The Setting For the Sermon on the Mount

Matthew 4:23-25

Tom Pennington  •  September 18, 2011
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This week I came across some interesting statistics that are really staggering. There are about 225 countries and territories that exist on earth today, and about seven billion people. Now that number just sort of rolls off the tongue, but it's actually a staggering number. Just to put one billion in perspective: a billion seconds is the equivalent of about 31 years. So a billion seconds ago, it was 1979. A billion minutes is the equivalent of about 1901 years, so a billion minutes ago, it was 110 AD. So seven billion is a lot of people. But even though there are some seven billion people on planet earth and there are some 225 territories and countries, from God's perspective, it's much simpler. From His perspective there are really only two kingdoms that exist on earth; only two kingdoms. Paul alludes to them in Colossians 1:13 when he says to the church in Colosse, God rescued us from the domain of darkness–from the kingdom of darkness over which Satan is king and reigns. And transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son–the kingdom over which Christ rules and reigns. Do you understand that there are only two kingdoms—only those two? And there have always been only those two? That every single person who has ever lived in the history of the world has belonged to one of those two kingdoms. Every one of the seven billion people on planet earth today belongs to either the domain of Satan and darkness, or to the kingdom of God's beloved Son. Let me make it more personal. Every single person here this morning—you belong to one of those kingdoms or the other. We are all born into the domain of darkness, into the kingdom of Satan. Our Lord made that clear in John 8 when He said, "you are of your father, the devil". We're all born into that kingdom—the kingdom and domain of darkness. But by God's grace some of us have been transferred out of that kingdom into a new kingdom—the kingdom over which Jesus Christ is Lord.

So, several questions immediately arise. How do you get out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom over which Jesus rules? And how do you know, as you sit here today, which kingdom you actually belong to? And if you already truly belong to Jesus' kingdom, how are you supposed to live, in that kingdom? Well, Jesus answers all of those questions in the passage that we begin to study today. This morning, it is my great joy and delight for us to begin together our journey through Jesus' most famous sermon. We call it the Sermon on the Mount because in Matthew 5:1, our translation says He went up on the mountain, and sitting down, He taught them. The Sermon on the Mount is the most famous sermon Jesus ever preached. In fact, it's the most famous sermon ever preached by anyone, because in some way, the truth that Jesus taught in these three chapters has touched all of western civilization, and through the west, much of the rest of the world as well. Augustine called this sermon a perfect standard of the Christian life. John Donne, the English poet and pastor described it this way: "as nature has given us certain elements and all our bodies are composed of them, and art has given us a certain alphabet of letters and all words are composed of them, so our blessed Savior, in these three chapters of this gospel, has given us a sermon of text, of which all our sermons may be composed. All the articles of our religion, all the canons of our church, all the injunctions of our princes, all the homilies of our fathers, all the body of divinity (in other words all of theology) is in these three chapters in this one sermon." This Sermon on the Mount is recorded in two places for us in the New Testament. One is in Luke chapter six and the other is in Matthew chapters five, six, and seven. Obviously Matthew's account is the longest, and yet even his account is not complete. If you read the Sermon on the Mount out loud from Matthew's gospel, it will take you somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes. Jesus' actual sermon would have been much longer than that—probably the better part of a day. Some even believe, maybe over a couple of days. We can't be sure. But what we can be sure of is that what we have recorded for us in Matthew and Luke are, in fact, brief summaries. Even Matthew's account is greatly abridged, greatly condensed, so it bears our giving a great deal of time to, over the coming months to sort of unfold its riches.

I want to begin this morning by reminding us of how this sermon fits into the flow of Matthew's gospel. How exactly does the Sermon on the Mount fit into the basic flow and theme of Matthew? Well, Matthew, as you may remember, wrote his gospel to the Jews. His purpose was to present Jesus of Nazareth as the long-awaited Messiah of Israel, the rightful king, the promised descendant of David, who would be the king to end all kings. You see this right away. Turn back to Matthew 1. Matthew begins his gospel "the record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham." And then he unfolds his genealogy. Down in verse 17, he comes back to this. He finishes the genealogy with these words "these generations existed from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, (that is Jesus. Verse 18) "Now the birth of Jesus Messiah was as follows:" So the theme of this account of Jesus' life, then, is to present Jesus as the Messiah, the rightful king of all. And Matthew begins to develop that theme immediately. In chapter 1 he records Jesus' genealogy. A king has to be in the right line. He has to have the birthright to rule, and so he shows that, in fact, He descends from David as the Old Testament prophesied the Messiah would, and ultimately from Abraham, as God had promised Abraham the good news would come through his descendant. In chapter one he continues with the birth of the king, His miraculous conception and His birth. In chapter two Matthew tells us that shortly after Jesus' birth, within a two year period, Magi, wise men from the east came, kingmakers from the east. They came and acknowledged and bowed down before Jesus saying that he was, in fact, the legitimate king of Israel. And they gave him gifts, documenting that claim and that prophesy. At the same time, the usurper who sat on the throne of Israel at the time, a man named Herod, tried to do everything he could to kill the rival for the throne. In chapter three, Matthew introduces us to the promised forerunner. The Old Testament said before Messiah came there would be a forerunner, and we find out he's a man named John the Baptist, the advance messenger of the king, who comes for two reasons. One, to spiritually prepare the hearts of the people for the arrival of the king, and to publicly identify the Messiah. John the Apostle tells us in John 1 that John the Baptist did exactly that. He saw Jesus and said, there he is. There's the son of God. There's the Messiah. There's the one who was promised to come.

That brings us to Matthew 4. The first 11 verses of Matthew 4 document the testing of the king—the temptation of the king–a series of tests of his moral character over 40 days, and he passes that test of his moral character with flying colors. Unlike the first Adam, who was put in the best of circumstances—a wonderful garden, with everything in the world he could possibly want, and failed, the second Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, was placed in the wilderness for 40 days with nothing, and he passed all the tests. He had the moral character to be the Messiah and Israel's king. In Matthew 4:12-17, the king begins his public life. And He establishes his residency in a town called Capernaum, in Galilee. Verses 18- 22, He begins to hand pick his court, those men who would, on His ascension, serve as His official representatives. In 4:23-25, (the last several verses of chapter 4) we have a summary of His public ministry. And that leads immediately, then, into chapter 5, 6, and 7—the Sermon on the Mount.

Today, I want us to back up and take a running start at the Sermon on the Mount by looking at Matthew 4:23-25. These three verses are really fascinating in a couple of ways. First of all, they're fascinating because in these three verses, Matthew summarizes for us almost two full years of Jesus' public ministry. In 4:17, Jesus begins his ministry. That was probably in the fall of 26 AD. Then in 5:1-2, Jesus preaches this famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. When you lay the chronology of the gospels together—and by the way, Matthew doesn't present his material in primarily chronological form, but more in topical form–you have to look at the other gospels to sort of lay over the life of Christ and put together a chronology. And when you do that, you discover that the Sermon on the Mount came in what was probably fall of 28 AD. Regardless, it was some two years after Jesus began His ministry. So in these three verses, Matthew summarizes, really, two years of Jesus' public ministry. The other thing that fascinates me about these three verses is that, in these verses, Matthew introduces the next two major sections of his book. In verses 23-25 he mentions two primary aspects of Jesus' public ministry—his teaching and preaching; and then in chapters 5,6, and 7, he gives us this wonderful sample of Jesus' teaching and preaching. He also mentions, in this summary, Jesus' healing ministry, and in chapters 8 and 9, he gives us samples of Jesus' amazing healing ministry.

So these are foundational verses for Matthew. Look at them with me. Matthew 4: 23-25.

Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.

Now those verses have a crucial connection to the Sermon on the Mount. They show us why the Sermon on the Mount was necessary in Jesus' day, and why it continues to be still so important in our day. They provide the setting for the sermon, and help us understand what Jesus intended to accomplish. Now how does this passage do that? Well in Matthew 4: 23-25, that I just read for you, Matthew helps us to understand the three compelling reasons behind the Sermon on the Mount–the three compelling reasons Jesus had to preach this sermon. First, because Jesus' great priority is teaching. That's the first reason this sermon had to happen. Look at verse 23. "Jesus was going throughout all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people" That verse summarizes what Bible scholars call the Great Galilean ministry, in which Jesus, you'll notice at the beginning of verse 23, "was going throughout all Galilee". Now Galilee was not a particularly large area. It was about 40 miles wide by 70 miles long. But Josephus tells us that in that area that we call Galilee, there were some 204 cities and towns and villages. And a number of those cities had more than 15,000 people each. That's about the population of the city of Southlake. We know that in that larger Galilean region, there were at least 300,000 people and probably less that Josephus's estimate of 3 million. So there were a lot of people to whom Jesus ministered, and he traveled all around. If Jesus visited two or three of those towns a day, it would take him more than three months to visit them all, even without a day off.

Now notice the emphasis of Jesus' public ministry as he traveled around all of Galilee and those 200 plus towns. It's captured in three activities here in verse 23. First of all, teaching in their synagogues. It was very common in the first century for a visiting rabbi to be asked to teach on the Sabbath. Especially a rabbi as well known and popular as Jesus had become. He would do, (and we have a model for this in what he did in his home town of Nazareth) the scripture would be read–He would often read it as he did the scroll of Isaiah that day. And the scroll would be set aside, and he would teach from that passage. What Jesus did in the synagogues was essentially biblical exposition. It's what happened from the day of Ezra on, when the word would be read and then it would be explained; the sense of it would be given. That was Jesus' ministry week after week after week on the seventh day, as He traveled all over Galilee. He taught in their synagogues. You get a glimpse of this over in Mark's gospel. Turn to Mark 1. We saw this when we started studying Mark's gospel, now many months ago. Notice in Mark 1:21, they went into Capernaum. That's where Jesus established His home base of operations, and "immediately on the Sabbath, He entered the synagogue and began to teach. They were amazed at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." That was on the Sabbath. Later that day, you remember after sunset they brought these crowds of people. The whole city showed up, basically, bringing their sick because they heard what Jesus had done for Peter's mother-in-law, after He'd gotten home from the Sabbath service. So they bring all of these people. And notice what happens. That's late into the night. Verse 35–early the next morning, " . .while it was still dark, Jesus got up and left the house and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there." Here you see the priority of prayer in the life of Jesus. After a busy night of ministry, He's up early to pray. "Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and said everyone is looking for You." Jesus, you're missing an opportunity to capitalize on the popularity of the previous night. Everybody wants you. Let's ride the crest. And He said to them, verse 38 "Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby" It's interesting because that word towns (the Greek word for towns) is used only here in the New Testament. Literally translated, it means the village cities. Capernaum was the largest polis—the largest city—in that entire Galilean region, and Jesus wants to leave the city and go to the smaller towns—towns large enough to have synagogues (which required ten adult Jewish men.) He said let's go. And notice why. So that I can teach the Bible there also. Verse 38, "so that I may preach there also; (and notice how He ends it) for that is what I came for." To do what? To preach, to teach the word of God. And so that's what they did. Verse 39 ". . .He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons." So, Jesus gave Himself, in His ministry, to teaching in the synagogues, to biblical exposition in the synagogues.

Now back in Matthew 4:23 there's another activity that consumed Jesus' ministry—proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. Since it's contrasted with what Jesus did in the synagogues, this probably refers to His teaching ministry out in the open air, when large crowds showed up. The Greek word for proclaiming here is kerusso. The new Testament authors use at least 33 different words for teaching or preaching. Kerusso is the main one—the primary one. It's normally translated, either as it is here I proclaim, or I preach. It means to be a herald, to officiate as a herald, to proclaim after the manner of a herald. In fact, a related Greek noun was used to refer to a powerful government official who was appointed to speak at town gatherings on behalf of the ruler. In other words, he was the official representative. The town gathered together, the king couldn't go everywhere. The leader—the ruler of the nation couldn't go everywhere, so he sent an official representative. That official representative stood in his place and heralded the king's message. It was always with a sense of formality, gravity, and authority, that must be both heard and obeyed. Jesus heralded. Notice what He was heralding, the gospel of the kingdom. This undoubtedly was the content both of His ministry in the synagogues as well as out in the open air. It was the gospel of the kingdom. The word gospel, as you know, simply means good news. But what was the good news about? Notice, it was the good news of the kingdom. Now, you can see this developed a little bit back up in 4:17. From that time, from the time of His hearing about John and the beginning of His ministry, Jesus began to preach. And this is what He said: "repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." There, is a summary of Jesus' gospel of the kingdom—His good news about the kingdom. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven, or Matthew also uses kingdom of God, (the other synoptic gospels use kingdom of God) is at hand. It's here. The kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God—the realm over which God rules—has come near. The verb is at hand or has come near is used primarily of near in space. Jesus is saying this. The good news is that you can get into God's spiritual kingdom, the one over which I reign, and into His eternal kingdom forever. You can be a part of God's kingdom. You who are currently part of Satan's kingdom can be a part of God's kingdom.

Now the message of the kingdom that Jesus offers here implies several things. It implies sin, because it implies you're not part of God's kingdom now. In fact, you are part of the domain of Satan, as Jesus said, "you are of your father the devil and the works of your father you will do." Every single person who's born into the world is born under the reign and dominion of Satan, without exception. You are no exception. I am no exception. Jesus came with the good news that even though you aren't part of God's kingdom now, you can be. That meant forgiveness. You can be a part of God's kingdom even though you have been a rebel against your rightful king. Even though you've lived your life in rebellion against Him. That implies atonement, doesn't it? It implies that somehow, God has made a way for those who were rebels against Him as their rightful king to be forgiven in spite of His justice, and to be reconciled with Him. Such good news calls for a profound response. So how do you get into the kingdom? Look back at verse 17. Repent. Repent. If you want to enter God's kingdom, you must turn from your rebellion against your rightful king. And if you refuse to do that, you will continue to live in the reign of Satan and the domain of darkness. This was the message Jesus preached throughout His ministry. Look at Mark 1. Again, Mark summarizes Jesus' message. Mark 1:14 "Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the good news that had its source in God." And here's what He said. Verse 15. "The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand;" It's drawn near. So repent and believe that good news. Jesus came teaching biblical exposition in the synagogues, and preaching in the open air. And the message that he brought was the message of the gospel—the good news about the kingdom. You're part of one kingdom by birth, and you will die in that kingdom and face God's justice and his judgment, or if you are willing to repent you can be transferred into the spiritual kingdom that I rule. That was the good news. You can be forgiven, reconciled to the God against whom you've rebelled your entire life.

There's a third activity that was an emphasis of Jesus' public ministry. In Matthew 4:23 you see "healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people." This also was a form of teaching. The word disease, here, refers to an illness or disease—something you catch or some rogue cells produced within your body. Sickness. That word probably refers to weakness or debility. Some kind of disability. In the gospels, we find Jesus healing all of this. We find him healing fevers, and leprosy, paralysis, withered limbs, hemorrhage, deafness, inability to speak, blindness. And he even takes those in whom disease has run its full course and has robbed the life from their human bodies, and He raises them from the dead, reversing the full course of the disease. Jesus healed both diseases and congenital disabilities. As R. T. France writes, "Jesus was no specialist." He could do it all, and He could do it all perfectly. But the question is why. Why did Jesus choose to heal? Certainly it was an expression of His compassion for people. We read that time and time again. But it was also a form of teaching as well. Because Jesus' healing ministry, as we find in other places in the New Testament, confirmed His message. The miracles, as later with the apostles, confirmed the message. And they also illustrated His spiritual power. Now, why was that important? Well, Jesus came into the world, and He claimed that He had the authority to forgive your sins. And He claimed that He could change your heart. He could take out your hard heart against God and give you a heart of flesh that knows God and loves God and wants to please God. That's what Jesus claimed. But you can't see either of those. You can't see forgiveness; you can't see a new heart. However, you can see Jesus' power when in a moment of time He heals a terrible disease, or He corrects a life-long physical disability. Ever seen a faith-healer restore a withered arm? The point is, Jesus' healing ministry leads us to this thought. If He can so radically change and alter the body, then He can transform the soul, as He promised. He can change the human heart as well. So even healing was a form of teaching. What I want you to see then in verse 23 is that teaching was the great priority in our Lord's ministry. So it shouldn't surprise us, when a crowd gathers in Matthew 5, our Lord seized the moment to preach the truth of God. There are times when we, as a church, are criticized for having too much teaching. Listen, we make no apology for that. It was the priority of Jesus. That's what He came to do, He said. It was the priority He gave His apostles, and it was the priority of the early church. It is those churches who have strayed from that priority that have left the New Testament. This sermon had to be preached because the great priority of Jesus was teaching.

There's a second reason Jesus had to preach this sermon. It's because Jesus' great popularity is confusing. Look at verse 24 "The news about Jesus spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics, and He healed them." You see, as Jesus and His disciples traveled throughout Galilee teaching and preaching and healing all of these illnesses and disabilities, word begins to spread. It spreads not only in Galilee, but to all the surrounding areas. And they brought to Jesus all who were ill. Literally all who were having badly. Those who had it bad physically. Suffering with various diseases and pains. Matthew lists a few of the common conditions Jesus had to deal with. The first one not being primarily a physical condition but with physical repercussions—demoniacs. Those who were demonized—who were controlled by the spirits of evil. And in terms of illnesses or debilities, he mentions epileptics—those with recurring seizures for various reasons, and paralytics—those who had part or all of their body paralyzed. And Matthew simply says He healed them. But note that these people came from every possible direction of the compass. Verse 24 says "The news about Him spread throughout all Syria" That's generally north and northeast of Galilee. It's from Damascus over to the Mediterranean, and particularly Tyre and Sidon on the Mediterranean coast. Verse 25 "Large crowds followed Him from Galilee" from that area all around where He was ministering "and the Decapolis." Deca meaning ten, polis meaning city. The ten cities that were mostly east of the Jordan River. They were Hellenized cities. They were filled with both Jewish people and Gentiles who had adopted the Greek lifestyle of Alexander the Great, when he came through that part of the world. Jerusalem, the capital, and the surrounding area, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. That's probably a reference to Perea, which was southeast of Galilee, sort of on the northeast corner of the Dead Sea. So Jews and Gentiles from all the surrounding areas came to hear Jesus and to have him heal their loved ones. Listen to what Luke writes in Luke 6. "Jesus came down with His disciples and stood on a level place (a plateau) and there was a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear Him and be healed of their diseases;"

So at this point in Jesus' ministry, there were large crowds attached to Him. And those crowds created a huge potential for great spiritual confusion. Confusion specifically in dissents. In that massive crowd, who were His disciples, and who were not? Who were His true subjects belonging to His spiritual kingdom, and who was not? Notice Matthew 5:1 "When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came and then He began to teach" So notice, that in verse 1, somehow the large crowds and His disciples, all mingled together, compelled to Jesus to preach this sermon. And throughout this sermon, Jesus keeps cycling back to this issue. Who is just part of the crowd attached to Jesus, and who are truly His subjects? Who are the true citizens of the spiritual kingdom over which he reigns? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus provides very clear insight for us into who is, and who isn't, His. This starts out in 5:3 with the beatitudes, 5:3-12. Jesus says here's what one of my subjects looks like. This is how you identify them. This is how you identify whether or not you are. In 5:20, Jesus says "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into My kingdom." In other words, external and personal righteousness will never get you into Christ's kingdom. And at the end of this sermon—look over at chapter 7–Jesus give a series of warnings. In verses 13 and 14 He says there is a real danger of your missing the real entrance to My kingdom. Then He says there's a danger, in verses 15 and following, of being led astray by false teachers from that entrance. And then He develops the fact that there is a danger of making a profession of being one of My subjects, but having a life that denies that confession. Jesus had to preach this sermon because He didn't want the huge crowd of people who were following Him around to think that they were truly His subjects when in fact, many of them were not.

Now that makes this sermon so appropriate for us today, because we live in a time, and particularly in a place—in America, in the southern tier states, in North Texas—where it's very much like Galilee was, in the second year of Jesus' ministry. Jesus is really, really popular. Most people like Jesus. Most people claim to be attached to Him in some way—they belong to a church–they claim a church. But the problem is this: Whenever Jesus is popular, and whenever the crowds get big, the issue of who really belongs to Him gets very confusing. Do you understand that there are thousands—tens of thousands—probably hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of people in the Metroplex, who think they belong to Jesus because they're loosely attached to Him, but who are still part of the kingdom of darkness? Sadly, there at least dozens, perhaps hundreds of people who attend this church week in and week out, who are attached to Jesus like the crowds were, but who aren't His true subjects, because they've never been willing to repent. They are still living in slavery to their sin, in the domain of darkness, living their lives the way they want to, thinking they are living for themselves, when in reality they are enslaved to their true master, Satan. But they've never embraced Jesus as Lord. We need this sermon in our day to cut through the confusion. It's one thing to say Jesus is Lord. It's another thing to obey Jesus as Lord. It's one thing to friend Jesus. It's another thing to follow Him. Jesus had to cut through the confusion that comes with crowds whenever He's especially popular.

The third reason Jesus needed to preach this sermon is hinted at in verses 23 to 25, but it's mentioned in Matthew 5:1. It's this: Because Jesus' great kingdom is demanding. This sermon had to be preached because all of Jesus' true disciples needed to understand what their king demands of them in this new kingdom to which they belong. Notice 5:1.

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them,

Now what is the antecedent of them, the pronoun them? It's His disciples. And that becomes even clearer in Luke's account. Jesus' primary audience for this sermon was His disciples. There was a large crowd there that day who were His true followers. There were also the twelve. And that's very important because of when this happens. Turn over to Luke's account—Luke 6:12

It was at this time that Jesus went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. And (then the next morning) when day came, He called His disciples to Him (the whole crowd of disciples, those who were His followers) and He chose out of that crowd twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles: (And then the apostles are named. Verse 17:That morning, when Jesus finished appointing those twelve apostles, He came down with all of His disciples, including the twelve) stood on a level place; and there was a large crowd of disciples.

So you have, in addition to the throng mentioned in the rest of verse 17, you have the twelve He had just picked to be His official representatives a few moments before, and a large crowd of His disciples. In verse 20, turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to teach; He began to say. Understand that it all happened together. Jesus prayed through the entire night. The next morning He called all of His disciples together, and out of His followers, He chose twelve of them whom He constituted as His official representatives—His apostles. And then all of Jesus' disciples including the twelve, came down the hill on that same morning, and there, there was a large crowd—a throng from all around—a large crowd of His followers, and the newly selected twelve disciples, all who needed to be trained. So all around Jesus that morning there were those who had truly become His subjects. He was now their rightful king. They were in His spiritual kingdom. But how are those in His kingdom supposed to live? What they need to understand is that whose who belong to the spiritual kingdom over which Christ rules, must live a radically different kind of life from the rest of the people around them. They've changed kingdoms. They've changed kings, and they've changed ways of living. So in this sermon, Jesus explains to His disciples how it is that we are to live in His kingdom, right here, right now, as His spiritual subjects.

So there are the three compelling reasons for the Sermon on the Mount. Because Jesus' great priority is teaching. Because Jesus' great popularity is confusing, and we need to know who is His subject and who isn't. And because Jesus great kingdom is demanding. If you're going to be a part of His kingdom, then you have to live like that. You come in by grace alone, as we'll discover even beginning next week, and you will continue to grow and live by grace, but that grace will enable you to live out the demands of the king, in your life. As we embark on our journey through this great sermon, let me ask you this morning, what kingdom are you in? You were born, as I was, in the kingdom of darkness. So the real question is this. Have you ever come to a point in your life when you have responded the only way Jesus said you could get into His kingdom, which was by repentance. Have you ever truly repented of your sin? Have you ever come to the place where you acknowledged your behavior as rebellion against your rightful king and expressed to God a desire for forgiveness for that rebellion, and a desire to obey Him and to follow His Son? Jesus' spiritual kingdom has come near, but if you want to enter it, you have to repent. Have you ever turned from your sin? If you have, then you are forgiven. A forgiveness only made possible at the cross when Jesus endured God's wrath for your sin. That's the reality we remember in the Lord's table.

Let's bow our heads together. Father, thank You for this magnificent sermon that we're going to get to study together. Lord, I pray, that as we make our way through it, that You would open our eyes to see and to understand. Father, help us to see how it is one gets into this kingdom. Help us to evaluate, based on the evidence Jesus presents, whether we belong to His kingdom or still to the domain of darkness. And Father, those of us who have come to the place of repentance and belief in the gospel, Lord I pray that You would help us to see how we are to live, not in our own strength, not in our own power, but by Your grace and by Your Spirit's strength. We thank You for the amazing reality that You have, in Christ, cared for our sins—that You have made it possible for us who were rebels against Your rightful rule, who willingly, by birth, and willingly dwelt in the realm of Satan and in the shadow of death and darkness, living in that kingdom. You transferred us by sovereign grace into the kingdom of Your beloved Son. Father, we bless You and thank You. Thank You for this reminder of how You did that, only by sacrifice, only by the death of an innocent substitute. Father, we thank You. I pray that you would help us, in the coming weeks and months, as we journey through this magnificent sermon of our Lord. Father may we who have come to know Him, who have repented and believed the gospel, Father may we learn what He expects and demands of us. And Father as we learn it, we pray You give us the grace to live it. Lord, I pray for those here in our church congregation, who, like the crowd that day, have attached themselves to Jesus for all the wrong reasons, but who've never submitted to Him as Lord—who've never embraced Him as their rightful king. Father, I pray that, as they go home today, they would do just that. In the coming weeks and months, Lord, I pray that You would help us to sort out which kingdom it is we belong to and learn how to enter the kingdom of Your beloved Son. We pray it in His great name, Amen.