Summary: Repentance involves reducing yourself to servant status, humbling yourself even as Jesus did, it involves praying earnestly for forgiveness and eliminating wickedness from your lifestyle.
Jesus said something really tough for us to hear. He said, "you can be sure that if you don’t turn back to God, every one of you will die." Luke 13:5
Jesus was informed that some innocent people had been murdered by Pilate as they were worshiping at the Temple in Jerusalem. Pilate was a brutal dictator and he did this kind of thing all the time. He maintained control and power with abject fear. So some folks wanted Jesus to answer what a lot of Bible teachers are asked when something like this happens. "Why?" "Why does God allow innocent people to be killed?" And this is how Jesus answers them, "you can be sure that if you don’t turn back to God, every one of you will die."
We see in his answer to this question the intense priority that God wants everyone to repent. Jesus focuses us on our sin problem. People die. In all sorts of ways. The important thing Jesus wants you to know isn't that God allows bad stuff to happen, it's that God wants you to repent before you die. Paul affirms Jesus teaching when he writes, "everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard" Romans 3:23 Jesus said, "Repent or die."
When we repent we are doing two things simultaneously. We're turning away from sin, and we're turning to the righteousness of God. We turn our lives away from the world so that we can fix our gaze on the cross of Jesus.
Jesus tells a story that a lot of us are familiar with. We know the story as the Prodigal Son. It's actually hilarious to consider why Jesus tells this story. Luke 15 begins with the explanation that there were notorious sinners who routinely came to hear Jesus teach. This idea that a Rabbi would indulge sinners, would eat with them and socialize with them, was horrifying to the sensibilities of the other religious teachers. These people actually thought they were too religious for repentance. They had it all together Spiritually, so what possible reason would they have to repent? I think there are a lot of church folks today who think the same way.
What would you think of a Bible teacher today going to a drug dealers home to have dinner? How would you react to your preacher teaching a group of call girls at the church building? The best question is how come we're not attractive to notorious sinners like Jesus was?
So Jesus tells this story.
A rich man had two boys. The youngest decided one day that he didn't want to be a part of the family anymore and wanted his dad to cash in his inheritance so he could go see the world. He burned through his cash partying really hard. Coincidentally the same time that he ran out of money he ran out friends. Complicating life for this fool was a famine in the land that made food scarce. Since he grew up rich and entitled he didn't have a lot of skills for the labor market and had to settle feeding pigs to survive. He was so hungry he began to eat the same slop. It didn't take very long before the young man began to think about what his life was like at home. He had a good life that he took for granted. So he decided to go home.
Unfortunately, he had disowned his family name. He knew his dad would not welcome him home as a son, but, maybe his dad would allow him to return as a hired hand, a servant. He came to the conclusion in the pig pen that living a life as a servant in his dad's house was better than eating with the pigs.
Every day that his son was gone, the father would take long moments to look out the window. Hoping, yearning, hurting for his son to return home. One day as the father is looking out the window daydreaming about the day his son would return he notices a figure on the horizon. "Could it be?" the dad is wondering. It only takes a moment before he recognizes this is the day he had been dreaming about. His son has returned! The dad rushes out of the house and runs as fast as he can to meet his boy. He grabs him, hugs him, kisses him, holds him for a very long awkward time.
Here is where Jesus would have looked at the indignant religious people. I think he would've paused for dramatic effect. You see, they were thinking there's no way the Father is going to allow this kid back home. They wouldn't. These religious ones would never be able live with a sinner like that.
"Dad." The son said, "I have sinned against you and God. I'm not worthy to be your son." His dad motioned to an employee and said, "Quick, bring a robe. My son was lost but now he's found his way home."