3 - Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near

Greg Aikins on December 6, 2019

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee.  Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali – to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,

The way to the sea, along the Jordan,

Galilee of the Gentiles –

The people living in darkness have seen a great light;

On those living in the land of the shadow of death

A light has dawned.

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near(Matt. 4:12-17, NIV).

 

                Change is one of the great constants of the universe.  Day changes to night and back to day again.  Seasons change as the earth continues its path around the sun and we watch the signs in the ecosystem around us.  We are born, we grow into childhood, adolescence, adulthood and, if not interrupted by a change called tragedy, we reach old age and finally death. 

There is a time and a season for everything, says the preacher in Ecclesiastes.  Whether we realize it or not, woven into the life cycle of every human being and every human enterprise is the need for change.  Without it there is no growth.  “Change or die” is more than just a slogan, it is a fact. 

Jesus knew that when his cousin John was arrested, change was in the air.  The time to turn the page had come.  A passing of the baton from the lesser to the greater.  It was time for him to appear on the scene, bringing the same message John had brought to the people of his day.  “Change!  The heavenly kingdom has come near!”  It was the same prophetic message, but now amplified, because the gracious King himself was proclaiming and powerfully demonstrating it.

With the coming of Jesus to Galilee, Matthew sees a prophecy fulfilled.  The physical presence of Jesus changed the place where the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali had once made their home.  The Nazarene had become “the necessary outsider” bringing light and life to a people who were dying in shadow.  And the plan of God that God’s light would go out to the nations was also launched in that crossroad between Jew and Gentile.  Jesus’ change of location meant the possibility of change from death to life for all who heard and saw him.

Repentance means a change of mind, a turning from one direction and moving in another better direction.  When Jesus of Nazareth announced the need to renounce former ways of thinking, behaviors, and allegiances, he accompanied it with good news.  “The kingdom of heaven is near,” he said.  A different way of life, a path of love, of peace and the well-being that comes from living in security under the gentle, lowly, heavenly King.  Change is needed in order to move into and embrace this new Way.

Without repentance I cannot enter that beautiful realm where our servant-King Jesus reigns over his humble subjects.  But change comes so hard for an old guy like me.  I find it so hard to follow, or even understand, when Jesus gives heavenly-kingdom entrance requirements like, “Unless you change and become like little children… therefore whoever takes the lowly position of this child… and whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matt. 18:3-5).  Perhaps I need to study my grandchildren more - little ones who show that self-sufficient “big people” like me are probably too large to squeeze through that narrow gate that leads to life.  My granddaughter might just teach me that if I shrink my view of myself into the likeness of her vulnerable little six-year-old self, I just might begin my journey into that kingdom that is “more wonderful than I ever imagined it could possibly be.”