Summary: Jesus begins proclaiming the Kingdom of God and calls a group of disciples to join him in brining people into God’sd Kingdom
Today we continue with our study of the first few chapters of Matthew’s gospel, looking today at the beginning of Jesus’ public Ministry. Remember that Jesus has been baptised by John in the River Jordan, probably somewhere near Jerusalem. There he’s heard God’s voice affirming his identity as God’s beloved Son. Almost immediately, though, Jesus has been led out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil. In a sense this is the first major test of his calling and ministry, to prove that he’s not just the beloved Son, but also the obedient servant of the Lord. Having passed the test, Jesus returns and hearing that John has been put into prison, begins his own ministry. The forerunner’s role is finished. Now is the time for the Messiah to begin on his path to victory.
But notice where he begins. He’s just been baptised near Jerusalem, near the centre of the nation of Israel, but that’s not where he begins his ministry. Instead he returns to Galilee. To the far reaches of the nation of Israel. It’s as though he wants to start on the outside, because that’s where the most needy people are. He wants to make the point that the gospel is for all people irrespective of how close they happen to be to the core group whatever that means. But notice that in returning to Galilee he doesn’t go to Nazareth. He leaves Nazareth and takes up residence in Capernaum. We’re not given any reason for this move. Perhaps he wanted to distance himself from his childhood, from the associations that people might have with him as a little boy. Perhaps Capernaum had a larger population so was a better place to base his ministry. We’re not told. But what we are told is that Matthew has picked up another OT connection. He realises that the great prophecy of Is 9, that told of the birth of a child who would be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, was set in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. So this isn’t just a random change of setting for Jesus. It’s another fulfilment of prophecy.
Jesus is about to begin preaching a message that will bring light to those living in darkness, in the land of the shadow of death. Again we see the hand of God at work, bring his plans to fulfilment in the life of his beloved Son. And so Jesus begins to preach the gospel.
Now I want to spend a few minutes today talking about the gospel. Over the next few months we’ll be thinking in far greater detail about what the gospel is all about, but today I just want us to quickly think about what we understand the gospel message to be. It’s a word we throw around, often without much explanation, just assuming that everyone knows what it means. So right now I want you to turn to the people next to you or in front of you or behind you and spend a couple of minutes asking yourselves the question what is the message of the gospel. See if you can put into one or two sentences a summary of the gospel. Then we’ll see how you’ve gone.
Now let’s look at how Jesus presents the gospel.
His message is simple, isn’t it? He says "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near." So what can we glean from that? First of all, the message of the gospel begins with a call to repentance. Now before we jump to conclusions about what that means let’s think it through. You see, often when we tell someone to repent we have in mind some particular sin. They’ve been disobeying God in some way and we tell them to repent. To stop disobeying and start doing what’s right. Now that’s certainly a legitimate use of the term but I’m not sure it’s what Jesus means here. I think what Jesus has in mind here is much broader in its application. Think about the context in which he speaks. We’ll look at this some more in a moment but the context is the kingdom of heaven. So it’s about submission to the rule of a king. So when he tells them to repent, he isn’t thinking about particular sins. He’s thinking about a whole life focus.
When he calls them to repent, he’s saying that it’s not good enough to think they can run their lives their own way. They need a change of heart. They need to turn back to God and to Jesus. Now notice, by the way, that this bit is not necessarily good news. It seems to me we get ourselves into difficulty whenever we talk about preaching the good news, rather than preaching the gospel, as most of our translations seem to want to do. We mustn’t forget that the gospel is only good news to those who respond to it. To those who reject it it’s only ever bad news.