July 20, 2015

July 19, 2015 - Mark 6:7-13

Theme: Repentance Makes the Difference
1) To Show the Uniqueness of You Faith
2) To Show the Extent of Your Savior’s Love

Mark 6:7-13 He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs and gave them authority over unclean spirits. 8 He instructed them to take nothing for the road except a walking stick: no bread, no traveling bag, no money in their belts. 9 They were to wear sandals, but not put on an extra shirt. 10 Then He said to them, "Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that place. 11 If any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, when you leave there, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them." 12 So they went out and preached that people should repent. 13 And they were driving out many demons, anointing many sick people with olive oil, and healing them.

What are the pillars of Christianity? If you had to summarize the basis of your faith into one or a few major points, what would they be? Every religion has its own defining pillars. One prominent one, Islam, actually calls their core beliefs the five pillars. Buddhism has the four noble truths. Hinduism has the caste system. Taoism has the duality of the yin and yang. Judaism has the Ten Commandments, as we well know, which Christians share with a Christ-centered understanding.  

When it comes to our faith in Christ, what is the main substance? What is the one defining quality of Christianity that sets it apart from all others? Our text shows us the answer, it’s repentance. Repentance is uniquely Christian concept, that is, true repentance. We’re talking about the type of repentance in which I fully understand and admit that I am spiritually helpless and sinful before God and I deserve nothing. Other religions have mere shadows of this. They all express sorrow for wrongdoing in various ways, but never the type of Godly sorrow for sin that forces me to admit that I cannot earn His favor on my own. Christian repentance is what Paul expressed in Romans 7: For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body (Romans 7:18,24)?

No other religion has this kind of teaching. Repentance is something that separates Christianity from everything else. And all other religions are more than happy to admit it. Think about it. If you were going to create a religious belief, how would you design it to attract followers? What kind of doctrines would sound the best to people, even to yourself? No one could honestly say that repentance sounds like an attractive thing! Our sinful nature hates the idea of having to admit that we are wrong, corrupted by sin, and helpless on our own. And yet, that’s what we confess each time we repent. Just by purely human standards, none of us would think that repentance would be one of the pillars of a successful religion.

And that’s precisely what we see in the man-made religions of the world. There is no inkling of Godly repentance, of complete and total reliance upon God’s forgiveness because of our own helplessness. Every religion outside of true Christianity leads one to rely on him/herself for spiritual prosperity. This shouldn’t surprise us, and it shouldn’t surprise us either that so many people flock to these religions! Because repentance is not a popular idea.

I think we often get things turned around though. We often get discouraged when we see so many different religions out there. Instead of trusting in God’s Word, we often allow mere statistics to discourage our faith. There’s something inside of us that inherently tells us that whatever the majority does is what’s right, especially when it comes to what the majority has to say about God.
But what would God’s Church be like today if Christians always did what the majority wanted? In many ways, we’re getting a glimpse of that in our own country, as so many, including Christians, are bending their faith to the persuasion of others. And at the forefront of it all is repentance. Track any deviance from God’s Word and it’s bound to involve repentance. That’s the first thing that people want to do away with. Like Paul encountered with the Greeks, our culture is the one that wants “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die (1 Corinthians 15:32).” If such is our philosophy, as it is for many in America, what’s the point of repenting? It’s the first thing out the door, and its absence gives us a right to condone anything.

Hand in hand with turning away from repentance are complaints of judgment. It’s almost a refrain that beats in our heads day after day because we hear it so much. Repent! Don’t judge! Repent! Don’t judge! Repent! Don’t judge! You can’t find a place in our culture where repentance is talked about in the public forum without someone who is quick to say, “Don’t judge,” or “you don’t have the right to judge.” It’s so common that even we Christians fall into thinking that Jesus doesn’t want us to judge others.

I understand that there’s a negative connotation when it comes to judgement. People automatically think of a hypocrite telling someone what to do or not do; the kind of story where Jesus told the people to consider the plank in their own eye before pointing out the speck in their brother’s eye. That’s not the kind of judging we want to be doing. True Christians do not talk big to others while ignoring their own problems. The type of judging that God approves is speaking about repentance, which is why the two seem to always be mentioned together. When you look at the words of our text, what is it that Jesus commands His follower to do but to judge sin? Does it get any clearer than verse 12? So they went out and preached that people should repent.

Repentance is foundational to the Christian faith! But how can you tell someone that they need to repent if you don’t bring a reason why? And when you give a reason, that’s a judgement! It’s true that some judgements are unjustified. Some are made for petty reasons. Some are born from sin and not the truth. Some are given in a selfish and unloving way. Those kinds of judgements will happen among sinful people living in a sinful world. But when a judgement of sin has the full backing and authority of God’s Word and demands repentance, God expects us to listen and He expects to speak.

It’d be one thing if God taught repentance in His Word but never gave humans the command or right to speak about it. If that was the case, all judgements we bring would be wrong. But here in our text Jesus not only gives His disciples the right to judge sin, He commands them to. He tells them that it is something He expects of them and our qualification to speak doesn’t depend on how people receive the message. When we are rejected for declaring a need for repentance, Jesus says to “dust of your sandals” and get back to work. It’s not easy. It flies in the face of what people expect from a religion, but it’s what our Savior wants us to do.

Take our Scripture reading as an example. Who would Amos have been following if he stopped preaching judgement and repentance? Is that what God wanted him to do, or the people who had hardened their hearts against the message? Furthermore, where would our faith be today if Christians before us had stopped preaching repentance? What would we have if they caved to the pressures of popular opinion? We’d have nothing! That’s what we need to realize in our lives. When we preach what people just want to hear; Christianity becomes a religion like all the rest. When we ignore the hard sayings of God’s Word, the stuff that grates against our sinful natures, we lose the very quality that makes our faith the only way to salvation.

In each stage of history, there has always been a large contingent of people who don’t want to listen to God’s call for repentance. Our current culture is no different in that respect. Even Jesus had to clarify His mission by saying: “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance (Matthew 9:13).”

No I ask you, who do you want to follow? What is the defining quality of your faith that sets it apart from all others? And, are you willing to stand up for it, and defend it, no matter the cost? Who will you follow?

When you break it down, all beliefs ultimately fall into one of three categories.
1) Those who believe in a religion outside Christianity; a false religion based on a false god. These beliefs are usually pretty easy to notice and the differences between the true God and false gods and well documented.

2) Those who believe in Christianity but want to stay connected to the world. These are the ones who know the true God is and how He reveals Himself in the Bible but they worry about looking bad in the eyes of the world. They want to sit on the fence and play both sides when it suits their interests. The worst form of this belief is outward hypocrisy, but it could also be simple weakness of faith or ignorance of the truth. It is these individuals which Jesus described in the parable of the sower and seed as the ones who spring up quickly but whiter away because they lack proper nutrition in the truth of God’s Word. In place of trust in Jesus alone, trust for this group becomes the individual’s ability to walk the line between what the world wants and what God wants. Obviously, this is a perilous path because God contrasts the world in so many ways. Trying to please both leads to despondency and despair.

3) The third belief comprises those who stand on the foundation of God’s Word alone. They are willing and able to defend their faith and suffer consequences for it. They are not perfect, and they sometimes slip into #2, but they are not as easily swayed by the opinions of the world.

Which group fits your life and beliefs the best? The fact that you’re present at church is a good sign but it doesn’t guarantee the right belief. In reality, it should be much simpler. Really, there should only be two groups: those who believe in Christ and those who believe in something else. And ultimately, these are really the only two groups. But among Christians, there’s a wide range between #2 and #3, especially in our modern version of Christianity. Christians are always slipping in and out of indifference and unwillingness to defend the truth. No matter who you are, how well you know your Bible, how often you attend church, or how nice you are to others, we all have moments when stumble in our faith.    

But the difference between 2 and 3 is the very thing we’ve been talking about – repentance. Repentance is the first step in restoring a broken relationship with God. Repentance is the foot in the sand that stops walking the path to hell and turns to your home in heaven. Repentance reveals the true extent of Your Savior’s love. Repentance looks in to the deep recesses of your heart and sees the decay and rottenness there. It’s the least attractive of all religious practices yet the very one that is vital to salvation. Because when you see the severity of your sin through true, Godly repentance, you see with it the love of your Savior. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and send His Son to be the satisfactory payment for the sins of the world (1 John 4:10). Without repentance, you don’t see that love and you don’t have it.

We get hung up because we usually only think about the beginning of repentance; the point where I must confess my sins, and we leave it there. That’s why people resist repentance. This impulse is so strong that people even rejected Jesus because of it. Why did they reject the Son of God of all people! Was it because He was a sinner? No. Was it because Jesus wasn’t a charismatic speaker?  Hardly! Was it because Jesus didn’t do enough miracles? Now we’re just making excuses. It was solely because of the Words which came out of His mouth. His opponents didn’t like His actions either, but it all centered on His teaching because His actions flowed from His teaching, just like they do for you today. And the very purpose of Jesus’ teaching was repentance.

People were tripped up by that because they only focused on the beginning of repentance. They only saw their sins and their disobedience. But true repentance always sees Christ’s love as the backdrop. Let me remind you what Peter said just days after Christ left this earth as he spoke to some of the very ones who crucified his Lord: “Therefore repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out, that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 20 and that He may send Jesus, who has been appointed for you as the Messiah (Acts 3:19-20).”

Repentance makes the difference, both when it comes to your faith as it’s compared to others and your sins when compared to the love of your Savior. It makes the difference because it always keeps the work of Jesus in mind. To close, I want to give you an example from Vacation Bible School this past week.

As a pastor, you want to be able to highlight something that makes your VBS different than others. Think of it as a selling point. With all the many Vacation Bible Schools out there, why would anyone choose to attend ours? Sometimes it’s hard to answer. Many churches are able to pour in tons of resources and money to their VBS program to set it apart from others. We don’t have the means to keep up with that. Our attractions are small and insignificant compared to other churches. But that’s okay, because in those cases VBS often becomes a theme park rather than a place to learn about God.

Talking about sin and repentance through Jesus is the draw for us. That’s not to say others churches don’t talk about this, but we live by it. It is our foundation. If there’s one thing I want kids to remember from our VBS it’s that they have a Savior from sin. You don’t need to have all the resources and money in the world to make that your mission and focus. But it also means you won’t always be the most popular either. Maybe it means you’re doors won’t be bursting at the seams every Sunday or every VBS day. But what would you rather have?

And even in VBS, repentance will make a difference. Just in passing this week I was listening to a little girl of kindergarten age tell her mom what she learned that day. She described how Jesus had to die on a cross for us; how He had to wear a crown of thorns that made Him bleed and how nails were put through His hands and feet, and eventually how His body was wrapped in cloths and placed in a tomb – all because of our sins. Her mom looked back with a grimace, no doubt wondering why such a topic was being discussed at a children’s Bible camp of all places. But the reaction didn’t faze the little girl, she kept right on proudly telling what she learned that day. And at the very end she said, “Oh, and mommy, He came out of the grave too.”

What’s that story mean without repentance? How will other little children and even adults learn if we’re afraid of saying anything? The world wants to call you out as judgmental. Who cares what they say! I have a Savior who bled and died for my sins. And I fully realize and appreciate that when I repent. Yes, I am a sinner and I need to repent! You are a sinner and you need to repent! That’s God’s judgement not mine. Who cares what the reaction is. Dust off your sandals, and keep going. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.      

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