In this season of revelation known as Epiphany we have heard of the surpassing nature of the religious experience that propelled Jesus into ministry, and John’s proclamation that Jesus’ life would reveal God’s purpose for humanity, a liberator of the human spirit – the lamb of God – and now we come to the crux of Jesus’ preaching.
If you were alive in 1st century Palestine and had gone out to hear Jesus preach what would have been the core message?
Well we know pretty well from the gospels that his core message was recorded as this;
“Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” That was the “good news” that Jesus had for the world.
As an observant Jew sensitive to Jewish readers Matthew shied away from using the word God – Yah weh – and used the word heaven instead of God but “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” are interchangeable.
That phrase is the “Good news”. This is the gospel of the Lord! This is made more explicit in Mark’s gospel where it is written “that Jesus preached the gospel of God, and saying “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”.
Indeed, later on in Matthew’s gospel when Jesus sent the twelve disciples out to preach he gave them this instruction “And preach as you go, saying “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 10:7). The apostolic message was to be, and still is the same. If we are to remain true to the Jesus revelation we must get to grips with and understand this message that was central to Jesus and to his whole movement.
The main claim then is that the kingdom of God “has come near” (NRSV) or “is at hand”(AV), or “is close at hand” (New Jerusalem) or “is upon you” (New English).
To discern what all of these things mean we have to use joined up thinking and peruse the whole Biblical record. Of particular interest here is Luke 17: 21 where this exchange of views is recorded.
“Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed nor will they say “Lo, here it is” or “there” for behold the kingdom of God is in the midst of you”. Or in other translations “The kingdom of God is within you”.
If you put this together with Jesus’ insistence that you must be born again by the Spirit of God in John 3 where Jesus tells Nicodemus “You cannot see the kingdom of God unless you are born again” which refers back to Jesus’ own revelation at his baptism we edge closer and closer to the core message of Jesus which is this;
God the Father is close, upon you, in you. You are his child. Therefore repent.
My favourite concept in the Bible, because the word translated “repent” is that wonderful word “Metanoia”. This word has been called by some theologians the “greatest word or concept in the entire Bible and the essence of Christianity. It has also been called, and I quote “the most extraordinary mistranslation”.
Because repentence, i.e being sorry for our sins” as we understand the word, is absolutely not what Metanoia means. Metanoia means a change of heart, a going beyond your mind and seeing the world through different eyes.
The mistranslation of metanoia as repentance began in the 2nd century when the Greek (metanoeō) was mistakenly translated into the Latin as poenitentiam agite, which does indeed carry the meaning of being sorry for our sins
In biblical Greek, metanoia expresses that mighty change in mind, heart, and life wrought by the Spirit of God.
Biblical scholars say that, in Metanoia, there is none of the sorrow or regret contained in the English words repentance and repent. Repentance denotes “sorrow for what one has done or omitted to do; especially, contrition for sin.” Repent primarily means “to review one's actions and feel contrition or regret for something one has done or omitted to do” In fact Tertullian, the great 2nd century Father of the church protested the mistranslation stating even then that “In Greek, Metanoia is not a confession of sins but a change of mind”, but the mistranslation persists to this day subtly changing the entire focus of Christianity away from Joy and towards contrition.
This transformation of the heart is what happened to Jesus at his baptism and that same transformation of the heart is what Jesus wants for us.
To be able to see the divine within life rather than apart from life, to see the world ablaze, glowing with the glory of God, and have our heart turned and perception changed by this revelation of God the Father’s unconditional love and forgiveness. Why? To exact a change in our quality of life which will bear fruit in our actions. This is the core of Christianity and everything within our religion flows from that core. Know that you are loved forgiven, accepted and safe in this life that is eternal. This is the message of Jesus.
This IS the gospel of the Lord.