As I have been slowly working through the book of Matthew in my devotion time, there are certain themes that seem to recur again and again in the ministry of Jesus and the disciples – things like “the Kingdom of Heaven,” the testimony of things seen, and the idea of bearing fruit.
Very early on, in Matthew 4:14, after he had been tempted in the wilderness, the scriptures tell us that “from that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
Now, this message sounds very familiar to the message preached by John the Baptist, except that in Jesus’ preaching ministry, the Kingdom of Heaven was never preached as a concept but as something tangible. It was demonstrated to the people through acts of divine mercy such as healings and deliverance from the demonic.
In fact, after John the Baptist had been arrested, he was hearing what was going on with Jesus and decided to find out about this man for himself:
“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.’” (Matthew 11:1-6)
John is sincerely asking the question, “Are you the coming Messiah” and Jesus response is, “What do you see me doing?”
Now, I am adamant that Christians must know and love the scriptures as the foundation for life and ministry, but my sincere fear is that too many Christians believe that preaching the Bible is the only validation needed for a ministry to be fruitful, and that when preaching from the Bible, people, including non-believers, should simply take them at their word that their teaching has authority.
While I agree that the Bible has authority and that our ministry will be held accountable to the scriptures, what we see is that Jesus didn’t send John a message highlighting all of the Old Testament passages that validated Him. Instead, His answer was to point to His many, on-earth manifestations of the Kingdom of God as His apologetic.
He even later tells his disciples, “ blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matthew 13:16-17). The thing that the prophets of old longed to see and hear was the proclamation and the signs that the Kingdom of God had come to earth.
Jesus’ entire ministry on earth was filled with example after example of this message: “the Kingdom of God is in your midst,” and then he showed them this reality in the restoration of lives, both body and soul.
And it didn’t stop with Jesus!
Jesus’ teachings to the disciples through the parables in Matthew many times consisted of analogies in which the Kingdom of God is like a tree or plant that once it has matured will be judged by the fruit it bore. Wheat is separated from the weeds by bearing good seed (Matt. 13:24-30). A good tree will always bear good fruit, and a Child of the Kingdom will bring forth Kingdom fruit (Matt 12:35).
If the Kingdom of God has come to a person through faith in Christ, then they will begin to bear fruit demonstrating that they are no longer on the same playing field as the world.
This is why when Jesus taught the discipels how to pray, the first request made was, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
Jesus was telling His disciples that to have a heart like His, their desires must be to see the reality of God’s Kingdom manifested in the world, so that the world “may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
This became practical when Jesus “called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction” (Matthew 10:1). And they did!
And it didn’t stop with the Apostles!
The Bible tells us that this same authority is carried by all believers if we will only have the faith to see God’s Kingdom come. Jesus said so Himself:
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:15-18 ESV)
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:12-14 ESV)
I know that many people, including many who read my blog, fall into a cessationist category that believes these gifts were only for the Apostles to perform to testify to the validity of their ministry as Christianity was being birthed. However, in the world today there are too many people who still doubt our God, and His goal is still to capture their hearts.
Scripture continually testifies that the same ministry passed to the apostles has been passed to us today, and that the Holy Spirit is here to empower us to accomplish the work.
As those sent on mission with Him to reach the lost and dying world, I believe all of us need to really consider our Kingdom theology. Do we believe that is is just a concept to be embraced in our heads, or is the Kingdom something we really do believe can become tangible “on earth as it is in heaven?”
At the bare minimum, it does no harm to believe God still does the miraculous and touches people with the reality of His Kingdom today, just like He did in the book of Acts. So then, why don’t we pray for that? And just imagine for a moment the revival that might happen around us if and when He does?
The guarantee that we have is this: “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations” (Matthew 24:14). I don’t know about you, but I want to have a part in that.
Lord, do it again! Amen.