By Simon ManchesterSunday 19 Jun 2022Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 1 minute
A three-part series on those in scripture who shed tears by Simon Manchester of Hope 103.2’s Christian Growth podcast and pastor at All Saints in Woollahra, Sydney.
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While we’re standing, Let’s bow our heads –
Heavenly Father, As we turn to your word for these few minutes, we pray that your word would be our rule and our guide, your holy spirit would be our teacher, and your honour would be our great concern for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
You may like to turn back in your Bibles to Matthew, Chapter 26 verses 69-75.
This is the last in a little short series on tears in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and God takes note of our tears, even if they’re inward tears and he takes note of our griefs. We’ve seen some tears, of joy, of grief, of disappointment, of compassion. And today we come to tears of repentance in the life of Peter.
Now this denial by Peter in even knowing Jesus is very famous, and it’s impressive that it’s recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke, because Peter, by the time the Gospels were written, was a very great church leader. And so the fact that the three of the Gospels would record a terrible blunder by this church leader is quite remarkable. It would be like writing up the history of All Saints including the mistakes that the clergy over the years have made – serious mistakes.
So when it comes to repentance, many of you will perhaps be familiar of the sort of man who stands in the city with a big placard that says, Repent, the end is near. Or if you haven’t seen this in real life, you may have seen it as a cartoon, and the guy always looks ridiculous and nobody takes any notice of him because the end is not coming quickly. And so he seems to be crazy.
But when it comes to repentance in the Scriptures, the Bible sets repentance as a very sane decision. If we could see repentance, as God sees it, it would be like walking out of a burning building. It would be like throwing away live hand grenades. We mustn’t let the mockery of repentance cloud the wisdom of real repentance. Remember when Jesus began his ministry? The first thing he said is the kingdom has come, repent, believe the good news. We’re told in Matthew 26:75 that after Peter denied knowing Jesus three times and the rooster crowed that He went outside and wept bitterly, he wailed. He shed tears.
There’s actually no mention of repentance in the text, but it’s clear that Peter does repent because he turns back to Jesus and Jesus restores him. And the church welcomes him because he has truly repented. Now Judas comes three verses later in Chapter 27:3, and he betrayed Jesus as we know. He’s full of remorse, throws back the money he’d earned, but he then goes and kills himself. There’s no repentance.
There’s no doubt that we’re meant to see the difference between repentance, which is healthy, and remorse, which does sometimes nothing. The actual word for remorse is really to regret. But you know that a thief can be caught and regret being caught. There’s no apology. There’s no humility. It’s just I feel sorry for myself.
Repentance is really the word to rethink. And of course it leads to great joy. Think of the prodigal son, rethinks his life. I’ve gone the wrong way. This has been a big mistake. My father is wonderful. I’m going to leave this behind. I’m going to go back to my father. That’s repentance. The beautiful picture of repentance. So following the example of Peter, I want us this morning to just spend a few minutes on what repentance is not. What repentance is and why this matters.
Let me tell you that everybody needs repentance. Don’t just think of the bad person out there. Every good person needs repentance. I’ve often told the story of the young minister who went to work in a tough part of town and that the part of town was ruled by two Gangsters. And soon after the young minister arrived, one of the brothers died and the brother still alive, came to the young minister and said, I want you to take my brother’s funeral and you’ll say he was a saint or we’ll kill you. And so the young minister thinks to himself. Well, what will I do? Well, I tell the truth and end up being killed. Or will I save my life by telling a lie. Welcome the day of the funeral. The place is absolutely packed with every type of person you could imagine, and he stands up and he says, ‘Well, friends, we’re here to remember a man who was a liar and a cheat and a drunkard and a womaniser and a murderer and a nasty piece of work. But compared with his brother sitting over there, he was a saint.’
And who you compare yourself with is going to be the great secret, isn’t it? Because if you compare yourself with a low life, you’ll come off pretty well. But if you compare yourself with Jesus and he is the benchmark, we’ll need to repent. So first of all, what repentance is not:
First repentance is not just talk.
To say a confession in a church, as we’ve done today, doesn’t mean we’ve necessarily repented. I’m always challenged, and I am sometimes ashamed in the middle of the confession, especially the old confession, where we say that we do earnestly repent and are heartily sorry. And I find myself, as I’m saying the words, saying an extra thing in the prayer, which is sometimes what I don’t think I really am.
And I’m asking that you will help me to be like this because talk is easy. Jesus warned people, didn’t he not to just use the lips, but to bring the heart? So we need his help in order to say what we mean and then repentance is not just remorse. As I’ve said before, remorse can just mean I feel bad about myself. Oh, I’m sorry I was caught. There’s no recognition of God. There’s no recognition of the injured party. This would be like somebody crashing into your front fence and then basically coming to you and saying that they feel embarrassed about the way they drive, and you’re waiting for them to say sorry and apologise and make amends.
J. C. Ryle, the old bishop of the 19th century, says remorse can make a person miserable but that it doesn’t lead them to Christ, whereas repentance brings a soft heart, a tender conscience and a turning to God.
During the week I was talking to a grandfather and he was telling me that his granddaughter, who’s about 14, 15 or 16, had caused the family incredible suffering. She had basically been an impossible person, and then through an accident, she came to the point of repentance and came to the family to apologise and rededicated her life to Christ and has become a brand new person, he said. It’s the greatest miracle, one of the two greatest miracles he thinks he’s ever seen. So repentance is not just remorse. Repentance is also not penance. You may have heard the word penance. It’s a Catholic practise where you kind of work off your sins with prayers and deeds or rituals.
Now the problem with this is that it pretends that we are the answer to the problem and that all we need to do is spend a little bit of time in some kind of religious gymnasium. And God will be satisfied as if we’ve paid our dues again. This would be like the person who ploughs through the front of your house, your fence, and then just goes home and does community service, and you’re waiting for them to say I’m sorry. Please help me fix what I’ve done. Repentance is not just penance. Doing religious ritual and repentance does not equal salvation. If the prodigal son had left his lifestyle, his prostitutes, and got a good job in the far country but never come home, there would have been no reconciliation with the father.
The person who says in this world I’ll clean up my life. I’ll throw out the drink. I’ll throw out the drugs. I’ll throw out the porn, I’ll get rid of the person who I had been sleeping with who I shouldn’t be sleeping with. They clean themselves up, but they may never get saved. That would be like the prodigal son turning his back on his old life but never coming home to the father.
And there are many people, as you know, who are trying to clean up their lives in this world. But they never turned to the one that is Jesus Christ, who has been sinned against, and so they never really received his pardon or his peace or his promises. You know, of course, in the world in which we live that there are many programs on self help. Cleaning up your body, cleaning up your marriage, cleaning up your garden, your community, cleaning up the oceans, cleaning up the planet all good things. But they never travel north to God.
They never deal with the one who has made you – the one who you have offended, the one who waits to forgive, the one who brings salvation. We need to travel north to God. The key relationship in this world is an eternal relationship with God through Jesus, and that needs to be settled, So repentance is not those things. Now let me tell you what repentance is.
And the great secret of Peter’s repentance is not found, I think in Matthew’s Gospel. But it’s found in Luke’s gospel in Chapter 22:32 where Jesus is sitting at the Last Supper and he says this to Peter. “I’ve prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” He doesn’t say ‘I’ve prayed for you that you may not fail.’ He knows he will fail. He says. ‘I prayed that your faith may not fail.’ And then he says, And Peter, when you’ve turned back, strengthen your brothers. In other words, Peter, you’re going to fail. But as it used to say, outside ST Barnabas Church, Broadway – failure is not final. Failure is not the final word. It doesn’t matter who you are. Failure with Jesus Christ is not final. And Jesus says to Peter, I’ve prayed for you because you’re going to turn back and I need you to strengthen your friends. This is the great secret of repentance that God is at work, enabling us to turn back to him. It’s a very wonderful comfort.
He has a place for failure. It teaches us that we need him and he produces in us a willingness and humility to turn back to him. Well, here are some things that I think mark real repentance, and I think we can see them in the life of Peter.
First of all, repentance recognises sin for what it is.
In other words, let’s imagine I fall into sin unintentionally or intentionally, and I recognise exactly what it is. I see that it’s wrong before God and I must make a break. Well, I think we can see this in Peter because the words of Jesus came to Peter and he suddenly remembered, Yes, I was told that I would deny Jesus before the rooster crowed, and I have. Or think of David with his adultery with Bathsheba, he says. In Psalm 51, it’s against you, Lord, that I did this. Of course, Bathsheba was injured. Of course her husband was killed. But it’s against you, O Lord, that I have sinned.
Well, my friends, how do we measure or how do we recognise what is right and wrong. We do it with the tape measure of the Scriptures, the compass of the Bible. We’re not going to be looking for excuses or loopholes. This is just one of my propensities. It’s just one of those things, and I’m going to just have to live with this and everybody else will as well.
No, no. We recognisewhat God says and that he has the final word. You may remember in the Garden of Eden that as Adam and Eve was standing there, the devil said these two famous sentences. One: ‘did God really say anything?’ ‘Does it really matter?’
Second, ‘even if you do eat the fruit, nothing will really happen.’
That’s exactly the two things that just echo down the world today. The world is absolutely awash with God has said nothing and nothing will come of what you do. But Jesus, you remember in the Garden in the Temptations said, What does the scripture say? What does the Scripture say? So my friends don’t go. Let us not go by feelings or by majority opinion or expediency. But let’s go by the word of God. I once took a wedding for a couple and they both came to Christ in the wedding interviews. Then I discovered that they had moved into separate houses. I never said a word to them about it. It’s just that they came to Christ. They knew immediately right from wrong, and they moved in two separate places.
Repentance recognises sin for what it is. Repentance also involves removal. Either we separate ourselves from the situation or we separate the thing from ourselves. You may remember how Peter, we might say, removed himself from his cowardice. He went back to Jesus for forgiveness, and then he began to speak boldly for Jesus, and he got arrested for preaching. And tradition tells us he got crucified for his faith.
Or think of Zacchaeus is the tax collector. When he wanted to show true repentance, he removed half his money, which obviously was one of his big idols. The rich young ruler would not remove his money, so real repentance involves some removal. It’s impossible for me or for you, if we’re walking with Christ down the road to just say to sin, come with us. We’ll all three of us get on really well, and we certainly cannot settle down with sin as if the King of Kings will be happy with that.
And my friends, you will know the thing that infects your own faith as I know the things that infect mine. It could be pride. It could be self congratulation. It could be rejoicing in achievements. None of those things are necessarily wrong to achieve. But they might become our God. It could be money. It could be sex, some security blanket that we cling onto because we think it’s the only thing that will get us through this world.
Christ will help you to remove what should be removed. And then thirdly, repentance means repetition. Peter himself was not perfect. The day he repented, he failed again. We read this in the book of acts. He was very slow. He failed again in the book of Galatians. He was very slow and he kept turning back by the grace of God and you and I will not leave the battle when we’ve had a really good day of repenting, there will be another day where we will need to take up our cross again. The wonderful thing is that we can go back to the Lord Jesus every minute of every hour of every day and get exactly the same reception.
We may be thinking this is embarrassing to go back again. But he says, ‘I’m so glad you’ve come back again.’ Repentance pleases him.
And then finally, repentance means returning to Christ. Jesus did not give up on Peter. Peter did not give up on Jesus. The aim of repentance is not just that I recognise sin for what it is, or even that I remove sin or even that I repeat the removing of sin. The aim of repentance is to return to Jesus Christ again, J. C. Ross says ‘Sin brings unhappiness in the soul, an uneasy conscience, a restlessness. Hope is clouded. A crop of doubts appear. But to bring everything to Jesus Christ, everything that needs his forgiveness, everything that needs spiritual help, to walk in the light, to experience the joy of his fellowship. It outweighs the world.’
And as I close, what’s this? Why does this matter? Well, because God is at work helping people to repent. He’s helping outsiders decide to repent every day. He’s helping insiders continue to repent every day, Bishop Ross says the love of Christ is a deep well, it’s unlike any love of man or woman. It exceeds all other love. As the sun exceeds our candles, let us then not be afraid to trust him and to go on trusting him without repentance.
Many people are going to continue to hold on to live hand grenades. They’re going to continue driving towards a broken bridge. And you cannot meet Christ safely unless you have turned back to him and you’ll meet him. And he will say these wonderful words. “Welcome” and not the word depart – and with repentance, as I say, there is great freedom. You turn yourself over to the person who really can look after everything, as I often say to people, Come to Christ the easy way, don’t come the hard way and let God have the last word. This morning in his first letter 1 Peter 3, he says Christ suffered once for all the unrighteous to bring you to God.
Well, let’s pray together.
Our gracious God. We thank you for this lovely invitation to turn back and to be welcomed. We pray that you would help many who are walking away to turn back and we pray that you would help many of your people to go on turning to you with humility and confidence and joy and new life and light. We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.