Read the passage here.
What we’re going to look at today are three short vignettes that begin to show us the nature of Jesus’ ministry – that is to say, we’re beginning to see the nature of the kingdom that Jesus is proclaiming, that Jesus is bringing. The first vignette has to do with Jesus’ travelling to Capernaum. Matthew tells us:
12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”
17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”Matthew 4:12-17
The passage that Matthew is citing is from Isaiah 9, which says:
9 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—The people walking in darknessIsaiah 9:1-2
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
Now it’s worth noting, once again, that Isaiah 9 is a messianic passage. It gives us the familiar passage:
For to us a child is born,Isaiah 9:6-7
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
Now it’s also worth noting that Matthew tells us that it’s at that time that Jesus begins to preach “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” And if we remember, almost those same words are used to describe John the Baptist’s ministry.
3 In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”Matthew 3:1-2
I wish we could spend a little more time here, but for now, it’s enough to note that John the Baptist is connected (by Matthew) to Isaiah 40. And in Isaiah 40, we see that the voice calling in the wilderness will prepare the way for the Lord, who is bringing his kingdom, and that kingdom is good news.
So, to summarize, what we see in this first vignette is another indication that Jesus is the fulfillment of O.T. scripture regarding the Messiah and his kingdom, this time expressly demonstrating that Jesus fulfills the words of Isaiah (last time, it was Deuteronomy).
The second vignette shows us the calling of the twelve disciples. And there are a couple of points that I want to pick up here. The first has to do with how Matthew phrases Jesus’ encounter with Simon (Peter) and Andrew. The scripture tells us:
18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.Matthew 4:18
Now this is similar to how Mark describes it, but markedly different from how Luke describes it. We aren’t discussing the Lukan account here, but in a nutshell, Matthew’s account reads almost as if it was an accident that Jesus encountered Simon and Andrew. Jesus was walking along the shore, minding his own business, Simon and Andrew were busy fishing, and Jesus happened to see them and decided, “hey, these are the guys.”
Now this reading of the encounter isn’t necessary and it may not even be convincing. However, the second point that I want to pick up is more noteworthy. At the end of this vignette, we read:
18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.Matthew 4:18-22
In both of these calling encounters – and it’s worth noting that Matthew most likely is giving us representative examples; it would be cumbersome to detail the calling of all of the twelve – in both of these calling encounters, it’s Jesus who does the calling.
In Jewish culture, it would be expected that the disciple would choose which rabbi he would want to follow and study under. I suppose that the disciple would decide which rabbi had the theology
But what we see in Jesus’ calling of the disciples is that Jesus chose not based on some set of criteria that prospective followers had to live up to. He did not choose the brightest and the best. And no one had to prove themselves worthy of being chosen. Jesus was just walking by and called.
Now I’m not suggesting that his calling was arbitrary or random. All I’m saying is that, like each of us, it’s by grace that Simon, Andrew, James, and John, and all of the disciples, were chosen.
The third vignette for today shows us the beginning of Jesus’ ministry proper.
23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.Matthew 4:23-25
So what we’re seeing here is that Jesus’ ministry encompasses three things (and this is what we basically see throughout the gospel): It encompasses teaching, proclamation, and healing. We won’t spend the time to reflect on the distinctions or relationships between these things, nor are we going to unpack the geography noted in these verses. So suffice it to say that Jesus’ kingdom ministry very quickly moves beyond the synagogue and beyond the typical understanding of the responsibilities of a Jewish rabbi.
So with that, very insufficient summary, I want to focus on the phrase “proclaiming the good news of the kingdom.” Firstly, it’s noteworthy that Matthew here condenses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” to merely “the kingdom.” And he’s the only one of the synoptic gospel writers to abbreviate the phrase “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God” in this way. More interesting (in my opinion) is that this is the first time that Matthew uses the phrase “gospel.” And he uses that phrase four times in his gospel.
4:23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.Matthew 4:23
9:35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.Matthew 9:35
24:14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.Matthew 24:14
26:13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”Matthew 26:13
You’ll notice that in two of these passages, the phrase is translated (in the NIV) as “good news,” and in two it’s translated as “gospel.” You are probably all aware that they are the same word (in Greek).
So, as we can see, the phrase “gospel of the kingdom,” or merely “gospel” in 26:13, is shorthand for the message that Jesus is proclaiming, and which the church is called to proclaim after he is gone. This gospel is the reason for which Jesus came; it’s the purposes of redemption for creation for which God chose Israel and for which He sent the Messiah, Jesus.
Remember back at the beginning of our passage today, when I noted that Matthew’s description of Jesus’ message recalls his description of John the Baptist’s message? And that this description of John the Baptist recalls Isaiah 40? Well it’s precisely in Isaiah 40 where we get this description of the work that the Messiah will do.
You who bring good news to Zion,Isaiah 40:9
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
It’s good news that Israel was foretold by the prophet Isaiah – the good news of God’s kingdom. And It’s good news that John the Baptist was pointing to. It’s good news that Jesus came to proclaim, to share, to fulfill. To a people who were waiting and longing, to a people who were looking for comfort and solutions in all the wrong places, to a people who were broken and stumbling, Jesus came to bring truth, healing, and peace.