Announcing the Kingdom- Matthew 9-10

Matthew 9:35-10:8 

There is a quote by Teresa of Avila, who was a 16th century Spanish mystic. She said, 
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
 In the Ascension, Christ brought his physical body into the dimension of heaven. The followers of Jesus are now the Body of Christ in the world. You and I, if we consider ourselves followers of Jesus, are now the body of Christ in the world. That can feel encouraging, intimidating, and overwhelming.

What does that actually mean? Jesus’ message was about the Kingdom of God. The kingdom isn’t just about heaven. The kingdom is where God will is done. We pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done”. Those statements reflect each other. The kingdom is where the King’s will is done. The kingdom is where what the king wants to happen, is in fact what is happening. That doesn’t have to wait to happen in heaven. That can happen on earth too. If we learn to follow God’s will, then the kingdom has come in our lives here and now, and those who have come close to us have come close to the kingdom of God. This is what Christ was doing, he was spreading the reign of God.

This work continues after Jesus physically ascended into heaven. We see this in the book of Acts. Peter performs healings in the name of Jesus that reflect the healings Jesus did. Stephen loves and prays forgiveness over those who were stoning him, just like Jesus did on the cross. They were living in a very Jesus-like way. The Spirit of Jesus was working in them to continue Jesus’ ministry.

We see a foreshadowing of what we see happen in Acts in our reading. Jesus sends out his disciples to do what he had been doing. He gave his disciples “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness”. They were instructed, “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons”. They were given authority to do what Jesus was doing. They were to cast out evil, and be agents of healing. This was a sign of the arrival of the kingdom of God. The arrival of the kingdom of God isn’t something that comes only by words, it comes by action as well. God’s kingdom isn’t about escaping this world. It is about healing this world so it can become what God wanted it to be from the beginning.

At this point in their mission they were only to go to their own Jewish people- the lost sheep of Israel. There will be a time when the mission fans out to include everyone, but it starts with them. That is the nation God had been working with so intimately since God called Abraham. The blessing of Abraham was that he would be blessed to be a blessing to every family in the world (Gen 12:3). The Jewish people were the family of Abraham and so they were to be the inheritors of that blessing, and therefore the means by which God would bless the nations. Isaiah declares the mission of this family- “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Is 49:6). The calling of the family of Abraham was to be a people bringing blessing to the world.

The disciples go to their own people to bring them news about the arrival of the Kingdom of God and the messiah. As they go, Jesus instructs them, they are not to receive payment for the healings. They are to travel light. They are to rely on the kindness of strangers for a place to stay and for food to eat. … They become vulnerable to the hospitality or inhospitality of the villages. They enter a house that will have them and they will stay until they leave. They won’t bounce from house to house on the basis of how good the food is, or how comfortable their bed is. They stay where they have been welcomed.

They look for people of peace, which means open and hospitable people. They don’t worry so much about those who are not people of peace. Jesus mentions Sodom, which we read about in Genesis 19, which is famous for it’s lack of proper hospitality. They are looking for people of peace as they go about their mission of healing, banishing evil, and therefore proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God and the Messiah.

What might this mean for us? Through God’s Spirit working in us, we are to help the kingdom extend its reach. At Baptism we light a candle from the Paschal Candle which is then given to the newly baptized and we say, “Receive the light of Christ, to show that you have passed from darkness to light. Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” The candle symbolizes that you are a carrier of the light of Christ. There are certain dark corners in the world that you have access to. And you are invited to shine Christ’s light there.

I remember meeting someone as a young adult. I was a pretty new Christian at this point. I had been getting to know this guy and we were becoming friends. One time I was at his house and after a while he said he wanted to show me something. He walked into the other room and he came back with a box. He started pulling things out of the box and the first thing he held up was a flag with a swastika on it. It was the Nazi flag. In the box was all kinds of Nazi and Neo-Nazi stuff. I mostly remember the propaganda posters. … That was a place of darkness that I could hold my candle in. I didn’t do it by screaming at him or fighting him. We became friends and I continued to attempt to show how the way of the kingdom was the better way. He did change and I saw the pain that was under the ideology that needed healing.

I think this is the deeper work of evangelism. It isn’t just about getting people to show up to your church, or getting them to say the “sinner’s prayer”. It is about helping people who are suffering to find help in God’s kingdom. It is about helping people find deeper meaning in their lives. It is about confronting ideologies of hate and violence and speaking Jesus’ words of peace. It is about bringing a word of comfort and love to those isolated and depressed. Sometimes the demons that need to be cast out and the diseases that need to be healed are destructive ideologies, or lies that arise from depression and isolation.

The theologian and historian David Bentley Hart, in his book Atheist Delusions, speaks about the effect Christianity has had on the world. In a sense, the figurative demons that have been cast out and the diseases it has healed in societies. He argues that in the ancient world Christianity gave freedom from fatalism. Christianity freed people from fear of the occult. It gave dignity to human beings who might not have otherwise had any (like slaves, women, and children). The influence of Christianity elevated charity above the ancient virtues. Christians throughout history cared for widows and orphans, set up almshouses, hospitals, orphanages, schools, homeless shelters, relief organizations, soup kitchens, medical missions, charitable aid societies, the abolitionist movement that worked to end slavery, The civil rights movement (under people like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.). Hart states, “the quality of charitable aid in the world today supplied and sustained by Christian churches continues to be almost unimaginably vast. A world from which the gospel had been banished would surely be one in which millions more of our fellows would go unfed, unnursed, unsheltered, and uneducated” (p.15). He argues that our modern notions of human rights, economic and social justice, providing for the poor, legal equality, and basic human dignity would have been largely unintelligible in a pre-Christian Europe. We are not under any illusion that everything was perfect, or without significant problems. But, I think we can make a pretty good case that a world influenced by the teachings if Jesus is preferable to one that never heard of him.

Sometimes we think of evangelism as an intellectual confrontation. But, helping people see the reality of the Kingdom of God is so much more than words. Words are important, because words are about ideas and ideas have real and serious consequences in the world, but they are a piece of a bigger whole.

The kingdom of God has come. Where the will of God is done the kingdom of God has come. It may not be fully developed, but it is continuing to develop and someday it will fully envelop this world. That is the promise. And we get to be a part of this healing work of the Gospel.


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