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)
The Gospel lesson for this morning is a great, but seldom used Epiphany
reading. By now you know that the word “epiphany” means “to shine forth” and
this text is about the Light shining on those who have been sitting in darkness and
in the shadow of death. The problem with texts like this one, is that so few people
in the church today know biblical geography and history. So verses like verse 15
don’t mean much to the average church goer. There we read, “THE LAND OF
ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI, BY THE WAY OF THE SEA,
BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE GENTILES.” Now to the people
who lived in territories of Zebulun and Naphtali, the Galilee of the Gentiles and
the people who first heard the Gospel of St. Matthew read in church, the use of
prophet Isaiah’s text understood the significance of what Jesus did here and what
So let the geography and history lesson begin. Jacob was Abraham’s
grandson. Jacob had been given two names. The one at given at birth, “Jacob” and
the second given God after Jacob had spent the night wrestling with God (Gen.
32:28 “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven
with God and with men and have prevailed.” Jacob is Israel. Israel is Jacob.
Jacob/Israel had 12 sons, which became the 12 tribes of Israel. Each son
was given territory in which they and their descendants dwelt. Descendants of two
of Israel’s 12 sons, Zebulun and Naphtali dwelt in the territories bearing their
names. These two territories were in the northeast region of Israel.
It was the territory east of the Sea of Galilee and a bit west of the
Mediterranean Sea. These two territories constituted the northern tip of Judah and
Israel. If you lived north, west, and east of Israel, you had to go through the
territories of Zebulun and Naphtali to get to Jerusalem.
For a few centuries Zebulun and Naphtali was a good place to live. Good
land and part of the kingdom of Israel/Judah. But around 930 BC, the united
country of Israel and Judah split. Thus the Hebrews became a house divided. The
split made both kingdoms economically and militarily weaker.
By the time Isaiah showed up (think 700 BC), Zebulun’s and Naphtali’s
beauty had been destroyed by one war and invader after another. By Isaiah’s time,
the end was near. The Assyrian empire was on a conquest. When the Assyrians
invaded, the ten of the tribes of Israel (including Zebulun and Naphtali) were
either killed or taken into captivity. The ten tribes were lost. Never seen or heard
from again. The Babylonians, Alexander the Great, and Roman would all conquer
and march through the land of Zebulun and Naphtali.
In Isaiah’s time, the land had already become populated by a diverse group
of people, thus the name. “Galilee of the Gentiles.” By the time of Jesus’s birth
the territory was even more diverse. It was now throughly “Galilee of the
Gentiles.” The pure blood line of the Hebrew people had been reduced and
corrupted by war and inter-ethnic marriage. Religiously, Galilee of the Gentiles
was a mixture of a Jews of both kinds, the unfaithful many and the faithful few,
and Gentiles and outright pagans.
When the news of John the Baptist’s imprisonment reached Jesus’s ears, He
retreated to “THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI, BY
THE WAY OF THE SEA, BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE
GENTILES.” He did not only withdraw to “Galilee of the Gentiles,” He settled
there and made the city of Capernaum His base of operation and His adopted
This meant that Jesus took up residence among a population that was as
morally and theologically confused as could be. Jesus goes there to live among
sinners of both kinds. The kind that go to church and those who live outside the
church. Jesus lived lives among sinners of every variety and varying degrees.
Remember one of the chief criticisms leveled against Jesus by the religious
leaders of the day. They asked Jesus’s disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating
with the tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered their question Himself and
when He did, he filled out the definition of “sinners.” “Truly I say to you that the
tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.”
As you know, I think the Lutheran church in America has made nearly
deadly mistakes over the past several decades. Most of those mistakes have to do
with the failure of church bodies and congregations to be faithful to God’s Word.
Our pastors and laymen have taken that which is deep and wonderful and
mysterious and made them shallow, hallow, and simplistic. They have treated that
which is sacred and made them ordinary and outdated.
But I add to these sins, the failure of pastors to get out and away from the
congregation and to live among the unchurched in their communities. Pastors
aren’t the only guilty party in this regard. I have known congregations to require
the pastor to seek permission to get involved in civic and outside organizations.
The thought is that since they pay the pastor his wages, they own his time and they
ought to regulate his time as they see fit. Between the pastors and the misguided
congregations, almost all conservative pastors spend their entire adult life dealing
with only their parishioners. They are afraid to be out there in the world.
Not so for Jesus and that is the point I want to drive home from this
morning’s Gospel lesson. There is more to this move to “Galilee of the Gentiles”
than first meets the eye. There is more here than some legalistic fulfillment of an
Old Testament prophecy.
When Jesus retreated and settled in this territory, He provided another sign
that He is the promised Messiah. So this relocation is a fulfilment of the Old
Testament prophecy. St. Matthew adds this commentary to His narrative. “This
was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet.” The Lord God,
through the prophet Isaiah had promised that the Light of God’s Word, the
Promised Messiah Himself would come to this specific place of darkness and
death and enlighten them with His Gospel.
Thus Jesus settles into this land and does four things. First, He picks up
where John the Baptist left off. John was sent to Jerusalem to preach repentance
and that the kingdom of God was at hand. John was preaching to a Jewish
population. Jesus goes to a land populated with Jews and Gentiles and preaches
the same; repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Second, in our Gospel lesson this morning Jesus calls the first four of His
twelve disciples: Andrew and Peter, James and John.
Third, He goes around Galilee visiting synagogues teaching and
proclaiming the Gospel. He is the Light and He preaches and teaches for the
purpose of enlightening them with His pure doctrine. His doctrine of Law and
Fourth, He heals every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the
In almost every way, the territories of Zebulun and Naphtali were lands of
ignorance, darkness, and death. Matthew is not only making a historical statement
and a statement about the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy, he is using this land as a
mirror image of the world itself. Our world is a world marked by sin and death,
war and bloodshed, and the pagan and unfaithful many vs. the faithful few. Jesus
takes up residence in this particular vale of tears.
The people in Galilee of the Gentiles were use to be taxed beyond ability to
pay. They were use to living under one occupying army and king after another.
They were used to political and economic oppression from both kinds of
governments, pagan Roman and the works righteousness establishment in
Jerusalem. They all came in force and brought with them kingdoms of demands
and punishments for noncompliance.
In the midst of the Roman occupation and oppressive doctrines of the
religious leaders of the day, a different kind of King comes and preaches a
different kind of Kingdom. This King comes to take from them just two things.
He comes to take away their sins and death. He came to them to give them grace,
faith, forgiveness, and salvation.
By withdrawing to Galilee, Jesus was showing the people that they had not
been forsaken or forgotten. He settled in a place to live among the ordinary
sinners. He did not settle around Jerusalem so live among the religious leaders of
the day. He did not move in next door to the Temple so He could try to persuade
the learned, the wealthy, and the ruling class of the Gospel truth. He did not work
His way up the corporate ecclesiastical/synodical ladder so He could reform the
Jewish establishment from within. That’s what fine church people do these days.
But Jesus came as the Light and He came to be the Light for all people who
sit in darkness. He came into the world and to Galilee of the Gentiles to bring Life
and immortality to Light to Jew and Gentile alike.
John 12:46 “I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who
believes in Me will not remain in darkness.” John 9:5 “While I am in the world,
I am the Light of the world.”
Yet at the same time Jesus was bringing Light and Life to the people who
lived in darkness and the shadow of death, Jesus’s life was lived in the shadow of
death. Whether in Galilee or Jerusalem, Jesus’s entire earthly ministry was lived
in the shadow of the Cross of Good Friday; in the shadow of God the Father’s
judgment; in the shadow of God’s forsaking.
The forsaking that belonged to us became His. Jesus took our darkness unto
Himself. God even provided a visible illustration to drive the point home.
Matthew 27:45 “From the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the
ninth hour. 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying,
‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken
All this happened, Christ’s visit to Zebulun and Naphtali, the calling and
sending of pastors, the institution of the Word and Sacrament ministry, and His
death and resurrection so that we, a people who sat in darkness might see and be
made children of the Marvelous Light. Ephesians 5:8 “For you were formerly
darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light 9 (for the
fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth).”
1 Peter 1:9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A
HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, that you may
proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His
Jesus said “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those
who are sick.” He came to give sight to the blind and life to the death. Be it the
incarnation in the womb of the Virgin Mary, His humble birth in Bethlehem, His
growing up in a small town with a bad reputation, Nazareth (for nothing good
comes out of Nazareth), or working from His adopted hometown in the heart
Galilee of the Gentiles, Jesus comes to sinners, to ordinary people, and He comes
as a lowly and humble Man and preaches the Gospel.
He continues to do the same today. I know what the world thinks. They
think Jesus is found in those big shows and productions where people are
entertained. The truth is, Jesus comes to worship services and places like this one
for it is in the Word and Sacrament ministry that He is found. When Jesus said,
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name
of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all
that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the
age,” This is what He meant. He is here in this place forgiving your sin and
teaching you the Gospel truth. Amen.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds
in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in
Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the