Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
Our theme for today is repentance. I guess we are quite familiar with this word. It appears in the Bible again and again and again. We see it in the Old Testament and we see it in the New Testament a lot.
Remember, how did John the Baptist begin his preaching? Repent for the Kingdom of God is near! How did Jesus begin His preaching? Repent and believe in the Gospel! How did Jesus ended His preaching, as we heard it in our today’s reading?
Telling that “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed to all nations”. We could also look at what the apostles preached as it is recorded in the Book of Acts and again, – it was the same thing. Repentance.
Now, what about today, what about this word ‘repentance’? Is it a good word or a bad word? I think that for almost everyone outside of Christian community and may be even for many Christians it is not a good word.
Why? Because when we talk about repentance we talk about something else as well. Can you guess what it is? Yes, it is sin. When we talk about repentance we talk about our sinfulness, about things we have and haven’t done.
Therefore, many have this impression that all these talks about repentance somehow make us feel bad, make us feel worse that we really are. That all these talks somehow lower our value as human beings.
Maybe you even have heard your friends or relatives saying that they are not interested in this Church thing, for all that we do is talk about repentance and sin all the time.
Let us reflect on what repentance is and why is it so important for us as Christians. So, what is this repentance? Actually we could speak about two kinds of repentance. One in worldly and one is godly repentance.
What is this worldly repentance? This is the one which people don’t like. This is the one that makes them feel bad about themselves. Repentance begins when we honestly admit what we are, what we have and haven’t done.
It is about evaluating our lives in the light of God’s demands, or even in the light of our conscience. We have failed. We have hurt others. We have failed others. We haven’t been there when needed.
We may be neglecting others, we may be abusive in our relationships. We may be doing many things that don’t qualify as loving our neighbour. This is not a pleasant thing to admit, for we want to look good.
And we can understand quite well why people would get angry and upset when they hear Christians talking about repentance and sin. When we evaluate ourselves against God’s demands it shows everyone in a bad light.
Then it can lead either into despair or into anger. When you realise that you have fallen short, you can get desperate for there is not much you can change. Or you can get angry, for the truth makes us feel guilty, makes us feel bad.
Take for example, Judas. He had this worldly repentance. He realized that his actions had led to Jesus’ death. Obviously, it wasn’t something he had expected. He understood what he had done and it lead him into despair and into death.
Different example would be Jewish leaders. Jesus’ teaching showed them in bad light, it showed their sin of self-righteousness, and their reaction was anger. They didn’t kill themselves, instead, in their anger they killed Jesus.
We could say that worldly repentance doesn’t do much good. It is not a pleasant thing when you realize that you are a sinner and have sinned. And we can understand those who get upset or fall into despair with this knowledge alone.
But then there is godly repentance. And this is uniquely Christian thing. And a very joyful thing at that. How do we understand it? First part is quite similar, we evaluate ourselves in the light of God’s commandments to see what our real situation is like. And it isn’t good.
We are sinners and we sin, we fail others and hurt them, and most importantly we fail in our relationships with God. But then comes the next part. And this one is the most important.
Remember, what did Jesus say when He began His preaching ministry? Repent and … believe in the Gospel. What did He say before the ascension? Repentance and … forgiveness of all sins shall be proclaimed.
What did Peter and the apostles preached? Repent and … receive the forgiveness of all your sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. See, there are always these two parts together.
The most important thing about this godly repentance is the second part, – to know the Gospel. The message about the forgiveness of all your sins. You see, this is very important.
To understand that we are sinners and have sinned in thoughts, words and actions, this is not the end. Everyone knows it. This is not what Christian faith is about. In fact, this is only the beginning.
Because once we realize we are sick, then we are ready for a doctor. Repentance leads us to, it opens us for the forgiveness of all our sins. Let’s take for example another apostle, Peter.
Jesus foretold that they all will abandon Him. Peter was brave, or rather foolish enough to boast that he will never abandon his Teacher. A few hours later he did exactly that. Not once, but three times. Then he wept.
He understood what he had done. The same way as Judas did. Why did Peter end up so differently? Because Jesus came to him and brought Him the Good News. Jesus brought Peter forgiveness. The main message of loving God.
Peter knew that he had failed. He also knew that Jesus knew it. And Peter couldn’t change much. Jesus could and did. Even as Peter had failed Him terribly, Jesus came and restored their relationships.
He changed Peters life; from miserable and untrustworthy sinner Jesus restored Him to the status of beloved child of God and His own messenger. It changed everything. God’s forgiveness gave Peter a new life.
This is what godly repentance does. It shows us our need for Jesus. It prepares us for Jesus. It helps us to turn away from our old lives, from our sins and turn to Jesus so that He could come to us, embrace us, grant us His forgiveness, and restore our relationships with our God.
As we think about godly repentance, about the way of repentance I want you to have this picture, this image before your eyes. You all know the parable of the Prodigal Son, right?
Now imagine, the youngest sons returning home, after he has rebelled against and terribly insulted his father, and squandered his property. And what does the Father do? He has been waiting for the son to come home.
He has been waiting the whole time the son was away. Now he runs to meet his son and throws his arms around him. He embraces this ungrateful child of his, he lavishes his love over his son, by his love and forgiveness he restores him back into his family.
He shows that he loves this rebellious child of his more that we can ever comprehend. You are this child. Merciful God is this loving Father. Your Father in heaven. He waits, He longs for each of you to repent, to turn away from the way of death and to allow Him to embrace you and to care for you.
You see, godly repentance, Christian repentance is the most wonderful thing. It is turning away from your sin, your failures, your addictions, your idols to loving Father, who awaits for you so that He could pour His love over you.
Godly repentance does not tell that we are bad and worth nothing, quite contrary, it reveals that for our God we are more precious that His own life. He is ready to give up His life for you, so that only He can have you with Him. So that only you as His lost child could return home safely.
Godly repentance not only reveals that you are infinitely precious in God eyes, it brings you in communion with God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. As you step on the way of repentance Jesus welcomes you, the Father embraces you, the Holy Spirit takes home with you.
This repentance is the most wonderful of Christian experiences; when you receive something that you don’t deserve, unconditional love and acceptance from your Heavenly Father, it is something that changes our lives forever.
As we begin this season of Lent, I pray that our God would bless you all richly with godly repentance. That you would be able to see clearly what are these things from which you need to turn away, and that you would do it with joyful hearts.
And as you leave after the service, leave with this image, – your loving Father running towards you to embrace you and to bring you to your true home to live with Him in everlasting blessedness and joy.
And the peace of God which surpasses all our understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. Amen.