[Enter the Gospels]
The book of Matthew gives us some great verses on heaven. Let’s start with John the Baptist, who was the forerunner and herald of Jesus. His sermon to the masses came from a different perspective than people were used to and it caught them off guard. Jesus used this sermon as His first one too. One could almost charge Jesus with plagiarism but He could always pull the ‘I’m the Word and have been around from the beginning’ card! Matt 3:2 (NASB) “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This verse points out three things to us.
- “Repent“. John and Jesus actually believed people should change their thinking and behavior based on what heaven wants. The earth is to yield to the desire of heaven. We are the ones to adapt. Heaven sets the standard. We are incompatible with heaven without change or proper alignment. We can become the visible and tangible will of heaven on earth…just like Jesus.
- “the kingdom of heaven” It is a kingdom, not a free-for-all. A kingdom has boundaries, laws, subjects, culture, language, purpose, and most of all, a king. This sounds very organized to me! There are many parables and verses that start with “the kingdom of heaven is like…”. One could come away with the idea that the gospels might be just as much about the appearance and movement of the kingdom as the cross. You actually need both of these elements for the narrative to make sense. John and Jesus conveyed several things here. They reminded the people of their original calling to be the people of the one true God – maker of heaven and earth. It was also an invitation to defect from the current climate and live for a higher one. Immigrants need to learn the language, culture, values, laws, etc. of this new realm and swear allegiance to the King. “Kiss the Son”, it says in Psalms 2.
- “at hand” This was a shocker! The Jewish people had endured 400 some years of silence from God and had been through many difficult times. To hear that the ‘distant and somewhere-out-there’ God was now close was both exciting and scary. Maybe heaven wasn’t way out beyond the stars after all. I’m told early Jewish thinking about heaven wasn’t so much about distance as it was about another plane. In reality it was very close… there all the time. To say that something is “at hand” means it is very near…within grasp. Paul had this same idea when he preached in Athens. Acts 17:27 (NASB) “that they should seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though he is not far from each one of us.” We can live with an awareness of the nearness of heaven.
To be continued…thanks for reading!