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.