From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
I think when we first hear this, it doesn’t sound very nice. At least, I have a vague memory of thinking this was one of the scary verses. When I used to hear, “kingdom of heaven”, I would think of the end: God burning the world, while the righteous watched on, and heard the cries of the damned for help. And so with this in mind, I thought Jesus was trying to scare people straight, ready for a judgment that wouldn’t come for millennia. I don’t know who’s to blame (apart from myself) for this awful misunderstanding.
I could hardly have been more wrong. This verse is full of hope. This is good news.
The kingdom of heaven is not judgment, and it is not wrath. Where God truly rules, there is no sin, and therefore no judgment, and no wrath. The kingdom of heaven is the rule of love, because God is love. The kingdom of heaven was well and truly at hand, because Jesus Christ, the Word became flesh, was at hand. Heaven and earth came to union, in that flesh where God became man. And he was offering us to have a part in that kingdom. To be truly free: ruled by love, and united with God Himself.
And what was the condition he attached to us joining this Kingdom above all kingdoms? “Repent”. I believe he means by this, that we turn away from the lives that are death, and accept and live by God’s rule of love, with sorrow for ever living by anything else. In this we have our salvation, our life, and our freedom. The kingdom of God is within you (Lk 17:21), and we cannot have it while we reject it, either by our words, deeds, or beliefs. Nor could the rule of God’s love be imposed on anyone who rejects it, because love doesn’t work that way. But if we turn from our deeds of death with sorrow, and live by the one who is life, who gave his life that we might share in it in every way, then we are alive in the kingdom of heaven.
It is true that repentance includes sorrow. To repent, we must have sorrow for our past ways, and therefore be turning from them. But it also includes the far greater hope for the life we turn to. We do not turn out of fear, but its opposite, which is hope. So, in repentance, we have sorrow, and hope for life beyond this sorrow.
Upon the cross, we find our hope, which was won for us through sorrow. Christ shared in our sorrows to the end, and used them to give us hope. All the sorrows we have created by our disobedience, Christ suffered, and, by his obedience, used for our salvation. By suffering the sorrows we made, he shared in our life, but in purity without sin, that we may share in his life, and be pure also. He died our death, that we may live his life.
So, when we repent, we look to the cross. And seeing the holiest deed in all history, we are not condemned, but are loved, because that is what holiness is. There we find life being given to us, and there we find the life we must imitate. There we see Jesus Christ, we see the kingdom of heaven, and we see life itself.
God bless you, thoroughly and completely and absolutely.