Why should I gain from His reward?”
Jesus could have preached on more glamorous topics, but started with repent. He was not being harsh or mean. He was telling us of a precious gift, saying permission to be made right with God had been granted to us.
It is worthy of note, to people in darkness (Matt. 4:16), this was Jesus’ beginning word. Matthew recalled the first message of Jesus to his home area. This was their first ray of hope. They were not trapped. They could leave the dark, and come to the light. Repentance was their ticket out from under the dark avalanche of sin. Once they realized darkness was on them because darkness was in them, an inner work of grace could begin.
To repent is a privilege, not a burden. It broadcasts loud and clear, we don’t have to stay in the misery and guilt of our sins. Without repentance we are stuck in the center lane of a spiritual roundabout, no way out, hopelessly going in circles, but with repentance we have the hope of breaking free.
We desperately need to understand what repentance is, for it is to be a recurring part of our spiritual walk from the moment we enter salvation until the day we enter Heaven. Repentance is where we believers are to live.
“Repent” surfaces a goldmine of information in one term, but before we analyze its richness, we must determine its timing. Repentance is always preceded by knowledge that upsets us, and succeeded by increased holiness.
Before we repent, something happens to convince us we need a closer walk with Jesus. After we repent, we enjoy the closer walk with Jesus.
In other words, knowing our spiritual need precedes repentance, but is not repentance; increased holiness follows repentance, but is not repentance.
Repentance fills the gap. It happens after we realize our spiritual need, and before our holiness increases. We better understand what happens in this gap by breaking repentance down into the three parts it always includes.
One, repentance always says, “I am wrong”. When confronted by new evidence of guilt, repentance admits something is not right in us. It begins with a brutally honest self-understanding, an inner awakened awkwardness. We feel something is not right. Without repentance, life goes off-center.
Humbly admitting “I am wrong” is where spiritual help begins. Jesus preached repent before He mentioned grace and forgiveness. God cannot help any who refuse to acknowledge they fall short in spiritual matters.
A sinner who feels no need to be saved senses no need for a Savior. A believer who feels no need to improve senses no need for a Sanctifier. We believers never arrive. There is yet more. Repentance lets us go higher.
Two, repentance always says, “I want to change”. It not only sees the wrong. It also hates it. Repentance causes us to inwardly scream, “I want out of here, away from this mess.” Repentance wants the wrongness to be fixed.
This presses us into the kernel of the word “repent”. It means to do an about face. Repentance makes us want to change our direction in life, to change our orientation and self-identification, to once again make God the uncontested boss of our innermost essence. Repentance says, “I thought I was okay, but uh oh, I see something wrong in me that needs to change.”
Three, repentance always says, “I need help”. We cannot fix our own problems. This is as true of longterm believers as it is of unbelievers and new believers. We who have been long in the faith have to be careful not to switch from justification by faith to sanctification by works. The prayers for grace that we prayed at conversion still apply throughout our Christian life. “I am a sinner. Please forgive me. I cannot do this on my own. Help me.”
Repentance means we know we cannot fix us. It bows humbly before God, pleading for help. No boasting or mentioning the word “merit”, no bargaining with God or setting conditions. Repentance prays for grace.
“I am wrong; I want to change; I need help.” These are the three heartcries of repentance. We know all three conditions have been met when we can honestly say “I changed”. Transformed thoughts, desires, and deeds prove the presence of repentance. Sins we enjoyed, we like no more. Wrongs we loved, we now dislike. We no more think the sinful thoughts that hurt us.
Matt. 4:17d “. . .because the kingdom of heaven has come near!”
History proved His insight to be accurate. A new Kingdom was afoot. His Gospel took the Roman world; millions came to know and love Jesus.
In the humble backwater region known as Galilee, the ground rules for our whole planet were about to change. Earth soon shifted on its axis.
A power more potent than any earthquake, tsunamai, volcano, or comet-strike was about to hit Earth. It was a commotion so amazing that people write books trying to explain the unexplainable social upheaval. “Eternity had invaded time; God had invaded Earth in Jesus” (Barclay).
The kingdom of heaven is seen anywhere Heaven rules Earth through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. It will reach its full glory at the end of time, but has continued to reveal itself ever more broadly and richly throughout history.