Thy Kingdom Come: The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand

Text: Matthew 4:12-25
Date: Epiphany III + 1/22/17

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. The Kingdom is coming because the King has come. This was the proclamation of John the Baptist. Now he was arrested and out of the picture. By Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit John and the world know that this is the Son of God our Savior. And by Jesus’ baptism now you have been captured in your baptism to saving faith. So now what?

Today we have the first public preaching of Jesus and the theme is identical to John the Baptist. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” But repentance is not just a one-time thing. It’s not even to be a rare or occasional thing. The first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses is, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” So how’s your repentance?

Since sin clings and hangs on even though we have been declared God’s new creation by our baptism into Christ we need daily cleansing until the kingdom has come in its fullness. Right now, all Jesus says and all we can say is that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, has come near, is looking you in the face. This word ought to give you hope and the ability to produce what it demands—repentance and faith, daily repentance and daily faith.

It is best to think of the kingdom not as a place or a group of people or an organization. The Church as we see it now is not the kingdom but is, we could say, the doorway into the kingdom. It is best therefore to think of the kingdom of heaven as the rule or reign and deeds of God done in our world and in our life. Because the final and complete reign of God still lies in the future, we find ourselves living in what is called the “already” and “not yet” aspect of God’s reign breaking into history and into our lives. It’s just like we said last Sunday that in our baptism God has “already” made us a new creation even though we’re not there yet. “There” is the Last Day of God’s final judgment and deliverance. Yet already Jesus is already here. Those who refuse what Jesus offers, namely, salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, seal for themselves judgment on the Last Day.

Jesus breaks into history and into our lives today through the preaching of His Word. That’s how the reign of heaven is here for us and the life of the world, God bringing forth and delivering His righteous judgment and salvation.

Jesus’ continued working and reigning in the world then is done through the apostolic ministry. So immediately we hear of the calling of the first disciples, those whom he will further call and ordain and send to preach will be also called apostles. So who are these and what is required of a man to be sent to preach and represent Jesus?

I guess it’s more important to see who the first disciples were not. They were believers. But they were not of any advanced rank either in worldly or in churchly standards. The first disciples were fishermen. They liked fishing and they were good at it. I’m sure it never crossed any of their minds to go to school to become a priest or rabbi. Yet it is the power of Jesus’ call that draws and teaches and makes for both His believers and His ministers.

It was a sort of family event. Jesus called Simon (called Peter) and Andrew his brother and going on from there He also called James the son of Zebedee and John his brother. “Follow me,” He said. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” I’ve always rejoiced in a pastor’s sons following in their father’s footsteps going into the pastoral ministry themselves. Yet that does not always happen. Our children discover their own vocations. Yet God’s calling still begins as a family event, the faithful father and mother bringing their children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord, teaching them what their baptism means for their entire life. We will find out that when Jesus sent out His apostles they were to continue the very same preaching, teaching and healing ministry of their Lord. He told them, “proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Mt 10:7), for it is at hand in the preaching of God’s Word. So that word comes to us again today. Repent, therefore, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

These first disciples were believers but not yet apostles. So for all to this day, as the apostle Paul points out that, among believers, among disciples, not all are apostles, prophets or teachers (1 Cor 12:29). “As in one body,” he wrote to the Romans, we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy [or preaching], in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom 12:4-8). So notice the distinction between disciples and apostles. All apostles are disciples, but not all disciples are apostles. Nevertheless, regardless of your vocation all Christians contribute in some way to Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations to be fishers of men.

Our text today ends with a summary of Jesus’ early Galilean ministry as one of word and deed. He was teaching and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. To this day the holy Church throughout the world continues His teaching, proclaiming and healing ministry, even delivering from demons. The word remains the Good News of the reign of God, breaking into the world through the ministry of Jesus. But this reign is not only in words but also in the deeds of God which would include His ministry of teaching and healing but ultimately His vicarious atonement of suffering and dying on the cross and in this way saving His people from their sins. Where is the kingdom? Look to the cross. When we pray “Thy kingdom come,” the crucified, risen and reigning Christ our King answers us with present grace and promised grace for the Last Day.