In the Gospels, who said, “May it be done to me according to your word”?
Which apostle proclaimed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”?
What preacher declared, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”?
If you answered that Mary said, “May it be done to me according to your word,” you would be correct. That was her response when she was asked to be the mother of the Savior. (Luke 1:38)
If you replied that Peter proclaimed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” you would be right. That is what he said when Jesus asked him “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16: 15-16)
If you responded that Jesus preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” you would be correct. We hear that proclamation in this Sunday’s Gospel as Jesus begins his public ministry. (Matthew 4:12-23)
However, there is another possible response to that third question. If you answered that John the Baptist said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” you would also be right.
We heard those words in the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent. There we were told, “In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!'” (Matthew 3:1-2)
However, though the words might be the same, each message was different – as different as the preachers.
When John the Baptist called people to repent for the kingdom was at hand, he was announcing that the kingdom was imminent. It was fast approaching. Now was the time to get ready for its arrival.
When Jesus said those words, he was proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven had arrived. The kingdom was present in him and in his ministry. It was at hand. The kingdom was not some future reality or some heavenly place, it was the power of God acting in this world to set things right.
Jesus demonstrated the presence of that kingdom by his preaching and miracles. As we read in Sunday’s Gospel, “He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.”
Those miracles of Jesus highlight the difference between John and Jesus. John proclaimed the kingdom was at hand, it was coming, but its power was not yet evident. “John performed no sign.” (John 10:41)
The presence of the kingdom, the power of God acting in Jesus, is also seen in the call of Peter and Andrew, James and John. When Jesus summons them, they leave their nets and follow him. At his word, fishermen are transformed into disciples.
That kingdom proclaimed by Jesus is present today. It is present as the power of God works in the lives of those who turn from sin and open their hearts to the Lord. Their acts of kindness and generosity, their ability to forgive those who hurt them, their sacrifices for the sake of others, their love of neighbor and stranger, their ordering their lives according to the Gospel, and their willingness to share their faith are all signs that the kingdom of heaven is at hand,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” those words spoken by Jesus challenge us to see the presence of God’s kingdom in our world and in our lives.
© 2020 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski