I recently heard Dr. Richard Pratt (Reformed Theological Seminary, Third Millenium Ministries) speak on the advance of God’s kingdom in the world in preparation for Christ’s final return to rule and reign. Coincidentally, a few days later on a long plane trip, I read through the Gospel of Matthew and noticed how often Jesus and others spoke of the “kingdom of heaven.” So I’d like to chronicle some of the thirty references and make comments on them to remind myself of the existence and nature of this kingdom and to encourage myself and others to look for it in our everyday existence and look forward to it on the day when Christ returns.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the narrative in Matthew is the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven is like.” In these cases the writer uses simile to make his point clear to Jesus’ followers. In other cases, the writer uses metaphor leaving the word “like” unspoken. In still other cases, a parable is used to convey the message. Let’s look at the first instance of this phrase in the book of Matthew.
In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, 2 “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. ” 3 The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said, “He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the LORD’s coming! Clear the road for him!’ ” (Mat 3:1-3 NLT)
The first reference to this kingdom was made by John the Baptist saying that because this kingdom is near, we must repent of our sins and turn to God. John’s message was one of preparation. We must prepare for the coming of the kingdom by turning away from sin and turning toward God.
While studying to prepare for preaching a sermon on this passage some time ago, I discovered a fact about preparing for the coming of a king in the ancient near east. When a king was coming to visit an area of his realm, the inhabitants of that region often “prepared the way” for his coming by improving the roads on which he would travel. If the roads were excessively winding, they would straighten them.If the roads were excessively hilly or mountainous, they would lower them. If the roads held any obstruction, they would be removed. And so on. The inhabitants of the kingdom made it their business to make the coming of the king into their region as easy as possible for him.
In this passage John was pointing to making preparations in our hearts, in our inner lives. Are we breaking down any “mountains” or straightening out any “crooked places” or removing any “obstructions” in our hearts in preparation for Jesus’ coming back into our world, our state, our town, our neighborhood? Will He feel welcome in our home because we are living in a way that pleases Him? Or will he find strife, anger, gossip, unforgiveness, fear or other sin in our lives and our homes? We should instead, turn away from those things by turning toward Him to seek His help to overcome these sins in our daily lives. We should, for example, seek his help to disover the source our anger, perhaps in fear, perhaps in unforgiveness, and be willing to face that fear or forgive the person who has offended us. Also, we should remember that we don’t have to do this alone. After all, who can straighten a winding road or blast out a mountain or remove a large rock by himself? There are wise and experienced members of the body of Christ who are willing to help us if we will but seek them out and ask for their advice and prayers.
King Jesus is coming back one day to our world, his world, not just to visit, but to rule and reign permanently. What kind of preparations are we making for Him in our inner lives? As His followers and loyal subjects in His kingdom, we should be diligently making those preparations every day as if he were coming today.