‘When a president gives his inaugural speech or when a new CEO first addresses his staff, the people in the audience listen for his central goals and guiding principles,’ notes Dan Doriani in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. He continues describing the interests of those listening:
“They also listen for his voice and his heart. They want to know if there is anything grand or new in the man. They wonder: If I follow this leader, will I be part of a cause worth living for? Will this leader promote his personal agenda, the agenda of his party or corporation, or something more? Is he a guardian of the status quo, or does he have a vision? Is he trying to raise revenue by 7.6 percent annually, or does he plan to change the world? What is his burden, his mission?”
As the New Testament opens, two men of God give their inaugural addresses. Both men begin by proclaiming the Kingdom of God. The first word of John the Baptist is “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near” (3:2). The first message of Jesus Christ is identical: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near” (4:17).
John began his public ministry in the wilderness of Judea (3:1). Jesus began his ministry “in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali,” that is, in northern Israel (4:13). This was no accident; it fulfilled what was said through the prophet Isaiah (see Isa. 9:1-7; Matt. 4:15-16).
As Matthew said, the area once belonged to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, and its people did live in darkness. In the history of Israel, these tribes were rebellious and unfaithful. God let them suffer defeat at the hand of their enemies, the Assyrians, in 722 B.C. To control vanquished lands, the Assyrians deported most of the native population and imported outsiders. Thus the northern tribes were scattered. For six hundred years, Galilee largely forgot the Lord. In 104 B.C., the region was forced to return to Judaism, but most people knew little of the covenant or law of God. The Gentiles in the area were pagans at heart.
But Jesus didn’t fulfill prophecy in a mechanical way. Since Capernaum was a fair-sized town by a major highway, it made a sensible base of operations. We might have expected Jesus to do things differently – to minister in Judea, near the temple. But he chose to preach, teach, and heal among the lowly, the despised, the outsiders. The people of this region were close to death, under its shadow, and Jesus ministered to them and proclaimed his reign to them. This was his burden. Is it our burden?
In this second half of chapter four, Matthew introduces us in brief ways to Jesus the Light of the Nations, the Lord of the Church, and the Life of the Body.
Touched by the Lord’s summoning Word and healing hands, the church comes into being. The service that Jesus performs in this ‘service’ second half of the fourth chapter is forming a community – by traveling around, preaching, teaching, and healing. Jesus now has real people, willing persons, emphatically following him. To them he gave the promise that he will make, at least, some of them catchers of other people. He also gives to them a wholeness of life they had not known before.
One writer summarizes chapter four verses 12-25 in a compelling manner, as he states:
“The Israel of God is reborn and reformed here from rather humble, ordinary, even sick stock. This people is ready now for a formal constitution, for a service of dedication, and for instruction in what it means in practical terms to follow Jesus and so catch people. The majestic address that follows [i.e., the sermon on the mount] intends to supply all followers of Jesus with the innermost meanings of, and equipment for, the grace of Christian ministry of discipleship.”
Join us this week as we look at ‘a great light in Galilee’ from Matthew 4:12-25. Are you willing to follow Jesus? What does that mean? What does it look like to be a follower of Jesus? I look forward to seeing you this Lord’s Day.