Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14-15
Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand
The way the gospels record Jesus’ first message to the people when he left Judea and entered Galilee, which message was, indeed, the theme of his ministry, goes like this: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It was clear and uncompromising, and it still needs to be heard today as ever it was then. Mark records Jesus as saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” (The message is the same, and Jesus used the words, “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” interchangeably.) In fact, these were the same words of John the Baptist before him (Matthew 3:2), only now those same words took on a whole new meaning in Jesus’ person and ministry – the kingdom was now present in Jesus in such a way that it could not be in John’s.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand! This is the message of every gospel preacher. It is interesting to me that when Jesus began his ministry, he did not start with, “Smile, God loves you.” I do not deny that God loves people; I simply point out what Jesus’ first message was. I am of the opinion that it is this message of “Repent!” that is too often missing in our preaching today. No, I am not one to preach what is sometimes called, “hell, fire, and brimstone” (unless, of course, the passage teaches it, and there are passages about hell in the Scriptures), but we must be honest with the Scriptures and confess that we often water them down. We encourage people to “ask Jesus into their hearts” without giving a thought about preaching the truth that with faith must come repentance. Failing at this, we risk teaching people inadvertently that they can come to Christ and bring their sins with them. We live in a day of much moral confusion. People must be taught right from wrong, especially in a culture of moral relativism. They must confess their sins with the intention of repenting of their sins, as they did when they came to John the Baptist (Mark 1:5; Luke 3:7-14). Indeed, when Peter preached to the gentiles who believed the gospel, and then reported the matter to the brethren in Jerusalem, the brethren replied, rejoicing, “Then to the gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). Thus is repentance counted both as a gift of God at our conversion and a mark of authenticity of that conversion.
The gospel is a gospel of life. It was sin that brought death upon us, and so it is for that reason that sin must be forgiven AND left behind. Yes, it is a lifetime’s work, but the intention must be in the beginning. Remember, it is God’s intention to save us from our sins, not in them.