In the days before coming to faith in Jesus, if my wonderful, loving, but frequently hyperbolic mother had ever actually done some of the things she threatened to do to my brother and me, she would have almost certainly done time in jail. Some of her threats didn’t even make sense to me, especially one of her favorites. In the midst of some good time we were having, she’d yell, “If you boys don’t stop that, I’m gonna knock both of you into the middle of next week!” Neither of us had a clue what she actually meant by that, but the tone was always ominous enough to get us to back off whatever we were doing until she cooled down. I’m grateful that she never really knocked me “into the middle of next week,” but I have to admit that I sort of hoped I’d get to see her do it to my older brother, just so I could see what it looked like.
Once, my cousin and I filched some cigarettes from his dad’s pack and got caught smoking them. Mom was in “rare form” that day, declaring that she was going to get a couple of cartons of the worst cigarettes she could find and make us sit down and smoke one after another until we got so sick we’d “puke our guts out.” Thankfully, she didn’t really do that, either. My uncle weighed in and suggested that stealing the cigarettes was a worse transgression than smoking them, and that making us smoke more of them was a waste of money. He said it would be cheaper to lock us up like thieves for a month or so and only let us out to do yard work. She’d save money, get some work out of us, and best of all, wouldn’t have all that puke to clean up.
No Love Notes There ~
To say that Mom’s over-the-top threats were never construed as sincere expressions of love would be an understatement of shocking proportions. When Mom was threatening to unload on us in ways that could have left us walking funny for the rest of our lives, it didn’t sound like a love note. It sounded more like the woman had a dangerous dark side and was very likely descended from those witches in the Hansel and Gretel story who liked to cook kids and eat them. It never occurred to us to look at one another and say, “Isn’t it wonderful that Mom loves us so much that she’s willing to go to such incredible lengths to keep us from growing up acting like inbred Neanderthals?” We didn’t hear her proclamations of impending doom as gracious opportunities to affect positive changes with wonderful long-term benefits. All we heard was “Stop that, or else!…” Those memories made me think that maybe our fear of creating a similar situation is affecting our approach to a mandatory spiritual message that we don’t hear very much about these days . . . the “call to repentance.”
Preaching about repentance doesn’t seem to be included among the most popular topics these days because it doesn’t tend to evoke warm, fuzzy feelings, at least not initially. Critics say that it is woefully outdated and that it will drive people away in this modern era. Some suggest that it’s an Old Testament message and that we ought to stay focused on the love that Jesus demonstrated. Perhaps those who think that way would do well to remember that the New Testament record begins with the ministry of John the Baptist, whose message had a singular focus:
In those days, John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Matthew 3:1-2 (NKJV)
Nothing Superficial ~
God sent John specifically to prepare people for Jesus’ coming and his message was simple, direct, and personal. Becoming part of “the Kingdom of God” and receiving all that Jesus would offer required a willingness to confess and abandon their sinful behavior. John called for something far more profound than a superficial religious statement. The repentance he demanded sounded almost harsh and threatening because it involved a radical change in attitudes and lifestyles.
But when Jesus actually arrived, did He soften John’s message a bit and make it more appealing? Did he delete the part about impending judgment and remove anything that sounded threatening? Apparently not. Matthew records that Jesus began His public ministry with the same message that John had been preaching:
From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17 (NKJV)
There is no question that a call to repentance includes a warning. After all, why would anyone make such a radical change in attitude and behavior if there were no negative consequences confronting them? The truth is that Jesus’ warning about sin’s consequences is far worse than anything Mom ever dreamed up to terrify us with. But God’s warning about hell isn’t just a mechanism to scare people into reluctant compliance. Repentance is an offer of grace. The message of repentance exposes the awful end of the “primrose path” that sin presents and offers an opportunity to choose a different destination.
Just Preach Love? ~
Some will say that we shouldn’t preach about things to fear and that we should just preach about love. But consider this… There is no clearer demonstration of the love of God, or more horrifying thing to be feared, than the image of the cross. The hell Jesus endured there is what we sinners deserve, and without repentance, it is unavoidable. The love that took Him there in our place to provide a means of escape is grace beyond imagination.
The call to repent is not just an “or else” message or an attempt to coerce us into obedience. It’s a plea from the heart of Jesus on the cross that says, “This is the suffering and forever separation from God that your sin will eventually demand, but if you will turn away from the sin leading here, I’ll take this in your place and give you Easter morning instead.” That doesn’t sound like a threat to me. That sounds more like a glorious “invitation.”
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to Tweet & Share from the pull quotes below. Each quote links directly back to this article through Twitter.
- “Becoming part of “the Kingdom of God” and receiving all that Jesus would offer required a willingness to confess and abandon their sinful behavior.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Repentance is an offer of grace. The message of repentance exposes the awful end of the “primrose path” that sin presents and offers an opportunity to choose a different destination.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “There is no clearer demonstration of the love of God or more horrifying thing to be feared than the image of the cross. The hell Jesus endured there is what we sinners deserve, and without repentance, it is unavoidable.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The call to repent is a plea from the heart of Jesus on the cross that says, ‘This is the suffering and forever separation from God forever that your sin will eventually demand, but if you will turn from the sin leading here, I’ll give you Easter morning instead.’ ” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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