March 6, 2006
Sky Valley Park, CA
"In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matt. 3:1-2).
Matthew tells his readers that John was the one spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, "A voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him" (Vs. 3). Amazingly, with no press secretary, no CNN, no Fox News, no faxes, e-mails or phones, the word got out and "People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River" (Vs. 5-6). This is a confirmation of what Lenny and I have personally observed many times in our own lives. When God calls you to do something, He provides the means, the energy, and the audience. We often tell this to the eloquent brothers in Africa and India, who beg us to be the source of the support for their ministry.
But what does repentance have to do with the kingdom of heaven? The dictionary defines repent as: "to feel or express sincere remorse or regret for ones wrongdoing or sin." Strongs' Concordance defines the word repent in this passage: "metanoeo (met-an-o-eh'-o); from 3326 and 3539; to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider (morally, feel compunction): repent." Some say the Greek word metanoeo means "to change one's mind," which is suggested by the Strongs' definition given.
I recently heard the question, "What does repentance have to do with the kingdom being near, as preached by both John and Jesus?" The people coming to the Jordan River had no effective way to rid themselves of sin, for it was "impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Heb. 10:4). Their sins were merely rolled forward each year as the High Priest laid the sins of the people on the head of a scapegoat which was then sent out into the wilderness (Lev. 16:10; 20-22). If you had committed a "really big sin," you might be hard pressed to get out from under the guilt by such a ritual. In any event, no one was able to live by the Law of Moses, but the Pharisees especially, were good at "faking righteousness," which impressed the gullible, but not God. Both John the Baptist and Jesus uttered scathing rebukes of this behavior. John said to the Pharisees and Sadducees: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham" (Matt. 3:7-9). OUCH! That must have smarted, big time. So much for tracing their lineage back to Abraham, and for claiming credit for good works. Jesus also called the religious leaders a "brood of vipers" asking, "how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34).
Even beginning Bible students know that Jesus was merciful to sinners, but hard as nails on the religious leaders who thought they had the inside track to God. If I may use the "change your mind" meaning of repent for the sake of illustration, it seems to me that both John and Jesus were saying to their respective audiences, "change your mind about who you are, and how you seek God, for the kingdom is not of this world and this world's rules do not apply."
Where is the kingdom? you may well ask. A simple answer is, "Wherever the King is reigning, there is the Kingdom." It's easier to ask "Where is God NOT reigning?" The Psalmist declared, "If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol (often translated, hell), thou art there!" (Ps. 139:8), making it clear that God reigns everywhere. Now IF, as the religious Jews of Jesus' day believed, God was only present among the righteous, dwelling specifically in the Most Holy Place of the Temple, you would need to change your mind, about where the kingdom of God is and who can go in. (See Lev. 16:2-5.)
When the Lord sent out the 72 disciples, two by two, He told them, "When you enter a town and are welcomed.... Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.' But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near" (Luke 10:8-11). In other words, whether the townsfolk liked it or not, or believed it or not, the kingdom was near. When the Jews accused Him of casting out demons by Beelzebub, He answered, "But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you" (Luke 11:20).
Sadly, there are Christians today who are still waiting for the kingdom to come. If this were true, it would mean that Jesus was off in the timing of the kingdom's arrival by at least 2000 years! He told the disciples, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power" (Mark 9:1). Christians have taken the frightening verses found in Matt. 24, out of context, scaring themselves with fears of the tribulation and fiery judgment of God. They have tried to make Christ's prophecy literal, rather than symbolic. In fact, the evidence suggests that Jesus was speaking about events in His time, rather than in our future. What He said was: "I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened" (Matt. 24:34). Christ was prophesying the events of AD 70, the end of the Jewish age, all within the 40 years of the generation in which He lived. (To read "That Beastly Bug," about these so called "end time" events, see link at end). God used the Roman General Titus to destroy Jerusalem, the Temple, and all the records therein, making it impossible to keep the sacrifices required under the Law, or even to prove who belonged to the Tribe of Levi, a necessity for the priesthood to continue. I'll leave it at that, but it explains the need to repent, to change our minds about who God is and what His plan for His creation is.
The Middle East is a boiling cauldron of hate, violence, and false teaching regarding this very matter of where the kingdom of God is and who is in it. If the Muslim world erupted in blood lust over a few cartoons of Muhammad, I shudder to think what would be the result if someone told them what John and Jesus told the Jews so long ago, that God could raise up stones to be sons of Abraham.
The world is in need of repentance, but not for what most Muslims and even Christians are so incensed about: sexual and doctrinal purity. The issue of sin is a done deal, a closed book. The sinner has been declared "not guilty" set free, and filled with the Spirit of God Himself. Christ paid the price for the whole world as John 3:16 declares, but the next verse goes farther: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son" (John 3:16-18). Some use this to prove non believers will burn in hell forever, but as Lenny has pointed out, this verse is NOT referring to the after life, but speaks of right now! Repentance is NOT the catalyst which allows God to forgive sins, as most believe. We only have the will and strength to repent BECAUSE God has already forgiven the world in Christ. "For there is one God and one peacemaker between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who gave himself as an offering for ALL" (I Tim. 2:5-6).
Many today still believe that their religion is the only way to appease an angry God, but the Good News is: "For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two (Jew and Gentile) one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility" (Eph. 2:14-15). God is bigger than our religions, all of them!
Some Christians appear to believe that the church is the end result of all of God's promises. The Church Paul wrote about, not found anywhere that one can see on planet Earth today, is the Bride of Christ, His body, bought with His own blood. Lenny had a beautiful teaching from God about this. The Lord showed him that even as He opened Adam's side and took out Eve, to be Adam's bride, a part of his own body, even so, when the spear pierced Christ's side on the cross, and blood and water flowed forth, out of that came the Bride of Christ, the Church (John 19:34). At that moment, the veil of the Temple was rent in two, and God was no longer separated from men by religion's dictates, but was available to all men, Jew and Gentile, by the Holy Spirit. The water and the blood are powerful symbols of God's covenant with the children of Israel. The Hebrew writer explains that Moses used the "blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people" (Heb. 9:18); he goes on to say that "the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Vs. 22). The glorious conclusion is that the Law was fulfilled in Christ, who "has appeared once for ALL at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb. 9:26). Did He succeed or fail in His effort to do away with sin? The Law was/is "only a shadow of the good things that are coming, not the realities themselves" (Heb. 10:1). The Old Testament shadows were all fulfilled in Christ.
Both John the Baptist and Christ called for their listeners to repent, and they might do the same today if given the opportunity, because most Christians are caught up in proclaiming the doctrines held dear by "their" church, without ever seeing the kingdom of heaven on earth at all. Jesus told Nicodemus, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" (John 3:3). He thought Christ was speaking of entering his mother's womb a second time, but Jesus corrected him, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit" (Vs. 5-6).
What does repentance have to do with being born again? Some would say you have to repent of your sins before you can experience the new birth, but it's more than that. I think you have to change your mind about the process itself. The dear old Saints at Medicalodge see the logic of my argument that you can no more get yourself born again than you could get yourself born from your mother's womb in the first place. You can follow denominational rules and become a member in good standing of a church. These usually include, belief, repentance, confession, and baptism. But how do you get yourself born again? It is a God process from start to finish. This is why we need to repent of inserting self effort into the born again process. By soul power, we will never see or enter the kingdom. By the power of God's Spirit, we will see, enter, and walk with God in the kingdom all the days of our lives.
We get e-mail from people asking how they can forgive, or how they can stop sinning, or how they can be better pleasing to God. My answer is usually, YOU cannot, but Christ in you can and will. We also have many readers who have come out of church fellowship because they feel stifled and unable to express the Life in the Spirit they feel within the confines of a denominational box. A Pastor who feels led to provide a safe haven for some of these who no longer view church as their SOURCE, recently asked for our help. I told him that we live our lives by the pleasure and direction of the Lord, and we'll do whatever God's will is in this matter.
When I approached God about it that night, He asked, "Are you ready to go back to church?" The previous morning I had said, "Well, Lord, I'm sorry about my attitude toward church, but you can change that anytime You want to." I didn't answer His question, but while I was pondering what He wanted me to do, He said two things: "They (the ones looking for fellowship) will drag their baggage from church with them," and, "The church is NOT for the entire world." The lights went on and the bells went off, for it confirmed what I've long believed. The church contains a limited number of people, but the kingdom encompasses everyone, for as I tell them at Medicalodge, there is nowhere that God is not. It remains to be seen what this means for our participation in the Pastor's project, but if God wants us to be a part of it, we couldn't refuse to do it no matter how hard we tried, and if He does not want us to, it won't happen.
Religious organizations are comprised of SERVANTS, but Life in the Spirit flows from the Father to His SONS and out through them, to the entire world. The kingdom is everywhere, and we need to repent of how we see ourselves; we need to change our minds about sin consciousness, and ask God to make real to us Paul's glorious affirmations that "he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight;" He "predestined (us) to be His sons through Christ;" we are "redeemed and forgiven by His grace," and lavished with "all wisdom and understanding" (Eph. 1:4-8). "A new creation in Christ" we are reconciled to God through Him; and in Him, "We are the righteousness of God" (II Cor. 5:17-21). May God open our eyes to see that we "have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God" (I Pet. 1:23).
Father, we repent of our need to be Your advisor and do Your work on our own steam; instead, we await the flow of Your Spirit, the living water in our lives, leading us and guiding us into all truth. To You be honor and glory and everlasting joy now and forever. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
That Beastly Bug
The Glory Road
This writing was uploaded to the web 3/25/06,
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,
and last updated 10/06/08.