Ever since I was a kid I have had a fascination with trains and railways. I suppose I’ve had it ever since I received my first train-set – which of course my Dad bought to play with himself – I was only allowed to watch. But I read the Rev. Aldry’s Thomas the tanks engine books long before they were commercialized, and were just books, now it’s a train simulator on a computer. So I always like the drive out here because we go alongside the railway for most of the way. Where is that railway headed? South, through Timaru, to Dunedin, and on to Invercargill and Bluff – the South Island Main Trunk Line. I have a sister in Dunedin, I suppose the railway could take me there, that could be my destination. There is not much left of the railway system that once was in NZ – you can go north to Picton, South to Bluff, but a line also goes to the West Coast – the Tranz-Alpine, a beautiful trip, it also brings west coast coal to Lyttleton to be shipped around the world. Living in Christchurch it is obvious the line that runs north and south, but I used to wonder where the turn off to the West Coast was – does anybody know? That’s right, it is just down the road at Rolleston. Just past the station there is a set of points, the line splits into two and, because trains can’t turn sharp corners, they run fairly closely to each other for a while. But they get further and further apart – I end up either in my destination, Dunedin; or hundreds of miles away on the wild wet coast – all depending on the choice I make in setting those points. To start off with, it seems like I am headed in the right direction, but if the points are set wrong I am going to end up way off track.
And it is a bit like that in life, one wrong choice, a wrong decision, can end us up at the wrong destination. It can seem like we are on the right sort of course, but as we go on we get further and further off track. There are many sets of points along the line and we can make many wrong choices, but once we are on the wrong track we will end up at the wrong destination. We make our choice, set the points, and live with the consequences. There is a verse in Proverbs that says [Proverbs 16:25 There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.]. We think we made the right choice, the choice that leads to life – but we find we are on the way to death! In fact when we come to that critical set of points – every single one of us, without exception, makes the wrong choice! A verse I quote just about every time I speak here is [Isaiah 53:6 All of us like sheep have gone astray,(we are on the wrong track!) each of us has turned to his own way!] And therein is the heart of our mistake! We all choose our “own way”. We may be kind, we may be loving, we may be humane and altruistic – but it is still our own way. We labour under the misapprehension that our life is our own. We speak of “my life” – but it isn’t! God created you, made you – made you for Himself, for His purpose, to do as He wishes. We are to do as He directs, go along the track He chooses – the very fact that we make the choice is our fundamental mistake, because it reveals that we think that we are in control. Right at the beginning of the history of man, Adam did it; he chose to be independent of God – and all of his descendants have followed the same track. The fact is: I am not my own! The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it (that includes you and me). All of us are on the wrong track. We are all going to end up the wrong destination, the terminus of death!
It used to be that there was more rail in the South Island than now, there were many branch lines – a branch line is line that runs off the main line to a certain point and stops. You come to the end of the line and there is a set of buffers – it is a dead end. Maybe you have made decisions that have put you on a branch line, you have come to a dead end, you are at the end of the line. You have gone as far as you can go and you realize that it has got you nowhere, there is no way ahead. Others of you may have track ahead of you, further lines you can take, possibilities, plans – you may not realize it yet, but we have all gone off on the wrong track. We are not headed where we were intended to go or to end up. Each of us, whether we realise it or not, are in fact lost.
What do you do when you are lost? Well, if you are a man, you do not use a map or ask for directions. But When you have taken a fundamentally wrong track, are at the end of the line, in the wrong destination – there is only one thing you can do – and that is turn the engine around [P]. At the end of the branch line, what do you find? A turntable – you have to put the engine on it, turn it around and head back. There is a special word used in the Bible, not heard too much these days: REPENTANCE. It simply means turn around. You can see these guys shoving hard to turn this locomotive around in the opposite direction – the Old Testament was written in the Hebrew language and the Hebrew word for “repent” is “shuv” – it sounds a bit like “shove”. The Hebrew word for repent, simply means to turn, to change your direction. You have been going this way, now you turn around 180 degrees and go the opposite direction. By the time of Jesus the language widely spoken was Greek – the Greek word used in the NT for “repent” means to change your thinking. Typically the Hebrews are practical and the Greeks cerebral. Our whole way of thinking is wrong because it centres around man, around us, not on God’s will and purpose – we need a fundamental change in the way we think [Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.]. So, you put the Greek and Hebrew concepts together and you get the full meaning of repentance. It is not an emotion, a feeling sorry for what you have done; it is a total change in your thinking and a total change in the direction of your life – a complete turn around. The Bible doesn’t talk about being sorry for what we have done wrong (Judas was sorry that he had betrayed Jesus, Esau was sorry that he had sold his rights as first born – but both remained condemned). They found no room for repentance. The Bible speaks about confessing our sin, not of saying we are sorry. So you are on the wrong track, at the end of the line, you turn around – is this just “turning over a new leaf”? – you may say that you have tried that and you just fell back again. Do I have to retrace that whole path? How can I ever get back? The answer is you can’t! The way back is impossible, the line is broken. The only One who can get you back is God – you need a miracle! Repentance is not turning over a new leaf, trying to undo all you have done wrong – it is an act that indicates your faith. You cannot get back, it is an appeal to God to save you – by your actions you are saying that you have gone the wrong way. Only God save you and put you back on the right track. Repentance isn't trying to do it yourself - but it is an act that demonstrates the sincerity of your faith in God to turn you around. It takes a miracle of God, but faith in God is not sitting back with your arms folded waiting for Him to act. God acts in response to a faith that is active, in response to our act of repentance. He calls for a repentance - when He sees it He steps in. God sees and responds to that act of faith, that repentance, and saves. You cannot undo what has been done, but God can create you anew – [2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.]. This is not turning over a new leaf, patching up a rotten life, it is a new life. That old life had the sentence of death on it – that is God’s judicial ruling on those who have taken the wrong track. That sentence has to be carried out. The Good News is that Jesus carried out that sentence for us – it says in that verse in [Isaiah 53:6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.]. It says [1 Peter 2:24 He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness;] Jesus died, but because He Himself was sinless, He did not remain dead. The Spirit of God vindicated Him by raising Him from the dead. Now, if we die with Him, we will also be raised to life with Him. Not us living, but the resurrection life of Jesus the Messiah. It is a reliance upon Jesus’ righteousness, His death and resurrection that leads to this new life, this new creation. We are made completely new. This life is the gift of God to those who believe in the death and resurrection of His Son. But the way to this life, to receiving this gift, is through repentance and faith.
There was a man, a prophet who came just before Jesus to get the people prepared for His message: John the Baptist. He came with a message burning within him, a message that came directly from God Himself. Jesus called him the greatest man born of a woman. What was this vital message that he proclaimed? [Matthew 3:1-3 Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (it is near! Imminent!) For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight!’ ”] It was urgent people had to turn around – why? Because the Kingdom of God was about to come! The King was coming! [Luke 3:7-17 So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? “Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. “Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds were questioning him, saying, “Then what shall we do?” And he would answer and say to them, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.” And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.” Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he was the Christ, John answered and said to them all, “As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. “His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”] The message was that God is coming in judgement and is going to destroy all that was not in line with His rule. When the people asked for practical details of what it meant to repent, what they were to do – John told them to turn from what they were doing, to share with those who didn’t have anything – think of the other person, not yourself; not to do what they habitually did: tax-collectors taking more than they should, soldiers using force – it was turning from their present way of living and living as God would have them.
John came, and soon after Jesus Himself came preaching, the One He said that was mightier than him – what was His message? He had come down from heaven, born as a human being in order to communicate God’s message to man. This was extraordinary lengths God had gone to – there was a vital message to tell people! What was it? [Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”] It is exactly the same message that John had proclaimed. This was the vital Good News, the Gospel – the Kingdom was about to come! People had to get ready. Let me say to you now that the return of the King is imminent! There are signs all around that the time is drawing near – earthquakes, and not just in Christchurch; abnormal weather patterns – it is not due to cows’ flatulence – there is a God who controls the earth and the heavens and He is seeking to get our attention. Things are not going to continue as they always have done. This world and its administration are nearing their end. It is not the end but these are signs of the beginning of the end. Jesus is going to return as King. His Father said to Him: [Hebrews 1:13 “Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet”] All those opposed to Jesus will be vanquished and Jesus will be installed as Ruler over all. This is what God says: [Psalm 2:6-12 “But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain.” “I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You. ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession. ‘You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.’ ” Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; take warning, O judges of the earth. Worship the Lord with reverence and rejoice with trembling. Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!]. The trouble is that we are used to democracy and think that it is the righteous form of government – democracy is where we all have our say – once again, we set the points, we make the decisions, think we have the right to determine the course we take! No, it is not democracy – it is monarchy. Not like the one we have: a face on the back of a coin, or one who says “I declare this building open” – a mere figurehead. This King rules! He says what goes and it is a harsh, firm and ruthless reign for those who oppose Him – He rules with a rod of iron, He shatters His opponents like pottery, His wrath is soon kindled. Yet is says blessed who take refuge in Him – for those who do not oppose Him but submit to His rule, who do homage to Him. [Romans 11:22-23 says: Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.] You can oppose the King and His rule – and you will be destroyed. Or you can repent, turn around, place your faith in Him and find His kindness. If you do not continue in unbelief, rejection of Jesus as King, but depend upon Him to rescue you from the wrong track you have embarked upon that ends in death. His way results in LIFE – life in all its fullness, eternal life, the very life of Jesus Himself! You are at a set of points: I set before you today the way of life and the way of death – choose life, so that you may live. Jesus IS coming to rule and reign as King – this is GOOD NEWS – but only if you repent and believe. John proclaimed it, Jesus preached it [Mark 1:14-15 Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”], so did the early church [Acts 2:38 “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.] – Paul said: [Acts 20:20-21 I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.] – The consistent message was repent and believe for the Kingdom of God is near! This is the Gospel; not come to Jesus, not raise your hand, not say the sinners’ prayer, not come forward as the music plays, not go to church; but [Acts 3:19-20 “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you,] That is the only way to get back on track, the track that God intended and leads to life.