What does it mean to follow Christ? How can you be part of his kingdom? Matthew 4:12–25 introduces you to Jesus preaching the presence of his kingdom.
See the light of the kingdom. The light is dawning in darkness. Matthew marks the beginning of Jesus public ministry by his changing location from Nazareth to Capernaum, a larger town on the Sea of Galilee. Matthew focuses on Galilee as the location for the first part of the public ministry. Significantly, this area, far to the north of Jerusalem, was considered questionable by the leaders in Jerusalem. It was an area of spiritual darkness. It needed the message of Jesus, like that of John the Baptist, “Repent!” The presence of the King requires a change of heart and life. Jesus’ command is addressed to you as well as to first century Galileans. “In 4:17 Matthew sets forth in the broadest possible terms the the message of the public ministry as the proclamation of the coming of the kingdom and the necessity of a radical adjustment on the part of the hearers if they are to participate in it.” (Ned. B. Stonehouuse, The Witness of Matthew and Mark to Christ, page 130). But dawn was breaking on this darkness. The light of the Messiah was starting to shine.
This is the promised light of the Messiah. Matthew describes Jesus’ purpose in changing location as fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy. The location is Galilee of the nations. The Messiah comes to Israel, but not to Israel alone. Isaiah was focused on the coming Messiah, the Son, who would be Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father. John had announced the coming Messiah. Jesus is the Light. It shines when he preaches the kingdom and when he heals the sick. When we read Isaiah 9, especially in December, we focus on the promise. But as you read the rest of the chapter you see God’s judgment against those who reject him and Son he has sent. Take heed!
Follow the King. Obey the command of the King. From this point on you rarely see Jesus alone. It is Jesus and his disciples. Here Jesus calls his first disciples. Unlike the custom of the day, in which a student would seek out a rabbi and ask permission to follow him, Jesus commands to pairs of brothers,all fishermen, to follow him. They respond immediately, James and John even leaving their father to complete the work of putting the nets in order. Matthew doesn’t record the calling of the rest of the disciples, except his own. But he is making a point about the claim of Jesus on your life. A call away from sin is always a call to follow Christ. Jesus is also gathering, and beginning to train, the unique group of men who will the apostles, the foundation of the church. These are the men he commissions in Matthew 28.
Fishermen serve the King. Here is the King, gathering those who will be pilars in his kingdom—and it’s a group of fishermen, tax collector (if yo look ahead), and who know what other occupations. Not a likely crew, but Paul reminds you that God has not chosen many who are wise or noble in the eyes of the world. It’s comforting to know that God uses frail, even broken people, to accomplish his purposes. The first four are fishermen by trade. Jesus tells them that they will be fishers of men. There is something wonderful and very positive about that task. But there is also a sober side. Old Testament references to fishing are often in the context of judgment (remember the judgment warnings that follow the prophecies of the Messiah in Isaiah 9?): Jeremiah 16:16; Amos 4:2; Habakkuk 1:14–15. Later in Matthew 13:47–50 Jesus’ parable about fishing has an emphasis on judgment, separating the good from the bad. The gospel proclaimed by the apostles, and after them by the apostolic church, is good news to those who respond in faith. But those who reject the good new come under judgment. And that is part of the work of these fishers of men. The primary emphasis, however, is on the positive. Those fished by these men will enter the kingdom of heaven. That carries out a positive theme of fishing found in Ezekiel 47:10.
Experience the good news of the kingdom. Listen to the good news. Jesus goes throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogues. He preaches, authoritatively proclaims, the good news of the kingdom. “Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom and his miracles are repeatedly mentioned in the same breath (cf., e.g. Matt. 4:23; 9:35). Jesus preached the kingdom with words and deeds. . . . Jesus’ miracles occupy a place that is in every respect organic and ‘natural’ in the idea of the coming of the kingdom, insofar as it renders visible the restoration of the creation, and so the all-embracing and redemptive significance of the kingdom.” (Herman Ridderbos, The Coming of the Kingdom, page 65).
The good news changes your life—because the King is present. Not only does he preach, but he also heals the sick of various diseases and casts out evil spirits. Do the miracles prove that Jesus is really God? Yes. Do they gather the crowes? Yes. But primarily, the miracles are the proclaimed word in visible form. “[W]e are not to look at Jesus’ miracles as mere philanthropic acts. Rather, they speak (very loudly) to the inauguration of a great redemptive moment in history when God acted definitively in his Son. The kingdom arrived with Christ, hence the miracles. In these miracles God’s graciousness, compassion, love, but also judgment, shone forth in the person of his Son.” (Mark Jones, Knowing Christ, page 138). Galilee of the nations hears the good news. But it also experiences the effects of the curse being rolled backwards. Sickness and death, enemies in the world because of sin, have their power broken. Those possessed by evil spirit have them removed by the One who had recently confronted Satan in the wilderness—and had conquered. The good news of the King and his kingdom touches your life as you follow him. The benefits of the good news, the healings, the victory over death are already your—in a sense—though their fulfillment is still to come.
Listen to the good news. Repent! Worship and serve the King. Experience the power of his reing in every earea or your life.