Today’s message arises from Matthew chapter four, where we find Jesus in the early stages of his public ministry. John the Baptist had been arrested and quickly fades from the gospel story. Meanwhile, Jesus begins to wander and proclaim a powerful message as he builds God’s kingdom.
The distinctiveness of Jesus’ message centers around the concept of the kingdom of heaven, a realm of both present reality and future possibility. Jesus’ use of the kingdom of heaven terminology becomes a centerpiece of his distinctive message. The kingdom of heaven is entered through repentance, that act of turning from sin and turning to God. The repentance aspect is similar to what John the Baptist required of those whom he had baptized.
For Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is both the place of new spiritual life as much as it is a state of mind in this world. Repentance is also pivotal here, since the idea is that you can’t enter the kingdom of heaven until and unless you repent. Jesus then went about gathering followers, the first four of whom were two sets of brothers: Peter, Andrew, James, and John, all of them fishermen, independent businessmen earning a living by the Sea of Galilee.
What happened to elicit such a quick response from the twin sets of brothers? Let’s turn to the biblical narrative to explore this: “And he said to them, ‘follow me, and I will make you fish for people. Immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Matthew 4: 19-20). What would it take for you to drop everything and everyone in your life to follow a spiritual guru? Jesus hadn’t been in public ministry long enough to have much of a reputation, so it doesn’t seem likely that the four fishermen knew much if anything about this wondering rabbi. Even if they did have knowledge of who and what Jesus was something must have churned within them.
Did Jesus work some type of magic on the brothers? Not likely, especially since Jesus didn’t seem to force anyone to do anything. Did Jesus’ words exert some miraculous, compelling influence? We may never know for sure. Suffice to say that whatever Jesus did or said was sufficient to wrest the men from their families, friends and livelihood. What are the implications and ramifications for today’s followers?
Does the kingdom of heaven make sense to you and do you feel motivated to respond to God’s call? It’s worth emphasizing that the kingdom of heaven is not a physical place as much as it is a state of mind, a spiritual realm meant to encompass who and what we are. Indeed, the kingdom of heaven can function as a set of guiding beliefs ensuring harmony with God’s plan. Are you ready to follow Jesus into this type of kingdom? What are you willing to give-up? These are tough questions because they challenge us to take a position and act. We can struggle with how decisive should be our response, provided we even hear the invitation in the first place. Through it all, we can yearn for God’s abiding presence and for the conviction and enthusiasm to act boldly when God invites us.