On Preaching Repentance

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Matthew 3:1-2

John was a preacher of repentance from sin. The first word attributed to John by Matthew is the word “Repent!” This is the Greek word metanoeite and means “to change one’s mind”. Biblical repentance is not merely being sorry for sin, but turning away from that sin. Children in Sunday School were once asked to define repentance and a little boy defined it simply as “being sorry for sin,” but a little girl corrected him by adding, “It means being sorry enough to quit.” This was the primary message of John the Baptist and what his baptism represented. He was calling upon the Jews of his day to turn from their sin in preparation for the coming of the King. He was calling them to prepare their hearts as the grand highway upon which the King of glory could come.

Repentance is still the message of the Christian preacher. The very next chapter records the beginning of Jesus’ preaching ministry by saying:

From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17

The apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:38,

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 17, Paul preached repentance. He concluded his address to the philosophers in Athens with these words:

Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead. Acts 17:30-31

Repentance has been the content of the preaching of preachers throughout church history. All the men mentioned in yesterday’s post preached repentance. The Puritans of the 17th century especially understood repentance. One of them, William Perkins, defined repentance as follows:

Godly sorrow causeth grief for sin, because it is sin. It makes any man in whom it is to be of this disposition and mind, that if there were no conscience to accuse, no devil to terrify, no Judge to arraign and condemn, no hell to torment, yet he would be humbled and brought on his knees for his sins, because he hath offended a loving, merciful, and longsuffering God (Cited in John F. MacArthur, Jr., Matthew 1-7, 67).

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