Eugene Peterson, in his book, Run with the Horses, shared a humorous story that vividly illustrates the meaning of repentance.
A few years ago I was in my backyard with my lawnmower tipped on its side. I was trying to get the blade off so I could sharpen it. I had my biggest wrench attached to the nut but couldn’t budge it. I got a four-foot length of pipe and slipped it over the wrench handle to give me leverage, and I leaned on that—still unsuccessfully.
Next, I took a large rock and banged on the pipe. By this time I was beginning to get emotionally involved with my lawnmower. Then my neighbor walked over and said that he had a lawnmower like mine once and that, if he remembered correctly, the threads on the bolt went the other way. I reversed my exertions and, sure enough, the nut turned easily.
I was glad to find out I was wrong. I was saved from frustration and failure. I would never have gotten the job done, no matter how hard I tried, doing it my way.
Peterson then offered this insight.
To be told we are wrong is sometimes an embarrassment, even a humiliation. We want to run and hide our heads in shame. But there are times when finding out we are wrong is sudden and immediate relief, and we can lift up our heads in hope. No longer do we have to keep doggedly trying to do something that isn’t working.
In today’s Bible reading In Luke 13, Jesus says twice, “I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
The word repent literally means “to perceive afterward.” It implies a change of mind. Of heart. Of will. Of purpose. Dr. A. T. Robertson writes the command to repents means to, “Change your mind and your life.”
The challenge is that too often we feel that others’ sins are worse than our own. This was apparently the case in the reports Jesus received in Luke 13 about the Galileans slaughtered by the Roman governor Pilate.
The Jews believed that suffering was the result of sin. If a terrible tragedy befell someone, it must have occurred because of Jehovah’s judgment. Jesus asked the question, “Do you think these Galileans (the ones killed by Pilate) were worse sinners than all other Galileans?”
“No,” Jesus said. “You too must repent.”
To further illustrate his point Jesus referenced the death of 18 people when the tower of Siloam fell on them. We are not familiar with this obscure historical reference, but obviously, his hearers were. Again Jesus asked, were these 18 “worse sinners” than others?
Once more, Jesus said, “No. Unless you repent you will perish.”
Jesus’ point to them and to us is that death comes to all people. God is not inflicting judgment on those we consider “worse sinners” in this life. Righteous people suffer too. Job is a case in point. And while Job’s three friends thought the loss of his wealth, the tragic death of his children, and his suffering was the result of his sin, they were mistaken.
The fact that some people in this life suffer and others do not, is not necessarily an indication of God’s favor or His punishment. But here’s what is important for all people to understand.
God desires that we repent of our sins. In juxtaposition to those who physically perished in these two accounts is something far worse. Perishing spiritually. Dying and not being in a right relationship with God.
True repentance requires that we recognize our sins. Feel remorse that we’ve sinned. Resolve to change. Reform our lives. And when possible make restitution for our sins when they involve other people.
Like Peterson, we may be doggedly going in the wrong direction. Maybe it’s time to stop. Listen to the Lord. Turn. And reverse your course in life.
Jesus offered two choices.
Repent or perish.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman