04.19.15 Repentance Made Simple Luke 24:36b-48 Sermon Summary
Religion often makes things harder than they need to be. Repentance is a case in point.
- Four reasons why repentance is important
- Four reasons why repentance is difficult
- Three ways to make repentance easier
- Questions for discussion and reflection
Repentance isn’t a popular sermon topic, but in the lectionary readings for this week it’s pretty hard to avoid. Peter ends his first sermon with a call to repentance. First John indicates that without repentance, there is no seeing God. And Jesus sends the church out to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name. So while it is unpopular in the pulpit, repentance IS important to the Bible.
Here are four reasons repentance is important. First, it’s the first step of our in participating in salvation. While God saves us by grace, repentance is something God allows us to do. It dignifies us as choice-makers and as co-creators. In other words, repentance reveals that we are made in God’s image. As we experience salvation through repentance, it strengthens our faith and assures us of our destiny.
Second, repentance is how we experience forgiveness. God has forgiven us in Christ, but that doesn’t mean we experience it. One of the primary obstacles to experiencing God’s forgiveness (and thus doubting our being saved) is accusation. Repentance removes that obstacle. No longer will we say to ourselves (or hear said to us), “You’re not forgiven, you keep committing the same sin.”
A third reason repentance is important is because we are “witnesses,” to use Jesus’ term. He uses this word in relation to teaching the disciples about the suffering he has endured, and the resurrection they have experienced. Witnesses see something, and then proclaim what they’ve seen. We are witnesses in that we see suffering all around us: poverty, disease, disaster, war, dying, and death. These are the fruits of the power of sin. Jesus reminds us that we also saw the suffering of the Messiah.
But we also saw the resurrection of the Messiah—God’s “no” to suffering and the power of sin which causes it. As witnesses of these things, we look for and see resurrection still today, and so we proclaim it. We repeat God’s “no” to sin and suffering through repentance.
Finally, repentance unites us “more and more” (to use the winsome phrase from the Heidelberg Catechism, for example, Question 115) to Christ. Repentance joins us to his suffering and resurrection. And according to Jesus, this is THE point of the entire scriptures: “the Messiah is to suffer, and to rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name.” The point of the scriptures is that the world is redemption from sin by Christ, and shall be conformed to Christ. Repentance is part of that redemption and conformity.
There are four reasons why we find repentance so hard. The first is that we love our lifestyles so much. We may be too attached to material things, or over indulge our sensual pleasures. Or it may be that we have believed a certain way so long and we find it difficult to change our mind—which is the root definition of repentance.
A second reason is that we have tried so many times before to repent . . . and failed. We may have started with enthusiasm and resolve, only to be overcome by the power of sin. It leaves us embarrassed, ashamed, and defeated. That makes it hard to try again.
Third, there is so little support for it these days. The world in which we live is constructed around distracting us from God’s presence. Even the church seems avoidant or in denial about the need for repentance. Our leaders put on a façade of perfection, and when there is a failure, we excommunicate the leader, and if there is repentance, we balk at offering forgiveness.
Finally, there doesn’t seem to be much point in it. We all know unrepentant people who prosper and seem happy. And we see those sin-obsessed religious people—the ones who scream “Repent!” at us—and they seem angry, judgmental, and unloving.
Repentance is important but it can be difficult. Luke’s reading give us three ways to approach repentance that makes it easier.
First is to accept that Jesus is alive and he is here. He (and Luke) was emphatic to show that he was not a ghost. (An interesting aside: Jesus doesn’t dismiss the possibility of ghosts, only that he wasn’t one of them. And another noteworthy aside: debate about the “bodily” resurrection of Jesus is as much a distraction to the point of the narrative as is debate about the existence of ghosts.) The point is that it is Jesus himself who is present. Teresa of Avila said, “All our difficulties in prayer can be traced to one cause: praying as if God were absent.” The same principle applies to repentance.
Second, it is helpful to share the communion meal with Jesus. Jesus took the fish they gave him and ate “in their presence.” This is exactly what we do with the bread and cup, take and eat and drink in his presence. However he was “bodily” there, he is bodily here. When he tells us to, “Do this in remembrance of me,” he is saying that the communion meal is a summary of the entire Gospel—his teaching in word and deed, his death and resurrection, his ascension and promised return. All of this is included in the meal through which, Paul tells us, “we proclaim Jesus’ death (including why he died, i.e., his teaching and lifestyle) until he comes again.” Jesus’ presence with us now is as real as the bread and cup are real.
Finally, it helps to experience the peace that arises from remembering that all of this is part of God’s plan. Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to see that from Moses, to the prophets, to the psalms, the Messiah is to suffer and rise. Nothing surprises God, not even our sin. This makes repentance easier. It’s just being honest about what God already knows—we need to repent. So Christians are called to live in hope that is drawn from the future, not in fear, anxiety, or despair that is rooted in the present. The peace Christ offers is not the absence of suffering. And it certainly is not the result of avoiding suffering. Rather Christian peace is the assurance that suffering, even death, is not the final word.
Sin, suffering, and death, constitute one word. God said “no” to this word and “yes” to the life of Christ by resurrecting him from the dead. Repentance can be easier, and it begins by our saying “yes” to Jesus Christ, our risen and present Lord.
Questions for Discussion and Reflection
- The meaning of repentance in the original languages of the Bible means to “turn” (Old Testament) and to “change one’s mind” (New Testament). Taken together we realize that repentance means to turn from something, to something. This begins with a change in mind. How do the points outlined above challenge you to change the way you think about repentance? Will it make any difference (note that “making a difference” is another way of talking about repentance!)?
- While repentance is something God allows us to do, it is never done only by us. As mentioned above, through repentance we experience God’s salvation and forgiveness. Through repentance we enter God’s life in Christ. Through repentance we participate in God’s saving of the world. Repentance is thus a collaborative work between us and God. How does this change your attitude towards repentance?
- In what ways have you experienced the difficulty of repentance as outlined above? In what other ways is repentance made more difficult than it has to be in your life?