“From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” — Matthew 4:17 (NASB95)
This is the second time the phrase “kingdom of heaven” is used in the Gospel of Matthew. The first time it was from the mouth of John the Baptist, who was out in the desert preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That’s right — John and Jesus began their ministries with the exact same message. You might have thought that Jesus (the Messiah) might have some original material! (Only kidding!) So, if Jesus was inaugurating the coming of the kingdom of heaven, what does it mean that John the Baptist and Jesus had the same message? It tells and assures me that God’s message to humanity is unchanging. If you think about it for a moment, this is the message of the entire Bible. Humanity needs to wake up and realize its lost condition, and repent of its waywardness, and God will accept us into His kingdom. It is supposed to be the same message today! Christians are too often trying to package the message about the kingdom of God into something new. The danger is that, while repackaging, we might alter the message.
After His baptism, Jesus began His ministry as a mirror image of John’s ministry. There was no sizzle. There were no dramatic moments. Angels didn’t descend from heaven. Jesus didn’t raise the dead (yet). He simply began to preach that people needed to repent because the kingdom of heaven was at hand. He spoke a truthful message about the kingdom of God. But there was one difference. John could only speak of that kingdom second-hand. He could only speak of that which was revealed to him. But Jesus, He could speak first-hand. Jesus, the Messiah promised by God, came from that kingdom and could speak about it in a very direct way. John the Baptist was pointing to Jesus. Jesus pointed to Himself.
So, whom do we point to? We live in a very complicated time. Ideologically we have never seen a world so polarized. Even our own country doesn’t know what it believes about the world it lives in. How should we package the message so that people will get it? Should we dramatize it? Modernize it? Should we make it more palatable for the world around us to accept it? I’ll let you figure that out wherever you are. But let me advise you in one way. Don’t change the message! Human beings in the 21st century have the same spiritual illness they had in the Middle Ages. Just like Jesus, we must keep the message the same. Humanity needs to repent because the kingdom of God has come and Jesus (the Messiah) is returning soon.
In word and deed, may we keep the message of the kingdom of heaven simple and clear.