Winning Is Not Enough – Repent

Matthew 4:17

Two Kentucky farmers who owned racing horses had developed a keen rivalry.
One spring, each of them entered a horse in a local steeplechase.
Thinking that a professional rider might help him outdo his friend, one of the farmers employed
a professional jockey.

The two horses were leading the race at the last fence, but it proved too tough for them.
Both horses fell, and both riders fell off their horses.
But this calamity did not stop the professional jockey.

He quickly remounted the horse and won the race.
Returning triumphant to the paddock, jockey found the farmer who had hired him fuming with rage.
The jockey asked, "What's the matter – I won, didn't I?"

"Oh, yes," roared the farmer.
"You won all right, but you still don't know, do you?"
The jockey asked, "Know what?"

Farmer answered, "You won the race on the wrong horse."

While this situation does not occur often at horse races, it happens in every human life.
Each of us, trying hard to win the race, tends to climb on the wrong horse.
If we do not discover our error, we cross the finish line as a triumphant failure.

Jesus calls this faulty human reflex with a noun from the Old Testament: "sin".
Jesus has said that an Old Testament verb is the only cure for sin.
That verb is "repent".

Here is what Jesus had to say about the subject:
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:17)

Then in Mark 1:15 Jesus said: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand;
repent, and believe in the gospel
."

On another occasion in Matthew 18:3-4 Jesus said:
"Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven
."

Then in Luke 13:4-5 Jesus said:
"Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think
that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem?
I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish
."

We can get on the wrong horse in two different ways.
We can do that as individuals or as a group.
The most obvious need for repentance is singular.

A wealthy woman who lived in a lavish home frequently grumbled to her maid,
"I just need to get away from it all for a while."
One day the maid finally found the courage to ask, "What is it that you need to get away from?"

After the maid got a vague answer, the maid added,
"Maybe what you need to get away from is yourself."

A cartoon had the same punch by picturing a man whose physician examined him, and said,
"You have a serious problem.
You are allergic to yourself
."

Often, our worst enemy is within rather than outside us.
Few people will never need an organ transplant, but many of us need a personality transplant.

A seminary professor gave this description to his students:
"Be yourself – unless you are a jerk, in which case you should be someone else!"

That advice is consistent with the verb that Jesus used in preaching and with which he launched His ministry.
That verb was "repent!" (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15)

The remainder of the New Testament is a recurrent story of people who decided
that they were on the wrong horse.
By turning in a new direction, God's creative energy began flowing through them,
and they became something much more than they could have been with their own intelligence and effort.

So, repent of what?

Jesus said that the failure to repent would bring dire consequences:
Jesus said, "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:5)
But of what exactly shall we repent?

In His story about one son who repented and another didn't, Jesus uses the Greek word, "metanoig,"
for repentance. (Matthew 21:28-32)
Repent means a change of mind, deciding to turn around and go in a different direction.

What wrong direction must we reverse?
The apostle Paul says that becoming a Christian involves becoming a totally new person.
In 2 Corinthians 5:17 he said: "The old has passed away behold the new has come."

Becoming a Christian is not like nailing aluminum siding to your house.
It is like burning the house down, and building a new steel and glass skyscraper over the foundation.
What was wrong with the house?

The answer is packed into one of the most misunderstood words in the Bible – "sin".

Much of our failure to grasp the full meaning of repent arises from confusing
the basic singular word – sin – with a plural secondary word – sins.
Sin and sins mean two entirely different things.
Failure to make that distinction leads us to paint a thin coat of morals and ethics
over our personal prejudices and call it, Christianity.

Let us look at sin singular.

When Mark Twain and his daughter traveled across Europe together, they were honored at every stop.
Royalty and famous artists and scientists hosted them.
Near the end of the trip, Twain's daughter said,
"Papa, you know everybody but God, don't you?"

That remark is a good definition of sin – singular.
Each of us has a basic predisposition to focusing our lives in directions other than that toward God.
Sin, singular, inclines us to violate the First Commandment and substitute something else
for a relationship with God.
Andy Warhol once said, "I am a deeply superficial person."

He is not alone.
We all struggle to overcome our basic superficiality.
The theological description of that enemy within is "original sin,"

The average child begins to talk between 14 and 18 months after birth.
Regardless of the sex, the first word spoken is usually, "Dada."
In first century Palestine, a Jewish child of that age usually said, "Ab-ab" for "Abda"
which is the Aramaic equivalent of "Daddy".
Jesus told His disciples to address God in that way as a loving parent.
Jesus said that everyone who does not know God in that way needs to repent and move in that direction.

Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychiatry, once said,
"I have found little that is good about human beings.
In my experience most of them are trash
."

That is what the Bible says.
The Bible says "that our righteousness is as filthy rags" – trash.
We have a sinful bent – that is what Jesus is saying.

But unlike Freud, Jesus says that we are redeemable, trash.
We can be recycled – born again into a new product – not the old one.
But in order to arrive at that new, born again condition – we have to repent of not relating to God.

Sins Plural

Sin, as in "original sin," is always singular.
When Jesus urges people to repent of sin, He is asking them to repent of not relating to God.
The more commonly used English term derived from the primary word, "sins," is infinitely plural.
In living out our basic reflex – "sin" – we have an unlimited number of optional actions
by which we may make something other than God for guiding the relationship of our life.

These actions (sins) come in two different modalities: thinking and doing.

Lust, for example, is a thinking sin, whereas idolatry is a doing sin.
Hatred is a thinking sin; murder is a doing sin.
Greed is a thinking sin; stealing is a doing sin.
In contrast to the other teachers of His day, Jesus said that we need to repent of thinking sins
as well as doing sins.
Why is this?
Because thinking sins also signify that we are putting something else in place of God.

For Jesus, the central issue is always the attitudinal condition of the heart, not just the actions
that emanate from the heart.
This does not mean that lust has the same consequence as adultery.
Obviously, it does not, but it is equally a sin.

Getting on the wrong horse begins by either accidentally or intentionally thinking
about getting on the wrong horse.
We must repent of our sins.

During his early manhood, John Newton of England developed several crippling habits
such as sexual excess, drunkenness, and drug addiction.
Unable to disentangle himself from these parasitic habits, he felt that his life was being eaten away.
Then through some kind words from a friend and the intervention of a minister,
John Newton's habits changed.
He became a totally, different person.

He wrote a description of this tremendous change in his life in the words of a hymn.

"Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see."

Newton used another ten dollars theological word, without which we cannot fully
comprehend the verb, repent – and that is grace.
There is one sense in which repentance is an inside job.
We must decide for ourselves.
No one else can decide for us.

Grace, that amazing grace comes from outside ourselves.
This Amazing Grace lets us begin to see the difference between the horses.

By the power of God's grace, we start wanting the right things.
The minister who found himself in a strange part of his city needed some money.
He got directions to a branch bank that he had never been to before.
He rushed in, and filled out the proper forms, and handed them to the teller.

She surprised him by refusing them.
"What's the problem?" He asked.
He said, "I am sure that I have money in that account."

She replied, "I am sure you do, sir.
But you are at the wrong bank.
Your bank is across the street
."

Repentance begins with a moment that we decide that we are at the wrong bank,
and decide to cross the street.
That does not happen by our own intelligence and power alone.
God helps us by providing insight that lights the way.
The Bible calls this, "grace".

Jesus said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 3:2)
There are those who would say that the church should be positive, not negative,
and that it should concentrate on good news, not bad news.
They would say that we should forget about sin and just celebrate salvation.

But how can we urge people to repent without telling them that they are on the wrong horse.

Calling us to repentance, both as a society and as individuals is one the most important functions
that churches carry out on behalf of Christ.
If our churches do not do this, who will?
Certainly not our government – they only tax and regulate us.
Certainly not business – it only provides us with jobs, goods and services.
Certainly not our schools – they only educate us.

In carrying out this function, the church cannot avoid some negatives.
Look again at the 10 Commandments and you will see that God warned people
against getting on the wrong horse by using negative language.
Sometimes, being negative is positive.

During the summer of 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea, and many lives were lost.
An investigation revealed an even deeper aspect of the tragedy.
Both captains knew the other ships were close by.
Either captain could have taken evasive action, but reports indicate that neither would give way to the other.
Both were too proud to make the first move.

By the time they decided to do something the crash was inevitable, it was too late.
Hundreds of passengers ended up in the icy waters, dead.

A pride-filled attitude of superiority is one of the original sin's most destructive by-products
because it distorts reality.
We can detect that trait in ourselves by asking whether we ever think in any way of the following ways:

When you take a long time to do something, you are slow.
When I take a long time, I am thorough.
When you don't do it, you are lazy.
When I don't do it, I'm busy.

When you do it without being asked, you are overstepping your authority.
When I go ahead and do it, that is initiative.
When you state your opinion strongly, you are bull-headed.
When I do that, I am firm.

When you overlook rules of etiquette, you are rude.
When I do, I am just eccentric.
When your family has money, you are greedy.
When mine does, we are successful.

After hearing a scorching sermon about personal responsibility, a woman said,
"I don't think there is much wrong with us."

The young, inexperienced pastor responded like John the Baptist:
"That's the biggest thing that is wrong with our church,
we don't think there is anything wrong with us
."

That is precisely what happened to the Pharisees.
They were convinced that they had reached the heights of spiritual perfection, and they were willing
to cry out to Pontius Pilate, "His blood be on us, and our children." (Matthew 27:25)
and "Let him be crucified." (Matthew 27:23)

It was for people who carried this distorted view of reality, stemming from false pride, that Jesus said
out of his agony on the cross, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34)

Any time that any of us think that we have obtained the goal – that is a sure sign that we haven't.

To repent, means that we turn in the direction of a continuing walk with God.
It never means that we have arrived there.

We often hear it said that people should get exactly what they deserve.
We don't really mean that.
All of us want what's coming to us on the positive side of the ledger; for example, we want to receive
the full salary that we earn.
However, none of us wants to receive what we have earned due to our past behavior.

Thanks to the grace of atonement, we get much more than we deserve.
If we repent, we get remission of our sins – total forgiveness.
In computer language, we get a deleted past and a clean disk.

Ethel Waters was the daughter of a 12-year-old unmarried girl.
Ethel grew up in the slums and earned her first money by running errands for prostitutes.
What happened to turn her life around so drastically?

She had an encounter with Jesus Christ.
She says that she was headed toward self-destruction when she changed her direction and her entire future.
She became a world-class artist who made popular the song that proclaims:
"His eyes on the sparrow, and I know He watches me."

This kind of encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ has turned millions toward a new future
as new creations.
What about you?
Repent!

Sermon adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White