Our text finds us at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Verse 12 tells us that Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been put in prison. We don’t know how long it was after Jesus heard this news, but we learn that Jesus returned to Galilee.
This is key because Jesus was moving from something of a wilderness setting… to a much more highly populated area. It was one where he would be able to minister to many more people. Many roads traveled to and from Galilee. Many people lived there. The opportunity to reach more people with his message would go up considerably.
Interestingly, Matthew links this move to Galilee as a fulfillment of a prophecy found in Isaiah 9. That’s why he writes,
Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of
Zebulun and Naphtali–  to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, along the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles–
 the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”
Then we hear those very important words in verse 17…
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
That phrase, “From that time on…” is key. Matthew is highlighting for us that Jesus is beginning his public ministry, one that will eventually take him to the Cross.
And what’s his message? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Now, we’ve all heard the word “Repent.” When we hear that word we usually think of it in terms of being sorry for something we’ve done and then promising never to do it again. And certainly there’s an element of that here. But in the Bible, the word is much bigger than that. The word repent carries several ideas with it. First it carries with it the idea of changing the way you think about something. So, instead of thinking about something the way the world does – in a real self-centered, rebellious sort of way, to repent would mean to agree with what God says about that issue. It would be to think like God thinks on the issue.
The Sermon the Mount is a marvelous exposition or teaching on just this very thing. Jesus basically tells us that the world thinks one way… but he calls us to think another way – his way… God’s way.
But in the Old Testament, and the way Jesus is using the word here, repent means more than a change in your thinking. It also means a change in your behavior. One commentator said that by “repentance,” Jesus means…
“A radical change of mind and heart that leads to a complete turnabout of life.” (William Hendrickson, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 197)
And again, the Sermon on the Mount is all about what this “radical change of mind and heart and complete turnabout of life” looks like.
So what’s the hurry? Why the sense of urgency to repent? Because Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is near.
[As a side note, you may know that Jews don’t write out the name “God.” Even today on Jewish websites, the name for God is spelled, “G-d.” That’s why Matthew doesn’t write out “Kingdom of God.” Instead, his primary way of speaking about the kingdom is to call it the Kingdom of heaven. (Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven – same thing) You see, Matthew was writing to a primarily Jewish audience, and if he had kept writing out God’s name, he would have offended the people to whom he was writing and would never have reached them.]
Next time we’ll seek to better understand what the Kingdom of God is.
Grace and Truth,