March 17, 2016
12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 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.”
17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Scratch John off Israel’s most wanted list and move Jesus to the top. They shut John down which sent Jesus into stealth mode. John had spoken truth to power one too many times and it would cost him dearly. Fresh from a season of speaking truth to Satan, now Jesus would go to speak truth into darkness. It would have the effect of a great light dawning on those “living in the land of the shadow of death.”
He will literally be on the run from this point on. He will have a hometown—Capernaum—just not a home. He’s going to opt for unschooled fishermen instead of seminary graduates and despised tax collectors instead of esteemed business men. He will relish secrecy around his miraculous work. Jesus knows his days are numbered. In the illustrious words of Bandit, he’s got a long way to go and a short time to get there. He has come to announce the beginning of the end of the present evil age and the dawning of the age to come. His mission was so focused he could summarize his message into nine words:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
The rest of the Gospel will elucidate and explicate these nine words. What is the kingdom of heaven? It’s the powerful presence and passionate love of God in the midst of his people. What does “repent” mean? The good news is we don’t have to guess at it. Jesus is going to teach us exactly what it means. Matthew’s Gospel will unfold it for us in five major teaching sessions.
For now, here’s how I understand the meaning of this nine word sermon. It means everything you would do and all the ways you would prepare if you found out Jesus was coming to your house today—not to visit, but to stay.
I think if I were leading a local church today I would make this the mission statement: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” What do you think would happen or what difference would it make if every church in the land scratched out their present mission statement and replaced it with these words? What if it were written over the door frame as we entered our sanctuaries and on the inside of the door so we could see it as we departed? What if it were posted on our homes and affixed to the dashboards of our vehicles. I think if I were going to engrave words into my skin it would be these nine words.
I may be wrong, but I think the whole tamale is wrapped up in these words. Ask me my mission and I will respond: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” And you?
1. What do you think it means that “the kingdom of heaven has come near?”
2. If “repent” means the realignment of your life around the kingdom of God and if the kingdom of God is the presence of God, what would that mean for you today?
3. What is one concrete step you can take today that would be responsive to this clarion call from Jesus? Just one and just for today?
J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.