Summary: Jesus came as a light to lighten the nations, he called people to be a church who would continue to share the good news with others, and his coming was accompanied by miraculous events that heralded the end to all suffering and the creation of a new heave
One of the things I hate is turning on the TV just after a movie or a weekly drama has started, so I’ve missed those opening few scenes where the story is set up, where perhaps the main characters are introduced; where the crime is committed or the tensions between characters is highlighted. If you miss those opening moments, you can spend the rest of the show trying to work out just what’s happening.
Well, as Matthew begins his account of Jesus’ adult ministry he does something like that. He sets the scene for what’s to come later. First he records Jesus’ baptism by John. Then he accounts what happens when the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Then he gives 3 short episodes that give us a feel for who this Jesus is. Now obviously we need to read the whole gospel to fully understand that, but here at the end of ch 4 we see 3 incidents that tell us a lot about who it is we’re about to read about.
First we discover that he’s:
1 A Light to Lighten the Gentiles vs 12-17
Matthew knows and loves his Old Testament. And he’s particularly interested in passages that apply to Jesus. So when Jesus moves to Capernaum, to the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, following the imprisonment of John, Matthew’s Jewish ears prick up. He’s reminded of the prophecy of Isaiah that we heard read earlier: "In the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-- on them light has shined." Jesus’ coming is to fulfill the promise of one who would bring light to the nations, who would enlighten those who live in darkness, who would bring life to those who live in the shadow of death.
But notice how that light and life come. "17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ’Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’" The light of life comes to people as they turn away from their rebellion against God. It comes as they embrace the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ message is no different from that of John. John had called people to repent in readiness for the coming of God’s kingdom. The only difference in what Jesus says is that now it has come near. The kingdom is upon them. Now is the moment that John was warning them of, preparing them for. Now it’s no longer the herald preparing the way, but the Messiah himself.
In fact the way this sentence is arranged in the Greek, it might have been translated, "From that time Jesus, himself, began to proclaim." Now it’s the Messiah himself who calls people to acknowledge the kingdom, to acknowledge, in fact, God’s anointed king. Strangely enough, here is the king himself preparing people for his coming. Here is one of those signs of the great graciousness of God. He doesn’t just send an emissary to announce the message. No, he comes himself to speak to his people. He delivers a personal message, a personal warning.
But it is a warning, notice. This is no soft gospel. This isn’t an invitation that can be ignored if we want to. Nor is it open to interpretation. No, it’s very clear. Repent! Get ready! The kingdom is on its way. If you’re not ready, then you’re going to miss out on the kingdom and instead be under the judgement of God.