Repent ... Return

When the Messiah came, He preached a message of repentance. "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand." (Matthew 4:17) The kingdom was not a new theme. The Jewish people had been expecting God's kingdom ever since they left Egypt in the days of Moses.

Following their departure from Egypt and their arrival at Mt Sinai, God revealed that the people of Israel would be a "kingdom of priests". "And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Exodus 19:6) They would be the international advocate, the face between God and the people of the nations. The people of Israel would be the chosen channel through whom God would bless the nations, according to the promises He made with their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Israel. Like a potter moulding a special vessel, God has been shaping the nation ever since.

Therefore, when the Messiah was preaching repentance, He was not preaching anything new or revolutionary. Indeed, the fact that He was proclaiming "Repent . . . " meant that someone had to return to the path from which he had strayed. That special someone or group was the people of Israel.

Of all the nations, only the nation of Israel was to expect the arrival of the kingdom. Thus, to pursue the kingdom and to work toward its fulfilment were natural energies for Israel regularly witnessed throughout their history. Walking the path of the kingdom was the natural course intended for Israel. In contrast, the coming of God's kingdom was revolutionary for the nations.

For this reason, and now understandably, the Messiah came preaching to His brethren, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand." It was imperative that the people of Israel return to the path which God had called them to, and to once again take up the yoke of His kingdom.

From what had the people of Israel strayed that required such a dramatic change? What was so important that Israel must return?

Like a bird trapped, the people of Israel had become ensnared in the ways of the Gentiles. Daily life was determined by what was acceptable among the Gentiles. Many had strayed from the path of righteousness, choosing rather to become more like the Gentiles. Consequently, the Covenant between God and His people was broken and His holy Name dishonoured.

The Covenant was the difference between Israel and the nations. The Covenant provided the framework for Israel to cultivate faith and to dwell safely in the Land, and which set them apart to be "a kingdom of priests".

With the people of Israel only, has God made a covenant, therefore only Israel could show the way to the other nations, and that way is through the Covenant. Even today, Israel remains unique among the nations because God has made His Covenant with Israel alone.

"He declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and His judgements to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for His judgements, they have not known them. Praise the LORD!" (Psalm 147:19-20)

In every generation, Israel's adherence to the Covenant must be given top priority, and every effort must be made in order to pursue its blessings.

"This day the LORD your God commands you to observe these statutes and judgements; therefore you shall be careful to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. Today you have proclaimed the LORD to be your God, and that you will walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments and His judgements, and that you will obey His voice. Also today the LORD has proclaimed you to be His special people, just as He promised you, that you should keep all His commandments, and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, in praise, in name, and in honour, and that you may be a holy people to the LORD your God just as He has spoken." (Deuteronomy 26:16-19)

Faith is an essential key for the Covenant to function properly. As it is written, "The just shall live by his faith." (Habakkuk 2:4) It is impossible to honour God without faith. Daily behaviour and activities must come from a growing, developing faith. When faith is removed from good works, then the works are in vain. They are without God, and at best will only please man and his agenda.

When the Messiah came He chastised the spiritual leaders of Israel for their hypocrisy, and empty works. Understandably, He cautioned His brethren to be wary of such men, and to be careful not to follow after them. And notably, He urged that they be all the more diligent to observe and adhere to the Covenant.

"Then Yeshua spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying, 'The Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.'" (Matthew 23:1-2)

The Messiah was calling His backslidden brethren to return to God in faith, and to walk in His Covenant which they had forsaken.

After healing the leper, making him clean, the Messiah instructed him to observe the Covenant. "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing those things which Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." (Mark 1:44)

When the Jewish young ruler came running to the Messiah asking, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" (Matthew 19:16) the Messiah pointed him to the Covenant that God had made with His people, Israel, and to the importance of remaining steadfast to its instruction. "But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." (Matthew 19:17)

When the young woman caught in adultery was brought to the Messiah, for judgement, and after the crowd had dispersed, the Messiah instructed the woman to return to the path of righteousness. " . . .  He said to her, 'Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?' She said, 'No one, Lord.' And Yeshua said to her, 'Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.'" (John 8:10-11) The woman was to return to God's commandments, the path of life and good, the path from which she had strayed.

The yoke of the Messiah is the yoke of God's kingdom. Thus, He came calling His brethren to return to their Covenant-keeping God, and to walk in His ways. "Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:29)

May there be many today who find rest in Messiah Yeshua, the Hope of Israel.


Mark Warren