Reading: Matthew 9(Context: Jesus comes to Capernaum, His “ministry hub” and the town flocks to Him for healing. Yet the religious leaders strongly oppose Him and falsely accuse Him. Jesus later explained that a Prophet is not acceptable in His own town, and in His case this extended to His second “home”, Capernaum. The theme grows here in Matthew, where a King is proclaimed, followed, and loved by the people, but the leaders continually undermine His authority as King and question His Divinity.)
I arrived in Tarapoto, Peru (a jungle city 18 hours East of Trujillo) yesterday, after travelling to a variety of cities in quick succession over the weekend, and my travelling over the last few days totaled something like 5 buses and 50 hours of traveling! Thankfully the buses are very comfortable here in Peru, compared to Bolivia.
Last night I preached at the local church here, called “Emaús” (Emmaus), where Micah Tuttle and his family work as full-time missionaries. I will be preaching regularly over the next 5 weeks here, several times a week in this church, but with several opportunities in other churches as well, not to mention the opportunity to speak at a camp and then teach 40 hours at a country Bible School on the river.
Back to last night. I began a series on “Islam and It’s Eschatology“, a topic that is very fascinating to me personally and which been received with enthusiasm wherever I have preached it. The first of four messages was a message reviewing Biblical Eschatology, from a Premillennial point of view, where I spoke about the great and terrible future that soon awaits this world.
After the message, a brother came up to me and said: “I always thought we were living in the Kingdom now.” I explained to him that there are a variety of theories as to how to interpret the future prophecies in the Bible, and that I took the Premillennial (also the Pretribulational) stance because it made best use of the literal reading of Scripture. He listened to me and thanked me for explaining the difference, telling me he thought that made better sense as well.
The Kingdom is a future, literal, earthly Kingdom, as my Emmaus Bible College teachers would often tell me. While reading over Matthew 9 this morning, I couldn’t help but notice Jesus’ reference to His Kingdom to His People, the Jewish nation. What stands out to me the most is His use of “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 9:35; also Matthew 4:23; 24:14; and Mark 1:15).
The context of the passage, as I declared at the introduction, is the presentation by the author, Matthew, of Jesus as King. Jesus was clearly offering a future, literal, earthly Kingdom to His countrymen. All they had to do to make the future present was to reach-out and receive Him as king. The problem? The Jewish leaders opposed and rejected Him, and the people followed suit, just like sheep who follow their shepherd. They were blind, proud, and legalistic shepherds, more similar to deceitful wolves in sheep’s clothing, than true religious leaders of a community. Jesus saw this and mourned over them:
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:35-36)
God, through Jesus Christ, saw a world of people that were “harassed and helpless” and He had come to heal, lead, and reign perfectly over them. Yet they rejected the King, and even out of such a mistake good did come, for then the world received a Savior. Now, the Kingdom message is still living and active, for Jesus called it the “Gospel”. We are called to lead the people of this world to the King and to teach them about His soon arrival and reign.
Come, O Righteous Shepherd, lead your harassed and helpless sheep! We await You and the future Home you have prepared for us.
One day we, those loved and chosen by God, will reign in the literal, earthly Kingdom of Jesus, but until then we call people to that Kingdom. A Kingdom that will have no end, because the Millennium will give way straight to an even better and entirely perfect place, the “New Heavens and New Earth”.
I can’t help but look around now, to think of all the people I have met, all the countries I have visited, all the churches I have seen. This world is full of hopeless, helpless, lonely, broken, and unloved people. Giving them food doesn’t take away their loneliness. Giving them choice in abortion doesn’t take away the guilt. Giving them promises of earthly wealth and fame doesn’t take away their sense of purposelessness.
That is why I, and all who claim to preach Jesus’ message must preach the Gospel of the Kingdom. This is our hope, our glory, our promise of eternal rest with God, under Jesus Christ the future, eternal, everlasting, and incomparable Shepherd, our King of Kings.
Interpretive Note: I will openly recognize that the Kingdom, while it will be a future, literal, earthly Kingdom, can also be interpreted as being now. Many say “Jesus reigns in our hearts”, and while I don’t like the use of “heart”, I understand the meaning. Jesus is my King, He is our King, and He does rule and lead our lives, but He is not the King of the world yet. In fact, Satan is much more the king of this current world than Jesus is, just look around! I believe the Kingdom has a dual interpretation, one for now, one for later. The literal description fits better with the future concept, but it doesn’t mean the first concept is totally useless. When I think of the Kingdom, though, I point first to the future, literal, earthly Kingdom refereed to as the Millennium. Jesus did the same thing.