It’s popular in America to relegate all the stern commands and “Thou shalt nots” of Mosaic Law into a box labeled “Obsolete Old Testament Teachings” and stuff them under our brain beds, preferring to focus on the person of Christ, who epitomizes love, mercy, and forgiveness. However, Jesus’s first public statement—at the very beginning of his teaching ministry—was: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
After identifying with mankind at his baptism, then enduring a long season of deprivation in the wilderness and overcoming Satan’s temptations, Jesus was prepared for ministry, but he didn’t need to do any research or run surveys to figure out what the people in Israel 2018 years ago (or the people living around the world in 2018) need to hear. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega . . .the One who had been with God the Father from eternity past and who was there when he heard the Father say, “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26). Jesus is the one by whom all things were created, and through whom they continue to exist (Colossians 1:16-17). Furthermore, not only is he our creator and caregiver, he loves us more than we even love ourselves or will ever be able to comprehend (John 15:13). What did the One who created us, sustains us, and loves us know we need more than anything? To repent! Why? Because the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!
In case you—like I—have never stopped to ponder this deeply, let’s think it through together. The word “repent” is easy to understand, but repenting is extremely difficult to do! I love all three of Merriam-Webster’s options for the definition of repent: “to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life;” “to feel regret or contrition;” “to change one’s mind.” Jesus commands each of us to “repent,” and for me personally, that command has never ceased to be appropriate. Although I truly did repent the first time I ever heard the gospel, I have never completely overcome the propensity for sinning.
The words “sin” and “repent” are almost anathema today. People get angry at the very mention of the possibility that they might be sinning and respond with things like, “Are you trying to lay a guilt trip on me?” Most people deny their own sinfulness; many deny that “sin” is even possible, since if there’s no God, there’s no basis for right and wrong . . . just “poor choices.” I hear of people at the other extreme who do not believe they are capable of sin after they become Christians. What?! I continue to struggle and often fail . . . and anticipate that I will always be “under construction” (as Ruth Graham used to say) until the day I die.
How about you? Have you become perfect yet? If not, then Jesus’s first command should continue ringing in our ears! “Repent!” Let’s be cognizant of our sins each time we fail. Let’s open our eyes, reject our pride, and change our minds about what we’ve done wrong. “I’m doing my best” is a good start, but God calls us to perfection, hard as that is to hear! Let’s not give up hope; let’s keep fighting the good fight!
Why? Because that’s what God commands. But, why is He so demanding? Because He loves us! If we could only keep that in mind, it would make facing our sins and seeking change easier. Also, Jesus gave us another wonderful reason for dedicating ourselves to the amendment of our lives: “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” What does that mean, and why should that motivate us?
“The Kingdom of heaven” is used 32 times in the Bible, and all of them in Matthew. “The Kingdom of God” is mentioned 76 times throughout the New Testament, but after studying them intensely, I believe they both refer to the same thing. The Kingdom of heaven is a spiritual kingdom which we enter at the time of our spiritual rebirth (John 3:3), and without spiritual rebirth, we are totally dead and blind to this incredibly wonderful dimension of human experience.
Entering into the Kingdom of heaven makes us children of God, joint heirs with Jesus, and part of the family of God. It gives us access to the wisdom of God via prayer, the grace of God through faith, and the fruit of the Spirit, which develops within us love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, humility, self control (Galatians 5:22-23), righteousness and truth (Ephesians 5:9). And, beyond all these treasures, we are gifted with eternal life, which anchors our soul during the most miserable trials and fills us with the quiet assurance that despite whatever storms overtake us in this life, the end of our story here on earth is glorious! After we have shuffled off our mortal coil in death (as Shakespeare’s Hamlet would say), we will find ourselves alive with Christ in the unending joys of heaven.
Have you ever reckoned with your need to repent? Repented? Entered the Kingdom of heaven? If so, Praise God! You’re his child and my spiritual sibling! If not, please click on the “Coming to Christ” tab at the top of this page, and/or come back next Sunday to learn more about the commands of Christ and the good news He proclaimed to the world!
Bible Passage Where This Command is Found: Matthew 4:13-17
For any of you who aren’t very familiar with the Bible, here’s a relevant passage that explains what Christ has done (and can do) for us:
Colossians 1:9-23 “For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for Chim: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven.”