From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
The great reformation of the holy Christian church did not begin with the closed fist of defiant rebellion. The 95 theses posted on a church door in Germany in 1517 began with a call for sorrow over sin.
It echoed the call Jesus issued at the beginning of his ministry on earth: “Repent!”
Repentance is critical to spiritual life.
At times, it may seem that the celebration of the Lutheran Reformation means pointing fingers at others and declaring, “You’re wrong! We’re right!”
Jesus would have us start with the words: “Wrong lives here—here in my heart.”
We regularly begin our worship services with the confession of sins. The old hymnal used the words, “I, a poor miserable sinner, confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities…”
Human nature does not like to say those words. Human nature wants to cover up sins and deflect guilt. That’s because human nature is infected with sin.
The people of his day had differing ideas about who Jesus was and what he was trying to accomplish.
He quickly attracted those who hated the Roman troops stationed among them. Those who sought to be healed flocked to him. So did those who enjoyed seeing Jesus put the Pharisees and other pompous people into their place.
In the 1960s the slogan, “Power to the people!” became popular. That fit the thinking of some of the people who crowded around Jesus. They expected him to set up his kingdom by driving the Romans out and establishing his throne in Jerusalem.
Scripture shows that some of his close disciples were infected with that false hope.
Since then, generation after generation has looked to Jesus for power and permission to gain for themselves privilege and prosperity. It continues to this day.
If we ask why someone would think they should receive these things, the thought is often: “I’m worth it!”
But we are not. We are not worthy of anything good. We must continue to confess, “I a poor, miserable sinner…”
Our only hope lies with the one who is not a sinner—the one who will judge sinners—the one who will declare the sinner innocent because crimes against God have already been paid for—paid for by this very Judge.
Scripture warns us, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Then it adds the horrible words, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives” (1 John 1: 8,10).
Denying sin has hellish consequences. Repentance brings heavenly peace.
Let the message sink in: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
This is the reason why we must call out warnings to others who are wandering from the Word. It is not self-righteous to say, “You are on the wrong path!” to those in spiritual peril.
We join with Martin Luther, who refused to give in to error with the words, “Here I stand. I can do no differently. God help me.”
He said his conscience was held captive to the Word of God.
We must say that too.
Repentance leads to that.
Savior, when in dust to you Low we bow in homage due,
When, repentant, to the skies Scarce we lift our weeping eyes;
Oh, by all your pains and woe Suffered once for us below,
Bending from your throne on high, Hear our penitential cry. Amen.
(Christian Worship 124:1)
Written by Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Belle Plaine, Minnesota.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. Note: Scripture reading footnotes are clickable only in the web version.