Matthew 4:12-25: Where Jesus is Present, the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand

At the worst of times, a king and his kingdom can be oppressive, a hierarchical arrangement most unwavering. Authority lies in the hands of one man, his word as the nation’s command. Obedient subjects bow to his every decree. The King’s word is final, and any infraction might punish or banish.

At its best, a monarch leads and serves his citizens, providing security and stability in the land. A benevolent ruler’s commitment to his people drives progress within his realm, creating an atmosphere of certainty and strength. The nation’s collective spirit flourishes, flowing from the top down in his care for others, where everyone can thrive.

The sacred scriptures speak of a kingdom, Israel. Over a finite territory, God ruled through His prophets and, later, His kings, so people’s faith might endure, with hope illuminating their way. Under His reign, blessings will spread afar through deserts and pastures, with God’s guiding hand governing them. From field to ocean, they’ll behold His wondrous works—if they don’t rebel and wander from His care.

Grander yet, a more glorious kingdom stands, transcending every other, where divine grace and holiness flow, where our Lord’s presence reigns supreme. Love and mercy radiate upon everyone in this realm. The Lord Jesus Christ manifested this kingdom in Himself, faithful where Israel of old faltered and failed, preaching and teaching others into its wondrous ways and embrace.

In today’s Gospel, Matthew writes of Jesus journeying near and far. In Galilee, His voice rang out, instructing in synagogues, proclaiming the glorious news of His kingdom. A few received His gracious words, the good and glad tidings of the Gospel.

To us, aren’t “kingdom” and “good” oxymorons and contradictions? In a democracy, who wishes to live inside a kingdom? Isn’t this a step back into the Dark Ages, when subjects lacked independence or voice in their government, oppressed beneath the whims of their rulers? To us, this smacks of suffering under a dictatorship.

In our thoughts, “good news” and “kingdom” are a paradox—contradicting what we accept as real. Born of rebellion and revolution, we forged a union, forsaking our King and country for a new nation. Are Americans willing to live under a monarchy? No, we wish to serve no ruler but flourish free and true. A homeland where people can speak their minds, where justice rules and liberty resonates inside our hearts anew. So we tell ourselves.

Such assumptions concerning a kingdom aren’t correct, at least not in full. In this sacred place, the Church, Jesus is present as He promises, where He reigns and governs by granting forgiveness. So, the kingdom of God is here, where Christ cloisters Himself in words, water, bread, and wine to give us life. Here, despite appearances, we can revel in the bloom of divinity as we gather, united by faith.

Unlike many, Christ’s kingdom comes as a blessing, a beacon of hope and goodness, shining in times of darkness. Not so for tyrannical King Herod, who incarcerated John the Baptizer without cause. In prison, John will soon lose his head, cut off by a sword.

So typical of earthly kingdoms and their descent into ruin, twisted by the power the King wields. Selfishness, greed, and vanity swirl unchecked coursing through his veins. Oppressed, cast aside in suffering, is the commoner. So, with the prophet and forerunner John, his fate sealed by Herod’s drunken decree. Soon, he must endure the cutting blade, a death of unwanted agony.

In an ancient realm, a sovereign’s will is unquestioned, and his voice reigns supreme. Counselors may recommend, but the monarch’s intentions are never open to debate. The King’s command is paramount. The ruler’s declaration holds sway over the land he surveys. Citizens must obey without faltering or complaint, in fidelity and steadfast loyalty.

No way, we say, standing against such unilateral rule. In defiance, we cast off the oppressor’s chains to make our choices and chart our plans. No one, including God Himself, should stand in our destined path! Of course, a life devoid of law and constraints is anarchy, so we’re okay with others buckling under, but not us in our rebellious pursuits.

So, we don’t want God’s watchful eye—if we need to admit we aren’t our own rulers. No, we yearn for autonomy, a chance to choose our destiny. With so profound a longing, we often reject the Almighty’s hand, masters of our fate and choosers of our paths, shunning our Lord’s higher plans. Accustomed to self-rule, we raise our voices so we can, we presume, be free.

How wrong, for heaven’s kingdom is where we flourish. King Jesus didn’t come with a grand entrance or a throne of comfort in Rome or Jerusalem. No, He shunned His deserved grandiose display, growing up in a place devoid of greatness—the lowly lands of Galilee.

Downward, Jesus descended into the shadowed contours of an Empire to restore belief and bring light to the darkness. He embraced the harshness of our broken world, shining as a lighthouse of hope. No more do the chains of our folly need to bind us! Gracing us by His incarnation, He unveiled God’s devotion and mercy so we might perceive God in His true splendor as a loving Father.

Today, Jesus still beckons us to join Him. In a holy invitation, He reaches out, offering love transcending mortal bounds. To serve Him is an honor, leading to eternal glory. How so? Consider what follows His mandate of “Follow Me!” The Gospel because He chose us as His own to be with Him.

In ages past, Jesus called His disciples to faith, who followed Him. So with us, beckoned into fellowship as we abide with the Lord of love and light. With reverent steps, we walk the journey away from the night and gloom toward eternity unfurled. Out of our murk and dismal plodding, we go where He leads as He gives a glimpse of heaven.

Never does Jesus come to subdue us. No, He wields His sovereign might to defeat our adversaries—our diseases, the demonic, and death. Not shackles, but salvation, liberating us from the grasp of sin’s relentless reach. In sorrowful times, He comforts us, guiding us through shadowed canyons and granting us strength to stay resolute inside the stronghold of faith. By grace, He breaks our bonds of sinful captivity, setting us aloft on His wings of release.

God’s kingdom is a heavenly oasis of gifts—none of which we deserve. Heaven’s own kingdom, its wonders awaiting to unfold in full, is better than being our own King with our evil blight to behold. Part of something far more significant than ourselves, Jesus grants us paradise given, a place of perfection and delight. More than this, His love is a never-ending stream, His peace as an ocean’s depth.

In our arrogance, we presume we’re the King, convinced we brandish the power to control our destiny. Possible in earthly issues; not so in heavenly matters! So many attempts at self-rule, yet our lives still ring of hollow emptiness, aching to reach goals slipping further away. Not the emancipation and peace we thought, but broken relationships, unmet dreams and desires, and loneliness no promiscuity will fill.

Such aspirations to direct our eternities is a futile end.

Eternal control is an illusion,
A fantasy, formed by death’s delusion.
Living as if our power can save us,
Such strivings only further enslave us.

So Jesus fulfilled the Law and purchased genuine freedom for us by His death on the cross.

A sacrifice, God’s holy gift of grace,
Grants us redemption, free from sin’s embrace.
No need to fight or clamor for control:
Content in Christ, we reach our heavenly goal.

Embodied in Jesus, the Word descended to earth as an infant in a mere whisper. Not so as an adult, with Jesus speaking in full authority. Many listened to Him, His message undulating through the air. Minds and hearts raced, each syllable echoing in their souls, stirring them to think, ponder, and believe. In others, His words sparked amazement; in the rest, anger and outrage.

God’s Word continues to do the same. In Scripture, we behold the hand of Jesus reshaping reality. The youngest of children, infants too young to confess, can receive forgiveness and freedom from their sins, leaving us in awe of His mercy. Today, our transgressions place you and me in peril—the Word of Law convicting us. So, we can become angry, refusing to acknowledge our sinful state, and so reject genuine life in the Gospel.

In each instance, the Word echoes, spanning time and space. Onward through the Spirit Jesus sent, He continues to work, holding nothing back, being both a blade of truth and a balm of mercy. In divine justice and grace, He can still shatter the darkness in His amazing embrace. Does He not bring clarity to the heart while exposing our secrets, so hidden, dank, and dark? Here’s Prophet Isaiah’s way of putting this: My Word shall not return to me empty but achieve what I purpose (55:11).

To each of us, hymns echo through our souls every Sunday, the liturgy speaking louder than words can say. With the Gospel comes Christ’s kingdom, in the proclaimed Word, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Here, we receive the sermon’s preaching and life and Absolution’s divine forgiveness. In Communion, we consume Christ in His eternity-bestowing bread and drink from redemption’s cup.

The glorious kingdom of heaven is at hand—near, in our ears and mouths, among us, around us, in us. Not condemned, now we are righteous, thriving under God’s rule and reign, today and yet to come. Amen.