We are creatures of time and space. We live and move and have our being within the regions of length and width and height, and the passage of time. Scientists and philosophers imagine and discuss existence beyond space and time; but for most of us, the reality in which we live is defined and delimited by these dimensions.
God, of course, is beyond space and time. This isn’t hard to grasp, even if we cannot conceive of what such an existence might be like; for space and time have their being in creation, and God, as the Creator, is greater than His creation. Among other things, this gives added significance to events that we have celebrated recently. Two weeks ago, we celebrated our Lord’s entry into space and time, as He took on our human nature, was born as we have been born, and dwelt as one of us. This past Friday, we celebrated His baptism in the Jordan River, and the beginning of His earthly ministry, which will be completed, in one sense, by His death on the Cross and His resurrection from the dead.
Today, we hear of the start of His earthly ministry. Our Lord Jesus Christ, having been baptized so as to fulfill all righteousness on our behalf, came up out of the waters of Jordan and was revealed as the Son of God, as the Father was revealed by His declaring, “This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased”; and as the Holy Spirit was revealed by descending upon our Lord in the form of a dove. He then went into the desert to fast and pray for 40 days; and overcame temptation by the enemy of our salvation. When He returns from the desert to the world of men, He takes up the proclamation of St. John the Baptizer: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
“The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” What does this mean? This is a question for us to consider, knowing what we know: that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Who died on the Cross, and rose from the dead for our sake, and has ascended into heaven. We know that He is King of kings and Lord of lords. Thus, as a King, he dwells in His kingdom; and, because He is God, and so is not limited in time and space, His kingdom is everywhere. Standing here today, in this place as His Body, the Church, we are in His kingdom. So we can immediately come to understand that the Kingdom of heaven is near us; it is, “at hand,” because we are already in it, as He is here with us.
Our Lord tells His disciples, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” We can also grasp this, as all those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. He dwells in our hearts; and so the King is within us, a part of our being, and so His kingdom is there. He is meant to rule over our lives; and His kingship at this time is such that His “rule” is not that of a dictator, issuing commands which we must obey, but rather that of a guide, Who desires nothing more than that we learn to walk in His ways and do His will, in order that we might never be at risk of being exiled from His kingdom. In His love for us, He desires that we allow Him to live in us, that we might forever live in Him, and share in a relationship of love that cannot be broken. But when we live, not according to the ways of the kingdom, but rather according to the ways of the world, and the desires of our flesh – when we give ourselves over to sin, we harden our hearts, and cut ourselves off from Him – and so we do not benefit from being in the kingdom, but live instead as rebels and enemies. Brothers and sisters, this should not be. How tragic it will be, to have the kingdom of heaven so close at hand, and fail to receive the blessings that are ours!
There is another meaning as well to our Lord’s proclamation of the kingdom that we must all realize, for it is meant for our blessing as well. When our Lord declares, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” He refers, the fathers tell us, to the day when He returns in glory to judge the living and the dead. On that day, His victory on the Cross will be completed; and His enemies will be forever cast down. How terrible will that Day of Judgment be for those who are found to be outside His kingdom! Yet there is hope: for if we embrace the life of the kingdom now, before that day; if we love the Lord will all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and put that love into action by seeking holiness, and the overcoming of our passions; if we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and act with patience and mercy and forgiveness and forbearance, as God does in His dealings with us – then we need have no fear of the Judgment Day, for we will find that we have already been living in the Kingdom, and lack only its fullness, which we will enter at that time.
There is one more point we need to know, and it is this: The Lord desires that the proclamation of the kingdom be continued today, and He entrusts this ministry to each of us. What we say, and what we do, how we think, how we live, says to everyone around us how we feel about the kingdom. Do we take it seriously? Or is it of little or no concern to us? Again, if we know of the love of the Lord our God, and desire above all to walk in His ways, we will be messengers of the kingdom, and find our reward, both now and in the age to come. Not only will we find salvation for our souls, but we will help others to be saved, as well.
Brothers and sisters, let us embrace the high calling of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us live as citizens of the kingdom of heaven; and ask God for grace to show this forth to the world, that those who do not know may hear and see, and so find their way to the kingdom as well – to the glory of God, and the salvation of souls.