"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 4:17
Jesus repeats these words of John the Baptist when he begins his ministry in earnest. Within this simple sentence is packed the gospel message, if we choose to see it:
1) The word "repent" begins the sentence. This is from the Lord's own mouth. Many content that it was an addition to the gospel added by church fathers. Here it is coming from Christ himself. Many contend that repentance is a work that needs to be performed before God can save you. From careful study and even experience, we see that repentance and faith go together: you cannot have one without the other. If one does not have faith in Jesus Christ for the deliverance from and forgiveness of sins, he will not repent. Repentance is an immediate and continual fruit of the Spirit of God communing with one's soul.
2) The last word in the English sentence is actually the second word in the Greek sentence. The word means "is drawing near" and the NASB uses "at hand", which gives an impression that the kingdom is "within one's reach." Now, this does not mean that we are capable of taking the kingdom of heaven under our own power, but it does imply an action on our part, an action that comes as a fruit of faith, and that is grasping the kingdom of heaven. But "is drawing near" is very good, too, because it implies that God is the one doing the drawing. We were not looking for the kingdom of heaven, because we are ensnared by sin, and we do not want it. However, it draws near to us anyway, because God will have us.
3) Now that we have repentance and "at hand" in place. It's time to look at what we are getting. Repentance is the turning of the heart from one kingdom to another. God has drawn his kingdom of heaven near. We are to repent, which means to alter our course from the one toward destruction to the new path of everlasting life. What kingdom have we been born into? Well, the kingdom of Satan, of course. Christ calls him the prince of this world. We gave it to him by disobeying God and allowing ourselves to be ensnared by the devil. Now, all people are born into this unholy kingdom. What do we do? Well, there is nothing to do. We are in an insurmountable bind.
4) But God has brought the kingdom of heaven near to us, and what happens is we switch our allegiance from one kingdom to the other--from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of heaven--through repentance, and repentance is a gift of God by faith. Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world, and just previously in this chapter, Jesus was offered, by Satan, the kingdoms of the world, because they were his to give. Jesus taught us how to pray, "thy kingdom come." When Jesus shares the parable of the wheat and tares, he explains, "as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one." He lays the two kingdoms out for clarity.
5) This sounds so easy. Repent to turn from the kingdom of destruction, wherein you stay at your own peril, to the kingdom of eternal life. And yet, we don't do it, because we don't fancy ourselves to be in need of repentance. This is the curse we live under: not only lives of destructive sin but a complete denial of our sinfulness. The Holy Spirit not only makes us aware of our sin but give us the means to repent against it.
6) When the kingdom draws near to us, several things happen. First, we are made aware of our sin and our need for a savior. Second, we are made aware of our savior as the only means of our escape from the kingdom of destruction. Third, we are given the faith to believe the savior. Fourth, our faith gives us the ability to repent and turn from the ugly kingdom to the beautiful kingdom. Finally, as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, we pray for the people who refuse to repent and who remain in the old city. We are aware of their predicament, we pray that we won't slip into their predicament, and if we feel ourselves stumble, we are quick to confess our sins and receive Christ's continual forgiveness for our sins, made possible by his death on the cross, a substitute death for the one we deserve.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It has drawn near, and it is within your grasp. Put your faith in the savior and repent.