We are given three unique accounts in the gospels of how Jesus publicly inaugurates his ministry in order to announce the arrival of the Kingdom of God and its availability to all who wish to live in this new reality. Matthew and Mark both share the same announcement, so I will leave them to last, but I think each unveiling is worth noting because despite being unique, they appear to share a similar theme.
We’ll start with Luke (mostly because it is one of my favourite passages in the bible). In Luke 4 we see the beginning of Jesus ministry. Luke says that when Jesus began to teach in some synagogues he came to Nazareth and read from Isaiah that famous passage about the Spirit of the Lord being upon him to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives and sight to the blind, to set free oppressed people, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and then claims that as of this day it is fulfilled.
This is essentially Jesus announcing that he is the Messiah who has come to announce the Kingdom of God is here. What I am interested in pointing out today is what happens next – people are confused.
So Jesus goes on … he says some very provocative things.
After mentioning that no prophet is accepted in their home town he gives two scandalous examples to make his point. He reaches back into the sacred history of the Israelites to mention two of her great prophets; Elijah and Elisha. He points out that while there were many people in need during the lives of each of these great men, neither was sent to rescue Israelite.
Elijah was sent to a widow in Sidon. Now because I am sure your historical geography is probably as bad as mine, Sidon was the first son of Canaan, which effectively makes him one of the Canaanites and part of a group of people the Israelites were traditionally understood to be prohibited from having contact with, and yet here is Jesus claiming that while Elijah could have helped many good Israelites, God sent him to assist one of their enemies.
Just to make sure they understand what he is getting at, Jesus then makes the same point about Elisha. Elisha could have healed any number of Israelites, but instead was sent to a Syrian – another adversary.
It was these examples that caused the townsfolk to turn against Jesus and want to drive him out. Why? This is Jesus announcing the availability and arrival of the Kingdom of God and it sure seems like he is suggesting that these very religious people may need to rethink who God’s governance is for. This goes against everything they held close as part of the religious belief system.
The very people who are most seeking God, somehow need to change direction in order to see what God is doing.
Now let’s move to John. While John starts his story of Jesus with the miracle of turning water to wine at Cana, you’ll recall that Jesus was not really thrilled to perform this miracle because “his time had not yet come”; essentially, he wasn’t ready to announce himself publicly as the Messiah ushering in the Kingdom of God.
It was what happens next that John uses to describe Jesus’ official proclamation – and that is the cleansing of the temple.
I think most people know this story, but briefly Jesus walks into the temple (which he has done many times before) and performs a prophetic act of driving the religious elite out of the temple and overturning their tables. Whatever else this act may mean, it most definitely starts by very obviously showing that the religious leaders, who had some very ardent and well-thought-out belief systems, needed to be shown they needed to rethink things in order to understand what the Kingdom of God truly looks like.
Jesus very openly was saying that what people had always believed may need to be overturned in order to understand a better way.
In this case, the leaders of the church somehow missed what God was up to and were being shown their need to rethink what his kingdom would look like.
Finally, let’s move to Matthew and Mark. Both writer’s tell us that Jesus’ launching into ministry began with the announcement:
- “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matt. 4:17)
- “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!” (Mark 1:15)
Both announce that the Kingdom of God has been brought close to people with his arrival and also call people to “repent”.
Now this word “repent” is very interesting (which I am sure most of you know). It does not mean what we may commonly have unconsciously thought – to confess sins – but rather it means “to change one’s mind”. It implies that something has happened and as a result we must turn from what we formally thought toward something else instead.
In this case, the implication is very clear; the Kingdom of God has been brought to your doorstep and now you must rethink everything in light of this new reality. New creation is here and that will require giving up old patterns of thinking and living.
Jesus is calling his people to survey the new reality and change their mind about … well, pretty much everything.
And so, taken collectively, the four gospels seem to announce a consistent message; the arrival of the Kingdom of God in our midst requires that we cast aside everything we formerly thought, believed, and lived out in our lives and instead rethink everything we say, do, believe, and pursue because light has now come to the world and walking in darkness no longer makes sense.
This doesn’t just impact our inner, mental world, but needs to actively impact the way we walk in the world. The way we act in our workplaces. The way we support governments and their policies. The way we consume and purchase goods. The way we steward the planet.
These things all need to be rethought in light of God’s Kingdom having arrived on the scene. This “rethinking” is a never-ending process that will last the rest of our lives because we are constantly being changed more and more into the likeness of Christ.
And the people who seem to need this most are genuine, God-seeking people who have spent quite a bit of time thinking about his ways, his actions in the world, and what he will eventually come to do.
So, what might I need to rethink? Surely not that … (it’s probably that).