|Jesus Teaches in the Synagogue - Gustave Doré|
Last week we looked at the threefold temptation of Jesus by the devil. The first great benefit of this is that we can see how the devil works by looking at how he approached Jesus. He first attacked Jesus at a moment of weakness after Jesus 40-day, 40-night fast and we learned that one of the ways we are tempted is through are basic appetites, which are not of themselves bad, but which can be exploited against us. The second temptation went to Jesus faith in God’s word in an attempt to put God to the test. Did God really mean what he said? Let’s test him and find out. We say here how the scriptures can be manipulated in an inappropriate, harmful, damaging way. Finally, the devil tempted Jesus with the offer to give him all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for Jesus’ worship. This was the temptation to avoid the suffering and agony of the Cross.
We took away three things from this text: First, we need to be scripture-saturated people, so that we who are called by Christ might succeed in defeating temptations. Second, we learned that the key weakness in the human character is pride, and that we must always be on the watch that our desire to be thought highly of did not lead us to destruction. Finally, we learned how important the gospel is, because we routinely fail to withstand temptation. But because Jesus withstood all attempts to reject God and God’s Word for us, we need not fear condemnation, but instead appeal to the finished work of Christ by faith that what he did on the Cross was sufficient to cover over our lapses.
Summary of Jesus’ Ministry on Earth
This week’s text address show in greater detail what Jesus was sent to accomplish in his ministry on earth. The text has three major segments, and I think that Matthew paints the picture of Jesus’ ministry deliberately in this specific order. The first thing Jesus does is preach. He makes an announcement that God’s kingdom has broken into the word, calling on his listeners to repent. Second, after preaching the word, Jesus goes about the business of making disciples. Third, after the preaching and making of disciples comes the critical third component of Jesus’ ministry, healing others in conjunction with the proclamation of the gospel. I submit to you that this is an excellent pattern for what the church ought to be doing in its ongoing life together.
The Kingdom of God Is Proclaimed
 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee.  And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,  so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:  “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”  From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”Having received the news the John was arrested, Jesus leads Judea and heads north to the region called Galilee, the district where his hometown of Nazareth is located. Then he left his hometown to go to the seaside city of Capernaum.
The territory into which he went had a long history. The territory of Galilee was, in the Old Testament, the place where the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun settled. Those tribes, located at the northern most part of the old kingdom were, for a long time under Assyrian occupation, alluded to by with the quotation from the prophet Isaiah. It is into this very territory, now under occupation by the Roman Empire, that Jesus comes. Matthew is clear that he interprets the final liberation of the people coming from Jesus. The land dwelling in deep darkness of oppression and occupation were the first to experience the bright light of hope in the person of Jesus.
And he comes bearing a message for those who are oppressed. The words spoken here by Jesus are exactly the same as those spoken by John earlier in Matthew 3:2, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus is thereby endorsing and assuming John’s prophetic ministry. Because the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and is breaking over the land where only darkness and death has reigned, it is time to get with God. Now is the time. “Repent!” This is an imperative command. It comes with force and urgency to all who here it. And the call comes to you again this morning. The kingdom of heaven is at hand in the person of the one speaking, Jesus of Nazareth. And his imperative is also an urgent invitation. It is time to change your life, to yield finally to the will of the God who created you, to be aligned with his purposes of magnifying his own glory. Have you repented, dear ones? Are you hearing this call afresh this morning? Are you lost in the darkness of sin and rebellion, are you feeling abandoned having failed to meet the incessant demands of the world? Are you mired in temptation, beset by the devil at every turn, and desirous of rescue? Repent, then! Come to the throne of grace, where the one who withstood all temptation and suffering and trial and tribulation stands as your judge but also as your justifier before God, and receive as His gift the offer of forgiveness and the peace which surpasses all understanding. The one thing I hope for each week when I preach is that someone might hear this appeal and answer the call. It is the one thing I hope for most, and the one thing I cannot do through preaching. But God can use the preaching to draw you to Himself. Oh if he has not done that yet for you, I hope he does right now.
The mission of the church is to proclaim this reality, that the kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus is already Lord of the universe, of heaven and earth, and stands sovereign over all the nations. So many don’t know this yet, and the mission of the church is to proclaim this news from the rooftops, in our homes, at work, everywhere, so that others may share the hope of joy in Jesus Christ through he forgiveness of their sins by faith in the saving power of his blood shed on the cross.
Having proclaimed the kingdom of heaven, Jesus keeps moving. Verses 18-22:
 While walking 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.  And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Immediately they left their nets and followed him.  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.  Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.Having proclaimed the good news that God’s kingdom is at hand, Jesus goes about the next bit of business, that of making disciples. He starts with two fishermen, Simon (who will be called “Peter” by Jesus), and his brother Andrew. Jesus speaks and they respond. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” When Jesus calls a sinner by name, the sinner responds. This is what happens when your are born again. This is the irresistible grace of God at work. When God calls you by name, there is nothing in heaven or on earth that will keep you from heeding and obeying the call. You drop everything to be with him. Jesus’ words cause what they command. There is no hesitation. The same thing happens to James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They leave everything behind, their nets, even their father, to go be with Jesus. That is the power of God at work. There were no special pleadings, not “Just a second, Jesus, while I wrap this up.” No. When Jesus calls you, and the power of God comes upon you, you simply follow him, leaving everything behind.
And when you follow him, he makes and keeps his promise to you. “I will make you fishers of men.” I will take you, fisherman, banker, coffee shop owner, farmer, home maker, assembly line worker, engineer, doctor, lawyer, musician, sanitation worker, construction worker – you get the idea – and I will make you one who draws others to follow Jesus.
Now that Jesus has ascended to the right hand of the Father, this charge of making disciples is ours. Disciple-making is the job of the church. It’s not just programs and events and activities to suit various demographic age groups. The church exists to proclaim what Jesus proclaimed, and to make disciples of Jesus. This is made abundantly clear in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are commanded by our sovereign Lord Jesus to bring others along in discipleship. To make disciples means to train Christians to follow the commands of Jesus. It means to help others foster their heart-felt affections for the glory of God. It means to teach others how to pray and love others. It means to develop a deeper and deeper understandings of how God’s free pardon for sin affects every aspect of our lives, how Jesus’ obedience for us makes us joyfully obedience, rather than slaves to duty.
Multiple Ministries of Mercy
Having proclaimed the kingdom, and having started making disciples, Jesus then moves into the next key area of his ministry. Verses 23-25:
 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.  So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.  And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.Verse 23 sums up what we’ve said thus far about Jesus’ ministry, but adds an important element – motion. Jesus proclaims the gospel of the kingdom. He teaches in their synagogues, their places of worship. And he does these things, throughout all Galilee, meaning, Jesus is on the move. As he does this, another crucial component of his ministry is seen, Jesus goes to work “healing every disease and every affliction among the people” including “all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them.”
And so the church should be deeply involved in these kinds of ministries if we claim the title “disciple.” In fact, the church today is desperate to be seen as doing these things. Many church professionals, including church “growth experts,” desire the church to be way more outwardly focused that it is today. I fear, however, that most of their books are purchased and devoured in the hopes that local churches might achieve numerical growth by simply doing stuff and demonstrating their righteousness to the world. But notice how Jesus does these things. He does them while proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and while teaching in their synagogues. And that is how our loving works should always be done. They should not be done in a vacuum apart from the declaration of the good news and apart from teaching and making disciples. When we engage in good words and fail to proclaim the good news, inevitably what happens is that we end up glorifying and justifying ourselves. If the church engaged in this important work without proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, how is the church any different than any other aid organization? Jesus does these words to demonstrate God’s power visibly because the kingdom has come near. And in doing it this way, God is glorified. The text here says that Jesus’ “fame spread throughout all Syria” and that “great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.” If people come into the church as a result of our good works done in faith, they better be coming for the right reason – that is, they better know that the reason they are done was because of what Jesus has already done for us by his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. If you help someone in need and they thank you, how do you respond? This is the huge implication of this text. Who gets the credit when you help someone in need? Do you take it for yourself, or do you credit the God who saved you through the precious, precious blood of His Son, Jesus? Christians will gladly deflect the praise they receive to Jesus. The next time you are involved in one of the ministries of the church, test yourself. Why am I doing this? Is it for my own glory, or for the glory of Jesus? When that man or woman came into the food shelf, was anything said at all about the greatness of the Christ who gave us this ministry? When someone comes into the Noah’s Room clothing ministry, do they hear about Christ at all?
The application of this text today is simple: The Church is called follow her Lord by proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand, calling upon sinners to repent and be saved. It is to make disciples of those sinners, teaching them to do what the Lord Jesus commands. Finally, the church is called, in conjunction with the proclamation of the gospel, to demonstrate God’s power in ministries of healing.
Now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
September 18, 2011
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew