I was reading in Matthew this morning that John the Baptist preached “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near,
and again, after Jesus was baptized and John was imprisoned, Jesus preached the same thing. The message was “Repent because…” So there must be something about the nearness of the kingdom of heaven that makes repentance more desirable than if it were far off. Isn’t repentance always best? But how much more as the kingdom of heaven comes nearer!
My best guess is that a faithful Christian message about the kingdom of heaven is that it is at least as near as it was in John’s day. Does the cross of Jesus Christ make the kingdom of heaven further off? Either the kingdom of heaven is still near, which is apparently cause enough to repent, or it is even now upon us. Either repentance is urgently necessary, or the time has come in which repentance is no longer any good.
But there doesn’t seem to be any room room, then or much less now, for a message that says, “You might want to consider a change,” or “Don’t you think some different choices are preferable?” A hard-nosed message like “Repent!” sounds a little rude, but it’s the message Jesus preached. Given whose message it is, it’s actually pretty arrogant to say that the message should be adjusted. We should be humble about ourselves, but that same humility requires us to be willing to seem arrogant when communicating God’s Law and Gospel.
How can the cross be worth anything unless there’s first a standard we cannot meet without it?