Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
Matthew 4:23 (NRSV)
If Jesus’ plan was to escape notice by fleeing to Galilee and settling down in a small, fishing village, we can declare that plan a failure. Word of his preaching and miracles continues to head north making him famous in Syria, and the spread of his fame begins to draw crowds from the south, including Jerusalem, which is where he was getting away from in the first place.
But this is to be expected when you go around teaching in synagogues and “curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” Word is going to get around. People are going to want to check that out, especially during a time period in history when getting sick meant that you would die or be irreparably damaged. It’s not like today when people ask for prayer for their allergies. Every sickness was debilitating and potentially deadly.
What I want to look at is the proclamation of the good news. What is this good news? It is the good news of the kingdom. The good news is that the kingdom of God is at hand. That is the gospel as Jesus presents it in this early stage.
Why is this good news? Because in the Old Testament, the coming of the kingdom of God brings an end to the oppressive reign of Israel’s captors. The people’s hearts are renewed and brought back to God. Their oppressors are overthrown and Israel is back on top. They are prosperous. Their lame walk and their blind see. God’s Spirit is poured out on all His people. It’s a whole new world for God’s faithful who have been patiently enduring their exile, suffering quietly.
It is an end to a Gentile ruler who taxes the people into lifelong debt and poverty to pay for statues of himself. It is an end to governors who put their likenesses up in your place of worship. It is an end to being executed for political reasons. It is an end to being forced to carry the burdens of Roman soldiers. It is an end to being born blind or never being able to walk. It is an end to demonic possession. All these things are brought crashing down when God’s kingdom comes. They have no place in the next age.
But it is not just the absence of things. It is the restoration of a glorious Temple where honest, compassionate priests mediate for the people. It is Israel being surrounded with strong walls and a mighty army such that no nation can touch them. It is everyone sleeping on a bed of gold because of all the wealth of the nations having come to them. It is YHWH conquering the world. It is a king whose righteousness exalts the nation. The rich are kind and generous. The judges are fair and compassionate. The poor are cared for, and the orphans have families who bring them in. The outsiders have a place for dinner at the family table. It is the kingdom of shalom where all is true, right, and good.
Folks, this is good news. It is good news to the poor, the diseased, the outsiders, those dominated by hostile spiritual forces, the weak, the OPpressed, the DEpressed. This is why there is no separation between Jesus’ proclamation of the coming of the kingdom and his actual building of it. He actually heals, forgives, restores, and rules. He makes this kingdom a reality in an ever-widening sphere with himself at the center. There is no separation between “the Gospel” and “doing social good,” because they are all the same thing. It’s one package. The kingdom is spiritual, physical, economical, political, social – every aspect of being human in the world – and it is at hand. Jesus’ works are the proof, for how could he heal and cast out demons of the kingdom of God had not come among them? It is an apologetic he will use for his ministry and his apostles will use for their own.
Needless to say, the presence and growth of this kingdom will not be taken lying down by the kingdoms of this world and the people who have it pretty good in that state of being. Jesus’ kingdom is a dismantling of their own. The engines of injustice, greed, poverty, sickness, starvation, false gods, and evil spirits that prop up the Empire and the chief priests will be smashed on the gates of the kingdom of God, and they will not go gently into that good night.
But for today, before the shadow of Empire falls over this man and the new world he is building, we can just delight in it. We can be one of those people in the streets with an empty bowl and a rotten leg, hearing the news that food, family, home, and healing are coming – and it is starting with this man, this very man who is just around the corner, waiting to find you.
- What do you think of when you hear the phrase “the gospel?” Whatever it is that you think of, would it have been good news to the people of Jesus’ day? Would it have made the Roman Empire angry? Have our comfortable lives perhaps caused us to downplay some of the aspects of the gospel that might have been very important to the people of Jesus’ day? How might this impact how we share “the gospel” in countries that are struggling with war, famine, poverty, etc.?
- Is the good news of the kingdom something you say, something you believe, something you do, or all of that? How could you identify someone who believed the good news?
- In the first century, there was no real distinction between the -spiritual- forces that oppressed people and the -physical- ones. They were two sides of the same coin, and not separate like we think of them, today. How do you think that would impact someone seeing a healing miracle or an exorcism?