Last year, the lady who lived next door but one to us died and her daughters sold the house to another family. They haven’t moved in yet. The house was quite dated in many ways and too small for them. They have ripped it apart, tearing out fixtures and fittings, replacing windows, knocking down an old extension and doing significant building work so that it is like a completely new property.
In life, we know that a change of ownership, management or leadership leads to radical change. If you see “Under New Management” on a shop door, you know the place will be completely refurbished, a new boss will bring in his own team and methods, a new government will abolish old laws, scrap taxes and replace them with their own preferences.
The Gospel, the good news about Jesus is about such a radical change. Are you ready for radical change in your life?
We have seen last week that we can relate to God as our Father, he loves us and welcomes us into our family. This also means that we know Jesus as our brother and friend. Through the Holy Spirit we experience God’s presence as counsellor and comforter. However, we also picked up last week that we are to submit to God’s rule. We don’t like submitting -and yet recognising God’s majesty and sovereignty, his greatness is as important as recognising his fatherly love and care.
The central point in this passage is this. Jesus is the true king who ushers in God’s rule and reign and we are to respond to him as King.
To know how to respond, we need to see how this passage gives us clues as to what God’s kingdom is like.
Enjoy the light that the kingdom brings (12-16)
John has been arrested and imprisoned by Herod who saw him as a threat, particularly when he challenged his morality. Jesus hears the news and this seems to be the prompt for his own ministry to begin. He returns to Galilee but does not stay in Nazareth, his home-town long. Rather he starts to move around the region bringing his message of good news.
Matthew once again recognises Jesus’ actions as bringing fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. Jesus is the one who brings promised light to the norther territories. Isaiah had talked about the land being under the shadow of darkness and death due to the rebellion of God’s people bringing judgement, invasion, slavery, exile and death. However, things would not stay that way, God would lift the land out of the shadows brining light.
Matthew says that Jesus is the one who brings that light. We know from Jhon’s Gospel that Jesus described himself as the light of the world. We can see how the imagery works here. We often associate gloom, shadows and darkness with uncertainty, fear and loss of hope. The image of darkness that will not lift is often used to describe depression and if you have experienced the emotional pit, you will know full well why that is so appropriate. Darkness is also a cover from wrongdoing, hence the fear of what might lurk in the shadows.
However, in Jesus, light has come. Jesus brings hope that dispels despair. He triumphs over evil. Jesus brings forgiveness for sin and heals our battered emotions.
So, the arrival of God’s kingdom is something to enjoy, celebrate and share. This is good news.
Turn from your old ways and submit to the true King (17)
These are the first recorded words of Jesus’ ministry.
“Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.]”
The good news is that God’s kingdom, or his righteous rule has arrived in the person of Jesus. This calls for a response from us. Imagine the situation, a kingdom has been under the rule of one king, perhaps a foreign invader, perhaps a harsh despot. That king will have put his own laws and customs in place and the people will have followed them. They may even have had to adopt cultural dress, new names and a new language as happened to the Jews who went to Babylon.
When the true king arrives, what happens? Well everything to do with the past king gets swept away. To refer to a topical situation this will include demolishing statues and monuments to the old rulers, it will mean returning to the language, customs and laws of the true kingdom and the returning king.
The Bible uses the imagery of kingdoms to show what needs to happen in our lives in response to the Gospel. The reason for the darkness is that we live under the rule of Satan, sin and death. We have learnt to live in that kingdom which means we have lived under those laws.
- We have submitted to selfishness and our own desires
- We have submitted to lust and jealousy
- We have submitted to bitterness and hate
- We have submitted to scorn and slander
- We have submitted to a culture of death seen in racism, abortion, adultery and euthanasia.
So, the arrival of the true king calls for a turning away from those things. The Gospel promises that through the Cross, we can be forgiven and restored to a right relationship with Christ meaning that we now should choose
- Love for God and our neighbour – love turn outwards instead of in on itself
- True, wholehearted love for each other
- Compassion and forgiveness
- Encouragement and truth telling
- A culture of life
The arrival of God’s kingdom in Jesus offers us a radical alternative to the world we know without him. This means that there is a new life to discover, a life marked characterised by love, light and forgiveness.
For those of us who belong to Jesus and his kingdom there is a challenge here. Are there things that we continue to do, say and think, ways of behaving that belong to the old kingdom still?
- How do we speak to others and about others? Are we loving and truthful?
- How do we relate to people from other ethnic backgrounds? Remember, moving beyond racism includes speaking up against it.
- What are our attitudes to position and material provision?
- Are we learning to forgive and not to hold grudges?
Some of you will be hearing this and you don’t yet know Jesus as Lord and saviour. I want to encourage you to respond to his message of good news.
First of all, I hope you have seen here that there is an offer of hope. If you are weighed down, life feels dark, meaningless, hopeless. If you are hurting, carrying deep pain, then Jesus is the good king who brings light, hope, healing and rest.
Secondly, Jesus has come to set you free from slavery to those things that hold you, to forgive you and to take away guilt and shame. Will you turn away from those things, ask him to forgive you and allow him to take charge of your life?
 Isaiah 9)