From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17)
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15)
Some mark this proclamation to repent because the kingdom of heaven is near as the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. His ministry began when John the Baptist’s public ministry ended—when John was arrested.
Jesus, hearing of John’s arrest, withdrew into Galilee. He had been at His boyhood home, Nazareth. He moved to Capernaum, a large metropolitan city where He could contact the multitudes, in the region of Naphtali on the Sea of Galilee. This area had a larger Gentile population than did Judea. The people were living in darkness (see Matthew 4:16). They were more subject to pagan influence than were those in Judea. Because they needed Him most, Jesus went to them first.
He began his public preaching using the same text John the Baptist had used (see Matthew 3:2). He commanded the people to repent and believe the gospel, “for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
According to the prophet Isaiah, this kind of preaching brought great light: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).
By this proclamation and this command, we can know that without repentance we will not enter the kingdom of God. Repentance is the gateway to the kingdom. Jesus said in Luke 13:3 and again in verse 5, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Entrance into the kingdom is the goal of repentance. It is significant that Jesus started His ministry with this message. This is how Christian life and commitment must begin—with repentance.
Virginia (not her real name) tried, or pretended, to be a Christian, but there was no power in her life, no fruit. I noticed that she spoke of her past life in sin almost boastfully. Clearly, no repentance had taken place in her life, indicating that she did not truly recognize her sinful condition before declaring that she was a believer. Unfortunately, because of this, she later returned to that life of sin. Perhaps what she didn’t understand is that repentance is not about us. It is all about Jesus, who gives life.
In obedience to Him, our hearts become burdened to change and leave the intentionality and pleasure of our sin on the altar of a forgiving Father. We cannot straddle the world of sin and the world of righteousness at the same time, for they are mutually exclusive. Both worlds demand obedience that we cannot fully give without making a decision for one over the other.
We are not on believing ground until we have genuinely repented, turning from sin. Repentance is agreeing with God about our sin—godly sorrow for sin, being sorry enough to quit. In repentance, we come to the end of ourselves. We realize our own sinful conditions, and we understand we cannot save ourselves, but need a Savior. When this happens, and only when this happens, Jesus will save and usher the penitent into the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom is where God’s will rules. This kingdom is upon each of us when Jesus becomes our King, when we turn around and become ruled by God, not by self. In the person and preaching of Jesus, this kingdom of heaven came near.
Some might think this kind of preaching would bring resentment, but it brought light and salvation. The warning here is clearly that without repentance there is no admission into the kingdom of heaven.
Dear Lord, I understand that without repentance there is no remission for sin. Show me if there is anything in my life for which I need to repent, and forgive me. Keep me so close to You and Your Word that I become sensitive to every sin and am able to move quickly into repentance.
–Adapted from Encountering Jesus: Praying the Commands of Christ into Your Life by Norval Hadley. This book is available at prayershop.org. Use the code CONPSP3 at checkout to receive an additional 10% discount.
Praise God that he graciously chooses people to belong to him! Give thanks “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Confess to the Father any doubts or objections you may have about how he works things out. Commit yourself to the one who chose you in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight (Eph. 1:4). Ask that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).
Pray that governmental officials may not be tempted by power or money. Ask God that those who have fallen to these temptations may be changed or removed from their positions.