Epiphany 3, 2017
“Dawn has come”
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“The world is very evil, the times are waxing late; Be sober and keep vigil, The Judge is at the gate; The Judge that comes in mercy, The Judge that comes with might, To terminate the evil, To diadem the right.” (TLH 605)
The world was very evil during the time of Christ as well. Our Gospel lesson takes place right after John the Baptist had been imprisoned by Herod. John had proclaimed “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) John baptized for the forgiveness of sins. He called wickedness sin…and sin evil. He called people to repentance. He was thrown into jail for it. He would die for proclaiming the truth of God’s Word.
What John faced were sinful people. Many believed the message of John…were baptized…sought forgiveness…and received faith. Others questioned John’s call for repentance. Many claimed that they had already repented…why did they need to repent again? Others laughed at John and said that they didn’t need to repent.
Doesn’t that sound like our world today. We give thanks for those that have been called to repentance and faith…and do believe in God. Yet many question why they need to repent again and again and again while others laugh at the notion of sin and a need for repentance. The world is very evil, just like it was back then.
The call to repent is the message of the New Testament. John the Baptist proclaimed it in preparation of the coming Messiah. Here in our text, at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus preaches to the people: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) It is exactly the same phrase used by John; it is the exact same phrase Jesus would use once more when he told the 12 Disciples: go “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 10:6-7)
What is so important about this message? Why is it that John the Baptist preaches this message, Jesus preaches this message, and the 12 Disciples are told to preach this message? Repent. The people are told to repent. It is much more than just apologizing for something when you have been caught. True repentance is a change of heart; a change of attitude; a change of living. To repent means to do a complete 180 and turn from sinfulness to faith in Christ. True repentance is leaving sinfulness and by faith trusting completely in Jesus.
That’s an important message to proclaim! That is a life or death message; eternal life in heaven or eternal damnation in hell. The message had to be proclaimed right away…there was no time to waste! The kingdom of heaven was at hand.
Including today…what takes place in 86 days? Does anybody know? It’s not Easter…or Pentecost…it isn’t a Church holiday. It’s tax day. There are already many people that have finished their taxes. The closer we get to tax day…the more urgent it gets to finish your preparation and file your taxes. Why? We don’t want to pay any additional penalties…right? And yet many won’t get their taxes filed…and many will have stiff penalties to pay…and that happens even though we know the exact date and time the taxes are due.
The kingdom of heaven is different. A better terminology would be to use the “reign of heaven is at hand.” God isn’t coming to earth to set up a kingdom…yet His reign is at hand. John the Baptist proclaimed that the reign of heaven was at hand…that is…the Messiah is coming and coming soon. Jesus proclaimed that the reign of heaven was at hand…that is…He was the Messiah and the reign had begun. Jesus told the Disciples to continue the message, “the reign of heaven is at hand.” They were to proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah and the reign has begun. We continue to proclaim to believers and unbelievers alike: “repent, for the kingdom [reign] of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)
The reign of heaven has begun. Dawn has come. The Light of the World has been born, died, has risen and ascended into heaven. The reign has begun…the kingdom is at hand…the beginning of the end has started…Judgment day is coming; it is coming soon. As the hymn I quoted earlier says, “The Judge is at the gate!” And unlike Tax Day…we don’t know the exact time when Jesus will return. So the message “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17) becomes even more important and urgent to proclaim.
“Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6-7)
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) Repent, for Christ has come, the end is near. Repent. Receive faith. For when our Lord returns there is no more time. Repent. Receive faith. For you don’t know the hour that the Lord will return…or when you will die. Repent before it’s too late.
We get it. We are evil. We need to repent and have faith. But what is so great about this message? What is great…what is joyful…what gives us hope and chills down our back…is what God gives to the repentant. It is God who calls us to repentance. It is God that leads us to repentance. It is God who gives us faith.
While God could certainly say “do this or else” God instead says repent, be baptized, receive the gift of faith, receive the gifts Jesus has won for you. God loves us so much that He has given us thousands of years to repent and receive faith. God loves us so much that He sent us a Savior…because we couldn’t believe on our own, repent on our own, or earn salvation on our own. God loves us so much that He calls us to repentance so that we would gain life and salvation in Christ Jesus.
Repent. Stop sinning. Stop the train heading recklessly to damnation in hell. Stop throwing your life away. Turn to Christ. Receive the gifts He has won for you: Salvation, forgiveness, life, and heaven. Receive the gift of being a son and daughter of the King.
Repent. Receive faith. The kingdom of heaven is at hand…and you are sons and daughters of the King. Repent and receive forgiveness in the very body and blood of Christ this day. Repent…and receive the riches of heaven; life eternal with all the saints in paradise. Dawn has come and we are children of light; heirs of the kingdom of Heaven and we have the greatest message to proclaim to the world. Your sins are forgiven in Christ. Heaven is yours! Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.