Today’s Scripture – August 6, 2016

Matthew 4:12-17 (NIV)
When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee.  Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali–to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:  “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–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.”
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Jesus’ successful completion of the wilderness testing, and John’s arrest by King Herod Antipas served as a kind of starter’s pistol, a signal for Him to begin His race.

His first move was to pull up stakes from His hometown of Nazareth, which was a small village off the beaten path, and move to the much more heavily populated and cosmopolitan city of Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  From this new home base a huge arena of ministry all around the shores of the sea was now available to Him.

The move also began fulfillment of some of the many messianic prophesies, specifically one from the prophet Isaiah that foretold that the people of this very area, people whom Isaiah described as walking in darkness and in the “shadowland of death” (HCSB), would see the light of the Messiah shining brightly in their midst.

Jesus’ second move was to begin to preach.  His message echoed that of John the Baptist carrying on the themes of repentance and the nearness of the Kingdom of God.  But Jesus’ core message had a significantly different focus.  Whereas John focused on preparation for the One whose appearance would inaugurate the kingdom, Jesus’ message used similar words to show that the kingdom was now an emerging reality.  Mark’s version of Jesus’ teaching is more complete than Matthew’s terse summary:  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!” (Mark 1:15 HCSB)

The difference between the two message may seem trivial, but it is actually profound.  John preached potential; Jesus preached fulfillment.  John preached preparation; Jesus preached present reality.  John warned of the power and authority of the coming Messiah; Jesus invited people to repent and believe, and to join God’s movement that was now actively underway.

Jesus good news was that the kingdom of heaven was now breaking into the world, and that, in Him, it had become the compelling reality of all time.  But the kingdom did not disappear when Jesus ascended into heaven.  With the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, filling all of the believers with God’s presence, and manifesting that presence by working miracles and transforming lives through them, the present and active kingdom of God was shown to be a continuing reality for the people of God throughout the ages.

It is strange that today the message of many Christians has taken a step backwards.  A lot of preaching and evangelism has shifted away from an invitation to participate in the present reality of the kingdom of God, focusing instead on a warning to repent so that people can participate in a coming heaven when this life is over or when Jesus returns.  This has, in many cases, divorced the gospel from the here and now reality that was the very core of the preaching of Jesus and of the early Church.

Father, I can see the real difference between Jesus’ message and the message that we, as His followers, tend to preach today.  Help us, Lord to shift in our own heart from a focus on merely anticipating heaven and Jesus’ return, to a focus on living in Your kingdom as a here and now reality.  If we will make that shift in our own hearts, our message will naturally change to an invitation for people to come and participate in the reality of Your kingdom and Your presence that we ourselves live in – the message and invitation of Jesus Himself.  Amen.

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