Watercolor painting by E. J. Kirsch

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Mar 8, 2015

“Repent, Follow, and Catch” 3-8-15

Isaiah 9:1-7, Matthew 4:12-25
March 8, 2015

Sometimes a life-changing or life-ending event in the life of one person will also change the life of someone else.  Some have seen a critical event in the life of a loved one or a friend as a call to make some changes in their own lives.
Jesus was not immune to such a phenomenon.  At the beginning of our passage today Matthew wrote that the arrest of John the Baptist had such an effect on Jesus.  When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he left Judea, where he had been tempted in the wilderness, and went back to his home district of Galilee.  But He did not go home.  He moved out of Nazareth, his hometown and moved to Capernaum.  In doing so he moved out of the hills and into a lakeside village. 
Jesus seems to have taken the arrest of John as a sign that it was time for him to begin his own independent ministry in earnest.
His move to Capernaum might have facilitated that.  Much of Jesus’ ministry would be carried out in Galilee and many of the villages in Galilee would have surrounded the Sea of Galilee, which is actually a lake about 13 miles long by 8 miles wide.  By relocating his home to a lake-side town, he would add another method of transportation to his ministry.  The people of his economic strata and time mostly traveled by walking.  But Jesus could now travel by boat, which is much less taxing on one’s body. 
Now many people of our day have a misunderstanding of the Galilee of Jesus’ day which can be cleared up by reading Josephus.  Among other things, Josephus was a governor of Galilee about a generation or two after Jesus.  He informs us that Galilee was blessed with good soil for farming and so produced much of the food for its residents and the residents of other parts of Palestine.  He also informs us that in his time, there were no fewer than 204 villages each of which had more than 15,000 people.  That means that in the small area of Galilee, being 50 miles from North to South, and 25 miles from East to West, there were over 3 million 60 thousand people Or at least 2,448 per square Mile in Galilee in Jesus day.  I want you to think of that as opposed to the present population per square mile of our present day state of Indiana of 185 people per square mile.  That explains where the crowds came from that were reported to have followed him in this passage.
Galilee was also surrounded by Gentile populations and was much more influenced by them and influential on them than Judea, which was much more isolated culturally than Galilee.  Galilee was a much more fertile territory for new ideas and a new religion. 
But the religion of Jesus was not totally new.  It was based on Judaism, especially the declarations of the prophets, and the more recent work of John the Baptist.  And we see both of those influences in this passage.  Matthew informs us that the prophet Isaiah had proclaimed that God would send a great light to the territory of Galilee.  In Isaiah’s time, the 10 northern tribes who occupied that territory had been defeated and deported and their land was being inhabited by pagan gentiles.  Isaiah gave this prophecy to the king of Judea in that time to comfort him.  Isaiah proclaimed that Israelites would once again live in Galilee and that a great movement of god, a great light for all nations would shine forth from Galilee.
But the first official words of Jesus as he began his ministry had been spoken by John the Baptist.  Those words were “Repent, the Kingdom of God is near.”
The message of Jesus began with the command to Repent, but Matthew also follows that up with a bit of an outline of the message of Jesus and the nature of the church.
The command to repent is followed by the command to the four fishermen as they mended their fishing nets by the lakeshore at Capernaum.  He told them “Follow me” Now we have reason to suspect from what is written in the other gospels that these 4 already believed in Jesus.  Belief in Jesus was necessary for them and is for us.  But so is following him.  Those four and the eight others to be named later would follow Jesus around Galilee and in Judea for the next three years or so.  They would continue to follow his examples and his commandments after his death for as long as they lived, and they would call their converts to follow Jesus, just as we have been called to follow him.  We are not only to believe in him, but to follow him.  We are to obey every word he spoke and our lives are to be examples of how he would have lived if he lived in our time and place.
And he promised them something.  He promised them that as they followed him, he would make them into catchers of people.  Now this was an especially appropriate way of expressing the Christian Calling to men who had been career fishermen.  They had been catching fish, they would be catching people.  But so would the other 8 apostles, who had not been fishermen.  They had been in a variety of occupations, but they also would be called to catch people into Jesus’ kingdom.  Christians are to believe in Jesus, follow Jesus, and catch people for Jesus into Jesus kingdom.
The final paragraph of this lesson shows how Jesus began to catch people himself.  He ministered to their physical needs.  He taught and preached to the crowds in the synagogues and in public places, some of them out of doors.  But he also healed people of their sicknesses and diseases.  And large crowds continued to come to him for more miracles and to hear more of his teachings.
We are to believe in Jesus, repent, follow Jesus, and catch people for him.  We are to bring people to Jesus and into his salvation and kingdom. 
The good things we do for others are ways that we can show them the love and concern of Jesus for them, so we can bring them closer to Jesus.  The good things we do for others are not to be ends in and of themselves.  The church does not exist to do good things for people.  The church exists to win people to and for Jesus.  The good things that we do are to help win others.
But I also want you to notice the arenas in which Jesus worked.  He proclaimed his message in the synagogues and out in the country sides.  He went to churches where people were gathered for worship.  And he went out into the country sides and preached to and healed people who were there.  In the next passage, Matthew describes an event in which Jesus taught a crowd of people who gathered to him on the side of a mountain, the teachings from that occasion would become known as the Sermon on the Mount. 
I have already cautioned you against doing good for people as the main goal of the church or of individual Christians.
But I also want to warn you about following Jesus.  The main goal of a Christian is not to draw closer to Jesus though our scripture readings, our prayers and our relationships with other Christians.  We are to come closer to Jesus through those means of grace, but closeness with Jesus is not our main goal.  We are to draw closer to Him so we can bring others to Him.  Catching others for Jesus and to Jesus is why we are here.
Are you fulfilling your ultimate purpose as a Christian?

Pastor David L. Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906