Epiphany 3a, (January 26, 2014)
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn
TITLE: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from St. Matthew chapter four. We focus on the quotation from Isaiah, “Upon them a light has dawned”.
In the New Testament the people to whom Jesus ministers are divided into two distinct groups: The Jews and the Gentiles. The Jews had been God’s chosen ones for generations. From the time of the patriarch, Jacob, the sons of Israel had been God’s own people, His treasured possession, His beloved, His crown and His very life. But like Esau tossing aside his inheritance for a bowl of lentil soup, so the people of Israel had tossed aside and forgotten their birthright. They did not remember that God’s love towards them was a matter of grace, not their own work and people. God chose them, not the other way around.
So when Jesus began His public ministry, you had a people who knew all the answers but had no heart. The promises were true, the grace was there and all the gifts, but they did not know, they did not remember who they really were. They had forgotten, even rejected their identity as God’s people.
This is the mess into which Jesus entered. He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. He was tempted by the devil and came out victorious through the Word and promises of God. And so He begins His public ministry and service to the world.
Jesus’ beginning, however, is not the beginning you might expect. He doesn’t begin with plans and strategies. He doesn’t begin with a public awareness campaign or a new program for the Jews or the Gentiles. He doesn’t begin with the great Old Testament education program for the people. No, He begins with the simple phrase, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
What does this mean, the word, “repent”? Repentance is the beginning, the very lifeblood of what it means to be a Christian. Repent literally means turn around or even better, be turned around. It means, at a very basic level, that things are not right and that something has to change.
I am reminded of a statement by the English writer and Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis. Lewis wrote the following about progress:
“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” –C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Progress and repentance have a lot to do with each other, especially when it comes to faith and new beginnings. Repentance means turning around because you are going the wrong way. When Jesus calls you to repent, He is calling you to see and know that you are a sinner, and that you can only live on the mercy and love of God.
This repentance isn’t a one time shot, either. Martin Luther in one of his most famous writings,the 95 Theses, actually quotes Matthew as follows in the first thesis:
1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” [Matt. 4:17],3 he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
In other words, our lives as Christians are continually about repentance and faith. Christ our Lord calls you to repent, not once, but every single day of your life. This is, at the vest simplest level, this is what it means to be a baptized child of God.
Luther again puts it this way in the Small Catechism on Holy Baptism:
What does such baptizing with water indicate?
It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
So what does all this mean for you, dear Christian? It means this: you are a sinner from before your birth. You have always been so, and will continue to be so until our Lord returns again in glory. Your life here on earth is one of doing battle against your old selfish, sinful nature. Sin, death and the power of the devil are arrayed against you. It is their desire and work to fling your sins in front of you, to keep you from faith and to create doubt in your mind. That little voice, “did God really say?,” that voice is the voice of satan himself.
But you do not need to be afraid. You have a champion and protector, Jesus Christ our Lord. It is He who guards and keeps you in Himself. Repentance, you see, isn’t a matter of willpower. It isn’t something that you do at all. Not like we think, at least.
Repentance, you see, must come from outside of you. It comes to you, it is given to you by the Word and Spirit of Jesus Christ Himself. This life of repentance, of continually turning away from sin and toward God, this life is the life of faith, which only comes to you as a gift from God Himself.
When Jesus begins to preach repentance, many things happen. The disciples start following him, like Andrew and Simon Peter, his brother. Jesus goes and heals every sickness and disease. This repentance, this great turn around of life, actually started turning everything around. Even death itself would be turned around at the Word and call of Jesus Himself.
And so, we see this morning the life of repentance and faith begin in little Molly Jackson. It is given to her in the waters of Holy Baptism. Here, her new life in Christ begins. Here, heaven is opened and the gates of hell are shut off. And what is true for her is true for you as well. Jesus began to preach, and you know what? He never stops. The kingdom of heaven is at hand even now, in water and Word, bread and wine which is His body and blood. In this turn-around, everything is new.
So come, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And it is here for you.
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.
 Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 31: Career of the Reformer I. Ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, & Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 31. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999. Print.