************ Sermon on Matthew 4:12-17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on
"A Light has Dawned"
Candle Light Service 2017
"When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum" (Mat 4:12). Why did Jesus move? Was He afraid? Did He run to Galilee because He was afraid of what Herod Antipas might do to Him? If that was the case, then Jesus went the wrong direction because Herod Antipas was the ruler of Galilee. No, Jesus did not run because He was afraid of Herod. Jesus was not afraid of Herod, Pilate, Annas, Caiaphas or any earthly ruler.
Why did Jesus leave Nazareth? Jesus left Nazareth because the people in His own city wanted to kill Him. He disappeared, He left, because His time had not yet come.
Why did Jesus go to Galilee? Why didn't He go to Jerusalem instead? Jesus did not go to Jerusalem because it was not yet His time. The hour had not yet come. It wasn't time for Him to have conflict with the Pharisees.
Jesus left Nazareth. He did not go to Jerusalem. He went to Capernaum instead. Capernaum occupied a special place in the ministry of Jesus. It was in Capernaum that Jesus performed miracle after miracle after miracle; Matthew's gospel records at least 8 different miracles that occurred in Capernaum. It was in Capernaum that Matthew had his tax office. It was in Capernaum that Jesus called His first disciples.
But why Capernaum? Why did Jesus go to Capernaum? Not because people there were more receptive to His ministry! In that regards, Capernaum was no better than Nazareth. Remember how Jesus cursed that city?
(Mt 11:23-24) And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. (24) But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.Ouch. So I ask again, why did Jesus go to Capernaum?
According to our Bible reading, Jesus went to Galilee to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah. Do you know what this means? This means there is nothing accidental about Capernaum. Nothing is random when it comes to the Lord Jesus Christ and His work. Scripture tells us that the city, the area, the location were all a matter of divine decree.
I Galilee a Place of Darkness
A Our Bible reading mentions "Galilee of the Gentiles." Our text speaks of "people living in darkness" and of "those living in the land of the shadow of death." Galilee is seen as a place of darkness.
The history of Galilee helps us to understand this. When God gave the land of Canaan to His people, each of the tribes was assigned a portion. According to Joshua 19, the section we know as Galilee was given to Asher, Naphtali, and Zebulun. That's why verses 13 and 15 mention the area/land of Zebulun and Napthali. Galilee was the original territory of these tribes. But these tribes fell short. These tribes failed to do what God commanded. Each of the tribes was told to wipe out all the pagan inhabitants. And they were told why:
(Ex 23:33) Do not let them live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you."Get rid of all the Canaanites." That's what each of the tribes was told to do. Zebulun and Napthali did not do that. The result? From the very start of their existence in the Promised Land, because they didn't get rid of all the Canaanites, they and their children were exposed to pagan ideas and pagan worship and pagan practices. From the very beginning, then, Galilee had a mixed population of Jews and Gentiles.
(Cf Num 33:55; Deut 7:4; 20:18)
Matters became much worse around 800 B.C. when the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians literally engulfed the whole land, deported the people to another part of the empire, and put others -- heathens -- in their place. In 104 B.C. a man named Aristobulus reconquered Galilee for the Jewish nation. Do you know what he did? He forced every male to be circumcised; he made everyone a Jew. However, they were only Jews outwardly and not inwardly.
Not only was Galilee inhabited by Jews without Jewish roots, it was also surrounded by Gentiles: Phoenicians along the coast, Syrians to the north and east, Samaritans to the south.
Galilee also stood at the crossroads of the world's trade routes. The great roads of the world, running from the east to the west and from the north to the south, passed through Galilee. Our Bible reading has this in mind when it describes Galilee as "the way to the sea, along the Jordan." Which means that through Galilee passed an incredible number of people and their gods and their religious practices. It was a place exposed to new ideas and new influences. The traffic of the world passed through there. Galilee was the opposite of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, because of its location, was isolated. It was on a high plateau surrounded by a desolate desert area to the east and south. There was no reason for other people to go there.
Galilee, then, had century after century of pagan influence. No wonder it was called "Galilee of the Gentiles." Galilee, to use the words of our Bible reading, was a place of darkness.
We all know that all men are in darkness, not just those in Galilee. The Bible tells us this repeatedly. Man walks in darkness. Man lives in darkness. The darkness of sin. We, too, live in the Galilee of the Gentiles. I hope you see this.
(Rom 3:10-18) As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; (11) there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. (12) All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (13) "Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." "The poison of vipers is on their lips." (14) "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." (15) "Their feet are swift to shed blood; (16) ruin and misery mark their ways, (17) and the way of peace they do not know." (18) "There is no fear of God before their eyes."
B When Jesus began His ministry, He did the opposite of His cousin John the Baptist. John, you may remember, was in the desert, in the wilderness; in the history of God's people this was a place of cleansing and purity and holiness. Jesus went to Galilee of the Gentiles: Galilee conquered by the Gentiles, Galilee led captive by the Gentiles, Galilee repopulated by the Gentiles, Galilee dominated by Gentile influence, Galilee exposed to Gentile morals, Galilee that exists in the shadow of death.
C One more thing about Galilee: it was the most fertile region of all the Promised Land. Because of its fertility, it had an enormous population. The Jewish historian Josephus, who lived around the time of Jesus, tells us there were 204 villages in Galilee at that time. And none of the villages, according to Josephus, had fewer than 15,000 people. Which makes the total population of Galilee about 3.6 million people. The place was packed with people!
Again, Jesus did the opposite of His cousin John the Baptist. John, you may remember, preached in the Desert. People had to go out to him to hear him and to be baptized by him. Jesus went to the people. Jesus went to a place teeming with people.
D Jesus chose Galilee. How offensive this was to the Jews of Jerusalem. That the Messiah, the Christ, the King would settle in Capernaum of Galilee. Jerusalem, not Galilee, was the religious center of Judaism. The Temple of God was in Jerusalem. The revelation of God was in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the sacred city. So, in their view, Jerusalem was the only fitting place for the Messiah.
Galilee of the Gentiles. How ludicrous to think the Messiah would be there. When Nathanael was told about Jesus of Nazareth, do you remember his response (Jn 1:46)? "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" According to John 7:40 people asked, "How can the Christ come from Galilee?" John 7:52 tells us the Pharisees declared, "Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee."
But Jesus did choose Galilee of the Gentiles. In accordance with the prophecy of Isaiah.
Telling us what? Telling us that God always intended to redeem more than the Jews; telling us that God always intended to redeem the world.
Jesus went to the neediest people. At that time, Galilee was the place of the greatest darkness, and the place of the greatest darkness always has the greatest need for light.
II Jesus the Great Light
A Galilee of the Gentiles is a place of darkness. And Jesus is the Light. Listen to how our text puts this:
(Mt 4:16) the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
Jesus loves to describe Himself as Light. In fact, the whole gospel of John is simply loaded with this image:
(Jn 1:5) The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
(Jn 3:19) This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
(Jn 9:5) While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
(Jn 12:35) Then Jesus told them, "You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going.
(Jn 12:46) I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.
B Some of you might have noticed that I did not mention John 8:12. This is the most dramatic of the Light passages in John's gospel. Listen to what Jesus says:
(Jn 8:12) When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
We need to note when Jesus said these words. And we need to note where Jesus said these words.
When: Jesus spoke these words the day after the Feast of Tabernacles; it is also known as the Feast of Booths. In this Feast Israel remembered their time in the wilderness. Where: Jesus spoke these words while teaching in the Temple area near the place where the offerings were put (Jn 8:20); this is the court of women, the outer court of the temple.
During the Feast of Tabernacles the people of Israel had a festival of lights. They put a series of 4 massive candelabras in the court of women. The lamps were 75 foot tall -- twice as high as the high point of this ceiling. The lamps were so big that the reservoirs for oil held over 10 gallons each.
Those of you who fear heights will become squeamish at what I say next. Young priests would climb the 75 feet up ladders to light the wicks and refill the lamps so they would burn all night.
Josephus records that when the lamps were lit just at sundown the light was so bright that every home in all of Jerusalem could see the light reflected from the courtyard of the Temple.
Now, the light stands for what? We all know. Remember the wilderness journey when they lived in tents and boorths? Remember when the children of Israel came out of Egypt and bondage and into the wilderness? Always at night there was that pillar of fire, the light of God's presence, to guide them and protect them.
In John 8 the Feast of Tabernacles is over. The candelabras are still there but none of them are lit. Jesus stands in the middle of the unlit candelabras and declares, "I am the light of the world" (Jn 8:12). Do you hear what Jesus is saying? He is saying He is what the lamps point to. He is saying He is the fulfilment of the Festival of lights. He is saying He is God.
C Some might argue that God has already given man light. God has given man the light of revelation in creation. God has given man the Law. God has given man the light of conscience. But what does man do with this light? Man extinguishes the light. In his letter to the Romans, Paul says man suppresses the truth, man exchanges the truth of God for a lie, man's foolish hearts are darkened. The result? Man lives in darkness. Man needs the light.
Jesus is the Light. Jesus is the Light sent by the plan of God to the darkness of Galilee of the Gentiles. Jesus is the Light sent to the darkness of this whole world. Jesus is the Light sent to Washington and Sacramento. Jesus is the Light sent to Visalia too.
Jesus is the Light! Jesus is the Light for those living in darkness.
Do you know what you need to do? Two things. Let me remind you of how our Bible reading ends:
(Mt 4:17) From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."According to the plan of God, Jesus went to Galilee of the Gentiles as the Light. And the first thing He tells people to do is repent.
People in darkness need to know and admit they live in darkness. People in darkness need to know and admit they are sinners. People in darkness need to confess their sin. That's the first thing you and I need to do.
Now, note the second thing Jesus tells people to do: in the next verses Jesus calls disciples to follow Him. He says, "Come, follow me."
People in darkness need to come to Jesus. People in darkness need to come to Jesus the Light. People in darkness need to find in Jesus the answer to the darkness of sin. That's the second thing you and I need to do: we need to come to Jesus, believe in Jesus. And He will light up your life and my life.
My brothers and sisters, Who is Jesus? He is the Light of the world. He has been sent by God to take away the darkness of your and my sin.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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