In Matthew 4:17, we read a record of Jesus’ first message, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’. This was clearly a very important message for us to understand as this was the message that Jesus started his ministry with. Jesus is not calling His listeners to prepare for the coming of the kingdom but rather announces that the kingdom is here. In fact, the Kingdom of heaven – the kingdom of God, is standing right before their very eyes in human form. Here is Jesus literally bringing heaven to earth. Through Jesus dying on the cross and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, each one of us have the ability to not only experience the Kingdom of Heaven ourselves, but to offer it to another human being.
So, how do we see the kingdom of heaven in our lives and in those around us? Firstly, it starts with us repenting. So let’s explore what the word ‘repent’ actually means.
The word ‘repent’ in Matthew 4:17 is usually translated as “convert,” “repent,” or “reform” is the Greek word ‘metanoia’, which literally means to “change your mind”. It means we are heading in one direction and we repent, we change our mind, and start heading in the direction of Jesus. A great example in the bible of repentance is found in Luke 15:11-31.
Read Luke 15:11-31 ‘The Parable of the Lost Son’.
Perhaps a more accurate title is ‘The Parable of the Two Lost Sons’, because both sons were lost, or maybe a better title is, ‘The Parable of the Forgiving Father’, because the father is the real hero in this parable. Through this story, Jesus teaches us about repentance and his unfailing love and grace. The lost younger brother disgraces his father by asking for his inheritance (before the father has even passed) and then wastes it on wild living. Eventually, after he ‘comes to his senses’, he returns home to his father who, runs towards him, shows great emotion and elevates him back to the full standing of a son. The father throws a huge costly party.
But the story doesn’t stop there. This story is also about the lost older brother. Unaware of what’s happened, he returns from a hard day’s work in the field. He hears the music and discovers that there is a party for his brother who has returned home. The party has started without him. He is furious and disgraces his father by refusing to go in to the party. The father comes outside and gently and lovingly invited his son to come in. Then the story abruptly ends! We don’t actually find out if the older brother does go inside.
Jesus was telling this parable as he was sitting with sinners and tax collectors with the Pharisees (religious people) listening. Jesus was modelling a better way to be an ‘older brother’ by showing love and acceptance to the ‘younger brother’ types (sinners and tax collectors).
The incredible message Jesus gives to the tax collectors and sinners is that God’s love and grace is amazing. Jesus forgives those who ‘come to their senses’ and repent, regardless of what they have done. This is good news!
Perhaps the even more startling message is to the Pharisees and religious people (the older brothers), which is that you can live a moral life of full obedience (the older brother never once disobeyed his father) and yet still be lost and outside the Father’s house. Older brother types can easily tend to be self-righteous, superior (looking down on others), and proud. When things don't go well for them, they tend to become angry, bitter, and resentful (after all, they deserve better). Those who are shown mercy or grace, they can be judgmental and unforgiving towards. Even their obedience to the rules can be out of mere duty ('I've been slaving for you all these years ...'). God appreciates their obedience but questions their motives and whether they are on a self-salvation project or really engaged with the Father's heart.
Two sons and two different ways of doing life. Both were wrong and both were lost. Both ways of living are dead ends.
Amazingly, both sons were loved. The father in the story went out to welcome the younger brother home AND the father went out to seek to bring the older brother in. God is not a Pharisee to the Pharisees. There is a loving father who seeks you out and who is running towards you with grace filled eyes and who takes time to come out to us and in his gentle and loving way invites us to join his party.
Jesus invites all of us to ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’Discussion Questions
1.When did you first hear this parable? How did it impact you?
2.What does ‘repentance’ mean to you personally?
3.As you were growing up, were you more like the younger brother or the older one?
4.Which way do you lean now? Why do you think that is?
5.How do you find relating to people who are opposite to you?
6.What does the image of God as ‘Father’ mean to you?
7.What ‘younger brothers’ do you know now that you could reach out to? What are some of the keys to reaching those far from the Father?