DUNCAN/Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand
Please turn in your Bible to Matthew 4:12-17. Thus far in the Gospel of Matthew, we have read about the genealogy of our Savior and his identification as the Messiah whom God had promised to send to His people. We have also seen the Magi coming from afar to worship Jesus as the Son of God. Furthermore, we have seen the Father put His verbal word of blessing on Jesus’ ministry, and the Lord Jesus in the baptism itself accept the commission publicly that He would be the sin-bearer for His people. Last week, we saw our Lord confront Satan and defeat him in the wilderness. And this week, we read about the circumstances and the content of Jesus’ teaching ministry. Specifically, there are three things to notice in this passage. First, we learn about the timing of Jesus’ ministry. Secondly, we learn about the place of His ministry. Thirdly and finally, we learn about the message of Jesus’ ministry.
I. The Timing of Jesus’ Ministry.
In verse 12, Matthew says, “Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee.” The occasion for Jesus’ public ministry was the imprisonment of John the Baptist, his beloved cousin, the one whom God had sent to prepare the way before Him had been captured and imprisoned by Herod. And upon hearing about John’s imprisonment, Jesus moves His ministry into Galilee. John’s ministry has ended. He will spend the rest of his days imprisoned and then will give his life for the sake of the Gospel. And so Jesus goes into the wilderness to build upon the ministry that John had established there. What a compliment to John, that our Lord Jesus could go confidently into Galilee, knowing the John had done precisely what God had called Him to do from the foundations of the world which was to prepare the way of the Lord.
There are at least two things that we learn from the timing of Jesus’ ministry. First, we learn that the Lord will build His church. What if we had been benefiting from that glorious ministry of John and suddenly the greatest preacher to ever preach in Galilee is snatched from our midst and thrown into prison. Surely we would have shaken our heads and said, “Lord what are you doing?” And yet, we see that the Lord will build His church. Take John the Baptist from the people of God, and the Father sends His Son into Galilee. The church is not built on men, however talented. The church is built on the Rock and upon His unassailable truth. Secondly, we learn from the timing of our Lord’s ministry that there is an appointed time in God’s plan for everything in life. God knew precisely when He wanted to send His Son into the wilderness of Galilee. He had planned it from the foundations of the world. And so we must never forget that there is an appointed time in God’s plan for everything in life.
II. The Place of Jesus’ Ministry.
In verses 12-15, we read that Jesus settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali which is called “the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.” This area covers the whole northern region around the sea of Galilee. And Matthew tells us that Jesus ministers here in fulfillment of prophecy. Seven hundred years before, Isaiah had prophesied that the people of Zebulun and Naphtali who had endured not one, but two captivities would find liberation. Thus, Matthew says that the One who is the light, the One who is the liberator has come. Jesus began preaching the Gospel in Galilee of the Gentiles. He had come to a place that was religiously and morally darkened even in the days of old. In 2 Kings 17:33, the Samaritans were described as those that feared the Lord and yet they served their own gods. However, it is in Galilee of the Gentiles where our Lord’s preaching ministry begins.
There are also two truths that we learn from the place of Jesus’ ministry. First, we learn that God’s grace is manifested in the most unlikely of places. If we had been planning where Jesus would do His ministry for its most strategic impact in Israel, surely we would have said, “Lord go to Jerusalem. That is the center of government. That is the center of power. Jerusalem is where people with money, influence, and education live. Go there and do Your ministry.” Yet God does not send Jesus to the aristocracy of Jerusalem. God sends Jesus to the despised and the sorely afflicted masses of Galilee. God’s grace is manifested in the most unlikely places and before people who we may think of as the least worthy to receive it. Secondly, we learn that God’s plan encompasses not only every timing in life, but every detail of life. Even the location where Jesus will minister is within the plan of God. It had been set down by the prophets hundreds of years before. And so we must never doubt that the details of our lives are in the hand of God.
III. The Message of Jesus’ Ministry.
In verse 17, we read that Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” There are three things to observe about Jesus’ message of repentance. First, it is important to notice that it is precisely the same message that John the Baptist preached. And by preaching that same message, the Lord Jesus teaches us that the Gospel is the same in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament. Secondly, we learn that Jesus builds on John’s ministry in such a way that He will reach regions with John’s message that John had never reached. Thirdly, we see that when Jesus, the Messiah, preaches the message of repentance that it lends all the more urgency to the fact that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And Jesus’ message to the Galileans is His message to us. Jesus, the One who gave Himself for sinners, preaches repentance. It is the teaching of our Lord and Savior.
What is repentance? Augustus Strong once said, “man truly repents only when he learns that his sin has made him unable to repent without the renewing grace of God.” Only the person who is repentant is simultaneously able to say, “I am the problem, but God is merciful.” The repentant person, by the grace of God, has come to see that God is a loving God who forgives at the cost of His Son. And so the repentant person, not knowing what to do, casts himself at the mercy of the Lord because he sees that it is God who will receive even a sinner. Friends, we serve a merciful God. Will you go to God today in repentance?