From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Matthew 4:17
Repent is not a popular word in our world today. Usually people associate it with wild-eyed street preachers, holding up signs made from pieces of cardboard about the end of the world. But repent isn’t a bad word. It’s a very good word. It’s the very first word that Jesus used when He started preaching and teaching during His time on earth.
The word “repent” literally means to turn around. It means to turn our minds around and realize that there are things we’ve done that God has told us are wrong. Repenting means we recognize that we need God to save us because no matter how hard we try; we just can’t save ourselves. We can’t stop doing those things He’s said are wrong and harmful for us and our neighbor. We can’t pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. To admit that is to repent.
Of course, we don’t repent just for the sake of repenting. We don’t do it to wallow in our weakness and sorrow over sin. We repent because, as Jesus says, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That means that it’s right here, close enough to touch. We repent because we want to be brought into that kingdom and the only way there is through Jesus. When we repent, we admit that we can’t get ourselves to God’s kingdom, so we ask Jesus to bring us there. And the way He brings us there is by forgiving us.
When we repent, we’re called to believe that Jesus is the way to the kingdom of God. He is the way to eternal life lived under God’s good and gracious reign. We turn away from all the other things that got us distracted from Him and we look to Him instead. We look to Him in His Word, where He’s promised to be. We look for Him in Baptism, where He forgives us and makes us children of God. We keep coming back to those places where we see and hear those things. That’s all repentance really means. It means turning around and looking for Jesus in the places He’s told us to look for Him.
To make sure that we turn completely to Jesus and trust only in Him, God sends us His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit teaches us God’s Word and shows us Jesus. In that way, repentance is really God’s work. He’s the One who calls us to repent. He’s the One who gives us the gift of faith so that we can believe. We learn to thank God and put our faith in the only One who can bring us into the kingdom of heaven: Jesus Christ.
Gracious God, You do not want any to be lost. We thank You that You have called us to turn away from everything that would take us away from You. Help us to repent of our sins and to look only to Your Son Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’ John 1:38-39a
When Jesus asks the question, “What are you seeking?” He’s asking the would-be disciples, “What do you want?” That’s a very revealing question. The things that we want are the things that we love. If you want to know what someone loves, find out what they want. The things they want the most are the things that they love the most. They fear losing them. They love having them. They trust those things to make them happy and fulfilled and content. It’s when we learn what someone wants, what they love, that we learn what their god is.
Sadly, most of the time what humans—including all of us—want is something other than God. It can be money, peace and quiet, popularity, power, honor, or anything really. But rarely is having God enough for sinful humanity. All those other things that we fear losing, that we love having, and that we trust more than God are called idols. So when Jesus asks us, “What do you want?” He’s trying to show us all the idols we have in our lives. He’s calling us to want Him more than anything else.
The First Commandments tells us that we should have no other gods. That means that we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That means that we should want Him above all things. Why? Because God is the only one who can really give us life and contentedness. The life and bliss that He gives is much more than any other god could give. Everything else that we chase after and want won’t be able to give us eternal life or never-ending happiness. Money gets spent. Popularity fades. Power falls apart. Honor becomes tarnished. But none of that happens when God is what we fear, love, and trust. He is the only thing that lasts forever. And the most wonderful thing about that is that He shares it with us. When He forgives our sins in Jesus, He shares eternity with us. He gives us His own eternal life. He brings us with Him.
Jesus tells those who would follow Him as His disciples, “Come and you will see.” Come after Him. Follow Him. Love Him above all things and you will see all the wonderful things He does for those who put their trust in Him.
Heavenly Father, you know that we have many things in our lives that we fear, love, and trust more than You. Forgive us for this. Help us to love you most of all, because You have loved us enough to send Your Son to die on the cross for us and give us eternal life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented.’ Matthew 3:13-15
At Epiphany, we learn that Jesus is on our side. Even more, we learn that He is one of us, that this Man Jesus is also God. Here, at His baptism in the Jordan River, we learn that He’s not content to simply be one of us. He also wants to do for us what we could not do on our own.
When Jesus went down into the water to be baptized by John the Baptist, John knew that this was not going to be any ordinary baptism. All the other people he had baptized had sins that they needed to confess and receive forgiveness for. But John knew that Jesus had no sin. He was the Lamb of God—spotless, pure, and holy. So he said to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” John thought that things should have been the other way around.
But this is exactly how Jesus wanted it. He doesn’t want to stay separated from His people. He doesn’t even want sin to get in the way. So He wades down into it all, right into all the muck and mire of every single sin ever committed by humanity, and He meets His people there. Not only that, He picks up those sins and carries them Himself, taking them all the way to the cross, where He willingly pays the price those sins demand: death. He dies so that sinful people can live forever. It might seem backwards to us. It doesn’t make much sense for the innocent to be punished and the guilty to go free. It didn’t make sense to John the Baptist. But that’s what Jesus wants. He says, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” This is His plan of salvation.
At Jesus’ baptism, we see Him beginning His work of saving us. He’s not just one of us, He is right there with us in a misery-loves-company kind of way. He’s with us to redeem us, to take all of our sins from us and to give us His own purity and holiness. This is how he fulfills all righteousness. He does it all for us.
Heavenly Father, at Jesus’ baptism You told the world that He is Your beloved Son to whom we are to listen. Let us always hear His Word and know that because of what He has done for us, we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life; in Jesus’ name, Amen.
And going into the house [the magi] saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:11
At Christmas we celebrate the fact that in Jesus, God has become man. The eternal Son of God now shares our human flesh and is one of us. He’s taken our side, declaring Himself to be with us forever. And it’s not too difficult to believe that God could do that. Since He really is all-powerful, He can do anything at all, including becoming man.
But with the celebration of Epiphany, we’re faced with something that’s a little harder for many people to believe. At Epiphany, we celebrate that this particular man, Jesus, even as a little child, is the God who is to be worshiped. That takes a lot of faith.
The wise men, as they came from the east, probably had no idea what to expect when they would see the one who was born King of the Jews. So they did what anyone would do: they went to the palace of King Herod in Jerusalem. After all, where else would a king live? But there was no Messiah to be found there. The magi then had to follow the star again until they came to the house where the Savior of the world was born.
What was it that they saw there? A small child with His mother. Anyone who was looking at this would find it hard to believe that this child could be the Savior of the world. He looked like a kid. And yet, the wise men bowed down and worshiped him as God. This is what the celebration of Epiphany is all about. It’s about God becoming one of us so thoroughly that human eyes can’t tell you that this child is truly the Son of God. Epiphany is about coming to know Jesus not through what our eyes tell us, but coming to know Him through faith.
Jesus wants to be known through faith. He wants us to look at Him and not judge based on what we see, but on what He’s said. So when we see Him as an infant, we should still know that He is fully God wrapped up in swaddling clothes. When we see Him as a man who is despised by the powers-that-be, we should still know that He is the One who is praised and adored by the angels. When we see Him dying on the cross, we should know that He is the salvation of the world. Epiphany teaches us not to know Jesus through sight, but through faith. For it is only through faith that we come to know Him as He truly is, as He wants to be known: as the One who redeems us from all sin, evil and death.
O God, by the leading of a star You made Your only-begotten Son known to the Gentile wise men. Lead us, who know You by faith, to enjoy Your presence in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.