Summary: Jesus came as a light to lighten the nations, he called people to be a church who would continue to share the good news with others, and his coming was accompanied by miraculous events that heralded the end to all suffering and the creation of a new heave
One of the things I hate is turning on the TV just after a movie or a weekly drama has started, so I’ve missed those opening few scenes where the story is set up, where perhaps the main characters are introduced; where the crime is committed or the tensions between characters is highlighted. If you miss those opening moments, you can spend the rest of the show trying to work out just what’s happening.
Well, as Matthew begins his account of Jesus’ adult ministry he does something like that. He sets the scene for what’s to come later. First he records Jesus’ baptism by John. Then he accounts what happens when the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Then he gives 3 short episodes that give us a feel for who this Jesus is. Now obviously we need to read the whole gospel to fully understand that, but here at the end of ch 4 we see 3 incidents that tell us a lot about who it is we’re about to read about.
First we discover that he’s:
1 A Light to Lighten the Gentiles vs 12-17
Matthew knows and loves his Old Testament. And he’s particularly interested in passages that apply to Jesus. So when Jesus moves to Capernaum, to the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, following the imprisonment of John, Matthew’s Jewish ears prick up. He’s reminded of the prophecy of Isaiah that we heard read earlier: "In the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-- on them light has shined." Jesus’ coming is to fulfill the promise of one who would bring light to the nations, who would enlighten those who live in darkness, who would bring life to those who live in the shadow of death.
But notice how that light and life come. "17From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ’Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’" The light of life comes to people as they turn away from their rebellion against God. It comes as they embrace the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ message is no different from that of John. John had called people to repent in readiness for the coming of God’s kingdom. The only difference in what Jesus says is that now it has come near. The kingdom is upon them. Now is the moment that John was warning them of, preparing them for. Now it’s no longer the herald preparing the way, but the Messiah himself.
In fact the way this sentence is arranged in the Greek, it might have been translated, "From that time Jesus, himself, began to proclaim." Now it’s the Messiah himself who calls people to acknowledge the kingdom, to acknowledge, in fact, God’s anointed king. Strangely enough, here is the king himself preparing people for his coming. Here is one of those signs of the great graciousness of God. He doesn’t just send an emissary to announce the message. No, he comes himself to speak to his people. He delivers a personal message, a personal warning.
But it is a warning, notice. This is no soft gospel. This isn’t an invitation that can be ignored if we want to. Nor is it open to interpretation. No, it’s very clear. Repent! Get ready! The kingdom is on its way. If you’re not ready, then you’re going to miss out on the kingdom and instead be under the judgement of God.
2 The Founder of a Radical Church
But not only does Jesus come to bring light to the world. He also comes to establish a Church. God knows that people need connections, relationships. He knows how important it is for people to be part of a fellowship of believers. And so Jesus begins his ministry by calling out a group of followers who will be able to take his message of salvation, his call to repent, to others. He calls them to live with him as his disciples while he’s on earth so he can teach them the values of the kingdom. So he can train them to tell others about the coming of the kingdom. So he can model a kingdom lifestyle to them so they in turn can show others how to live like Christ. Jesus’ ministry begins with the call to these men to become his disciples and it ends with him sending them out to tell others about him, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thus bringing them into the Church, [as we have with Will today] and teaching them everything he’s taught them.
Now these first few disciples are fishermen so he says to them, leave your nets where they are. Come and follow me and I’ll show you how to catch people. Now I’m sure if these guys had been builders the metaphor he would have used would have been something like building the church. If they’d been farmers he would have called them to spread the seeds of the gospel. So we mustn’t get hung up over the image of catching people. The kingdom isn’t about collecting scalps. It’s about bringing light to those who live in darkness.