Jesus didn’t come to make your life better. Jesus came to make your life eternal.
(End sermon. Walk away…)
Jesus came preaching good news for the poor, the sinful, the left out, the forgotten about. Jesus came preaching good news for those who would listen.
Periodically, after pulling out different tricks of the parent trade, I’ll ask my children if they have their listening ears on? I want to know if they’re ready to hear the instructions, if they’re prepared to focus on what I need them to know.
In Luke 13, Jesus wants those who are listening to him to hear him loud and clear: Jesus says that everyone needs to repent to receive eternal life.
Jesus makes it sound so simple: REPENT and receive eternal life. You can almost see him spelling it out slowly, just to make sure they get it: R-E-P-E-N-T.
Get that right, and the whole of eternal life will open to you, Jesus says. What else do you all need to hear?
Jesus ties it to their specific popular culture, their present day goings on: he points out that the Galileans sacrificed to foreign idols, and those who had died in a construction accident in Siloam weren’t more or less guilty than anyone else. They died when someone’s sinful nature took over in one case; in the other, they died in an accident. Jesus is saying that it could have been anyone; these people didn’t die because they ‘deserved’ it.
But Jesus’ punchline isn’t about guilt – it’s about sin. “Unless you repent, you too will perish.” He tells a parable about a tree in a vineyard that wasn’t growing fruit. He says that the owner gives the gardener one more year to find fruit, and then he could cut it down. Sometime, the time runs out…
There’s the story of a minister who waited in line to have his car filled with gas just before a long holiday weekend. The attendant worked quickly, but there were many cars ahead of him. Finally, the attendant motioned him toward a vacant pump. “Reverend,” said the young man, “I’m so sorry about the delay. It seems as if everyone waits until the last minute to get ready for a long trip.” The minister chuckled, “I know what you mean. It’s the same in my business.”
Jesus understands that it’s not a subject we necessarily take to heart everyday, that our day-to-day lives aren’t concerned with repentance. We’re just trying to move forward, trying to get our work done and our bills paid. We’re just trying to get by.
And Jesus shows up and says, “REPENT.” Jesus shows up and says that something drastic needs to happen. Something that’s bigger than an acknowledgement or a simple apology.
Seriously, we can apologize, or even say we’re sorry for how the other person received something, and no change occurs. But repentance? It’s something different.
A woman had just returned to her home from an evening of church services, when she was startled by an intruder. She caught the man in the act of robbing her home of its valuables and yelled: ‘Stop! Acts 2:38! [Acts 2:38 says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins.”] The burglar stopped in his tracks. The woman calmly called the police and explained what she had done. As the officer cuffed the man to take him in, he asked the burglar: ‘Why did you just stand there? All the old lady did was yell a scripture to you.’ ‘Scripture?’ replied the burglar. ‘She said she had an Ax and Two 38s!’
That burglar was stopped in his tracks.
Completely static. He was no longer sinning, not moving forward or back. He was halfway to repentance – because the next step was to move in a different direction, back away from his sin.
Repentance is the U-turn. Repentance is not just recognizing you’re wrong, not just being sorry for what you’ve done or the damage you’ve caused; repentance is choosing to walk a different path by following Jesus.
Repentance requires recognizing that God’s way is better than your way.
Repentance requires believing that God has a plan for you that is better than what you were doing before.
Repentance, thanks to Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection, acknowledges that we’re forgiven, but that our lives need to take a different route.
We know all about different routes, don’t we?
It’s the moment in the car when we’re traveling along the predetermined route, thanks to our GPS, and somehow, suddenly, we recognize that the little British voice on our GPS is telling us we’ve gone off track.
The little graphic is spinning and the text says “recalculating route.”
And then we make the next legal U-turn. To get back on track.
That’s what Jesus is calling his listeners to: to make a U-turn. To turn back to God. To follow the pattern of humanity since the creation of the first people, to turn away from our selfish, arrogant, self-serving, disobedient ways and embrace God.
Repenting means giving up our need to be the most important, our need to ridicule others, our need to get what we want at the expense of others…our belief that we can do this on our own.
This is Lent: what are you going to do about it? What do you need to give up, or pick up, put down or hold onto, to repent of your sin and follow Jesus?
Jesus is seeking out disciples, and repentance is the first step. But it’s because of the cross and the teachings of Jesus what this means: that an eternal relationship with God is possible. That forgiveness is possible. That real life in the here and now is possible.
Repentance – real change- can happen. But without God’s grace, our changing our mindset and current reality doesn’t change that we stand condemned and judged for what we’ve done. We can be sorry, we can change, but that doesn’t mean that we’re actually made right.
But God wasn’t done by calling for repentance – he was still working in Jesus.
Chris Shook tells a story of a grandfather, who found his grandson, Tanner, jumping up and down in his playpen, crying at the top of his voice. When Tanner saw his grandfather, he reached up his chubby little hands, crying, and said, “Out, Gramp, Out.” It was only natural for Gramp to reach down to life the boy out of his playpen. But as he was about to, Tanner’s mother stepped in and said, “No, Tanner, you’re being punished so you stay in.” The grandfather was at a loss to know what to do. The tears and chubby hands reached deep, but the mother’s firmness couldn’t be ignored. Here was love versus law. The grandfather couldnt take him out of the playpen, so he crawled in with him.
That’s what God is like – in our repentance, God sent Jesus to be God with us.
It’s awe-inspiring, really. It’s the kind of God-moment that inspired Swedish poet Carl Boberg to pen this verse of “How Great Thou Art”:
“And when I think that God, his Son not sparing,
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.”
We know what we’re like. We know the things we’ve thought and done and struggled for that were completely unworthy of Jesus. We know long to do right and what we fail to do. We know how our hearts are often so far short of what we want to be and do on Sundays.
And yet … God sent Jesus to be the response to our repentance. God sent Jesus so that when we repented it wasn’t just an action/reaction here on earth but an action with long-lasting impact in heaven.
If we would repent. If we would grasp onto the forgiveness already paid for on the cross by the death of Jesus.
Jesus died. You’re forgiven. Believe and repent, or not, it’s up to you.
But you can’t just stop. You have to turn and accept. You have to believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection was God’s best option, for you.
Now, some of you have been sitting there reading or hearing this, and you’ve lived a life a lot like mine.
You grew up in the church.
You’ve never done anything too crazy, like kill someone, steal thousands of dollars from some little old lady, etc. You’ve been coming to church for years, decades even, and the idea that you would need to repent seems pretty … crazy. I mean, we’re fine tuning, right? We’re not in need of actual, come-to-Jesus, pray-at-the-front repentance, are we?
When I was in seminary, I worked for a builder. A private, one-house-at-a-time house builder who hired me as his third extra set of hands. [Nothing teaches humility like being the third set of hands at anything: I was the fourth string! Football teams don’t even carry fourth string quarterbacks…] I didn’t know how to do anything, and I was useless on the roof. But I could hold a ladder, hammer a nail, carry heavy stuff. And when the number two guy was bitten by a brown recluse and his arm swelled up to four times as big as it should’ve been, I moved up to the three spot!
But this proved to be even more problematic: the builder showed us how to run the wires through the electrical sockets for the downstairs of the house. We dutifully wired all of the sockets while he ran errands, and after receiving his approval, we went home for the day. The next day, we were chagrined to discover that the building inspector had checked the sockets and found them all to be 1/8th of an inch short and the whole house needed to be rewired. The builder had instructed us incorrectly.
Things progressed further and further toward “completion,” and it was soon time for walls and ceilings… and everything was off. The builder soon discovered that his foundation, laid in cement months before I started (thankfully!), was not quite square, but it had gone unnoticed. Now, the internal set-up of the house didn’t quite line-up, and each room would have be re-measured, and angles adjusted. The pattern of being off “just a little bit” had created a system of incorrect measurements, and the internal parts of the house, the “good enough” led to something that was ultimately far from good.
So back to repentance: are we making careful, decisive exploration of our souls? Are we considering what it means to follow Jesus day-to-day, or are we settling for the enemy of great, the “good enough”? Are we following Jesus, everyday? Are we repenting of our selfishness, our pride, our doubt, our social caving in?
Jesus is calling – he wants a life for us that is awesome and amazing. He doesn’t worry about respect but repentance and forgiveness. He doesn’t worry about tomorrow but tells us that today is graced to us and it is enough. He tells us that God’s way is the best way, in the big things and the little things.
Jesus is calling toward forgiveness and perfection that can only be found in him.