God’s Available Kingdom Is Good News…
John the Baptist:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” Matthew 3:2
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” Matthew 4:17
The Gospel according to Matthew will not let us miss the core message of John the Baptist who prepared the way, and Jesus who embodied it. The good news is that God has broken into our time and space in the person of Jesus Christ and has prepared a way for us to participate in His reign and rule in our world. We can surrender to His reign over us, experience His rule in our lives in the present, begin to identify His work in our world, and join with Him in what He is doing to bring all of Himself to bless and redeem our broken world.
Because of Jesus, the kingdom of God is a “here and now” reality to enter. There is an unseen dimension to this world that is heavenly and eternal. In Christ, we are invited to invest our lives in this kingdom. Like the pearl of great price, or the treasure discovered in the field, this kingdom is worth our giving up everything else in life to plunge in and to participate fully in what God is doing. It is a grand and glorious opportunity.
Christians Often Miss This Invitation
Sadly, Christianity often misses this exciting invitation by focusing on important—but lesser—ideals. At a recent gathering of Christian men, the devotional for the morning was founded upon the two texts from Matthew shared above. As they were read aloud, my interest was piqued because I love the reality of the kingdom of God and long for my brothers and sisters in Christ to be actively seeking how we can contribute to the growth of that kingdom in our midst.
Unfortunately, once the texts were read, the kingdom of heaven/God was never mentioned again. What? The most amazing message of good news, the fulfillment of God’s promises, the arrival of a new age, and we never mention it?
Can’t Disagree With Repentance…
As it turned out, the message for the morning was all about repentance. The speaker provided some great definitions and illustrations of repentance; both as a change of mind and as a change of life direction. He handled well the difference between simple remorse for sin (that accomplishes little) and a godly sorrow that can be transforming. There were excellent observations about what doesn’t constitute repentance: self-hatred, self-condemnation, etc. Stressed was the urgency for repentance in our nation, especially on the part of Christians. We were urged to explore areas of our lives where repentance was needed.
I found little with which to disagree in what was being said, and yet I sensed an enormous disappointment in where things ended up.
Repentance–Bigger Than We Think…
It is true that, in order for us to participate with God in what He is doing in our world, we need to repent. We need a radical change of mind about what is important and what constitutes reality. We need a radical change of heart to value the things God values and to be broken for what breaks the heart of God. We need a radical change of direction from our self-centered, “my own kingdom is what matters to me,” pursuits, to pursue the agenda of heaven for our world. We need repentance!
But somehow, as long as the focus of repentance is on what we need to repent from (sin from which we need to turn) rather than what we need to repent toward (casting our lives to God and embracing His kingdom), I feel that we will continue to flounder in our efforts to make a difference in our world.
Good News Is More Than a Call to Repentance
It was NOT news to the first century audience of Matthew that people needed to stop sinning. There were plenty of voices (approximately 6,000 Pharisees) encouraging people to stop sinning. The good news that Matthew proclaimed was that God, in Christ, was offering a totally new kind of life, lived in relationship with Him as Lord and King, that would enable them to experience the riches of His kingdom and participate with Him in the redemption of their world.
I believe that when a person begins to get a glimpse of what living in the kingdom of God really means, repentance becomes more natural and more productive. With the excitement of the pearl merchant and the peasant farmer, people will gladly surrender all to possess the kingdom. And as my friend assured us in his devotional, true repentance will be a work of the Spirit of God within us, rather than an ordeal that we put ourselves through.
Let Us Repent For…
I stand by the call to repentance, but I plead for us to proclaim that it is a call TO the kingdom of God and not just FROM our sin. I want to stand with John the Baptist and Jesus and stress “Repent, for the kingdom!”