A word rarely spoken
Jesus and John the Baptist began sermons with this one word. It is six letters long and used 39 times in the New International (1984) Version of Scripture. (12 times in the Old Testament and 27 times in the New.) The word was used in warning, as an admonition to action, not just to grab attention.
The word is a command, as well as a plea. It shows the depth of the Father's longing for His children. The word is weighty, and consequences to ignoring its meaning are dire. To ignore its plea is to ignore God's call because the word carries the grace for obedience and faith. And yet you rarely hear the word spoken today.
The word, is "repent."
Webster defines repent like this: "to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one's life; to feel regret or contrition; to change one's mind"
To repent as Jesus used it, was to turn from disobedience to God to obedience and faith. To admit our wrongs, our sins, and confess to Him that we need a Savior. Repentance is humbling, because it is the admission that we cannot on our own keep the laws God gave to us to keep. It is an appeal for God's mercy to us who have broken those laws.
Job (of Old Testament fame) was one of the best men of his time. He trusted in His Creator and went out of his way to do what he knew was right in the Creator's eyes. He even offered sacrifices for his children, just in case his kids messed up and broke one of God's laws while they were feasting and holding family celebrations. God noticed Job's faithfulness. But one day God allowed Satan to put Job to a severe test, to prove that faith.
Job could not see into the realm of heaven, and was unaware that his sufferings were part of a divine test. All he could see was his misery, and he did not understand what he could have possibly done wrong. As it turned out, he wasn't being punished for his sins. But once God finally spoke to Job and showed him His power and questioned him with knowledge far greater than Job could grasp, Job said, "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
Even the most righteous man on earth in his day, repented when he encountered God.
The prophet Jeremiah preached repentance to his stubborn people. In anguish at their lack of response, he said, "O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth? You struck them, but they felt no pain; you crushed them, but they refused correction. They made their faces harder than stone and refused to repent."
King Solomon mentioned repentance when he prayed his lengthy dedication prayer for the temple. In part, he said, "“When they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to his own land, far away or near; and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their conquerors and say, ‘We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly’; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and pray to you toward the land you gave their fathers, toward the city you have chosen and the temple I have built for your Name; then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause. And forgive your people, who have sinned against you;"
Much later Isaiah said, "“The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins," declares the Lord."
And centuries later, God sent that Redeemer, Jesus, to Israel, and He said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
After Jesus ascended into heaven, Peter preached, "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus."
The message to repent started with Israel but quickly fanned out to other surrounding nations and eventually to the world beyond. God is seeking a change of heart, a turning from sin, from wickedness. He describes this wickedness in Revelation when He said, "The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts."
Paul gives further detail in Galatians 5: "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God."
We have become jaded by liars who publicly proclaim one thing and do another. We grow too used to images of things God calls impure splashed across our computer screens, and we allow our hearts to fill with hatred and discord and jealousy and selfish ambition. I daresay, hatred can fill the heart of those who call themselves Christians just as often as it does from those who do not. If we are honest about it, we have no legitimate excuse for our behavior. Though from the Garden of Eden to today, we all seek ways to justify our actions.
That word "repent" that Jesus used to grab the attention and hearts of the people, is a word rarely spoken in our times. But if you look closely at Scripture, you will find that to repent of sin and then to live our lives "producing fruit in keeping with repentance" - in other words, to change, to turn around and allow God make us new from the inside out - that is the message of salvation. That is the message of hope.
There is only One Savior. And His message still rings with truth, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."