Sunday, November 26, 2023

The New World (Kingdom) Order

Matthew moves rather swiftly after Jesus calls His disciples to showing us exactly what Jesus' ministry will be about:  

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him. (Matthew 4:23-25).

You can see the reversals in abundance here. Disease is not part of God's creation; it is the result of the Fall.  Pain, demon-possession, seizures, paralysis are all counter to what God intended for His creation.  Think of it this way: When God hovered over the water in Genesis 1, He hovered over chaos.  To the ancients, water represented chaos.  God hovers and then, BOOM! He speaks order into chaos with light, a demarcation of the waters, life and then man. The Garden of Eden was a place where God's beneficence ruled and all was well. But then Adam and Eve disobeyed God. The result--sin--reintroduced chaos back into the order of things: "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." (Rom. 8:22)  

In Matthew, we see God invading chaos as His Son touches those afflicted by disease.  Jesus bestows order on human bodies ravaged by one of sin's most terrible manifestations. Jesus heals everyone from everywhere--no special treatment for God's chosen people.  All are invited to experience this rolling back of chaos. Jews (Galilee, Jerusalem and Judea) and Gentiles (the Decapolis) are welcomed. This is not the only way Jesus will push back against chaos; it's a start and a powerful one at that.  

In Luke, we see God invading chaos as His Son inaugurates His ministry with words of restoration,  spoken by the prophet Isaiah to a people ravaged by war and destruction in Israel's past. One thing to remember:  The Jews had an assigned reading each Sabbath in the synagogue.  Jesus didn't just show up one day and go, "Nice!  I can use these verses!"  God attends to every detail; His Son knew what the reading would be.  

I propose He chose that particular Sabbath, knowing that those verses were written for people in the past, to remind them that God's order for Israel would return. These verses that Jesus is now reading will remind the people that God is once again bringing back order, but at a deeper level that they cannot yet conceive of: Chaos will be removed from the human heart and replaced with the very Spirit of God.

Jesus as the Messiah stands before them, announcing that a new kingdom, the Kingdom of God, is here:  

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor... (Luke 4:18-19)

Jesus' Kingdom will be a place where the poor--who cry out to God day and night--will hear the good news that yes, God has heard them and He is coming to comfort them and offer hope. God will no longer allow chaos to pummel the brokenhearted--their hearts will be bound up with tender bandages of God's love, so they may start to truly heal. Those in bondage, chained by fear, hopelessness and emptiness, will hear the sound of their chains hitting the floor and the doors swinging wide open. The prisoners, the outcasts, the ones whose lives go unnoticed by the rest of us because they dwell in the shadows, will walk out into the light provided by the Son. 

This Kingdom will not ignore the poor or blame them for their poverty; it will not allow the pain in people's lives to persist; it will not walk by and sneer at those peering out from behind bars and it will not allow those in darkness to remind there. What chaos has done to humanity via sin is no longer the norm; Jesus is bringing forth a new creation, with light and a new garden, where God's people can once again walk with God. 

But as Oswald Chambers points out, between the Garden of Eden and the Garden of the new Heaven and Earth in Revelation, is the Garden of Gethsemane. 

To those sitting in the synagogue that day, they would know the rest of the passage (but not understand its richness in describing what God is doing in this Man standing before them):

...and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
and in their riches you will boast.

"For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations. (Isaiah 61:2-11)

This is the Declaration of the Kingdom of God--one filled with restoring love, standing on the foundation of God's forgiveness because of the blood of His Son.   

But this Declaration needs a Constitution!  Once the Kingdom is declared having arrived, what is it based on? How will it operate?  What will its citizens look like? Act like? How will we know this Kingdom is really here? 

Matthew will show us this new Kingdom's articles in what are called the Beatitudes. 

These articles are so alien to the world order that they are hard to understand, let alone practice. But God calls us to a place of dependence on Him to make His Kingdom happen.  And when His children walk in its ways, they stand out to a world drowning in its own sorrow and sin. 

We not only offer that cup of cold water in His name--we are that cup of cold water. 

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