LORD’S DAY MORNING SERVICE, 15 December 2019
Sermon Text: Matthew 21:28-32
I. Repentance preached
II. Repentance: its beginning and end
III. Repentance: God’s purpose
IV. Repentance: the floodgate of God’s love!
One of the world’s prominent airlines introduces Perth to their potential customers as ‘the gate to Western Australia’s towering forest and spectacular scenery.’ We who live in the Perth region know what that means and how suitable that expression is. It means that Perth is the passageway for people who desire to explore and experience the WA. Coming from the outside world, people must first arrive in Perth and move into the vast areas of this state. So, Perth is important as the ‘gate’ to the western part of Australia.
Saint Louis, a city in MO of the USA has a similar title, ‘the gate to the west.’ That title was given to that city because in the early stage of the American history numerous migrants passed through that city to go to the west in search of a new land and settlement. In the middle of Saint Louis, there stands a huge white arch that symbolises that ‘gate’ to the west. These days, tourists rather than migrants pass through that city, but that history still stands out in the life of that city. So, a ‘gate’ is a passageway, an opening for entrance. After all, only through a gate can anyone go into a place.
Having said, I wonder whether you’ve noticed that a specific gate is mentioned in our text passage from Mt. 21. That is, the gate to the kingdom of God. Hear what the Lord Jesus says in v. 31, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God.” He means, those people have entered God’s kingdom and that through a certain gate. And in the following verse – v. 32 – He explains that gate to God’s kingdom is their ‘belief in John the Baptist.’ In other word, ‘repentance’ because John the Baptist preached ‘repentance’ and baptised people with the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. So, the gate to the kingdom of God, the gate to heaven, the entrance door to the believer’s eternal home is ‘repentance.’
Hearing this, some people might raise their eyebrows and say, ‘Wait a minute; isn’t faith in Jesus the only condition for our salvation?’ Of course, faith is the only condition for our salvation. Eph. 2:8 tells us that “you have been saved through faith.” The entire Bible – in both the Old and the NT – agrees that ‘the righteous shall live by faith.’ But when we talk about our salvation in chronological term – in other words, how faith in Jesus begins in our heart and reaches the level or depth that effects salvation – repentance is the beginning of our faith in Jesus. This is why repentance is the gate to the kingdom of God, the gate to the heaven, the eternal home of all true Christians. Jesus implies this as He mentions those people who ‘believed’ John the Baptist and gone into the kingdom of God.
What I want to do this morning is to see what repentance is. I want to know how important repentance is as a gate is important for entrance. Also I want to know the scope or extent of repentance – in other words, its beginning and end. Moreover, I want to know the divine purpose with repentance – what is God’s purpose with sinner’s repentance? Then, finally, I want to know how repentance and God’s love are related. I pray that this last point especially may give us a clear understanding of why Jesus the Son of God had to come in flesh, born in a stable, laid in a manger. As another Christmas Day approaches fast, we need to know why our repentance is our true and joyful welcome to Christ our Saviour!
I. REPENTANCE PREACHED
I’d like to begin by pointing out to you how often repentance is preached in the NT. In a word, the message of repentance is emphasised again and again in the NT, starting from Jesus. As you clearly remember the Lord’s message preached at the beginning of His public ministry which is recorded in Mk. 1:15 in these words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Meditating over this first message of our Lord, many Christians have been deeply impressed by the importance of the subject of repentance and I believe that includes all of us who are gathered together here this morning in this worship. The very first message the Saviour of the world proclaimed is for sinners everywhere to repent and believe in the good news of salvation!
But let me remind you of the message that had been preached to people by John the Baptist before the Saviour’s public appearance, and what was his message? Repentance. Then, after Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension, the apostles carried on with preaching and teaching the gospel to all people. The very first message delivered by an apostle was that of Peter on the day of Pentecost. Hearing that message, people asked and said as in Acts 2:37, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied in v. 38, “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The message was about repentance. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, wasn’t different; he also preached to the Greek, saying this in Acts 17:30, “now [God] commands all people everywhere to repent.” The same message of repentance.
No need is there for me to give any further reference to prove the importance of this subject of repentance because our Lord Jesus began His public ministry with this message, and Peter and Paul as well as others did emphasise the same message throughout their ministry. Repentance was the opening of any Christian message in the times of Jesus and the apostles.
Having said, I want you to consider how different that is from the messages that are being preached in many churches nowadays. The content and pattern of the messages delivered to the people in the first century are quite different from what many churches preach to the 21st century believers. Somehow the meaning and weight of repentance have been watered down, and no longer does repentance seem sweet to the ears and hearts of people, but only bitter and almost allergic to hearing it, considering repentance as an offense to people. But, unlike this wrong attitude of many churches of our time, repentance is the message of love and grace, of heavenly sweet that will melt the hardened hearts of many sinners whom God the Father calls. And I’ll come back to this point shortly.
II. REPENTANCE: ITS BEGINNING AND END
Meanwhile, let us contemplate what repentance is and how it begins, proceeds and ends. I want you to remember and focus on our Lord’s parable of two sons because this parable presents to us all things about repentance.
As you recall what happened to the first son in the parable, the Father begins by triggering repentance. As the father in the parable went to and spoke to his son, God the Father in heaven comes to us to speak to us, His children. Pay your attention to what the father said to his son in the parable: “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” This means that that son was away from the vineyard, not engaged in the work of his father’s vineyard. The father’s word was not a suggestion, nor a plea, but a command which tells us that the son wasn’t doing the work he was supposed to do, negligent of his duty. Truth is that the work wasn’t actually a ‘duty’ because his father’s vineyard was not someone else’s, but his own as well. So, this son was faithful neither to his father nor to himself. And to this son, the father came and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ This was a gracious call from his father, out of love and mercy toward his son.
Likewise, the Creator God comes to His creature and speaks to him, saying, ‘Son, My child, listen to Me and start what you’re made for, and come to Me and work in My vineyard today!; Remember who you are and who gave you life, and what you must consider and do in your life; leave the place you’re now and come into My vineyard today!’ This exactly is the message Jesus proclaimed 2,000 years ago, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
What happens next is a ridiculous response from the rebellious son – he says, “I will not.” It’s a pathetic attitude because the ill effect of his rejection and rebellion will surely fall upon none but himself. He is further ruining his relationship with his father, thus, losing his father’s favour which is usually invisible to the eyes of a rebellious son like this one in the parable. ‘I will not’ is the response all people in the world hold in their sinfulness.
Then, something happens in the son’s mind. More precisely, his father’s word hovers around and resounds in his mind. And he stops and thinks about it again – ‘Why did I say to my father that I would not follow his words? Does he deserve my rejection? Am I in a position to rebel against him?’ This son stops from what he’s been doing and thinks about these questions. And this is the tiny – almost invisible – amber of repentance in his mind. Stopping and considering one’s relationship with God and His invitation is the slight but evident beginning of something that is far greater in the end.
But, this is nothing by itself if this act of stopping and considering God is not accompanied with a change of mind. And this is the next important step of repentance and we find this from the first son in the parable. He changed his mind and went to his father’s vineyard. Not only that, but also did he work in the vineyard. This is repentance.
Consider what this means. As this son in the parable did, a sinner stops and thinks about God and himself, about God’s invitation and his rejection, then, realises how ridiculously evil he’d been to a gracious God who has persevered this sinner’s defiance, insubordination, disobedience, and all curses and evils this sinner made to God! Moreover, as the son in the parable realised his father’s grace toward him, evidenced in his father’s coming to him in person, a sinner finds Jesus, the Son of God, who came voluntarily and joyfully to give His life on the cross for saving a sinner like him. Moreover, this sinner finds that that was also the will of the Father for him even from the beginning of all things! So this sinner changes his mind – that is, he confesses that he is wrong and God is right, confesses that he has offended God and, feeling sorry for what he has wronged, seeks God’s forgiveness, confesses that he needs Jesus and His saving blood because without Him, there’s no other way to be cleansed of his sins!
Then, this change of his mind changes his behaviour and life! What has happened inwardly is exposed outwardly and evidently. And never does he wish to stop but continue with this change, never does he will to revert to his former way. So he seeks God and asks for His help! This is repentance – its beginning, process and its end.
III. REPENTANCE: GOD’S PURPOSE
Then, why does the Lord Jesus tell us that repentance is the gate to His Father’s and His kingdom? That’s because of the purpose of God through sinner’s repentance. I mean, God the Father purposed something that is essential for entrance to His kingdom, in other word, salvation.
Listen to Jesus as He reveals this purpose in Jn. 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” In a word, through repentance, the Father purposed you and me and all penitent sinners to believe in His Son, Jesus, as our Saviour and Lord. And by believing in the Son, the Father will grant to us His eternal life. Listen to Jesus again and I’m reading this from Jn. 6:40, “this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Only through repentance can a penitent sinner put his/her trust in Jesus! And this is why repentance is the gate to the kingdom of all who are graciously saved and moved into the marvellous light of Christ! God draws sinners to His Son, Jesus, and grants them to step into the gate to His kingdom, that is, through repentance.
IV. REPENTANCE: THE FLOODGATE OF GOD’S LOVE!
Now, let me come back to what I left earlier, that is, how repentance is related to God’s love. Unlike some people’s misunderstanding, repentance is ‘the floodgate of God’s love’! All God’s love and grace and mercy and blessing are poured upon penitent sinners through repentance!
How? Because God receives our repentance as the price we pay for all our wrongs ever made to Him. In a word, God accepts our repentance and He is satisfied with that repentance only. Such is a concept you never find in any other man-made religion of this world. It sounds too good and too simple and easy for a fallen human mind to grasp. But listen to what God has certainly and constantly said in His holy book, in both the Old and the NTs, and let me give you just a few simple examples. In 2 Chron. 7:14, He says, “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Ps. 51:16-17 repeat the same in different words, “You [God] will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; You will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Acts 3:19 is an extremely beautiful summary of these OT examples, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out”! The wrongs we sinners have done cannot be erased or cancelled because they are offenses made to the only and great God of the universe, the Creator of all things both visible and invisible. To pay that offense, to clear that crime, something with the same worth – something that is eternally glorious, eternally good and righteous thing – must be the payment. But God is willing to cancel that debt and be satisfied with our repentance; He demands nothing else but our ‘sorry’ to Him! What a blessing this is! And through this repentance, God pours upon sinners His heavenly blessings beginning from Jesus’ eternal life!
The clearest picture of this repentance as the floodgate of God’s amazing grace and blessing is drawn in the parable of the prodigal son of Lk. 15. I believe you know well of that evil son who demanded his share of his father’s possession even while his father was still alive. With that money he went away and squandered all his property in reckless living. Having fallen to the lowest pit any person could ever fall, having spent some time in that pit, he came to himself, that is, he repented of his sins, realising his sinfulness and his father’s grace. And he stood up and came to his father. Through that repentance, God’s blessings of forgiveness of sins, restoration of his sonship, and a joyful celebration of reunion among all in the father’s house were given to him!
So, repentance is the gate to God’s kingdom and all sinners must move through. Also repentance is the only and best present we prepare for the Lord Jesus in a time like this with Christmas. He’ll be delighted to receive it as the best and greatest gift we can give in return to His saving grace.
So, my brothers and sisters in Jesus, are you willing to prepare this present for the Lord Jesus? Are you who haven’t known Christ ready to change your mind and turn away from all your sins, every secret sin you hide and clasp? Then, stand up and follow Jesus and do what He invites you to do in His vineyard? It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve said, ‘I will not,’ to the Lord; it doesn’t matter how recently you repeated it again. What matters and pleases God and Christ is that you change your mind now, today, and come through this gate to His kingdom and say to Jesus, ‘I’m sorry and I do know that You love me!’ ***