Three different activities are used in Matthew 4:23 to describe the scope of Jesus’ ministry: teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of heaven, and healing the sick. In the first article of this three-part series, we examined Jesus’ teaching ministry; here we consider his proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew intentionally points out various ways in which the life and ministry of Jesus fulfilled the words of the Old Testament prophets. Especially important for Matthew was the proclamation from the book of the prophet Isaiah that describes the character of the mission of God and his Messiah in the world. We might think of the inspiring words of Isaiah 2:2-4 that reach their climax with the destruction of weapons of war as nations gather in worship of the true God. Or we could consider the messianic passages in Isaiah 9:2-6 and 11:1-9 that describe the renewal of the world under the just and effective reign of God’s new Davidic king. The arrival of the reign of God through his Messiah would bring good news to many who longed for release from their oppressive situations. Matthew found Isaiah 61:1-3 to be especially important for understanding the ministry of Jesus:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory (NRSV).

Promises Fulfilled

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to identify the connections that Matthew saw between these words from the Book of Isaiah and his account of the ministry of Jesus. For example, the reference to the Spirit of the Lord being upon the speaker reminds us of the baptism of Jesus and the descent of the Spirit of God upon Jesus (see Matthew 3:16); the reference to “good news” in Isaiah 61:1 reminds us of the “good news” of the kingdom of heaven that Jesus brings; and the list of those who are the recipients of the good news in Isaiah 61—especially the broken-hearted and those who mourn—anticipates the Beatitudes that will soon follow in Matthew 5:3-12.

Matthew saw these connections between the Old Testament prophets and the life of Jesus as confirmation that with the coming of Jesus the fulfilment of God’s promises had begun. In the case of his summary of Jesus’ ministry, Matthew makes a direct connection with Isaiah 61 in order to confirm for his readers that Jesus stands as the fulfilment of the promises made through the prophet Isaiah. Just a few verses earlier, in Matthew 4:17, the proclamation of the coming of the kingdom of heaven was described by Matthew as the content of Jesus’ public message.

The church must do as Jesus did: keep the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of heaven at the centre of mission.

The proclamation of the kingdom moves Jesus’ activity beyond the boundaries of the synagogue where faithful Jews gathered and received instruction. Just as John the Baptist had proclaimed the message of the coming of the kingdom of heaven to the crowds in the wilderness (see Matthew 3:1-10), Jesus now makes the same declaration in the towns and villages of Galilee. The result is that multitudes flock to Jesus (see Matthew 4:24-25). Yet in Matthew’s story of Jesus, the crowds are ambivalent. Sometimes they are receptive to the message and ministry of Jesus; at other times they become hostile toward him. But those who hear the proclamation of the good news and respond to it positively may become disciples and, for Matthew’s readers, members of the church.

The proclamation of Jesus was explosive: the kingdom of heaven, for which Jews had been waiting for centuries, was here! It was life-changing and world changing. The only acceptable response to this proclamation was repentance. With the summons to repentance, both John the Baptist and Jesus were calling the people to move beyond an understanding of repentance as a remorseful, morose attitude. In the Old Testament, the verb that is most often translated as “repent” means simply to turn around, to go in a different direction. In biblical terms, then, repentance is more an action than it is an attitude or emotion. Attitudes undoubtedly lay beneath any outward change, but it is the act of turning, the reorientation of life in all its aspects, that marks repentance. The proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of heaven announces that the times are turning and so, too, must the people.

God’s Intervention

Much of the rest of Matthew’s Gospel interprets the significance of the good news of the coming of the kingdom of heaven. This certainly is true in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5-7) in which Jesus spells out the difference that the arrival of the kingdom of heaven makes in the lives of those who follow Jesus. It is also true in the narratives of Jesus’ interactions with a variety of characters. The healings make sense as indications of the presence of the kingdom of heaven. As Jesus says to the followers of John the Baptist who come to him to ask whether Jesus is indeed the Messiah, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matthew 11:4-5 NRSV).

But why is the proclamation of the kingdom of heaven’s approach “good news”? It is good news because it signals that (finally) God is making a demonstrative intervention to ensure that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven (see Matthew 6:10); because God (finally) has sent the long-awaited Messiah, his Son, to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21); and because God no longer remains in the heavens, but rather through the presence of Jesus “God is with us” (see Matthew 1:23). It is good news because the oppressed, the broken-hearted, captives, prisoners and those who mourn will all receive good things from God. The good news of the kingdom that Jesus proclaims is earth-renewing and life-transforming.

Thus, the second major component of Jesus’ ministry is the proclamation of this earth-shattering news that the kingdom of heaven has come near. With the coming of Jesus, the kingdom has come—not in its fullness, but nevertheless in real, tangible ways. The kingdom has been seeded and soon shall sprout. The coming of Jesus, and with him the kingdom of heaven, signals the turning point. The old ways of the world are passing away; the new ways of the kingdom of heaven are sprouting. This is news that must be proclaimed.

Mission and Message

Following in the footsteps of Jesus, the church must continue this ministry of proclaiming the good news of the coming of the kingdom of heaven. After 2,000 years—especially in our world of immediate headlines—this may seem like old news. Perhaps its novelty has worn off; its effect has been blunted. But if we look around us, with eyes open to the injustice, violence and vitriolic discourse, surely the good news of the kingdom of heaven is needed still.

The failure of the church to embody and live out this good news may be the greatest hindrance to the ability of the crowds to receive the report of the coming of the kingdom of God as “good news.” It has become old news because we have given up its newness. After 2,000 years perhaps we are tired of waiting for the kingdom of heaven to come fully. We busy ourselves with distractions; we turn inward and waste precious resources on maintenance of the structures of the church. But this is not our mission; it is not our message. It is not the ministry given to us by Jesus himself.

The church must do as Jesus did: keep the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of heaven at the centre of mission. We must proclaim “good news” rather than fear; hope rather than despair; and the kingdom of heaven rather than the kingdom of…. You fill in the blank.

This is the second in a series of three articles on the integrated ministry of Jesus. In our final article, we will turn our attention to the third component of the ministry of Jesus: the healing of every sickness.

Dr. Donald E. Burke is a professor of biblical studies at Booth University College in Winnipeg.

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On Tuesday, March 1, 2022, Lorne Pritchett said:

Excellent article. I love the focused call to action in the final paragraphs. Thanks Don!

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