Repentance and the Kingdom of God
Matthew 3: Repentance and the kingdom of God
Kaleo El Cajon
January 2, 2010
Today, I want to think about the things that frustrate us, the things that we complain about, the desires that we have that we allow to control us. I thought of a number of ways, but finally decided to just give you a personal example. The week of Christmas I had a very busy week, I ended up preaching about eight times and driving over six hundred miles etc. It was a busy week and it took all my attention and all my focus. And my wife Abbey was amazing in letting me do that, even though it meant that we could not have as much time together as we would have liked. And when the week finally ended, when I finished preaching on Saturday night and came home I was fried. I felt totally done and when I came home I went to my computer to read about sports and to check out for a while and try and unwind. My wife asked me a really important question and I answered her quickly while still reading the computer. She didn’t appreciate that, she went away visibly upset and inside I found myself getting very frustrated. I found myself thinking in my head, “Seriously, seriously, after all this week, I’ve finally finished, please, I just want to have some time to let my brain go and not think about anything. I just want to read about the Bears that’s it.” And so that is what I did. I didn’t go and try and comfort her, I didn’t go put down the computer and go and talk to my wife. I just thought, “I deserve this, I deserve a break and I am not going to deal with this right now.”
Of course I never thought about it from Abbey’s perspective. I never thought that she had given me up for most of the week and that this was her fist chance to have me back. She was excited about having her husband back and my response to her excitement to have me back was reading about the Bears. I never thought of what she was thinking because I was in my own little world, my own kingdom. I was being controlled by my own desires. My own desire for rest, even though there is nothing wrong with rest, had taken control over of my life and I was going to have some down time, no matter what. Anyone or anything that threatened to disturb what I wanted and thought I needed at that time would only incur my frustration.
Guys, you might think I sound like a punk and you would be right, I was a punk but don’t miss the fact that all of us live like this, all the time. Think about it. Think about the last time you were frustrated. Then try and explain it and you will find that you were probably frustrated because you were really looking forward to things being a certain way and then when they weren’t, when someone or something got in the way of your desire, you became frustrated. Isn’t that why traffic is so frustrating? We leave the house thinking it will take thirty minutes to get somewhere and find that there was an accident and we are going to be late. Think about everything that we complain about. We complain because the world that is doesn’t comply with the world we want. We have these expectations, these desires, and when they are not met, we grow frustrated, we grow angry, and we complain.
James 4:1-2 talks about this. It talks about how the root of our conflicts with each other, our fighting, our angry words, all these things are because we have certain desires. We let these desires control us and then when they are thwarted we grow angry. You see whenever our hearts begin to be controlled by a desire, a desire for anything in this created world, whenever we begin to feel like we need or we deserve something in this world, then we find ourselves trying to take control of our world to get that desire. We begin to try and function like a king. When we allow a desire for anything to take control of our lives, we soon find ourselves exercising all our power to get it. When we do get it we are happy, when we don’t get it we are angry, but what both have in common is that we are fighting for control. We want to be our own kings, to rule over our own little kingdoms, in order to get that one thing that at the time we feel we need so badly. This happens whenever we allow a desire to make us think, “If only I could have ____ I would be happy” when we give our desires that kind of power, our only response becomes to try everything in our power to get whatever it is we have put in that blank. And I am not speaking in ultimate terms here. In other words, sometimes the thing that we put in the blank is often very small. That is why we think we deserve it. For me what I put in the blank was forty-five minutes to read about the Bears. That is all I wanted. After one week of crazy work, I wanted forty-five minutes to read about the Bears. Sounds understandable, but what happens is that when I make that fine desire into a need, when I begin to say, “If only I have forty-five minutes to read about the Bears I will be happy and if I don’t get it I can’t make it” when I do that, I am declaring myself the king and saying that I know what I need better than God. You see, it’s important that we remember it’s not about whether or not our desires are reasonable, it’s whether we give them control over our lives. When we make reasonable desires ultimate, we declare that we in fact know best and in effect declare ourselves to be the best kings of our own lives. When I say king, I want you to know I am simply saying we want to be in control. We want to rule over our own lives, to decide what is best, to decide what we need and we will do whatever it takes to get what we need.
Tom Petty talks about this natural desire within each of us in an old song when he sings, “Its good to be king, to have your own way. Get a feeling of peace at the end of the day.” That is how most of us feel. We feel that if we were king, if we were in control, we would have more peaceful enjoyable lives. If we were in control our kids would be better, we wouldn’t be living on the streets, we would never fight with our spouses, we would have a better job or even any job at all, our kids would never be sick, and so on. This is the world we live in. A world where each of us lives like we should be kings. And we find our emotional lives moving up and down depending upon whether or not we are getting the things we feel like we need. And this is the world that Jesus was born into and that John the Baptist found himself ministering in. So, today we are going to look at Matthew 3 and see what message God sent John to preach into this world where each person fought to be the king of their own lives. And so into this world where each person allowed their own desires to control them and longed to be reign in their own kingdom in order to get what they want. Into this world John the Baptist comes. And I want you to know that for four hundred years there had been no prophecy. No message delivered from God to a man in order to tell the people. Here, the silence is broken. Four hundred years of silence is broken by the declaration, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Now, I want to go back to our introduction and I think we will see how everything makes sense. You see John’s real message is that the kingdom of God is at hand, that is his message and because the kingdom of heaven is at hand he calls the people to repent. John knew that the coming of the kingdom of heaven meant the people must repent. Why? What does the coming of the kingdom of heaven have to do with repentance? Well, first I want you to see that the reason that John says that the kingdom of heaven is at hand is because the king has come. The presence of the king here, on earth, in the form of a man has brought the kingdom of heaven to earth.
However, the problem is that the people are not ready for the kings’ coming. You see the people have been living as if they were kings. That is the problem. The reason the people must repent is because they have not been living like God was king. They have been living for their own sinful desires. They have been frustrated with Roman rule, they have been angry and disappointed by the way their lives have gone. They have chosen to keep the laws of God that they liked and disobey the ones they didn’t. They have complained and have not lived lives completely and totally submissive to his absolute control and according to his law. John is calling the people to repent because the king is coming. He is coming and soon everything will be made clear. Soon it will be obvious that we are not the kings and the true king of heaven and earth, the creator of all things, the one who gives us our every breaths, even the breaths we use to complain and do our best to control our own lives, even those breaths are given by this king and soon every knee in all the universe will bow before him. This king is coming John says. He is coming so stop pretending. He is coming and the appropriate response of people who have complained and attempted to usurp this king is to repent.
The point of vs. 3 is that the people would prepare the way for the coming of the king. In the ancient, near east, the roads were usually really bad and no one did much to fix them. But when a king was coming, then before he came the people would prepare the roads for his arrival. They would make them straight, fill in the wholes, and make them smooth. John is saying the way you prepare for the coming of this king is by repentance. The way you make straight the path for this king is through repentance.
John’s message is for everyone. It is for all who have sinned against this great king by living as if they were king. It is for all who have ever been frustrated, all who have ever complained, all who have ever fought for their own way. All who have ever done anything to hurt another human being. To all who have rebelled against the creator of heaven and earth. For all of them, John’s message is amazingly good news. John says, “The king is coming and he is accepting repentance.” The king is coming and even though that ought to mean certain judgment for your treason, the king is accepting repentance. He is pardoning rebels; he is giving amnesty to traitors. That is what John’s message is. Guys, this comes in a context when most kings were not so generous. I just want to read you one example of the way most kings exercised their power. Listen to what Nebuchadnezzar says in Daniel 3:29. Yet, John is saying this king is different. This king comes and offers pardons for sinners. For all who have ever spoken anything against this amazing God, for all who have ever complained against his rule, for all who have ever grown frustrated with his timing, for all who have ever broken his law to get something that you thought you needed, for all sinners, the call is repent, repent for this king is a forgiving king.
This is the message that John came preaching. And notice how he came in poverty. He came in camels’ hair, dressed as a prophet and he came eating the food of the poor. He came with nothing. He came to show what it looked like to live for a different king. You see, no one could mistake John for a king. No one could mistake this world for his kingdom. No one could mistake John for one who was living for his own desires, clinging to the things of the world to satisfy him. John came and declared that there was another kingdom, he came proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven was coming to earth and that people must repent and stop clinging to all the things of this earth that they thought they needed. He came and called people to find their joy in serving the true king.
And when John came and preached this message the people were listening. They were going out to him. He did not come to them, John preached in the wilderness. He wanted them to see what this world was really like and to hear the joy of the kingdom of heaven. He wanted them to understand that the world the people lived in, a world where they fought for comfort and pleasure, he wanted them to see that all of it would burn, it was all a desert. He wanted them to see that what they needed was not a physical city, a comfortable home, or a good job, what they needed was God. They needed to worship the true king.
Notice how amazing it is to see people leaving the city to come to John in the wilderness. You see, the cities called to the people and said we have everything you need. We have pleasure, we have comfort, we have religion, we have the temple, we have the priests, we have your family, your education, we have your jobs; we have everything you need. The city called to these people much like our world calls to us and says happiness, joy, and satisfaction can be found in us. Just around that corner, just over there. That is what the world called to these people and John came as a different voice. He came as a voice preaching in the wilderness that God was enough. That joy was found only in God not in stuff. John begs them to see that the worship of God is where we find joy and with God we can have joy even in the wilderness. Isn’t that amazing? John the Baptist comes preaching in the wilderness and people flock to him. They flock to the wilderness because they found themselves overwhelmed with a void that nothing else had ever even touched. They had seen through the lies of this world and they were tired of trying to be their own kings. They were ready for another king. They were ready for one who was bigger. Bigger than their own little worlds and John breaks on the scene and proclaims there is one who is bigger. He is the king and he is worthy to be served. Repent, repent, let go of everything else and find that your God is enough. That is what John means when he says repent. What he means is change kings. Let go of control, let go of trying to be king. Repent, let go of everything you have tried to bring yourself joy and satisfaction and serve this one. Serve this king for he is the true king of heaven. Leave the city, come to the wilderness and find that this king is better and offers more than all the empty promises this world has ever offered. You see, the reason we have spoken so much about kingdoms and kings is that repentance deals with a change in loyalty. It deals with a turning away from our own kingdoms and our own desire to be in control and to joyfully submit to another king.
That is what John is trying to communicate to the Pharisees and Sadducees when they come out to see what is happening. When they come out, they come out to investigate. They don’t come to change kings. They are happy with their lives. They have control, they have power and they are happy with their position and have no desire to give it up to anyone else. John is letting them know that when he speaks of repentance he is not merely talking about the externals. He is not simply talking about words. He says, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” They can’t have it both ways. They can’t be king of their own little worlds and just say a prayer and be baptized. No, if they want Jesus to be their king, then their repentance must be genuine and all genuine repentance bears fruit. He is saying you can’t fool this king. He is not like the people. Oh, these religious leaders had fooled the people for years. They had paraded around an external righteousness that had gotten them prestige and power and respect, but John knows that this is not enough. They will not be able to fool this king with their attempts at righteousness. In only a few chapters, Jesus himself will say, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” He will then go on for a whole sermon talking about the difference between external righteousness and the true demands of God’s law, which is a changed heart. You see, the Pharisees did not have very many external sins to repent of, but John knew that they lived as the kings of their own lives. They lived consumed with themselves, their own world, and their own story. All this becomes blatantly obvious when years later they crucified Jesus because they saw him as a threat to their own kingdom. Remember John 11:47-51. Look at how clear it is. Their place, their nation, those things were what controlled them. They were all about their own little worlds, and they demanded that they be the kings of these things and when Jesus came and called them to repent they refused and clung to their own little kingdoms instead. In fact they killed Jesus because he threatened their rule. Not many years later in 70 AD, we see their utter foolishness as God returns to judge them and destroys both their place and their nation.
And so we see here at the very start, the battle that will lead to the salvation and damnation of the world. Who will be your king? Will you fight all you life like the Pharisees in order to be in control, in order to have your way, in order to get what you think you need to be happy, or will you like John the Baptist consider everything rubbish in order that you might serve the true king? John the Baptist knows the king and it is in the true king that he finds all his joy. You see when you come to know the true king your world becomes very small and God’s kingdom and his story about what he is doing becomes very big. Listen to how small John’s world has become compared to how glorious the kingdom of his king is. He says, “One is coming after me who is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.” John proclaims that so great is his king that even the task of the most menial slave is above him. John, who Jesus will call the greatest man born of woman, knows that even his world, even his job, even his call, as big as it was, the first prophet to speak in four hundred years, the greatest man born of woman, even with this extraordinary call, John felt small beside his great king.
Guys, I want us to get this so badly. Please think about it. Think about how consumed we get in our own worlds, in our own stories, in our own situations. We truly believe that our situation is unique; that we are going through something absolutely special and that others should bow before our needs. We truly believe that we have certain rights, that we deserve things to go this way or that way. We compare ourselves to others, believe we deserve certain things, and think that our story and what we are doing are a big deal. John was under no such illusions. What made him so great is he rightly understood how majestic his king was. What made John so great is that he had seen the king and he knew how small he was in comparison to Jesus. And so he modeled repentance for us all. He modeled what it looks like to trade kings. To step off the throne and to submit everything to our rightful king.
Ultimately that is what is meant by repentance. That is what God is calling us to. He is calling us to make him the king. Not just to say sorry for all the sinful stuff we have done, but to change kings. You see all of our sin comes from our desire to be our own king, our desire to do things our way, to be independent, autonomous, etc. It comes from our desire to fill our massive voids with stuff instead of waiting patiently for our God to fill us with himself, in his own way, in his own time. Think about all your sin. All our complaining, arguing, anxiety, anger, frustration, it comes because we don’t truly believe that we have a good king who is control of everything and is working it all out for his glory and our own good. Repentance is more than saying I am sorry. It is more than merely confessing some external act. Repentance is a change in allegiance. Repentance takes place when we step down from our own treasonous attempts to run our lives and submit ourselves to our good God and his righteous control of our lives. When we say, “You know best, not my will but your will be done.”
Until we understand why we are sinning and attack our sins at their roots, simply repenting of the external acts will not solve anything. Remember how I began by telling you about that night I was frustrated with Abbey? I ended up going to her and telling her I was sorry. I told her that I had gotten it into my head that I would have some time to relax read and not think and we would hang out on Sunday and I would be totally engaged. That was how I apologized. Isn’t that how most of us apologize? I am sorry I was really tired. I am sorry; I just was frustrated because I was hoping we would do it this way. Its an "I am sorry" and then an explanation of our own world, so that the other person can understand why our sin makes sense. Kind of like, if you were in my shoes you would understand but since your not I am sorry that I did what I did since you didn’t really know why. Its kind of like the "I am sorry you feel that way", we always have some sort of excuse it seems. And our excuses show just how deep our issues are. Look at my excuse; my excuse is simply a sign of a deeper sin. I am sorry, I just thought I would just have the night to not think and then tomorrow we could hang out. Look at what I am saying. I am basically saying, I am sorry that I was rude, it’s just that I thought I was king and could have my own way tonight and when you got in the way I grew frustrated. What is that? Its almost like we somehow use our expectations as an excuse. I expected to have things my way and when I didn’t I was frustrated, sorry it came out on you. Why are we simply apologizing for being frustrated, why do we simply apologize for the external act?
What needs to be apologized for is my desire to be king. Repentance is not primarily saying sorry for the act. Repentance is primarily to God, it is that I made myself king and refused to believe that my God was in control, that he was good, that he was for me and that his plans for my night were better than my plans for the night. My problem was that I forgot my God. I forgot that he was king. I forgot that life was about worshiping and loving and following him. If I would have remembered that I would have seen what a sweet gift he gave me. What an opportunity for me to love my wife. I forgot that life is not about me, its not about my personal comfort, its not about my plans. I forgot that life is about something way bigger and better and more beautiful and worthy than me. Life is about my majestic Lord and Savior who gave his only son on the cross for all my sins. It’s about his glory. It’s about his name being made famous. It’s about others seeing and finding their delight in him. It’s about that and I could have shown Abbey that. I could have shown her how beautiful our Jesus was. I could have shown her a little speck of Christ’s abundant love for his bride by putting down my computer and looking her in the eyes and talking to her. I say I serve a savior who gave his life on the cross; I tell my wife and all of you about him on Saturday nights and throughout the week. But what message do I send to her when her husband who has professed his love for her chooses the computer over her needs? What does that say to her?
The issue is not being rude, the issue is I forgot the whole story and got caught up in my little world. I got caught up in I spoke eight times, I am tired, yada yada, what a small pathetic world I got caught up in, what a small story compared to the real true story that I ignored. I ignored the story of the creator of the world taking on flesh, coming down and giving his life on the cross for my sin and calling me to follow him. I forgot about that story. Quite a bit bigger, quite a bit more beautiful, quite a bit more worthy than anything I could ever use for an excuse. And yet John has amazing news for you and I. John tells us that even though our sin is so much more pathetic than we could ever imagine. Even though our sin is worthy of our death, and that it is absolutely inexcusable to mistake those two stories and to choose to live in my little world pretending to be king when I have heard of the king of kings, even though it is so wrong, the king of heaven offers forgiveness to all those who will repent. That is why John came and preached a message of repentance. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
And then the king comes on the scene. This massive glorious worthy king comes on the scene and we begin to understand how it is that he can offer pardon to such unworthy sinners. Look at what he does. Look at him. He comes and while John knows that he is not worthy to carry Jesus’ sandals, Jesus lets John baptize him. Do you see that? Do you see this amazing savior? John is not worthy to hold his sandals but the king comes and says I will condescend to let you baptize me. And John is wise enough to listen to the king, even though he knows he is not worthy.
As I meditated on this part of the story, it struck me what a delicate balance we see in this text and how easily we tend to mess it up. You see for many of us, we know our unworthiness. We, like John, realize that we have totally failed and are not worthy to be loved or forgiven by the king. And so we find ourselves in despair and even when we hear Jesus’ offer of forgiveness for us, we cling to our unworthiness and refuse to believe that it is possible for Jesus to really love and forgive someone like us. Or, some of us begin knowing that we are unworthy, but then we accept Jesus’ forgiveness, we accept his amazing love for us, and what begins to happen is as we accept his amazing love we begin to feel like we must be worthy. Certainly Jesus could not love us this much or do all this for us if we didn’t really deserve it somehow. And so we find ourselves either in such despair that we refuse to listen when the king offers us mercy or we find ourselves so focused on God’s blessings for us that we begin to truly believe that we deserve them. The key is found in looking at John the Baptist and learning to submit as he does. To realize we are unworthy of any blessing and yet if the king says he will forgive us then we must accept it because he is the king. So remembering our unworthiness yet also accepting God’s amazing blessings for us forces our attention to ever remain on our amazing savior who alone is worthy, who is able to forgive us based solely on his own worthiness and not on ours at all.
When we begin to understand this, Jesus’ baptism begins to make more sense. Remember that the reason Jesus had John baptize him was “in order for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Here we see one of the main reasons Jesus came to earth. He came to fulfill all righteousness. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus, the Son of God, the creator of heaven and earth, left heaven, came to earth and he came to fulfill all righteousness. That is why he went and allowed John to baptize him. And when he comes out of the water, we see that God accepts his righteousness. God is pleased with his Son. He is pleased that he has obeyed him and left heaven and came to earth. He is pleased with his birth and his childhood; he is pleased with his coming and being baptized. God is pleased with his beloved Son. Jesus is God’s beloved son. He is the one who perfectly pleases God. And God rejoices over his son. God loves his son with a love that surpasses anything you can ever fathom. The love of God for his perfect son is deserved and it is great. Jesus is so perfect, so beautiful, so obedient, so gracious, so powerful and yet so humble, Jesus is so infinitely these things that God could not be more pleased with anything or anyone in all the world than he is with his amazing son Jesus.
That is why Jesus came to earth. The king came, he came to offer his people pardon, and he offered them pardon first by perfectly fulfilling everything that God has ever required of his people. Jesus perfectly lived the way God has called all of us to live. Jesus does not have to repent because he always lived as if his Father was good and was in control. That is why at the end of his life we hear him saying, “If there is any other way please take this cup from me, nevertheless thy will be done.” He said I want it this way, however, I submit myself to my Father for he is good and kind and he will do what is best. And so Jesus came and lived this perfect life by perfectly submitting to his amazing father.
And yet we find this perfect Son of God, who always pleased his father, hanging upon a cross. And no one understood. No one got it. Listen to the Pharisees. Listen when they said Matthew 27:42, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, “I am the Son of God.” Listen to the way he was mocked. The true beloved Son of God, in whom God is well pleased, hung upon the cross and God did not deliver him and no one could understand it. They thought it must mean that God was not really pleased with him. However, we now know that God did not deliver him because Jesus came to take our place. You see on the cross, we see what we deserve. We see the way God feels about our sin. We were made to worship God and we have been traitors who have tried to steal from God and make ourselves kings over our own little worlds and traitors deserve the cross. Traitors deserve death. But Jesus came. He came to be the righteous Son of God that we were supposed to be but failed at. And he came to die the traitors death that we deserved. You see God does not deliver Jesus because he wanted to offer deliverance to us. God chose to allow his son to die on the cross so that he might deliver anyone who would repent. That is why the king can offer repentance. He can offer repentance because he has gone to the cross to pay for our sin. He can offer repentance because he has lived a perfect life in our place, and died our death, so that if we repent, if we will make him king, he will forgive us and we will live forever as the adopted beloved children of God.
Guys, its hard to get off the throne. It’s hard because we have been abused by so many people. We have been cheated, lied to, used, and hurt by so many. That is why we have taken the thrown. We have taken the thrown of our own lives because we don’t trust anyone else to truly look out for us. To truly love us. To love us better than we could ever love ourselves. That is why we have chosen to take the throne of our lives. We know we mess up a ton but we don’t know anyone who we could trust to do a better job. But guys that no way to live. We are not kings, we were not made to be kings, we are servants of the king. Our God is king, the whole universe is his, and he has given us the chance to be a part of his story. The one who came to earth, who died on the cross for us, that one can be trusted. We can give control to that one. We can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that his way is the best way.
And we cannot pass this up. For all who will repent. For all who will make Jesus the king of their lives. For all of them, Jesus has come to take their place. If you will simply repent of your own demand for control, if you will repent of not letting go of everything in order to serve your king. If you will repent you can know that Jesus has taken your place. That means that now the way God looked at Jesus in Matthew 3, is how he looks at us. God looks at all his people as his beloved children in whom he is well pleased. He is well pleased with his people. Not because of anything you or I have done but because of Jesus. Jesus took our place. We get all the righteousness he fulfilled and he has taken all of our sin. We get God’s perfect approval for his obedience. We get that. God looks at us as covered in Jesus righteousness, which he loves deeply. All the massive love for God that he bestowed upon his son that day at the Jordan River he now lavishes on all those who come to him in repentance. Oh Kaleo, please repent. Please repent I beg you. He is such a good king. He is so full of love for his people. He knows everything, he is in total control, please trust him. Repent of everything you think you need, everything you have been clinging to for your joy, your savior is enough. Your king is enough; even in the wilderness he is enough.
AMEN'd this Sermon: