Message from Sunday, December 8th, 2019
"Repentance: A Change of Heart"
Matthew 3: 1 - 12
It’s easy to get trapped in a particular mindset. Let’s say we’ve been in the same environment, in the same surroundings for a long time. As a result, we develop a certain way of doing things. We also form an understanding of ourselves, of who we are. We form a perspective on the world. We see the world from our particular viewpoint, which is shaped by being in the same place for a while. Many of us have lived in this area of Wisconsin all our lives. Living here has shaped the way we think and view the world. I’m sure that we see things differently than a person who lives in New York City or a person who lives in San Francisco. People there have their own view of the world.
When we have been in a particular place for a long time, we become comfortable in that environment. Of course, there are pluses and minuses. The pluses are we feel at ease. We can relate to those around us because they pretty much see things the same way we do. They think like we do. They do many of the things we do. The negatives, though, are that we may not grow personally. We may not see the need for change in our lives. We’ve become smug. We’re not challenged by new ideas or a different perspective which could make us better people. We don’t branch out and remain stuck in our mindset. Well, these are the pluses and minuses of being in one place for quite a while.
You might be wondering where am I going with all of this. How does what I’ve said relate to our text? How does the fact that the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John the Baptist to be baptized by him have anything to do with what I’ve said so far? They were like any other people who became comfortable with their way of doing things. They saw the world from their own perspective. They were absorbed in their own traditions. They didn’t see the need to change. They were content with the way things were going in terms of their religion.
But we see that John the Baptist challenges them. He tries to wake them up. You see, they had come to him to be baptized because they were in to ritual. Moreover, they wanted to show the ordinary people how righteous they were. They wanted to look good in the eyes of the people. They missed the point of John’s baptism, which was repentance.
John saw through their pretensions and told them to produce the fruits of a true repentant heart. In other words, they needed to change their perspective on things. They needed to change the way they thought. They needed to come out of the environment they were in to get a fresh perspective on things.
It seems that they thought repentance was an outward thing and not an inward one. But John made it clear that it was the opposite of what they thought. Repentance is a matter of the heart. It’s an inward renewal which leads one to produce fruit in accord with that renewal. Repentance involves a change of heart, a change of perspective. For example, if a person is truly sorry for his sins, he will no longer view them as being okay and no big deal. He thinks differently about sin if he has a repentant heart. He commits to turning away from sin and living a life acceptable to God.
There are times when we don’t see a need for change in our spiritual lives. We’re comfortable where we’re at. We don’t see a need to repent of our wrongdoing and look at it from God’s perspective. My guess is we often times don’t see the sin in the sins we’re committing. The Pharisees who came to John certainly didn’t think they needed to change their ways. They thought what they were doing was just fine. But they were told otherwise.
We need a wake up call just as well. It’s too easy to get comfortable and forget about the need to examine ourselves. Something or someone from the outside has to challenge us. It’s only then that we might come to the realization that we need to repent of our sins. This is what happened in our text. John tells the Pharisees and Sadducees that they must produce the fruits of a truly repentant heart.
In our case, we mostly have pastors who tell us of the need to repent. They point out our sins to us. Pastors are God’s voice whether we like it or not. God has sent them into our lives to prepare us for the Lord’s coming. Much of that preparation involves cleaning out our hearts. Pastors tell us what we need to get rid of, the sins we need to purge from our lives.
This was the case with John the Baptist. The Bible says that he was the voice crying in the wilderness. He was the voice of God. God sent him with the express purpose of shaking people out of their slumber, out of their comfortable way of doing things. His aim was to direct people’s hearts toward God.
If we think about it, the Pharisees and Sadducees should have been doing this. They were the religious leaders of the people. It appears that they had fallen asleep behind the wheel. They were misleading the people. So God had to send someone to set the nation of Israel back on the right course.
This is a sad commentary on the religious establishment. It had been entrusted with telling the people to repent and being a good example for the people to follow, but unfortunately, the religious establishment failed. That’s why the Lord sent John the Baptist and other prophets throughout Israel’s history. The religious establishment wasn’t always faithful in carrying out its responsibilities.
In many ways, it’s not much different today. Many pastors and churches aren’t doing their job of telling the truth about the need to repent. Many of them have fallen asleep behind the wheel. But God sends faithful and courageous servants to proclaim the truth once again. I hope we aren’t in this category. I would like to believe that I don’t mince words when it comes to our need to repent of our sins and ask the Lord for forgiveness. I would like to believe that our church preaches and teaches the truth. It is my prayer that God will keep us focused on the truth.
The point of our text is our need to repent. That was the thrust of John the Baptist’s preaching. The people needed to be shaken out of their comfort zone and turn to the Lord for forgiveness.
Why is repentance important? Because that is what God demands. He demands a contrite and repentant heart. It shows that we are truly sorry for our sins, which are an offense to God. Each Sunday we confess our sins before God and repent of them. Pay attention to the confession/absolution of the worship service. This gives us an opportunity to get out of our comfort zone and confess and repent of our sins. This is how we prepare for our Lord’s second coming. We don’t want Him to find us impure and unholy.
Let’s not forget that Jesus’ death and resurrection from the dead makes the forgiveness of our sins possible. Without Jesus, our repentance and contrition would mean nothing.