Saturday, February 23, 2008

Matthew 4:12-16 The Messiah begins His Ministry

As we continue to study this wonderful gospel of Matthew’s, we come to the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. This is probably as good a place as any to point out, for those of you who were not aware of it, that Matthew does not present the events and teachings in his gospel in strict chronological order. While there are things in the gospel that are generally chronological, this is not written as a history book. We should remember that Matthew’s purpose in writing was to prove to his people, the Jews, that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah promised in the Old Testament. As he continues to drive his point home in this gospel, he records information about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

In verse 12, Matthew records that “Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody”. As we read in chapter 3, John was the last prophet of God to preach to Israel prior to the coming of Jesus. We also read that John was very bold in his proclamation of the truth, even going so far as to call the religious leaders of the day a brood of vipers. In fact, it was this boldness that landed John in prison. We read in Matthew 14 that John was imprisoned for calling Herod Anitpas out for his immoral relationship with his brother’s wife. This imprisonment led Christ to move into the area where John had been imprisoned and minister there. In his Notes on the New Testament, Albert Barnes suggests 3 reasons for Christ to have moved His ministry into that area:
(1,) because the attention of the people had been much excited by John's preaching, and it was more favourable for his own ministry.
(2.) It seemed desirable to have some one to second John in the work of reformation.
(3.) It was less dangerous for him to commence his labours there than near Jerusalem. Judea was under the dominion of the scribes, and Pharisees, and priests. They would naturally look with envy on any one who set up for a public teacher, and who should attract much attention there. It was important, therefore, that the work of Jesus should begin in Galilee, and become somewhat established and known before he went to Jerusalem.

While these are certainly plausible reasons, Matthew gives the most compelling reason for this change of location-God’s will. Jesus “withdrew into Galilee and, leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum”. This region of Galilee was the region under the control of Herod the Tetrach and was where John the Baptist had been imprisoned. Capernaum was a fairly large city (about 30,000 people) on the northwest coast of the sea of Galilee and it was the city where Jesus would spend a good deal of time in His ministry. Several of His disciples (i.e. Peter) lived there and the city gave Him quick access to the Sea of Galilee which He would cross several times in His ministry. However, as the evangelist Matthew records, the most important reason for Christ to have dwelled there is because it fulfilled scriptural prophecy and, therefore, God’s will.

Matthew notes that Christ’s dwelling in Galilee fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-2. In verses 15-16, Matthew writes:
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 those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death , Upon them a light dawned ."

Capernaum was in the land of Zebulon and Naphtali in the region of Upper Galilee. Upper Galilee was called Galilee of the Gentiles because many Gentiles lived there. People from the region were considered uncultured and kind of “backwards”. You might compare them to “rednecks” today. Therefore, Jesus left the center of Jewish culture and religious life, the area of Jerusalem, to minister to people who were considered to be from the wrong side of the tracks. There were described as “sitting in darkness” and “in the land and shadow of death”. As Matthew Henry notes in his commentary, “Those who are without Christ, are in the dark. They were sitting in this condition, a contented posture; they chose it rather than light; they were willingly ignorant.” In fact, this is the same sort of condition of all sinners before they are given the ability to repent and the faith to believe. All of us were sitting, quite comfortably, in our sin in open rebellion against the God that created us. And just like these people, thanks to the Holy Spirit, we saw the light. Now, of course, not everyone in this region responded with saving faith in Christ. However, like us, they were in darkness. Also, like us, the light did dawn. Christ came to these people to preach the same message of the kingdom that John had preached in the wilderness of Judea. In verse 17, Matthew records that Jesus preached to people “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Let us take these lessons from the life of our precious Savior and take the gospel to those who need it. Let us pray for the boldness of Jesus and of John the Baptist to proclaim that there is a judgment and people must be prepared spiritually by repenting of their sins and turning in faith to Christ.

Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible Copyright 1960, 1962, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.


Anonymous said...

Good encouragement for us to do what our Lord and Saviour has called us to do. Thanks for you diligence and devotion.

Joe Blackmon said...


Thank you for the encouragement.

vincit omnia veritas said...

Dear brother,

Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving your thoughts!

It was greatly appreciated.

God bless,


Joe Blackmon said...


Thank you for your blog and your insightful posts.

in Christ