St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church
The New Age

Matthew 4:12-17

Just this past week we celebrated the Baptism of our Lord.  Jesus came to the Jordan and there deigned to be baptized by John, even though Jesus was sinless and John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for sins.  In spite of this Jesus came to John to be baptized in order that He might fulfill in His own person all the requirements of the law – even the requirements of ritual purification for the One Who is All-Pure.  This baptism marked the beginning of Jesus Christ’s preaching and public ministry.  The time had come for the old era to close – that is, the era governed by the Law and the Prophets the purpose of which was to bring forth the Messiah, the God/man Jesus Christ, Who would save His people from their sins.  The new era has dawned – the era of salvation of the Lord, a Light to lighten the gentiles and the glory of the people of Israel.  The old has passed away; John is the last of the prophets and he gives way to the One Who is God incarnate.  John himself said of Jesus that “He must increase and I must decrease.”  John recognized that his purpose had been fulfilled – he had completed the task for which God raised him up.  The One Whose coming he proclaimed had arrived.  The God/man Jesus Christ is the Light of the new era, the era of the Kingdom of God.  He is the Light and the Glory – He is Love and Joy and Peace.  This is the dawning of a new and glorious age upon the earth.

And now our Lord begins to preach, to proclaim this new age, the age of light and joy, of love and peace to the world.  What does He say to us to lead us into the new age, to lead us into the Kingdom of God.  What does He tell us about light and joy?  What does He tell us about love and peace?  What are His words?  The Gospel tells us how our Lord begins to introduce us to this new age: it says, “From that time on Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent: for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”  Wait! What about light and joy and love and peace?  Wasn’t “Repent” the message of the old era, the message of John?  What does Jesus mean here, calling us to repentance?  And He doesn’t stop with calling us to repentance for He goes on to say later, “If any man would come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”  Not only is there repentance, but now there is also self-denial and the voluntary crucifixion and death of the old sinful nature and then the toil of following Christ from the cross to the grave even to hades – and only there do we begin to see the light.  Only in the depths of hades, having sacrificed and lost everything on the earth do we find joy and love and peace.  Only there in the Resurrection do we find the path that leads to paradise, to the Kingdom of Heaven.

This new era is indeed the age of the Kingdom of God, the age of light and joy and love and peace, however, we do not acquire the Kingdom of God without labor and sacrifice, without struggle and work.  It is said that the best place to begin any journey is at the beginning.  The journey into the Kingdom of God, the journey that our Lord leads us on, begins with repentance and so the very first thing that He tells us is “Repent: for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  And this is where we must begin – with repentance which leads to self-denial, ascending the cross and following Christ.

There was a sign in the entrance to the great Church of Holy Wisdom – Agia Sophia in Constantinople.  This sign would admonish all who entered the Church to “Wash your sins, not just your face.”  The beginning of repentance is to see and admit our sins.  However this is only the beginning.  To really repent, it is necessary to turn away from our sins, to leave them behind and abandon them; this is what repentance is all about.  Too often we see our sins, but instead of repenting, we just clean them up and hide all the nasty bits – we just “wash our faces”.  In this way we appear to the world to be clean on the outside, but inside our sins are still there eating at us from the inside out.  It is necessary not only to see our sins and to confess them, but having done so we must also repent, that is turn away from them, renounce them completely and never return to them.

Years ago, I heard another priest talk about repentance and he used an image from the second epistle of Peter (which the Apostle took from the Proverbs) to describe the person who does not truly repent, but who, having only outwardly tidied up his sins (i.e. washed his face) does not turn away from them and reject them. He is like “the dog that returns to his own vomit again and the sow that was washed and returns to her wallowing in the mire.”  That graphic image made an impression on me for if seeing my own sin, I do not reject it, then I am the dog returning to my own vomit – I am the sow returning to wallow in the mud.  To truly repent is a difficult thing because it involves change, and change is always uncomfortable.

“Repent!” this is the call of our Lord in proclaiming this new age of the Kingdom of God to the world.  If we would enter the Kingdom of God, it involves a change in the very core of our being.  We have to turn away from the world – away from its values, pleasures, joys, comforts – and turn instead toward Christ.  We have to say “no” to ourselves so that we might be able to say “yes” to Christ.  We have to take up our cross so that our old sinful way of life might die and we might live to Christ.  We have to follow the path that Christ leads even to the very gates of hell so that He can lead us into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Repentance is the first step into the Kingdom of God and there is no other way by which we can enter His Kingdom.  If we bypass repentance or seek to avoid it, then we will never find true light, true joy, true love or true peace.  We might find worldly counterfeits that have no eternal value and which divert us from the true path into the Kingdom of God, however, be certain that if there is no repentance then you have turned aside from the path into the Kingdom of God.  This is the path that our Lord proclaims to us – this is the path that He has promised to walk with us – this is the path that leads us into His presence and that fills us with His light, His joy, His love and His peace.  This is the only true path into His Kingdom. 

Today the old age, the age of the Law and the Prophets, is finished.  Now is the time to embark upon the new age, the age of the Kingdom of God.  And if we would desire to enter into the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of light and joy and peace and love, we must begin at the beginning and walk the path that our Lord sets before us.  We must heed His very first words, “Repent: for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  Here is the door to the Kingdom of heaven, here is the key that opens the treasure house of light and joy and love and peace, here is the font of grace by which we are renewed and transformed.  This door, this key that opens for us the Kingdom of Heaven; this first step on the journey come into the presence of our God Who is Love and Who bathes us in that love is nothing less than to repent – to turn away from the world and turn towards Christ.  Having turned towards Christ, let us now follow Him that we may enter into this new age that He proclaims to us, the age of the Kingdom of Heaven.

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