Scripture: Matthew 4:12-17
Key verse: (17) “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Reflection: Today’s reading from Matthew provides a transition from Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, to his ministry in Galilee. It begins, “Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth he went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea.” It’s easy to pass over that phrase, “he heard that John had been arrested.” When we miss that, we miss the tension Matthew wants us to see between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God. That tension is present from Jesus’ birth in Matthew. You’ll remember how Herod responded to the birth of Jesus in Matthew. In an effort to eliminate the threat to his throne, he killed every boy two years old or younger in and around Bethlehem. And now, the prophet John the Baptist, who proclaimed a message of repentance has been arrested by the authorities. They will permit no challenge to their power.
In response, Jesus flees northeast to the Galilee. Galilee was a border land in Jesus’ day, a place bordering Gentile territory — at the edge of Herod’s reach. In February I had the chance to go to the Galilee. The photo below is taken from atop the Mount of Beatitudes, the traditional sight where we remember Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It overlooks Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee. It’s a beautiful place. I can see why Jesus would have gone there. Matthew tells us he didn’t just go there to get away. He went to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy that a great light would shine in the darkness, and a new day of life would dawn over the shadow of death.
Upon his arrival, we’re told Jesus preaches a simple message. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” There are three aspects to this message. The first is “repent.” Repentance is often thought of as just feeling guilty about what we may have done. The Greek word there is metanoia, it means “turn around,” as in an 180 degree turn. It is about reorienting your life. Which brings us to the second part of Jesus’ simple message— “the kingdom of heaven.” This is not simply a place we go when we die. It is the place where God reigns. It is not something that will happen in the distant future, it is a reality in the immediate present. Jesus calls us to reorient our lives to God’s kingdom, God’s reign, God’s way. Which brings us to the third aspect of Jesus’ simple message — “is at hand.” The Greek word there is engizzo. It means “approach, draw near.” In Christ, the kingdom of heaven draws near to us. It’s not we who go to heaven, it is heaven that draws near to us in Christ, calling us to reorient our lives to his presence that we might discover the life that really is life today.
How might Christ’s presence in your world today bring light to the dark places of your soul? What would it mean to reorient your perspective toward that light? How might that impact your life in the midst of the powers of this world? One thing is certain, life will not remain the same.
Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Amen.”
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].
“Through the month of September, we’re examining “The Life that Really is Life” through our Annual Giving Campaign. We encourage you to make your pledge to support the ministry of Myers Park Presbyterian Church in 2020 at myersparkpres.org/pledge.”