When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 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 of the Sea, beyond 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.”
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” –Matthew 4:12-17
After Jesus’ first miracle—taking a lame party and making it awesome, remember?—he began travelling around from town to town preaching. What was he preaching about? To put it simply: he was inviting everyone to the kingdom party.
Except that there was a problem. Remember how Jesus told that story about how the king invited everyone to his party, and no one wanted to come? Well, that story is kind of what we’re like, and it’s what the people who heard Jesus were like too. Jesus was announcing the coming of God’s kingdom—the celebration of life and peace and mercy and joy that lasts forever—but most people couldn’t be bothered. They were too busy with their lives, too impressed with their own importance, too puffed up with their own goodness—to pay much attention to the invitation.
That’s why Jesus’ invitation wasn’t just, “The kingdom is here!” His invitation was, “Repent, because the kingdom is here!”
“Repent” might seem like a scary-sounding word, like somebody yelling at you to clean up your act. But the word “repent” simply means “turn around.” You see, everyone in the whole world is running away from God—trying to be their own king, living for themselves, ignoring God—and what Jesus is saying is, “Stop running away from God! Turn around!” Because, obviously, you can’t come into the party if you’re running away from it. The only way to get into the party is to turn around—to give up trying to be your king and start following King Jesus instead. Once you turn around, you’ll find that the door to the party is wide open, and you can come on in.
A famous, smart dead guy named Martin Luther once said, “The Christian life is a life of repentance.” That means that following Jesus isn’t just about turning around once. It means that every day is about turning around to follow Jesus. It means deciding again, every day, to not be your own king, and to follow Jesus again.
That sounds hard, and it is, but it’s also the best thing in the world. Because, remember: this is an invitation to a party, the best party that’s ever been thrown, by the greatest King the world has ever known. You’re invited. All you have to do is turn around and come in.