Last time, we looked at the Temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus overcame every temptation using the Word of God to refute and resist the Devil. Afterward, we saw Jesus being ministered to by the angels.
Remember that upon being baptized by John the Baptist, God the Father testified of His Son before the people in an audible voice and God the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove. We know that the Holy Spirit then sent Jesus out into the wilderness to be tempted… and that temptation picks up in the texts after 40 days. Today, we pick up the Gospel According to Matthew in verse 12. The ESV marks this portion of Matthew’s account as the beginning of His ministry.
12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee.13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew is still focused on demonstrating to his Jewish audience how completely Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. We, Gentiles, tend to focus on the prophecies that point to Christ’s death and resurrection (as we should) for the forgiveness of our sins and our adoption into the Kingdom of God. The Jews, however, were God’s chosen ones. Matthew (under the influence of the Holy Spirit) isn’t waiting for those prophetic references, he is presenting the very life of Jesus in light of Prophecy, particularly here from the Prophet Isaiah. Let us pause Matthew for a moment and read from Isaiah 9, beginning in the first verse.
Isaiah 9:1-7 (ESV) | For to Us a Child Is Born
1 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
3 You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
This is such a beautiful passage of Scripture. The Jews of Jesus’s day longed for this prophecy to come to pass. They had come out of the Exile but the throne of David had not yet been reestablished. They were an occupied people. They longed for the Messiah… only they still wanted a king like the other nations, only they wanted their king to rule as David did. They weren’t ready for Jesus. The next portion of this prophecy speaks of judgment upon Israel. This was initially a prophecy of the coming judgement upon Israel, the northern kingdom. I’ll leave it to you to read on and see if Matthew isn’t also pointing ahead toward the judgement against the religious leaders of Jesus’s Day also. Jesus was coming to fulfill the Law and the Prophets and very soon the Temple would be replaced by Christ’s body. Isaiah has historical context that cannot be subverted, but in its historicity, we see a foreshadowing of what Jesus, the Messiah, was coming to accomplish. Great stuff. Okay, let’s get back to Matthew.
Matthew 4:18-22 ESV | Jesus Calls the First Disciples
18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
Jesus saw them, called them, and they followed Him. Maybe it happens to you, but I didn’t grow up in a fishing community, so often when I read through this passage I picture Jesus walking along the side of a lake at a KOA campground with a few weekend families out on a fishing trip. I have to remind myself that this isn’t their recreation, this is their profession. This isn’t some isolated lake, but it is an integral part of the local economy. The seashore was likely full of fishermen. I don’t like pulling in extra-biblical material, but since I needed an external reference to better picture this scene, let’s look at how historians describe this area around the time of Jesus.
When Herod Antipas took over Galilee in Jesus’ time, it was a rural region on Judea’s margins. Larger towns such as Bethsaida, a fishing center on the Sea of Galilee, could hold as many as 2,000 to 3,000 people. However, most people lived in small villages such as Nazareth, the home of Jesus’ foster father Joseph and his mother Mary, and Capernaum, the village where Jesus’ ministry was centered. The populations of these hamlets rarely rose above 400 people, according to archaeologist Jonathan L. Reed in his book, The Harper Collins Visual Guide to the New Testament.
Another website claiming to quote Josephus (I’ve not yet chased down it’s veracity) assesses that each village in the area of Galilee held populations in excess of 15,000 each. Suffice it to say that my mental image based on how I grew up is far too small. This draws extra significance to the fact that Jesus saw these men and called them. It would be like walking into the food court area of the popular local mall and spotting 4 individuals to call upon… not at random… not by asking for volunteers, but seeing them and calling them. Matthew didn’t need to tell his audience what a busy scene Jesus would have been walking into… they knew. I hope that at least in some way, now you do, too. Let us continue.
Matthew 4:23-25 ESV | Jesus Ministers to Great Crowds
23 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. 24 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, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
What was the focus of Jesus’ Ministry? Teaching and proclaiming the Gospel. Did He also heal the sick and cast out demons? Yes. Was this a “healing and deliverance crusade”? No. Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching in the synagogues and proclaiming the Gospel. What was he preaching? While we don’t have specifics in this passage, Matthew’s reference point coming into this portion is “Now when he heard that John had been arrested…” What was John’s Gospel?
Matthew 3:1-2 (ESV) 1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew 3:11-12 (ESV) 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Jesus was most likely teaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”, only He wasn’t a herald for one who would come after, He is the One, the Only Begotten Son of God, who came to take away the sins of the world. John’s preaching brought many out of Jerusalem to be baptized… Jesus’ preaching brought out many more, from the entire region. Next week, we’ll be diving into the Sermon on the Mount.
Romans 11:33-36 (ESV)
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Amen, indeed. May the Lord bless you and keep you in Him until that great day.
In Christ Jesus,