What will it take to get you to repent? That’s quite a blunt way to start an article isn’t it? Repent of what exactly? And who am I to ask that of you? Isn’t the concept of repentance itself all a bit judgemental? Yet at the heart of the Bible’s good news message is a call to repent. Repentance is about a change of mind, a radical shift in world view. John the Baptist had come calling upon people to repent from their sin, to demonstrate their repentance by getting baptised and to live different lives to show that their change of heart and mind was real and bearing fruit.
In other words, we repent when recognise that we have failed to love God and neighbour as we should. Repentance means that I take ownership for the bad things in my life. I am responsible for the hurtful things I’ve thought, said and done. I’m responsible for failing to show love where it was needed.
In Matthew 11, Jesus has strong words for the towns and cities where he has been working. We’ve seen that his miracles often resulted in unbelief. In fact, he was being accused of using demonic power to do them. In the face of clear evidence that God was at work, people chose not to see it and in fact to see the opposite. All of the evidence was that the prophecies of Isaiah were being fulfilled, the sick were healed, the poor heard good news, captives to evil spirits were set free and even the dead were being raised.
Jesus points out that there has been a clearer display of God’s power than was seen in other places that had been subject to severe judgement. We know about Sodom and Gomorrah. Their story is famous. Lot, the nephew of Abraham had moved into their region near to the Dead Sea. God had then come and told Abraham that because of the evil of those cities he was sending judgement. That evil was seen in the rejection of good, ordered boundaries and their reversal. Welcome and hospitality was replaced with cruel abuse and sexual violence including the exchange of natural relationships for unnatural ones similar to what is described in Romans 1. God sends angels to rescue Lot before sending fire from heaven to destroy the cities.
The fate of Tyre and Sidon may not be so well known. However, the Old Testament prophets speak about Tyre and its king as having grown in arrogance. Poetic language descriptive of Satan’s rebellion and fall is attributed to them and their complete destruction is foretold.
Jesus warns his hearers that it will be better for those cities than for the ones in Galilee on the final judgement day because the Galileans have been presented with a full and clear witness to God’s goodness and greatness in the person of Jesus but they have still rejected God. Again, we are reminded here of Romans 1 and the sense that this is wilful ignorance in the face of clear revelation.
The stark contrast made is between Heaven and Hades (Hell). Those who think they should be exalted will be humiliated and brought low (note the imagery here aligns with the prophecy against Tyre that presumed upon exaltation to heaven but was brought low). This is also points to the eternal danger that comes with arrogance and rejection of the Gospel. The Bible is clear that God offers eternal life through grace but that rejection of this means eternal hell. It means to be subject to judgement for ever.
So, that brings us back to the question “What will it take to get you to repent?” Often we assume that repentance is likely to be in response to a fire and brimstone sermon about hell. Well, I have preached my fair share of sermons that have focused on sin and judgement. Furthermore, I think we need to talk more about hell than we do these days. However, I suspect that there is one critical thing that should move us to repentance and if it doesn’t then I doubt anything will.
The thing that should cause us to repent is the wonderful love of God seen in the person of Jesus. That was the power of God at work that the people of Capernaum had failed to see and respond to, the presence of God’s own son in the world with them. The fact that God The Son stepped down from heaven into this world and that he willingly suffered mockery, abuse and violence, hanging naked, beaten and bruised on the Cross for you and me. That should move us to repentance. It should show us the depth of our sin that made the Cross necessary. It should show us the depth of his love that made the Cross possible.