February 25, 2007 at FBC, Comanche; Expositional studies: Matthew
Text: Matthew 4:12-17
“If A Man Does Not Repent …”
G. INTRODUCING THE MINISTRY OF JESUS (4:12–16)
12When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. 13Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—14to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
15“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, along the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
16the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”a
The language of 4:12–16 provides a fitting closure to the preministry phase of Jesus’ life by drawing together several themes dominant in 1:1–4:11. The continued emphasis on geographical fulfillment citations serves to alert the reader that God’s providential direction of events is not complete until Jesus arrives in Galilee (cf. 2:6, 15, 22–23).8 By recalling the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali Matthew continues to correlate significant experiences in Israelite history with events in the life of Jesus. The universal significance of Jesus’ messianic mission is once again reinforced by defining Galilee as Galilee of the Gentiles (v. 15). The Son’s mission in Galilee is dominated by a salvific emphasis, wherein God’s people are rescued from darkness by the dawning light in their midst (v. 16). While the texts comprising 4:12–16 do bring together key themes and emphases from earlier sections in the story, they also advance the story by setting the stage for Jesus’ public ministry and his calling of people to experience God’s rule and presence (4:17ff.).
4:12. Matthew is careful to document that Jesus’ departure to Galilee is motivated by his having heard (ἀκούσας, akousas) concerning John’s arrest (cf. 14:13; Mark 1:12). A strong case can be made for seeing Jesus’ departure not as a flight from danger, but as Matthew’s way to connect the mission of Jesus to that of John as part of a “providentially guided sacred history” whereby “the cessation of one becomes the divinely appointed sign of the commencement of the other.”9 Nevertheless, the reader must wait until 14:3–11 to learn the basis of John’s arrest and the eventual outcome.
4:13–14. The geographical references in 4:13 prepare the reader for the fulfillment citation (4:15–16), as Jesus takes up residence on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, specifically in a relatively large village known as Capernaum.10 The language by the lake, and the identification of the territory as once belonging to the tribes of Zebulun and . . . Naphtali, anticipate the Isaianic citation to follow (i.e., Isa 8:23–9:2, in the Hebrew text).
4:15–16. It should be observed that Matthew’s citation of Isaiah does not slavishly follow either the LXX or the Hebrew text, but probably represents an “independent rendering of the Hebrew.”11 Originally, Isaiah’s oracle was intended to contrast the tragic devastation of the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali by the Assyrians12 (see 1 Kgs. 17:1–6) with a promise of a reversal of fortunes to be realized in the indeterminate future. However, Matthew shifts the emphasis away from the political plight of the people to their desperate moral and spiritual condition, as a people “living in darkness,” under the very “shadow of death” (cf. Ps 107:14; Luke 1:79).13 Clearly, Matthew sees the darkness about to be dispelled with the “dawn” (ἀνέτειλεν [aneteilen], cf. LXX λάμψει [lampsei]) of a great light which will shine upon them in the person and ministry of Jesus. It is significant that the first blessings of the messianic age come to those people in Northern Palestine who first went into exile (see 1 Kgs 15:29). However, Jesus’ ministry will ultimately transcend both political and ethnic boundaries (cf. “Galilee of the Gentiles”) by heralding a kingdom with universal significance (4:17ff.). Thus, with Jesus situated in the “divinely ordained” locality, poised to begin his messianic mission, Matthew brings the introductory phase of his story to a close.
Luke 3:19. Now Herod the tetrarch. Luke alone explains the reason why Herod threw John into prison: though we shall afterwards find it mentioned by Matthew 14:3, and Mark 6:17. Josephus says, (Ant. 18:v. 2,) that Herod, dreading a popular insurrection and a change of the government, shut up John in the castle of Macherus, (because he dreaded the man’s influence; a302) and that Herodias was married, not to Philip, who was Salome’s husband, but to another Herod. But as his recollection appears to have failed him in this matter, and as he mentions also Philip’s death out of its proper place, the truth of the history will be obtained, with greater certainty, from the Evangelists, and we must abide by their testimony. a303It is well known, that Herod, though he had been married to a daughter of Aretas, King of Arabia, fell in love with Herodias, his niece, and carried her off by fraud. This injury might possibly enough remain unrevenged by his brother Philip, to whom the same Josephus bears testimony, that he was a person of a mild and gentle disposition, (18:4:6.)
This history shows clearly, what sort of reward awaits the faithful and honest ministers of the truth, particularly when they reprove vices: for scarcely one in a hundred bears reproof, and if it is at all severe, they break out into fury. If pride of this sort displays itself in some of the common people, we have no reason to wonder, that cruelty to reprovers assumes a more hideous form in tyrants, a304who brook nothing worse than to be classed with other men. We behold in John an illustrious example of that moral courage, which all pious teachers ought to possess, not to hesitate to incur the wrath of the great and powerful, as often as it may be found necessary: for he, with whom there is acceptance of persons, does not honestly serve God. When Luke says, he added this to all the evil actions which he did, he means, that Herod’s malice is become desperate, and has reached its utmost height, when the sinner is enraged by remedies, and not only refuses correction, but takes vengeance on his adviser, as if he had been his enemy.
Matthew 4:12. When Jesus had heard. These words envers le peuple, et pourtant se doutoit de luy.” — ”Because he knew that he was a man of great authority among the people, and therefore had doubts about him appear to be at variance with the narrative of the Evangelist John, who declares, that John and Christ discharged the office of public teachers at the same time. But we have to observe, that our three Evangelists pass over in silence that short space of time, because John’s course was not yet completed, and because that course was intended to be a preparation for receiving the Gospel of Christ. And, in point of fact, though Christ discharged the office of teacher within that period, he did not, strictly speaking, begin to preach the Gospel, till he succeeded to John. Most properly, therefore, do the three Evangelists admit and declare, that the period, during which John prepared disciples for Christ, belonged to his ministry: for it amounts to this, that, when the dawn was passed, the sun arose. It is proper to observe the mode of expression employed by Luke, that Jesus came in the power, or, by the power, of the Spirit into Galilee: for it is of great consequence, that we do not imagine Christ to have any thing about him that is earthly or human, but that our minds be always occupied, and our feelings affected by his heavenly and divine power.
Mark 1:14. Preaching the Gospel of the kingdom of God. Matthew appears to differ a little from the other two: for, after mentioning that Jesus left his own city Nazareth, and departed to Capernaum, he says: from that time Jesus began to preach. Luke and Mark, again, relate, that he taught publicly in his own country. But the solution is easy; for the words which Matthew employs, ἀπὸ τότε, from that time, ought to be viewed as referring, not to what immediately precedes, but to the whole course of the narrative. Christ, therefore, entered into the exercise of his office, when he arrived at Galilee. The summary of doctrine which is given by Matthew is not at all different from what, we have lately seen, was taught by John: for it consists of two parts, — repentance, and the announcement of grace and salvation. He exhorts the Jews to conversion, because the kingdom of God is at hand: that is, because God undertakes to govern his people, which is true and perfect happiness. The language of Mark is a little different, The kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the Gospel But the meaning is the same: for, having first spoken of the restoration of the kingdom of God among the Jews, he exhorts them to repentance and faith.
But it may be asked, since repentance depends on the Gospel, why does Mark separate it from the doctrine of the Gospel? Two reasons may be assigned. God sometimes invites us to repentance, when nothing more is meant, than that we ought to change our life for the better. He afterwards shows, that conversion and “newness of life” (Romans 6:4) are the gift of God. This is intended to inform us, that not only is our duty enjoined on us, but the grace and power of obedience are, at the same time, offered. If we understand in this way the preaching of John about repentance, the meaning will be:” The Lord commands you to turn to himself; but as you cannot accomplish this by your own endeavors, he promises the Spirit of regeneration, and therefore you must receive this grace by faith.” At the same time, the faith, which he enjoins men to give to the Gospel, ought not, by any means, to be confined to the gift of renewal, but relates chiefly to the forgiveness of sins. For John connects repentance with faith, because God reconciles us to himself in such a manner, that we serve him as a Father in holiness and righteousness.
Besides, there is no absurdity in saying, that to believe the Gospel is the same thing as to embrace a free righteousness: for that special relation, between faith and the forgiveness of sins, is often mentioned in Scripture; as, for example, when it teaches, that we are justified by faith, (Romans 5:1.) In which soever of these two ways you choose to explain this passage, it still remains a settled principle, that God offers to us a free salvation, in order that we may turn to him, and live to righteousness. Accordingly, when he promises to us mercy, he calls us to deny the flesh. We must observe the designation which Paul gives to the Gospel, the kingdom of God: for hence we learn, that by the preaching of the Gospel the kingdom of God is set up and established among men, and that in no other way does God reign among men. Hence it is also evident, how wretched the condition of men is without the Gospel.
Luke 4:15. He was glorified by all. This is stated by Luke for the express purpose of informing us, that, from the very commencement, a divine power shone in Christ, and compelled even those, who cherished a malignant spirit of contradiction, to join in admiring him.
16. And he came to Nazareth. The Evangelists are very careful to show by what sort of proofs Christ became known, a striking instance of which is here related by Luke. By explaining a passage in Isaiah, and applying it to the instruction which was immediately required, he turned upon him the eyes of all. He entered, according to his custom, into the synagogue. Hence we conclude, that not only did he address the people in the open streets and highways, but, as far as he had opportunity, observed the usual order of the church. We see also that, though the Jews were become very degenerate, though every thing was in a state of confusion, and the condition of the church was miserably corrupted, one good thing still remained: they read the Scriptures publicly, and took occasion from them to teach and admonish the people.
Hence also it is evident, what was the true and lawful method of keeping the Sabbath. When God commanded his people to abstain from working on that day, it was not that they might give themselves up to indolent repose, but, on the contrary, that they might exercise themselves in meditating on his works. Now, the minds of men are naturally blind to the consideration of his works, and must therefore be guided by the rule of Scripture. Though Paul includes the Sabbath in an enumeration of the shadows of the law, (Colossians 2:16,) yet, in this respect, our manner of observing it is the same with that of the Jews: the people must assemble to hear the word, to public prayers, and to the other exercises of religion. It was for this purpose that the Jewish Sabbath was succeeded by the Lord’s Day.
Now, if we make a comparison of dates, this passage will be sufficient to prove clearly, that the corruptions of the Papal Hierarchy, in our own time, are more shocking and detestable than those which existed among the Jews under the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. For the reading of Scripture, which was then in use, has not only grown obsolete under the Pope, but is driven from the churches by fire and sword; with this exception, that such portions of it, as they think proper, are chanted by them in an unknown tongue. Christ rose up to read, not only that his voice might be better heard, but in token of reverence: for the majesty of Scripture deserves that its expounders should make it apparent, that they proceed to handle it with modesty and reverence.
17. He found the passage. There is no doubt that Christ deliberately selected this passage. Some think that it was presented to him by God; a306but, as a liberty of choice was allowed him, I choose to say that, by his own judgment, he took this passage in preference to others. Isaiah there predicts that, after the Babylonish captivity, there will still be witnesses of the grace of God, who shall gather the people from destruction, and from the darkness of death, and restore, by a spiritual power, the Church, which has been overwhelmed by so many calamities. But as that redemption was to be proclaimed in the name and authority of Christ alone, he uses the singular number, and speaks in the name of Christ, that he may more powerfully awaken the minds of the godly to strong confidence. It is certain, that what is here related belongs properly to Christ alone, for two reasons: first, because he alone was endued with the fullness of the Spirit, (John 3:34,) to be the witness and ambassador of our reconciliation to God; (and, for this reason, Paul (Ephesians 2:17) assigns peculiarly to him, what belongs to all the ministers of the Gospel, namely, that he, came and preached peace to them which were afar off, and to them that were nigh:”) secondly, because he alone, by the power of his Spirit, performs and grants all the benefits that are here promised.
18. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. These words inform us that, both in his own person and in his ministers, Christ does not act by human authority, or in a private capacity, but has been sent by God to restore salvation to his Church. He does nothing by the suggestion or advice of men, but everything by the guidance of the Spirit of God; and this he declares, in order that the faith of the godly may be founded on the authority and power of God. The next clause, because he hath anointed me, is added by way of explanation. Many make a false boast, that they have the Spirit of God, while they are destitute of his gifts: but Christ proves by the anointing, as the effect, that he is endued with the Spirit of God. He then states the purpose for which the graces of the Spirit were bestowed upon him. It was, that he might preach the Gospel to the poor. Hence we conclude, that those, who are sent by God to preach the Gospel, are previously furnished with necessary gifts, to qualify them for so important an office. It is, therefore, very ridiculous that, under the pretense of a divine calling, men totally unfit for discharging the office should take upon themselves the name of pastors. We have an instance of this in the Papacy, where mitred bishops, who are more ignorant than as many asses, proudly and openly vaunt, that they are Christ’s Vicars, and the only lawful prelates of the Church. We are expressly informed, that the Lord anoints his servants, because the true and efficacious preaching of the Gospel, as Paul says, does not lie “in the enticing words of man’s wisdom,” but in the heavenly power of the Spirit.
To the poor. The prophet shows what would be the state of the Church before the manifestation of the Gospel, and what is the condition of all of us without Christ. Those persons to whom God promises restoration are called poor, and broken, and captives, and blind, and bruised. The body of the people was oppressed by so many miseries, that these descriptions applied to every one of its members. Yet there were many who, amidst their poverty, blindness, slavery, and death, flattered themselves, or were insensible to their condition. The consequence was, that few were prepared to accept this grace.
And, first, we are here taught what is the design of the preaching of the Gospel, and what advantage it brings to us. We were altogether overwhelmed by every kind of evils: but there God cheers us by his life-giving light, to rescue us from the deep abyss of death, and to restore us to complete happiness. It tends, in no ordinary degree, to recommend the Gospel, that we obtain from it inestimable advantage. Secondly, we see who are invited by Christ, and made partakers of promised grace. They are persons, who are every way miserable, and destitute of all hope of salvation. But we are reminded, on the other hand, that we cannot enjoy those benefits which Christ bestows, in any other manner, than by being humbled under a deep conviction of our distresses, and by coming, as hungry souls, to seek him as our deliverer: for all who swell with pride, and do not groan under their captivity,, nor are displeased with their blindness, lend a deaf ear to this prediction, and treat it with contempt.
19. To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. Many think that here the prophet makes an allusion to the Jubilee, and I have no objection to that view. But it is proper to observe, that he purposely anticipates a doubt, which might disturb and shake weak minds, while the Lord held them in suspense, by delaying so long the promised salvation. He therefore makes the time of redemption to depend on the purpose, or good pleasure, of God. “In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee.” Paul calls it the fullness of the time, (Galatians 4:4,) that believers may learn not to indulge in excessive curiosity, but to acquiesce in the will of God, — and that we may rest satisfied with the conviction, that salvation was manifested in Christ, at the time which seemed good in the sight of God.
20. The eyes of all who were in the synagogue. God touched their hearts, I doubt not, with astonishment, which made them more attentive, and induced them to listen to Christ, while he was speaking. For they must have been withheld from opposing this discourse at the commencement, or breaking it off in the midst, when they were sufficiently disposed, as we shall see, to treat Christ with contempt.
21. Today is fulfilled. Christ did not merely affirm in a few words, but proved by a reference to facts, that the time was now come, when it was the will of God to restore his ruined church. The object of his discourse was, to expound the prediction clearly to his hearers: just as expositors handle Scripture in a proper and orderly manner, when they apply it to the circumstances of those whom they address. He says that it was fulfilled in their ears, rather than in their eyes, because the bare sight of the fact was of little value, if doctrine had not held the chief place.
22. And all gave testimony to him. Here Luke draws our attention, first, to the truly divine grace, which breathed in the lips of Christ; and then presents a lively picture of the ingratitude of men. Using a Hebrew idiom, he calls them discourses of grace, — that is, discourses which manifested the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. The inhabitants of Nazareth are thus compelled to acknowledge and admire God speaking in Christ; and yet they voluntarily refuse to render to the heavenly doctrine of Christ the honor which it deserves. Is not this the son of Joseph? Instead of regarding this circumstance as an additional reason for glorifying God, they bring it forward as an objection, and wickedly make it a ground of offense, that they may have some plausible excuse for rejecting what is said by the son of Joseph. Thus we daily see many who, while they are convinced that what they hear is the word of God, seize on frivolous apologies for refusing to obey it. And certainly the only reason why we are not affected, as we ought to be, by the power o£ the Gospel, is, that we throw hinderances in our own way, and that our malice quenches that light, the power of which we are unwilling to acknowledge.
Now when He heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, “The Land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles-The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light, and to those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (4:12–17)
One of the most beautiful metaphors used to describe Jesus’ nature and character is that of light. It conveys the idea of the illuminating, truth-revealing, and sin-exposing ministry of the Son of God. After first presenting Jesus Christ as the creative Word of God, John tells us, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4–5). He then tells us that John the Baptist “came that he might bear witness of the light … the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (vv. 8–9). He continues to say that “this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God” (John 3:19–21).
Speaking of Himself, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). Jesus spoke those words “in the treasury, as He taught in the temple” (v. 20). The Temple treasury was the outer court, the court of the women, and Jesus was there at the conclusion of the feast of Tabernacles. At that feast the Jews celebrated what they called the illumination of the Temple. A massive series of candelabra was placed in the middle of the court of the women, and for a week a great stream of light shinned out continuously-to commemorate the pillar of fire that led Israel during the wilderness wanderings under Moses. As Jesus entered the court of the women, the light had just been extinguished. The candelabra were still in place, but they now gave no light. Jesus’ declaration that He Himself was the light of the world that would never go out must have struck His hearers with great force. **
In the Old Testament, walking in the light was often used as a figure of righteousness and obedience to God, and walking in darkness as a figure of wickedness and disobedience (see Prov. 2:13; 4:18–19; etc.). Now Jesus presents Himself as the embodiment of righteousness and godliness, the very “light of the world.” “While I am in the world,” He said, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5), and again, “For a little while longer the light is among you. Walk while you have the light, that darkness may not overtake you” (12:35; cf. v. 46). Paul proclaimed, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Peter speaks of Christians as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
After the Fall, mankind had two “candles,” as it were, that continued to give light about God and His will-the candle of creation and the candle of conscience. But man paid little attention to either, preferring to walk in the darkness of his own corrupted will (see Rom. 1:18–21). In his sinfulness man continually extinguished the only two lights he had that revealed God’s nature and His will for His creatures.
Modern research has shown that, contrary to what had always been assumed, leprosy, now often called Hansen’s disease, does not itself cause the decay and deformity so often found in the extremities of its victims. The ulceration and decay are caused by abrasion, infection, external heat, and other secondary causes. The disease itself causes certain parts of the body to become insensitive to pain, and the person therefore has no warning of danger or harm. People with leprosy will therefore often reach into a fire to retrieve something, or will tear their feet to shreds walking on sharp stones they cannot feel.
The disease of sin has a similar effect. It desensitizes man’s spiritual and moral nature, destroying even the limited natural protection he has against evil, snuffing out the residual light that remains after the Fall. And Satan endeavors to shut out the light of the saving good news (2 Cor. 4:3–4).
Jesus Christ came not only to make man sensitive again to sin, but to restore the life and health that sin has destroyed. He came not only to reveal the darkness that sin causes, but also to bring the light that overcomes the darkness. That is how Matthew introduces the active ministry of Jesus: He is Himself the great light that has dawned upon mankind. As the aged Simeon said of Jesus as He held the infant Lord in his arms in the Temple, “My eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel” (Luke 2:30–32; cf. Isa. 42:6; 49:6; 52:10).
We learn from the apostle John (1:19—4:42) that about a year elapsed between Jesus’ wilderness temptations and the events recorded in Matthew 4:12–17. Probably because it does not relate directly to Jesus’ kingship, that period is not mentioned by Matthew.
What Jesus did during that time was nevertheless significant. For some three days Jesus had remained near the Jordan where John was baptizing. During that time John gave progressively greater testimony to Jesus’ Messiahship. The first day he spoke of Jesus as “He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:27). The second day he proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (v. 29) and “This is the Son of God” (v. 34). The third day, when John again declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” the two disciples of John who were with him left to follow Jesus (v. 35–37). In effect, John said, “The Messiah has come,” then, “Behold, the Messiah,” and finally, “Follow the Messiah.” Those two disciples of John, one of whom was Andrew, now became the disciples of Jesus (vv. 37–40). **
John was a bridge between the Old Testament and the New, and that bridge had now almost completed its service. He himself would soon say of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). During that first year of Jesus’ ministry, John continued to preach, and their two ministries overlapped. As John’s work began to phase out, Jesus’ work began to build.
Among the other highlights of that year were Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1–11), His cleansing of the Temple (2:12–25), His testimony to Nicodemus (3:1–21), the final public testimony of John the Baptist (3:22–36), and Jesus’ ministry in Samaria at Sychar (4:1–42).
In 4:12–17, Matthew picks up the story of that first year where the apostle John leaves off, giving three features of Jesus’ early ministry that show God’s truth and God’s light; God’s perfect work through His Son. It was at the right time; it was in the right place; and it was the right proclamation.
The Right Time
Now when He heard that John had been taken into custody, (4:12a)
In Matthew’s presentation, Jesus’ official ministry began when the herald of the King went to jail. The Son of God always worked on His Father’s divine timetable. He had, as it were, a divine clock ticking in His mind and heart that regulated everything He said and did. Paul affirms that “when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son” (Gal. 4:4). Jesus spoke of His hour as not having yet come (John 7:30; 8:20) and then of its having arrived (Matt. 26:45; John 12:23; 17:1).
Jesus chose not to use His supernatural powers to accomplish things that could be accomplished by ordinary human means. He submitted Himself to human limitations. Although He knew what was in every, man’s heart (John 2:24–25), He learned of John’s imprisonment by common report, just as did everyone else. It was only when He heard of John’s arrest that He went back to Galilee.
John had been taken into custody by Herod Antipas and thrown into the dungeon at the palace at Machaerus, on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. John’s reproof of Herod for his great wickedness, including the taking of his half-brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, for himself (14:3–4; Luke 3:19–20), cost the prophet his freedom and eventually his life. This non-Jewish Idumean was tetrarch of Galilee and Perea and, like his father before him, held office by Rome’s appointment. He was one of several sons (by several wives) of Herod the Great who were appointed over parts of the region ruled by their father before his death. Herodias was the woman-vile even by Roman standards-who would induce her daughter, Salome, to trick Herod into serving the head of John the Baptist on a platter before his guests at a royal dinner (14:6–11). The act was so unusually barbaric that even the hardened Herod himself “was distressed” (v. 9, NIV ).
It is always dangerous to confront evil, and John’s fearless condemnation of moral wickedness in high places led to his being beheaded. With similar bravery John Knox of Scotland stood ground against a corrupt monarchy. Standing before the repressive and corrupt Queen Mary, who had just rebuked him for resisting her authority, he said, “If princes exceed their bounds, madam, they may be resisted and even deposed.”
John the Baptist’s imprisonment and death, just as his heralding the King of kings, were in God’s divine plan and timetable. The end of the herald’s work signaled the beginning of the King’s. Herod and Herodias believed they freely controlled their province, and certainly the destiny of the insignificant Jewish preacher who dared condemn them. It is amazing how the proud and arrogant think they act in perfect freedom to accomplish their selfish ends, when in truth their decisions and actions only trigger events that God scheduled before the foundation of the world. **
The Right Place
He withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, “The Land of Zebulun [by Leah, #6; Gen 30:20] and the land of Naphtali [by Bilhah; #2 by Rachel’s handmaiden; Gen 30:7-8], by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles-The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light, and to those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned.” (4:12b-16)
Nothing is accidental or circumstantial in the Lord’s work. Jesus did not go from Judea, through Samaria, and into Galilee because He was forced to do so by Herod or by the Jewish leaders or because He had nowhere else to go. He left Judea because His work there was finished for that period of His ministry. He went through Samaria in order to bring light to the half-Jew, half-Gentile Samaritans. He then withdrew (anachōreō, used often to convey the thought of escaping danger) into Galilee because that was the next place where the divine plan scheduled Him to minister. By divine determination Jesus went to the right place at the right time.
When Jesus withdrew into Galilee after hearing of John’s arrest, it was not out of fear of Herod. He feared no man, and was surely no less brave than John. Had He wanted to escape possible trouble from Herod, He would not have gone to Galilee, because that, too, was under Herod’s control.
We again find additional information in John’s gospel. “When therefore the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John, … He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee” (John 4:1, 3). Jesus left the lower Jordan region for Galilee because of the Jewish leaders, particularly the Pharisees, and not because of Herod. Though Jesus had not yet begun preaching, His close association with John the Baptist made Him suspect to the Pharisees and Sadducees, whom John had so scathingly rebuked (Matt. 3:7). Those religious leaders had come to hate John, but did not dare take action against him because he was so highly regarded by most of the people. Even several years after John’s death they would not speak ill of him for “fear [of] the multitude” (Matt. 21:26). They were therefore greatly pleased when Herod did to John what they themselves wanted, but were afraid, to do. When they learned that Jesus was gaining a larger following even than John, their hatred would soon turn against Him as well. Jesus had no fear of their hatred, but it was not yet time for that hatred to be unleashed against Him.
Jesus was no more afraid of the Pharisees than was John, but He wanted to avoid a premature confrontation. When the time came, Jesus faced the Jewish religious leaders without a wince, and His denunciations of them were longer-lasting and immeasurably harder than those of John the Baptist had been (see, e.g., Matt. 23:1–36). Jesus knew that He was eternally safe from any danger that men could devise. His life would be forfeited, but by His own divine will, not by the wills or power of His enemies (John 10:17–18). And He would live again!
The Roman region of Galilee was primarily to the west, but also extended north and south, of the Sea of Galilee-which was really a lake, sometimes called Tiberias (John 6:1) or Gennesaret (Luke 5:1). The region is some 60 miles long, north to south, and about 30 miles wide. The area around the lake was heavily populated (estimated by some to have had as many as two million people in Jesus’ day) and had long been the breadbasket of central Palestine. The soil was extremely fertile, and the lake furnished great quantities of edible fish. The Jewish historian Josephus, who at one time was governor of Galilee, said of the area,
“It is throughout rich in soil and pasture, producing every variety of tree, and inviting by its productivity even those who have the least inclination for agriculture. It is everywhere tilled and everywhere productive.”
The Jews who lived in Galilee were less sophisticated and traditional than those in Judea, especially those in the great metropolis of Jerusalem. Josephus observed that Galileans “were fond of innovations and by nature disposed to change, and they delighted in seditions.” They even had a distinct accent in their speech (Matt. 26:73). Perhaps Jesus chose His disciples from that area because they would be less bound to Jewish tradition and more open to the newness of the gospel.
It is evident from the text that Jesus was in Nazareth for a while. Luke explains that, after Jesus came from Judea through Samaria, He “returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, … and He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read” (Luke 4:14, 16). At first “all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’ ” (v. 22). But after Jesus exposed their true spiritual condition, “all in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things.” They would have thrown Him over a cliff to His death had He not escaped (vv. 23–30).
After Jesus’ hometown rejected Him, just as He had said they would (Luke 4:23–27), He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali.
Capernaum means “village of Nahum” and was possibly named for the prophet Nahum. But Nahum means “compassion,” and it may be that the town simply had been named for its compassionate people. By Jesus’ day it was a flourishing, prosperous city. It was here that Matthew had his tax office (Matt. 9:9), and it was this place that Matthew refers to as “His city,” that is, Jesus’ own city (9:1). Yet a short while later Jesus would say of it, “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you” (Matt. 11:23–24). Today Capernaum, though a popular attraction for Christian visitors, is virtually uninhabited.
As we learn from Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah 9:1 in verse 15, the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, had long been known as Galilee of the Gentiles (ethnoi, heathen, or nations). All of Galilee was cosmopolitan, with the Syrians to the north and east and the descendants of the ancient Phoenicians to the west. It was more of a crossroads than Jerusalem, which was isolated from much trade traffic. A famous trade route was actually known as the way of the sea. It went through Galilee on its way from Damascus to the Mediterranean coast and then down to Egypt. One ancient writer said that Judea was on the way to nowhere, whereas Galilee was on the way to everywhere. The Galilean Jews’ constant association with Gentiles contributed greatly to their nontraditional character.
The region of Galilee originally had been given by the Lord to the tribes of Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali when Israel began to settle in Canaan (see Josh. 19:10–39). But, contrary to God’s command, Zebulun and Naphtali failed to expel all of the Canaanites from their territories. From the beginning, therefore, these unfaithful Jews suffered the problem of mixed marriages and the inevitable pagan influence which that practice brought.
In the eighth century b.c. the Assyrians, under Tiglath-pileser, took away a large part of those tribes as captives (2 Kings 15:29) and replaced them with Assyrians and other non-Jews. Until it was temporarily liberated by Judas Maccabaeus in 164 b.c., the region of Galilee was largely under foreign control and was even largely populated by non-Jews. Another Jewish leader, Aristobulus, reconquered Galilee in 104 b.c. and tried unsuccessfully to establish an entirely Jewish nation by forcibly circumcizing all the male inhabitants. Through those disrupting centuries, the Jews that remained in Galilee had been greatly weakened in both biblical and traditional Judaism-giving even greater significance to the name Galilee of the Gentiles.
It is not strange, then, that the reaction of many Jews in Jerusalem was, “Surely the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He?” (John 7:41). The idea of a Galilean Messiah seemed ludicrous. When Nicodemus tried to convince the Pharisees that Jesus should be given a fair hearing, “They answered and said to him, ‘You are not also from Galilee, are you? Search, and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee’ ” (vv. 51–52).
Yet, as Matthew here reminds his readers, Isaiah had long before prophesied that in Galilee of the Gentiles-The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light, and to those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned (cf. Isa. 9:1–2). The fact alone that Jesus so accurately and completely fulfilled Old Testament prophecy should be enough to convince an honest mind of the Bible’s truthfulness and authority. Just as Isaiah had predicted eight centuries earlier, the despised, sin-darkened, and rebellious Galileans were the first to glimpse the Messiah, the first to see the dawning of God’s New Covenant! Not mighty and beautiful Jerusalem, the queen city of the Jews, but Galilee of the Gentiles would first hear Messiah’s message. Not the learned, proud, and pure Jews of Jerusalem, but the mongrel, downcast, nontraditional mixed multitude of Samaria and Galilee had that great honor. To those who were neediest, and who were most likely to recognize their need, Jesus went first.
The fact that Jesus began His ministry in Samaria and Galilee, rather than in Jerusalem and Judea, emphasizes the fact that His gospel of salvation was for the whole world. It was the fulfillment of Old Testament truth, which God had chosen to reveal through the Jews (cf. Rom. 3:1–2), but it was in no way an accommodation to the traditional, proud, and exclusive Judaism that had developed during the intertestamental period and that was so dominant in Jesus’ day. The Son of God was sent to be “a light of revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel” (Luke 2:32; cf. Isa. 42:6; 49:6; 52:10). It was no coincidence of history that “the light of the world” (John 8:12) first proclaimed Himself in Galilee of the Gentiles.
It was in and around Galilee that Jesus had spent all but a small part of His childhood and early manhood, and it was there that His ministry first developed and began to spread. As the new day of the gospel dawned, the first rays of light shined in Galilee. Into this land of oppression, dispersion, and corrosive moral and spiritual influences-and impending death at the word of divine judgment-Jesus came with words and deeds of mercy, truth, love, and hope: “To those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned.”
The Right Proclamation
From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (4:17)
Preaching was a central part of Jesus’ ministry and remains a central part of the ministry of His church. From that time, when He went to Galilee, Jesus began to preach. Kērussō (to preach) means “to proclaim” or “to publish,” that is, to publicly make a message known. R. C. H. Lenski comments, “The point to be noted is that to preach is not to argue, reason, dispute, or convince by intellectual proof, against all of which a keen intellect may bring counterargument. We simply state in public or testify to all men the truth which God bids us state. No argument can assail the truth presented in this announcement or testimony. Men either believe the truth, as all sane men should, or refuse to believe it, as only fools venture to do” (The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1964], p. 168).
Jesus preached His message with certainty. He did not come to dispute or to argue, but to proclaim, to preach. Preaching is the proclamation of certainties, not the suggestion of possibilities. Jesus also preached “as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:29). What He proclaimed not only was certain but was of the utmost authority. The scribes could not teach authoritatively because they had so mingled biblical truth with the interpretations and traditions of various rabbis that all certainty and authority had long vanished. They could no longer distinguish God’s Word from men’s words, and all that remained were opinions and speculations. For God’s people once again to hear someone preach as the prophets had preached was astonishing (cf. Matt. 7:28–29).
Jesus not only preached with certainty and authority but preached only what He was commissioned by His Father to preach. John the Baptist said of Jesus, “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God” (John 3:34). Jesus Himself said, “I speak the things which I have seen with My Father” (John 8:38). Later he gave the same testimony even more pointedly: “For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak” (John 12:49).
In His high priestly prayer Jesus spole to His Father or His disciples, saying, “Now they have come to know that everything Thou hast given Me is from Thee; for the words which Thou gavest Me I have given to them; and they received them” (John 17:7–8). And it is in His own authority that Jesus sends out His ministers to the world: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:18–19). That is God’s commission to everyone who preaches in His name. The faithful preacher and teacher will proclaim God’s certain truth, with God’s delegated authority, and under God’s divine commission.
When the King’s light dawned, the message that His light brought was clear. He began where His herald, John the Baptist, had begun: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (cf. 3:2).
The darkness in which the people lived was the darkness of sin and evil. Jesus was saying, “The great darkness has been upon you because of the great darkness that is within you. You must be willing to turn from that darkness before the light can shine in you.” To turn from sin is to repent, to change one’s orientation, to turn around and seek a new way. Metanoeō literally means a change of perception, a change in the way we see something. To repent, therefore, is to change the way a person looks at sin and the way he looks at righteousness. It involves a change of opinion, of direction, of life itself. To repent is to have a radical change of heart and will-and, consequently, of behavior (cf.Matt. 3:8).
That was, and has always continued to be, the first demand of the gospel, the first requirement of salvation, and the first element of the saving work of the Spirit in the soul. The conclusion of Peter’s Pentecost sermon was a call to repentance: “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). Many years later Paul reminded Timothy that repentance leads “to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25).
Israel would not be ready for or worthy of the King until she repented. Repentance, of course, had always been in order and had always been needed, but now that the kingdom of heaven [was] at hand, it was all the more imperative. The King had arrived, and the kingdom was near. Messiah’s time had come-to usher in the age of righteousness and rest, to subdue Israel’s enemies, to bring all of God’s people back to their land, and to reign on the throne of David.
Tragically, because most of Israel did not repent and did not recognize and accept the King, the promised earthly kingdom had to be postponed. As Matthew later explains, the literal, physical kingdom was set aside for a period of time. The spiritual kingdom presently exists only in the hearts of those who have trusted in Jesus Christ, the King. He is not ruling the nation Israel and the world as He one day will, but He rules the lives of those who belong to Him by faith. The world does not have peace, but those do who know the Prince of Peace. The external kingdom has not yet come, yet the King Himself indwells those that are His. The Messiah, the Christ, now rules in those who have received Him who is “the light of men.”
Fishing for Men
And walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And they immediately left the nets, and followed Him. 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. And they immediately left the boat and their father, and followed Him. (4:18–22)
The following widely told story is a sobering parable of what the church’s concern for evangelism has often been like.
On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks were frequent, a crude little life-saving station was built. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted crewmen kept a constant watch over the sea. With no thought for themselves, they went out day or night, tirelessly searching for any who might need help. Many lives were saved by their devoted efforts. After a while the station became famous. Some of those who were saved, as well as others in the surrounding area, wanted to become a part of the work. They gave time and money for its support. New boats were bought, additional crews were trained, and the station grew. Some of the members became unhappy that the building was so crude. They felt a larger, nicer place would be more appropriate as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. So they replaced the emergency cots with hospital beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Soon the station became a popular gathering place for its members to discuss the work and to visit with each other. They continued to remodel and decorate until the station more and more took on the look and character of a club. Fewer members were interested in going out on lifesaving missions, so they hired professional crews to do the work on their behalf. The lifesaving motif still prevailed on the club emblems and stationery, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club held its initiations. One day a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in many boatloads of cold, wet, half-drowned people. They were dirty, bruised, and sick; and some had black or yellow skin. The beautiful new club was terribly messed up, and so the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside, where the shipwreck victims could be cleaned up before coming inside. At the next meeting there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities altogether, as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted on keeping lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that, after all, they were still called a lifesaving station. But those members were voted down and told that if they wanted to save lives they could begin their own station down the coast somewhere. As the years went by, the new station gradually faced the same problems the other one had experienced. It, too, became a club, and its lifesaving work became less and less of a priority. The few members who remained dedicated to lifesaving began another station. History continued to repeat itself; and if you visit that coast today you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.
What a striking illustration of the history of the church. Yet the work of evangelism, of spiritual lifesaving, is nonetheless the purest, truest, noblest, and most essential work the church will ever do. The work of fishing men and women out of the sea of sin, the work of rescuing people from the breakers of hell, is the greatest work the church is called by God to do.
Rescuing men from sin is God’s great concern. Evangelism has been called the sob of God. Concern for the lost caused Jesus to grieve over unbelieving Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Matt. 23:37).
God sent His Son to earth-to preach, die, and be raised-for the very purpose of saving men from sin. The Father “so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him” (John 3:16–17). The Son Himself came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). The Holy Spirit gives to those who believe “the washing of regeneration and renewing” (Titus 3:5). The whole Trinity is at work in the ministry of saving mankind from sin. Evangelism is the great concern of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
God’s concern for redeeming mankind did not, of course, begin when He sent His Son to earth. In the Garden of Eden He promised that one day sin would be destroyed, that Satan’s very head would be bruised (Gen. 3:15). In His covenant with Abraham He promised that in him “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). In the covenant at Sinai God called Israel to “be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6), a kingdom of His witnesses to the world to draw all mankind to Himself.
God’s people were to share His concern for the lost. Moses was so desperate for the salvation of his own rebellious people that he cried to God, “But now, if Thou wilt, forgive their sin-and if not, please blot me out from Thy book which Thou hast written!” (Ex. 32:32). The writer of Proverbs reminded Israel that “he who is wise wins souls” (Prov. 11:30). The Lord told Daniel, “Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Dan. 12:3).
Evangelism was the great concern of the New Testament church. Immediately after Pentecost, the new believers were totally dedicated to God and to winning others to Him. As they studied at the apostles’ feet, shared with each other, and praised God, they came to have “favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42–47). When the first great persecution of the church in Jerusalem began under the direction of Saul, “those who had been scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:1–4). They did not despair over their hardship but took it as an opportunity to expand the Lord’s work.
After Saul himself was converted, his own great concern was evangelism-for building up the movement he had formerly tried to destroy. “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish,” he would one day write. “Thus, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:14–16). Though he was called to be God’s special apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Eph. 3:8), Paul had such an overwhelming desire for the salvation of his fellow Jews that he said, “I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3). His “heart’s desire and [his] prayer to God for them [was] for their salvation” (10:1). He wanted everyone to be saved, and was willing to “become all things to all men, that [he might] by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
Evangelism has been the heartthrob of faithful Christians throughout the history of the church. John Knox pleaded with God, “Give me Scotland or I die.” John Wesley considered the whole world his parish.
Like the Christian life in general, soul-winning involves a paradox. Jesus said, “For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it” (Matt. 16:25). In other words, in saving others we lose ourselves; in losing ourselves in the task we will be used to win others. Jesus warned His disciples that the Jewish leaders would soon “make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God” (John 16:2)-just as they hated Jesus Himself “without a cause” (15:25). Those who would reach the world must be willing to be rejected by the world, just as our Lord conquered death by yielding to death.
In a sense, the life of evangelism involves sacrificing the greater for the lesser, the worthy for the unworthy. It is the opposite of the loveless and brutal survival of the fittest-the way of the fallen, sinful world. God’s way, the way of redemption, is that of the strong being willing to die that the weak might live. God’s Word is clear that, if we are committed to the salvation of those without Jesus Christ, we will lose ourselves in order to reach them. Preaching the saving gospel is essential, and so is personal witnessing.
Forms of evangelize are used over fifty times in the New Testament. Evangelization is the primary thrust of the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:19). To make disciples is to evangelize, to bring men and women under the Saviorhood and lordship of Jesus Christ. When Jesus called His disciples to Himself, He also called them to call others.
By comparing the gospel accounts we discover that there were at least five different phases of Jesus’ calling of the twelve. Each gospel writer emphasized those phases which best suited his particular purpose. As would be expected, the first call was to salvation, to faith in the Messiah (see John 1:35–51; 2:11). The calling that Matthew mentions here was the second calling, the calling to witness. After neither the first nor the second call did the disciples permanently leave their occupations. At the time of the third call (Luke 5:1–11), Peter, James, and John were again back fishing. Jesus repeated the call to be fishers of men, and the disciples then realized the call was permanent and “they left everything and followed Him” (v. 11).
In Luke’s account, Simon and the others are still fishermen, and the Lord is teaching the crowd on shore from Simon’s boat (v. 3). After the teaching, He instructed the disciples to go out to the deep water and let down their nets for a catch. Simon protested that a full night of fishing had yielded nothing, but said that he would obey nonetheless. When the fish came into the net to the point of breaking it, and the catch filled both boats so that they almost sank with the weight of the fish, Simon knew who Jesus was-the presence of the holy God. His reaction, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (v. 8), reveals the same attitude Isaiah had when he saw God (Isa. 6:1–5)-an overwhelming sense of sinfulness. The sinner in the presence of God sees only his sin, and shrinks back in fear of judgment. But instead of consuming fire, Peter received a call to discipleship and evangelism. When the call came he responded with the other three men in total commitment to follow the Lord.
Mark tells us of the fourth level, or phase, of the call. “And He went up to the mountain and summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him. And He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him, and that He might send them out to preach, and to have authority to cast out the demons” (Mark 3:13–15). The fifth phase, anticipated in the previous one, is recorded in Matthew 10:1-“And having summoned His twelve disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.”
God calls all believers in a similar way. First He calls us to salvation, apart from which no other call could be effective. He then calls us progressively to more specific and ever-expanding service.
Calling Peter and Andrew
And walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And they immediately left the nets, and followed Him. (4:18–20)
The Sea of Galilee is an oval-shaped body of water about eight miles wide and thirteen miles long, and is nearly 700 feet below sea level. Luke, who was well traveled, always referred to it more properly as a lake. Yet Josephus reports that in the first century a.d. some 240 boats regularly fished the waters of that lake. Much additional fishing was done along the shore, as Simon who was called Peter [see Matt. 16:16–18], and Andrew his brother were doing on this occasion, casting a net into the sea.
In that day, three methods of fishing were used. One was by hook and line, the second was by a throw net cast from the shallow water along the shore, and the third was by a large dragnet strung between two or more boats in the deep water. Peter and Andrew were here obviously using the second method. That net was probably about nine feet in diameter, and the two brothers were skilled in its use, for they were fishermen by trade. The Greek term for that particular net was amphiblēstron (related to our amphibious, an adjective describing something related to both land and water)-so named because the person using the net would stand on or near shore and throw the net into the deeper water where the fish were.
When Jesus called those first disciples, He gathered together the first fish-catching crew of His church. They were the first of the original band of evangelists He called to fulfill the Great Commission. They were Jesus’ first partners in ministry. He had the power and the right to accomplish the work of proclaiming the gospel by Himself. But that was not His plan. He could have done it alone, but He never intended to do it alone. From the beginning of His ministry, His plan was to use disciples to win disciples. He would command His disciples to do other things, but His first call to them was, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.
We are given specific details of the callings of only seven of the original twelve. But Jesus individually selected those who would become part of the first marvelous ministry of winning people to Himself. “He called His disciples to Him; and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles” (Luke 6:13). God always chooses His partners. He chose Noah and Abraham, Moses and David. He chose the prophets. He chose Israel herself to be a whole nation of partners, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). Jesus told His disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit” (John 15:16; cf. 6:70; 13:18). Paul called Epaenetus “the first convert [lit., “firstfruit,” aparchē] to Christ from Asia” (Rom. 16:5).
That calling to bear fruit in evangelism is extended to everyone who belongs to Jesus Christ. The called ones are themselves to become callers. Speaking of all Christians, Peter wrote, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). Christ mandates that all of His followers be fishermen. The command, Follow Me (in the Greek an adverb of place expressing a command), literally means “come here.” The term after is used in the original to show the place they are to come: “Your place is following after Me!”
The disciples’ obedience was instant: And they immediately left the nets, and followed Him. The sovereign authority of the Lord had spoken. Followed is from akoloutheō, which conveys the idea of following as a disciple who is committed to imitating the one he follows.
Many years ago an Italian recluse was found dead in his house. He had lived frugally all his life, but when friends were going through his house to sort out the few possessions he had accumulated they discovered 246 expensive violins crammed into his attic. Some even more valuable ones were in a bureau drawer in his bedroom. Virtually all of his money had been spent buying violins. Yet his misdirected devotion to the instruments had robbed the world of their beautiful sounds. Because he selfishly treasured those violins, the world never heard the music they were meant to play. It is even reported that the first violin the great Stradivarius ever made was not played until it was 147 years old!
Many Christians treat their faith like that man treated his violins. They hide their light; they squirrel away their great treasure. By not sharing their light and their treasure, many to whom they could have witnessed are left in spiritual darkness and poverty.
Some researchers estimate that as many as ninety-five percent of all Christians have never led another person to Jesus Christ. If that is true, ninety-five percent of the world’s spiritual violins have never been played! True love of our riches in Christ leads us to shine and share, not to hide and hoard.
When D. L. Moody once visited an art gallery in Chicago he was especially impressed by a painting called “The Rock of Ages.” The picture showed a person with both hands clinging to a cross firmly embedded in a rock. While the stormy sea smashed against the rock, he hung tightly to the cross. Years later Mr. Moody saw a similar picture. This one also showed a person in a storm holding to a cross, but with one hand he was reaching out to someone who was about to drown. The great evangelist commented that, though the first painting was beautiful, the second was even lovelier.
Calling James and John
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. And they immediately left the boat and their father, and followed Him. (4:21–22)
When Jesus called James and John they were tough, crusty outdoors-men-uncut jewels. They were in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, a routine but important task in the fishing business. They had already been called to faith in the Savior (see John 1:35–51; 2:11); here He called them to the work of evangelism alongside Himself. And they immediately left the boat and their father, and followed Him.
These disciples had little education, little spiritual perception, and possibly little religious training of any sort. As their new Master began to teach them, even when He spoke in parables, they often lacked full comprehension of His meaning.
They were often self-centered and inhospitable. When the multitude who had walked a long way around the Sea of Galilee to be with Jesus became hungry, the disciples thought only of sending them away on their own to find food (Matt. 14:15). When some little children were brought to Jesus for blessing, the disciples rebuked those who brought them (19:13). Peter thought he would be extremely generous to forgive someone “up to seven times” (18:21). Even on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, as their Lord agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter, James, and john could not stay awake with Him (26:40, 45). The disciples were selfish, proud, weak, and cowardly. They showed little potential even for dependability, much less for greatness. Yet Jesus chose them for disciples, even to be His inner circle of twelve. They were raw material that He would make into useful instruments.
All the disciples were probably not as rough and unpromising as the first and most dominant four Jesus called, but not one was chosen from among the Jewish religious leaders-the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, priests, or rabbis. It was no doubt partly that fact that caused those leaders to reject Jesus. They could not believe that anyone who Himself was not an official leader, and who chose no official leaders to be His personal students and co-workers, could possibly be the Messiah. It was beyond their comprehension that God’s own Son would bypass the proper leaders of His chosen people when He came to establish His kingdom.
The only apostle who had been a Jewish religious leader was not among the original twelve, and he considered himself “one untimely born.” He knew that his own calling was exceptional and reflected God’s exceeding grace (1 Cor. 15:8–10). He reminded the Corinthian believers, “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God” (1 Cor. 1:26–29).
Jesus did not simply command His disciples to become fishers of men, but promised that He would make them fishermen for men’s souls. As He later would make clear on more than one occasion, that promise was also a caution. Not only was He willing to make them into disciplers, but they could never be effective disciplers-or effective disciples in any way-without His power. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
A number of qualities that make a good fisherman can also help make a good evangelist. First, a fisherman needs to be patient, because he knows that it often takes time to find a school of fish. Fishermen learn to wait. Second, a fisherman must have perseverance. It is not simply a matter of waiting patiently in one place, hoping some fish will eventually show up. It is a matter of going from place to place, and sometimes back again, over and over-until the fish are found. Third, fishermen must have good instinct for going to the right place and dropping the net at the right moment. Poor timing has lost many a catch, both of fish and of men. A fourth quality is courage. Commercial fishermen, certainly ones such as those on the Sea of Galilee, frequently face considerable danger from storms and various mishaps.
A good fisherman also keeps himself out of sight as much as possible. It is very easy for ourselves to get in the way of our witnessing, causing people to turn away. A good soul-winner keeps himself out of the picture as much as possible.
When Jesus called the disciples to commit themselves to evangelism, He also committed Himself to train them and empower them. Following the Lord’s example, the church not only must call its members to evangelize, but must continually train and encourage them in that calling. The Lord not only empowers his disciples to witness but empowers them to train others to witness. In other words, He empowers His disciples to disciple, just as He promised in the Great Commission. “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:18–19).
Jesus first sent the disciples out two-by-two on brief missions, instructing them about what they should and should not do and say (Mark 6:7–11). After three years of teaching and training in short-term assignments, He finally left them permanently on their own. Yet they were not on their own, because He would henceforth not only be with them but in them (Matt. 28:20; John 16:13–15).
Both in Jesus’ teaching and in His example we can see principles that every soul-winner must emulate. First of all, Jesus was available. It seems incredible that the Son of God, who had so very little time to teach and train the slow-learning disciples, would be so open to those who came to Him for comfort or healing. He never turned down a request for help.
Second, Jesus showed no favoritism. The poor and outcast could approach Him as easily as the wealthy and powerful. The influential Jairus and the powerful Roman centurion had no advantage over the Samaritan woman of Sychar or the woman taken in adultery.
Third, Jesus was totally sensitive to the needs of those around Him. He always recognized an open heart, a repentant sinner. Even when the crowd pressed around Him, He noticed the woman who touched the hem of His garment. “Jesus turning and seeing her said, ‘Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.’ And at once the woman was made well” (Matt. 9:20–22) When we are sensitive to Christ’s Spirit, He will make us sensitive to others, and will lead us to them or them to us.
Fourth, Jesus usually secured a public profession or testimony. Sometimes He gave specific instruction, as He did to the man He delivered from demons (Mark 5:19), whereas at other times the desire to witness was spontaneous, as with the woman of Sychar (John 4:28–29).
Fifth, Jesus showed love and tenderness to those He sought to win. Again His experience with the woman at Sychar gives a beautiful example. She not only was a religious outcast in the eyes of Jews but was an adulteress. She had had five husbands and was then living with a man to whom she was not married. Yet Jesus firmly but gently led her to the place of faith. Through her, many other Samaritans were led to salvation (John 4:7–42).
Finally, Jesus always took time. In contrast to many of His followers, Jesus always had time for others. Some Christian workers are so busy with “the Lord’s work” that they have no time for others-though that was a primary characteristic of Jesus’ own ministry. Even while on His way to heal Jairus’ daughter, Jesus took time to heal the woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years (Mark 5:21–34).
The response of Peter, Andrew, James, and John to Jesus’ call was the same. They immediately left what they were doing and followed Him. Their obedience was instant and without hesitation. At this time they had little knowledge of Jesus’ teaching or of what following Him would cost. But it was enough for them to know who He was and that His call to them was a divine call.
From many subsequent accounts in the gospels we know that none of the disciples at this time had a passion for souls, or a passion for any part of the Lord’s work. In fact, their response to unbelief was to call for instant divine destruction (see Luke 9:51–56). Passion came only after understanding and obedience. They developed compassion, humility, understanding, patience, and love as they learned from and obeyed Jesus. Obedience is the spark that lights the fire of passion. The way to develop a love for souls is to obey Jesus’ call to win souls. As we do that, God will kindle that spark of obedience into a great flame of passion. This is the time of gracious evangelism, not of consuming judgment, as our Lord made clear in the parable of the tares (Matt. 13:24–30, 36–43).
David Brainerd, the great missionary to the American Indians, who died while still in his twenties, said, “Oh, that I were a flame of fire in my Master’s cause.” His selfless obedience proved the sincerity of that desire, and God gave him a burning heart for lost souls that has few parallels in the history of the church. Henry Martyn, missionary to India and Persia, prayed that he might “burn out for God,” and that is what God graciously allowed him to do.
Such burning desire comes only from the pilot light of obedience. Like David Brainerd, Robert Murray McCheyne died before he was thirty. Of him Courtland Myers wrote: “Everywhere he stepped Scotland shook. Whenever he opened his mouth a spiritual force swept in every direction. Thousands followed him to the feet of Christ.” Visitors who came to see the church where McCheyne had preached were shown a table, chair, and open Bible. They were then told how that man of God spent hours with his head buried in the Bible, weeping for those to whom he would preach. Myers then comments, “With such a passion for souls, is it any wonder that the Holy Spirit gave McCheyne a magnetic personality which drew so many to the Savior?”
The hymn “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning” is based on a story told by D. L. Moody. A ship was coming into Cleveland harbor on Lake Erie on a stormy night. The harbor had two sets of lights to guide incoming vessels. One set was high on the bluff above the harbor and could be seen for many miles. The other set was down near the coastline and was used to guide the ships through the rocks as they came nearer to port. On that particular night the wind and rain had extinguished the lower lights, and the pilot suggested they stay out in the lake until daylight. The captain, however, was afraid of the ship’s being destroyed by the storm and decided to risk making the harbor. But without the lower lights to guide it, the ship was wrecked on the rocks, and many of the men drowned. In applying that story to Christian witnessing, Moody said, “The upper lights in heaven are burning as brightly as ever they’ve burned. But what about the lower lights?”
Jesus Begins His Ministry (Matthew 4:12-17)
The quotation from Isaiah in Matthew 4:15-16 differs from that which we find in our Old Testament because it is taken from the Septuagint, the Greek translation in common use at that time, instead of from the original Hebrew (see Isaiah 9:1-2).
As He went from place to place Jesus preached, saying, "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." This message was the same as that of John the Baptist. "The kingdom of heaven," as we have seen, is a term used only in this Gospel. It speaks of Heaven's rule over earth. This was now ready to be set up if there had been readiness on the part of Israel to receive it. But it could be set up only on a foundation of national repentance; and for this the people were not prepared. They would not receive the King; consequently they lost the kingdom, as the sequel shows. Before that kingdom would be restored to Israel (Acts 1:6) God was to make known another program, which for the time being was hidden from human understanding.
Jesus Calls His First Disciples (Matthew 4:18-25)
Peter and Andrew had been attracted already to Jesus (John 1:40-42). Now they left all to follow Him, little realizing what was in store for them, both of joy and sorrow. James and John also were to be numbered among the King's closest friends, to bear witness to Israel. James was to die a martyr's death early in the new age. John was destined to outlive all the rest of the chosen twelve.
Matthew 4:23-25 epitomizes the nature and scope of the ministry of Jesus. Everywhere Jesus and His disciples went He brought blessing and salvation to those who sought His favor. Many followed Him from place to place, doubtless expecting that at any moment He might declare His royal authority and, overthrowing the Roman power, bring deliverance to Israel. But before this could be done there was another and far greater work that had to be accomplished--the settlement of the sin question: for this He had come into the world. The King must be the victim before He could take His great power and reign. And so, although for the moment the crowds applauded and the common people heard Him gladly, He moved on with even tread to the place called Calvary.
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand”
12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; 13 and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 “The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, And those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, Upon them a Light dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
God’s plan, place, and purpose should govern our lives. Are you willing to accept what God and His Word proclaims, brings to light? I am praying this morning as I prepare to proclaim God's Word about light and truth that we all so need to receive, who need to walk in the light of God's truth. I am praying especially that we'll see the light of God's truth exposing our own sinfulness and darkness, rather than God having to expose it to the world to convince [to convict] men [us] of our sins.
1. The Right Time [v. 12a]
4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,
@ God’s when is everything!
2. The Right Place [v. 12b-16]
a map of the Northern region of Israel, like this, would be appropriate; but you likely have a better one that would emphasize this Northern region
@ God’s Word, God’s will, God’s way, and God’s when, God’s where is everything!
3. The Right Proclamation [v. 17]
@ God’s Word, God’s will, and God’s way is everything!
Conclusion and Application:
Ø Is it hard for you to “wait on the Lord” and His perfect timing?
Ø Are you “blooming where you’re planted” or complaining because you don’t live in a perfect environment?
Ø Do you readily accept God’s truth as God’s will for your life?
VERY SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: By the grace of God our church no longer carries the burden of indebtedness! We are most humbled and grateful to God for our beloved brother and fellow servant Bro. Preston Byford for his love for our Lord, his love for us, First Baptist Church, Comanche, and his gracious, generous, and glad-hearted gift. The President of the Baptist Foundation of Oklahoma will try to join us when we’ll have a special “note burning” service on March 11, with “dinner on the grounds” to commemorate this very special time in the history of our church!
 Chouinard, L. (1997). Matthew. The College Press NIV commentary (Mt 4:12). Joplin, Mo.: College Press.
a302 “Pource qu’il savoit que c’estoit un homme de grande authorite
a303 The solution usually given, we believe, for this apparent discrepancy, is, that the name of the person in question was Herod-Philip. — Ed.
a304 “Les rois, princes, et grans tyrans.” — ”Kings, princes, and great tyrants.”
 Calvin, J. (1998). Calvin's Commentaries: The Harmony of the Gospels : Calvin's Commentary on Matthew, Mark, and Luke (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Calvin's Commentaries. Albany, OR: Ages Software.
a306 “Aucuns pensent que par la volonte de Dieu il l’ait recontre sans le chercher.” — ”Some think that, by the will of God, he found it without seeking for it.”
 Calvin, J. (1998). Calvin's Commentaries: The Harmony of the Gospels : Calvin's Commentary on Matthew, Mark, and Luke (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Calvin's Commentaries. Albany, OR: Ages Software.
cf. confer (Lat.), compare
 Josephus, The Wars of the Jews 3.3.2
b.c. Before Christ
 MacArthur, J. (1989). Matthew (101). Chicago: Moody Press.
a.d. Anno Domini (Lat.), Year of the Lord
lit. literal, literally
 MacArthur, J. (1989). Matthew (101). Chicago: Moody Press.
 H.A. Ironside Commentaries