During one of our Monday night studies a few weeks ago, we looked at the report of the beginning of Jesus’ preaching ministry recorded in Matthew 4:17. It reads like this:
From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
We also noted that this verse probably gives us, not something Jesus said only once, but the summary and encapsulation, as well as the very beginning, of his entire life of teaching. In other words, what was Jesus saying as he walked around teaching all the time? Well, basically, he was saying that the kingdom of God was coming, and that as a result everyone needed to repent–to reorient themselves in light of his message. In passing during the study, I noted that if we didn’t have any more recorded about Jesus’ teaching, we might not be very clear on what exactly that meant. Like, so…what needs to change, exactly? Doesn’t God love us all? (Just the way we are?)
In the study I noted that I thought we had an answer right in Matthew, beginning right in the next chapter, in fact.
If you put the question to Jesus, “So what do you mean, practically, by saying ‘repent’? What do you want us to change?” I think he would have responded with Matthew chapters five through seven. In other words, what we commonly call “The Sermon on the Mount” is the “repent” side of Jesus’ teaching. (The “kingdom” side comes later in Matthew, like in chapters 13, 24, and 25). While it is certainly other things for us as well, the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ manual on repentance. It is a catalogue of the kinds of things that need to change when someone realizes how near the kingdom of God is.
(Note: I am not saying that this is a list of things that we must do to be saved and enter the kingdom; I’m saying this is Jesus’ way of explaining the kinds of changes we need to make when we encounter him. It is his way of showing us that we really aren’t fit to be citizens of the kingdom with out his forgiveness and instruction.)
So what exactly does Jesus mean when he says, “Repent”?
- Renounce self-glorifying, self-promoting, self-seeking ways of advancing your own agenda. (5:3-9)
- Be willing to endure criticism and oppression from people who disagree with Jesus. (5:10-12)
- Have a life wholly flavored by the things Jesus promotes, and not any other flavor. (5:13)
- Begin living a life of such obvious good that people think about God when they see you, and not you. (5:14-16)
- Don’t misunderstand Jesus by separating him from the previous things revealed (that is, don’t think of him as unrelated to the Old Testament). In other words, stop thinking wrongly about Jesus–Let the Bible tell you who he is. (5:17-18)
- Learn the correct way of weighing and obeying the commands of God. (5:19-20)
- Stop thinking so little of people that you get angry and wish them harm. (5:21-22)
- Stop fighting each other in court. (5:23-26)
- Stop looking at each other out of (and in order to stir up) sexual desire. (5:27-28)
- Stop acting like things God calls sin don’t have eternal consequences. (5:29-30)
- Stop divorcing each other. (5:31-32)
- Speak simple truth, and nothing else. (5:33-37)
- Instead of self-protection, practice generosity. (5:38-42)
- Stop hating your enemies and retaliating. Love people across any divide. (5:43-48)
- Don’t do things for people to see you, especially spiritual things or charitable things. Care more about what God sees than what people see. (6:1-18)
- Rather than self-dependence, practice dependence on your heavenly Father by praying to him constantly. (6:9-13)
- Stop holding grudges and thinking it’s ok with God. (6:14-15)
- Don’t amass wealth and want what others have as if there’s no life beyond the grave. (6:19-24)
- Stop worrying and acting like there’s no loving God in the world. (6:25-30)
- Care more about this coming Kingdom of God than your own daily needs. (6:31-34)
- Don’t always assume you know enough to fully evaluate or pass sentence on others. (7:1-5)
- Instead of relying on people, ask God for what you need. (7:6-12)
- Stop assuming that traveling the same way as the majority will lead you to heaven. Don’t trust what most people think about how to get there. (7:13-14)
- Be careful about who you let tell you what to think and how to live. (7:15-20)
- Don’t be duped by people with a show of power, even spiritual power–and don’t think these things will earn you any merit with God. (7:21-23)
- Stop listening to what Jesus says, and then not doing it. Base your whole life only on his teachings. (7:24-27)
Ok, so that was a long list. But it seems worthwhile to go through in our day, not only for those of us who believe and want to live by Jesus, but even more so for our wider culture.
Basically everyone today thinks that Jesus accepts them just the way they are. If you asked the average person if they thought Jesus would be cool with them, you can pretty much bet they’d tell you that he is! In fact our whole national conscience is skewed that way–just watch the acceptance speeches at any award show and see who they thank. We really feel like God is happy with us all.
But honestly, who could look at that list and not find, like, ten or fifteen things in their life Jesus clearly isn’t cool with? A little bible reading will tell us where the real Jesus stands with who we are. If we want to know, it’s all there in black and white.
All we need is ears to hear.