The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Matthew 4:12 “Now when He heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; 13 and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, 15 ‘THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI, BY THE WAY OF THE SEA, BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE GENTILES– 16 THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT, AND TO THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH, UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED.’ 17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 18 And walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was 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 And they immediately left the 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 And they immediately left the boat and their father, and followed Him. 23 And Jesus was going about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” (NASB)
In last week’s Gospel lesson, we read that John the Baptist told two of his disciples that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In last week’s sermon I noted that are many fine Lutheran pastors who believe that the big question before our generation is the question, “Where is God to be found?” They believe that the biggest challenge to the Christian Faith today is confusion over where God can be found and people today, including people who call themselves Christian look for God in all the wrong places.
“Where is God found?” is an important question. We ought not shy away from telling people where God is found. He is found where He said He could be found. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are found in the Word and Sacrament ministry of and in the church. Where is God found. He is found in faithful churches.
But as I said last week, I’m not sure that is the most pressing question in our day. I think the situation is even more dire than that. I think the question that marks our current generation is, “Does God matter?”
The first part of the sermon from last week, focused on that question. “Does God matter” to the people of our generation? Does God matter to us? It is obvious the true God doesn’t matter to the people of this world. The idea of god doesn’t seem to matter to the people of the West. And sometimes, it seems God doesn’t matter to us. How can I say such a thing? When God’s Word doesn’t matter to us, God doesn’t matter to us.
While God doesn’t seem to matter to the world, the world and you matter to God. That’s why God the Father sent the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and your sin. To support that claim I employed the Old Testament, Epistle, and the Gospel readings from last week. All three of those readings show that the world and you matter to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This morning the Gospel lesson and the sermon take up where the sermon and the Gospel lesson left off last Sunday. In last week Gospel reading John the Baptist told two disciples, one of them Andrew, Peter’s brother, that Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Andrew and the other disciple followed up that statement by seeking out Jesus and spending time with Him. After logging some time with Jesus, Andrew went to his brother Peter and said, “We have found the Messiah.”
It is thought that the other disciples was John the Evangelist. John never uses his own name in his own Gospel. Instead, we find references through the Gospel of John to the “other disciple” or “disciple whom Jesus loved.”
When we piece together various sections of the four Gospels, scholars generally agree that John the Evangelist was the other disciple who heard John the Baptist say, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Matthew’s Gospel records the beginnings of the both the ministry of John the Baptist and the ministry of Jesus. Matthew 3:1-2; “Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
In today’s Gospel lesson (Matthew 4:12) Matthew tells us that news of John the Baptist’s imprisonment reached Jesus. In response Jesus withdrew to Galilee and settled in Capernaum, which was in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. We are also told that Jesus withdrew to this region 14 “to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying, 15 ‘THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI, BY THE WAY OF THE SEA, BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE GENTILES– 16 THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT….”
The regions of Zebulun and Naphtali was about 60 miles away to the north and east of Jerusalem. It was a place of populated by Jews and Gentiles. In Old Testament history this region was often reduced to a war torn area. It was the place from which many attacks on Jerusalem came. It was a placed once marked by death.
In the Old Testament lesson Isaiah 9, God promised that He will make this region, a region marked by sin, darkness, and death the seat of the Great Light and gladness.
In addition to telling us that Jesus withdrew to this region, Matthew also wanted to make sure we knew what Jesus was doing once we took up residence in Capernaum. 17 “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
Matthew tells us that as soon as John the Baptist was taken off the streets and could no longer publically preach, “repent for the kingdom of heaven” is at hand, Jesus immediately started preaching; “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus’s and John’s words were identical.
The sentence “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” has a particular meaning in the Greek. It doesn’t quite translate into the modern English and into the modern culture a completely as is necessary to get the full weight of the Greek.
In the ancient world a kingdom is not just a place. The Greek word for “kingdom” carries with it the idea of official action and the action brings with it jurisdiction–authority. It’s kind of like the phrase “the rule of law” that we are hearing a lot these days.
A king rules or reigns. Where a king rules and reigns is where the kingdom can be found. When Jesus and John say that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” they are telling us that the ruling activity of heaven, the Ruler of heaven is near. He is sending out His Word and with it the King’s authority.
Remember what Jesus told the disciples to say when He sent them out on their first preaching mission? He told the disciples to tell the people in the villages that He would soon pass through that kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven was coming near to them. That is, Jesus the King was about to pass through their towns. Remember what the Pharisees told Pilate Jesus had done? He had made Himself out to be a king.
So here is the chain of events thus far. John the Baptist comes preaching, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He baptizes Jesus. John directs two of his disciples to the Lamb of God. They tell their brothers. Time passes. John the Baptist is arrested for calling King Herod to repent. Jesus learns of the arrest, moves to Capernaum to establish His base of operation and fulfill what was written in Isaiah chapter 9s. Once there, Jesus finds Peter, Andrew, James, and John 19 “And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ 20 And they immediately left the nets, and followed Him.”
By Matthew chapter 4 Peter, Andrew, James, and were part-time disciples. John the Baptist had introduced them to Jesus. They had talked with Him. They had heard His preaching. Jesus and John shared the same message, the same doctrine. Jesus had set up His base of operation in their hometown of Capernaum and was preaching, teaching, and healing.
These four men knew enough about Jesus to know they were being called into full-time service by the Master. Discipleship leads to vocations. That was what Jesus had in mind. They were already disciples, but Jesus would train them and call them to be apostles–full time workers of the church.
A disciple studied, believed, and supported the teachings of a master. An apostle was one who was sent out by the master to teach the teachings of the master. On the heals of John’s departure from the public ministry, the rule of the new King was coming into existence. Jesus was calling the first generation of pastors to learn, then carry on the work of the Gospel.
As a fishermen throw a net into the water, so apostles proclaim the teachings of Christ. As fish are caught by the net so, men, women, and children are caught by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit through Christ’s doctrines.
All this because the world and every Christian matters to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each piece of the promised Messiah “puzzle” was being put into the place by the God the Father Son, and Holy Spirit alone during the opening months of Jesus’s public ministry. Each person of the Holy Trinity working together in and through the people Jesus was calling into service.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” is a message for everyone. It’s a message that matters because the person and work of Jesus Christ matters.
The Holy Spirit inspired Matthew to quote the prophet Isaiah and tell us that this message is for all those who dwell in the region and shadow of death and darkness. Who dwells in the region of darkness? From the moment of conception we are all under rule of darkness and death.
We are born with the desire to rule our own kingdom. Our old sinful nature does not want God to matter. But we matter to God who brings His kingdom to us. And His kingdom, rule is radically different.
Our kingdoms are ruled by laws and by punishments that can never save or forgive. Instead of punishing us for our sins, the Ruler of the kingdom of heaven simply says, “Repent!” and forgives. Here’s the thing. When God speaks and calls for something, in this case repentance. He gives the power to do it through the gift of a new nature and the of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus command to repent holds within it the promise to deal with the punishment of our sins. He dealt with the punishment of our sins by taking them onto Himself and carried them away (again last week’s sermon) to the cross.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This was John the Baptist’s message. This is the message that Jesus Himself proclaimed. It is the message that Jesus taught His apostles to preach and teach.
The Kingdom of heaven is at hand whenever and wherever we hear the Gospel. It is at hand in the waters of Holy Baptism. It is at hand when we confess our sins and when the pastor stands in the stead and by Christ’s command absolves of our sins. The kingdom of heaven is near you, in your hearts, and minds, and mouth when you consume the true body and blood in the bread and wine of the sacrament. The kingdom of heaven is at hand when the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, and sanctifies and keeps us in the one true faith.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.