The Kingdom Of Heaven Is Near
Key Verse 3:2
“and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’“
Most of the Old Testament prophets called people to repent. For centuries God sent prophets who would deliver a message to the people of God urging them to repent and turn their hearts back to him. There were always humble ones who listened, and those who were too proud to heed the message of repentance. Those who repented always had a change of heart. They put away their sins, and turned their hearts to God in faith to obey him and to live for his glory. But those who refused to repent and change their wicked sinful ways, those usually got worse and missed their chance to taste God’s grace and mercy. Repentance had never been an option for anyone in God’s history— not even for you or me nor for anyone else! The truth is that before anyone could even begin to have a saving relationship with God, God demands repentance! Why? Because it is the way to prepare one’s heart to receive Christ, who is God’s grace and mercy to all sinners. No one should ignore or avoid repentance. It is not wise to do so. God requires that every one search their heart to acknowledge their own sins, and then begin the process of cleansing through repentance. There is no other way to receive Christ; there is no other way to have a home in God’s heavenly kingdom. There is no room for proud hearts in the Kingdom of Heaven.
For centuries God spoke through the prophets and urged his people to repent and to turn their hearts to God in faith. When the people ignored God’s warning, what God told them would happen happened! They were conquered and the people exiled to foreign lands. But even in their desperate situation, God did not leave them without hope. He gave them prophesies that promised the coming of a Messiah, a Savior who would save them and restore them to God. Four hundred years passed without a prophet to speak to them a word from God. Then suddenly, an angel appeared to two people, one was Zechariah the father of John the Baptist and the other was Mary the mother of Jesus. God finally spoke and showered his blessings on an undeserving people living in sin. God had finally decided to send the promised Savior. But he would first prepare the way for his coming through the last prophet— John the Baptist. This, then, is where the Gospel according to Matthew begins. The times were dark and wicked and the people were suffering from their own sins. So what message could God possibly have for these suffering people? Amazingly it was once again the same old message of repentance. Why? Because God had a plan to set his people once again on the road to salvation and to his heavenly kingdom. And he would do so through his Son Jesus Christ. But not without first leading them in the way of repentance through the prophet John the Baptist.
Matthew chapter 3 is the story of John the Baptist’s life and ministry, as the last of the Old Testament prophets. John’s only mission in life was to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus the Savior of Mankind. But how was John to prepare the way? Remarkably, John began preparing the way for Jesus’ arrival by first preparing the people themselves to receive him. And John prepared them in the old fashioned way of all the Old Testament prophets. He preached to them a most unpopular but life giving message. Look at verse 2. John preached repentance! He preached this grim message to a people already burdened by all the sufferings inflicted on them by the injustice in the world, by the oppression of their captors as well as by the oppression of their own sins.
First of all, let’s see who John was? He was the only son of old Zechariah the priest and his old wife Elizabeth. He was known as “John the Baptist”. For nearly thirty years John grew up in a religious desert community, possibly known as the Nazerites, and he devoted himself to Bible study and prayer. He studied the Scriptures in order to learn about the God of history. But he also studied the Bible for a very good reason as well. He wanted to find his place and mission in God’s history. In other words, he wanted to know who he was and what God wanted him to do in his life. His parents taught him the facts and circumstances surrounding his unusual birth. His bed time stories for many years had been about God’s grace in choosing him to be the messenger of the Lord. Parents of today mostly urge their children to succeed in life whatever the cost, even while they watch their children deteriorate humanly and morally day after day. Most parents neither teach their children the word of God nor encourage them to trust God in faith. They raise their children neither to fear nor to serve God. But praise God for the few who know that the lives of their children are closely bound up with God and faith in him. John’s parents raised him in the fear and the knowledge of God. They instructed him from the beginning in the word of God, planting in his heart the absolute truth that he was a special child [as God intended all children to be] and whose life was precious and important to God’s work and history! They taught him how to live by faith and raised him up to search the Bible for guidance and for answers. While others raised their children to succeed and to rise in a godless world, Zechariah and Elizabeth raised John to succeed in the Kingdom of Heaven and to have a spiritual impact on the world.
John poured over the Scriptures for many years, contemplating his life in God. One day, while he was studying the Bible, the words of Isaiah 40:3 caught his attention. “A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.’” John read them and re-read them time and again. There was no doubt in his heart! These words were written hundreds of years ago in a different time to a different people. But it was as if they were written just for him. Matthew quotes them in verse 3. They were God’s personal message to him. They were urging him to believe and to accept them as his own. They were personally calling him to accept his calling and to embrace the mission God had called him to live. Then suddenly, in a moment of truth, the words in Isaiah 40:3 came to his heart. They answered his many questions of life. They revealed to him the purpose and meaning of his life. He found his true identity as the messenger of the Lord, and he found his mission to prepare the way of the Lord. It was no longer someone else’s teaching to him— now it had become God’s personal teaching to him. Most people come and go in life without answering the most important questions of life. They do not know who they are and what they are doing on earth. Most are deceived to think that they are a monkey’s descendant and they are here to make the best of life. They live and die in this great darkness of spiritual ignorance. The truth is that unless a person discovers who they are in God and what their purpose of life is in God, they are still living in darkness. But John found his life purpose in the Bible. God spoke to him through the Bible and endowed him with all that he needed order to understand his own life. The Bible alone can tell us who we are what our purpose of life is. But we will not know unless we study the Bible with faith that the word of God is living and active and speaks to those who listen. Thus, when John studied Bible in his young age, he discovered his true identity. He was created to be God’s servant. He also discovered his purpose. He was commissioned to serve Jesus Christ by preparing the way for him.
John’s mission was to prepare the way for the Lord Jesus. And he did so by delivering God’s message to the people. Let’s read verse 2. “And saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’” With this message he would prepare the way for Jesus to come into people’s hearts.
First, the message of repentance. John said, “Repent”. The message of repentance in the Bible is widespread and urgent to all people of all time. Because man is born a sinner and destined for judgment, repentance has been the message of God throughout time. Without repentance, there is no hope, no forgiveness and no life. Repentance is the way back to God. At the same time, repentance is the sign of a humble heart. We are born sinners. During our life, our sins outweigh even the goodness that some people possess. For those who have a conscience, the guilt and shame of their sins weighs heavy on their hearts all the time. And with sin-stained hearts, no one can come into the presence of God. If you have a sin-stained life, you will live as a stranger to God, even if you are surrounded by loving friends and family. You will not only be a stranger to God, but you will live in enmity with God as well. Why? Because sin offends God and invites his anger and wrath. During our lifetime, you and I may choose to ignore our sins and the fact that God is distant from you and me. The Bible calls this pride! On the other hand, you and I may choose to hate our sins and grieve the fact that God is far from our hearts. The Bible calls this humility! But God has made a way for those who humble themselves and have a desire to come back to him. It is the way of repentance. It isn’t the whole way, but only part of the way. Yet it’s an urgent step towards the forgiveness which comes through faith in Jesus’ blood.. We can say then, that repentance is a most beautiful message— a message of grace and of mercy to those who are suffering from their sins and are strangers to God and to his will in their lives. Anyone who wants to return to God must surely begin with the step of repentance. For those who already know the Lord through repentance, repentance is a way of life to demolish any stronghold of sin in their lives.
Second, the message of the kingdom of heaven. As repentance is a prevalent topic in the Bible, so also is the topic of the kingdom of Heaven. The kingdom of heaven is also the way back to God. The Bible begins with the story of men who lost the privilege of living in the kingdom of Heaven and were cast out of it. And the Bible also tells the story of God who paved the way for all of us to return to the kingdom of Heaven. Man was cast out of the kingdom of heaven because we sinned against God. Ever since that time, life can take only one of two directions— One either continues his or her journey to the kingdom of Satan or one journeys back to the kingdom of Heaven. Our life is a pilgrimage. And life in Christ is a spiritual journey to the kingdom of Heaven. The kingdom of Heaven is our home. It is our only hope. No one can live without hope. But if we live in this world, all our earthly hopes usually perish right before our very eyes. It’s heart breaking that so many labor hard to fulfill a hope only to see it crumble before their very eyes. The instant we lost paradise, we were left with nothing. So God sent us a Savior to pave the way to the kingdom of Heaven for us. Outside of this Savior Jesus, our lives and everything in our lives is hopeless. Yet John preached hope. He gave his people something to hope for— something they can hold on to that won’t perish. His message tells us to repent of our worldly hopes and to put our hope in Christ and his Heavenly Kingdom where we really belong. Therefore, we must set our hopes not on this world, but in the Kingdom of Heaven. That takes repentance too!
Look at verse 4. “John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.” John was one of the greatest prophets who ever lived. He was popular and beloved. He could have lived anywhere, even in a luxury suite, surrounded by many comforts. But he lived in the desert instead and wore raggedy clothes. He did so because he wanted to obey the will of God. He also did so because he was a man who lived by the words of God. He lived in the desert where there were no worldly distractions nor material temptations. He decided to live a simple life according to the teaching of the Bible. He ate simple food and wore simple clothes. He probably looked strange to most people of his day. But John was not strange at all! He was a beautiful man at heart, who understood the poverty of God’s people and their sufferings. And he decided to identify with them.
When John decided to identify with the suffering people, the people also decided to identify with him. Look at verse 5. “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.” The message of repentance is a message of sweet grace. But people don’t like to be told the truth that God wants them to repent! It offends their pride. The message of repentance and the people who dare to share it are rare and precious people because the message brings life to a dead soul. The Psalmist says: “Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you.” (Proverbs 9:8) John loved his people with the love of God. And therefore he rebuked them to repent. And his people didn’t hate him. Instead, they accepted his love and loved him back. They responded to this grace message by repenting with their whole hearts. They repented because they wanted to come back to God. They repented because the burdens of their sins weighed heavily in their hearts. Some people cleverly cover up the great guilt they have which comes from their constant sinning. But regardless of how clever human beings are in covering up their sins and masking their shame and guilt, everyone eventually feels the ravages of sin eating them up on the inside. But the people who came to John were tired of living in sin and tired of offending God. They came not to argue their sins with John but to confess them. They came to unload their burdens of sin at the throne of God’s grace. They came to be baptized. They came with a hope to begin a new life. They came with a decision of faith to do what pleases God. In other words, they came to repent.
But not everybody who came to see John came to repent. Among those who came were the religious leaders. They were men in authority. They were the respectable elite of the nation. John should have been happy that they added to his publicity. But he wasn’t happy with them. Look at verses 7b and 8. “You brood of vipers! [he said] Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” They performed their religious duties really well, but they were corrupt because they took God’s grace for granted. (9) They were corrupt mostly because they didn’t live a life of repentance. They saw no need for repentance. They were self-righteous. So John rebuked them. Look at verse 8 again. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” We know for sure that God wants all of us to produce fruit. (Jn.15:16) Every child of God needs to learn this truth from the beginning of his or her spiritual life. We must know God’s desire is to cultivate our lives and to enjoy the fruit of his work in our lives. And the way to produce this fruit is through a life of repentance. This means that as we learn new truths in the Bible, we put away our own ideas and feelings that do not match this truth, and instead we embrace the word of truth through repentance. We build a new value system based on the Words of God. We live according to the new rules as set forth by the teachings of the Bible. Such actions reveal humility and repentance and ultimately produce fruit for God. Otherwise, we are like the Pharisees who pretended all is well in their lives and didn’t need the grace of God.
John’s baptism was a baptism of water. It prepared people’s hearts in humility for the coming of the Savior. But it could not wash their sins away. Only faith in Jesus’ blood could wash our sins away. So, John witnessed that Jesus would baptize people with the Holy Spirit and with fire. It meant that through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, people would be cleansed of sin and changed inwardly through the work of the Holy Spirit. Look at verses 13 and 14. Jesus came to be baptized by John. But why did Jesus want baptism when he neither had sin in him nor needed to repent of anything? In verse 15 Jesus himself says, “To fulfill all righteousness.” Jesus came to this world in order to give righteousness to those who put their faith in him. But he had to humble himself to become like all men. Jesus humbled himself and underwent the humility of baptism in order to identify with sinners and to become their Savior. (Hebrews 2:17) When Jesus received John’s baptism he was anointed by the Holy Spirit. God was pleased to see his Son Jesus submit to the will of God in humility of heart. God was pleased to fulfill his work through humble Jesus. So he declared to the whole world that his Son Jesus is the Savior of the world who came to fulfill God’s salvation plan. Read verse 17. “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” May God bless you with the message of repentance and the kingdom of heaven in your heart.