In July I will have opportunity to be in conversation with preachers about preaching. If this conversation goes as planned, we will be leaving with at least four sermons in some stage of development and ideas for a sermon series connected to each of those sermons.
Our texts will be the four gospels. While Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell the same story, they are each interested in different aspects of discipleship. Here is an introduction to one of the emphases we will talk about that day.
I am becoming convinced the Gospel wants us to be bi-lingual. Matthew, most of all, seems intent on teaching us a new language. Matthew speaks kingdom language. And his method is to saturate us in this language.
The Gospel does not want us to learn a new language just for the sake of learning. The Gospel wants us to be different. So Matthew gives us stories that are intended to change us. Not just stories for story sake, these are kingdom stories. Jesus tells these stories as if he is giving away the kingdom secrets.
The secrets of the kingdom of heaven are not to stay in heaven. Matthew preaches to us “on earth as it is in heaven.” One of these secrets is about forgiveness. It is not enough to forgive as everyone else forgives. So Jesus tells a story about forgiveness. This is not only a story but an invitation. Jesus invites us to participate in a ministry of forgiveness. Forgiveness is kingdom language.
For a long time we have treated personal sin and larger pictures of evil as different discussions. We have responded by preaching atonement theories that addressed the forgiving of personal sin so we might get to heaven. All other evil became part of “the problem of evil.” This category of evil need not be addressed by the cross but by philosophical and political debate.
Such thinking, according to N. T. Wright, is “not only politically naive and disastrous, not only philisophically shallow: it was also theologically naive or even… heretical. It was trying to ‘deal with evil’ all by itself, with no reference to any belief that this might be God’s job.” Wright goes on to say “it is God who deals with evil, and he does this on the cross. Any other ‘dealing with evil’ must be seen in the light of that.”
What is your response?
Matthew weaves together narrative stories with sections of teaching to help us recognize that Kingdom words are related to the narrative stories of earth. An implied question becomes “what kingdom are you claiming as reality?” Matthew knows there is a difference between what God wants and what people are doing.
This may be the reason Matthew uses the phrase “the Kingdom of heaven” – to present a contrast with the rule of earthly kings. It is certainly interesting that we read a disturbing story about an earthly king immediately before Matthew introduces the phrase “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Does Matthew present Herod as a representative earthly king who is rival to Jesus and therefore a representative of the kingdom of earth vs. the divine rule of the Kingdom of heaven?
Matthew presents a case that rule has been re-established in King Jesus. This rule on earth becomes connected to the rule of the King of heaven. Preaching the Gospel of Matthew includes the announcement that heavenly rule has invaded the land in Jesus and is challenging the corrupted rule of earth’s kingdoms. We are called to live obediently under this rule on earth.