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 fulfil 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."
17From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
18As 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 make you fishers of men." 20At once they left their nets and followed Him.
21Going 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, 22and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him.
23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24News 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 paralysed, and He healed them. 25Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed Him.
The baptism of Jesus was the ceremony that initiated His ministry. The fasting and temptations in the desert were Jesus' boot camp (so to speak), to prepare Him for His ministry. Here in this chapter, the ministry of Jesus begins in earnest. "When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He returned to Galilee" (vs. 1). After the baptism and testing in the desert, Jesus began gathering disciples and baptizing in the Judean countryside. This period of time is described in the Gospel of John (see John 3:22-36). When Jesus was baptizing, there was some jealousy of Jesus' success by the followers of John the Baptist. "They came to John and said to him, `Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan--the one you testified about--well, He is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.'" (John 3:26). John tried to stem this jealousy by telling his followers: "[Jesus] must become greater; I must become less" (John 4:30). John's disciples did not realize (though he often told them) that the purpose of his ministry was to prepare for Jesus' ministry. But such is the nature of sinful man. We are so prone to jealousy, even in the work of God. If another's ministry is thriving and successful in bringing people to the truth of God, rather than praising the Lord for the success of His work, we are jealous that our work is not as successful. Oh, sinful man!
God had a solution to the problem of the jealousy of John's followers. By His will, "John had been put in prison".3 I have no doubt that this was the will of God. John's purpose as a forerunner to the Messiah was fulfilled. It was time now for full focus to be placed upon Jesus and His ministry.
"Leaving Nazareth, [Jesus] went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali--to fulfil what was said through the prophet Isaiah: `Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles--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'" (vss. 13-16). In fulfillment of prophecy, Jesus based His ministry in Galilee. This prophecy (taken from Isa. 9:1-2) was God's promise to Galilee (a land that had suffered much under the hand of God for their sin) that light would come to drive away the darkness. It was appropriate to the purpose of Jesus' ministry that He came to a land of darkness, rather than, say, base His ministry in Jerusalem. Jesus reached out to those in the dark, those in ignorance of the truth of God, those in misery, those in sin. His purpose was to bring them into the light, into knowledge of the truth of God, into happiness, into holiness. The light of Jesus now reaches far beyond "Galilee of the Gentiles". Sadly though, "many live under the full blaze of the gospel as if they still sat in the shadow of death."
"From that time on Jesus began to preach, `Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near'" (vs. 17). Note that the message of Jesus was the same as the message that John the Baptist preached (see Matt. 3:2). This makes sense. The message is from God. The same message that was appropriate for the fiery preaching of John the Baptist was also appropriate for the gentle preaching of Jesus. The message of repentance is also a message that is as appropriate now as it was then. It is a message that says to turn away from the ways of the world and turn towards the ways of God. The world often mocks the message of repentance. The world desires to maintain its hold on us.
Matthew next gives an account of the calling of four of Jesus' disciples into full-time service. "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. `Come, follow me,' Jesus said, `and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed Him" (vss. 18-20). The fishermen Simon and Andrew were in the midst of their workday on the lake when they received the call from Jesus: "Come, follow me." There was no hesitation, no second thoughts; but rather "at once they left their nets and followed Him."
Note who Jesus called: fishermen. They were probably a rough and tough bunch, with calloused hands and tanned bodies. The first teachers of Christianity were not rabbis, but fishermen and tax collectors. They were not educated in seminary, but were educated on the street, at Jesus' side. "The fact that our Lord chose `fishermen' to receive and propagate His teachings, and not rabbis, shows that He relied on something better than mere human learning and worldly influence, and the success of their labors is one evidence of the divine power which attends the preaching of the gospel."
Note how Jesus called them: "Come, follow me." He did not say, "Come, listen to me", but "Come, follow me." True disciples of Jesus do not just hear (or read) His words, but they "follow" Him: they strive to walk in His footsteps, they use His life as an example of how they should live.
Note what Jesus promised them: "I will make you fishers of men." They would not have to rely on their own ability to transform themselves into "fishers of men", but rather Jesus was going to transform them. He said: "I will make you..." And yes, friend, this promise applies to you also. You do not have to rely on your own ability to transform your life in order to be a productive disciple of Christ. You must just "follow" Him, and He will transform you so that you may bear fruit to His glory. For Peter and Andrew, Jesus was promising to transform them from fishers of fish to "fishers of men", "no longer...taking fish from the lake, but...drawing men up out of the abyss of sin and death, catching them in the great net of God!" In the transformation, Peter and Andrew would be using skills they had developed as fishers of fish (skills that they already had). If you think about it, fishers of fish and fishers of men both need (among other things) "tact, perseverance, patient endurance of frequent failure." They would now be using these skills for God's glory. And so also, if you follow Him, Jesus will transform you so that you may use skills that you already have for His glory. Are you a lawyer? He will use your skills of rhetoric to communicate the gospel to others. Are you a doctor? He will use your skills of healing bodies to heal souls. Are you a musician? He will use your skills of musicianship to lead His people in the worship of God. Etc., etc., etc. You too have skills that Jesus will transform for His glory.
The call of Peter and Andrew was followed by the call of James and John: "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, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him" (vss. 21-22). Again, the gentle, yet compelling voice of Jesus caused James and John to, without hesitation, "immediately" leave their boat and follow Him. But wait, James and John not only left their boat, but also left "their father".9 We should put the work of Jesus before the work of our worldly business. We should put the tie to Jesus ahead of even our strongest family ties. The world calls those who do such things "fanatics". And I say, "Yes! We are to be fanatics for Jesus Christ!" The world calls us, "Jesus freaks". If so, then "Yes! I am proud to be a `Jesus freak'!"
Matthew continues by summarizing the work Jesus was doing: "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people" (vs. 23). Note the three aspects of Jesus' ministry: "teaching", "preaching", and "healing". "Teaching" is the systematic instruction of God's truth. "Preaching" is the terse proclamation of the Gospel message, usually directed at non-believers. "Healing" was one of Jesus' primary works of service to the people.
Matthew continues: "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 paralysed, and He healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed Him" (vs. 24-25). So note, it was His "healing", His service to the community that brought the crowds in to hear His "preaching". So also, our service to the community will endear the public to the church so that they will desire to hear "preaching". Through "preaching", the crowds are given the truths of the gospel, so that they may accept the truth and receive Christ into their lives. At that point, they will desire systematic "teaching".
So Father, help us to follow the example of ministry that Jesus has set forth. May we be as tireless and as successful in our service as He was in His. We praise You that He came to us while we were in the darkness and brought us into the light. May we also, by Your Spirit, be a light to those who are in the dark around us. In the name of Jesus we pray these things, Amen.