Hi, my name is Josh Pollard and I am the new Adult Ministries Pastor here at Renovation Church. As the Adult Ministries Pastor I get to facilitate our House Groups Ministry and our Volunteer Ministry Teams that serve week in and week out. So I get a front row seat to watching Jesus mold people through discipleship, fellowship, and service. I also lead Renovation’s Outreach and Adult Missions, helping us serve our own community and to partner with the Church in other areas of the world. So my job is pretty awesome. As we get to know each other you might hear that I used to coach mixed martial arts, which is true, or that I love anything having to do with birds, which is true, or that I once fell out of the window of a five-story building unharmed, which is also true, but the window was only on the first floor, so it’s not that impressive really, you can ignore that one...
My wife and I just moved here with our two daughters about 3 months ago. Life is pretty different here than in LA, where we moved from. It’s been good for us. For one thing, since I don’t have to drive in LA traffic anymore I have a lot less to repent about at the end of each day. Which brings us to the topic of today’s verse: repentance.
Repentance is a significant part of life as a Christ follower, from the beginning of our faith to the end of our lives. And while I can agree that it is extremely difficult or even painful at times, once we do it we can’t help but see the freedom of Christ spreading in its wake. Let’s pray as we jump in.
Setting the scene in Context
We are continuing our study of the Gospel of Luke today beginning with Luke 11:29 (It will be on page 844 in the Bibles under the chair, or you can use our Renovation App. Just tap Bible, and then tap weekly verses.”).
In our passage last week, we saw that Jesus cast a demon out of a man that couldn’t speak and the people respond in several different ways. One group of people back in verse 16, were skeptical and demanded a sign from heaven, as if what they had just scene was not clear enough. And these are the people that Jesus addresses in our passage for today.
Luke 11:29 (Pg 844)
29 As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man (that is, Jesus) be to this generation. 31 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here.
Asking for Signs
So they ask for a sign. What we must be clear here about what is meant by these people that ask for a sign.
I can think of plenty of times when I wanted a sign from heaven. I’m sure you might be able to relate. My most recent was, God give me some kind of sign if I should take this job so far from my family. Maybe you’ve asked God for some kind of sign if you should get married or buy a house, or have another kid, or retire. I bet a few weeks ago some of you asked for a sign if God wanted you to get baptized. Or maybe, sometimes you just want a sign that God actually care bout you about at all, some kind of sign that He is actually there. These are all cries for guidance and intimacy. These are the same kinds of prayers you can find in the book of Psalms. God wants all of these prayers.
Maybe you expect the sign to look like fireworks or magic writing on the wall or an earthquake or an unexplainable coincidence. It is more often that the sign, that the evidence of his guidance and intimacy that we want from God, comes one of in three ways –1) the words of the bible (The inspired word of God) so read it (get in a renovation U class next summer), 2) the voices of other Christians (in whom the Holy Spirit lives) so be in fellowship (join a house group), or 3) the deep feeling of the Holy Spirit speaking to your own gut – so be in prayer (come to the prayer meeting before each service and learn to pray). Ask God for signs of His guidance and intimacy. He wants that. He’s so eager to share that with you. Pray for signs from God, as David said a few weeks ago, with Shameless Audacity, with reckless abandon, without shyness. To those who ask it will be given. Where in your life do you need to ask God for Guidance or intimacy? Ask for it today. Maybe even at the prayer table at the back of the room after the service.
But the people in our passage are not asking for guidance and intimacy. It says back in verse 16 that they asked him for a sign “to test him”, perhaps thinking if they could find a crack they could dismiss him.
But, seeing that their heart’s motive was to test him, Jesus calls them a Wicked Generation. To help these people see their testing as wicked, Jesus give 2 examples. He used the example of Jonah and the Ninevites, and the example of the Queen of the South. First let’s look at the Queen of the South.
[Queen of the South]
Jesus is referring to a story from Israel’s history that they would all have known by heart. It was about this queen of this southern kingdom called Sheba. She heard rumors about the king of Israel at that time, King Solomon, the wisest and richest King ever. When the queen heard about the fame of Solomon and his relationship to the Lord, she came to test Solomon with hard questions. But when he could easily answer all her questions and saw how God had blessed him she was Overwhelmed and said:
“The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true but I didn’t believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes…. Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.” (it’s a description that sounds a lot like how Jesus’ kingship is described in Luke)
This Queen, who came from the ends of the earth, could see that the Lord was with Solomon and yet those who live right in the heart of Jerusalem can’t see all of the signs that are right in front of them. She came pridefully to test but she saw the signs clearly that were pointing to God and she responded to them by repenting of her pride and praising God. Do you see the sign that is right in front of you? Where in your life are you still trying to test out God and instead need to start praising God? The Queen of the South is a model for you to follow.
[Jonah and the Ninevites]
As for Jonah, we have another story of redemption. Nineveh was known as “city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims.” By all measures the people that lived there were part of a wicked generation. And Gods sends one of their victims to them named Jonah as a sign, to tell them that God had heard of their wickedness and they would be destroyed.
Amazingly, they saw that sign with clear eyes and it says “The Ninevites believed God”. They repented of their ways and called urgently on God. When God saw this He relented and didn’t bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
Now we get to hear the words of someone greater the Jonah ever was, and that’s Jesus. In what ways have you maybe heard the sound of his voice but you didn’t believe it? If you’re looking for a sign from God that you need to repent, that is your sign. Listen to it and call urgently on God. How different would your life be if you began to pray with urgency, like your lives depended on it, like your very soul depended on it. Think about what you need to lift up to God with urgency and then do it.
Repentance in the Christian life
With the stories of The Queen of the South and the Ninevites in mind, we see that there are 2 ways that Repentance plays a part in the life of people following Jesus.
The first is when we finally recognize that we are active contributors to the wickedness of our generation, and so we urgently call on God to save us.
Sure there is much we need to repent of for doing and much we need to repent of for not doing. But what must come first is that we repent of our pride and see clearly that Jesus is the Wise king. Be like the Queen of the South; recognize the blessings, and wisdom, and love that God gives to those that trust Him. All the rest will flow from that. Be like the Ninevites; believe God and repent wholeheartedly. Realize that you are in desperate need of God’s mercy. Call urgently on Him. There is no big magic earthquake sign so stop waiting for it. There is just the Son of Man saying “repent.” Turn toward me.” Will our generation hear it?
The second way that repentance plays a role in the life of a Christ follower is in practicing repentance as a spiritual discipline. Once we have shed the clothes of pride we must realize that it has a tendency to regrow, requiring us to shed it again, quite often, just like a snake sheds its skin over and over again in order to grow. We need to be quick to apologize to people when we do what is wrong and when we neglect to do what is right. When we are too prideful to admit our wrongs, we are living as if we don’t believe the Gospel. When we are too ashamed, apathetic, or foolish to admit that we neglected to do right, we are not living as mature disciples. Resistance to repentance has a way of creeping back up inside of us, like mildew in a shower you just cleaned. Take time to recognize that and continually turn toward Jesus by repenting to the people you hurt.
Take concrete steps to bear fruit in repentance here and now. The benefits of Repentance, those “fruits” that you “bear”, are not just abstract or just emotional sensations, but can be very concrete. Repentance is not something you believe, it’s something you do – It’s an action word. The tangible benefits of repentance can have a very big impact on how you experience your whole life. I’m talking mended relationships, healthier life patterns, and lower stress levels. Whether that means repenting for having a chaotic family life and setting up healthier structures; or repenting of closing yourself off to friends when you should really be reaching out; or repenting of gossiping or watching porn or being quick tempered and instead getting the counseling that you really need. Repentance is not just feeling bad about something but intentionally working to live a different way.
As with any discipline, it requires practice. So don’t forget to repent for the small things as well. Even the biggest buildings are made of small parts
The spiritual discipline of repenting is one of the most transforming things we can do as Christians. The Holy Spirit can use it to build a humble spirit within us and at the same time use it to change other people’s hearts. It is a very practical way to spread the Gospel. And it’s not something that you need to go across the world to do, it could just be a short talk across the table or a call across town. The important thing is that we are both intentional and genuine. God has put a person on your mind that you could do better by. That’s your sign to repent. Listen to it. Repentance is a good thing, a Gift from a God that loves you so very much, it’s not a punishment. God wants you to repent so you can live life to the fullest through Him.
[A practical framework for beginning repentance]
Of course, sometime, we know we need to repent of something and we want to, but we just don’t know how to go about getting that conversation started. So I’ll tell you a little story. Back when I was a Mixed Martial Arts coach we didn’t only teach our students the most efficient ways to break people but we also taught them more positive life lessons as well. One lesson we taught often, I used to teach my younger students a simple framework for apologizing well so they’d have a trustworthy place to start the process from. It goes like this…Go to the person, or maybe even write it down, begin with these five things 1) Say “I’m sorry”, 2) say their name, 3) say what you are sorry for, 4) say what it did to them, 5) say that you’ll do differently in the future as best you can. Then we would practice stepping on each other’s foot and saying “I’m sorry, Lucy, for stepping on your foot, that must have hurt, I’ll try to watch out next time. “ It works for things as simple as that or as complex as “I’m sorry, Son, for leaving your mom all those years ago. That must have made you feel really alone. I want to take better care of you”. The framework is just the start. Of course the conversation needs to go on from there and might last a long time. But if scripture tells us that Faith without works is dead, then repentance without the work of saying you’re honestly sorry to the people you’ve hurt and without genuinely attempting to work toward healing is not a repentance that is worth much. Who is it in your life that you still need to repent to and say that you’re sorry for something? Start that conversation today. See where God takes it.
Barriers to repentance
There are of course barriers that we face when it comes to repentance. Some of you might have some in mind right now.
First it is that situations are often more complex than one person simply needing to apologize. Sure you hurt that person but they hurt you. So why should you be the one to apologize. They probably won’t even accept it if I tried to. I’ll apologize when they are ready to apologize as well. This is the rebuilding of pride in us; insisting on our own vindication. If that’s what’s going on in your life I would encourage you to place that weight down. Repentance is not only, or even mainly, for that other person. It is the first step in your own healing. Humility is one of the best medicines. Who was saved when Nineveh repented? Nineveh was. Resentment feels like a shield, protecting us, but it is knife that we drive into our own hearts.
Get help unraveling that knot if you need to. I know that a lot of us are going through difficult times right now because as a pastor I pray over the list of prayer requests each week. Part of God’s answer to those prayers might be getting someone to walk along side you through the situation. Whether that’s a small group leader, a house group leader, a ministry team leader, a staff member, a trusted friend with a mature faith, or a Christian counselor, they can help you through both your pain and your pride. It might take a quick call or it might take years of intentional work. But seek them out now. Don’t wait for some magical sign that you need to. This is your sign.
Or maybe you are the victim of hurt in the past and that might make you resistant to repentance in general. That’s what it did to Jonah. Jonah held on to his anger at the Ninevites and at first he resisted God’s call, but there are other things that God has given us to hold on to. Better things. Things like Faith in His wisdom and timing even though it might cause us deep grief at times, Hope for the coming kingdom where pain will be a thing of the past, and love for those around us. These are not born from anger but from recognizing that we can’t do this by ourselves and urgently calling on God to help us. Don’t let the pain caused to you by others cause you to miss out on the comfort of God’s healing grace.
When we miss out on repentance so much else gets stopped up. Joy, peace, wisdom, these all come when the flood gates of pride are broken down by repentance. Do want to encounter God? – first repent, both to God and those whom you’ve hurt. Do you want your own pain to heal? – first repent. Do you want more fruitful prayer, more joyful tithing, more genuine relationships? – first repent. It allows God to redefine life for you in such a way that you’ll begin to see everything more clearly as He does.
Today’s passage is quite a dense passage and it might seem kind of heavy. But it’s a good passage and I actually see a lot of Hope in it. Even the Ninevites, as wretched as they were, repented and God gave them new life. Even the Queen of the South, who started out so far from God, ended up praising his name. And in the weeks to come we may even see that many in Jesus’ crowd will repent as well. The question is, will you? There is always a door open. God never abandons genuine repentance. Make it a spiritual discipline that you practice regularly and Jesus will continually redefine how you see life. There is more celebration in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need to repent. Do you believe that? Let’s remember that as we spread this Good News and see people repent. Repent and see clearly the power of Christ.
Copyright: Josh Pollard
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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