Acts 11:18 When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life. (NKJV)
When the Lord Jesus Christ first began His earthly ministry, He did not speak immediately of His great love for humanity or His mercy and compassion for all people. The first words from His lips in ministry were, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
For thirty years He lived in obscurity with His brothers, sisters, father, and mother. He went through a Jewish bar mitzvahs as all other 13 year old boys of His day. He went to school. He worked in His earthly fathers carpentry shop. He became a carpenter Himself until His ministry and subsequent death upon the cross. He witnessed pain, sorrow, suffering, and affliction of people in His family and other families. He perhaps was a teenager or young adult when His earthly father Joseph died.
The prophet Isaiah referred to the Lord Jesus Christ as a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. Yet, despite all of this Christ did not venture out into His earthly ministry with a giant umbrella of grace. He did not say to all, “come under here to escape the evils of this life and the coming wrath or judgment of God.”
The Jews were looking for the Messiah to come and to do just that, to destroy the Roman oppression and restore the Jews to power over all the people upon the earth. No one knew Him (Jesus). He was just another man to all the people where He lived. Who He was became apparent, to some, when He spoke.
Christ is God. Well, why wouldn't God's first words to humanity (that He created, especially the Jews His chosen people) be I love you and come enjoy eternal happiness with me? But no, rather out of His mouth flows this word REPENT, as if He did shout the word from the highest mountain and directed it to every single individual within earshot of His voice. Many probably asked themselves who is this man telling me that I need to repent. Repent for what? What does He mean by repent? What have we done so evil that requires our repentance? We are the ones being oppressed by the evil Roman empire.
Well, that response for many of the Jews was not unreasonable. Despite the extreme outward devotion to Yahweh, many of the religious Jewish leaders (especially those of the Sanhedrin) did not truly understand what was written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning the Lord Jesus Christ.
All of this being said then, What was Christ expecting when He said REPENT and what is repentance to life all about? Why was it so apparently important to the Lord Jesus Christ that He mentioned it first in His first sermon? What role does man play in repentance? Some argue that man has no role in his repentance while others say that it is the responsibility of man to repent. I don't like to debate or argue about spiritual things, I prefer to just let the words of the Lord Jesus Christ speak. I will not place my finite mind in the way as an obstacle to the truth.
Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, crying out, Repent (change your mind for the better, heartily amend your ways, with abhorrence of your past sins), for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Quick Amplified Bible)
I think when we analyze this verse (as written in the Amplified Bible) we see how vitally important and crucial repentance is in the heart of a man or woman. Christ began with the imploring of souls to change and to think entirely different about their past life of sin. This type of heart is extremely crucial in a man or woman before the glorious miracle of the new birth is ever possible.
Many times during His earthly ministry, Christ heart would be about to burst within Him as He witnessed how man was so in love with His sin and full of hypocrisy and greed for temporal things. He witnessed religious Jews so concerned about the keeping of the Sabbath Law that they neglected mercy. It made the Lord Jesus angry when He asked some of those religious leaders if it were proper for Him to heal a man on the Sabbath and none of them responded. They were so concerned about keeping up appearances that they neglected the physically and spiritually poor people all around them. For a man, woman, or child to be fed or healed from some affliction was of far greater importance to the Lord than keeping the letter of the Law. He saw that man was helpless without His grace. He so wanted all men to turn to Him for forgiveness and to receive a new life. The Lord's heart ached and broke for all humanity because He knew the hearts of all men.
Jeremiah 17:9-10 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings. (NKJV)
John 2:24-25 But Jesus [for His part] did not trust Himself to them, because He knew all [men]; And He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man [needed no evidence from anyone about men], for He Himself knew what was in human nature. [He could read men's hearts.] (Quick Amplified Bible)
1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (NKJV)
Our heart condition is the absolute key to answering the question of What is repentance to life? The story of Cornelius is the perfect example of how God knows and sees every human heart upon the earth and knows exactly the state or condition of each. The Bible says that Cornelius was a devout man and one who feared God with all his household.
Here was a man responding to the light that God had given him and he teaches his entire household to fear God. Now Cornelius had not met God or knew who he was or anything about Him, but he knew God existed and purposed in his heart to obey the revelation of light that was in him. A broken and contrite heart is what God sees and does not pay much attention to the outward observances.
Cornelius gave alms generously to the people and prayed to God always. The Bible does not tell us exactly how long Cornelius had been responding to the light or the revelation of God in his heart, but it does imply (due to his status as a Centurion commander over approximately 100 men, this signifying that he had to be an older man because young men would not be given such a high rank with this type of authority) that he was a worshiper of God for quite a long time.
Because of the condition of Cornelius's heart (prepared to hear the gospel) an angel appeared to him and instructed him to send men to find Simon Peter and that he would tell him what he needed to do to be saved. This also shows us that as the scriptures state that angels are ministering spirits ministering to the heirs of salvation, but that they themselves are not commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ to preach the gospel. This is reserved for the redeemed human souls here on earth. These angels are a part of our protection that Christ provides as He does His work of grace in us. However, they are not the instruments by which God saves a lost soul.
Well, Peter was found and responded to the Lord's call. Peter went and preached Jesus to Cornelius and all of his household. Cornelius and everyone there were already eager to hear his words. Immediately when they heard and believed the Holy Ghost fell (to embrace with affection) upon them and they began to speak with tongues and to magnify (to make or declare great, to praise, glorify, honor, and to shew great) God.
Well, there it is a Biblical picture of repentance to life. Cornelius was a good man and a man who feared God and gave generously to the needy. But not until he heard and believed the gospel did he have life. Part of God's gift of salvation includes repentance. We lost human beings must thirst for the truth. God the Father set the process of our redemption in motion, God the Son (the Lord Jesus Christ) purchased our redemption with His precious blood and God the Holy Spirit executes our redemption with regeneration and the miracle above all miracles the new birth. This is what happened to Cornelius and his entire household. The Lord Jesus Christ stated it with extreme passion and emotion when He spoke these words:
John 7:37-39 Now on the final and most important day of the Feast, Jesus stood, and He cried in a loud voice, If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink! He who believes in Me [who cleaves to and trusts in and relies on Me] as the Scripture has said, From his innermost being shall flow [continuously] springs and rivers of living water. But He was speaking here of the Spirit, Whom those who believed (trusted, had faith) in Him were afterward to receive. For the [Holy] Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (raised to honor). (Quick Amplified Bible)
Sincerely in Christ,
Clifford D. Tate, Sr.
Author, Silent Assassins of the Soul (not yet published; coming soon)
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