Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Message of Christ’s Ministry

Every moment of Christ's earthly ministry was according to the divine timetable. Christ was doing the Father's will in the Father's time. His method was to preach, and the message that Christ preached was the gospel: Christ crucified, buried, risen, and coming again (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

In light of that message, how are we to respond? We are to repent! In fact, the message of Christ distilled into one word is repentance. Notice that Mark said Jesus "came…preaching the gospel" and the content of His gospel message was:
"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel."
Repentance was always the message that Christ proclaimed.

  • Matthew 4:17 – "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand"
  • Matthew 12:41 – "The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here."
  • Luke 5:31-32 – "They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
  • Luke 13:3, 5 – "Except ye likewise repent, ye shall all likewise perish."

The message of repentance was also what John proclaimed (Mark 1:4; Matthew 3:2). This is what the apostles proclaimed: "And they went out, and preached that men should repent" Mark 6:12. On the Day of Pentecost Peter boldly preached this same message: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38; cf. 2 Peter 3:9).

Paul preached this same message. Speaking to the philosophers and skeptics in Athens on Mars Hill Paul proclaimed: "God…commandeth all men every where to repent: because He hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man who He Hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead." (Acts 17:30b-31)

Christ preached that you should "repent and believe the gospel". Those are not two separate actions. They are two sides to the same coin. Christ's command to repent and believe the gospel is synonymous to His telling Nicodemus "ye must be born again" (John 3:3, 7). To be born again you must turn (repent) from your sin, and turning from your sin requires faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. "Repentance signifies a change of direction; faith toward the Lord signifies a change of devotion." (Acts 20:21) But these are not two divergent or even parallel paths; they are one in the same. A heart that is devoted to Christ will also be directed toward Him. Devotion determines direction.

It must be understood that Jesus' message of repentance is not self-reformation or a new resolution, but it is the inner change that gives rise to a new God-centered, Christ-exalting behavior. Biblical repentance is an internal change of mind and heart rather than mere sorrow for sin or mere improvement of behavior. The word "repent" is translated from the compound Greek word "metanoeō". The first part (meta) is a prefix that regularly means movement or change. An example is "metamorphosis" which means to change in appearance or manner. The second part (noeo) refers to the mind; its thoughts, perceptions, dispositions, and purposes. Therefore, the basic meaning of repent is to experience a change of the mind's perceptions, dispositions, and purposes.

John the Baptist's teaching from Luke 3:8, 10-14 illustrates the relationship between repentance and behavior. He says to those who come to him for baptism:

Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, 'We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham…And the people asked him, saying, 'What shall we do then?' He answereth and saith unto them, 'He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. Then came to him publicans…'Master, what shall we do?'…Exact no more than that which is appointed you. And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, 'And what shall we do?'…Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.

This means that repenting is what happens inside, leading to the fruits of new behavior. Repentance is not the new deeds, but the inward change that bears the fruit of new deeds.
(John Piper, "Thoughts on Jesus' Demand to Repent", April 19, 2006.)

Christ's command to repent does not discriminate. All need repentance. Just as all must be born again because "that which is born of the flesh is [only] flesh"
(John 3:6), so all must repent because all are sinners (Romans 3:10, 23).

The Lord did not mean, when He said: "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance"
(Luke 5:32), that some people do not need repentance. He meant some think they do not need to repent (Luke 18:9). No one is excluded. All need repentance. The need is urgent. "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel…
Except ye likewise repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Mark 1:15 & Luke 13:5)

What is meant by perish? It is the final judgment of God upon those who do not repent. The gospel, the good news, is that the rule of God has arrived in Jesus to save sinners before it arrives at his Second Coming in judgment. So the demand to repent is based on the gracious offer that is present to forgive, and on the gracious warning that someday those who refuse the offer will perish in God's judgment.

After Christ's resurrection He commissioned His church to continue the call for repentance throughout the world. "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem"
(Luke 24:46-47).

Christ's call to repent goes to all the nations. It comes to us, whoever we are and wherever we are, and lays claim on us. This is the demand of Jesus to every soul: Repent. Be changed deep within. Replace all God-dishonoring, Christ-belittling perceptions and dispositions and purposes with God-treasuring, Christ-exalting ones.

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