Isaiah The Prophet, approximately 700 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, wrote of a prophet that would be the “forerunner” to the Messiah. This man would tell the world that The Christ is coming, and The Christ will save His people from their sin. The man was referred to as a “voice crying in the wilderness”.
That man, that prophet, was John The Baptist. Unlike any other prophet before him, he had the blessing and honor of bringing the news that the Savior of the world is here, His Kingdom “is at hand”. He gave the instruction to all to make ready, make ready the way of the Lord.
Matthew 3:1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
Matthew 3:3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'"
Isaiah 40:3 A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
John The Baptist preached one specific thing:
Matthew 3:2 "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
This is the first time in the New Testament the term, Kingdom of Heaven” is used.
The next time this term was used was by Jesus after He returned from 40 days of being tempted by Satan and began His earthly ministry:
Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
It is logical that if the prophet we are told would be a forerunner to the Messiah, and the Messiah Himself, would preach using the terms “repent” and “Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” – we should know what these two terms mean.
First, to repent….
The Greek word for repentance is metanoia. This is defined as “to think differently, to reconsider, to have a change of mind”.
The Hebrew word for repentance is shûb (pronounced shoove). This is defined as “changing direction (returning) or a radical change in lifestyle and behavior”.
As I was reading, thinking, and writing this morning I started wondering; what would a first century Jew need to “change his mind” about? What did they need to “reconsider”? Why would he need to “change his direction”? A change that, by definition, must be radical!
The Jews thought of themselves as God’s chosen people, and that is true. The Law and the prophets came through the Jews and the Messiah would come through Jewish lineage.
Romans 3:1-2 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.
So, what did they need to rethink?
This certainly isn’t an exhausted list, but for starters, the Jews thought they were Heaven bound since they were Jews; they had Abraham as their father:
Matthew 3:9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.
That would have been radical for the Jewish leaders to hear!
The Jews also assumed that the sacrifices of bulls and other animals would cleanse them of their sin.
Isaiah 1:11 "What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.
Hebrews 10:4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
This would have been equally radical to the Jews! After all, the sacrificial system was passed on from generation to generation, and now your saying it is worthless?!?!
Hebrews 10:9 then he added, "Behold, I have come to do your will." He does away with the first in order to establish the second.
Just as the Jews would need to change their mind, radically, and believe the Gospel; conceding that their lineage and sacrifices mean absolutely nothing – in the same way, today, we need a rethinking of what we thought was true. For example, just professing to be a Christian is just as worthless as what the Jews believed about their lineage. A profession of faith without believing the Gospel doesn’t make you any more glory bound than the most hardened atheist in the world. To truly believe the Gospel results in a radical change in the way you live, what you set your time and affection on; true belief in the Gospel has you turning away from sin, self, and pride; and turning to God in humility and faith, with a commitment to serve Him.
Just as the Jews would need to change their mind, radically, and concede that their sacrifices are worthless, our good deeds are worthless. It is just as offensive to God that we would think that our good deeds would earn us eternal life, as it is for a Jew to suggest that his sacrifices of bulls and goats would earn him a place in Heaven. Do not misunderstand, of course, as Christians, we are called to do good – but not as a means of salivation. Our goods deeds are done to honor and glorify our King. Even, as Christians, if we do good deeds with selfish motive, to be noticed, or to receive the praise of man, God is not pleased with that. We serve our King in faith and humility for His glory from a heart of gratitude and thanks for saving us from the consequences of sin that we deserve. Our redemption comes by the Blood of Christ when we trust in Him alone to save us from the Wrath we deserve. Good deeds are simply evidence of our redemption, not the means of our redemption.
John The Baptist and Jesus said to repent, to have this radical change of mind and heart, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. In other words, “because”, “since”, the Kingdom of Heaven is here, do this.
I sought the council of a dear friend and pastor for clarification on what “Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” means; here’s what he shared:
The Kingdom of Heaven has three essential components:
1) The King.
2) The Reign being carried out. and
3) The Dominion (Governed Realm) and Subjects of the Kingdom.
• God establishes His created world and gives Adam a kingship.
• Adam forfeited it through his sin and Satan took the throne as the king of this world the Father of Fallen Humanity the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit who would now at work in the sons of disobedience. (2 Corinthians 4:4. 1John 3:7-10.5:18-20. Luke 4:6)
• God then, in Genesis 3:15, promised another king, a redeeming King.
Jesus is saying the Kingdom is at hand, the Kingdom is amongst you, the promised Messianic King is here! (John 18:37)
Then, of course, after he fulfilled all righteousness and had been exalted to the highest place, he now Reigns and rules over all things for the glory of God and the good of the church. (Ephesians 1:22-23)
As I read his reply a few times, it hit me that, although Jesus is now seated at the Right Hand of God the Father, His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, is here. Jesus promised He would send the Spirit. The Spirit would convict the world concerning sin, Righteousness, and Judgment. When we are born again the Spirit dwells within us. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!
Where does this leave us?
Life is short, death is sure, eternity is real – rethink the consequences of sin, the severity of God, the extreme measures He took to redeem His creation, and trust in Christ alone to save you and change you.
Scripture references used above:
2Corinthians 4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
1John 3:7-10 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
1John 5:18-20 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
Luke 4:6 and said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.
Genesis 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."
John 18:37 Then Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice."
Ephesians 1:22-23 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.