My Friends, The hours of life are quickly slipping through the hourglass. The Lord has appointed for us a certain amount of life and each of us is moving towards that moment when we will draw our last breath.
None of us know when the tides of death will sweep in upon us. But we all know that it is inevitable. As they say, there are only two realities in life: Death and taxes.
But not so with death. You cannot trick it and you cannot be so clever as to out maneuver it. While it might be put off for a good while, at some point it will have you cornered.
The Scripture tells us that it is appointed for man to die once and then face judgment. Once our eyes close, we will awaken to a new existence. We will appear before God and we will find what our fate will be for the rest of eternity.
And what we should experience in that new state is dependent upon what we find in this passage this morning. Our text today is one of the most grave of all of Scripture. It is one that I believe is of the utmost importance for our day.
It lays out for us what I would like to call the “lost” doctrine of repentance. Repentance is something that our culture knows virtually nothing about. And unfortunately, there are relatively few in the church today that understand it. To most Christians it is nothing more than a dusty relic that you may read about in some puritan age pieces of literature.
But this doctrine is the key that unlocks the dismal door of death. As Christ speaks here he lays forth for us the need and nature of true repentance. And he reminds us that if we fail to give adequate attention to this doctrine, then we fail to rightly prepare for that last bell that will toll for our lives.
In order to rightly prepare for death, we must understand—and feel with the greatest sensibility—our great need for repentance.
I. The need for repentance
Jesus repeats it twice in this passage so as not to be mistaken, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And in these words he seeks to awaken us to the terrible state we are in.
His original audience, of course were the jews of his day. His audience had enjoyed the favors of God and the many privileges of his covenant love. But because they had not produced any fruits of faith, they were going to face a calamity similar to the ones mentioned here. The slaying of the Galileans and the 18 that died when the tower fell upon them—these were just two events that indicated that God’s anger was roused. They were warnings, you might say—a shot across the bow, that they as a covenant people were under God’s wrath.
Jesus says, “Don’t think that they are any worse sinners than the rest of those in Galilee or Jerusalem.” In other words, all of Israel has apostatized. They are all guilty of self-righteousness and unbelief. And do not think that these events fell upon them because they were any worse sinners than the rest of you who live in Israel! “I tell you,” he says. “Unless all of you repent, you will all likewise perish.” You will all face a sudden calamity.
This, of course, came to its fulfilment in 70 AD when the Romans sacked Jerusalem. Because they persisted in their unbelief and did not give homage to God like they were supposed to, they were cut off.
But these warnings should remind us of our own need for repentance. These threats that are extended to Israel should awaken us and cause us to realize that God does not take sin lightly. He will not tolerate the one who stubbornly refuses to mend his ways to live.
But this is the classic disease for the church in America. There is very little to do with repentance and very little preaching on the need for it.
One time I was invited to speak at a Christian function. It was a basketball program. At the half time they would always have speaker come out and the intent was to share the gospel with the parents in the stands. I chose this passage as my text and I preached the need for repentance. When I was done, I took my seat. And I just happened to sit down next to the director of the program. And she said to me, “That was a great message. Thank you so much. That was just lovely. I don’t think we’ve ever heard anything about repentance before.” Then she turned around and started to watch the game. As she did so she said to herself, “Hm, repentance.”
But it is true, most people don’t preach such a thing. Even fewer understand the necessity of it.
I read somewhere that 80% of people think that when they die they will go to heaven. But most of those people are likely going to be rather surprised when they wake up on the other side! That’s because it takes more than dying to go to heaven. God says that if you do not repent, then you will perish—you will end up spending eternity in a place you had hoped to avoid.
And this problem is endemic within the church, of all places! We have the preaching of grace, grace, grace. But we have twisted it and made grace a license to sin.
But all need to understand that without repentance there is no escaping the wrath and curse of God. Sin is an odious thing in the eyes of God, and we should not think that God will overlook it. It is an offense to him. It violates his honor in a hideous way, and so it rouses his anger.
We have all seen the footage of a tornado on our televisions. We have seen the force of its winds and and how they sweep through a town, ravaging all that are in its way. We know the suddenness in which it can come on and the seeming anger of its nature. Such is the wrath and furry of God over sin. A man who will not repent will find that God will fall upon him with the same fierce might. His judgment will be a terror, swift and strong. One moment there will be the joys of sunny skies. But the next they will find themselves doomed.
The sirens are now being sounded; you must understand the danger of being in a state of unrepentance. All men have sinned against the Lord. All men have grieved him deeply. And the we must understand that those who are not moved to repentance are in a terrible place.
Christ’s words are words of warning, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Once we understand this truth and grasp how necessary repentance is, it then follows that we should consider what true repentance looks like. If repentance is so needed, what is its nature?
II. The nature of repentance
Now there is certainly a lot we can say about repentance. But here are a few observations that we can glean from out text. The word repent is used twice in our passage, in verse 3 and in verse 5. It doesn’t come out in our versions very well, but in the original language it is in a different tense. As such it has a slight nuance that we should take note of.
In verse 5 the repent is in the aroist tense. That indicates that this repentance is a singular event. A one time act. Repentance here is to be understood as an abrupt halt where one ceases from this enamored association with sin. It is to make a definitive break with this lifestyle that is contrary to God.
One commentator says that the form of the word that is found in verse 5 indicates the urgency and the immediacy of the act. It is to be so overcome by the radical evil of the thing and the danger into which it puts you that you act with haste to stop it.
My wife will tell you that she often worries when I go out alone. When I’m driving I sometimes get a little wrapped up in my own thoughts. Or, if I’m talking with her, I will not be concentrating as much as I should on the driving as I am the conversation. And as a result, there will be times when we are going along and we will be talking. We will be having a jolly time enjoying the conversation. Then, all of a sudden, she will yell out, “Watch out!” And I’ll look up and see nothing but bright read lights from the back of the car in front of me as traffic is coming to a stop. As soon as I hear her voice and see the lights, I don’t keep going. I see the danger and I recognize that I have not been doing what I should. So I hit the brakes.
You could say that I make a one time definitive decision to stop the things I have been doing.
Well, that is what this word in verse 5 is saying. Jesus is telling us that we must cease doing what we are doing. We must recognize the evil of our way, we must see that we have not been living the way God wants us to live, and we must determine to never live that way again.
But we must not only make this one time, definite decision to stop living this way. We must understand that repentance is something that is a lifelong thing. It is a continual demonstration of our grief and hatred of sin in that we continually confess it and seek to be rid of it.
That’s what we find in verse 3. In verse 3 the word repent is in the present tense. And the present tense indicates a repetitive action. So we might translate it, “Unless you keep on repenting, you will likewise perish.”
If I might use my car illustration again, we could say this. It is not enough for me to slam on the brakes of my car. Once I make that stop, I must now begin to put it in reverse and move away from the car in front of me. I must not travel again in the same way. I have to show that this indeed was a definitive break with this lifestyle. So much was it so that it now becomes a part of my normal way of life.
Repentance is like that. It needs to be ongoing and must be something of a lifestyle. I like the way Jonathan Edwards puts it in his sermon, “When once the sinner hath thus seen the vileness of it, he takes his leave of [it]—bids it an eternal adieu, desires to have no more to do with it. It was his darling in time past, that he used to take delight in and loved above all things, that he used to hug and embrace; but now he bids it be gone at an infinite distance and never have anything more to do with him.”
This is a truth that many in our day have not considered well.
We have too many people walking around thinking that some prayer they prayed at some campfire is going to get them into heaven. And all the while they are living like heathen people. I will tell you this: God could care less about your campfire prayers! God does not give a lick if you walked the isle at some evangelistic meeting. If you have not repented, you will not be admitted entrance into heaven.
We have many people who shed tears at the alter. There are throngs who have gone to the evangelistic meeting and “made a decision for the Lord.” And perhaps there have even been some who have repented in that they confessed their sins and expressed true sorrow for them.
But this has not become a pa rt of them. They were like the pigs that have gone back to revel in the mud. These poor people think that their souls are safe because they have had this one time experience.
But such is a foolish notion. There is no salvation for such a person. One cannot break with sin and still continue to hold its hand. We must, as Edwards said, bid it that eternal adieu.
This doctrine is one that is incumbent upon us all. If there is one section of the newspaper that will never dry up it is the section having to do with obituaries. Legions of people fall every day and our time may very well be at hand. We are racing towards it at lightening speed.
If you are one who has been stung by the gravity of your sin and you have turned with mourning in your heart to the Lord, then this day you may take heart. God has cast your sins far from him and he showers upon your the favor of his grace. Hell for you is only a distant place that you will only hear about and never see.
But if there would be one who has not repented of his sins, but carelessly continues about his jolly way, you must not be deceived about the state of your soul. Salvation for you is just a dream, a figment of your imagination to which you foolishly cling.
The only way you may avert this disaster is to let your heart be melted today. Be done with your sin and turn to the Lord.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.