“And He went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So His fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought Him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and He healed them. And great crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.” (Matthew 4:23-25)
Who did Jesus come to minister to? Was He there to teach the Jews and point them to God and proclaim His kingdom on earth? Yes. Did He come to heal the sick, cure pain, cast out demons, comfort the oppressed? Yes. Did He come to minister to the religious Jewish community? Yes. Did He come to minister beyond the confines of religious and national boundaries? Absolutely yes!
As far back as the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, following His forty days in the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, He did not restrict His movements to just the religiously and nationally acceptable regions of Israel. He was known throughout all of Syria, a Gentile region north of Israel that extended as far north as modern Turkey and western Armenia and as far east as the modern northwestern border of Iran, encompassing part of what is now northernmost Iraq, due north of Baghdad.
Just across the Jordan River, outside of Israel proper, was a region known as the Decapolis, in the modern day kingdom of Jordan. The Decapolis was a group of ten cities that marked the easternmost boundary of the Roman Empire: Gerasa, Scythopolis, Hippos, Gadara, Pella, Philadelphia (now Amman, the capital of Jordan), Capitolias, Canatha, Raphana, and Damascus (the modern day capital of Syria). Damascus was a major trading post at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Palestine on the western edge along the centralized north-south Mediterranean coast portion of what is known as the Fertile Crescent.
In Gerasa, there is an oval forum, a place that was surrounded by large stone columns with a column lined pathway that leads to the forum. Much like the Roman Forum in the captial of the Empire, the Gerasene Forum was a center for trade, political discourse, education, oratory, and much more. In the center of the forum is a small column, providing a point of reference for those within the forum. If you wanted the news of the day, this is where you get it. If you look closely at the layout of the Gerasene Forum, it may appear very familiar in design to you. It is likely that this design inspired Michaelangelo as he designed the architecture of St. Peter’s Basilica and the rotunda that leads up to it.
Jesus didn’t come to minister only to the Jews. He intentionally went to the Gentiles outside of Israel. He traveled outside of Galilee to Syria and throughout the Decapolis of Jordan. He taught and He ministered to those who were not those of the Hebrew tribes because He proclaimed “the gospel of the kingdom.” When Jesus was challenged by Pilate, He explained that His kingdom was “not of this world.” (John 18:36) It was a kingdom that extended beyond the geopolitical constructs of modern man. It was a kingdom that encompassed all who would place their trust in Him and in the Father. And He embraced those that had enough faith in Him to travel from the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire to seek Him and His mercy.
In the same way, the Kingdom of God today extends beyond the walls of our church buildings. It extends beyond the geopolitical confines of our modern world. Jesus extends the Kingdom to the entire world. How dare we ever restrict access to the Kingdom to just those with whom we are comfortable! How dare we restrict access to Jesus to only those who think like us, look like us, or act like us! That’s the entire point of the transformative power of grace!
We are called to send out the invitation to the dinner table and open the doors to all who will come. We are called to be His ambassadors to a world that needs Him the most. We are called to bring in the broken, the maligned, the sick, the hurting. We are called to be healers for a hurting world. We are called to be teachers to those who are ignorant of the truth. We are called to be an instrument of change, not an trumpet of judgement.
Don’t get me wrong. Yes, this message is intended directly for those who believe. Yes, the gospel demands repentance. It demands transformation. Holiness demands obedience to the dictates of God’s Word. But for those who have not yet entered into the Kingdom, the message is simple – Come to the table! Come and see this Savior who can make the lame walk, the blind see, the sick well, the dead live again. Come and see this Savior who can make broken hearts whole and lives renewed. Yes! Repentance is crucial and a part of the gospel message, but it is not the entirety of the gospel message. Grace is the gospel of the kingdom. Mercy is the gift of the kingdom. Transformation is the mission of the kingdom.
“Open your eyes, and see the fields are white for harvest!” (John 4:35) Now is the time. Here is the place. There is no better place to be. There is no greater time than now to let the message of the Kingdom ring loud and clear! The world can be a better place. And it begins in the humble, repentant heart of everyone who seeks Jesus trusting Him to make our lives whole again. It begins with every believer, humbly repenting of their arrogance and bowing on their face before our holy God and say “Not my will, but yours be done.”