Spirit & Truth # 291
“The Kingdom is Near”
By Greg Smith
“John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near (Matthew 3:1b-2 NIV).’”
Yesterday, I baptized eleven people in the Hardware River. Each wanted to mark a new beginning in their lives of faith, a new dedication to the kingdom of God. John’s message of the kingdom leads you to several conclusions. First, it reminds you that God’s government is a kingdom, and not a democracy or a republic. God is in control, and we are not. Too often we think we hold the reins, but this is nothing but delusion and sin. To be a Christian is to realize that God is in control. Baptism marks a complete surrender to the lordship of Christ.
Second, it underscores how near God really is to His people. God is not far away, but is as close to us as our own heartbeat, as near to us as our own breath. This can be a comforting thing when you need God’s consolation. Yet, it can also be a frightful thing when you realize the holiness of God and the humiliation of your own sin.
Third, John’s preaching pointed out that sinners should be led to repentance by the nearness of God’s kingdom. Isaiah saw this when he had a vision of being in the throne room of God. He writes, “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim [angels… And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty (Isaiah 6:1-5 NIV).” Isaiah realized his own sin in the light of God’s holiness. God’s response to Isaiah’s cry was to send an angel to touch the prophet’s lips with a live coal from the heavenly altar, cleansing him from his sin.
John’s preaching called sinners to repentance. He invited people to mark their repentance with the cleansing of baptism. Repentance means recognizing when you’ve sinned, failed, or when you’re doing something that just isn’t working—and then turning away from your own folly. It means trusting God to strengthen you to follow His leadership rather than finding your own path. We tend to use the word to indicate departure from sin, and it does mean this. But it also means any manner of changing direction in life. Jesus had no sin to repent from, but his baptism marked a departure from his old way of life, and entrance into a new ministry. If it’s good enough for Jesus, then it’s good enough for me!
So yesterday, after I baptized eleven people, Rev. Earl Clore baptized his own great-granddaughter, and then he immersed me beneath the cold river—to renew my original baptism that was so many years ago. My life has taken many interesting turns lately—calling me to renew my commitment to God and ministry. How has life brought you changes that call for your own recommitment to Christ? How is the voice of God crying out in the wilderness of your soul, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near?”