The Kingdom | Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25
Brian Hedges | January 28, 2024
Let’s turn in our Bibles this morning to Matthew 4. We’re almost to the end of this short study through the first four chapters of Matthew’s Gospel. We’ve called this “The Advent of the King” or “The Coming of the King.” We’ve looked at the birth and infancy narratives of Jesus and then at these very earliest points in the life of Jesus, the ministry of Jesus.
Today we’re looking at Matthew 4:12-17 and then verses 23-25. Next week we’ll come back to the last message in this segment of Matthew’s Gospel and we’re going to look at Jesus’ call of his disciples in Matthew 4:18-22.
While you’re turning to Matthew 4, you might remember some of games we played as children. I think these are probably universal; almost all kids play at least these two games. When you have no toys to play with—you know, kids self-organize, and they start playing games together. And one game kids love to play is “King of the Mountain.” Do you remember that game, or “King of the Hill”? That’s when somebody’s up on a chair, on a couch, they’re the king of the mountain, they’re standing up there. Everybody else is trying to get to the top. Of course, the strongest, most agile kid is the one pushing all the others down, and he’s staying on top. King of the Mountain.
Then there’s another game that’s pretty different. This game is called “Follow the Leader,” and this is the game where everybody kind of falls in line behind one person who is leading all the others around.
I think those two games can be metaphors for the way we live our lives. A lot of times we live our lives playing “King of the Hill” or “King of the Mountain.” We’re vying for position, we’re climbing to the top; we want to be in control of our lives, we want to be in control of other people; we want to be first.
But there’s another way to live life, and the way of Jesus is more like “Follow the Leader,” where we’re not trying to get to the top but we’re following someone else. We recognize that there’s another King, and that he has a kingdom, and that he calls us to follow him in his kingdom.
That’s really what we’re beginning to look at now in these last two sermons in Matthew 4. We’re looking at the kingdom today and we’re looking at following Jesus next Sunday.
We see it beginning in Matthew 4:12, where Jesus is beginning his earthly ministry and begins to preach the gospel of the kingdom. Let’s pick up in verse 12; I’ll read through verse 17 and then drop down to verse 23 through the end of the chapter.
“Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.’
“From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
Drop down to verse 23:
“And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.”
This is God’s word.
So you see it in verse 17 and again in verse 23, that Jesus comes proclaiming the kingdom. He says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In verse 23 he came “proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.”
Of course, the kingdom is a crucial theme that runs through all of the Gospels and really through the Bible. But we see it especially in the ministry of Jesus Christ. We’ve already seen in this series that Jesus is the King. He was the one who was born King of the Jews. One of Matthew’s purposes in writing this Gospel is to show that Jesus really is the Davidic King, he is the promised Messiah, and he’s the King not only of Israel but he is the King of the world.
In this passage we begin to see Jesus’ ministry as the King and his proclamation of the kingdom. I want us to look at three things:
1. The Nature of the Kingdom
2. The Gospel of the Kingdom
3. Our Response to the Kingdom
I think as we look at these three points it will open up this passage and help us understand what it means for Jesus to be the King and what it means for us to live as citizens of the kingdom of Jesus, where we are not trying to be our own King—not playing “King of the Mountain”—but we’re following Jesus, who is the King.
1. The Nature of the Kingdom
Really, we’re asking, What is the kingdom? We just need to try to understand what the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven is. Now, this is a broad topic, much broader than we can cover this morning, but I just want to point out three things that I think will help us begin to understand what the kingdom is.
(1) We could say, first of all, that the kingdom is God’s saving reign revealed in his Son. The essential meaning of the word “kingdom” is a dynamic meaning, it’s the dynamic reign or rule of a king. We’re not thinking so much about a territory, we’re not thinking so much about a domain; we’re thinking about a king’s reign or his sovereignty or his rule. Virtually all of the New Testament scholars agree that that is the case. That’s the meaning of this word “kingdom.”
This passage might better be translated as, “Repent [or turn], because the reign of heaven is near,” or, “the reign of heaven has arrived.” So when we’re talking about the kingdom of God we’re talking about God’s reign.
It is, as we learn in the Gospel, God’s reign that brings salvation. It is his saving reign, and this reign is revealed in Jesus, it’s revealed in his Son. The reason that Jesus comes on the scene saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near,” or has come, or has arrived, is because Jesus has arrived. Jesus is the King, and he’s bringing God’s kingdom to the people. So the kingdom is God’s saving reign revealed in his Son.
(2) Secondly, we could also say that the kingdom is God’s heavenly reign confronting our world.
Notice here that Jesus says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The kingdom of heaven. It’s an interesting phrase, the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew is the only one who uses that phrase, the kingdom of heaven. When you read the other Gospels (the Gospels of Mark and Luke and John), the phrase is always “the kingdom of God.” In fact, these phrases are almost synonymous.
So, in the parallel passage in Mark 1:14 we read, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’”
The scholars I’ve read seem to think that that was probably the original and that Matthew uses this phrase “the kingdom of heaven” almost synonymously but slightly differently.
Why does he do this? There are probably a couple of reasons. One is because he’s writing to Jews, Jews for whom the name of Yahweh was so sacred that it would not even be spoken, and that sometimes this phrase “the kingdom of heaven” would be a circumlocution for God so as not to actually state the name of God. That’s possibly the case.
But I think it’s also to emphasize that this new kingdom that Jesus is proclaiming is the kingdom of the God who reigns from heaven. It is God’s heavenly reign. We recognize that God is sovereign, we recognize that God reigns, but this heavenly reign, this sovereignty of God over all things, is now breaking in to human history. It is now coming to confront the world that does not live in obedience under this reign.
You might get the idea when you remember Jesus’ words when he taught his disciples to pray. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That’s what Jesus is coming to do. He’s coming to bring the heavenly kingdom into confrontation with the world that has not lived under the reign of God in terms of obedience.
There is, of course, a sense in which God is sovereign over all things and over all people, but the kingdom of God as Jesus comes to proclaim it is about bringing people under the willing submission to this King, so that we live as obedient subjects to the King.
So the kingdom is God’s saving reign revealed in his Son and the kingdom is God’s heavenly reign confronting our world.
(3) There’s one more thing to note here: the kingdom is God’s gracious reign extended to the nations.
The Jewish people thought that the Messiah would come and would essentially kick the Roman boot off the Jewish neck, so that Israel once again would be supreme. But it’s interesting how this passage reads. It really begins in Matthew 4:12, after John has been arrested, and Jesus withdraws into Galilee. He had actually begun his ministry already, but now he has left Nazareth, where he’s been rejected, he goes to Capernaum, makes it his home base, and he’s not in Galilee as he begins preaching there.
Matthew is drawing the connections between this part of Jesus’ ministry and an Old Testament prophecy from Isaiah 9. He says, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah,” and he quotes from Isaiah 9:1-2. It has to do with this light dawning in a place of darkness. You see it in verse 16: “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light; those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”
What is this place? It is Galilee of the Gentiles. This is a place where, especially since the exile of Israel to Assyria and Babylon, there had been a great influx of Gentiles, and there is a comingling of Jewish people with the Gentiles. And Jesus is spending the early part of his ministry here, preaching to many non-Jewish people, so that the light of the gospel and the light of the kingdom is dawning upon them.
This is a signal to us of a key theme in Matthew’s Gospel, which is the Gentile mission. The gospel is not just for Israel, the gospel is for the world.
We already saw it in Matthew 1 in the family tree of Jesus. Matthew includes several Gentile women. We saw it in Matthew 2, where the first people to come and worship Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel are the magi, these Gentile astrologers come to worship the Christ-child.
We see it in Matthew 8:11-12, when Jesus, after healing a Roman centurion’s servant, says to those around him, “I tell you that many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.” In other words, there’s going to be an ingathering of Gentiles while many people who are actually children of Abraham physically will be cast out because they reject the King.
We see it in Matthew 28 when the resurrected Christ appears to his disciples in Galilee and tells them that all power in heaven and on earth has been given to him and they are therefore to go and make disciples of the nations.” Gentiles.
This kingdom, in other words, is not just for Israel, this kingdom is for the world. This is God’s gracious reign that extends to the nations.
Now, here’s the key point I want you to get. The kingdom of God is the rule or the reign of God. That’s the essential nature of his kingdom; it is God’s rule, it is God’s reign in our hearts and in our lives. And that has implications for us. Let me give you an illustration to back into this.
One of my favorite TV shows is that old show from the early 2000s The West Wing. Has anybody ever seen The West Wing? Okay, a few of you. Listen, if you don’t like the show, don’t judge me based on the politics of The West Wing. I don’t always like the politics, but I like the inner workings of the White House, which is kind of what this show is about. It’s good, basically clean drama.
A few nights ago I was watching an episode, and the title of the episode was “A Constituency of One.” The episode kind of focused on one character in this show who is the deputy chief of staff in The West Wing, and this day he receives a lot of good press. There’s something written about him in the newspaper. He’s being publicly praised. And he’s uncomfortable with this, because he feels like it’s a distraction from the agenda of the President. He serves at the pleasure of the President. And he says to his love interest in the show, “I serve a constituency of one. It’s not about me, it’s about what the President is doing.”
His love interest happens to be a woman who is also a liberal lobbyist, and she has her own agenda. She says, “I also serve a constituency of one, Josh: myself.”
I saw that and thought, That’s the perfect contrast between the way of the Christian and the way of the world. You and I as believers in Jesus Christ serve a constituency of one, and it’s Jesus! He’s the King! But the way most of us are tempted to live, and the way anybody who is not a follower of Jesus ultimately lives, is they serve a constituency of one: themselves. To be in the kingdom of God, to be a citizen of God’s kingdom, is to live under the reign of Christ so that he is Lord, and you serve him, you follow him.
Hear Paul’s words from Romans 14:7-9.
“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”
He is Lord. He is King. To be in Jesus’ kingdom means that you follow him as King. A constituency of one—the one ambition and goal in life is to follow Jesus. That’s what it means to be in the kingdom. That’s the nature of the kingdom.
So the question then is—why is this good news? You might think, “That doesn’t sound like good news to me. I kind of like independence. I don’t know if I really want to have to follow somebody else. I like to be the king of the mountain. I want to be the king of the hill. I want to be the lord of my own life.” Why is this message of the kingdom of God good news?
2. The Gospel of the Kingdom
Point number two is the gospel of the kingdom, Matthew 4:23. “Jesus went throughout all Galilee teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” And of course we know that the word gospel—euangélion—means “good news”. That’s what the gospel is. This is an announcement. It is a report. It is a public declaration or proclamation and it’s good.
So why is it good? Why is the kingdom, this message of God’s saving reign in Jesus, good news? Let me give you three reasons.
(1) It’s good news because it brings light to those in darkness. We’ve already seen it with this quotation from Isaiah in Matthew 4:13-16, “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light.” It brings light to those in darkness. And this is the way the scriptures describe what it’s like to come out from under the reign of the enemy and instead be brought into the kingdom of God. Colossians 1:13-14, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
I wonder this morning—has that happened to you? Have you been transferred from darkness into light? Have you been delivered from the darkness of sin—anger, greed, envy, lust, pride—delivered from that darkness and brought into the glorious light of the freedom and peace and forgiveness and joy and worship that is found in Jesus Christ? When that happens that’s good news, because even when we try to live our lives independently we find that it’s self-defeating, don’t we? You try to live your life for yourself and you end up in bondage to something else because you and I are made such that we cannot be our own lords. Remember that old Bob Dylan song?
“You're gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord,
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.”
You’re either serving something that is enslaving you or you find freedom under the reign of King Jesus. It’s one way or the other. You’re either in darkness or you’re in light. And this kingdom is good news because it brings light to those in darkness.
(2) Secondly, it’s good news because it brings healing to the broken. You see that in Jesus' healing ministry in Matthew 4:23-25. As Jesus comes healing people of diseases, delivering people from demons, he’s bringing physical healing. He’s bringing spiritual healing. He’s preaching this good news of the kingdom. When you survey the ministry of Jesus Christ this is what you see. He’s bringing both holiness as he delivers people from evil powers and he brings them into fellowship with God, and he brings wholeness. Holiness and wholeness—that’s what Jesus did. That’s what the kingdom does. It brings healing to the broken. Holiness and wholeness.
And that’s a good double metric for examining your life as a follower of Jesus, as a citizen of the kingdom. You might just ask yourself, are you growing in both of those ways? Or are you growing in holiness? Are you progressively overcoming sin and temptation? Are you becoming more pure, more humble, more gentle, more generous, more content? Are you bearing the fruit of the spirit in your life? Is your character looking more and more like the character of Jesus Christ? That’s growing in holiness. That’s part of the healing reign of Jesus Christ. He’s restoring us in the image of God.
But he brought not only holiness, he brought wholeness—he made people well. And you might ask, “What does that mean for today? Should we expect Jesus to give us physical, emotional, and psychological healing?” You might think, “Isn’t it true that we live in a fallen world? Aren’t we still waiting for the morning of final resurrection in the new heavens and the new earth? Aren’t we still waiting for that time when all things will be made new?” And yes, that’s true. It’s true that we are broken and we will not be fully healed until Jesus returns, just as we won’t be fully holy until Jesus returns. But in the same way as we in measure grow in holiness now, so in measure under the saving, healing reign of Jesus we grow in wholeness now. And because the kingdom promises healing to the broken in measure now and in fullness later, it means that we should do all in our power to relieve suffering, to heal people’s bodies and minds, and to pursue the flourishing and well-being of others even as we wait in hope for the fullness of the kingdom of God to come, when every tear will finally be wiped away from our eyes. And that hope makes all the difference.
I love these words of Luther—very hopeful words that I think capture the perspective we should have. In this part of our journey he says,
“This life, therefore, is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness. Not health, but healing. Not being, but becoming. Not rest, but exercise. We’re not yet what we shall be, but we are growing towards it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”
Are you in that process? Are you on that journey? The journey towards wholeness and holiness in Jesus? That’s part of what it means to live under the reign of Jesus. It’s one reason the kingdom is good news, because it brings healing to the broken.
(3) It brings healing to the broken, it brings light to those in darkness, and then, number three, this kingdom is good news because this is a King who dies for his subjects. And you know, I looked for illustrations of this and I could use the illustrations I’ve used before—wonderful stories of a substitute, a hero in a story who gives his life for others—but I was looking for kings who died for their subjects. You can’t find them. That’s not what kings do. That’s not what worldly kings do. Kings remain in the safety of their castle and they send other people out to die.
That’s not the kind of king Jesus is. And you know how this story goes. You know where Matthew's Gospel is headed. Jesus will eventually come to Jerusalem and he will be crowned, not with a crown of gold, but with a crown of thorns. He will ascend not a throne, but a cross. Because he came not to be served by his subjects but to serve them as the suffering servant of Isaiah 53—to serve them and to give his life as a ransom for many. Do you remember the words of that old spiritual—
“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this,
That caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse, for my soul?”
That’s why this kingdom is good news—because this is a King unlike any other king. He loves his people so much that he is the one who dies for them. We’ve seen the nature of the kingdom, we’ve seen the gospel of the kingdom, and now finally—
3. Our Response to the Kingdom
So, what does it mean to live as a citizen of Jesus' kingdom? I’ve already teased some of the answer, but I just want to dig in now to Matthew 4:17 and this single word of repent. Jesus says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This is the essential thing—repentance is the word that describes how we should respond to the saving reign of God revealed in Jesus. So what is repentance? Let me give you two answers, and the second answer I want to flesh out with some application. Okay—what is repentance?
(1) Repentance is not just changing your mind, it’s changing sides. When we hear the word repentance, it’s a religious word for us. And we think about repentance in terms of maybe an emotional experience—feeling bad about your sins, weeping, sorrow over sins—and that can be included. Or sometimes we might think of it as a change of mind—so we’re changing our belief structure, we’re changing what we believe about Jesus—and that’s of course included. We think of it in terms of a religious experience.
But this word has political connotations. This word repent means to change sides. And you can see this if you compare this passage with a passage from the Jewish historian Josephus. He wrote in the latter half of the first century and he wrote about an incident that took place in Galilee around AD 66 where some revolutionaries had a plot against Josephus. He was a general at that time. And Josephus discovered the plot, foiled the plot, and captured those who had tried to rebel against him. He arrested the leader. And I want you to listen to what Josephus said to this leader when he arrested him. He told him, “I was not a stranger to that treacherous design he had against me. However, I would forgive what he had done already if he would repent of it and be faithful to me hereafter.” He said, “Repent and be faithful to me.” In other words, change sides. Quit working for the other side and be on my side.
And when Jesus says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” what he’s doing is saying, “You’ve got to change sides.” You’ve got to quit playing “King of the Mountain” and you’ve got to start living by “Follow the Leader.” You’ve got to quit being your own king. You’ve got to quit being a slave to anything else and instead be the willing subject of Jesus. And you might just ask yourself—whose side are you on? Are you on Jesus' side?
(2) Second way to answer this question—what is repentance? Let me set this one up. You might say, “The way you’re talking, this sounds like ‘works’ salvation.” This sounds like I’ve got to do something to earn being in the kingdom.” And the answer to that, point number two here, is repentance is not a job description, but it is a doctor’s prescription. I got that language from John Piper. You can find it in his book, The Pleasures of God. Repentance is not a job description, but it is a doctor’s prescription. Now just think for a minute about those two things and the difference between them.
Both are telling you to do something. But a job description is a description of what you are supposed to do at work as an earner, where through your effort you are earning wages. Right? You are responsible, accountable to your boss or to your company. You are judged based on your job performance. Do well and you earn, maybe even get a bonus. The job description tells you what you have to do to earn.
Of course, that is completely antithetical to the gospel. Paul tells us in Romans 4:4-5, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” Paul is saying justification is not something you earn, it’s a gift. There’s no earning here. There’s no wage here.
But a doctor’s prescription is not about earning. It’s not about wages. If you do what the doctor tells you he’s not in your debt. You’re not meriting anything. There’s something for you to do but you do it because, number one, you trust the doctor, and number two, because you want to be well. You trust the doctor and so you follow the doctor’s orders. And you remember, Jesus described himself as a physician when he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I’ve not come to call the righteous, but sinners to [and here’s the doctor’s prescription] repentance.” I came to call the sinners to repentance. So this is what Jesus prescribes.
So here’s the application. Are you taking God’s side against your sin? And against evil? And are you following the doctor’s orders?
Let’s flesh that out in these last five minutes. When you go to the doctor and you’ve got some serious problem, the doctor’s going to recommend a course of treatment. It may include some kind of radical intervention like surgery. It may include changes in your diet and in exercise. It may include eliminating bad habits from your life. It may mean rest, exercise—those kinds of things.
Let’s just flesh this out in terms of spiritual life. What does it mean to follow the doctor’s orders?
(1) It means, number one, accept the necessary intervention. This is what the mortification of sin is. It’s putting sin to death. Paul says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Put away all lying, and all malice, and so on. This is soul surgery. This is the first step. If you’re diseased with sin and you want to be healed, the doctor says, “Cut out the cancer.” You’ve got to deal with the cancer. You’ve got to deal with the sin. That’s repentance. That’s mortification. That means stop viewing porn. Quit lying to your wife or your husband. Stop losing your temper with your children. Put an end to all the rationalization and making excuses and blame shifting. Be honest with yourself. Start dealing with the problems. That’s repentance. That’s mortification. That’s the radical intervention. Every Christian has to do this. You’ve got to start dealing with the sin in your heart and in your life.
(2) The second thing the doctor might say is, “Eliminate bad habits. You’ve got to stop smoking, you’ve got to stop drinking so much, you’ve got to stop overeating.” And in the same way as Christians, there are things that may be morally neutral, but if they are a hindrance in your Christian life, you lay them aside. Do you remember how the writer to the Hebrews says, “Let us run the race that is set before us, laying aside every weight and the sin that so easily besets us”? And the weight—what is the weight? It’s like a runner who strips down so as to not be encumbered by heavy clothing. Laying aside the weight so that you can run fast. And the writer to the Hebrews is saying, “Lay aside the weights.”
You might ask yourself what are the weights in your life. Is there anything hindering your spiritual life that’s keeping you from following Jesus? From growing spiritually? It may be that you are spending way too much time on social media. It may be binge watching TV shows on Netflix. It may be spending hours and hours and hours on talk radio to the neglect of Scripture. It may be a Spotify playlist that has no edifying value. It may be a set of friends and you say, “Well, this is evangelism,” but you are not sharing the gospel with them, you're just letting them drag you down. It’s a hindrance. It’s keeping you from following Jesus. If it’s slowing you down, lay it aside. Eliminate the bad habits—things that are keeping you from following Christ.
The doctor is going to say, “Eat a balanced diet.” Right? You have a heart attack and then you’ve got to have surgery, have a stint, or something like that. The first thing the doctor is going to say is, “Okay, you’ve got to clean up what you are eating. You’ve got to eat better food. Eat a healthy diet.” And this is feeding on Christ through word and sacrament.
Just imagine a ridiculous situation for a minute. Imagine someone who went to the doctor with chronic fatigue, chronic weakness in their life, they never have any energy, and the doctor starts looking at their diet.
“Tell me about your diet. When do you eat?”
“Oh, I eat once a week.”
“What? You only eat once a week?”
“Yeah, I eat Sunday morning. I eat at 9:00 on Sunday morning.”
“That’s the only time you eat?”
“No, no, I have a little snack sometimes during the week, and sometimes on Wednesday nights, twice a month or so, I show up and have a meal with friends.”
“That’s all you eat? You’re slowly starving to death!”
Now it’s ridiculous, isn’t it? But that’s what Christians do. If you ask Christians, “What is your intake? How are you feeding on the word and feeding on Christ?”
“Well, I do it on Sunday morning, and about twice a month I show up on a Wednesday night. We have a small group, and every once in a while I’ll spend about ten minutes reading my Bible. You know, maybe once or twice a week.”
You are starving to death. You’re not feeding on the word. If you want to be healthy spiritually, you’ve got to be taking in Scripture. Otherwise, you’ll have no strength against temptation and sin. You’ll have no zeal for Christ. You’ll have no joy in your Christian life. You’re going to be just constantly weighed down—spiritually lethargic—because you’re not feeding, you’re not growing, and you’re not strong. So get a good diet, a balanced diet. Feed on Christ.
(3) And here’s the final thing. The doctor’s going to say, “You need both rest and exercise.” And I think this parallels those disciplines of both withdrawal and engagement in the Christian life. We talked about this last week. What is this spiritual discipline? Here’s the definition from one book, “A spiritual discipline, or a discipline for the spiritual life is nothing but an activity undertaken to bring us into more effective cooperation with Christ and his kingdom.” That’s what prayer is for. That’s what meditation is for, along with fasting, time in the word, and time alone with God. All of us need this pattern in our lives of both withdrawal, where we are pulling away for spiritual renewal, and engagement, where we are plugging in. We are connecting with other people for service. We need rest. We need exercise. We need to be renewed. We need to give. That happens as we build our lives out with this pattern. So this is what it means, I think, to live a life of repentance as we follow our doctor’s prescription for a healthy Christian life.
So we’ve seen this morning the nature of the kingdom—God’s saving, heavenly, gracious reign revealed in Jesus—confronting the world, extended to the nations. We've seen that this is good news because it brings light to the darkness, it brings healing to the broken, and because this is a king who loves and dies for his subjects. And our response is a life of repentance. It’s not works for salvation, but it is trust in Jesus that falls in line and gets in step with Jesus' program for living the Christian life.
Let me conclude with this wonderful statement from C.S. Lewis. This has got to be one of the most important statements I’ve ever read. It’s at the very end of his book Mere Christianity. This is the life to which we are invited. Such a contrast to playing “King of the Mountain.” Lewis says,
“Give up yourself and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death—death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end. Submit with every fiber of your being and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you’ve not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find him, and with him, everything else thrown in.”
Father, we ask you this morning to work in our hearts so that we will willingly and gladly and lovingly respond to this message—the message of your good and gracious and saving reign in Christ, that we’d respond with faith and with repentance, submitting our whole lives to the lordship of King Jesus. Lord, we ask you to search us this morning as we come to the table. Show us those areas in our lives that need to change. Show us the sins that need to be put to death. Show us the hindrances that need to be laid aside. Show us the patterns that need to be reworked. Help us, Lord, to so trust in the good news of what Jesus has done for us and the life that Jesus now calls us to live that we will gladly surrender ourselves to him. We will find that in following him, there is life, there is joy, there’s a kind of flourishing that comes from living in the way of Jesus that we can find in no other way.
Lord, forgive us that in many instances we’ve lived as if we were our own lords, as if we still belong to the kingdom of self. Help us this week, Lord, as we look ahead and as we leave this place today, help us to go back into the world and to our lives submitting to your reign. Help us to believe in our hearts that this is good for us, as it truly is. As we come to the table, would you feed us now, nourish us with these elements, and supremely, not just with the physical elements, but through faith in Christ, would you nourish us with the good food of the gospel as we remember Christ crucified and risen for us. We ask you, Lord, to draw near to us in these moments. We pray it in Jesus' name and for his sake, amen.