“Near” is one of those sticky Law words. How near is “near”? There is no clear answer to that question. Perhaps it is better to stay close to what the original language says: The kingdom of God has come upon you.
It’s a presumptuous statement, especially when it comes from one of seventy-two mouths sent out, two-by-two, ahead of Jesus to proclaim the kingdom of God. This proclamation happens with more than their mouths. There are healings expected as well. Granted those healings do not happen today as they did long ago, but when they happened, it was a witness that the kingdom of come has come upon you.
That’s the message of Luke’s Gospel in a nutshell. When we learn a bit more about Luke and how his writings are shaped, we see that Luke writes to a primarily Gentile audience, unlike Matthew, who writes to an audience that seems to have a significant understanding of what it means to be Jewish. Luke’s words are written for folks like us. His is a teaching Gospel. He teaches Gentiles that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. As Luke would write it: Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
Luke writes the words that summarize the ministry of the New Testament to sinners. Those words are the kingdom of God that has come upon you. Those words are also the center point of the continuation of Luke’s Gospel written in the Acts of the Apostles. Acts is a history book that not only has miracles of the apostles, but also, and more important, selected sermons preached by Saints Peter and Paul. The sermons, the eyewitness accounts of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and how the Word of the Resurrection grows from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth, is how the kingdom of God has come upon you.
This proclamation of the kingdom of God will run into obstacles. Even our Lord knew this Word would not be welcomed everywhere. He tells the seventy-two: I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Lambs rarely, if ever, attack wolves. Wolves are the ones who do the attacking. They look for easy prey. They seek to devour those who will not fight back. Why should the lambs of Christ fight back, especially those sent by our Lord? They have nothing to give the wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, and no sandals. Say Peace be to this house. Eat and drink what is put in front of you. Jesus says that twice. Those sent come as servants, not as kings. They come to serve, not to be served.
That’s the pattern of ministry Luke lays out in both the Gospel that bears his name, as well as the history book of the Acts of the Apostles. Luke shows how much the Apostles had to suffer for the sake of the Gospel, just as Jesus told them. The Jewish authorities wanted them to stop proclaiming the resurrection. They would not stop. The Romans did not like much of what they had to say. Who could forget the riot at Ephesus when Paul tried to ruin their city’s largest source of income: worship of Artemis and all the trinkets that come with it. Luke even records what could be considered as a failed mission start in, of all places, Athens.
Luke also gives us some of the best of Jesus’ words, especially the three parables of lost items: a sheep, a coin, and a son. Lest we forget that Luke chapter 24 is the only place in any of the Gospel accounts where we read of Jesus’ appearance to two disciples on the road to Emmaus on that late Resurrection Sunday afternoon. There Jesus was made known to the two men in the breaking of the bread. Everything Jesus taught them on the road fell into place in that simple action.
The Kingdom of God comes right on you when you read Luke’s Gospel. His is an in-your-face Gospel, but not in a harsh way. Since you can’t climb the ladder to Jesus, Jesus comes right down to you in the flesh. It is Luke’s account of the birth of the Savior that makes our heart rejoice every Christmas Eve evening when we hear those familiar words about a Roman Census, about two travelers named Mary and Joseph, and the Baby in Mary’s womb. It is Luke who shows us a twelve-year-old Jesus in His Father’s house, confounding the doctors of the Law. It is Luke who shows Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, confounding the Jewish way of doing things. Today again it is Luke who shows us that the kingdom of God has come upon you.
The kingdom of God that has come upon us is hidden in earthly things, just as our Lord came in a humble earthly body, yet in that body is the Son of God, the Messiah. The kingdom comes where Christ is preached, and where Christ is preached, there is His Name and His presence among us, bringing us joy. We have joy in His forgiveness, for He has justified us in His innocent death and resurrection. The words of Isaiah in the Old Testament reading come alive in the ministry of the Savior sent by Jesus into the world. Isaiah writes: Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart,“Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”
Then watch what happens next. The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. All this happens when the peace of Christ is proclaimed. That peace is in the kingdom of God that comes upon you. That peace is still proclaimed today as the kingdom of God comes upon you in the preaching of the Good News that Jesus has taken care of your eternal welfare in His blood and righteousness. He has taken care of your inheritance by washing you in baptismal waters and placing the robe of righteousness over you; a robe that perhaps looks much like the robe the lost son wears in the parable in Luke chapter fifteen. He strengthens you as you eat and drink His true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.
The kingdom of God has come upon you. Jesus continues to send laborers into the harvest until the entire world has heard His saving peace. This is Saint Luke’s heritage to the Church, yet not his alone. He is an evangelist, a witness of the Good News wrought in Jesus Christ first to the Jew, and then to the Gentile. In His healing words inspired by the Holy Spirit, you have healing and life.