Jesus Begins To Preach
Key Verse 4:17
“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’”
Jesus was anointed by God as the Son of God and the Messiah of the world at the time of his baptism by John the Baptist. A voice came from heaven and said: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (3:17) Soon after Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. At the beginning of this chapter we saw how Jesus struggled with temptation and overcame it. It always amazes me that the Son of God himself had to also struggle with temptation like any one of us would; it always amazes me that he was ready to face such awful temptations, and could have fallen for any of them. But Jesus fought and conquered temptation using the word of God as his weapon. Only those who have struggled with temptation and decided to stand on the word of God can understand this and genuinely appreciate the struggle Jesus went through. On the other hand, so many Christians easily fall into temptation not because the temptations are too strong to overcome, and not because God won’t help them— but because they either fight temptation with their own human strength, or they do not have the word of God to stand on at the time of temptation. Temptations will come as surely as the sun rises and sets every day. But praise God for Jesus who showed us the best way to overcome them. You must know and hold on to the word of God if you want to overcome temptation. It is the only weapon strong enough to defeat the devil.
Read verses 12-16. “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’” These verses tell us the condition the world and its people were in at the time. The world was dark, much as it is today, steeped in immorality godlessness and idolatry. It may have been the darkest time in history. Here’s what was going on. Verse 12 says: “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee.” Matthew tells us the fate of John the Baptist. John’s voice was the voice of truth in that dark generation. The truth was that people needed to repent of their sins and false hopes and put their hope in the kingdom of God. After 400 years of silence, God was calling everyone, no matter who they were, to repent. It was his mercy that God should do so, not wanting anyone to perish in their sins. But when John spoke the truth even to the king Herod; when John rebuked him for his immoral living; when he called him to repent, the vain king was offended. John did nothing wrong! He only spoke the truth of God to an adulterous man. But Herod hated hearing the truth, and put John in prison. Perhaps that is why the times were dark. The times are dark when men and women are maligned for speaking the truth of God. They are dark times when men and women slander, discredit, abuse and lock up God’s people for standing up for the truth of God.
I think we can also relate! We too are steeped in a deep spiritual darkness. Ever since the truth of God was put aside for modern theories and philosophies about life and the world, our world has become even darker. There was a time when people had some moral standards, some basic truths about life and about God, even though they did not really live by them. But at least there was a general agreement of what was good and what was evil. Good was good and evil was evil. But these times are long gone now. People no longer God’s word as truth nor consider it to be absolute. Most people think in terms of what’s relative. Actually almost everything has become relative. Sin has become relative, and so people say, It all depends on how you see things. They say: What you call sin, I call a natural and healthy human needs and desires. Others even say God is whatever you perceive or want him to be. Today every sin has become an issue for Congress to debate. And the Constitution has become the playground of demons who want to endorse and legalize all kinds of perversions. So, the truth is smothered. And those who speak the truth are slandered and ridiculed. Some are even put on trial and silenced as enemies of society. But God’s truth is truth and it is absolute! You can’t change it! And some day people will be judged by it. For example, here’s a truth that doesn’t change: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness.” (Isaiah 5:20) Here’s another one Jesus gave us: “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the [person] through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:6-7) As Christians we really need to know, cherish and accept the Bible truth from our hearts, and tremble before it. But not only that! We also need to mold our very thoughts, our very feelings, our very actions and our very perception by the word of God— by the truth— so that our very lives might reflect it. Otherwise we will be like those who silence the truth and lock it up.
When the world tried to silence the truth by locking John up in prison, what did Jesus do? Jesus didn’t start an underground resistance movement— nor did he start a political opposition party— nor did he go into hiding for fear of imprisonment. Verses 12-17 tell us exactly what Jesus did. Read it again. “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’ From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’” Jesus went to Galilee to shine his Great Light into that darkness. Jesus saw the world was dark. He saw how much the people suffered in that darkness. So what did he do? He obeyed God’s will for him as prophesied in Isaiah. He visited the people living in darkness to shine his Great Light among them. Jesus chose to obey the word of God as a rule of life. It wasn’t just in fighting temptation that he decided to obey and follow the word of God. It was in everything. Obeying the word of God was Jesus’ decision of life. He was sensitive to the word of God! In all decisions of life, from the smallest to the greatest decision of life, Jesus looked to the word of God for guidance— to mark the way he would come and go. He was filled with the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit led him to obey and to follow the word of God.
And the word of God led him to go to dark places to shine the light of God there. The word of God led him to the Capernaum— to the place called Galilee of the Gentiles— to serve those living in darkness. This place— Galilee of the Gentiles— was a place most despised by the orthodox Jews, by those who took pride in the fact that they were God’s chosen people, and who looked down on all others, especially Galileans. They despised and rejected them because they were the poorest and most uneducated people in the land. Galilee of the Gentiles was also a place of many Roman resorts strewn across the lake Galilee, greatly corrupted by immoral and godless Roman influence. But that’s where the word of God led Jesus— to a place like that. They were precious to God and they needed the light of God to shine among them. How beautiful is the Lord who willingly obeyed God’s will to begin his service in such a forsaken place. Most people, even religious leaders favor luxury, ease and comfort. But the Lord favored going to serve in places where people are suffering the most from the ravages of sin and from rejection.
What did Jesus do there? Look at verse 17 again. Actually in these dark places Jesus preached. He had a message for them. “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” Before we look at the contents of his message, I think it’s important to first consider the fact that Jesus preached the word of God to them. We cannot ignore these words “Jesus began to preach”. That is the way our Lord began his mighty work of shedding light on people living in darkness. There is no more honorable work than to preach the word of God to the souls of people. It is the responsibility which the Son of God was not ashamed to take upon himself. It is the office which he appointed his 12 disciples to. It is that which Paul urged upon his son Timothy. He told him “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). It is the way God has ever used to convert and edify our souls. It will be a dark day in the church history when preaching is no longer honored and put aside in exchange for ceremonies and rituals. And the world today is full of these places where neither preaching nor the word of God are honored and given their rightful place. Jesus began his ministry by preaching the word of God, and it was his custom to preach wherever he went.
What word of God did Jesus preach? Look at verse 17 again. He said “Repent” “for the kingdom of God is near.” The first word Jesus preached was repentance. Jesus shone his Great Light by preaching the truth of God. Before him, John preached the same message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (3:2) When John was locked up, Jesus continued preaching the same message which put John in prison. Jesus preached that we should repent. As we have said before, we say it again: Repentance is one of the great foundation stones which lie at the heart of the Christian faith and life. It is a truth that needs to be pressed upon all people without exception, be they high or low, rich or poor! The Bible teaches us that all have sinned, and are guilty before God; and it teaches us that all must repent and be converted if they want to receive God’s salvation. Repentance isn’t a small thing. It involves a deep change of heart regarding sin— a change that reflects godly sorrow over sin.
Who are those who repent? They are those who recognize their sin— their great failure before God to live the righteous life God calls everybody to live. They are the ones who do not give in to the pride of their soul but to the humility God demands from every person when they come to the Lord for mercy. Those who repent are those who understand that need God’s mercy, who understand that without God’s mercy they cannot be forgiven for their sins, and for living a life without God. Repentance is the prerequisite of salvation and of the coming of the kingdom of God into one’s heart. Repentance is what the soul does when it knows that it has failed God and failed to serve God’s purpose. And repentance isn’t a one time event in people’s lives. So many Christians upon receiving forgiveness of the Lord through repentance never again repent for anything, even though every word of God that we hear calls us to repent— to change our ways— to turn our hearts away from the things that offend and hurt God our Father. But repentance is necessary if you want your soul to sanctified and cleansed! When we read God’s word or hear it, when we are touched by its rebuke or receive its comfort, we ought to repent! We ought to repent because repentance makes way for your soul to be disciplined, touched, changed, and molded by the Holy Spirit who wants to change us into the likeness of the Lord Jesus. If you haven’t experienced repentance, then you really haven’t experienced forgiveness or cleansing or the blessing of the Holy Spirit who works to prepare us for life in his kingdom.
And repentance must be practical. It is not a feeling, nor it has anything to do with the senses. Repentance is a change of mind and a change of behavior. When John the Baptist commanded the people to repent, and they asked him what they must do, he told them to change the way they behaved and lived their lives. Those who were greedy, John commanded to show their repentance by not extorting anymore money from others. There was a tax collector called Zacchaeus who received Jesus into his home. When Jesus invited himself into his home and his heart, Zacchaeus didn’t need to be told what to do. When he repented his sins, he also knew that he needed to stop cheating people of their money. He also knew to return what he taken from them. He also knew that he needed to share his great wealth with the poor and needy. Some people need to repent and to say I’m sorry. Others need to repent and forgive offenses against them. Repentance is real and it’s practical for those who know that they have acted selfishly and felt and done things contrary to God’s ways. But repentance isn’t enough! Some people may decide to change their ways. But they fail to turn their hearts to faith in Christ. Godly repentance comes not only with a change of ways or behavior, but with a decision to believe and trust in the Lord Jesus, who alone can forgive us, and who alone can give us what we need to continue living a repentant life of faith.
Jesus said repent, but he also said for the kingdom of heaven is near. What did he mean? The Bible says that every person is born in sin and lives in sin and are under God’s judgment. Sin is a reality of human beings that has kept us alienated and broken off from God and away from his kingdom— our true home. Sin keeps people (whether they know this or not) from the one place where every human being longs for— the kingdom of God. Every human being is looking for the kingdom of God. We’re born with that built-in strong desire. Even those who are looking for paradise on earth, amassing wealth and glory for themselves— in their deep hearts they are really looking for the kingdom of heaven— although they look for it in wrong places and find it is wrong places. The kingdom of heaven is the place God impressed upon every human heart to look for, to find and to ultimately enjoy. The kingdom of God is everything we long for, everything we ever wanted. What do people really long for? Most human beings, regardless of who they are, long for perfect love and they long for perfect peace. We also long for perfect security and for perfect joy in our lives. Who among us doesn’t want to love perfectly and be loved perfectly! But we can only find what we are longing for in the kingdom of heaven. Why? Because God is King in the kingdom of heaven— And only where God rules, there is perfect peace and perfect love, perfect security and perfect joy. People look, but do not find them because they look in wrong places among the wrong people, in the wrong things. Yet God has promised us the kingdom of heaven. And Jesus came to make sure that we receive it. But how can we receive the Kingdom if we do not repent and turn our trust, faith and obedience to Christ! We can’t!
Jesus shone his great light in the darkness of the world by preaching that the kingdom of heaven is near. Once we were far from the kingdom of heaven. There was no hope for anyone because all were living in the darkness of sin. Even if someone wanted to, no one could either see the kingdom of heaven, nor enter the kingdom of heaven. But when Jesus came, he brought us near to the kingdom of God and planted that in our hearts. Where do we find the kingdom? Jesus said the kingdom is near because he himself is the way to the kingdom of heaven, and where Jesus is there is the kingdom. Jesus came preaching repentance for our sins, and offered us himself, crucified and risen. The king of the kingdom came to bring all people home to the one place we all want to be. The coming of Jesus was the coming of the kingdom itself because when Jesus enters the heart, the kingdom of heaven enters that heart as well. Those who find Jesus find the kingdom, and with it, they find salvation. They also find perfect love and peace, perfect security and joy. May God give us the kingdom of heaven through repentance and faith. Amen.