Jesus’ early years up to now have been surrounded by political turmoil. Herod tries to eliminate him by having the children of Bethlehem slaughtered. His family flees to Egypt for refuge. Following his baptism, Jesus is tempted by the Devil in the wilderness to rely on his self-sufficiency…manipulate God to serve him by the use of Scripture…finally sell his soul for political power. John the Baptist has been imprisoned for challenging Herod Antipas’ immoral conduct. In response to this news, Jesus heads off to Galilee. What is Jesus going to do now?
The political turmoil Jesus faced in many ways is not all that much different from what we face today or that has been faced by countless others through the centuries. Politics is about power: obtaining and keeping it. The methods include lies, silencing the opposition’s voice, fear, manipulation, division, etc. So what does a person or the church do? Do we look out for ourselves and go with the flow? Do we alter the church’s message for influence or the power that comes with wealth? Do we simply sell out? These options aren’t all that promising or very hopeful. In fact, they seem rather dreary. Scripture calls these options darkness. The way we do politics does seem really dark at times.
The Gospel of Matthew (referring to Isaiah 9:1-4) tells that people living in darkness have seen a great light and that those living in the shadow of death a light has shined upon them. Jesus is that light. The message Jesus announced was enough for the brothers Simon (Peter) and Andrew along with the brothers James and John to leave everything behind and take a chance on something new. Jesus’ message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Repent often has the negative connection of judgment and punishment. Repent can also be positive. Repent really is turning around and taking life in a different direction. Matthew uses ‘kingdom of heaven’ instead of ‘kingdom of God.’ Using ‘kingdom of heaven’ gives the impression not so much of a place but a concept. So when Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near,” he was saying, “turn your life around and grab hold of a new idea which is different as light shining in darkness.”
Currently, the political battle rages on with Republican vs. Democrat and conservative vs. liberal. The resulting division in this land leaves us feeling as though we really are in darkness. When tempted by the Devil to opt into the world’s ways, Jesus chose to be the light that shines in the darkness: the kingdom of heaven. His life, death and resurrection has brought to us this light which will unfold in the following verses of Matthew. So how did Jesus start out being a light in the darkness? He brought healing to all who came to him.