The good life Jesus presented | Matthew 4:23-25

Darkness is not its own element; it’s simply the lack of light, deceptively hiding what’s truly there.  Every morning the sun rises and casts a glow reminding a groggy world what is what.  The light warms what was cold.  The light reveals what is real.

Jesus has arrived and his ministry has begun.  By way of Isaiah’s messianic prophecy, Matthew has used the concepts of “darkness” and “shadow of death” to emphasize how the redemptive reality Jesus is bringing is breaking news of “great Light” illuminating the lives upon whom it has dawned.

“Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.”

The Kingdom of Heaven is good news because in it, like light in the dark, Jesus reveals what is real.  He proceeds to do so through both proclamation and demonstration.

Proclamation.  Going throughout the Galilee region he visits the synagogues, Judaism’s local centers of worship, teaching and proclaiming how the reign of God is shaping redemptive reality in their very midst.

Demonstration.  He also begins to corroborate his proclamations of the kingdom reality with healings of the sick and diseased around him.  The good news is not mere ideology, inspiration, or positive thinking.  It is the reality of Heaven tangibly enacted on Earth.  It is good news because it is God’s goodness encountered and experienced in actual life.

The good news Jesus proclaimed heralded the reality of the good life.  The healings Jesus performed demonstrated how the good life is real.

As the residents of these regions heard Jesus’ proclamations of the good news and witnessed Jesus’ demonstrations of the good life, this goodness of God elicited from them a response that revealed an eagerness for its reality.

“ The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them.”

The last few weeks of winter are always the worst; it’s always cloudy and overcast, cold, gloomy, and grey.  But when the sun cuts through with early spring rays, a new energy comes.  A brightness that warms the soul.  Upon these Galilean residents, “a Light dawned.”  So refreshing was its reality, they now have a reason to arise from “sitting in darkness” to follow “Him from Galilee and the Ten Cities and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.”

When God framed the world and filled it, the one word Genesis’ author repeatedly uses to describe it all is good“God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”  The framework and filling of all life radiated God’s goodness.  All was right with the world because all was good.  But when the world was soon plunged into sinfulness by humanity’s self-sovereignty that sense of goodness grew unfamiliar and foreign.

The proclamations and demonstrations of Jesus are only the beginning of bringing God’s goodness back home.  His kingdom reality gives us reason to rejoice and faith to follow.  As the eyes of our heart adjust to the light ignited by the good news, we will begin to see how we can participate in the good life rooted in the reality of God’s reign.  The world is eager for good news and aching for good life, but is skeptical that either exists.  It is partly through us that God’s goodness will be demonstrated.  How we participate in Christ’s kingdom reality helps reveal the actuality of God’s redemption amidst the world.

Here’s a closing question I’m also asking myself: How does your life reveal the actuality of God’s goodness?

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The good news Jesus preached | Matthew 4:12-17

In his zeal for God’s honor, John had publicly spoken against Herod Antipas’ adultery and was subsequently imprisoned.  His ministry was basically over, creating a vacuum Jesus would step into.  Upon hearing the news, Jesus left the small town of Nazareth and settled in the fishing village of Capernaum.  Matthew describes its location as by the Sea of Galilee, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali.  Matthew is carefully specific because this pivotal moment comes right out of Isaiah’s ancient prophecy.

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a Light dawned.”

It’s a beautiful and climactic picture of God’s grace breaking into and through the desolate gloom.  Exhausted by the burden of performing rules, oppressed by injustice, downcast by disappointment, and shredded by sin, a ravenous darkness is how the people’s reality is depicted.  They walked in it, they lived in its haunted halls, they sat sapped in the heaviness of its shadow, drenched by its despondency.  There was nothing to look forward to.  But as Jesus arrived, “upon them a Light dawned.”

“From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

When this message was preached by the herald, it was a preview; now proclaimed by its King, its reality.  A reality bursting with good news.  It is not necessarily good news in terms of something neat that happened today or a viral story that will restore your faith in humanity, but good news that flows to the very root of human reality.  The Kingdom of Heaven is that good news.

The Kingdom of Heaven is the reality of God’s sovereign and redemptive reign transplanted into the midst of everyday human reality in the person of Jesus the Messiah.  It is good news because it reveals the redemptive reordering of reality to begin in light of God’s reign.  Set from Heaven into Earth, this kingdom-reality will change everything—how Jesus is to be known, how the community of the King bears witness to the reality of his reign, how kingdom-ethics are righteously lived out, how history is redemptively understood, how kingdom-economics are redemptively managed, how kingdom-justice is redemptively perceived and dispensed, how national identities are redefined in Christ, what it means to be a part of redeemed humanity.  The Kingdom of Heaven will mold everything it touches and it will touch everything.

All of us hope for something good to come along, to bathe us in its rejuvenation.  To reveal what is real and worth our while in life.  We wonder if it will ever come, if we’ll ever get to be a part of it.  This text unveils the arrival of the good life, the reality saturated with God’s goodness.  By entering this text through reading and assimilating its truth through prayer, reality from out of God’s throne room is formed in us, enabling us to perceive all of life redemptively through Christ’s eyes.   It invites us in to participate as residents of its alien realm.  God is up to something good, and that goodness is rooted and revealed in “the kingdom of heaven…at hand.”

Meditations on Christ’s Temptations | Matthew 4:1-11

Once Jesus identified himself with Israel, the Father identified Jesus as His righteous son. As Messiah, he is one of us and all of God. God’s Spirit now leads Jesus into the wilderness to relate with Israel in ways they normally stumbled—temptation.

He first spent forty days and nights fasting, an echo of Israel’s forty years of wandering in the wilderness. When he grew hungry, the tempter drew near; he said to Jesus “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

The Father had just identified Jesus as his son; the tempter casts doubt on that notion, hinging its reality only on whether or not Jesus will use his deity to provide for his very real need. It’s a temptation Israel had given into often; it’s a temptation we all give into—“You’re supposed to be our God; provide for us! Jehovah Jireh! I’ve named it and claimed it! Now bless us!” After all, we feel (Ps88:10), how can God be glorified if we’re not alive? Jesus answered the tempter “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”

Jesus sees life differently than the tempter (and us). Life is more than proper digestion; more than the provisions or materials we need and demand. What’s the point of life if it’s not the God-formed life? The life worth having, Jesus implies, is the one God gives form to in us through his words. God’s words speak a salvation substance into the soul no sustaining nutrient ever could. God spoke creation into existence; his commands precede creation. Craving creation independent of its creator’s command discards the God-formed life. We may be fed and filled by creation’s sustenance, but it comes at the cost of salvation’s substance given form in God’s commands. Jesus certainly had an appetite for food as we do, but not at the cost of the salvation reality he was bringing to be formed in us.

So the devil takes him to the highest point of the Jerusalem temple and tells him to jump off, again hinging Jesus’ identity of son-ship on this stunt. Since Jesus has appeared dependent on God’s words, the devil targets that, citing a psalm poetically reflecting on God’s protection (Ps91:11-12). Again, this tendency to be exacting of the letter of Scripture rather than embracing its spirit was a temptation Israel often gave into (Mt 9:10-13, 12:1-14). And again, it’s a temptation we often give into—“The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it”. Jesus knows Scripture wasn’t given so we could merely obey its letters, but that our character may conform to the holiness of God. So Jesus cuts through the letters the devil quotes him to remain true to its spirit of holiness: “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the LORD your God to the test.’”

Scripture will always form the God-honoring life in us; if it doesn’t, we may be trying to manipulate Scripture to our own ends. While it is wise to always beware that which might delude or distract our witness to the holiness of God, it may also be wise to extend that wariness to our tendency to use those fortune cookie passages we quote out of context, as the devil did, to further our own spiritualized agenda. By placing God’s high and holy honor at the center of his focus during this temptation, Jesus was able to remain true to the God-honoring life Scripture forms in us.

The third temptation is unlike the others. In the previous two, the tempter sought to create doubt in Jesus concerning the identity of son-ship the Father had placed on him; Jesus cut through the fog of those temptations by remaining devoted to the priority of the God-formed life and the God-honoring life. This time, there is no condescending questioning of Jesus’ identity. The devil knows Jesus is assured he is the “beloved Son” and Messiah who will usher the Kingdom of Heaven into the reality of Earth. There is nothing left to do but make Jesus a deal.

Taking Jesus to a high mountain and showing him a vision of all the kingdoms of the world and all the splendor, worth, and wealth they had to offer, the devil says “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”

The devil was offering precisely what the Jews wanted—a world where their Messiah was in charge, where justice was mediated through military might, a new golden age where all the world awed and oohed at the wealth and wisdom of their king. And again, much of this is what we also often want—power and prosperity, respect and affluence. But considering who was making the offer, Jesus saw the clear demonic nature of these desires. Hearing enough, Jesus ordered “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and serve Him only.’” 

Jesus had certainly come to take up residence in all the kingdoms of the world, though not to receive their glory, but to reveal to them his glory—the redeeming reality of God’s heavenly reign on Earth. Really the devil only offered Jesus more of the same—more of Earth’s tyranny, bullying, manipulation, exploitation, self-aggrandizing. These things would have absolutely no place in the redemptive reality Jesus was bringing. Jesus would usher in a kingdom whose reality would fall upon the ears as good news, bearing good fruit in the lives of those who gladly received it; the worship of God alone would become the culture of its citizens.

In all three schemes, how Jesus responds reveals what is at stake in moments of temptation. Temptation is all about what way our lives will bear witness to, whether it’s the way of God’s redemptive reign as formed in his words and matured in how we honor him, or more of the same dark, corrupt and crooked ways that have oppressed humanity from the beginning. Temptation is an opportunity to step into the way of salvation reality Jesus formed in his righteous witness in the wilderness. How Jesus responds in his own temptations shapes how we can respond during ours. When tempted, Jesus’ response pushes us down upon his way, following in the footsteps of his redemptive reality, enduring until we’ve escaped.

For we who strain to faithfully follow Jesus, the text allows us to relax in the recognition that Jesus has done what we often cannot (Heb 4:15-16), and that is grace and peace to us. We can know we are not alone in our temptation as we persist gracefully forward upon the way with he who is one of us and all of God.