Summary: After focussing on the word "REPENT", to now focus on the remainder of the launch pad of Jesus’ ministry (Matt 4:17) ...FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NEAR.
CLARION CALL FOR REPENTANCE – SERIES-PART III
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS NEAR
My dear Church would recall that in the previous sermons, I had expounded the ‘very first word’ –Repent- of the clarion call of Jesus as he launched His Ministry…. ‘Repent for the Kingdom of God is near ‘(Matt 4:17) . The subjects of repentance of both sinners (King Manasseh’s life as recorded in II Chronicles 33:1-20 as the case in point) & even saints (with that of David, Jonah & Peter as vivid examples of the same) were dealt with separately & elaborately.
Now, I propose to place before my congregation the significance of the remainder of that precious sentence in Christian literature cum history. The history of mankind has never been the same ever since these words – ‘for the Kingdom of God is near’ - spoken with conviction & authority by a humble carpenter of Nazareth rang loud & clear breaking the tranquil silence enveloping the banks of the lake of Galilee 2000 years ago.
Before, I say even a word on the phrase ‘The Kingdom of God’, I would like to throw some light on the 2 testaments, which preceded the Gospel, then only the full import of this phrase would dawn upon us. What? I can hear my Church members saying already ‘was not the Mosaic law, we call the Old testament, the only forerunner of the Gospel-the new testament?’ ‘Was there any other testament or covenant before the Mosaic law between God & man?’ Let Bible itself give the answer - Hosea 6:6 says "Adam broke the covenant." Yes dear friends, the covenant between God & Adam, in light of the above, can be unequivocally called the Original Testament.
In normal contemporary colloquy, we would also term covenants as contracts, only that these contracts involving the Creator himself were one of a kind, unique for the eternal significance they held for all mankind. Now, succinctly put, what were these 2 covenants in essence for understanding them, would help us gain greater appreciation of the phrase “Kingdom of God”?
1. The Original covenant:
Under this, the paradise, we better know as Garden of Eden, with all its pristine beauty was placed in the custody of man to relish, on only one simple condition (as with any contract, the original one also had its own terms)…Thou shalt not eat the fruit of the Tree of Conscience (Genesis 2:16 & 17). On observance of this condition, his life was guaranteed to be an eternal one of perpetual communion with his Creator. That Man violated this contract & paid a heavy price for it (eviction from paradise) is now history. Here, what I would like to stress
is the fact that under the Original covenant, the paradise was all around man, giving him all the motivation he ever desired to have for obeying his Master.
2. The Mosaic law:
This one with the seed of Jacob, was similar to the first in the sense, that the children of Israel & their posterity were guaranteed an eternal stay in the most blessed spot on earth… land of fertile hills & valleys… a land with abundant rainfall that no irrigation was necessary …a land flowing with milk & honey… a veritable paradise on earth (Deuteronomy 11:9-12) on a condition that they would obey the laws given to them through that peerless leader of men - Moses. Here too, we would observe that paradise was all around men apparently, for giving them a ‘necessary push’ towards obedience.
Now, before coming to the phrase ‘Kingdom of God’, let us consider the state of Christians vis-à-vis any paradise (if it is there at all in the first place) around them. Paradoxically, for Christians there is no paradise ‘on earth’ around them as an incentive for obedience. On the other hand, it would seem that there is a cross to bear (Luke 19:23) with trials & sorrows always on the anvil (John 16:33) what with cases of persecution & martyrdom documented in the pages of History with a pen dipped, as it were, in a Christian martyr’s blood. That the phrase ‘Helpless as Christians in the coliseum’ during Emperor Nero’s reign has become a part of English literature mirrors now in some measure the atrocities they had to face from time to time & more specifically in I century AD under that half-insane Emperor.
If those difficulties were all- so long ago - then in contemporary Indian context (this would make sense to us), the heart-rending tales of hardships faced by new converts abound. As I am punching these lines, news of Christians being brutally persecuted in Orissa is filtering in! Add to all these, the call of Jesus to his followers to aspire for higher ethical standard of living (loving enemies, strictly adhering to monogamy, maintaining sexual purity etc) vis-à-vis the Mosaic law (Matt 5:21, 27-28,31-48), and instantly the apparently gloomy picture of ‘all stick & no carrot’ would well & truly emerge. In this context, a few logical questions are bound to follow ‘Is it fair of Him to expect us to measure up to His lofty expectations of withstanding tempestuous times, all the while dishing out a behavior which is head & shoulders above that of His people during Mosaic era?’ ‘If He really intends that Christians should scale such high spiritual peaks, where are His incentives to spur them on, which were so conspicuous in the case of previous 2 testaments…’paradise on earth’?’