A Brief Update
For those of you who are unable to gather corporately with us this Sunday, you are loved and missed! If this is you, we are providing the songs we are singing together this morning and a devotional based on the sermon being preached.
Songs We are Singing Together
Devotional on Matthew 4:12-17
Our text marks something of a turning point in the Gospel of Matthew. Up to this point, Matthew has been emphasizing the coming of Jesus as Messiah—the promised and anointed One, the coming King, the suffering servant—the one who has come to atone for the sins of his people.
Matthew’s introduction of Jesus over these first four chapters has been flooded with quotations from the Old Testament to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of all that has come before. He was prophesied both directly and indirectly all throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.
And in this passage, once again, Matthew wants to point us back to the old in order to see the new that has come in Jesus Christ. His aim is for his readers to behold the glory and goodness of the coming of Jesus Christ.
[Read Matthew 4:12-13]
Our passage opens without much indication about how much time has passed since the scene before. We last saw Jesus in the wilderness, and before that we saw John at the Jordan River. Now, word has reached Jesus that John has been arrested.
This signals the end of John’s ministry of preparing the way. His time has ended. And so, Matthew is interested to show, not so much the content of Jesus’s initial ministry but the movement of it.
Jesus grew up in the small village of Nazareth. After being baptized and hearing that John has been arrested, verse 12 tells us that Jesus “withdrew into Galilee.” This signals his return back to Nazareth. But shortly thereafter, Matthew tells us that Jesus left Nazareth and went to Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali.
Matthew’s priority is to show the movement of Jesus. Capernaum was located north east of Nazareth, and well north of Jerusalem. While Nazareth was more remote and situated in the hills, Capernaum was a bustling town right on the sea of Galilee.
There are a handful of practical reasons why Capernaum might be a better place for Jesus to begin his ministry than Nazareth. Not only was Nazareth a remote village with a small population, it was also looked down upon by everyone. Nothing good came out of Nazareth. But Capernaum centered around its thriving fishing industry. It was also an administrative center for the Roman Empire and it had a population of as many as ten thousand people. All kinds of people from the north and the south would have passed through Capernaum and many made their homes there.
And it was here, in Capernaum, that Jesus begins his ministry. But notice that in this text Matthew doesn’t take time to highlight any of these practical reasons. Instead, he indicates the one reason why Jesus’s ministry must begin here: because this is what has been prophesied.
There are two observations to make about the motivation of Jesus’s movement, and here is the first: the movement of Jesus was motivated by purpose—obedience to the will of his Father.
When Matthew tells us in verse 13 that Jesus left Nazareth and went to Capernaum by the sea, he does not say this as if it was happenstance, as if Jesus chose to go to Dunkin Donuts instead of Starbucks, but to convey purpose. Jesus had to go to Capernaum because this is what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah. This is what God had determined from the beginning.
Jesus, the King, the anointed One, comes to earth as the humble Son, carrying out the will of his Father. This is what we saw in the wilderness temptations of Matthew 4:1-11. At every point of Satan’s temptation, Jesus exhibits unwavering trust in and commitment to his Father. It’s no different here. Jesus must move to Capernaum because this is the will of the Father; this is what has been prophesied.
Matthew—quite explicitly—teaches us something that is very important for us to understand about God’s Word. What we learn and see is that God’s Word never fails. God’s Word is always true.
While we can only hope that our word comes true or that people respond the way we want them to, God’s Word does not return void. It always does what God intends for it to do (see Isaiah 55:10-11).
Matthew recognizes that what Scripture prophecies must be fulfilled, so Jesus goes to Capernaum. This is just one more example of the fact that God’s Word always comes true. So, the lesson for us is to know his Word, know the promises of His Word, so that we might trust his Word. Do not rely on your own abilities, the promises of others, or the powers and hopes of nations. Rely upon God as he’s revealed himself in His Word.
In his going to Capernaum, there is a second thing to observe about Jesus’s movement. We have discussed, first, how it was a movement motivated by purpose, and, second, we can see that it was a movement motivated by mercy.
We see the mercy of Jesus Christ put on display when we come to Isaiah’s prophecy. What exactly did he say? Matthew quotes it for us in verses 15 and 16. The quotation comes from Isaiah 9:1-2.
[Read Matthew 4:15-16]
Capernaum, located in Galilee, was a part of the region in the most northern part of Israel. This are would have been the first to face God’s judgment when the Assyrians came and conquered Israel in the eight century BC. They came and took the Israelites out of it, bringing them to Assyria as their captives. Because of this, historically, the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali would have been marked by judgment and darkness and death.
This region was marked by a people who were historically familiar with darkness and death, but moreover, they were viewed as outsiders by Jerusalem. This area was a diverse area and over time it had become more and more separated from the customs and practices of the Jews. The people from this region were largely considered Gentiles, separate from and outside of the chosen people of God. So much so that the prophecy speaks, not of Galilee of Israel, but “Galilee of the Gentiles.”
And it is here, in this place so familiar with darkness and the shadow of death that light dawns, that mercy comes. Everyone would have expected the Messiah to show up on the scene in Jerusalem, the placed marked by expectation and the practice of religion. This was a place full of light and understanding and faithfulness.
But this is not where Jesus shows up. Jesus goes to Capernaum because he is motivated by mercy. Where darkness seems deepest there the light of Christ shines brightest. In his infinite mercy, Jesus comes to those dwelling in darkness. This is where they live. Darkness is all around them.
It does not matter how dark the darkness around you may seem, there is no darkness that can overshadow the light of Christ. It is to people who live in darkness that can see the greatness of the light.
What an encouragement this is to us and what incredible hope it should bring. If light shines here, light can shine anywhere. The light of Jesus Christ can shine in your life. For the light of the Messiah to shine in the darkness shows that Jesus came to rescue those in darkness.
The movement of Jesus was driven by purposeful obedience and incomparable mercy.
[Read Matthew 4:17]
Verse 17 introduces us to a real shift in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew states in v17, “From that time.” Now, that Jesus has relocated to Capernaum his ministry begins. And his ministry begins with proclamation of a message. He says, “Repent!”
Jesus immediately gives his listeners the reason they should repent. He says, “For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The “kingdom of heaven” speaks of God’s kingdom coming in the person of Jesus Christ. His rule and reign and glory and light have broken into the darkness of our fallen world. And because this kingdom has come, God calls us to repent.
To repent is to turn away from false living and false hopes. False living is simply sin—all that contradicts and is opposed to the word and will of God. Of all the things Jesus could have proclaimed this is what he declares: “Repent!”
But we must remember something as Jesus calls out “repent!” And what we must remember is this—repentance is not a work that we do, as if it’s now all up to us to respond the right way. Repentance is a gift of grace made possible by the gospel.
The law says, “Obey and live. Disobey and die.” And Satan wants us to believe only this. Because here, there is no room for repentance, no room for turning; no chance to make things right. Either you obey and live, or you disobey and die. That’s it. The law offers new escape, no restoration.
But Jesus doesn’t call out “obey!” His message is “repent.” Think about this: repentance can only be his message if God is a God full of mercy and grace. And this is exactly who God is. He is a God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (see Psalm 103:8-13). So, instead of proclaiming a message of judgment without hope, Jesus shines as light in the darkness and proclaims a message of repentance.
For Jesus to call his listeners to repent since the kingdom of heaven is at hand also tells us that this kingdom, while present, is not yet complete. He only calls us to repent because he has come and he will come again in full, bringing to those who repent all of his light and life and goodness.
When we recognize that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, we cannot sit back and relax. We cannot be complacent. We must prepare for that kingdom. And the way to prepare for his kingdom is to repent.
We often think that to repent means we stop doing the wrong thing and start doing the right thing. But while repentance does lead to a change behavior, it doesn’t start there. Repentance doesn’t begin with a change in behavior but a change in perspective, a change in heart and mind. It is a change that takes place through the Spirit’s work. And it’s this heart change that leads to changed behavior.
When we start in the wrong place, we start to see our change in behavior as that which brings restoration, as that which earns God’s acceptance. But this is not repentance. This is legalism.
Repentance begins with that transformed perspective that acknowledges that I am a sinner deserving of God’s wrath. To be thrown back onto my own ability and obedience will only mean more judgment, more darkness. True repentance looks beyond ourselves to Jesus—the light of the world—the one who lived a perfect life of obedience to God and bore our sins in his body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. It is by his wounds that we are healed. So, repentance says, “Lord, nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”
And in looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, the repentant sinner lives a life to the glory of God the Father. This is the crucial way we must respond to God’s Word this afternoon. We repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Those who are repentant throw themselves into the righteousness that Jesus Christ has brought them into by the Holy Spirit’s work.
Song of Response
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