What is the message we have to preach, but this? “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Recently I preached this core Christian message. It was recorded, and subsequently broadcast on several sites that ended up on the Internet. I often receive replies to these messages, and sometimes I even receive criticism about the message. On this occasion, in fact, I received a critique from several individuals with the same issue. One of them put it in a very biblical way though he was not aware of it. He said, “Where is this kingdom you speak of? Where is his coming? I guess he really doesn’t love you because he did not come back. Wake up you fool and stop spouting your mythology as if it were true.” He sounded exactly like the person anticipated by the apostle Peter:
“They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4 ESV).
This poor chap, obviously bothered repeated the Petrine warning nearly verbatim!
What else could one say in reply, but, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
For, indeed, the Bible declares that Jesus came preaching the kingdom. Matthew joins the other Gospel writers to declare that, after the 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, victorious against temptation by Lucifer, the Lord Jesus began his public ministry. Matthew writes that Jesus inaugurated the ministry that would change human history by preaching this singular message, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Matthew repeats this message in Mathew 4.17, Matthew 4.23, Matthew 6.10, and Matthew 10.7.
Well, none of us here would repeat the kind of skeptical, cynical unbelief that I heard from the Internet troll. Yet, all of us from time to time long for his return. We might even wonder why he tarries. Each of us can be temporarily distraught or distracted by the atrocities we see, or by the depressions we suffer. We might even express a deep anguish arising from an inconsolable spirit: “O Lord, when will Your Kingdom come to me in a fuller way? How long, O God? Please, God, let ‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.’”
But how does the Kingdom come? In Matthew chapter 8, verses 1 through 17, Jesus demonstrates that the kingdom of God is not only coming through the authority of his teaching and preaching but by the authority — the transformative authority — of his very person.
For we see five cases of human transformation. We witness the leper who was calling for healing (in verses one through four). We witnessed the faith of the centurion, a Roman rank similar to a captain, who trusted in Jesus Christ for his servant, who was paralyzed. With a remarkable commendation of his faith from Jesus, the centurion’s servant was healed. We also see Peter’s mother who was sick with a fever. Jesus touched her hand and the fever left her and she rose and begin to serve him. What a beautiful picture of God’s grace: broken people, healing by Christ, serving the Savior. And then there were those who had demons. They were possessed by an unseen but very real power that overshadowed human beings. But a demonic power of evil is a lesser force than the power of the righteous One. By his word, Jesus cast out the demons. What a sight that must have been? Lifelong possession evaporated as quickly as the blink of an eye. Twisted and tormented souls, then, released to live as new creatures in Christ. And finally, we see that there were many others who were sick of body, and all of them were healed. All of this was done to fulfill the prophet Isaiah, “He took her illnesses and bore our disease.”
Now, what do these healings have to do with teachers today?
We often think of our positions here as one of primarily teaching. But I believe that if we are to announce the full counsel of God and to model the vocation of the Christian Shepherd with Biblical fidelity, then the seminary must also be a place of Jesus’s transformative power. For in doing so, we see, we experience how the kingdom comes.
From Matthew chapter 8 in verses one through 17, we see how the kingdom comes and how it should come, today, through our witnesses, his kingdom disciples.
- The kingdom of God comes by tethering teaching to the person of Jesus.
Jesus came down from the mountains, and the people followed him. This is an essential introduction to this section of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus remains the most compelling figure in all the world history. The Bible says if we lift him up he will draw others to himself. And we see that in this passage. The letter is drawn to it. A Roman military officer is drawn to him. Those closest to him or drawn to him. Those whose relatives and friends are suffering the most mysterious and enigmatic signs of pain and inner turmoil come to him. All of those who were sick came to him.
And we must come to him. You and I must bring Jesus to our students, to our staff, our community, and to each other. We must remind ourselves that we are agents of gospel transformation. We are, in fact, training up those who will go to the ends of the earth to present the person of Jesus. We can’t really expect them to do so as a result of the seminary unless they experience Jesus being presented here.
- The kingdom of God comes by tethering teaching to Jesus’ power.
Nothing could be more pressing in the passage than the transforming power of God. Teaching is transformative. But teaching apart from Jesus Christ can become dry, brittle, unable to excite the spirit, give hope, or vision. The power of Jesus Christ infusing the teaching of the gospel brings together flesh and spirit, mind, and heart, so that souls are saved and lives are transformed.
I was orphaned as a lad and placed with my late father’s sister, “Aunt Eva.” When I was a little boy, I used to sit in Aunt Eva’s lap as she read. I guess that I did so until I was too heavy. She would read Bible stories. I would lay my head against her breast so that I can hear her heart beating even as I was listening to her voice speaking the Word of the Lord. With one ear, I heard the Bible. With the other, I listened to the heartbeat of the one who spoke. Do you think that affects a boy?
Teaching Christ from the life of one whose heart beats for Christ transforms little boys and little girls, seminary men and women, and will be the power the catapults our students out into the mission field and the pastoral parishes of this land. People will come from far and wide to hear them teach with the heartbeat of Christ. I believe that’s what our seminary must be. That is what our churches must be. That is who I want to be. Don’t you?
- The Kingdom of God comes in tethering teaching to Jesus’ preeminence.
Matthew tells us that Jesus’ healing ministry is a direct prophetic fulfillment of Isaiah 53:4, “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” The person of Christ Jesus is the prophetic center of all things.
Jesus Christ is the focus of our studies, whether we are teaching Greek or Hebrew, preaching or New Testament, Old Testament or ethics, systematics or church history, Christian education, or Christian worship. He is the fulfillment of all of the word of God and he must be the focus in our teaching.
Many years ago, I was given the providential opportunity of hearing Dr. D. James Kennedy preach Jesus Christ. I was saved. I was also called to go out with others and share the gospel of Jesus Christ through Evangelism Explosion. Those of you who have gone through EE will recall that we return from our visits to give our reports.
I shall never forget the report of an Irish Anglican minister. He said that he shared the gospel one and who identified himself as a Jew. The Irish minister said that he told the gentleman that was delighted to hear of his ethnicity, if not faith, since his Savior is a Jew. The minister, then, shared Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, the man’s locked will was unshackled, blinders we’re supernaturally removed from his eyes, and the Hebrew man was saved. The two men, now brothers, prayed. After lifting their bowed heads, the new believer looked at the Irish minister, and with tears welling up in his sparkling eyes, spoke as if in wonder: “Thank you. Tonight I have become a ‘completed Jew.’” The minister responded, “Oh, dear Brother, I must thank you! I’ve been in the ministry for 20 years and I have been a Christian for 30 years. But tonight I became a completed Christian.” “A completed Christian:” was a phrase that hit me hard. I knew exactly what he meant.
And what I am saying today is that the kingdom of God comes through the person of Jesus, in the power of Jesus, and through the preeminence of Jesus over all and in all. We who serve the Word to our students, who instruct about the life of ministry, are so blessed. But there is a greater blessing still. For when we welcome “the little ones” under our care, hold them with pastoral love, they hear our teaching tethered to our hearts. In that sacred moment, when Christ is taught, and Christ is experienced, our pupils become “completed students.” And we become “completed teachers.”
And that is how the kingdom comes.
Dr. Michael A. Milton (PhD, University of Wales) is the Distinguished Professor of Missions and Evangelism at Erskine Theological Seminary where he also serves as the Director of Chaplain Ministries. The retired fourth presidency and chancellor of the RTS System, Dr. Milton founded and shepherded 3 churches (KS, GA, and NC), and was the senior minister of the historic First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga. Mike Milton is a US Army Chaplain (Colonel) retired, and remains President of the D. James Kennedy Institute of Reformed Leadership. Dr. Milton’s life verse is from Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it unto the day of Jesus Christ.” Or, as Mike puts it in the title of his autobiography, “What God Starts God Completes.”