We make snap judgments. And in that brief 2 second assessment, we divide people into 1 of 2 categories in relation to ourselves: either I feel superior to you or I feel inferior. We live in a world where the strong survive and the the weak are trampled over. So we have to fight for ourselves constantly. Everyone is a competitor. If your arena is academics and you are the valedictorian of your high school, you feel superior. Your pride is sailing high. Then, you go to college, a place like Caltech or for me Cal, and you realize, I am just an average student. The bell curve where it peaks and where the majority of the people are at, that’s me.
It’s just like Herod. When he is before his Jewish people in Judea, he feels superior. I’m the king. These are all my subjects. They adore me, they worship me, and if they don’t, I can bring out the hammer. But as soon as the emperor of Rome visits, he suddenly feels inferior. He’s so insecure that even a rumor about a baby is a cause of great distress.
Why are we so fickle? Feeling proud and then feeling insecure, back and forth and sometimes, feeling both at the same time. Why are we like this? Because like Herod, we realize that our power is illegitimate power. When we look inside, we don’t see power.
Therefore, we seek sources outside of ourselves to derive a sense of power. We feel powerful because we were born into a certain family at a higher than most socio-economic level. We feel power because of the name of the school that we graduated from, as if the power of that university has been conferred to us. Or we feel power because of our inflated job title or the size of our bank account or the respect that we receive from others.
But if we’re honest, we all know that this is all a sham. Our so-called power is an illusion. Why? We think our upbringing, or our education, or our job makes us powerful, but who are we kidding? You can be a powerful executive on paper, but do we have any real power? We don’t have power over our health. Some people eat terribly and smoke a pack a day but have perfect lab results and others run several miles a day and eat carrot sticks and their cholesterol and blood pressure are off the charts. We don’t have power over our emotions. One day, we are up and nothing fazes us and the next day, we’re down in the dumps. We don’t have power to avert tragedy. You can plan and protect and safeguard all you want and get helmets and knee pads for your kids and air bags for your cars and guard dogs and security systems for your homes to make you feel invincible, but we have no control over tomorrow. One earthquake and we’re dust.
Things are great and then one day, you get a call from your doctor and you receive some bad news. There is a growth and it could be cancerous. Or you get called into your boss’ office and you are let go. Or you get a call from a loved one, I got some bad news, mom is not doing well. We don’t have power to guarantee our happiness. We don’t have power to protect our kids. We don’t have power over our mind, or even our mental sanity? We don’t have power over death.
We are utterly powerless when it comes to almost everything that means anything at all. That’s why Herod is a perfect description for the modern man. You and I are a mixed bag of fickle emotions and pendulum swings between pride and insecurity. This is the result when you put self at the center.
Going back to our original question, what is repentance? Repentance is a turning away from sin, turning away from self, and a turning in faith toward Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith – that’s how one repents unto salvation.
If you ask anyone who has attended church for some time the question, have you ever repented? Most would answer, yes, of course. I know I’m a sinner. I know Christ died for me. But how do you know for sure if repentance is something personal, something that you’ve experienced firsthand?
Chapter 3 of Matthew gives us a way to check ourselves to see if we ever actually repented. But before we get into true repentance, let’s spend some time exploring some examples of false repentance. People who think they’ve repented, but who haven’t really.
2) What are some examples of false repentance?
Or put another way, what are some false things that we place our confidence in so that we can justify ourselves before God?
9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.
One example of false repentance is saying, I am a descendant of Abraham. In our context, it would be like saying, I go to church. Or my parents went to church and I grew up in the church. Or I made a sincere decision at a retreat or I prayed the sinner’s prayer when I was in junior high. It was sincere. I cried and everything. And everyone gave me a hug and my pastor even baptized me.
These are all examples of possible repentance, but the evidence is inconclusive. These very well may be part of genuine repentance, but it’s insufficient information. In many cases, these things give the appearance of repentance, but they’re counterfeit. It’s like buying a polo shirt from the back of someone’s car only to find out when you get home that the logo of the horse has 5 legs. The shirt is close, it looks real, it feels real, but it’s counterfeit. Many people say they repented, but it’s counterfeit repentance.
The religious leaders in Jesus’ day knew nothing about repentance. False repentance is a recurring theme in the gospel of Matthew. Why? Because the gospel writer Matthew’s heart and burden, his aim in writing this gospel is to reach his own countrymen for Christ. He wants to show the Jewish people the emptiness of religion and encourage them to experience genuine repentance, which again involves turning from sin and turning in faith to Christ. And we all know that the vast majority of Jews rejected Christ and Jesus reserved some of his harshest rebukes for the Jewish religious leaders and many of these harsh exchanges are recorded by Matthew. So if you are well churched, listen up. God wants all of us to re-examine whether or not we have truly repented.