Not the most popular word.
But since when did “popular” count in any assessment with true value?
In Matthew 3, John the Baptist is on his preparing-the-way mission when he declares to the gathering masses, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.”
My Bible notes that “is near” could be “is coming soon” or “has come”. Regardless of the specific phrasing, the point remains untouched.
God’s Kingdom, the realm in which He reigns as supreme over all, is here.
So what is the relation between that pronouncement and the call for repentance?
Here is what I think it isn’t… A threat. Repentance is serious business, make no mistake. It is demanding and humbling. It involves admitting I am wrong, while dismantling personal postures of pride. Repentance demolishes illusions of independence. It is a grueling form of internal demolition work.
But why must there be a “repent or else” tone in the Baptist’s mouth? I feel no pressure to add it.
Here is what I think it is…
A truth. The Kingdom over all dominions has arrived. It is here, right next to you, in this community, among us here and now. With that truth announced, repentance follows as a spoken word of truth. Its meaning? Your current footing closes you off to this new door. Your mind and heart are running on blinding scripts. Your life is composed of ingredients that make you impotent to participate in this new reality. It is not that you are uninvited; it is that you are unequipped. In this light, no “or else” threat is necessary.
Football players often credit coaches with “putting them in position to make plays”. They need to make the plays themselves, but the first step is obviously being in the right place to even have a shot.
John’s call is like that: Repent because you are out of position. You have no shot. New realms of possibility are opening up, a new power is rising, and you are out of its reach at your current location, in your present mode of operation. Your footing will not allow you access to those things that you are supposed to experience and taste–not yet. But realign yourself, release some hindering baggage, and take up some freeing tendencies, and the nearness of the Divine One may outright astound you.
Repent for the Kingdom is near.