MANIFESTING THE LIGHT OF JESUS TO A WORLD LOST IN DARKNESS REQUIRES COMMITTED DISCIPLESHIP, EFFECTIVE SOUL WINNING AND IMPACTFUL KINGDOM WORDS AND WORKS
Grant Osborne: The preliminary events are over, and it is time for Jesus to engage in his messianic mission. Like Mark 1:14, Matthew begins after John the Baptist is imprisoned; John 1–5 shows that Jesus’ ministry actually began earlier, interspersing ministry in Judea and Galilee before moving to Capernaum. So the Synoptic Gospels actually begin later in Jesus’ ministry.
Irving Jensen: Matthew’s reporting skips most of the first year of Jesus’ ministry. Only John reports the early Judean ministry of that year (John 1:19 – 4:42). The passage in this unit opens Jesus’ Galilean ministry, beginning the second year of His mission.
E. Michael Green: Fresh from his baptism and temptation, Jesus launches his public ministry. Matthew stresses the fact that it continues that of John. John is arrested by Herod, and imprisoned in the terrible dungeons of Machaerus; Jesus immediately and boldly replaces him. John preached repentance, and that is precisely the subject of Jesus’ preaching. Not for the first time, nor for the last, does Matthew stress the continuity of Jesus’ work with all that had gone before. Very soon he will expand on the content of Jesus’ teaching, but first of all he gives us some indication of his initial impact and the characteristics of the budding ministry.
R. C. Ryle: We have in these verses the beginning of our Lord’s ministry among men. He enters on His labors among a dark and ignorant people. He chooses men to be His companions and disciples. He confirms His ministry by miracles which rouse the attention of all Syria and draw multitudes to hear Him.
John MacArthur: Jesus is the day star. Jesus is the bright and morning star. Jesus is the One of whom Malachi said, “The sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in his beams.” And “the sun” there is spelled s-u-n, and that is the great reality of this tremendous text in Matthew. Look again at verse 16, “The people who sat in darkness saw a great light; and to them who sat in the region and shadow of death, light is sprung up.” You see, Matthew sees the darkness of man, and he calls the light of Jesus Christ to bear upon the darkness of man, and here he’s really quoting the great prophet Isaiah, as we shall see in a few moments. This is how Matthew introduces the ministry of Jesus. It is the light dawning on the darkness. . .
Jesus had a clear, explicit plan. The plan was this: by words and works He would establish His deity. By the things that He did and the things that He said, He would make manifest who He really was.
Walter Wilson: With John off the stage, Jesus returns to Galilee, his relocation from Nazareth to Capernaum according with biblical prophecy, thereby likening the advent of his public ministry to the dawning of a new age in salvation history, an age that brings light to all people, even the gentiles. Like John, Jesus proclaims a message of repentance. Unlike John, he also calls disciples who will “follow” him in his journeys through Galilee and share in his ministry, summoning them with irresistible authority. Before they can “fish” for other disciples, however, these fishermen must abandon both their livelihood and their familial connections, thereby becoming “brothers” of both Jesus and other members of the messianic movement. As they accompany Jesus, they learn how the ministry of the kingdom includes acts of both word and deed, the latter coming to expression especially in miracles of healing, which attract large crowds from throughout the region. An appropriate audience is assembled, then, for the delivery of the Messiah’s first major address.
I. (:12-17) THE LIGHT DAWNS IN THE DARKNESS OF GALILEE —
BEGINNING THE CAPERNAUM MINISTRY
Donald Hagner: This passage serves as an important transition, bringing Jesus to Galilee where his ministry is to have its formal beginning. Jesus has been prepared by the baptism and the temptation in the wilderness, the stage is fully set, and now comes the word that John has been arrested: the work of the forerunner is complete. Jesus comes to Nazareth and to Capernaum beside the sea, and in these regions, so significant in their correspondence to the prophecy of Isaiah, Jesus begins to proclaim the presence of the kingdom by word and deed: a great light appears to those who sit in darkness. Thus, as G. Dalman (Sacred Sites and Ways [London: SPCK, ET 1935] 183) puts it, “the loveliest lake of Palestine remains the place where God’s redeeming power appeared to men for the first time on earth in a new guise, like a light, and thus was the prophetic word (Isa 8:23; 9:1) concerning the great light in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali abundantly fulfilled.” The gospel in its essence is the proclamation of the good news of the dawning of God’s rule. With that rule begins a new frame of salvation-history, one closely related to the eschaton itself.
A. (:12-16) Relocation to Capernaum in Galilee to Bring Light to a People in Need
- (:12) Withdrawing from Judea
“Now when He heard that John had been taken into custody,
He withdrew into Galilee;”
R. T. France: The continuity between John and Jesus is recognized by the link made here, and yet there is a clear sense of discontinuity, of a new and different ministry beginning in a new location. This “withdrawal” was in part a matter of political wisdom: in view of John’s conflict with Antipas his “successor” could not expect to be safe in the same area, especially if, as Josephus tells us (Ant. 18:118), Antipas saw the baptizing movement as a potential source of sedition. Galilee was, of course, also under Antipas, but an itinerant preacher touring the Galilean villages was a less obvious target for political concern than John’s centripetal campaign by the Jordan. News of John’s fate will again cause Jesus to “withdraw” in 14:13.
John Phillips: In Jesus’ day nine cities bordered the lake and a busy life went on all around it. Township ran into township about the feet of the green western hills, and along the shore there were docks and harbors. Farmers elbowed fishermen; dockworkers jostled coopers and shipwrights. Fishing and fish curing were big business, employing thousands of families and making Galilee famous in the Roman world long before the Gospels were written. An intricate system of aqueducts carried water to the farms and orchards. There were dyeworks at Magdala and pottery kilns and shipyards at Capernaum. Presiding over the whole scene was the regal city of Tiberias with its magnificent Herodian palace, where Greek sculptures shone in the sun and reminded the Jews that their land was in the hands of the Gentiles. Walking the roads of Galilee, a Jew would meet long caravans heading south to the fords of Jordan. He would meet Rome’s marching cohorts encased in iron, and their officers richly arrayed in armor adorned with purple and gold. He would meet Phoenician merchants bringing the treasures of lands across the sea to the bazaars and markets of a hundred towns. He would see chariots of the wealthy, troops of gladiators, and bands of roving entertainers coming to play before the cosmopolitans of Caesarea, Tiberias, and Decapolis. This was “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4:15), as the proud Judeans contemptuously termed it. This was where Jesus chose to live.
John MacArthur: Well, so Jesus chose Galilee. The whole idea must have been just offensive to Jerusalem Jews. That the Messiah would settle in Capernaum of Galilee. You’ve gotta be kidding. There are no theologians there. That’s a place where people are farmers and fishermen. The outstanding Jewish minds were in Jerusalem. The revelation of God was to be in Jerusalem. That was the sacred city and the only fitting place for the Messiah. It must have been as offensive to them as was the announcement of John, here in the fourth chapter, when he announces to the whole world when he wrote his gospel that the first person Jesus ever revealed His messiahship to was a Samaritan.
Galilee? A Galilean messiah was ludicrous. In John chapter 7, verse 40, “Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, ‘Of a truth this is the Prophet.’” Many of them said that. “Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’ But some said, ‘Shall Christ come out of Galilee?'” Galilee?! “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And later on that same crowd, in John 7:52, “Answered and said to him, ‘Are you also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee arises no prophet.'” What are you talkin’ about?
2. (:13) Settling in Capernaum
“and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali.”
R. T. France: Jesus’ relocation (the combination of kataleipō and katoikeō indicates a decisive move away to a new home) took him from the rather remote hill-village in which he had been brought up (see on 2:23 for Nazareth) to a busy lake-side town set among other thriving villages which depended largely on the productive fishing industry of the Lake of Galilee. He thus gained a more public platform for his proclamation, as well as escaping the suspicion attaching to a local boy who becomes a celebrity (see on 13:54–58). Matthew records only one return to Nazareth, whereas Capernaum and the neighboring lakeshore communities will be the setting for most of the Galilean ministry. It is sobering to note, however, that even Capernaum, favored with so much of Jesus’ presence, will be denounced as unresponsive in 11:23–24.
Capernaum was an important settlement on the north-western shore of the lake, and the presence there of a centurion (8:5) and a customs post (9:9) indicates that it was a local administrative center. The population in the first century was perhaps as high as 10,000, substantially bigger than Nazareth. While Capernaum had its resident Roman officials, it was a traditionally Jewish town, very different from the newly-established Hellenistic city of Tiberias a little further down the Western shore. While Luke and Josephus more correctly speak of the “Lake” of Galilee, Matthew, Mark and John consistently refer to this inland fresh-water lake as a “sea” (reflecting the OT name yām-kinneret, Num 34:11 etc.), but in my translation (except in v. 15, see comments below) and in the commentary, I have thought it less misleading to modern readers to use “lake.”
In the traditional tribal allocation after the conquest the tribes of Zebulun and Naphthali shared the area between the Lake of Galilee and the territory of Asher along the Mediterranean coast. The lakeshore area originally belonged to Naphthali, while Nazareth was in Zebulun, but tribal areas had little actual relevance by NT times. Matthew combines the two tribes in order to echo Isaiah’s prophecy.
Grant Osborne: The importance of the tribal names is seen in the chiasm in vv. 13b–15:
B by the sea
C Zebulon and Naphtali
C’ Zebulon and Naphtali
B’ toward the sea
- (:14-16) Fulfilling OT Prophecy of the Dawning of a Great Light
“This was to fulfill what was spoken through 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 were sitting in darkness saw a great light, And to those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, Upon them a light dawned.’”
Van Parunak: Isaiah promised that the northern districts, which were the first to feel the oppression of Mesopotamian invaders, would also be the first to enjoy the blessing of the coming kingdom. When our Lord moves from Nazareth (in Zebulon) to Capernaum (in Naphthali), both of the tribes mentioned by Isaiah are associated with his ministry.
R. T. France: Matthew sets the geographical scene more carefully than Mark, both by noting Jesus’ removal from Nazareth to Capernaum and by giving it theological significance by means of another formula-quotation. The effect of his reference to Isa 9:1–2 is to designate Galilee as the place of light, as opposed to the darkness which we shall eventually find to be settled over Judea. The dawning light is heralded in Jesus’ proclamation, and the succeeding section of the gospel set in and around Galilee will be essentially one of light and hope, as light shines on the people at large and they respond gladly to it, despite the hostility of some whose special interest keeps them from welcoming it. Galilee is the place where the mission will be enthusiastically launched and developed (and from which eventually, after the conflict and rejection in Judea, the mission will be relaunched to reach all nations, 28:16–20). Even as early as this there is a further hint (cf 1:3–6; 2:1–12, and the Abrahamic theme of 1:1; 3:9) that Jesus’ messianic mission extends beyond Israel alone, in Isaiah’s loaded phrase “Galilee of the nations.”
John Walvoord: These prophecies [commenting on Is. 9], as interpreted in their normal literal sense, predicted fulfillment of the expectation of a kingdom on earth after the second coming of Christ in keeping with the premillennial interpretation of Scripture. There was nothing in this passage that corresponded to the present reign of Christ on earth or the present position of Christ in heaven, the interpretation of amillenarians. In this passage, as in many passages in the Old Testament, the first and second coming of Christ were not distinguished and the Child who was born (Isa 9:6) in Bethlehem in His first coming will be the same Person described as the Everlasting King who will reign forever (Isa 9:7). The theme of the future kingdom of Christ on earth was a familiar subject of the prophecies of Isaiah (Isaiah 11:4; Isa 16:5; Isa 28:5-6, 17; Isa 32:16; Isa 33:5; Isa 42:1, 3-4; Isa 51:5).
Warren Wiersbe: The “light” that Isaiah promised was the Light of the Word of God, as well as the Light of His perfect life and compassionate ministry.
G. Campbell Morgan: Now He made Capernaum His base of operations, that neglected city living under the shadow of death. When He came, men saw Life at its highest, and its best, according to a Divine Ideal; the Light of Love flashed over their sorrows and their sins; the Light of Truth illuminated the dark corners, and revealed evil things. There, in the midst of the darkness and in the midst of the need, He truck the key-note of His ministry.
William Barclay: Of all parts of Palestine, Galilee was most open to new ideas. Josephus says of the Galilaeans: ‘They were ever fond of innovations, and by nature disposed to changes, and delighted in seditions.’ They were always ready to follow a leader and to begin an insurrection. They were notoriously quick in temper and given to quarrelling. Yet for all that, they were the most brave and honourable people. ‘The Galilaeans’, said Josephus, ‘have never been destitute of courage.’ ‘Cowardice was never a characteristic of the Galilaeans.’ ‘They were ever more anxious for honour than for gain.’ The inborn characteristics of the Galilaeans were such as to make them most fertile ground for a new gospel to be preached to them.
This openness to new ideas was due to certain facts.
(1) The name Galilee comes from the Hebrew word galil which means a circle. The full name of the area was Galilee of the Gentiles. In his commentary on Matthew, A. Plummer wishes to take that to mean ‘heathenish Galilee’. But the phrase came from the fact that Galilee was literally surrounded by Gentiles. On the west, the Phoenicians were its neighbours. To the north and the east, there were the Syrians. And even to the south, there lay the territory of the Samaritans. Galilee was in fact the one part of Palestine that was inevitably in touch with non-Jewish influences and ideas. Galilee was bound to be open to new ideas in a way that no other part of Palestine was.
(2) The great roads of the world passed through Galilee, as we saw when we were thinking of the town of Nazareth. The Way of the Sea led from Damascus through Galilee right down to Egypt and to Africa. The Road to the East led through Galilee away out to the frontiers. The traffic of the world passed through Galilee. Down in the south, Judaea is tucked into a corner, isolated and secluded. As it has been well said, ‘Judaea is on the way to nowhere: Galilee is on the way to everywhere.’ Judaea could erect a fence and keep all foreign influence and all new ideas out; Galilee could never do that. Into Galilee, the new ideas were bound to come.
(3) Galilee’s geographical position had affected its history. Again and again it had been invaded and conquered, and the tides of the other nations had often flowed over it and had sometimes engulfed it.
B. (:17) Repentance Preached to Prepare Sinners for the Kingdom
“From that time Jesus began to preach and say,
‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
Grant Osborne: “From that time” (ἀπὸ τότε) is a significant transition found three times in this gospel (4:17; 16:21; 26:16) and indicates a new start. Several believe that “from that time Jesus began to” (4:17; 16:21) indicates the major sections of Matthew’s gospel and divide the book accordingly (1:1 – 4:16; 4:17 – 16:20; 16:21 – 28:20). While this is viable, it probably reads too much into the phrase. More likely, it indicates a new phase to Jesus’ ministry. The time of preparation is over, and Jesus begins to proclaim his kingdom message.
R. T. France: If the announcement of “God’s kingship” in v. 17 might lead the reader to expect some dramatic development in world history, the character of these first recruits offers a different perspective: four local fishermen do not sound like a world-changing task-force. The parable of the mustard seed (13:31–32) will spell out the paradoxical character and insignificant beginnings of the kingdom of God.
Warren Wiersbe: In the New Testament, the word kingdom means “rule, reign, authority” rather than a place or a specific realm. The phrase “kingdom of heaven” refers to the rule of God. The Jewish leaders wanted a political leader who would deliver them from Rome, but Jesus came to bring spiritual rule to the hearts of people. This does not deny the reality of a future kingdom as we have already noted.
Leon Morris: Jesus began with the same emphasis as John the Baptist had. The two go together: if the kingdom of God is near, then clearly people cannot be complacent. They must prepare for that kingdom, and that means repenting of their sins. Jesus calls on them to realize that they are unfit for the kingdom of heaven and to repent accordingly. Such preaching is a clarion call to action, not a recipe for slothful complacency. We should not overlook the importance of this call to repentance at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry; everything else follows from that. Matthew has often been seen as one who stresses the importance of good works, and of course he does. But this must not be held in such a form that his emphasis on grace is missed. From the beginning Jesus took it for granted that people are sinners, and accordingly his first message was that they must repent. Only so would they know the forgiveness he came to bring. . .
There is a sense in which God has acted decisively in sending his Son: the kingdom is here in his words and deeds. But there is another sense in which the culmination of the kingdom in all its fulness is a future reality: the best is yet to be. Both truths are important.
William Barclay: Finally, Matthew gives us a brief one-sentence summary of the message which Jesus brought. The Authorized Version and Revised Standard Version both say that Jesus began to preach. The word preach has come down in the world; it is all too unfortunately connected in the minds of many people with boredom. The word in Greek is kērussein, which is the word for a herald’s proclamation from a king. Kērux is the Greek word for herald, and the herald was the man who brought a message direct from the king.
This word tells us of certain characteristics of the preaching of Jesus, and these are characteristics which should be in all preaching.
(1) The herald had in his voice a note of certainty. There was no doubt about his message; he did not come with perhapses and maybes and probablys; he came with a definite message. The German poet Goethe had it: ‘Tell me of your certainties: I have doubts enough of my own.’ Preaching is the proclamation of certainties, and we cannot make others sure of that about which we ourselves are in doubt.
(2) The herald had in his voice the note of authority. He was speaking for the king; he was laying down and announcing the king’s law, the king’s command and the king’s decision. As was said of a great preacher, ‘He did not cloudily guess; he knew.’ Preaching, as it has been put, is the application of prophetic authority to the present situation.
(3) The herald’s message came from a source beyond himself; it came from the king. Preaching speaks from a source beyond the preacher. It is not the expression of one individual’s personal opinions; it is the voice of God transmitted through that person to the people. It was with the voice of God that Jesus spoke to men and women.
John MacArthur: Can I add one little note here? I like to mention that Jesus preached, because I believe in preaching, and I’m always running into people who aren’t sure we oughtta preach. They’re not sure there’s a place for preaching. Maybe we oughtta just have small group studies and things like that. Jesus preached. The word is kruss. It means “to proclaim.” The fine Bible commentary writer named Lenski says this: “The point to be noted is that to preach is not to argue or reason or dispute or convince by intellectual proof against all of which a keen intellect may bring counter argument. We simply state in public, or testify to all men the truth, which God bids us state. No argument can assail the truth presented in this announcement or testimony. Men either believe the truth, as all sane men should, or refuse to believe it, as only fools venture to do,” end quote. It’s a great thing to preach.
II. (:18-22) THE RADICAL CALL TO TOTAL DISCIPLESHIP COMMITMENT AND THE MISSION OF SOUL WINNING
A. (:18-20) Calling of Peter and Andrew
R. T. France: Hitherto Jesus, while briefly involved with John and others by the Jordan, has been presented as operating alone. But it is significant that his first recorded action is to gather a group of followers, who will commit themselves to a total change of lifestyle which involves them in joining Jesus as his essential support group for the whole period of his public ministry. From this point on we shall not read stories about Jesus alone, but stories about Jesus and his disciples. Wherever he goes they will go; their presence with Jesus, even if not explicitly mentioned, is assumed. While the Twelve will not be formally listed until 10:1–4, the stories from here on will assume a wider group of disciples than just these first four. They will be the primary audience for his teaching (5:1–2) and witnesses of his works of power, but they are also called to be his active helpers in the task of “fishing for people,” as we shall discover in ch. 10. The first time Jesus will be left alone after this point will be when eventually the disciples desert him in the garden of Gethsemane (26:56). Until then, Matthew’s story is not only that of the Messiah, but also of the messianic community which is being formed around him. The placing of this incident right at the beginning makes it clear that that was Jesus’ intention.
Grant Osborne: Jesus calls his first followers and immediately gives them a new kind of ministry, fishing for people. There are three major points here:
(1) The creative force in discipleship is Jesus, and the task of every follower is to surrender to his active presence.
(2) The purpose of discipleship is evangelistic, to learn a whole new type of “fishing.”
(3) The demand is for radical surrender, to leave everything in order to follow Christ.
The emphasis is also on their radical response to the call. Simon and Andrew “immediately” (v. 20) leave both vocation and home. This introduces the theme of radical discipleship in Matthew; Jesus has absolute priority over occupation and family. This is also shown when we compare 1 Kgs 19:19–21 (the call of Elisha), where Elisha was plowing his field when Elijah called him. There he was allowed to kiss his parents good-bye, while here and in 8:21–22 there is no time to bid family farewell. The radical nature of Jesus’ demand leaves no room for farewells.
David Platt: Now let me be very careful here: I am not saying, and I would not say based on the whole of the New Testament, that all followers of Jesus must lose their careers, sell or give away all their possessions, leave their families behind, and physically die for the gospel. But the New Testament is absolutely clear that for all who follow Jesus, comfort and certainty in this world are no longer your concerns. Your career revolves around whatever Jesus calls you to do and however He wants to use you to spread the good news of the kingdom. Your possessions are not your own, and you forsake material pleasure in this world in order to live for eternal treasure in the world to come. And this could mean that you sell or give away everything you have. After all, position is no longer your priority.
Donald Hagner: But for Matthew, the placement of the passage is also important in that it fits in with his emphasis on the importance and nature of discipleship, something he will stress in the major discourse that follows the brief description of the ministry of Jesus in vv 23–25. Thus the evangelist uses the tradition for historical purposes, showing the way in which Jesus gathered disciples, but also for pastoral purposes directly relevant to his readers. That is, the calling of these disciples serves as a model of the nature of true discipleship generally. The call of God through Jesus is sovereign and absolute in its authority; the response of those who are called is to be both immediate and absolute, involving a complete break with old loyalties. The actual shape of this break with the past will undoubtedly vary from individual to individual, but that there must be a fundamental, radical reorientation of a person’s priorities is taken for granted. As the first disciples were called and responded, so are Matthew’s readers called to respond. Such response is of primary importance if they are to participate in the new reality of the kingdom. And with discipleship comes the task of bringing others into the kingdom—a task for which Jesus equips those whom he calls (cf. 28:18–20).
- (:18-19) Initiating Call by Jesus of Peter and Andrew
“And walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’”
Robert Gundry: The word for “net” means a net with weights attached to its perimeter. When cast into the sea it would enclose fish as it sank to the bottom. Then the fishermen drew the weighted perimeter together to prevent the fish from escaping and raised the net containing the fish.
S. Lewis Johnson: So, if the king is to have a kingdom, it would be natural to expect that he should have disciples. So as he begins his ministry, he begins to call his disciples. And incidentally, you notice that he calls them.
John MacArthur: In one of his books, S. D. Gordon pictures Gabriel as engaged in a dialogue with Christ shortly after the ascension. The angel is asking Christ about the plans for evangelism, and Jesus said, “Well I asked Peter and James and John and Andrew and a few others to make it the business of their lives to tell people. Then, those others would tell others, and finally the whole world would hear the story and feel the power of it.” In the legend, Gabriel said, “But suppose, they don’t tell others. What then?” Jesus answered quietly, “Oh, I have no other plans. I’m counting on them. I have no other plans.”
Have you ever analyzed how Jesus trained soul winners? Let me just give you some brief insights. Our time is nearly gone. First, listen to this. As you look at the New Testament, this is what you find. How did Jesus win people? They watched Him. He didn’t give them 45 lectures. He just did it, and they watched and they learned. . .
For three years, Jesus trained His men how to be available, how to have no favorites, how to be sensitive, how to secure a public confession, how to use love and tenderness and how to take time and to apply everything they ever knew as fishermen; patience, perseverance, courage, an eye for the right moment, and hide themselves in the midst of all of it. I think whoever said it is right when he said, “Evangelism is not taught as much as it’s caught,” like everything else in the Christian life.
- (:20) Immediate Response of Total Commitment
“And they immediately left the nets, and followed Him.”
E. Michael Green: There may have been something about fishermen, too, that made them particularly suitable for the ‘fishing for people’ that they would be doing in future. A good fisherman in those waters needs courage, for dangerous squalls erupt on that treacherous lake. He needs perseverance, patience and flexibility in the use of different methods (three types of fishing-net were used). He must keep himself unobtrusive so as not to frighten the fish away, and he must have a sense of timing. All these qualities were essential in the new kind of fishing to which this landsman introduced them.
Warren Wiersbe: Why would Jesus call so many fishermen to His side? For one thing, fishermen were busy people; usually professional fishermen did not sit around doing nothing. They either sorted their catch, prepared for a catch, or mended their equipment. The Lord needs busy people who are not afraid to work.
Fishermen have to be courageous and patient people. It certainly takes patience and courage to win others to Christ. Fishermen must have skill; they must learn from others where to find the fish and how to catch them. Soul winning demands skill too. These men had to work together, and the work of the Lord demands cooperation. But most of all, fishing demands faith: Fishermen cannot see the fish and are not sure their nets will enclose them. Soul winning requires faith and alertness too, or we will fail.
B. (:21-22) Calling of James and John
- (:21) Initiating Call by Jesus of James and John
“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.”
- (:22) Immediate Response
“And they immediately left the boat and their father, and followed Him.”
III. (:23-25) SUMMARY OF POWERFUL IMPACT OF HIS INITIAL MINISTRY
Walter Wilson: Like Matthew’s other summary statements, the overview provided in 4:23–25 emphasizes the scale and effectiveness of Jesus’s ministry, special attention being drawn to his acts of healing. The general impression is not only of a man on the move but also of a man whose renown spawns a far-flung movement, with people streaming to Jesus from many places. While the preceding story had illustrated the impact of Jesus’s words, here the focus is on both his words and his deeds, the complementarity of the two passages establishing a pattern that will be replicated more fully in the ensuing chapters, where a presentation of “the Messiah of the word” (5:1 – 7:29) is joined to a presentation of “the Messiah of the deed” (8:1 – 9:35). The fact that the wording of 4:23 corresponds closely to that of 9:35 supports this feature, the two verses creating a frame around the intervening material that encourages the reader to interpret its contents as a unity. Accordingly, our passage can be understood as a heading for what follows, with the contents of chapters 5–9 providing specific illustrations of what 4:23–25 portrays in general terms. In the depiction of the Messiah’s “deeds,” we encounter a new element, the practice of healing distinguishing Jesus from John but (eventually) binding him to the disciples he has just called (cf. 10:1, 8). No doubt the expectation that the messianic era would usher in a time of human health and wholeness would have helped generate a sense of anticipation in this regard.
A. (:23) Three Aspects of Ministry – Impactful Kingdom Words and Works
- Teaching Ministry
“And Jesus was going about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues,
Michael Wilkins: Approximately forty-five miles from north to south and twenty-five miles from east to west, Galilee must have been intensively cultivated and extensively populated in Jesus’ day. Conservative estimates place the population at around 300,000 people in the two hundred or more villages and towns in Galilee, which make for a large citizenry to whom Jesus presents the message of the kingdom.
R. T. France: The mention of “proclaiming the good news” alongside “teaching” in the synagogues is perhaps not simply repetition but rather distinguishes informal preaching to gathered crowds from the more formal opportunity to speak by invitation in a regular weekly assembly; the content is however unlikely to have differed significantly.
E. Michael Green: First, he preached (17, 23). The word kēryssein was used to describe the work of the herald in a Greek city. It involved bold, clear, challenging proclamation. When the herald had something to proclaim, people had better listen. It was important. It came with the authority of the civic authorities. Effective preaching today has an arresting quality and a sense of authority that far transcend the personality of the preacher.
Secondly, Jesus gave himself to teaching (23), explaining the difficulties people found in his preaching, clearing up misunderstandings and changing attitudes. Teaching is directed primarily towards informing the mind; preaching towards reaching the will.
- Preaching Ministry
“and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom,”
- Healing Ministry
“and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.”
Grant Osborne: Christ has now fully prepared for his ministry proper. He has “fulfilled all righteousness” by being baptized (3:15), proven himself to be Son of God by passing the test against Satan, moved to Galilee in fulfillment of Scripture, and chosen a nucleus of his followers. Now he is ready to begin, and Matthew wants to tell of his actions as well as his teaching, i.e., his works and his words. So we begin with a summary of his early ministry in Galilee. Matthew centers on Jesus’ message before an extended narration of his powerful ministry of healing, nature miracles, and exorcisms (chs. 8–9). In this sense 4:23–25 is transitional, concluding the preliminary stages of Jesus’ ministry in chs. 3–4 and introducing the Sermon on the Mount in chs. 5–7.
Leon Morris: the impression Matthew leaves is that of the breadth of Jesus’ ministry at this time, not of its narrowness. It is better to understand it as a reference to the general populace. Matthew stresses that Jesus healed them all, a fact that differentiates him from the healers of antiquity (or, for that matter, in modern times). Those healers had their successes and their failures, but Jesus had complete mastery over illness; he healed all who came to him.
Charles Swindoll: Since the practices of teaching and preaching were able to convey Jesus’ central message, why did He engage in healing sickness and disease?
- First, the miracles Jesus did proved that He had divine authority in His teaching and preaching. People couldn’t reject His message without rejecting God Himself.
- Second, the miracles demonstrated that God is compassionate; He cares about not only spiritual needs but also physical needs.
- Third, the miracles verified that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah, whose mission included the ushering in of a kingdom in which sickness, disease, suffering, and death would be vanquished.
- Finally, His miracles proved that the offer of the kingdom to Israel was legitimate—the One who had authority over sickness, disease, and demonic forces could be taken seriously when He offered the kingdom of God to those who repented and accepted Him as Messiah.
B. (:24) Growing Reputation of His Healing Ministry
- Spreading News
And the news about Him went out into all Syria;”
- Severe Disabilities
“and they brought to Him all who were ill, taken with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics;”
Craig Blomberg: Matthew enumerates several categories of maladies that Jesus cures. Examples of all of these will subsequently be illustrated. The most striking on the list is demon possession, which Matthew carefully distinguishes from ordinary diseases, including epilepsy (“those having seizures”). Contrary to what many today believe, the ancient world regularly and carefully distinguished between afflictions ascribed to demons and other forms of illness. Demon possession was viewed as a unique situation in which an evil spirit actually took control of an individual, acting and speaking through that person in at least partial independence of his or her own volition and consciousness. Almost everyone in ancient societies believed in the reality of demon possession, and striking examples of it remain common enough today so as to be deniable only through severe naturalistic prejudice. Jesus’ miracle working understandably attracts crowds, but those in the crowds will need to be instructed on what true discipleship involves if they are to become genuine followers.
John Nolland: The listing is not particularly intended to specify disease types; it is rather to underline the massive range and scale of Jesus’ healing activity. In his survey of disease, Matthew’s thought ranges over the pain and suffering involved, the imprisoning control of evil spirits, the episodic attacks of maladies such as epilepsy (the word used points to folk belief that the influence of the moon was involved, and it may well have a wider reference than to epilepsy), and the awful limitations imposed by paralysis.
A thread runs from the uses of ‘whole’ and ‘every’ in v. 23 (‘the whole of Galilee’, ‘every disease and every sickness’) through the uses of ‘whole’ and ‘all’ in v. 24 (‘all those sick’, ‘the whole of Syria’) and on in v. 25 to the list of all the parts of Jewish Palestine. Matthew is concerned to create an image of comprehensiveness, clearly in the interests of asserting the scale of the significance of Jesus.
- Supernatural Healings
“and He healed them.”
Grant Osborne: The primary thrust is the incredible extent of Jesus’ ministry. He impacted everyone he met and healed as many as came to him. His reputation exploded to the point that people were coming to him from everywhere. Yet it is not just the power of his ministry but also the compassion of his ministry that is so meaningful. We will see this “hermeneutic of love” again, as he was willing to break religious taboos and traditional demands (e.g., healing on a Sabbath) whenever there was a need. He healed everyone he could, each person who was brought to him. He cared deeply about them all.
C. (:25) Comprehensive Geographic Breadth of Ministry
“And great multitudes followed Him from Galilee and Decapolis
and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.”
R. T. France: In view of the various sources of opposition to Jesus which we shall encounter in chs. 11–16 (even including the Galilean communities of Nazareth, 13:53–58, and of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, 11:20–24), it is important for Matthew’s readers to keep in mind this overall impression of general enthusiasm for Jesus’ Galilean ministry which he has provided at the outset.
Grant Osborne: Every great revival in history has been accompanied by great excitement and innumerable converts, from the Josianic revival in 2 Chr 34:29 – 35:19, or the Wesley revival in England, or the two great awakenings in America. Jesus saw similar results, with people coming from everywhere to see him (even more, see Mark 1:21–45). This kind of “frenzy” is needed today. It is happening in China, and we desperately need to develop teachers there who can harness the energy and direct it to worldwide evangelism. Yet we also need that energy for the Lord in the Western world as well.