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Ben Fleming: The Arrival of God’s Kingdom, Matthew 4:1-25

January 17, 2024

Audio Recording

In Matthew chapter four, Jesus confronts evil, creates a new family by calling disciples, and restores God’s reign through healing and teaching, showcasing a wildly different approach to “Kingdom” than earthly kings.

Westside Church Podcast
Westside Church Podcast
Ben Fleming: The Arrival of God's Kingdom, Matthew 4:1-25

Sermon Transcript:

You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

We're in part two of a series going all the way through the book of Matthew. And there's a lot of good reasons to go all the way through a book of the Bible, one of them being that we need in our lives and our understanding of scripture and our understanding of our faith, a depth of understanding of the scripture and of Jesus. We need a depth of understanding of the scripture and of Jesus. And sometimes it's tempting to grab ahold of verses here and there, right? The church is known for even the memorization of verses, which is great. But I like that in conjunction with a deeper understanding of the context of what scriptures you're reading, what happens before and after that scripture that you've memorized that might help change and shape exactly how you view that specific scripture or story. Because what God is wanting to do in us is not just something that turns us into religious pez dispensers, right? Where we have this idea and this thought and this topic, but instead a group of people that have been formed by grace and forgiveness and the love of Christ through this incredible, broad and deep understanding of the history of scripture and what Jesus has done for us and what he has done for others. And so when we go through the book of Matthew, we get to experience some of this depth. Okay. And what we know from chapters one through three so far that we went through in part one, is that Matthew is trying to use the genealogy of Jesus, as well as the story of the birth of Jesus and the baptism of Jesus to show the reader that he is indeed the heir to the throne, that he is the king. Because if you simply look in and of itself of where Jesus was born, and even the circumstances under which he was born, he doesn't have a traditional king's birth, that the world wouldn't automatically connect the fact that this man, born in Bethlehem, would be the heir to the throne. But Matthew was trying to build this case. And it culminates with the baptism of Jesus and the very voice of God declaring to Jesus and to those around that this is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. And in this context, for the jewish people, especially, this whole idea of a birthright, that this belongs to you, that this throne belongs to you, is so important, and Matthew is just trying to make that case for them. And so after Jesus essentially receives this birthright publicly, he begins his public ministry around the age of 30. Now, some of you have spent maybe some of your life. And you're wondering, have I wasted a lot of my life? God came to earth, put skin on, and did nothing that was essentially written about for the first 30 years of his life. Now, sometimes I'm looking at God and I'm going, why don't you hurry up? What are you waiting on?

Did you really want to go grow up and go through puberty? And what, you need to go to college before you become the savior of the world?

What's the deal here?

Jesus? And maybe it's for something that we don't fully understand and we will never fully understand, waits until he's 30 to begin this full time ministry. But even then, he's not just considered a minister to these people. He's considered a king. And so he begins to do a few things that kings do. And I'm going to bring up these three points a lot today. He confronts evil, and then he creates a new family. And then immediately after that, he restores God's reign. But he does these things in a little bit of an unconventional way. That's not going to look how other kings would do it, but he does it in a kind of a fast and furious manner, which reminds me of one of my favorite movies, which is not the fast and the furious. I don't know why I put those two together. One of my favorite movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first Indiana Jones movie. Now, this movie is famous for a lot of things. Number one, it's famous for Harrison Ford being absolutely gorgeous. Okay? That guy. There's never been a more cooler, manlier man in all the world. But it's mostly famous in kind of like the film industry for establishing a new sense of timing for action movies. So for the most part, movies up to that point, you would introduce your group of characters, you would talk about them slowly, give an understanding to your audience of who they are, before they would kind of push off into this big, grand adventure that's ahead of them. And even at the beginning of movies, you would have the credits. Have you guys noticed this? You watch an older movie recently, you watch a movie from the. They show the credits before the movie starts. I was watching an older movie the other day, and I'm three minutes in and I'm going, when does this start?

Are all movies like this? And I'm just paying attention right now. But what happened with Indiana Jones is you are almost immediately introduced to the main character and then even the most iconic moment, right? That giant rock rolling down the hallway, trying to take him out. The most iconic of the movie and moment of the movie, and maybe the whole series happens within the first ten minutes of the movie, because Spielberg essentially wanted to introduce all of his character and all that he was as quickly as possible so that you could get to all the action which happened at such a fast pace. Now, this kind of happens in the Book of Matthew. He introduces Jesus. Jesus does these three things. He confronts evil, he creates a new family, and he restores God's reign. And then he does those three things over and over and over again. In the book of Matthew, every story that we read from here on out about Jesus, he is either confronting evil, creating a new family, or restoring God's reign. And he introduces those ideas to us here in Matthew chapter four. And we'll talk about confronting evil first. All right, so the first point is confronts evil. Matthew, chapter four, verse one. This is how he does it, says, then, Jesus was led by the spirit after his baptism into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For 40 days and 40 nights, he fasted and became very hungry. During the time the devil came and said to him, if you're the son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread. Jesus told him, no. The scriptures say, people don't live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. And the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the temple. And he said, if you are the son of God, jump off. For the scriptures say, he will order his angels to protect you, and they will hold you up with their hands so you won't even hurt your foot on a stone. And Jesus responded, the scriptures also say, you must not test the Lord your God. Next, the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain, showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. I will give it all to you. He said, if you'll kneel down and worship me. Get out of here, Satan. Jesus told him, for the scriptures say, you must worship the Lord your God and serve only him. And then the devil went away, and the angels came and took care of Jesus. So Jesus confronts evil. This is what a king, even in the world, would do, right?

The moment that you take the throne, you begin to identify threats to your kingdom. Who is your enemy? And this would have been the expectation of the jewish people for their messiah to come and to assess who their enemy is. And the answer would have come back, who is the enemy of the messiah? The answer would have come back. The empire of Rome.

They've taken away our power. They've taken away our political system. They've taken away our way of life. The enemy is the empire of Rome. And Jesus shows up, begins his ministry and says, I agree that you have an enemy, but it is not the empire of Rome.

Instead, it's what the apostle Paul would go on to say in his writings. It's the powers and the principalities of this world. It's sin or anything that would create separation between God and the people that he loves. Jesus immediately confronts that separation, and that separation begins to tempt him into doing something and functioning in a way that Jesus is not intended to. God's whole idea of how to save the world and bring salvation is through this idea of Emmanuel, right? We just went through the Advent season. It's about God with us, and the devil is tempting him to create that separation between him and the people that he loves. He's saying, why don't you use your power? Why don't you show all of who you are? Why don't you annihilate this way of living and these things? He's tempting him to become something that God is not intending to be at this moment. He's tempting him to become the thing that the jewish people are actually pretty well acquainted with, and that is a God that is separate from them, that may come in the form of a booming voice or may come in the form of a spirit that exists in one part of a tent or maybe in the form of a plague or a crazy, what we would actually call act of God. And Jesus is saying, I'm doing things this way. I am with the people.

I'm not going to be consumed by your temptation.

Now, he does this for a few reasons. The first is to bring redemption to the story of Israel. So Jesus is having a direct comment right now on the story of Genesis and Adam and Eve in the garden. When Eve is tempted by the serpent and she succumbs to all of the temptation, Jesus is being tempted in the same way to embrace comfort and power and his own kind of human knowledge and turning that into the deity and God itself. But Jesus, unlike Adam and Eve, actually responds in a way that is of God and then redeems the history of Israel in the process.

He resists this idea and this voice that would come in that would tell him that he should be something that he's not. And I love nt. Wright comments on this in his commentaries. I love these commentaries called the Bible for everyone. Nt. Wright says this, if we have heard God's voice welcoming us as his children we will also hear the whispered suggestions of the enemy. But as God's children, we're entitled to use the same defense as the son of God himself. Store scripture up in your heart and know how to use it. Keep your eyes on God and trust him for everything. Remember your calling to bring God's light into the world and say a firm no to the voices that lure you back into the darkness.

It's not lost on me that this is immediately following the baptism of Jesus, where he is affirmed by the voice of God the father in front of a crowd of people, that he is indeed the son of God, that this voice comes in. Have you ever thought, if I could just hear a word of encouragement from the right person or even achieve a certain standing in my job or make a certain amount of money, if I can cross that line, then I know that I'll have comfort and contentment on the other side of it.

Even Jesus, who is himself God with skin on, hearing from God the father in his humanity, that he is the son of God. And a crowd of people hearing it almost immediately after the voices come in, just like it often happens with you and I.

We achieve something, we dream something, we move in the direction of something, and almost immediately, the doubt can come in. No, you're not who you think you are. You're not what you say you are. You're not gifted and talented for that. You're not meant for this. So you should pull back. You should remove yourself from that level of risk. It happens to Jesus and it happens to us. And so we are called to then store up the scripture. And even more than that, the way of God. How God. How Jesus moves. We're to store up his grace and his mercy and his forgiveness and his way so that we can respond in times of distress and questioning by the voice of the enemy.

So overall, this whole section of scripture tells me one big thing, and that is that God cares deeply about our past.

Again, I look at how Jesus is functioning and how slowly he's moving. In my mind, it would make sense to me that Jesus would show up and then he would call down angels and create this massive moment to make it evident to the entire world of who he is. But instead, his first act after his baptism is to say, I'm actually going to go all the way back to the beginning of the creation of the world, and I'm going to bring redemption to a very, very old story.

Now, I want Jesus to just move forward quickly, kind of like I want to move forward quickly in my own life. It's really comfortable to just talk about the future. Have you noticed this? Well, you know what I'm going to do someday and sometime down the road, and eventually when we get the. And I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this. And it's so comforting because I don't have to do any of that right now because it's someday in the future, right? You know, it's really uncomfortable to talk about things that I've done in the past.

Is anybody else embarrassed by the 22 year old version of themselves?

There's probably podcasts out there that I have preached that I would be horrified to listen to myself.

I think about the Ben that was in college and that was really interested in a girl, a girl who ended up not being interested in me. And I didn't figure that out as fast as I should have.

And somewhere down the line, I'm a little heartbroken and finding myself in the middle of the living room in the shared house that I shared with some roommates and listening to Avril Levine on YouTube and just crying my eyes.

Oh, and I actually have. With embarrassing stuff from my past, especially when it comes to ministry or stuff that I've done in my job. I have a physical reaction, I'll shake my head and go, no, we got to move on.

I went on a long pilgrimage walk in Scotland this last year in October, and I told myself going into it, that this would be a bit of a rest, and then it would be an opportunity to see what I was looking forward to in the future, for God to give me a new vision and a new thing. And I spent a lot of the walk actually having a lot of those visceral moments where I'm shaking my head, thinking about things that I've done or relationships that I've had that were just kind of cringey or tough or maybe outright wrong, and things I didn't say that I regret.

I remember being three or four days down the road being like, I'm spending all this time thinking about things that have happened and consumed by them, and what a waste of a trip to Scotland, what a waste of the beautiful scenery and this pilgrimage. And then I was pretty close to being done with the entire thing. And I met two people along the trail that I had run into a couple of times. This was the second or third time that I'd run into them. Basically the only people that I had run into on the trail the entire 77 miles. And it turned out that they were two retired therapists, but I ran into them at, at this cave that's along the trail called St. Cuthbert's cave. And we sat down and they fed me, which was really sweet and beautiful.

And he said, well, why are you out here?

You are all by yourself? He said, and really, we're the only other ones on the trail. What are you out here for? And I told him, I said, well, I'm trying to understand maybe some of what's going to happen in the future, and I'm curious about what God's going to do or whatever. And he said, I believe that you think you're out here for that. He said, but knowing what I know and seeing guys like you, I hope you understand that. You might think you're out here to see what happens, but you're probably really out here trying to understand what happened.

And I was like, maybe that was what my soul was trying to tell me through those first several days of the walk. And I'm trying to push off from this past and remove myself from it and just simply not think about it anymore. But the beauty of Jesus and what he shows us as he confronts evil is that God is not just coming to this earth to rally this army and to take the hill. Instead, God takes the time to put skin on, to grow up. And then his first act after his baptism is to go and bring redemption to something that has happened long, long ago, that Jesus himself didn't even have anything to do with it.

He takes the time to bring redemption to these things in our past, which means, I believe for those of us in here today, you're not called to simply run away from the things that have done or ignore them or just say, look, everything's fine now. I'm just going to head on forward. Instead, God wants to treat not just the present you who sits right here in this room or watches online, and not just the future you that has beautiful hopes and dreams, but the you that made those mistakes, that said those words a long, long time ago.

Confronting evil doesn't just happen in the form of speaking the right answers at the right moment, but confronting evil means confronting and redeeming and healing all of the things in our past.

The second thing that Jesus does, so again, the first thing he does is confronts evil. The second thing he does is he creates a new family.

This is Matthew, chapter four, still. And now in verse 18, it says, one day, as Jesus was walking along the shore of the sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, also called Peter and Andrew, throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living.

Jesus called out to them, come and follow me, and I'll show you how to fish for people. They left their nets at once and followed him. A little further up the shore, he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, and repairing their nets. And he called them to come, too. And they immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind. Jesus creates a new family.

So again, a king, an earthly king, would take a throne, would understand and assess who their enemy is, where they need to defend, and maybe even where they need to attack to confront the evil in their world. And Jesus confronts a different kind of evil.

And then another thing a king would do would gather around powerful and influential and intelligent people around him in order to make the best decisions going forward for the kingdom, that a king would essentially make a cabinet or even a family in order to lead the kingdom well. And Jesus himself creates a family, but it is not made up of the most intelligent or the most powerful and influential. Matthew, who is writing this book, is one of these disciples who has been welcomed into the family. And Matthew is actually considered the enemy of the jewish people, even though Jesus primarily gathers only jewish people.

And then he goes on to gather a few young teenage fishermen, which tells me that as God creates and builds this family, it's not just those of us who feel like we would be qualified or feel like the most financially stable or feel like we're the most educated, but God instead is looking to build a different kind of family for this kingdom. And it's simply only qualifier is, are you willing to leave what you have and follow him?

The resume is pretty short as far as what Jesus needs.

So how is that different from how we gather things right now? Well, it tells us something that it's not about the accumulation of power that actually furthers the kingdom of God.

What gathers people is simply this new way and this new grace we follow after Jesus.

And that's evident here also in. .3.

Jesus restores God's reign. This is in Matthew, chapter four. He shows you how he does this. It says, jesus traveled through the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the good news about the kingdom, and healed every kind of disease and illness. And news about him spread as far as Syria. And people soon began bringing him all who were sick and whatever their sickness or disease, or if they were demon possessed or epileptic or paralyzed, he healed them all. And large crowds followed him wherever he went. People from Galilee, the ten Towns, Jerusalem and all over Judea and from east of the Jordan river.

So what we know by reading the rest of the story, so maybe this is a spoiler for the rest of the series, that Jesus'restoring of wholeness to those who were sick or diseased was the primary thing that drew the crowds to him.

Why? Because people that knew they needed something knew that he was virtually the only source that they could find in order to receive healing.

Now, if you are a king coming into an area that already has a king, right, we've established that the empire of Rome is ruling over this entire area. The idea of somebody coming and restoring the reign of another king is a tremendous threat to your well being and your own kingdom.

Now, Jesus, when he's closer to his death and he's talking to Pontius Pilate, Pontius Pilate says, well, why don't you fight back? And Jesus says, look, if I wanted to fight and win this kind of battle with you, I would have brought an army. But that's not my intention, is to win some kind of battle war with you. It's not my intention to overthrow this government as exists right now. It's my desire to do things in a different way that shows that love and grace and forgiveness and mercy is actually the way of Jesus. And so it should be no surprise to us that Jesus goes out and begin to recreate for everyone this understanding that God is indeed the ruler of all the world, the true king. Of course, it comes in the form of inviting those who are lame and sick to come and to receive healing.

So that leaves us with the charge as a church, over the course of our lives and even over the course of the next year or so, as much of our world or our country in some ways will descend into difficult moments and words and some chaos and infighting and frustration.

It will be tempting to the follower of Christ to try to restore the reign of God in a very earthly and human way, with the idea of force, with the idea of trying to create a culture and a community around us that looks and sounds and feels exactly like us.

But I want to encourage you today that the way of Jesus, which means it's the way of the church, which means it should be the way of Westside, that the way that we truly restore God's reign in central oregon is that we invite the broken and the hurting and the downtrodden and the misfit to come and to find wholeness in Jesus.

You want a powerful movement of God. You want a growing and a thriving church.

You want a gospel that feels real to so many who cannot possibly find it real right now. And today, we will be a people that don't refuse to care for the sick and disease, the epileptic and the paralyzed. We instead will be an agent of hope and healing for those that many others won't touch.

Do you need to be a pastor to be a part of this movement? Absolutely not. Do you need to have a perfect understanding of the context and the history of scripture? No, you do not. You just need to understand that this way of kindness and gentleness and healing is the way of Jesus.

That is the kingdom of heaven.

I love this Dallas Willard quote where he talks about the kingdom of heaven and the gospel. He says, the gospel is less about how to get into the kingdom of heaven after you die.

It's more about how to live in the kingdom of heaven before you die.

Jesus confronts evil, creates a new family, and restores God reign. And this is all evident of this big picture of the kingdom of God.

And next week, we'll talk about exactly what that kingdom looks and sounds and feels like as we head into Matthew chapter five, as we get ready to receive communion together here in the room. And of course, those of you online want to extend another invitation to go ahead and grab something from the kitchen if you want to participate with us. If you can't find these specific crackers or this kind of juice, I give you permission for a donut and coffee communion today. Okay?

If somebody wants to tell me donuts aren't blessed, I gotta tell them. That does not sound like Jesus to me.

This communion that we take is reminiscent of the beginning of the gospel, right? It's God with us that until communion is taken, in essence, the death and the resurrection of Jesus remains a story that's on a page. But when we do what Jesus said and we take the cracker or the bread, and we are reminded that this is Jesus'body that was broken for us, and we're reminded that the juice is representative of the blood that was shed for us. The idea of communion is that we participate in God with us. And even as the bread and the juice hit our bodies, they become part of us, just as Jesus'intention with us. Right?

He didn't remain this spirit that existed in a tent and only for specific people and only through these incredible, crazy acts of God. But instead, he puts skin on, he puts clothing on, he walks with us, embraces us and holds us. And today, we hold our savior in this act of communion.

So, Jesus, we give you all that we have. We embrace again. And we're reminded of not just the death and the resurrection of you and all the things that you went through for us, your people, but we're reminded of the forgiveness and the grace and the mercy and the love that you poured out for us. And can you continue to do so today?

Lord, I pray that this communion would permeate our past, even the sources of our deepest shame.

That you would be God with us in those places.

That it would permeate our present, the wonderings that we have right now, the difficulties that we have to face even as we go home today. Or in our own home today, Lord, that it would permeate those places. That we would know you are with us right now, not just back then and in the context of scripture, and not just someday in what we believe to be this ethereal kingdom of heaven, but right now in the kingdom of heaven that surrounds us, Lord. And that you would be with us in our future, in our great dreams and accomplishment, our biggest hopes. You would be God with us.

Or confront evil. Remind us that we are a part of your family and restore your reign today. In Jesus name, we pray.