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Matthew 4:12-23

Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee

12 Now when Jesus[a] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
    light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[b]

Jesus Calls the First Disciples

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is 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 fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus Ministers to Crowds of People

23 Jesus[c] went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news[d] of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Our passage from Matthew this morning finds Jesus hearing that his cousin, John has been arrested so he retreats to Galilee.   Jesus, like all of us, needs time to retreat, regroup, process what he’s just learned.  So, he goes…along the way, it says that there is a prophecy fulfilled, the people in the lands that Jesus walked through, saw a great light.  Something has changed…there is light in the midst of darkness.  

The darkness at that time is probably much like it is today, folks are disconnected from one another, there are powers both inwardly and outwardly at work that keep people from living freely as they were created.  Powers inside of us that leave us that leave us enslaved to self-doubt, immobility, loneliness…powers that manifest themselves through consumption, selfishness, and a lack of self and others awareness.  We are isolated.  Those powers on the outside of us are similar as well, in our text, they are demonstrated in civic and religious power holders who want to maintain a sense of control and project power and relevance through fear and anxiety.

We are all in this darkness, enslaved.  Darkness is sometimes necessary to walk through.  It’s only when we are in darkness like the people of Israel were in our gospel text, like they were in the old testament text of Isaiah, and how we are in our own lives now, can we grow and lean towards the light when we see it.  

There is a certain sense of passing in this passage, Jesus and John are relatives, there is continuity in their ministry as well as a discontinuity as John hands off his ministry to Jesus.  John knows it’s time to let go….that Jesus’ love and presence is being made known to folks.  

Jesus steps through these areas mentioned carrying with a message of release, of freedom, and of being empowered through connection and inclusion with others and with a God who loves us and moves in, through, and around us bringing his an expansive view of the world filled with empathy, meaning, purpose, love.  

Jesus also continues John’s message of repentance…it is a reoccurring theme in Scripture.  When someone encounters this God that wants to free us, it can create within us a change of heart and mind, we can experience a conversion, a transformation.  But, we have to come through darkness and want to move towards the light….and we can’t settle for divided lives but remain committed to one another and to God as God calls us to follow…

The next few verses give witness to folks responding to Jesus’ call to them and giving up everything, right at that moment to follow him.  Now, it’s unusual in those days for a rabbi as Jesus was to call his followers to follow him.  They usually sought him out, but Jesus seeks out Andrew and his brother Simon.  He sees them fishing and tells them to follow him and become fishers of men (and women!).  He doesn’t tell them to form a study, a committee, or go to seminary, he tells them to simply do something they understand.  Fish.  But, to go after others, to pursue friendships with others and include them into community.

Now, every Jewish boy wants to have a rabbi, Andrew and Simon may have felt like their time had passed them by, they were fishing with their father, we don’t know how old they were…but, it’s safe to say that they probably weren’t the first choices…but, they recognized something in Jesus, something good and beautiful, and said yes with their actions.  

Someone I’ve met and have enjoyed getting to know in the few conversations we’ve had is Jill Rowe, she talks about saying “yes”.  Her pastor, a friend of ours, Steve Chalke, said yes when the British government called them on a Wednesday to see if they’d take in 500 teenage refugees on a Friday, two days away. They had to work out to find homes for those kids…and they did!  A few months later, they have a thriving ministry to refugee children.  

They also have a church filled with folks of all ages.  Jill talks about how so many folks are turned off by the church, we focus so much on minor things and people just get tired.  They want to simply “get on with it” Jill says, get on with loving others, working on awareness, and serving others…saying Yes to God’s call.

We can poke all sorts of holes in scripture, that’s fine, but we are still left with the stories that have power in them…they are stories of God’s YES to us and a call for us to say YES to God and each other.  

Many times, when Jesus approaches us, we can try to close him off…or we can say Yes to what he’s asking of us…and change the world!  For refugees, for starting the church as Andrew and Simon did…and certainly for yourself.

Saying Yes, to Jesus can be crazy, adventurous, and overwhelming…sometimes the following may take us into dark places…but, we are not alone.  Our identity as Christians is simply a follower of Jesus….and Jesus followers are simply world changers.  Friends, this world is crying out for those of us who claim to be Jesus followers to get on with it, and change the world. 

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