Jesus Defines Repentance

Jesus Defines Repentance

Robert Wurtz II

The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. (Luke 11:32 NKJV)

There is a generation that heaps to itself teachers who tickle the ears saying, “Repentance does not mean ‘turn from sin’ it merely means ‘change your mind.'” In fact, Greek scholars debate among themselves as to the full extent of the word mετανοεῖτε (repent) and as time goes on the definitions become more self-serving. Yet, perhaps we can spare ourselves the debate and simply focus on how our Lord used the word in a well-known sentence. He stated, The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. (Matthew 12:41) Our cognate passage is cited above as Luke 11:32. Jesus described the behavior of the Ninevites as having repented (metenohsan) at the preaching of Jonah.

Our Lord said that Nineveh repented. Clearly, He did not mean to say that they felt sorry for their sins or some other modern definition of repentance. To thoroughly understand our Lord’s concept of repentance (the only person whose definition matters) we must go back and study the book of Jonah. To understand what our response to the advent of Christ ought to be we must contrast the greatness of the man Jonah with the Son of God. If the Pagan Ninevites repented at the preaching of Jonah, what ought our reaction to be to the preaching of Jesus Christ? That is the import of what is being said.

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When Pagans Teach Repentance By Example

Nineveh was one of two capital cities of the Assyrian Empire. They were brutal people beyond comprehension. In fact, the savagery employed by ISIS is a mere taste of the Assyrians atrocities. They celebrated their blood-thirstiness in murals painted on the palace walls. They were hated by their enemies with pure hatred. They had no Bible; no Sunday Schools; no churches; and no religious rituals that honored the One True God. In the words of God… they didn’t know their right hand from their left (Jonah 4:11). Yet they had sense enough to repent at the preaching of Jonah.

Time was running out for the Assyrians of Nineveh, but God still held out hope. He sent Jonah to preach to them… but his hatred was so great that He disobeyed God. He fled on a ship from the face of God rather than preach repentance to the people. God wouldn’t have it. He sent a storm that smote the nerves of all on the ship — until at last, at Jonah’s request, they threw him overboard. God put him through what may have been a death and resurrection to change his mind about preaching to the Assyrians. Three days with no air… he ended up on shore with a new revelation about the sovereignty of God.

Jonah entered the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown (Jonah 3:4). This message offered no hope. There was no compassion in his voice… just a declaration, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. This is instructional. Can you imagine hearing this? Over and over again… Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. The result? So the people of Nineveh believed God. (Jonah 3:5a) This is essential to any persons’ repentance; they have to believe what God is saying. The people of Nineveh believed so as to proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. John the Baptist and Paul would have called this fruits worthy of repentance (Acts 26:20).
No “Pointers”

You will notice that they were not given a checklist of things to repent of. They were left to themselves to sort it out. This tells me that God knows that we know what is offending Him. There is no need for ministers to stand in a pulpit — listing off possibilities. People will sometimes pretend that they don’t know what they need to repent of, etc.; but apparently, God is not buying it. Nineveh is the example. They will rise up in the judgment against us if we pretend we didn’t know better. Very sobering. Can you imagine God calling the Ninevites to testify against the unrepentant? Jesus said it will happen.

The King Vacates the Throne

We have another facet to Nineveh’s example when we read, For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. (Jonah 3:6) Have you ever known of a person to do such a thing when they repented? They didn’t put on their “Sunday best” and go to church. They stripped off anything that could have exalted them. This is utter humiliation and sorrow.

Like the king of Nineveh, we have to come off of the throne of our own life and utterly humble ourselves before the true King. This is the key. This is more than outward things, it is an inward change of attitude. What else did they do? Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. (Jonah 3:9) There is the key component to repentance that is too frequently rejected or ignored… let them turn every one from his evil way. True godly sorrow (sorrow that is God-wards) for sin produces a turning from sin in which the person does not turn back (2 Cor. 7:10).

The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. (Luke 11:32 NKJV)

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