The Ministry of the King (Exposition of Matthew 4:12-25

On January 2, 2004 John Sarver was arrested and a few months later he plead guilty to robbing six banks in Johnson County, KS. One reason Sarver plead guilty to these bank robberies was a piece of evidence which the police found when they searched his house. It was a to-do list with a reminder to “rob bank.” Sarver was sentenced 10 years and 5 months in prison and ordered to make a restitution of $13,834. The Associated Press news article from which I received this information began: “If he’s still keeping a to-do list, John Sarver could add some new entries: go to prison, and pay restitution.” Well, at least he was organized!

Jesus didn’t need a ‘to-do’ list, but if he had one his activities described in this morning’s text would surely be on it. The Gospel of Matthew presents Jesus as the King. We’ve seen this in His genealogy, birth, worship by the Magi, sojourn in Egypt, herald – John the Baptist, baptism and temptation. Matthew’s emphasis in all of these is upon Jesus as the Messianic/Davidic King. Now before directing us to the ethics of the King and His Kingdom contained in the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7), Matthew provides a summary of the King’s ministry. Here four activities of His ministry are as precisely followed as if they were on a to-do list.

Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: 16 The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 18 And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 They immediately left their nets and followed Him. 21 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. He called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. 23 And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. 24 Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them. 25 Great multitudes followed Him — from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan. Matthew 4:12-25

I. He Fulfills Prophecy, vv. 12-16.
The first characteristic of Jesus’ kingly ministry shown by Matthew is that He fulfilled prophecy. Matthew informs us of Jesus move from the region of Judea to the region of Galilee. This could have been as much as year after Jesus’ baptism and wilderness temptation (The Gospel of John chapters 1-4 may describe Jesus’ early Judean ministry during this period.). The timing of this shift in the focus of His activity coincides with the murder of John the Baptist. Matthew does not give the details of John’s death now, but he does later in chapter 14. Jesus’ reason for His move to Galilee was not (as many assume) an attempt to escape the wrath of Herod Antipas for he ruled in Galilee, as well as Judea. Matthew gives the reason for Jesus’ move to Capernaum (northwest side of Sea of Galilee) as “that it might be fulfilled” what is written in Scripture. This is the fifth of ten similar quotations from the Old Testament which Matthew includes in his gospel which he says are fulfilled in some way by Jesus. The text which is fulfilled by Jesus’ move to Galilee is Isaiah 9:1-2. Jesus brings light to those in darkness and spiritual life those in the realm of death! The apostle John likewise sees Jesus bringing both light and life in his gospel. In John 1:3-9 we read:

All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.

The text from Isaiah which Matthew cites is of great importance for seeing Jesus as the heir to the Throne of David. There in context we read (Isaiah 9:1-7),

Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed, As when at first He lightly esteemed The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, And afterward more heavily oppressed her, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, In Galilee of the Gentiles. 2 The people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined. 3 You have multiplied the nation And increased its joy; They rejoice before You According to the joy of harvest, As men rejoice when they divide the spoil. 4 For You have broken the yoke of his burden And the staff of his shoulder, The rod of his oppressor, As in the day of Midian. 5 For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle, And garments rolled in blood, Will be used for burning and fuel of fire. 6 For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

Jesus is the Messianic King who fulfills Old Testament prophecy!

II. He Proclaims the Kingdom, vv. 17 & 23.
Next Matthew summarizes the message of Jesus in the same terms in which he summarized John the Baptist’s preaching in 3:2: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” The message which is summarized here is expanded upon in the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7. Both John and Jesus proclaimed the necessity of repentance due to the impending coming of the kingdom. John announced the coming King, and the King announces the Kingdom. Had the kingdom already arrived in the ministry of Jesus or was (and is) it still future? The answer is both! Jesus speaks of the Kingdom both as already present and as future. In this text, Jesus demonstrates that the Kingdom is present in verse 24 by healing “various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics.” Jesus Himself said in Matthew 12:28, “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” He did cast out demons by the Spirit of God, therefore the Kingdom of God has come! But, Jesus also spoke of the Kingdom as future! He told His disciples in the Upper Room that, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). How do we make sense of these two truths of the present and future of the kingdom? I think it is best to understand that in the ministry of Jesus the Kingdom had come because the King was present. The Kingdom is wherever the King is. Thus, He showed His kingly authority by healing diseases and casting out demons. But He did not heal everyone. He did not cast out every demon. And even those He healed would become sick again and eventually die. Those who were demon-possessed, could become possessed again for Jesus said that a demon could go and take “with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first” (Matthew 12:45). But there is coming a day in which sickness and demon possession will not exist at all. When the Kingdom comes fully and finally at the Second Coming of Christ all the evidences that existed in miniature during His first coming, will then exist fully and eternally! We will see this tension between the present and future realities of the Kingdom throughout the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus’ point in preaching repentance is that the need for repentance is urgent because of both the present and future realities of the kingdom. The Kingdom is presently near in the ministry of Jesus, therefore repent! The Kingdom is coming fully and finally in the future at the return of Jesus, therefore repent!

III. He Calls His Subjects, vv. 18-22.
Jesus demonstrates His kingly authority by calling subjects to Himself. A king must have subjects in his kingdom. In verses 18-22, we see Jesus beginning to fill his kingdom by calling two sets of brothers: Simon Peter and Andrew, and James and John.

  • Simon Peter was a born leader. He is always listed first in the lists of the disciples.
  • Andrew was Peter’s brother. He is always seen bringing people to Christ, including his more famous brother!
  • James was the first apostle to be martyred.
  • John was the disciple “whom Jesus loved”, the beloved disciple who wrote a Gospel, three Epistles and the book of Revelation.

This was not their first meeting. Jesus had met all of these probably a year earlier around the time of His baptism (as recorded in John 1:35-42).

This call was expensive! It cost these men something to follow Jesus! They left their nets, their family, their boats, and probably much more to follow Jesus. They left their entire old way of life. Jesus call to follow Him today is similar in its cost. You must be willing to leave all in order to follow Jesus. But it’s worth it! Jesus tells a parable in Matthew 13:44 that illustrates the worth of the sacrifice of following Jesus.

Not only was this call expensive, but it was effectual! Both groups of brothers are recorded as “immediately” leaving behind their possessions to follow Jesus. Jesus said in John 10:27-28,

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.

This is still true today. When the Shepherd issues His call through the Holy Spirit by the proclamation of God’s Word, His sheep respond in faith and repentance!

Jesus calls them first to follow, then to be fishers of men. They are to be imitators of Christ (“little christs” as the term Christian means). Just as He fished for them, they are to fish for others. This analogy is so often overinterpreted. Whole sermons are preached on the kind of tackle and bait one should use to catch men. This is not Jesus’ point. He is merely comparing and contrasting their former occupation with their new calling! We too are called to call men. Jesus makes this very clear in His Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. We are fishers for the souls of men!

IV. He Demonstrates His Authority, vv. 23-25.
Finally, in this text Jesus demonstrates His Kingly authority by teaching in the synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and diseases. This ministry is said to take place in all of Galilee. This was a region of 70 x 40 miles. Josephus says that there were 204 cities and villages that had a population of at least 15,000. To get a perspective on these figures, Lenoir City had an estimated population in July 2005 of 7,675. This was obviously a densely populated area where Jesus ministered. If Jesus visited every one of the 204 cities and villages noted by Josephus it would have taken Him at least 3 months at the rate of two a day without a day off for the Sabbath. This was an intense and no doubt exhausting time of ministry for Jesus.

What was He doing?

“Teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom” Customs of the time allowed any Jewish man over the age of thirty to provide an interpretation of Scripture after it was read. A classic example of this activity by Jesus in His hometown of Nazareth is seen in Luke 4:16-21. In this text we can get an idea of what the message of “the gospel of the kingdom” which Jesus proclaimed actually consisted.

So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. 17 And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” 20 Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Here Jesus quotes Isaiah 61:1-2. The message of “the gospel of the kingdom” which Jesus proclaimed in the synagogues was essentially, “Good news! The King who the Old Testament predicts would come is here! I am He!”

Jesus did not merely say that the Kingdom had come, He demonstrated it by working miracles of healing and casting out demons. This was the sign of the Messianic King in the Old Testament. Malachi prophesied that “The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings” (Malachi 4:2).

Isaiah in 61:1-2 cites healing as a sign of the coming of the Messiah and Jesus said that He fulfilled those verses of Scripture in Luke 4:21. In Matthew chapters 8 and 9, specific examples of Jesus’ healing of various diseases are given. Jesus attacked Satan’s household by casting out demons (see Matthew 12:28-29).

As a result of Jesus’ teaching, preaching, healing, and exorcisms, His fame spread throughout Galilee and beyond (Syria). Multitudes were compelled by what they saw and heard to follow Jesus the King.

Matthew shows us in this text the characteristics of Jesus’ ministy:

  • He Fulfills Prophecy
  • He Proclaims the Kingdom
  • He Calls His Subjects
  • He Demonstrates His Authority

The King has come and He has fulfilled all that the Messianic King should be just as if He were checking off items on a to-do list. But, ultimately He is headed to the cross! He is going to perform the ultimate task of dying for our sins on the cross of Calvary. By doing this He establishes His everlasting Kingdom by defeating Satan by pardoning sin and setting free those in bondage to sin in order that He might create a people to dwell in His kingdom forever.

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