“Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” (Matt. 11:20-24)

Here Jesus is revealing the purpose for his many miracles, performed in different places throughout the region. It is clear that the purpose of his miracles was to evoke a response of repentance, rather than simply to heal people’s bodies -- as many have proposed. Jesus’ interest was in saving people spiritually, not simply in healing a few people’s physical bodies.

The element of repentance is critical to this discussion. While the concept of repentance is tossed around by various preachers to indicate a person’s proclamation to Jesus, this is a hollow view of the actual intent and meaning behind Jesus’ desires and motives with regard to the use of this word.

The meaning of the word ‘repent’ is specific to change. It means to alter ones current activity, and take up a completely different activity. In the context of Jesus’ teachings, we are talking about a person making changes with respect to their goals, directions and aspirations, followed by a change in activity. The people Jesus was speaking to and about -- applicable today -- were focused upon the benefits of the physical world. They were focused upon becoming wealthy, influential and popular. They were focused upon physical comfort and enjoyment. In other words, the intention is to enjoy and make the physical body happy.

Jesus, on the other hand, taught that our happiness lies in doing the will of God, and by loving and serving God. This is a completely different goal and direction in life from the materialistic selfish purpose and mission most humans had then and have now.

Jesus aspired to effect a change of heart within each person he spoke to. Whether it be an entire village of individuals or a small group of his own disciples, his purpose was the same: To change the direction and aspiration of the individual from a selfish, materialistic one to one where God is the center of our lives, and we are focused upon His pleasure. This is the ‘repentance’ Jesus was referring to, not some ecclesiastical proclamation of Jesus, or the joining of one organization or another.

It must be stressed that this change of heart is not a mechanical change, and it is not one that a person can effect alone. God must be involved in the change for that change to become complete. For it is God who we must connect with for the strength and the vision to make any real change. This means that we must redevelop our loving relationship with God.

Consider for a moment, redeveloping a relationship with someone we used to know and care about years ago. Let’s say we were close childhood friends with someone, and over the years we fell out of contact, and even though we knew how to reach them, we did not. Then one day we decide to contact them out of the blue. What is one of the first things we will naturally do? We will certainly apologize that we had not been in better contact over the years. A sincere apology will almost be immediately accepted by our childhood friend. From that point forward the discomfort provided by the fact that we lost touch with them goes away, and we can continue our relationship with them.

This is also the essence of the process of repentance as Jesus is discussing. Note that when referring to “Tyre and Sidon,” Jesus states that “they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” Why the sackcloth and ashes?

These relate to a feeling of being sorry and a request for forgiveness. Why? While most consider this related to being sorry for ‘living in sin,’ (i.e., guilt) we once again point out that we are talking about a Person (God) here. We are not talking about a building or a religious organization. To honestly repent and feel badly for our behavior, we must be pointing that apology to someone. Why?

Because this someone happens to be our Best Friend and Creator. This Someone happens to be God, and we have been offending God by ignoring Him and living lives centered around our physical pleasure for a very long time. Once we realize that He is our true Master and loving Friend, we can begin the process of re-establishing our lost relationship with Him.

We must approach with a feeling of apology for our past offensive behavior towards Him.

The essential element to repentance lies beyond simply being sorry. We also have to make some changes. This means that we make changes to adjust our lives to revolve around the pleasure of God rather than our own pleasure.

This is a very difficult thing to do immediately. It takes years of commitment and determination to make this large of a change. Still, we can begin to make the change by making small changes, so that gradually, we will make God the center of our life.

What can we do immediately? We can sing and praise His Names. We can praise His Holy Names in song, with our prayers, with our thoughts and with our conversations. We can offer our food to Him before we eat it (an ancient and traditional act of devotion lost among modern religious rituals--God will also accept even a flower or a little water, assuming we offer to Him with love and devotion).

We can offer our activities, our wealth, our time and physical efforts to do things we know are pleasing to God. As we do these activities, gradually our relationship with Him will redevelop, assuming that we keep a humble attitude and do not become proud of our supposed progress.

As we do this, we will slowly develop a higher taste and a higher realm of satisfaction. What is that? It is becoming happy when God is pleased. That is called love.

This article is republished from The Real Teachings of Jesus.