This Sunday is the first Sunday since August that there’s no football to watch. I say that knowing full well that the Pro Bowl is on tonight, so maybe there’s just no football worth watching this Sunday. In my short and not very glorious time playing football, I had some great coaches; one particular coach was Mr. Lanza, who was also a math teacher, I think – I only remember him teaching me things on the field. He told me that to be a good football player, I had to “keep my head on a swivel,” meaning that I had to be aware of what was going on around me at all times. To lose track of the guy on your periphery is to get knocked unconscious by the guy on your periphery, so Lanza’s advice was good advice indeed.
Jesus would agree, believe it or not. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!” That is what Jesus says (cribbing from his cousin John) in Matthew 4:17. In his wonderful commentary on Matthew, Frederick Dale Bruner paraphrases this, “Move, because here comes the whole new world of God!” The verb translated as “is near” is the same word Jesus uses later in Matthew when he sees Judas in Gethsemane and says, “Here comes my betrayer.”
“So when Jesus says in verse 17 that the kingdom of heaven “is near,” he means it’s marching straight toward you! If you’re crossing a street and see a garbage truck barreling down on you, you may well say, “Hey, look out! ” Jesus’ words have that same urgency. “Look out! Move! A whole new world is headed straight toward you!”
“As Bruner says, every word of Jesus is nuclear. These words are urgent and the implications of this kingdom’s approach are immediate. If someone tells you to “Watch out!” when you’re crossing a street but then you just stand there, something is going to happen quite soon. Jesus’ point is the same: you cannot hear him tell you that the kingdom is approaching but then just stand there like a statue with your hands in your pockets. You need to repent, literally to turn around, so that you are ready to embrace this kingdom, so that you can hop onto the kingdom instead of getting crushed by it as it rolls over you.”1
In other words, you gotta keep your head on a swivel. And though I would contend that there are worse things than being rolled over by the Kingdom of God, I will concede that it would be better to be aware of the Kingdom coming toward you and embracing it. We get a story like that today too, a story about a group of men, who, because of their profession and their faithfulness, were used to keeping their heads on swivels.
Peter and Andrew and James and John were fishermen and faithful Jews. Making their living on the water, they had to be aware of their surroundings at all times. Unlike getting hit by a guy in your periphery, these guys were constantly aware of real threats, the behavior of the water and the weather, their location and the time of day, the weight and draft of their boat, these guys had to pay attention just so they could make it through the day alive.
These guys kept tabs on their souls as well, and they were looking out for the Kingdom of God. It’s evident that they had heard John the Baptist preach, they had probably gotten baptized by John, Andrew had even heard John declare Jesus to be the Lamb of God, the Messiah. And so maybe it came as little surprise when Jesus strolled past them out on the shore in Galilee, summoning them to follow Him, to witness to the whole new world of God that had come upon them.
We’re still celebrating the Epiphany – it’s the third Sunday in Epiphanytide – and so we are still hammering down that incredible reality that God became man and lived among us; and so in looking out for Jesus, by keeping our heads on swivels because we know He’s here, we can join with Peter and Andrew and James and John in following Jesus, in letting everyone know to watch out, turn around, for the Kingdom of God is here.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week.