Luke 4:42-44 “At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.’ And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.”
Jesus spent the night in the little house of Simon Peter. There was probably just one living room where the guests slept on the floor, and at dawn Jesus got up and went out of the house. He went to a quiet place for prayer.
1. THE LORD JESUS WAS A MAN WHO PRAYED.
We are moved whenever we think of God the Son at his morning devotions, a habit ingrained into him for thirty years and maintained throughout his ministry. You notice that it was not so secret and sacred event that there could be no description of his praying. No. We are told about his private praying in Hebrews chapter five and verse seven that, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” His private exercises of prayer were not silent meditations as he sat still in a certain posture for a specific period chanting a mantra under his breath like the Buddhists. Jesus was not a transcendental meditationist. Neither were his devotions the repeating of certain fixed prayers, word for word, the formula five times a day, like the Muslims. No. There was liveliness and passion and movement in his prayer, his own spirit reaching out to God. There were times when the Lord Jesus could pray with loud cries to God, “Hallelujah! . . . God have mercy . . . God help me!” And then there would sometimes be weeping; he was very involved in the people he brought to God in prayer and earnest about the situation he faced and the future. There was nothing formulaic or mechanical about our Lord’s praying. Jesus prayed in his prayer!
More than that; there were numbers of such occasions when Jesus didn’t mind people overhearing his prayers, but he wouldn’t start praying aloud in a room in Peter’s house at dawn and wake everyone up. He loved his sleeping neighbour as his awakened self. But there were occasions when he didn’t mind at all that there were people listening to him as he spoke to his Father. Remember how he prayed aloud at the grave of Lazarus after he had told them to take away the stone. This is what he said, “Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’” (Jn. 11:41&42). You understand? He prayed aloud, “Thank you God for hearing me. I don’t take your hearing me for granted. I am expressing my gratitude aloud because I want the people here to know that it was you my Father who sent me into the world and that is why I can raise the dead. I want them all to believe on you. Bless these words of prayer now to bring them to faith.” We have all known of people invited to a church meeting who came into faith and conviction through hearing the pastor praying rather than hearing the pastor preaching.
So Jesus was conscious that everyone was listening to him and he might draw those who heard into his petition – or he might not. Do you remember that even in the most sacred of all Jesus’ praying, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he didn’t mind the fact that Peter, James and John could all hear the actual contents of his praying? So I am getting from that that we ourselves can pray (at times) like that, giving some explanation to people in the prayer meeting what we are doing while we are in the act of praying and they are listening to us and praying with us. Perhaps we are seeing the doctor or a solicitor or having an interview for a job in the coming week, and what our concerns are and we pray and we say to the people listening (because God knows), why we are praying this prayer. I think we have warrant from Jesus’ prayer for an occasional part of praying to be like that, but not too much, because it introduces a horizontal dimension into what is a vertical activity. We mustn’t abuse our time in God’s presence when others are listening and praying with us because prayer above all else is the worship of God. What characterized Jesus’ praying most of all was his reverent submission to God. “He was heard because of his reverent submission,” says that verse in the letter to the Hebrews. A Christian has a bad accident; while he is actually doing something to help someone else he falls and hurts himself seriously. What a fearful providence. How does he pray afterwards? That is more important than what he prays for. He prays for healing and restoration, of course, for the doctor to do a good job in the treatment, yes of course, but most important of all is the spirit he shows in his praying after such a fearful providence. It is to be one of reverent submission.
So the Lord Jesus went away from Peter’s home to pray in a solitary place, but someone was outside the house waiting, even at dawn, and Jesus was spotted going, and that person followed him to the quiet spot and then he went and disclosed the site to others; soon the place was solitary no longer. They wanted him to do things for them that day and that week. They had plans for Jesus. Who wouldn’t want a doctor with 100% success rate staying on perpetually in Capernaum? “He mustn’t ever leave us,” they were thinking. How different they were from the people of Nazareth who heard Jesus preach and wanted to kill him. “Stay!” the Capernaumites cried, and then we come to these words of our text, “But he said, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.’ And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.”
Do you see this vivid picture? Luke is telling us about the Galilean ministry of the Lord Jesus which lasted about two years. Many of his miracles and the incidents described in the gospels – so well known to Christians – took place at this time and in this way. Christ walked into a community accompanied by the Twelve. He discovered where the local synagogue was, and perhaps he introduced himself to the synagogue ruler. Then on the Sabbath day he was there, getting to his feet in the service he was handed a scroll of the Scriptures and he read a portion to them. Then Jesus sat down and began to preach. That was the public announcement of his arrival in a community. His ministry was not furtive, done in a dark corner. Jesus was there! He would stay there a few days, answering their questions, healing their sick, going to their homes and eating with them. Perhaps he stayed a week or two, and then he moved on to another village or town and there he repeated that strategy. He kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea. They were there; he used them. There are chapels and churches in our land; let’s use them. Young men get into a church and begin to teach the Bible. They may receive you, but if they reject you, then don’t despair for they also rejected your Lord. You brush the dust off your feet and move on. That was the experience of the Son of God. It was a dynamic ministry.
That is what Luke wants us to understand, and it tells us that when God sent his Son into the world it was not principally to heal or to do miracles. It was to speak, to teach us who God is, what is wrong with man’s heart, how we can be saved, what is the good life and how we may live it, what lies after death, how we can inherit eternal life, and so on. The theme of that entire message can be summarized like this, “the good news of the kingdom of God” (v.43). In whatever synagogue the people of Galilee and Judea heard the Lord Jesus (and at the end of those two years virtually the entire Jewish population, tens of thousands of men and women, young and old, would have heard his constant preaching), this one message of ‘the kingdom of God’ had been presented to them again and again. And to sustain such intense activity the evangelist wants us to appreciate that Christ also prayed. There was in fact an essential link between these two activities. Our Lord couldn’t preach without praying, and he couldn’t pray for the spread of God’s kingdom without preaching that message. Jesus had gone to pray in quiet in order to preach in public this good news. That is one great lesson we must gain from this passage.
2. THE PRAYING JESUS PREACHED GOOD NEWS OF GOD’S KINGDOM.
The Christian is a citizen of God’s kingdom. I have a dual citizenship; I am a member of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and I am also a member of the kingdom of God. That is not a geographical or a political or a territorial entity. It is the assertion and application of God’s redeeming power, might and love in this world, specifically in my small town of Aberystwyth. I know that I have an allegiance to both those kingdoms. I cannot be a faithful Christian without being a faithful citizen of the kingdom of God, and I cannot be a faithful Christian if I should deliberately break the laws of the United Kingdom, because the powers that be have been ordained by God.
This theme, “the kingdom of God” – what a magnificent phrase it is – runs throughout the Bible. It certainly must refer to the sovereignty of God. It must be speaking of his power and authority, that God rules over every single thing in heaven and earth. The Old Testament is full of references to God’s mighty dominion over the worlds he has made. For example, we overhear king David praying and he cries, “Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all” (I Chron, 29:11). Then the Psalmist says the Lord in Psalm 45, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever: a sceptre of justice will be the sceptre of your kingdom” (Psa. 45:7). The psalmist is strengthening his heart when the Babylonians or the Assyrians or the Egyptians are gathering their armies along the border and preparing to march into the land. This fact of God being a king with his powerful reign is the psalmist’s magnificent hope. There is a throne they cannot pull down, a rule which is always triumphant. David rejoices in this in Psalm 103 saying, “The Lord has established his throne in the heaven and his kingdom rules over all” (Psa. 103:19). Or again Daniel, surrounded by all the power and might of the kingdom of Babylon, comforts himself with the reality of God’s kingdom, “His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him” (Dan. 7:27). So my point is that this was no new message when Jesus appeared. The Jews knew that Jehovah, the sovereign Lord of the Old Testament, ruled in heaven and earth. It was their comfort.
In the New Testament Jesus opens up this theme, in fact his first recorded sermon – as was also the first sermon of John the Baptist – was this text, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt. 3:2) and in the passage of Scripture before us Jesus summarises his whole message to mankind as “the good news of the kingdom of God” (v.43). So I am saying this, that the kingdom of God is God’s loving, protecting, guiding rule over favoured men and women. I serve the Lord. I do his will because I am under his rule. I am in God’s kingdom. What an honour! What glory! There are hundreds of thousands, probably millions, who want to become members of the United Kingdom. These would-be legal immigrants would consider that citizenship such an honour. I have that honour, but I have a greater one. I am a member of the kingdom of God! At this moment we Christians are being provided for, and guarded, and taught, and strengthened by our Sovereign Jesus. He is doing this now in all the citizens of his kingdom. That is taking place here in the world right now.
There are some here who are becoming Christians, or as we would say using biblical language, they are experiencing a birth from above and that is the only way anyone can become a true child of God. The new birth by the Spirit of God brings sinners across an iron curtain, an unpassable border, guarded, mined, patrolled from land and air, which separates the kingdom of darkness from the kingdom of God. No slight decision can bring people across that border at their whim and fancy. They’ll never cross the mine-fields. Only a birth from above can do it. A very moral, religious man named Nicodemus came to Jesus one night and he began by complementing Christ. The Lord said to him very quickly, “‘no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’ ‘How can a man be born when he is old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born! Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit’ (Jn.3:3-5).
To enter this kingdom is by an invitation and an action of God, by a mysterious inward change of disposition, the Spirit gives life where there was death, and illumination where there was darkness, and cleansing of our guilty stains. He enables us to believe the message of the gospel; he gives us the faith to trust in Jesus Christ. After God has dealt with us by the new birth sin no longer reigns over us. We have left his dark kingdom; now God rules over us. We are in his kingdom. Often this change of rule occurs quite secretly and gently so that it may be months or even years for a man to know that he has gained dual citizenship, that he truly belongs to a heavenly kingdom as well as to his own nation. You think of the slowness of the change in Jesus’ own disciples from the first moment they knew him to the time they had overcome all their doubts and fears and were ready to lay down their lives for him. That took three years in all of them. So the kingdom of God is God reestablishing his rule over rebellious sinners, but more than that it is recreating the image of God in them.
In the Old Testament the kingdom of God was largely limited to peoples in the land of Israel, but in the New Testament the kingdom spreads from Jerusalem through Judea and into Samaria and out and out to the ends of the earth. We can assist the spread of the kingdom in a number of ways, by praying, “thy kingdom come,” and by preaching the good news of the kingdom, and by living the life of the kingdom which is described for us in the Bible. It is described in majestic detail in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapters five, six and seven. In other words if you are talking the talk of the kingdom of God you also have to walk the walk of the kingdom of God.
3. WHEN PRAYING JESUS CAME, THE KINGDOM OF GOD WAS NEAR.
So when Jesus is baptized, and the Spirit of God comes upon him, then he starts to preach on this theme of the kingdom of God and he tells them that it is near – the final phase of the kingdom has actually begun. There is no way it can be contained. It is going to spread all over the world. The international kingdom of God is near. It is going to burst through the boundary walls of Israel and the Old Testament and it is going to pour out and out and fill the world. Jesus has come, and the kingdom of God was beginning a new and dramatic stage. Even distant Wales would soon hear of the King who had come from heaven to set up his kingdom. The Spirit of God was going to be poured out on the world and Wales was going to be changed. All the remarkable words of Jesus and the astounding miracles he performed demonstrated that a new order had come into operation in our world. When demons were cast out it was obvious that a new power was at work. Redemption and the life of heaven were evidenced in all Jesus’ miracles. The curse of death was being reversed. God was on the move in a new way, and the winter of mankind’s discontent had begun to move backwards.
That is where all Christians are now living, in this state of tension. The kingdom of God is already here in Aberystwyth, but it is not yet in the full form of that kingdom. “Already . . . but not yet . . .” It is present at its beginnings, but its wonderful fullness none of us is going to see until the world ends when every Christian will see it. You can compare the present state of the kingdom to an airport like Heathrow; they have been busy for ten years building the vast Terminal 5 and yet at the same time they have to run the other terminals and move in and out the millions of passengers without making any mistakes. The kingdom is a divine work in progress; the plan is one of future magnificence; eye has not seen nor ear heard of the glory of the coming kingdom. That is the divine blueprint and as God goes for that goal working with struggling believers in the world today he is making no mistakes. Look around you today at the Christians here, old and young, and think of the backgrounds that many have come from, and how God has delivered them. This is a glorious example of the kingdom of God, but you know that we also have our tensions and difficulties in the congregation. So the kingdom of God is already here, yes, but not yet in its full form. We are hoping one day to love one another perfectly in a better place, and there in the heavenly kingdom this kingdom of God will be consummated. We are living in the last days of absolute critical tension between the first coming of Christ and his second coming. That is exactly where we are right now. We are those upon whom the ends of the world have come.
So we are being told that our involved Lord went about preaching and his theme was, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” Indeed, what these words really mean is this, “The King is come!” That is what Christ is saying. “All these years, all those centuries, all these millennia you have been waiting for the kingdom of God to be established. Now here is the good news. It has come; the King himself has come; he is here.” All the Old Testament saints were living and dying in that hope. The Old Testament closes on that same note with the prophet Malachi saying to us, “The Lord will come to his temple. Jehovah is coming.” That is where the Old Testament ends, and here is where the New Testament begins, “The Lord has arrived! The King has come!” That was the message of Jesus, that those how heard him were being confronted with the outbreak of the kingdom of God, by the presence of the King. That is why the whole thing is so critical and decisive. “You are living in the age of fulfillment. The King has come.” In what ways? How is it true that the King has come?
i] The King Has Come into Our Human Nature.
The King is no longer an external observer of humanness. He is no longer peering down at us through the divine microscope; he is now one of us on the microscopic plate and alongside us. He has come right into the race. He has laid hold of the seed of Abraham. He has taken our nature. He has become flesh. He has entered in the most unqualified and most glorious way into all that it means to be a human being. He has taken a human body with all its weaknesses and all its sensitivity to pain, all its frailties and all its vulnerability. The King has taken a human soul; the King has taken a human psychology. The King knows what it is to have a human mind; he knows what it is to have human desires; the King knows what it is to have a man’s aspirations and longings; the King knows what it is to make human decisions with only limited information. The King knows what it is to have human relationships, human love, human friendships, human parents, human brothers and sisters, human associations, human enemies. He knows what it is to have human feelings and human emotions. The King rejoices; the King is contented; the King grieves; the King fears; the King is troubled in his own spirit; the King is alarmed; the King is amazed.
The Word has become flesh; God has become man. He has come right into the inside. The King has a human anatomy; the King has a human physiology; the King has human chromosomes; the King has entered the bloodstream of the human race; the King has come into the very substance of his own mother. The King has gone through all the various stages of our own humanness, foetal, infantile, childhood, adolescent, manhood. The King has grown, and he has grown physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The King has come right inside the human race, and right inside our humanness, and that is the basis for the great prophetic word of the psalmist when he said, “He remembers we are dust, and he knows our frame.” He remembers what it is to be human because he himself was to become human. So he knows what it is to have a human frame, how it creaks and groans, limps and trembles, because the King has come right into the inside. He has laid hold of all our inadequacies, and also laid hold of our being fearfully and wonderfully made. There is this wonderful news of the kingdom of God that the King has come.
ii] The King Has Dwelt Amongst Us.
Not only has he taken our nature but the King has set up his royal marquee in The Valley of the Shadow Camp Grounds alongside our tents. The King has come into our low condition with all its circumstances. He has come into a time in human history, and a place in this planet’s geography with all its particularity. He has set up his dwelling place not in an acre of Eden but right into the midst of the human struggle. He has spread his banner over sinners, so that the King has known pain, and the King has known poverty, and the King has known political oppression. The King has known manual toil, what it is to eat one’s bread in the sweat of one’s brow. The King has known human temptation; he has known human fear. The King has come across the bodies of babies in Bethlehem with their mothers weeping, and the bodies of men crucified outside Jerusalem. The King has come into the seething mass of struggling Jewish humanity under the heel of an alien Roman power. The King has come under false religion with the unsupportable burdens of Pharisaic do’s and don’t’s in all their humbug and their pretentious religiosity. Christ has come there where the sweat was, and the blasphemy was, and the hypocrisy, and the unbelief, where a woman is shamed by being dragged into public and threatened with stoning for her adultery just to embarrass the King. That is where the King came. He was not immune to all that or above all that.
He is the great picture and model for the church in all the ages. That is where Keith Underhill lives in Nairobi, where many Kenyans would not choose to live, areas you move out of, improving yourself and your family with upward mobility. You leave behind those who cannot afford to live anywhere else, but the King came where the vulnerable lived, and the homeless and the resourceless and the exposed lived. That is where he set up his tent, not in self-righteous detachment from the oppressed but right in the midst of people who have no spokesman, and no defender, and no protecter. That is where the King was and where we have to be.
iii] The King Has Come into Our Sin.
Now hear me with the utmost carefulness. The King was absolutely sinless. He knew no sin, none in his personality, none in his heart, none in the structures of his being, none in anything he thought, none in anything he said, none in anything he did. In this King, unlike any other king, there was no fallenness, no corruption, no darkness at all, and yet this very perfect King came into our sin. He became the great bearer of our sin; the King used his might to carry our sins; the King answered for our guilt; the king laid down his life as a sacrifice for our tresspasses because at last the King is found not simply inside our own genetic code and amidst our own human squalor but in our own human accursedness. Where did men come across this King? What was his throne? It was a cross and he was nailed up there between two criminals. Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews. He was numbered with the transgressors. He was under the wrath of God. The King was expelled from the fellowship of man and God into the far country. The King was beaten and bruised by the recoil of the rectitude of God. The King becomes the great reject; the King becomes the spiritual exile; the King becomes the banished one.
There is not a greater anomaly in the universe than the cross. We have become so familiar with it that we have cosmeticized it and cushioned it and decorated it and covered over its sheer ugliness, its blood and brutality and gore and filth and shame. This is the greatest question you must ask; what is God’s own appointed King doing there? Why is the Prince of Peace hanging on a cross? Why is the Son of God under all that disgrace, his glory veiled, his deity obscured? Why are they crucifying the King, he, of all men? The great answer is this, that he who was Daniel’s glorious prophesied figure, the Son of Man, came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. The King has come into our humanness, into our squalor and into our sin. The King has born our guilt. He has borne the indefensibleness of my life, so that by his obedience all my disobedience is covered.
I would ask you, what about yours? Assuming that I am now addressing sinners . . . maybe one or two here? There are some who acknowledge they are less than perfect, who know that their lives are indefensible. I am saying to you that the King has come to bear your sins. The King offers to carry the weight of your load, of your pretentiousness, of your infidelities, of your defiances, or your failures, of your backsliding. No matter how great the weight the King has come to take it on himself and carry it far away.
There is nothing more personal than sin. It is always my sin; it is not transferable to any other human being, and yet the majestic spotless King of love says, “Let me bear it.” For those of you today who have no case to answer before God I have no good news of the kingdom. I have nothing at all for moral men and women. To the successful, and the accomplished, and the capable who can handle it all alas I have no good news. To those who have never failed, never broken their word, never let God down, never let their neighbour down, you have no need of the good news I preach. You don’t need me and you don’t need my King, but for the ones who see things differently, and who know there are blots, and who know that there is no defence I have good news. To those who know that our past needs a covering, a veil, an obliteration, then I have good news. The King has a wonderful robe and it covers all who come to him, for this King has come, and borne our sin in his own body on the tree. There can be just one place where your sin is today. It is either on you, or it is on the King hanging on the cross. There is no other place it can be.
iv] The King Continues to Preach the Same Message Today.
We are told that Jesus said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” (v.43). The King will never stop speaking to favoured sinners. Are there sinners in another town? Then he will send his servants to preach the good news of the kingdom to them, from Jerusalem into Judea, into Samaria and to towns in the uttermost corners of the earth. When they go they will never go alone because he says that he will be with them always as they go teaching all nations about the King. So it means here and now the good news of the kingdom of God is being spoken to me and to you by this great King, really speaking, authoritatively speaking, and cordially speaking. The King is not addressing us today from the squalid streets of first century Palestine, but from the right hand of the majesty on high, from the very midst of his throne. The King reigns over the whole world; he upholds all things; he guides and governs every movement of every particle of mass or energy, whether it is the movement of the galaxies, or the flight of the sparrow. This King is holding in his hands the aggregate of all those forces that pulsate in this glorious universe.
There is a King of love who today reigns in triumph, and reigns in compassion. This King can be touched with the feelings I carry with me of my weakness and infirmity. This King, with all his glorious authority sits in heaven and does whatsoever he pleases, yet today he is beholding our town and is saddened by the sight. That King speaks and he is here with good news for you. He is not here because I am here but because he has said that where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I. We are enjoying an audience with the King in so far as his Word is here, and that Word is living, and that Word is powerful.
So I am saying to you that the preaching King has come here with good news, the same King who came all those centuries ago into our molecular structure and into our squalor, and into our sin, that this same King has found this town, and this congregation. Here he has come to join us in thus humble building. He says, “Come to me.” He raises his sceptre and beckons us to approach him. “Then I will give you rest,” he says. He says those words today with all the compassion born of the manger, born of the streets of Nazareth and the hovels of Palestine. He says that with all the realism born of that terrible knowledge the King has gained on Calvary and its environs.
This King says to you, “Come! Come to me where I am, no longer where I was on a cross, but where I now reign as the living, dominant, invincible Saviour.” That King is the one also here. Are you prepared to bow down before him? The God of the universe – he is here. These words of invitation are his words. This coming is his coming, not only the unforgettable advent long ago to Bethlehem, but the real coming of his presence here today. The presence of great royal authority, of royal invitations, of royal commands, of royal promises, and of royal demands. “Come,” says the King.
16th March 2008 GEOFF THOMAS