Summary: We need to repent because: 1. We have a problem. 2. Something better has come. 3. The Kingdom is here.
One of my favorite cartoon strips is “Frank and Earnest.” Frank is in the courtroom standing before the judge who says to him, “It’s ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty.’ You can’t plead ‘I gotta be me.’” The cartoon is humorous because it touches a reality in our culture which places the need for self-expression above the need for morality, integrity and honor. I often think about the fact that Jesus warned his followers to beware of the “wicked and adulterous generation” in which they lived. And then I wonder what he would call our generation which has long passed the simple immorality of his day into acts of violence, sexual addictions and perversions that had never been thought of then, and around which we have built many television programs and movies. And yet, we have an aversion to calling anything sin these days. How would Jesus go over today if he strode into New York or San Diego telling the people they were a part of a corrupt and perverted generation? What if he took 15 second spots during the evening news to call the nation to repentance, or as the Book of Common Prayer says, “lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness”? How would it go over? There would be calls for him to get out of people’s bedrooms and mind his own business. They would say he should not try to impose his personal morality on other people. That is, that’s what they would say before someone eventually assassinated him — as they did long ago.
What is repentance? Gordon MacDonald helps us to understand with these sobering words: “Repentance is not necessarily repentance for what I have done although it may necessitate that. Repentance is for, more significantly, what is in me as a sinner. I suggest to you that the Bible is teaching us over and over again that in the soul of every person in this room — even in the children — is a volcanic pocket of evil so virile and so full of potential that anyone in this world would probably be capable of destroying the world five times over if all of that evil got out.” We have a problem, and we need to be delivered. That deliverance comes through repentance. Repentance is how God works in our lives.
What is the truth that Jesus is trying to get across when he comes calling for repentance? Why do we need to repent? We need to repent first of all: Because we have a problem. This is the difficult part, because the hardest thing we have to do is to admit that we have a problem. Doctors experience this with patients. I used to have some relatives who would go to the doctor and purposely hide things from him and not tell him the truth, because they were afraid of what he would say. Then they would become angry with the doctor because he was not helping them. Financial counselors experience this also. People go for help and hide some of their debt or their financial practices. Counselors and psychotherapists encounter the same thing when people deliberately don’t tell them significant things that are necessary for the counselor to know in order to help them. So it is no surprise that when people come to Jesus they try to keep all kinds of things hidden. They cannot face the fact that they have a problem. They don’t want to face their sin. They are stuck, but they are afraid of moving away from their sickness.
In his book Waiting: Finding Hope Where God Seems Silent, Ben Patterson tells a story from his personal life: “In the summer of 1988, three friends and I climbed Mount Lyell, the highest peak in Yosemite National Park. Two of us were experienced mountaineers; two of us were not. I was not one of the experienced two. . . . The climb to the top and back was to take the better part of a day due, in large part, to the difficulty of the glacier that one must cross to get to the top. . . . As the hours passed, and we trudged up the glacier, the two mountaineers opened up a wide gap between me and my less-experienced companion. Being competitive by nature, I began to look for short cuts I might be able to take to beat them to the top. I thought I saw one to the right of an outcropping of rock — so I went up, deaf to the protests of my companions... Thirty minutes later I was trapped in a cul-de-sac of rock atop the Lyell Glacier, looking down several hundred feet of a sheer slope of ice, pitched at a forty-five degree angle. . . . I was only ten feet from the safety of a rock. But one little slip and I wouldn’t stop sliding until I had landed in the valley floor about fifty miles away! . . .I was stuck and I was scared.”