The Kingdom Comes Near

Here is video of the Service of the Word. The sermon begins around the 22:30 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In American Christianity, it’s easy to learn to read the Bible like this: every verse of every chapter of every book must apply directly to me in my life. So I take a verse and ignore most of the verses around it, and I try to figure out how it applies to me, what it means to me, whether or not it is relevant to me and my life. If not, I ignore it, or maybe I discard it. And more than a few people have discarded not just one verse, but the whole thing, because they couldn’t figure out how the Scriptures had anything to do with their lives.

But if we read the Bible like that, we have it exactly backwards (as usual in American religion). This is not my story or your story. As we heard last week, this is God’s story. And it’s not up to us to figure out how to fit what He says into our story, but to see where we fit into His. And then we might be in better place to understand the parts of the story that don’t seem immediately relevant or apply directly to us in this moment of our lives.

So here in Matthew 9 and 10, if we take this is as words of Jesus directly to us here and now, we’re going to have trouble, and we’re going to have to either ignore parts of it or discard parts of it. Jesus tells the apostles not to go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans. What do you do with that if you think every word is a command directly from God to you? But if this is part of the story that God is telling, then not every word has to be directly to you. It can simply be part of God’s order of salvation, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles.

And so it is. We get to Matthew 28 and Jesus tells His apostles to go to all the Gentiles and make disciples by baptizing and teaching. In Acts, He tells them to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, these parallel missions continued at the same time. Paul calls himself the apostle to the Gentiles and Peter the apostle to the circumcised (Galatians 2:7-8). But both to the Lord, baptized in His Name, telling all of them that the Kingdom of Heaven had come near to them. And Jesus attaches signs to their preaching so that people will know what the Kingdom of Heaven means. It is not a “spiritual” kingdom, in the way that we understand that word, as if “spiritual” was something different and opposite to things like bodies, the world, and creation. The Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus brings is over all things, bodies and souls, over the whole creation that was made through Him.

In the story of God’s salvation in Jesus, different things happen at different times in different places. But no matter where and to whom, Jesus does the same work. To say it another way, Jesus does the same work through His disciples that He does Himself in the world. Matthew says that Jesus was going to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Kingdom and healing all diseases and afflictions. And then Jesus gives His apostles the authority to cast out unclean spirits, to heal all diseases and afflictions. Those are the same words. Whether Jesus brings the Kingdom by His own hand, or by the hands of those He sends, He does the same work.

The Kingdom of Heaven has come near to you. Whether your body is healed temporarily in this world, Jesus has attached the promise of these signs to His Kingdom: He will heal you in both body and soul. He will heal this creation. The Kingdom comes first to the Jew and then to the Gentile, but Jesus breaks down the dividing wall of hostility between them, so that Jews and Gentiles are one in Him. And the Kingdom of Heaven has come near to you. Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever the color of your skin, however much money you have, however old you are: the Kingdom of Heaven has come near to you. And it still stands near, according to the same ways that Jesus has promised to be near to us: in water, in bread and wine, in words of forgiveness and life. He gives Himself. By Him will all things be healed. By Him all evil will be cast out. By Him all things will be made right.

And just as He brings the Kingdom of Heaven near you, He will continue to do so for all people. Whatever time changes, whatever place changes, this hasn’t changed: He is the Lord of the harvest. Pray to God that He will send out workers into the harvest fields. When Jesus told all the disciples—whoever was following Him, listening to Him, believing Him—to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers, He answered that prayer right then and there. He sent out these 12, and later 70 or 72, and later all the rest. And it’s still His harvest. And He still sends. And it’s still His work that the workers do. He puts men into the Office of the Word and Sacraments to do that work, and He sends you to bear witness in your life to those around you, to do the work He’s given to you.

And He will continue to gather, because how He sees people hasn’t changed either. He still looks at all these wandering, aimless, drifting sheep and He still feels in His guts mercy for them. He gathered from the lost sheep of Israel, calling them to Himself, but He says He has sheep who are not of that fold, and He must gather them also. So He does. And the harvest is great. He had compassion on you, saw you, and sent a worker to proclaim His Kingdom. And the Spirit called you by that Gospel, and gathered you by His gifts, and keeps you in His Church, where He delivers the forgiveness of God in Christ until the day when He raises your body from the dead, and gives eternal life to you and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true for you, and for all. The Kingdom of Heaven has come near to you, a free gift forever. He continues to do His work until the day of harvest.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/12/20

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