At the end of his time on earth, Jesus told the eleven disciples who were left that they were to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that he has commanded.
So that creates a question…what did Jesus command? What was his expectation of the things that those newly made disciples were to do?
Jesus was in the wilderness, having been baptized by John and tempted by Satan but not sinning. Now, Matthew says that he begins to preach and starts with his first command:
Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.
I think it is interesting that this is the exact same thing that John the Baptist was also saying. In fact that was John’s primary message, to call people to repentance, and now Jesus is saying it as well, so clearly there is some importance to it.
So what are we talking about here? What does it mean to repent and follow this command?
If we look back to story of what John was doing in calling people to repentance in Matthew 3, we see that the people would go out to him and confess their sins. My guess is that they don’t really know John that well, so it seems a little bit strange to me that they would do this, but in any case, this is what was happening. They were telling of the things that they had done wrong and how they had ignored God and His commandments.
As Matthew is telling the story of John, there is a contrast drawn between the people who were going out to confess their sins and be baptized and the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees and Sadducees. John ends up calling them a brood of vipers and tells them that they should produce fruit in keeping with repentance. It seems that these leaders would require religious actions but wouldn’t humble themselves to be repentant for their own sins, preferring instead to believe and require more religious acts in an attempt to gain approval with God.
But now both John and Jesus are saying that what God really wants is repentance. He wants us to turn away from our sins. To not be proud before God but to tell Him that we are sorry for what we have done, ask God for forgiveness, and start living a new, changed life that leaves behind those things that we have repented of.
So, if we are to teach others the commands of Christ, I think what we can learn here is that the place to start is to teach them repentance. This is the place that both John and Jesus started and will be the place where God will start with each of us. If we come to Him with a repentant heart, then God can forgive us and mold us into the people He wants us to become. If not, He will not force you to become a different person and will likely just allow you to continue on as you are for as long as you prefer.