A Turning In Repentance


A Turning In Repentance

April 13th, 1987 @ 12:00 PM

Matthew 3:1-2

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Matthew 3:1-2

4-13-87    12:00 p.m.


It is a joy to welcome you to the seventy-first annual pre-Easter services.  For seventy-one years now, our church has conducted these noonday services, Monday through Friday, before Easter.  One of the beautiful things in having the convocation here in this sanctuary is the presence of our academy; toward a thousand of these students surrounding us in this great balcony.  And as I have seen you come these recent years, never in my life have I looked upon a more reverent group than the boys and girls and young men and women who attend these pre-Easter services from our Academy.  It speaks well of your administration and teachers and the parents and homes in which you grow up.

The theme for this year is “The Golden Chain of Salvation”: today, A Turning in Repentance; tomorrow, A Regeneration in Confession; on Wednesday, A Baptism into the Family of God; on Thursday, A Growing in God’s Grace; and on Friday, An Entrance into Heaven.

And remember, this is in many instances your busy lunch hour.  And anytime you must leave, feel free to do so.  All of us will understand, and you won’t bother me in the least.  Just stay as long as you can and leave when you must.

The message today, A Turning in Repentance.   In the third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is recorded the beginning of the great Christian movement.  It began with the heralding, the kerusson, the preaching of John the Baptist:

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of


And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. . .

Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan,

And were baptized of him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.

[Matthew 3:1-6]

“Saying, Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Repent ye” [Matthew 3:2]: in the language in which Matthew wrote it, metanoeō.  The word for mind is nous and a verbal form of it is noeōMeta, change your mind; translated “repent, repentance.”  Then repentance is not a feeling of remorse or sorrow or regret.  The Greeks had a word for that—remorse, regret, sorrow.  The apostle Paul plays upon that word, metamelomai—sorrow, regret, in contradistinction to repentance, metanoeō.

In 2 Corinthians chapter 7, verses 8, 9, and10—I’ll not take time to read it, but the whole passage is a play upon metanoeō, a change of direction, a change of mind, and metamelomai, to be sorry, to be remorseful [2 Corinthians 7:8-10].

In the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Matthew, Judas is described as having “repented,” and went and hanged himself [Matthew 27:3-5].  The word is metamelomai.  He was filled with remorse; not metanoeō, a change of direction.

Nor is repentance, metanoeō, the confession of sin, the acknowledgement of wrong.  Hardened Pharoah said, “I have sinned” [Exodus 10:16].  Double-minded Balaam said: “I have sinned” [Numbers 22:34].  Remorseful Achan said, “I have sinned” [Joshua 7:20].  Saul, insincere, said, “I have sinned” [1 Samuel 15:24].  Judas cried, saying, “I have sinned” [Matthew 27:4].  But in no instance and in no illustration is there metanoeō, a change of mind; of direction.

What then is this thing of repentance?  “Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” [Matthew 3:2, 4:17].  What is it?  It is vividly and dramatically seen in a reference Jesus made in the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew: “Nineveh,” He said, “repented, metanoeō, Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah” [Matthew 12:41].

When you turn to the third chapter of Jonah, the book says that the king and all his noblemen asked all the people of Nineveh to place on themselves sackcloth and each one to turn from his evil way and to cry mightily unto God, for, said the king, “It may be that God will turn and repent from the judgment He has pronounced upon us” [Jonah 3:5-9].  That’s why Jonah was so angry and bitter when God spared Nineveh [Jonah 3:10-4:1-4, 11].

The Assyrian, the winged bull of Asshur was literally an ogre to the Jew.  Time and again the Assyrian had come down in incursions against Israel; finally and ultimately had destroyed the Northern Kingdom, carried the people into slavery [2 Kings 17:5-6, 18].

And when Jonah entered the city, preaching the judgment of God, he did it with a vengeance, “Yet forty days, and God will destroy Nineveh” [Jonah 3:4].  But when Nineveh turned, God turned.  When Nineveh changed, God changed.  When Nineveh repented, God repented [Jonah 3:10].  That is metanoeō: a change in heart, in direction, in life, in commitment; and that kind of a change, changes God in heaven.  It is a remarkable, and unbelievable, and unimaginable spiritual providence.

I have three things briefly to say about it.  Number one: it is mandated.  It is mandated to all humanity—all of us.  We are commanded to repent [Acts 17:30].  There were present at that season, in the thirteenth chapter of Luke, some that told the Lord of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices [Luke 13:1].  While they were sacrificing, Pilate slew them, and the blood of the sacrifices and of the men of Galilee mingled together.

Jesus said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the other Galileans, because they suffered such things?

I tell you, Nay; but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower of Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?

I tell you, Nay; but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

[Luke 13:2-5]

It is a universal mandate: all of us must turn.  We must change.  We must find a new direction toward God [Acts 17:30].

That’s why the leaders of the Israelitish nation rejected the baptism of John: “We have Abraham to our fathers.  Why do you think we must change, we must repent?”  A universal mandate.

A little boy, like these up here in this balcony, came forward in an evangelistic service, and the evangelist sat down by his side and began to talk to the lad about being a sinner and needing to turn, to repent, and to accept the Lord.  And the teacher, the Sunday school teacher of the lad, had come and sat down on the other side of the boy.  And she said to the evangelist, “This little boy is the best boy in my class.  And he comes out of the finest family in our church.  And there’s no such thing as repentance needed in him.”

The evangelist paid no attention to the Sunday school teacher and began to talk to the lad about being lost, about being a sinner, about needing to repent, to turn, to change, and to accept the Lord.  And she broke in again and said, “Sir, you are a stranger here.  You are an evangelist and you don’t know our people.  I’m telling you this boy is the best boy in my class.  And the finest home is where he lives.”

The evangelist said to the lad, “Son, would you get on this side of me?”  And the lad changed seats, on the other side of the evangelist.  And the evangelist turned to him and began to talk to him about repentance, about confession of sin, about change of heart and life.  And soon the lad was born into the kingdom of God.

The command, the mandate to turn, to change, to repent is universal [Acts 17:30].  There is no one way for a sweet little boy to be saved and a way for a darling little girl to be saved and a way for the president of the bank to be saved and the way for a criminal to be saved.  We all are saved alike.  There is one way into the presence of God—one, just one.  And that’s by turning, by changing, by repentance [Mark 1:15].

A second thing: it is always present, repentance, it is always present in an avowal of faith, always.  Our Lord said, in Matthew 21, “These did not repent in order that they might believe” [Matthew 21:32].  Repentance is always present, whether it is avowed or stated or not, it is always present in an act of faith.

When the Philippian jailer asked Paul: “What must I do to be saved?” [Acts 16:30].   Paul replied in Acts 16:31: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”  He never said anything about repentance.  It’s implied.  That hardened jailer took the apostle Paul and Silas and beat them.  They were bloody.  And he thrust them into the inner dungeon.  And he put their feet in stocks and their hands in chains [Acts 16:23-24].

Now, he’s kneeling at their feet before God.  He is washing their stripes.  And he is inviting them into his house and setting food before them [Acts 16:32-34].  Always, in any conversion, in any commitment, in any act of faith before God, there is ever that turn, that change, that repentance.

“I’ve been passing by the church; now, I enter its door.  I’ve not been thinking about the Lord; now, He is in my heart and mind; ever present.  I have had no regard for the preaching of the gospel; now, if a man expounds the Word of God, I can listen to it hour upon hour and hour.  I haven’t loved the hymns of Zion; now, I love to be in the family and presence of the people of God, singing His praises.”  It’s a new day.  It’s a new life.  It’s a new turn.  It’s a new change.  It is repentance.

A last avowal: it is our introduction to the Lord God, a turning, a changing, repentance.  It brings us into the presence of our Savior.

As all of you know, the five Indian tribes of the eastern United States were settled in this last century, removed, and placed in the Indian Territory, now called Oklahoma: the Cherokee, the Creek, the Choctaw, the Chickasaw, and the Seminole, moved over The Trail of Tears in Oklahoma.

This is an incident in the history and the chronicle of the Choctaw nation.  There are ninety men that the United States marshals have gathered into a prison.  They are Indians and Mexicans and Anglos and Negroes.  They are robbers and outlaws and murderers, ninety, robbers, violent men.  And on the outside, there is a storm that is raging.  And on the inside of the prison is a preacher.  And The Choctaw Chronicle places it in verse, and I copied it down:

The preacher says,

“I am going to preach

And I will try to teach

To the ninety men in here

Of the words of love

From the throne above.”

And his voice was loud and clear.

I preach to you of a Savior true,

In a happy home on high

Where the angels dwell

All safe from hell

And the righteous never die.

And he prayed a prayer in the prison there

As the ninety bowed their heads;

The bold Choctaw and the Chickasaw;

The whites, the blacks, the reds.

He prayed for the chief, with his unbelief

For the dark highwayman bold;

For the robber too and his bandit crew—

For the criminal, young and old.

Then he sang a hymn in the prison grim,

He sang, “Turn sinner, turn;

It’s not too late

To reach God’s gate

While the lamp holds out the burning.

Then, from his bed

‘Tween the black and the red

Up arose an outlaw bold.

With trembling step,

To the parson crept,

All shivering as with cold.

An officious flash

Of the lightning’s crash

Showed his features, pale and stern,

As he bowed his head

And slowly said,

“I am resolved to turn.”

And it seemed to me

No one shall see

A scene so great, so grand

As the white and the red

On their blanket bed

Round the Christian one did stand

While the night came down

Like a silvery crown

And a promise gave to all

For the ninety men

In the marshal’s den

Heard only the Savior’s call.

[from “The Criminal Convert,” Clarence B. Douglas, 1919]

“I am resolved to turn.”  That is repentance.  And it leads us to God [Acts 17:30]. May we pray?

Our Lord, there is a call resounding throughout the Word of the Lord, “Turn ye, turn ye; for why will ye die?” [Ezekiel 33:11].  There is an answer from the heart convicted by the Spirit of God, “I am resolved to turn” [Romans 10:9-10].  And as we face heavenward and Christ-ward and God-ward, may the Spirit of the Lord dwell in us, in saving grace, and in the name of our wonderful Lord Jesus, amen [Ephesians 2:8].  God bless you.  And, thank you.


Dr. W.
A. Criswell




I.          Meaning of the word metanoeo,

Not a feeling of sorrow, remorse, regret (2
Corinthians 7:8-10, Matthew 27:3-5)

B.  Not a confession or
recognition of sin

C.  It means to turn, to
change (Jonah 3:8, Ezekiel 33:11, Matthew 21:29)


II.         Repentance and the call for faith

A.  We are commanded to
repent (Luke 13:1-5)

      1.  Best boy in
the class

B.  Repentance
is always present in an avowal of faith (Matthew
21:32, Acts 16:31)

C.  Repentance
is our introduction to the Lord

Brings us into the presence of our Savior

Poem about the criminal convert in the Choctaw nation