The Kingdom is Real: Understanding the Promises of Jesus

Even the youngest of souls grasps the difference between making a promise and the fulfilling of that promise. Any parent can promise their toddler a trip to Disney World or to Lego Land. But only those with the means and ability to take their child to a theme park and to pay the price of admission can make their children’s dreams come true. Ability is found not in words but in action.

Do Jesus’s Dreams Come True?

The writer of the gospel of Matthew grasps this reality. He anticipates the concerns of both his ancient and modern readers who observe the great beauty the Sermon on the Mount. While all people long for a world in which hate is overcome by love, most assume that it cannot be achieved by the fickle and relationally clumsy souls that make up our cultures and churches. In one sense, the writer of Matthew shares in the readers pessimism, noting that human religion falls short of Jesus’s grand vision. Jesus repeatedly says, “You have heard it said…but I say to you (Matt 5:21-22; 27-28; 31-32; 33-34; 38-39; 43-44).” But unlike Matthew’s many readers who wonder how the next generation of religious ne’er-do-wells can do any better, Matthew directs the reader’s attention not towards humanity but towards Christ. If the kingdom of God is to arrive and if selfish, hateful, and malicious people are to become selfless, peaceful, and kind, Jesus must do it.

The question remains: can he? Can Jesus turn his words into actions? Can he get us to the amazing world of the kingdom of God?

While ever pessimistic about the human condition, Matthew remains ever hopeful in the abilities of Jesus (Matt 5:18-19). According to the Gospel writer, Jesus can and will establish the kingdom of God for he makes the unclean clean. In short, the answer is an emphatic “yes!”

Making the Unclean Clean

To prove that the Sermon on the Mount is not just another somewhat inspirational and yet totally unfeasible mandate for souls exhausted by a lifetime of failed promises, Matthew recounts how Jesus miraculously healed a leper.   

In Jesus’s day, the term leprosy covered a wide range of skin diseases that could cause everything from the discoloration of the skin to the losing of fingers and toes (Lev. 13-14). If a person did not recover from their disease by the end of seven days, they would be exiled from their community and from the temple. Leviticus 13:45-46 prescribed the following:

The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean. He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.

Though the possibility of healing existed, the law and the priestly system could only diagnosis and condemn. Such actions prevented others from contracting the disease but essentially condemned the leper to a humiliating death shrouded in uncleanness. As an old Israelite king noted when the Syrian general Naaman asked from permission to visit Israel in the hopes of finding a cure for his leprosy, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy (2 Kg 5:7)?” Men and women could not make the unclean clean. Leprosy proved fatal.

But, Jesus can. When the leper approaches Jesus in Matthew 8:1-2, modern readers can grasp the shock value of this moment having lived through the COVID-19 pandemic. Where the text to be updated into today’s context, the leper’s actions could be equated to a man profusely sweating, coughing, and stumbling about with all the demonstrative signs of the coronavirus raging through his body. Undoubtedly many in the crowd would openly question the leper’s actions for he has put all kinds of people at risk. But unlike the crowds of his day and those of us afraid of diseases, Jesus does not recoil from the leper. When the leper says, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean,” the text reports that “Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleaned.” Jesus triumphs over uncleanness. When sickness touches Jesus, he does not become unclean, the uncleanness becomes whole. He restores that which is broken.

Jesus is Better

In that moment, Jesus does something that no other human being can do. Even the youngest of children know that when you pour dirty water into clean, the clean does not purify the dirty. For this reason, Paul reminds Christians that, “Bad company ruins good morals (1 Cor. 15:33).” When Christians embrace and touch abuse, sexual immorality, gossip, greed, or any other number of sins in their midst, the sinners do not become pure, the healthy Christians become sick. The human condition remains as it was when that when the old Israelite king encountered Naaman’s request. We cannot make the unclean clean.

Only Jesus can. His ability to heal the sick reveals that he is the Messiah. Matthew notes in 8:17 that this miracle and the others that follow were done “to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illness and bore our diseases.” Jesus can bring the kingdom of God to bear. He can promise greatness and achieve it.

Jesus can heal the sick and overcome both physical and spiritual uncleanness for he has dealt with the world’s fundamental problem: sin. The apostle Peter following the lead of Matthew and Isaiah concludes that Jesus, “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wound you have been healed (1 Pt 2:24).” In other words, the healings that Jesus accomplished in Matthew 8 point to his death and resurrection in Matthew 27-28. Because Jesus makes the unclean clean, the reader knows that Jesus can truly absolve us from all sin and guilt and empower us to live the ethic of the Kingdom of heaven both today on earth and tomorrow in the new heavens and the new earth. Jesus can do it.

Final Thoughts

The knowledge of Jesus’s ability to make the unclean clean should cause hope to burst forth in every soul. No soul proves too dirty for the saving grace of God. No stain of sin proves permanent. If we will but ask Jesus to heal us, he will make our spots as white as snow.

The Sermon on the Mount proves not to be a philosophical daydream of what could be. It is what is. Jesus possesses the ability to fulfill his promises. Lepers are healed. Sinners are saved and sanctified. The kingdom of God is real.

The Dangers of Divine Negotiation

The human psyche loves negotiation. Children swap hugs for a piece of candy. The husband who repeatedly misses dinner finds his release from marital purgatory with a bouquet of flowers. And the junior executive trades long weekends for a promotion. Most men and women turn their relationships into a type of transaction that resembles trades in a stock exchange. They then overlay this paradigm on their relationship with God, attempting to gain God’s favor in exchange for some religious moralism.

Many people believe their biannual church visits, their occasional prayer before bed, and their ability to avoid murderer’s row will persuade God to hand over a loving spouse, good health, or happiness. Other souls go further, abandoning alcohol, cigarettes, and porn subscriptions in exchange for divine blessing. Lastly, a small group of devote souls offer the greatest possible sacrifice, donating their massive fortunes and their life’s work to the poor hoping to garner some divine recognition. Though these transactional relationships with God may seem a touch impersonal, they often align implicitly and at times explicitly with the commands of Scripture. Those who set out upon a religious life of heroism expect God to notice their efforts.

Does God Respond to Negotiation?

But God is not a man or woman. He does not negotiate with humanity. The fallen and broken creature has nothing of value to offer the holy and perfect creator. The Prophet Micah details God’s perspective of human negotiation with these words:

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:7-9


God does not save men and women because they have smoked their last cigarette, looked at their last image of porn, or written a large check to a non-profit dedicated to the promotion of clean energy. Great sacrifices do not impress God. Rather, he demands holiness: justice, kindness and humility, character qualities only accessible to those who have been saved by God.

God does the saving apart from human negotiation (Mic. 6:1-6). God frees men and women from the slavery of sin, provides them with godly leaders, protects them from attacks, and guides them into the eternal promise land. Nothing remains to be negotiated. There is no divine itch humanity can scratch. God has done it all and offers happiness, eternity and heaven itself as free gift. We do not have to safe or sanctify ourselves. We simply repent and believe.

Those who attempt to appease, pacify, or manipulate God by dumping their vodka down the sink or by hopping on an airplane destined for the deserts of south Africa insult God. The last Adam has come and fulfilled all the requirements of the law. As Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished.” Galatians 3:13-14 proclaims:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.


No other sacrifice is needed. Those who continue to sit at the negotiating table tossing out good works schemes in exchange for divine favor will find only divine judgement. Everyone who relies on the works of the law remains cursed by them.

Jesus does not negotiate; he saves.

Does God Fail Us?

Many people in the pew find God to be a grand disappointment because they fundamentally misunderstand the nature of salvation. They attempt to follow the law in their own power, praying, giving, and serving in the praise team, hoping God will bless their efforts. But their struggles with homosexuality, greed, or depression do not improve. After several months or years of trying to please God, they reach a breaking point. Like the nation of Israel, they find themselves surrounded by an army of problems instead of a choir of angels. They conclude that their negotiation with God has failed. Jesus did not uphold his end of the bargain. But Jesus did. The Law condemns. The free gift of salvation remains.

Will you embrace it?

Insignificant People, their Sorrows, and The God who Cares For Them

Scholars have stared incredulously at Matthew 2:16-18 because the text possesses no parallel in the writings of Josephus or any other ancient historian. But the absence of a story does not prove it did not occur. Matthew’s story matches the sentiment of Josephus’s narratives which recount Herod’s murder of his second wife, his assignation of three of his sons, and the wrongful execution of the families of his political opponents. Hours before his death, Herod also ordered his family to kill a group of prominent Jewish leaders the moment cruel king breathed his last so that Jerusalem would mourn at his death. The violence described in Matthew 2 aligns with Josephus’s description of the troubled monarch.

The fact that the deaths of around twenty children from an insignificant town of about 1000 people failed to make it into the annuals of a secular history is not surprising. Rather it is the point. The history of God’s mercy is not tied to the history of secular power.  

The Proof of God’s Care

The events that prove significant for the people of God often occur in the Bethlehems of the world out of the view of the power, politics, and prestige which reside in Jerusalem. God saw the tears of those families long ago that escaped the notice of Josephus. He still sees the tears of his little people. He knows the grief of the traumatized teenager who was abused, of the single mom who was overwhelmed, and of the old man who has been left a widow. Though all of these and thousands of other souls walk the streets of life unknown to the world of politics, power, and fame, God knows them. More importantly, he left heaven to redeem them from this broken world.

Though our tears, sorrows, and griefs are real, they are not the end of our story because they are not the end of Jesus’s story. The prophet Jeremiah reminded those mothers long ago, “There is hope for your future…and your children shall come back (Jer. 31:17).” While Jesus escaped the murderous hatred of Herod, he would too would one day be pinned unjustly to a cross, dying for crimes he did not commit. But he would not stay dead. After three days in the tomb, Christ burst forth, breaking the bonds of sin and death and offering salvation to all those who repented and believed. In other words, He triumphed over death so that Rachel’s children could return. Those babies in Bethlehem that fateful night now reside with Christ in heaven. One day soon, they will reside in the new heavens and the new earth. Their sorrow was only the beginning of a much larger story that ends with men and women from every tribe gathered together in heaven praising God in a land free of tears, sickness, and sorrow. God sees the grief that millions of people secretly suffer. Jesus comes and suffers under that same grief so that he can once and for all rescue us from this broken world. The words of Jeremiah 31:3 ring ever true: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

In Christ, there are no insignificant people. There are no insignificant sorrows. Christ died the for babies in Bethlehem. He died for you. Place your hope in Him! We will all be home soon!