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Matt 3-4: The Coming Kingdom and the Call to Obedience Print E-mail
Monday, 25 July 2005

We are a people who marvel at the idea of a Kingdom.  We like stories that involve the story of a conquering King who battles to set his people free.  Whether it be in movies or books or television shows, we seem to always enjoy stories about Kings and Kingdoms.

Well, as we saw last week from Matthew 1-2, Jesus is the promised King of Israel and he has come to set his people free.  In chapters 3-4, we see the introduction of the subject of the Kingdom of Heaven.  This is a theme that will likewise run throughout the ministry of Jesus and the book of Matthew.  Christ is a King with a Kingdom and Jesus teaches us much about this Kingdom in the book of Matthew.  We see it’s introduction in 3:2.

Before we go any further, let me just make a couple of general comments concerning the nature of the Kingdom that Matthew is telling us about.  First, the Kingdom of Heaven refers to the reign of God over all the earth.  Thus, as we consider the Kingdom we are speaking in reference to God’s reign over the earth.  Second, we can say that Kingdom is already here.  In fact, in the coming of Jesus Christ the King we see the coming of the Kingdom.  Jesus teaches us this in Matthew 12:28.  Thus, in a real sense we can see that the Kingdom of heaven was ushered in by Christ.  Yet, third, we must also say that Kingdom of heaven has not yet come in all it’s fullness.  Every enemy has not been put down and we still await the final victory.  Only on the final day will the Kingdom come in all it’s fullness.  Thus, in short, we see from the New Testament that the Kingdom is already, but not yet here.  As we continue through the book of Matthew we will say much more about the Kingdome, but it is important to begin with this general premise.

Along with these thoughts in general about the Kingdom, we also see a more particular point about the King and the Kingdom in our two chapters this morning.  We learn about the Kingdom that the chief characteristic of the people of the Kingdom is obedience to the Father’s will.  This seems to be a theme that runs through all these stories in chapters 3-4 so that we can identify at least three ways that Matthew shows us this.

First, by the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus we see that the people of the Kingdom will be characterized by obedience to the Father.

All three gospels include the story of John the Baptist and Matthew is no different.  We see from this the importance of the role that John played.  He was to be the forerunner to the Messiah in fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3 even as Matthew quotes.  Matthew continues to point out to us that Jesus is the Messiah by pointing out that John is his forerunner.  By giving us the details of John’s dress and what he ate and how he lived, Matthew is showing us the connection between John and the prophets of old, especially Elijah.  In all of this, John is modeling the obedience to the Father’s will that characterizes the people of God.

Yet, not only that, but John calls for obedience through his preaching.  Read verse 2 and verses 7-10 again with me.  John calls the people to repent, to turn from their wicked ways and turn toward obedience to God.  When the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the religious leaders of the day, come to him, he calls for them to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (v. 8).  The Pharisees and Sadducees apparently expected to be part of the Kingdom simply because they were physical descendents of Abraham, but John pointed out that God could raise up from the stones descendents of Abraham.  Rather, what really mattered was obedience to the Father not simply physical heritage.  In preparation for the One to come who would bring the Kingdom and a baptism of Spirit and fire, John called for the people to repent and be obedient to God.

Likewise, in 4:12-17 we see the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and in verse 17 Matthew tells us that Jesus preached as well: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  In this passage Matthew continues the theme of emphasizing Jesus as Messiah and his ministry to the Gentiles.  Jesus calls for the people’s repentance as well.  And because Jesus is the promised King who brings the Kingdom with him, there is a different slant to what He is saying, for in an even more realized way the Kingdom is at hand because the King is standing among them.  Both Jesus and John call for repentance and obedience in their preaching concerning the Kingdom

Second, by Jesus’ example of obedience we see that the people of the Kingdom will be characterized by obedience.

As people of the Kingdom through faith in Christ, we must realize that Jesus never calls us to do what He has not already done.  Granted, the particulars may change, but the call on our lives to obedient to the Father is given by One who was first obedient himself.  We see this in His baptism and His temptation.

Read with me again 3:13-17.  We might very well ask, ‘Why was it necessary for Jesus to be baptized?  I mean, John’s baptism went hand in hand with repentance.  So if Jesus was perfect, why did He need to be baptized?’  That is a valid question.  But look at Jesus’ response to John when John admits that he is not worthy to baptize him: “But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’”  John is right in recognizing that he is not worthy to baptize Christ, yet, Christ calls for John to baptize him because it is right.  Thus, in obedience to the mission that the Father has placed him on earth to accomplish, Jesus willingly accepts the baptism of John.  And immediately we know that this is pleasing to the Father because of what follows.  The Spirit of God descends upon Jesus and the Father declares: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  Thus, we see Jesus’ obedience to the Father’s will in his baptism.

We also see his obedience in the story of his temptation.  For the most part, we are familiar with this story.  The Spirit leads Jesus to the desert to be tempted.  And after fasting for forty days (connecting this story with that of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness), Satan comes to Jesus to tempt him.  He tempts him in three ways.  First, he tempts him with food.  Jesus had probably not eaten solid food for forty days so needless to say this was a difficult temptation.  Second, he somewhat tempts his pride and challenges him to prove that he is indeed the Son of God by jumping from the pinnacle of the temple.  And third, he tempts him with taking the easy way out.  Seemingly he is saying, ‘Forget the cross and the suffering and the shame.  I can grant you all the Kingdoms of the world if you will just worship me.’

Yet, despite the extreme difficulties of each of these temptations, we see that Christ is obedient to the Father in every instance.  Concerning the temptation to turn the stones into bread, Carson writes, “Obedience to God’s every word was to Jesus more necessary than sustaining food.”1   Faced with the second temptation, Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy that prohibits putting God to the test.  And as for the last temptation, even though it will lead to his death, Jesus chooses to worship the true God and no other.

Again, as we struggle and fight as the people of God to indeed be characterized by obedience, may we take great courage and strength from the fact that Jesus was obedient in every way.  Listen to the words of Peter in 1 Peter 2:21-25.  If even now you are struggling in your fight to be obedient, look to the example of Christ.  Here what the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 2:18, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”  What a glorious Savior we serve, who is able to help us as we are tempted because he himself knows the battle we face.  Indeed, look to the example of Christ this morning as you fight to be obedient to the Father’s commands. 

Third, by the disciples’ example of obedience we see that the people of the Kingdom will be characterized by obedience.

One of the glaring details that stands out when we look at the call of the first disciples, found in 4:18-22, is their immediate acceptance of Jesus’ call.  Granted, Matthew does not give us all the details and we must be careful not to add things to the story that are not there.  Yet, he does make it clear that the disciples followed immediately.  Look at verses 20 and 22.  In spite of the cost, which was none the less great for these fishermen, they were willing to follow Jesus and to become fishers of men. 

Even today, we see parallels with this story and our call to be fishers of men.  Jesus makes it plain in the great commission that we, as people of the Kingdom, are called to share the good news of the Kingdom with all nations.  We too can say with John, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Indeed, we know the King.  We know how his life played out.  We know that he remained obedient to his father even to death on the cross.  And we know that he did this so that through faith we might become followers of Christ, citizens of the Kingdom, and live obediently to the will of the Father.  And because of his resurrection and promise to return, we know that the King will return soon to gather all his people to himself and His Kingdom will reign forever and ever.  This is the message that we are called to take to the highways and byways.  Indeed, like those disciples before us, may we be obedient to the call of Christ whatever the cost may be.

Thus, Matthew teaches us this morning concerning the Kingdom that the people of the Kingdom will be characterized by obedience to the Father’s will.  One simple question remains: Are we willing to be obedient to all that the Father has called us to?  Yes the calling is great and no we cannot do anything apart from the grace of God, but none the less we must labor, by his grace to be people who are characterized by obedience to the Father’s will.  And this obedience begins with faith.  We must believe that God can and will save us through faith in his Son and that such faith will produce in us the longing and the strength to be obedient to the Father’s will.  It is not enough to simply be Christians in name and profession.  No, as John tells us, we must bear fruit in keeping with our repentance lest we be cut down and tossed in the fire on that final day.

Chapter four concludes with Matthew telling us of Jesus’ continued ministry in and around the area of Galilee.  Next week, we will look more specifically at the teaching of Jesus and his call on our lives as his disciples and the people of his Kingdom.  Yet, in light of the obedience of the disciples that we see in this text and in light of the complete obedience of Christ to the Father’s will, I leave with a simple exhortation: Repent and be obedient.  Know that all obedience begins with faith and move forward in faith that God will grant you the grace to be obedient to His Word.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

     1D. A. Carson, God With Us: Themes from Matthew  (Ventura: Regal Books, 1985), 27.

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