“Vision Behind the Sermon” on Matthew 4:12-17 by Joe Ellis - Sept. 4, 2022
In his book “Reformation of the Heart,” Dallas Willard talks about how three things are necessary to pursue and achieve a goal. First you need a Vision, then you need an Intention to pursue it, and then you need a Means of accomplishing the vision. You can remember it with the acronym VIM: Vision, Intention, and Means. In order to reach a goal, you need to have a compelling vision of what that goal actually is. How will things be different if you actually achieve this goal? What would it look like?
For example, if your goal is to be a concert pianist, perhaps your vision would be receiving a standing ovation at the Orpheum after passionately performing Rachmaninoff’s Fifth Piano Concerto. That’s a particular type of Vision. Then you need Intention. Intention involves making a firm resolve to actually pursue the goal. I can daydream about performing all I want, but if I have no intention of practicing piano to pursue the goal, then I’m not going to get anywhere. If I have a grand-vision, but only halfheartedly commit to the vision, then I’m going to pull up way short of actually achieving the vision. Finally, there’s the Means. Means refers to the actions that you will need to do to incrementally work your way closer and closer towards achieving the vision. So, with my vision of being a concert pianist, the means for achieving that vision are pretty obvious — I’ll first need to build a time machine and go way back in time to when I’m not 40, and I am young enough to start training to be a concert pianist — sorry, that’s my mid-life crisis moment creeping in five days after my 40th birthday. Seriously, the means or method of becoming a concert pianist are fairly straightforward: you get training, you practice, and you perform concerts. That’s VIM: Vision, Intention, Means.
Why am I bringing this up? I’m bringing this up because as you may know, we’re starting out on a journey together as a church — over the next while, we are going to be climbing the Sermon on the Mount (you can find it by reading Matthew 5-7). Now, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does at times speak about the Vision, Jesus does at times speak about the need to be Intentional about doing what he says, like the words about building a house on the rocks, but what I think strikes people the most as they read The Sermon on the Mount are Jesus’ words about Means. Jesus has a lot to say about Means — the things we actually need to do.
You’ll hear him talk about about the importance of living without anger or avoiding sexual immorality, you’ll hear him talk about how we should not resist an evil person with violence, you’ll hear him talk about the importance of serving God over money. He has a lot of very practical words about Means. And they’re not easy. Sometimes, when we’re listening to or reading the sermon on the Mount, we can lose sight of the Vision, the goal of the whole thing, and we end up only seeing the Means. We hear only what he tells us to do, and can forget the whole goal for why we’re doing it. When the Means (what we do) become separated from the Vision (why we’re doing it), the words of Jesus begin to feel pretty heavy, a burden. We might think they’re impossible. And if we think they’re impossible, or unrealistic, we’ll never have any real Intent to do them in the first place.
So as we listen to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, it’s hugely important that we remember the vision behind the whole thing — that is, we need to remember why Jesus tells us about these things in the first place. That’s what we’ll talk about today — it’s the Vision that I believe shapes the entire Sermon on the Mount. Next Sunday, we will reflect on the Intention we need to have to follow Jesus, and then the following Sunday we will start climbing up The Sermon on the Mount.
The passage that we just heard about Jesus moving to Capernaum beautifully sets out the Vision, not only for the Sermon on the Mount, but really, the vision for Jesus’ life as a whole. Jesus states it super clearly in Matthew 4:17: “From that time on, Jesus began to make his proclamation, “Repent!” He would say. “The Kingdom of heaven is arriving!”
The Kingdom of Heaven is Arriving. That’s the constant Vision driving the entire Sermon on the Mount— “Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is Arriving. The Kingdom of Heaven is Arriving.” Throughout the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is teaching us what it looks like to live in God’s Kingdom. That’s the main point of my sermon, so you could go home now if you want .
Think of it this way, if you travel to China, they do things differently there (from what I’ve heard). They speak differently. They dress differently. They have different values. They might have different ideas of what’s beautiful and good. In order to successfully live in China, you’ll need to learn a bit about the Chinese culture. The Sermon on the Mount is a crash course in Kingdom Culture. If you want to know what it feels like, what it looks like, what you do when you’re living in the Kingdom of God — you start practicing the things Jesus talks about in the Sermon on the Mount. Practicing the Sermon on the Mount is the way of entering more deeply into the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is the Vision for where we are going, the Sermon tells us how to live to help make God’s Kingdom a reality here and now.
When I talk about the Kingdom of God, I’m basically talking about what the world will be like when God restores it to the way he always intended it to be. It will be good, beautiful, and just. He’s already begun that work to restore this world to look more like the Kingdom— and we get to join in.
Jesus couldn’t have cast this vision any more clearly than when he said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is arriving.” You see, the people of Israel were under foreign rule — Rome. They felt that was about as far from the Vision of the Kingdom of Heaven as you could get. The zealous people of Israel were thirsty for God’s Kingdom, and they would kill to help it arrive. Roman rule was a brutal rule, the last of a long series of rulers who had imposed their rule over them. This was so far from their vision of what they thought the Kingdom should look like, and their Jewish hearts were broken. They hungered and thirsted for God’s Kingdom to be established in their land. The people of Israel knew that there was One God, He created the world, and He chose the Jews as His special people. He promised that He would return, that He would defeat the enemies of the people, that He would destroy evil. Those were the types of things that would happen when God restored His Kingdom. This King, it was believed, would not only rule Israel, but this King would rule the whole world — and most importantly, most powerfully — this King would be God Himself. That’s some of what they believed about the Kingdom. They ached for this to be a reality. They had the Vision, they had the Intention, and they were sharpening their swords for the moment when it was time to implement the bloody means of making it so. That’s the climate into which Jesus spoke those words, “The Kingdom of Heaven is arriving.”
But he also said, “Repent.” He didn’t just say, “The Kingdom of Heaven is arriving.” He also said “Repent.” Something was wrong — not with their Vision of the Kingdom. Not with their Intention to pursue the Kingdom. Something was wrong with their Means — the way they were going about it. That’s why Jesus said, “Repent — the Kingdom of heaven is arriving.”
“Repent.” We need to talk a bit about that word. Mostly, when we hear that word we think someone is telling us to feel bad about ourselves. If someone tells you to repent, many will think they should feel badly about themselves. That’s not what Jesus is on about here. When Jesus said, “Repent,” he wasn’t telling us how we should feel. He was telling us that we need to do something different. He is saying, “Repent of the Means that you are using to pursue the Kingdom of God.” You see, there were many in Jesus’ day who were longing to hear this proclamation about the coming Kingdom of God.
As I said, they were prepared to kill and die for the Kingdom. But Jesus is saying they’re pursuing the Kingdom in the wrong way. After all, it doesn’t make much sense to kill to bring about a Kingdom when your King is going to establish peace, healing and forgiveness through violence and death. In fact, Jesus later warns that if they keep on using violent means for pursuing their vision of the Kingdom, they themselves will come to a violent end.
That’s why Jesus says “Repent”. And then throughout the sermon he shows what repentance looks like. It’s an altogether different means of pursuing their vision of the Kingdom. For example, he says, “You heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ And I says to you, “don’t use violence to resist evil. If someone hits you on the right cheek, turn the other one towards him”, and so on. Jesus is offering a different Means for pursuing the vision of the Kingdom. As he does so, he’s actually sharpening our picture of what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about, and what it might look like to live there.
So what’s all this have to do with that stuff about Jesus moving to the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, living in Capernaum in the Galilee and all that? Well, it’s a different way of saying the same thing about the King and Kingdom coming. Matthew says that the whole reason that Jesus moves there is as a huge symbolic action. Jesus is signalling to anyone who’s read Isaiah 9:1-7 that his prophecy is coming true. These unsuspecting people living in Capernaum had a great light dawn on them when Jesus moved into their neighbourhood. In his move to Capernaum, Jesus is making the words spoken through Isaiah come true in a new way. Isaiah’s words have now leapt off the page and have now taken on flesh. The people of Capernaum are no longer just people in Capernaum — they are people of the prophecy and are now witnessing the great light rising before them. You find out what exactly that light is as you keep reading that passage in Isaiah (its in the ninth chapter).
The light that is shining on these people in darkness is light from God’s great and glorious King. Isaiah 9:6-7 then describes the King this way: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.”
Jesus moves to the Capernaum, in Galilee, as a way of saying, wake up, “I’m the one you’ve been waiting for, and that’s what my kingdom will be like. It will be a kingdom of peace, a kingdom of Justice, a kingdom of righteousness, a Kingdom of Authority, a Kingdom of Wisdom, a Kingdom that extends to the ends of the earth forever and ever.” That’s the Vision. That’s the Vision that Jesus has of the Kingdom. By moving to Galilee, Jesus is signalling that He is the King of whom Isaiah spoke, and now the people in Galilee are the people of the prophecy. They will be the first to see the arrival of the King and His Kingdom. They were the first to learn what it means to live in the Kingdom, under His good and perfect rule.
After all, these are the same people who followed Jesus up the mountain and sat with Jesus as he delivers the sermon. At the end of chapter 4 and beginning of 5, Matthew tells us “Large crowds started following Jesus from Galilee, the ten towns, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan. When Jesus saw the crowds he went up to the mountainside and began teaching.” By mentioning “Galilee” and “beyond the Jordan”, Matthew is reminding us that we are still in Isaiah’s prophecy. We are still talking about the people who were in the dark but saw a great light. Those are the people who sat down as Jesus sat down to listen to Jesus preach the Sermon on the Mount. That means that they are listening to the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. They’ve heard Jesus say that His Kingdom has arrived. They know Isaiah, so they have a bit of a vision of what this Kingdom will be all about. Now, as they listen to the Sermon on the Mount, they’re listening to their King describe how exactly to live in His Kingdom.
In our passage, Jesus said, “Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is arriving.” Repent means, change the way you are living. Change your actions, because the Kingdom of Heaven is here and you live differently in the Kingdom of Heaven. So, the crowd thought, “Okay, what should I do differently to live in this Kingdom?” They followed Jesus up the mountain, he sat down and taught them what Kingdom-living looks like. It looks like loving your enemy, it looks like faithfulness in marriage, it looks like praying with heartfelt trust to your Father in heaven, it looks like not judging your neighbour, it looks like being persecuted because of your faithfulness to God’s way. Those are some of the Means, some of the ways that Jesus says we can begin living here and now in the Kingdom of God.
This is so practical, and at the same time, it is so revolutionary. As more and more of us Christians begin to pursue the Vision of the Kingdom through the practice of living out what our King taught us in His Sermon on the Mount — the kingdoms of this world will be transformed. I like the word practice. The Means for becoming a Concert Pianist is practice, practice, practice. It’s no different for becoming a citizen of the Kingdom. We practice — the word practice doesn’t imply perfection, but it does suggest improvement over time. Both are important. We are not aiming for perfection, but rather faithful growth. This is important, because many of Jesus’ words are hard, many are difficult — yet through faithful practice, we will find ourselves going further on and deeper into Jesus’ Vision of His Kingdom. As we do, we’ll begin to experience more of what it feels like to live in His Kingdom. That’s the hope — that as we hear Jesus’ words, and do them, we will find that together we’re journeying deeper and deeper into His Kingdom. That is the Vision that we must hold on to as we listen to Jesus’ great Sermon on the Mount.