March 4, 2016
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
It makes perfect sense in hindsight. It always does.
This story began by defying conventional traditions with a puzzlingly irregular genealogy. It moved to an inconceivable birth story with the most unlikely, uninvited baby shower guests. From there the Son of God took flight from the murderous King Herod and after his death relocated to the unremarkable backwoods town of Nazareth. It makes sense that a doomsday prophet would show up in the wilderness heralding a divine regime change and calling on the citizenry to align themselves accordingly.
The problem comes when we try to parachute into the story at chapter 3. We see that word, “repent,” and we are off to the races. We all know what that means don’t we? It means to straighten up, behave, get your act together, change your ways, turn your life around, start going to church and otherwise stop sinning. The call to repent usually leaves a person feeling either guilty or ashamed or both after which they “rededicate” their life to God which mostly means amping up the behavior management program.
This New Testament call to repent means so much more than our modern day conceptions. My friend and trusted biblical scholar, Dr. Brian Russell, says the biblical word, “repent” holds a much more robust meaning along the lines of a total realigning of one’s life around the in-breaking Kingdom of God. Isn’t that John’s clarion call, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
That “the kingdom of heaven has come near” does not primarily mean there’s a new sheriff in town. It means a new day is dawning, the New Creation is breaking through, the glorious reign of King Jesus is about to begin and everything broken by sin and death is about to be made new from the inside out. To repent means to realign with the glorious new reality encapsulated by the simple call to prayer, “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
To be clear, behaviors will change but that change will come from a far deeper place than mere compliance with the rules. It will come from the deep wells of our transformed dispositions, affections, desires and from the Holy Spirit inspired dreams of the beautiful, good and powerfully loving lives we were created to live. To repent means to realign our entire lives to become the remarkable kind of people Jesus would be if he were you and me. Repentance does not start with a stinging self examination of our shame-filled selves. No, it begins by beholding the face of God in Jesus Christ, inhaling the Holy Spirit breathed Word of our own beloved-ness and exhaling the breathtaking beauty of the now-appearing-all-things-are-possible Kingdom of Heaven.
That’s exactly where this Gospel of Matthew is headed. Thank God we’re not relegated to a front row seat—we are in on the action.
“Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
1. Reflect on this notion of repentance as realignment with a Divine regime change rather than shame driven behavior management. What difference might that make in your life?
2. How have you and how do you experience “The Kingdom of Heaven has come near,” in your own life? How would you like to experience this reality?
3. Can you imagine inhaling the Holy Spirit breathed Word of your own beloved-ness? What is the meaning of this to you? What holds you back? Can you share a story of when that happened in your life?
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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.