The Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23
When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles--
the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
As he walked 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. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise tonight and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: We begin today in the Gospel of Matthew with a reference to the arrest of John the Baptist. Then Jesus withdraws to Galilee. Matthew then proclaims that is to fulfill a prophecy by Isaiah. That somehow the redeeming of the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali is a vital part of Jesus' ministry. Jesus proclaims that the Kingdom of God has come near. The next thing we know we experience the calling of Peter Andrew, James, and John.
As I begin this morning I want to say that I realize I got "lost in the weeds" last week about mid-way through my sermon. I forgot one of the cardinal rules of preaching. "Sermons are written to be read out loud." What looks good written down on paper may not translate well when it is presented verbally to a congregation.
So, having been reminded of that lesson I am going to try to keep away from that particular rabbit hole in the future. Both for your sake and mine.
So, this week I am going to tell you that I am going to reference both the Gospel and Isaiah. I am doing this because they are linked and Matthew references Isaiah in his commentary on why Zebulun and Naphtali might be important in the narrative of Jesus' life and ministry.
Perhaps we should begin by asking the question why did Jesus choose to go to Capernaum in Galilee when he heard about John the Baptist being arrested? Why did he choose to begin his ministry in this particular place?
In Isaiah chapter 9, it says: "In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali" Why were Zebulun and Naphtali held in such contempt? Then why did Isaiah also say: "but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations."
I am going to try to keep this as brief and as clear as I can. Zebulun and Naphtali were two of the sons of Jacob. When the People of Israel settled in the Promised Land their descendants chose to live in the north. Good prosperous land that produced great crops and lots of the bounty of the land. They should have been considered blessed among the People.
But they had two problems.
The first one was that they allowed their prosperity to distract them from their worship of the one true God. They got caught up in syncretism. They allowed themselves to be influenced by the worship practices of those around them.
That is what Isaiah is referring to in chapter 9. God turned his back on them because they had lost sight of their relationship with Him.
The second problem they had was that over time they were invaded and decimated as armies of other nations pillaged their lands on their way south to conquer the nation of Israel.
By the time of Jesus, Zebulun and Naphtali were dark places that needed restoration and reinvigoration.
It is important for us to know this history because in starting his ministry in this place he removes the contempt and raises it up as the place where God first chose to be evident in Jesus' public ministry.
Then Jesus begins his ministry by calling Peter, Andrew, and then James and John. He says simply that they are to follow him. In fact, he is asking them to choose. To do it without reservation and immediately.
One of the commentators I listened to this week made me laugh when he talked about how Jesus came as a "troublemaker" into the lives of these four men. Jesus calls them away from their families, he calls them away from their livelihood, and he calls them to forsake everything that would say that they are good Jewish followers of their faith.
This is his first act in beginning his ministry of proclaiming that the King of God is at hand. There is no opportunity for syncretism here. They have to choose between their prosperity and following Jesus. They have to choose to leave the well-being of their families, it can't be a priority over the call of Jesus on their lives. They must respond and put Jesus and his call above anything else.
"The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness--
on them light has shined."
For many of us sitting here this morning, this goes against everything we understand about our social responsibility and being good citizens in the world. It is challenging and scary to think that Jesus might call us out of this place.
As we consider these scriptures this morning there is a lot for us to digest and consider. How are we doing with keeping our life in Christ as central as it should be?
What could be some of the challenges that we face in the world in which we live if we were to respond to the call of Christ in our lives now?
If we feel that we are living in darkness, how can we be encouraged by the work of Jesus in Galilee, particularly in Zebulun and Naphtali? How could this be a redeeming sign for our own lives?
Who do we know who might need to hear the message of Jesus this week:
"From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”"
How can we take the words of the Collect for this morning and make them more than just words we have heard in a worship service this Sunday?
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Bishops & Father Mike