The Dawning of Jesus’ Ministry (Matthew 4:12-23)

Sermon by Daniel L. Sonnenberg | January 26, 2014


Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. 23 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. (Matthew 4:12-23)


In the season of Epiphany, we celebrate the revelation or manifestation of Jesus as the Christ to the world – in the visit of the magi, the baptism of Jesus, the testimonies of John the Baptist and Andrew, and today in the inauguration of his earthly ministry. Today we return to the Gospel of Matthew to discover how as Jesus begins his ministry, he reveals himself as the promised Messiah in four ways: by the relocation of his ministry, by the proclamation of his message, by the implementation of his method, and by the demonstration of the scope of his ministry.

His location

First, Jesus reveals himself as the Christ by the relocation of his ministry. While we were in seminary in Florida, Campus Crusade moved its ministry headquarters to the Orlando area. A few years before that, Pioneers had done the same. Some two decades earlier, Focus on the Family moved to Colorado Springs, CO. Why does a major ministry change its center of operations after spending decades in a particular location? It’s usually a number of factors, but when they are all told, it’s because the leaders believe the ministry will be more effective in the new location.

Jesus does something similar. After his baptism, his temptation in the desert, and some preliminary ministry near Jerusalem and Samaria in the south, Jesus intentionally moves his center of operations from Nazareth, his hometown, further north to the city of Capernaum. Capernaum is located on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee. If you look at the maps in the back of your Bible, you’ll see that this is the area settled in OT times by the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun, descendants of two of the twelve sons of Israel. (vv 12-16) As we read earlier in our OT passage, Isaiah prophesied that formerly God “brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and Naphtali,” but “in the latter times…the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (9:1-2).  The region formerly called Zebulun and Naphtali, Isaiah called “Galilee of the Gentiles” because at the time of the Hebrew conquest many Gentile cities remained there. And this area became even more populated by Gentiles after the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom in 721 BC. Galilee is where Isaiah prophesied that the light would dawn, the light of peace and righteousness and justice in the coming of a child who is God. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” (Isa 9:6-7) Galilee is where the sun of righteousness will dawn, where the first light of the kingdom of heaven will appear, where the people living in darkness and shadow of death will see the first light of dawn, where the King would begin to exercise rule and reign. Jesus knew this and intentionally positioned himself here in order to fulfill this prophecy and to signal the beginning of his active ministry. This located him rather far from the “religious center” in Jerusalem, where he is likely to experience the greatest measure of defiance. But he still remained on the outskirts of Jewish territory so that he could fulfill his mission first to the Jews. But this also positioned his disciples later to take the gospel to the Gentiles.

How should the geographic location of a church of Jesus Christ, our church in particular, affect the way we do ministry? Jesus moved his center of operations in order to fulfill a prophecy revealing himself as the light coming into the darkness. But he also moved in order to minister to those who were in greatest need of the light, who were in the darkest place at the time, in the greatest need of the gospel. If Jesus is Lord of geography, Lord of the people, and Lord of time, then he positions himself and his servants in just the right place, among just the right people at just the right time. Our church’s moves over the years from the school, to the office building, to Graystone Hall, and not to Perrysburg Heights Community Center at this time, is in God’s providential hands. If God has placed us here at Graystone for now, it’s for a reason. Perhaps it’s because this neighborhood is in great need of the gospel and we aren’t even aware of it. What can we do about that? What should we do about that?

His message

Jesus manifests himself as Messiah at the beginning of his ministry not only by the relocation of his ministry, but also by the proclamation of his message. He delivers his inaugural address, as it were, saying “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He does so to inform the people of his intentions as the ruler of the kingdom and to inform them of how they can participate as his subjects in the kingdom. Notice that Jesus’ initial message is identical to John the Baptist’s message. There is both continuity and discontinuity in their words. There is continuity between John’s OT ministry and Jesus’ NT ministry. The same good news of the coming reign of God is preached in the old and the new. Yet there is discontinuity as well. The same words from different spokesmen can mean different things. Because of their different positions in the history of redemption, John’s announcement means that the dawn is coming but is still just below the horizon. While Jesus’ announcement means that the sun has risen, that the dawn has already broken through the darkness. For John, it’s still dark, but the light is coming. For Jesus, the light is already beginning to shine. Jesus’ message is further revealed in v 23, “he went about…proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom…” The gospel is the good news of the in-breaking of God’s saving reign in the person of Jesus the promised Messiah to overpower the kingdom of darkness.

The message of John and Jesus is not only about the coming of the kingdom.  It’s also about your response to its coming. Repentance is not merely a change of mind but a radical change in your whole life that involves turning your back on sin and turning or returning to God. It’s a radical change of values, a change of allegiances, a change of priorities. It’s a choice to no longer be ruled King self or King Satan, but instead to be ruled by King Jesus. What’s the message of our church? Is it the gospel – the good news of the in-breaking of God’s saving reign in the person of Jesus – or is it something else? Is it repentance and faith as the only entrance into his eternal kingdom – or is it something else? We must remain true to our message, that Jesus – by his perfect life, his atoning death, and his glorious resurrection – has broken the power of sin and death, has reconciled his people to God and guaranteed them for them eternal life with God. And that entrance into his eternal kingdom is a gift of God received through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

His method

Jesus manifests himself as Messiah at the beginning of his ministry not only by the relocation of his ministry and the proclamation of his message, but third by the implementation of his method. His method is simple. Jesus calls particular people to follow him. He calls two sets of brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew, then James and John. Jesus method is to make disciples (18-22). He calls them to a specific task – to follow him, in order to become “fishers of men.” (vv 18-19, 21). In other words, up to now they have spent their lives seeking for fish, but from now on they will be seeking for men. His twelve disciples are those whom he will teach his message, who will then teach and preach his message to others.

What characterizes a true disciple in Jesus’ kingdom? It’s immediate obedience. Here we’re given an ideal picture of a disciple – one who immediately obeys Jesus’ commands. Both sets of brothers “immediately” leave what they were doing and “follow” him. (20, 22) This response might surprise you, so it’s helpful to know that this is not the first time they’ve been in contact with Jesus. Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist and was introduced to Jesus by John. Andrew followed Jesus to the place where he was staying and spent the day with him and later brought his brother Simon to Jesus who gave him the name Peter. On another day, Jesus encountered them after a discouraging night of fishing and sent them back out for a tremendous catch demonstrating both his power over nature and his care for them. Entering into Jesus’ kingdom through repentance and faith happens in an instant. However, becoming a disciple who immediately obeys the Lord can be a gradual process. Jesus called these four and eight others to leave their homes and families and occupations behind to be with him continuously during his three year ministry. How many of you were ready for full-time service or participation in a ministry on the day of your conversion? Some are, but I wasn’t, and I suspect many are not. Even those who sense a call to a particular ministry are not usually pressed into service right away. Jesus calls his people into various kinds of service in his kingdom and prepares them for it. Even after the twelve are initially called they will go a gradual process of becoming not only obedient, but also submissive, trusting, persevering disciples.

When he calls you into a particular area of service, whether for an hour, for a season, or for many years, are you ready and willing to follow? What should be the method of our church? It’s the same – to make disciples, not disciples of ourselves, or of anyone else, but disciples of Jesus. In Jesus’ final command to the church he says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in my name, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” The main verb in the sentence is not go – but MAKE DISCIPLES, it’s one word – mathetewsate from mathetewo. You are to make disciples of Jesus by going, baptizing, and teaching. It’s a command to instruct, to cause someone to become a follower, a learner, a pupil, an apprentice, one who attaches himself to Jesus as his leader in every area of life. Are you going, baptizing and teaching people to follow Jesus or to follow yourself? To do what Jesus says or to do what you say? To act like Jesus or act like you? Are you making disciples who are learning to obey, submit to, trust in and persevere with Jesus? Jesus’ method is to make disciples who will carry on the ministry when he is gone. Are you doing that?

His scope

Jesus manifests himself as Messiah finally by a demonstration of the scope of his ministry. Listen to the extent of his teaching, preaching and healing ministry: He “went through all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” (v 23). His ministry is geographically large. “All Galilee” includes an area that is 70 miles long and 40 miles wide, over twice the size of Wood and Lucas counties combined. He ministers to many people. Galilee has over 200 villages, towns and cities inhabited by over 15,000 people. His ministry includes teaching. Jesus goes throughout the entire area teaching both in their synagogues and preaching the gospel in the open air. His ministry also includes healing.  He heals every disease and every affliction among the people – fevers, deafness, blindness, dumbness, paralysis, internal bleeding, leprosy, demon-possession, and even death. How should you respond? You should be amazed. You should be impressed. You should believe that Jesus is the real deal, the Messiah, come to reign as God among his people, to save his people. His is a God-sized ministry. He teaches and preaches and heals with God-like authority and power. You should be convinced that God has come in Jesus to reign over the spiritual realm, the physical realm, to make things right in the world and in every area of your life.

What should be the scope of the ministry of our church? Where are we reaching? Who are we reaching? How are we reaching them? What can such a great and powerful savior do through us? The kingdom has dawned in Jesus. The light is now shining brightly in what was once only darkness. He has come to open his kingdom to those who will repent and believe him. He has come make disciples of those who will obey him. He has come to heal those who will place their faith in him. Thanks be to God!

Categories: 2014, Epiphany, Matthew, Sermons, The Life and Ministry of Jesus

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