Preached by Dr. Gene Scott on December 12, 1976
“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent:
for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” - Matthew 4:17
THE FIRST SERMON JESUS PREACHED is in Matthew 4:17. God waited for centuries, and in the fullness of time, He sent forth His Son. The book of Hebrews says that God spake in times past through diverse methods: prophets, shadows, types, examples, and parables. But in these last days, He hath spoken unto us by His Son, an event that caused the angels to sing on the night of His birth. So the first sermon that Jesus preached ought to be important: “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say . . .” What was the first word? Repent.
The whole church world has divided over the meaning of this word. The Catholic theologians took one path; while the reformers - Luther, Calvin, Knox, and others - and the reformation churches that grew out of Protestant theology, took another path. When Jerome translated the New Testament Greek into Latin and produced the Vulgate, he chose a word that is the cognate of our word penitent. It means sorrow and penitence; it puts the emphasis on an emotive response. The reformers quite rightly went behind the Latin translation to the New Testament Greek; there the original word does not place emphasis on emotions or sorrow. The literal translation of that Greek word means “to turn” and “to come to your senses.” All throughout the New Testament, the word translated repentance is that same Greek word.
In the parable of the prodigal son, there is a key phrase with a similar meaning. After the younger son had “wasted his inheritance in riotous living,” the Scripture says, “he came to himself.” (Luke 15:13-17) It is as though he came to his senses, and remembered that the servants in his father’s house were treated better than he was being treated at that moment; for he had lost it all and wished he could eat the food he was giving to the pigs. He came to himself and turned back toward the father’s house.
Another phrase, “to be born again,” expresses the same concept: it means “to change your mind.” It is not something experienced like a spiritual bomb dropping out of Heaven and sending tingles up and down your spine. I do not question the reality of any spiritual experiences we have had, but let’s not change the Word of God to explain the experiences.
Jesus was amazed that Nicodemus, a teacher in Israel, did not know what the expression “to be born again” meant, even though it was a catchword phrase of the day. In that day, every Jewish person knew that when you proselytized a Roman and caused him to change his mind about the divine status of Caesar and the gods of the Roman Empire, that Roman was said to be “born again.” He had changed his mind about himself and his gods, to an acceptance and a Jewish devotion of the one God Yahweh (or Jehovah). We use the same phrase today when we speak of people who come to Christ. Here was a clever, prideful scholar coming to Jesus at night, engaging in rhetoric and making a simple thing complicated. Jesus said, “You are a teacher in Israel and you don’t know this?” (John 3:1-10)
There was nothing mystical about this. God moved out of the eternal world into a tent of human flesh called Jesus of Nazareth and walked ordinary streets. He did not make altar calls with an organ playing to set an emotional tone, He encountered men where they were: walking ordinary streets. That is what the Incarnation means. It tells me that God decided to take the One who could tell us all that we need to know about God, turn Him around from facing God, and move Him into a tent of human flesh. Though no man has seen God, Christ has declared Him. (John 1:18) The word for declared in the Greek is related to our English word exegesis. Jesus is the exegesis of God. That literally means in the Greek that God led Him forth from behind a curtain and put Him on display.
There are those who would make spirituality something mysterious, who would take the things of God and make them more complicated than they are. Repentance is an act of the will. It involves turning from the wrong way and turning to the new way. The first message Jesus came preaching was: “Turn from the way you are going.” That does not necessarily mean you must fall on your knees and cry out until people can hear you four blocks away. It simply means that you have to turn from whatever way you are going.
Jesus came preaching Himself, because “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He said, “Come after me,” and then there is a phrase that Jesus uses over and over to those who turn: “Follow me.” As Isaiah, the prophet of the suffering servant said, we are like dumb sheep: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6) Now, in our minds we like to build a big wall around ourselves, and we say that this verse applies to “those sinners” out there in darkness. No, it applies to anybody going his own way and trying to get God to approve it. Jesus came preaching, “Repent!” Come to your senses. You have been blinded. You have been lost. You are a leper. You are sick. You are going your way, and you think it is right. Turn from it. To what? “Follow me.”
Jesus said to Philip, “Follow me.” (John 1:43) Philip was a nobody. Jesus saw his qualities, but Philip was always on the edge of the crowd. Jesus had to go and find him. He wasn’t a noisy one; he wasn’t a conspicuous one. If Jesus had not come to Philip, Philip never would have pushed through the crowd to come to Jesus on his own.
Jesus came to another man and said, “Follow me,” and this man said, “Suffer me first to go and bury my father.” (Matthew 8:21-22) George Adam Smith, the great commentator, said that this passage came alive to him when he was visiting a Middle Eastern land and heard a man use the exact same phrase. He had asked the man to accompany him as a guide, but the man refused and said, “Suffer me first to bury my father.” Yet, the man’s father was sitting right there with him. It did not mean that his father was dead; it was part of their culture that a man would stay with his father and take care of his father’s needs until his death.
Jesus was a repetitive preacher. People who want to hear an exciting new truth every time a preacher speaks would have become bored with Jesus. He said the same thing over and over again: “Follow me.” The rich young ruler comes to Jesus and asks, “What good thing must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus tells him to “keep the commandments,” and He quotes a part of the Ten Commandments. I’m sure that the young ruler was psychologically honest when he said, “I have kept these from my youth up.” He thought that he had actually kept those commandments. Jesus said, “One thing you lack. Go sell what you have, give to the poor and follow me.” (Matthew 19:16-21)
In response to Peter’s great confession, “Thou art the Messiah,” Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church.” Typical of the extremes of this spiritual life, you can always expect to bungle it after a victory. When Jesus talked of the cross, Peter said, “Be it far from you.” Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Get behind me, satan; you speak as a man.” And then He said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:22-24)
After the cross, after the Resurrection, after Jesus sent the special message to Peter, saying, “Go tell my disciples and Peter,” Peter still had his problems. Jesus was a little bit late, from Peter’s view. So he said, “I go a fishing.” Yet Jesus came to Peter. Again, you are going to find the same message in the midst of Jesus’ kind treatment of Peter. Jesus tells Peter, “All your life you have done what you wanted; you have girded yourself, and you have gone where you wanted to go. But now, another one is going to gird you and lead you to death.” Peter turned around and looked at John and said, “What about him?” Jesus said, “If he lives till I come again, what is that to thee? Follow me.” (John 21:22)
The meaning of the words is significant. The words translated “come after me” and “follow me” are different words in the Greek. The King James Version will sometimes use the phrase “follow me” to
translate both words; but they are two completely different words with different meanings in the original. In Matthew 4, when Jesus says, “Repent” and “Follow me,” here the words literally mean “to come after.” So, Jesus’ first message is to repent, or turn, and come after. Jesus always deals with you where you are: you are going the wrong direction, so the first message is to turn. Then, you follow Him by coming after. That at least is a good start: you are no longer going in the wrong direction; and, you are following the right Leader. But it is still possible that you are following afar off.
The other word for “follow me” is a word with two parts. The first part means, to make a word up, union-ness or joint-ness. Grammatically, it is a “particle of union.” The second part of this word speaks of “the way.” So, this word for “follow me” means to “join me in the way.” In essence, “Don’t just follow behind; get with it. Get in there with Me in the way that I am going.”
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to our own way. So “turn around, come after and join Me in My way.” That is Christianity in a nutshell. There is no other way to describe it. It’s not joining a church or putting your name on a card or displaying super gifts that make people look at you with awe. Christianity means “follower of Christ.” Christians were first called Christians at Antioch. Those looking on saw them following after an invisible Leader.
Let it settle in. You can grow up in the church, you can learn how to act like a Christian, you can memorize creeds and you can go through the rituals every Sunday, or any other day, and still be your own boss. But to be a Christian, you come to your senses; and you realize the problem that has brought all of us to a pigpen, as literal as the condition of the prodigal son. If you are not there yet, I can assure you that is where it will end.
You may be an ordinary guy on the edge of the crowd. You may be preoccupied with your own personal program, as the man who would bury his father. You may be outwardly so righteous, like the rich young ruler, that you can testify, “I have done it all from my youth up.” Or, you may be a well-meaning disciple who thinks he knows what God’s way is, as Peter did; or a failing miserable disciple, as Peter was; or a forgiven saint who suddenly has been given a new call by God. The message is the same: “Turn from yourself and join with Me in the way.” It is a very individual message: John’s join-ment was the Lord and John’s business; Peter’s join-ment was the Lord and Peter’s concern.
This is one of those tough messages where we hang up the mirror. Let all human judgments bow before this; that is why John can say, “Hereby know we that we are in him.” How? Seventeen words: “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” (1 John 2:5-6) How do you know? If you have joined with Him in the way, you are going to go His way. He is unbending on this point.
Amos asked the rhetorical question, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3) The answer is built in: “No, they can’t.” Peter learned this when Jesus rebuked him and said, “Get behind me, satan; you speak as a man . . . If any many will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and be joined with me in the way.” Literally, to be joined with Him means to be “grafted on to His way;” and His ways are not our ways. His ways buck up against the course of this world, and to go His way starts with your commitment. If we join with Him in the way, this life will take on the purpose He intended for it.
Jesus treated this life, from boyhood to Calvary, as though it had only one reason for existence, and that was to do the will of the Father that sent Him. He would let no pressure deter Him. When He was 12 years old, His parents laid a claim on Him. Even there, though He was submissive to His parents, He said, “Don’t you know I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:41-49) He took care of His mother in His dying hours on the cross, but when her claims interfered with God’s claim, He put God first. Jesus left Heaven’s throne to come and do what only He could do: to die on a lonely hill for mankind which was lost.
Every pressure was on Jesus. First, the devil tempted Him in the wilderness. The essence of the temptations of Jesus was to use His powers for a purpose other than God’s will for His life. He fought it out in His own soul in the wilderness when the devil tempted Him. If He got hungry, He could use His power to feed Himself apart from God’s will. Or He could dive off the pinnacle of the temple and let the angels catch Him, to show off His spirituality. That kind of power would get His audience in a stroke. Yet He came forth from the wilderness to do what God sent Him to do.
Then, His disciples tried to get Him to take a path other than the one His Father had sent Him walk. As soon as He got a band of loyal followers around Him, they thought they knew what was best for Him; until Peter had to be told, “Get behind Me, satan.”
Jesus agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane. He didn’t want to die and become the “sin-bearer” and separate Himself from God any more than you or I would. He said, “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39) Even on the cross He was tempted. Those who passed by mocked Him, saying, “If you be God, come down!” (Matthew 27:40-42)
Let it come home to you what joining with Him in the way means. When you repent, you turn from your way; you have no more bargaining ground. You are like lost sheep: the Son of man came to seek and to save you. He turned you from your way, and you no longer are your own. You literally become a “bondslave.” As Paul said, he bore in his body the marks, the stigmata, the brand of a bondslave of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Galatians 6:17) Christianity is very simple; it’s just tough. You have no rights. I have no rights. I’m not my own; I’m bought with a price. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) I deserve nothing but death.
Paul said it to those selfish Corinthians, whom he had described as being “behind in no gift” and “overfull of the Spirit.” They wanted God to be their servant. Paul said, speaking of Jesus Christ, “And that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again.” (2 Corinthians 5:15)
Do you know what kills a church of God? Too many “I wanters,” whose old nature is not dead yet, not laid at the foot of the cross. Jesus’ life culminated in a prayer that was the norm of His life from boyhood to Calvary: “Not My will, but Thine.” Quit putting God on trial. He already judged us, and we ought to be dead, but “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
Could we do less than turn from our silly way and join with Him? What is your problem today? Most of our anxieties grow out of wanting what we want and feeling deprived of what we want. This is a sober way: the old man dies and the new man is eternal. That’s why Peter could say to those saints scattered throughout Asia, “You are not like the rest of the world; you are children of a heavenly Father, you are a citizen of a heavenly land. Why don’t you act like it? Let the world see that you are a child of God and that nothing can bend you.” (1 Peter 1) They were being falsely accused and persecuted on every side. They were being accused of cannibalism because they took the Lord’s Supper. They were accused of gross immorality because they greeted each other with a holy kiss. They became the scapegoats of every evil in the empire.
Yet Peter tells them to eulogize God: sing His praises in the midst of your trials. You have to expect opposition; just keep heading on toward your home. We are pilgrims on a journey with a job to do down here, which is die to self and come alive to Him.
The man who needs to repent is concerned primarily with his own wants. But if you join with Jesus, His concern becomes your concern. Paul said to those same Corinthians that if you have the Spirit, you have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16) That means you think what He thinks. You become the way He is. What brought Him joy? Not the plaudits of the crowd; that grieved Him because He knew it was artificial. His joy is in the parable of the prodigal, where the father can’t even wait in the door but runs to kiss the boy who is coming home. Likewise, His joy is like that of the shepherd who finds a lost sheep he has been searching for. The Scripture says, “When he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, saying, Rejoice with me; I have found my sheep which was lost.” That is His joy. It is likened to the joy of a woman who has lost a coin; she scrambles all around the house, and finally she finds it, saying, “Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.” (Luke 15)
“The Son of man came to seek and to save that which is lost,” and “As the Father sent me, so send I you.” If you could be verbally motivated into action, you would shake yourself and say, “Now get concerned about lost sheep!” it isn’t going to happen that way. John says, “Apart from me you cannot do even one thing at all.” But if you “Abide in me, and I abide in you, as the branch abides in the vine, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” (John 15:4-5) It is an inevitable result of embedding yourself and joining with Him. How much time have you spent the last 24 hours thinking about you and your concerns? Tune in on Him.
What made Jesus sad? He cried over Jerusalem. He came to seek the lost. If you care more about whatever it is you like to do than getting involved in the life and death battles in the Kingdom, you are not joined with Him in His way. Preachers have the same natural desires as any other “crock of clay.” We know it when we become more concerned with being admired for delivering a good oration than with truly serving His will. The true preacher of God has a heart that desires to send forth the good news of the gospel, develop saints or redeem brands from the burning. And there have been too many hours, too many days, too many weeks, and even too many years of our lives when we, under the guise of serving God, have still been going our own way.
“Join with Me in My way.” Jesus had more to give up than any of us, but He died. That was His concern: He came to die. He didn’t camp in an atmosphere of spiritual blessing. Some people are forever seeking a spiritual show. To them, spirituality is finding where the next fire is burning, and they can hardly wait for the next one. The book of Hebrews says, “Be not like that profane person, Esau.” (Hebrews 12:16) The word profane translates a Greek word that means “not discerning the true nature of spiritual things.” Esau’s profanity was that he sold his birthright, his inheritance, in order to satisfy his taste buds. That mess of pottage overcame him. God’s book is saying in the spiritual frame: “do not fail to discern your true spiritual inheritance,” which is the glory of being joined with Him in His way. As sons of God, we will one day receive a reward in Heaven.
That is what Christianity is. It’s not complicated at all; it is just tough. Every one of us knows that if we study any subject long enough, we can find it interesting. If I were to make it the object of my attention, I could get interested in the relative speeds of the legs on a centipede as he travels around. It is a matter of attention. If your attention is in the wrong place, that is where your heart and your interest will be. But as you turn from your way and turn to Him, His concern will begin to grip you; and His concern took Him to Calvary.
Getting His job done didn’t keep Him in what we would call a “spiritual atmosphere” all the time. For so many years this has been my problem, though God has finally lassoed me. I just don’t like doing a lot of things that I have to do in ordinary life that I wouldn’t do if I just did what I wanted. I remember the joy of simple evangelism: fly in, deliver God’s Word and fly out. It would be somebody else’s problem to follow through.
I remember coming back from a committee meeting feeling tired and worn out. I checked in to a hotel and I had a talk with God. I said, “When are You going to graduate me to spiritual things? I like to pray, sing, or listen to people sing, and preach. I don’t like committee meetings, waiting in lines, day-to-day routines. I don’t like ordinary stuff.” I opened the gospel and I read where Jesus poured out living water to the woman at the well in Samaria. (John 4:7-42) I said, “That’s where I want to be, Lord, where the living water is flowing.” I turned to the account of Transfiguration Mountain and I said, “I don’t blame Peter for wanting to build tabernacles; I would like to camp there, too.” I went to where Lazarus was raised from the dead and I said, “That’s it, I want to stay where there is Resurrection power!”
I am not the only one like that. But the grace of God made me keep reading and ask the questions, “Where was Jesus before He went to Samaria? How long did it take Him to make the trip; under what method?” God didn’t rapture Him as He did Philip off the Gaza Strip. Jesus, the Son of glory, walked dusty streets through ordinary towns enduring the same kind of irritations that you and I have to go through.
Where was Jesus before He went up the Mount of Transfiguration? He had to climb that hill. I drove it one night in a Mustang convertible. It was bad enough to drive that zigzag road; they walked it. No wonder those poor ordinary guys went to sleep when they got there. Where was Jesus before He raised Lazarus from the dead? Jesus spent far more hours and days doing the tedious ordinary routine things that you and I have to do, carrying out the will of the Father, than He did on those peak moments of what we would call “spiritual blessing.”
I got on my knees and I said, “God, join me with You.” And I pray it today: “God would You help me to come to a point where I can approach the routine with the same sensitivity that I have when I step out here to preach?” Anybody can act like a preacher on a platform. It is on the freeway here in Los Angeles that the real test comes: crowd in on me and you will see how much farther I still have to grow yet to be joined with Him adequately.
“He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.” “In the beginning,” the Latin Bible says, “was the Sermo, the Sermo was God, the Sermo was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) He is the Sermon. He said, “Ye shall be witnesses.” The word witness translates a Greek word from which we get our word martyr. That is why we have to die to self and come alive to Him.
It is easy to put in a certain set of mental gears and suddenly become super-spiritual when we come into the church frame. Do you sing as readily when trials come as you do when hymns are being sung in God’s house? That’s what it is about. You don’t win people by preaching; they have to see a sermon somewhere. We just pull in the net.
Do disappointments ever bother you? Sure they do, if you are going your way. Turn; join with Him in His way. How many of you are sitting grieved because someone hurt you? Join with Him. Every disciple He had failed Him. He taught them love; they bickered among themselves. He taught them to bear a cross; they hid while He bore His. He taught them to deny themselves for the will of the Father; they argued over the best seats in the Kingdom. They were more worried about their place than His cross. When He taught them of the Resurrection, they hid behind closed doors in fear. When He needed them, they fled. That is Jesus, the Lord of glory. At the end of three and a half years, there was not one to stand with Him when He needed them. What hurt are you carrying around today? Jesus died for you. Get your eyes off of those other things and join with Him in His way. He went on to Calvary despite what the disciples did. Will you grow in God gracefully?
As God builds a church, do you know where we stumble? We don’t have any trouble getting people to stand on a platform, or show off their talent. The hard thing is finding people willing to do the tedious jobs; particularly if they feel they have graduated from a past position. Do you ever think you are being asked to do something beneath you? He left Heaven’s glory. There is no step we have ever taken down that is quite as long as the one He took for us, and “He that saith He abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.” Most people who want to work for God want to be the head, because the head does the thinking. Most people’s “contribution” to God’s work is giving advice.
“The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” (Mark 10:45) The church is not an opportunity for you to be ministered to. Rather, it presents you with an opportunity to minister. How many of us judge God’s program in terms of what it does for us? He came to minister, not to be ministered to, and “As the Father sent me, so send I you.”
Supernatural means “more natural.” God loves the sinner, He hates the sin. You don’t have to love a sinner’s sin to love the sinner. The message to sinners is that the doors of the church are open; come on in and join the family. Jesus was a friend of sinners. I happen to believe that they didn’t feel uncomfortable in His presence. That is what joining with Him in the way means.
Reprinted with permission from Pastor Melissa Scott.
A song by KRIS KRISTOFFERSON
Why me Lord, what have I ever done
To deserve even one of the pleasures I've known
Tell me, Lord, what did I ever do
That was worth lovin' you or the kindness you've shown
Lord help me, Jesus, I've wasted it so
Help me Jesus I know what I am
But now that I know that I've needed you so
Help me, Jesus, my soul's in your hand
Try me, Lord, if you think there's a way
I can try to repay all I've taken from you
Maybe Lord I can show someone else
What I've been through myself, on my way back to you
Lord help me, Jesus, I've wasted it so
Help me Jesus I know what I am
But now that I know that I've needed you so
Help me, Jesus, my soul's in your hand
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