“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand” (Matthew 4:12-25)

Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 23, 2011

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand” (Matthew 4:12-25)

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand.” So Jesus began to preach when he entered into his public ministry, as we heard in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 4. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” But, hey, doesn’t that sound familiar, like we’ve heard it somewhere before? Right you are, grasshopper! At the beginning of Matthew 3, we see John the Baptist enter into his ministry, and the summary of his preaching is given as, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Holy plagiarism, Batman! What’s going on here? John the Baptist comes preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and then a few months later, Jesus of Nazareth comes preaching the same thing. Same exact words, even. Couldn’t Jesus come up with something of his own to say?

And how is this fair to us? I mean, back in the season of Advent, just last month, we listened to John the Baptist’s “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” OK, that was Advent, a little penitential season, I can understand. But now this is Epiphany. The light is shining in the darkness, and all that. Shouldn’t this be a bit more of an upbeat season? But no! Once again we’ve got to hear someone preaching at us, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” I mean, come on! This is déjà vu all over again!

Well, I tell you, maybe there’s a reason for this. Maybe I need to hear this message of repentance over and over again. In fact, I’m sure I do. What’s more, a little bird has told me you need to hear it too! So here we go.

Yes, the light did dawn upon the land. Jesus had arrived. “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” Jesus Christ is the light of the world, and now he has arrived on the scene, shining away. Full of grace and truth he comes, the Father’s only Son, come from heaven to make God known to us, come to put into motion God’s plan of light and life and salvation for this whole dead, dark world.

And he comes preaching. “Repent,” he says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” John preached it, Jesus preaches it, it must be important. So what does this word “Repent” mean? The Greek word here is “Metanoeite,” and it carries with it the idea of “Change your mind,” “Change your whole way of thinking.” Think again, rethink this thing. You need a whole new mind. The way you’ve been going is wrong. Turn around and redirect your life in the way that God is showing you. That’s what Jesus is saying when he says, “Repent.”

And notice, Jesus preaches this message of repentance to Israelites, Jews, God’s people. He’s speaking to church members, if you will. Zebulun, Naphtali, Capernaum, Galilee–these are Jewish places. To be sure, this preaching of repentance and the light of the gospel will go out to Gentiles, too. There were plenty of Gentiles nearby, such that Galilee can even be called “Galilee of the Gentiles.” But initially, this call to repentance went out to what was essentially the church.

And this was, to some extent, a sticking point. A lot of the Jews didn’t think they needed to repent. They were already God’s people. “So why us?” they thought. “Gentiles, sure. Gross sinners like the tax collectors and prostitutes, yeah. But not us good church members! Don’t preach to us and tell us to repent!”

But this is what we need to hear. This is what we need to do, is to repent. For the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh are constantly pulling at us, trying to draw us back into the darkness. And that would be disaster.

Voices all around us, and within us. The devil is saying, so subtly, whispering so appealingly in our ear, “Hey, don’t you want to be your own God? Wouldn’t that be fun? Make your own decisions about right and wrong. Do what feels right. Besides, God is holding out on you! Take matters into your own hands. Who’s going to know?”

Then there’s the world, putting different values before our eyes and in our heads. The siren song comes at us from screens and speakers every day, telling us how to think. Our schools, our coworkers, our friends and neighbors–our entire culture is coming at us with values much different than God would have us hold. The influence is perverse, and it is pervasive.

And if the devil and the world were not enough, we’ve got our own sinful flesh to contend with. The enemy inside us, you could say. “I want what I want, and I’ll find a way to justify it.” Pleasing self is whole agenda of the flesh. Pride, self-centeredness, praise from others, pleasure above all–this is the sinful tendency from within.

The devil, the world, the flesh–this is the gravitational pull warring against us as Christians. The battle didn’t get any easier when we were baptized. In fact, it got more intense. So Jesus’ words come anew to us again today, and we need to hear them every day: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

This call to repent is Jesus saying, “Rethink this thing. What are you doing? Have you lost your mind? This is not the way to go! I have saved you. I have redeemed you. I have put you on the path of life, headed toward the Promised Land. Why would you go back to Egypt, on the road to ruin?”

Repentance is a big, all-comprehensive thing, but it also shows up in the thousand different choices we make in the way we live. Here, let me give you some examples of how this works, and see if you can identify.

It’s Saturday night. Have you decided to blow off church tomorrow? “Aw, who needs it? I go once in a while.” Repentance says, Rethink this thing. What could be better or more important than God’s word and gladly hearing and learning it? Think again, and turn that decision around.

Another scenario. You find someone you really like. You hit it off, you find the other person very attractive. You decide to move in together, shacking up without getting married. “Hey, it’s a common practice nowadays. Lots of my friends are doing it.” Sorry, think again. This is not what God had in mind. So change your mind to get in line with his. And marriage is what God has established for men and women. Repent.

Pornography. “Hey, what can it hurt? Victimless crime.” But even if the only victim is your own soul, this is not good, this is dragging down your mind. Think again.

Another example. You’re holding a grudge against your husband or wife. “I’m not going to forgive her. She’s hurt me too many times.” But God’s word says, “Forgive one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Rethink this thing. God will help you to forgive.

One more. You see a neighbor in need. Someone who could use a ride, a family who could use a meal. And you could help. You think, “I’m too busy. Someone else will help.” But God’s word says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So you change your mind, and you change your behavior. God is helping you to put love into action.

You get the idea. Repentance is total and thoroughgoing, and it is also very specific, dealing with our individual daily decisions. It is Christ’s call to get a whole new mind and to turn around and think again when we’re aware we’re heading the wrong way. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

“For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Now here is the good news in all of this! The kingdom of heaven has arrived on earth! It comes with Jesus. When you have Jesus, you have the kingdom of heaven. For Jesus brings with him all the blessings of God’s kingdom, grace and truth, light and life, healing of body and soul. This is how God is ruling among his people, to bring these things about. Jesus is how it happens.

Christ’s ministry is a demonstration of this kingdom. Look at all the blessings Jesus brings with him! “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.” Jesus sets out restoring creation, fixing people. This is the initial down-payment on the final fulfillment to come. By what Jesus comes to do, this will be the result, in an even greater and more glorious way. “Life and light to all he brings, ris’n with healing in his wings.”

You see, Jesus not only tells us what to turn from, he also gives us something to turn to! The kingdom of heaven! Jesus Christ has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. He did this by removing the barrier of our sins. This he did by taking them up and taking them away, the sins of the whole world, bearing them for us on the cross. Christ removes the wrath of God from us by taking it upon himself. He died, so we would not die forever. He rose, to show that life is the result and to lead us on that path of eternal life. He comes to us and calls to us, “Follow me.” This is where we are turning to: to Christ, in faith. He leads the way for us, teaching us his ways, as his disciples, getting our head screwed on straight, so we can begin to think like God thinks. When we walk following Jesus, in faith and in love, we are heading the right way.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It’s déjà vu all over again! But you and I need to hear this word from Jesus over and over again. Because that giant sucking sound you hear is the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh, trying to suck you back into the black hole of darkness and death. But Jesus’ voice is more compelling, more inviting, way more beautiful. His is the voice of repentance and faith and forgiveness. Jesus calls us to change our mind, to get a whole new way of thinking, God’s way. His is the light of life. Jesus leads us out of the old dark patterns and leads us forward in the way we should go. The path goes through the cross, where we receive forgiveness for our sins. The path goes through the font, where we receive the Spirit of God, to help us walk the walk and talk the talk and think the thoughts of a new and beautiful mind. The path leads all the way to heaven, the glories of the life to come, the kingdom of heaven that has no end. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Published in: on January 23, 2011 at 12:16 am  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I now understand repentance comes with change of the entire way of thinking

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