Unpacking The Preacher, & Picking The Right Kingdom
(Be sure to read previous posts to help the following posts make sense!)
Maybe you’re already offended. Jesus’ teaching starts abruptly with a word we don’t often hear today; “Repent!” It sounds like something a TV preacher from the Old Time Gospel Hour would shout at you while wagging his finger and thumping his Bible. But that word is more of a warning than a dis. It literally means to “turn around.” If you were driving your car on a foggy night toward a bridge that had been washed away, and I was standing on the edge of the street, I might yell “repent” as you drove by. Rather than condemning you, I would be warning you that there was danger ahead. And that is at the heart of why Jesus began his public teaching ministry with that word, repent— “watch out! Danger ahead! Turn around! Stop heading in that direction and start heading in a new direction!” Don’t misunderstand. It is a stern warning. There is an “edge” to that word that can’t and shouldn’t be missed. It presumes that the person shouting the warning knows something you don’t. It also presumes that the person shouting not only sees the danger, but they also have a good idea of a better alternative route. So, why does Jesus introduce us to his teaching in such an abrupt and at the same time, confident way?
Not only is the word “repent” a little old-fashioned, but the word “kingdom” is not something that most of us can identify with, at least not most Americans. We don’t have a king, nonetheless a kingdom. But most of us get the idea. A kingdom is a place, a territory. It has borders and is composed of people or citizens. It has a government with people that call the shots. It provides its people with an Identity that distinguishes them from other people from other countries or kingdoms. It usually has its own currency, and it provides its citizens with the things they need to live comfortably. In short, a kingdom is where you live, and how you live. After starting with the word “repent” Jesus then gives the answer to what he is urging us to turn/repent from, as well as what he wants us to turn to. He wants us to turn away from one kingdom and turn toward another. While he may not be clear yet about which kingdom he wants us to turn from, he is crystal clear on the one he wants us to turn toward—the kingdom of “heaven.” But that still leaves Jesus with a lot of explaining to do—He first needs to explain what kingdom he is urging us to turn away from, and what exactly he means by turning to the “kingdom of heaven?”