Responding to the Call

Posted: July 24, 2011 in Matthew

Matthew 4:12-25, “Responding to the Call”

Keeping in mind that the chapter breaks in the Bible are not inspired, if I was the one to designate the chapters in Matthew, I would have put one right here.  There’s not only a natural change of subject from Jesus’ baptism & temptation to the start of His Galilean ministry, but there’s a time gap of a full year!  The introduction to Jesus has been given – the proclamation of His identity has been made – the testing of His character has proven true – now the public ministry of Christ begins in earnest.  What starts here in Matthew 4 will eventually find its fulfillment when the Pharisees & Sadducees have Jesus arrested & sent to the cross.  They will reject His teaching & reject Him as Messiah, and they will repeatedly seek to have Jesus killed.  And where does it begin in earnest?  The back-country of Galilee.

Matthew actually addresses three topics as Ch 4 ends: (1) the region of Jesus’ ministry as a fulfillment of prophecy, (2) the first disciples and their interaction with Jesus, (3) the multitude that comes from all around to witness the ministry of the Lord Jesus.  Each of these groups has its own opportunity to respond to the budding ministry of Christ.  Encounters with the Lord Jesus always demand a response.  That was true then; it’s true today.  The call of Christ has gone out into all the world…how will we respond?

Matthew 4:12–25 (NKJV)
12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee.

  • What looks to be a footnote here regarding Jesus’ ministry is actually a large jump in time.  From John’s gospel, we know that Jesus participated in some ministry in the regions around Jerusalem & just a bit to the north (the wedding in Cana – the conversation with Nicodemus – the Samaritan woman, etc.).  For a time, Jesus & John were both teaching & baptizing people (a fact which John’s disciples had a tough time coming to grips with – Jn 3:26).  Apparently John was not arrested until approximately a year after Jesus’ baptism.  Thus there’s a bit of a time gap between the temptation & Jesus’ Galilean ministry.
  • It’s also interesting to note that it was after John’s arrest that Jesus went to Galilee.  At first glance, it might be easy to think that Jesus was fleeing persecution, but actually the opposite is true.  John was arrested by Herod Antipas for the “crime” of confronting Herod with his incestuous relationship with his brother’s former wife (Herodias – Mk 6:17-18).  Herod was the ruler over Galilee (which is why Pilate attempted to pawn Jesus off on him).  By going directly into Galilee after John’s arrest, Jesus is (1) lending support to John’s ministry, and (2) declaring to the world that He feared no king…not even someone as wicked as Herod.
    • Question: why didn’t Jesus need to fear Herod?  Because there was absolutely no way Herod would take Jesus before it was time.  Jesus was smack-dab in the center of the will of God (because He IS God), and although Herod was a powerful king, Herod was no match for the King of Kings.
  • Why does Matthew begin here & leave out the 1st year of ministry.  Good question!  All three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) leave out much (if not all) of the 1st year.  It seems that they’re interested in showing Jesus picking up where John left off.  John was the forerunner of the Messiah; Jesus is the Messiah Himself.  John proclaimed His coming; now Jesus has come.  The synoptics provide a seamless transition.

13 And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali,

  • Nazareth had been Jesus’ hometown during His childhood years, but they had little respect for Jesus’ ministry & teaching.  Because of their lack of faith, He did few miracles there & simply was not received as a prophet. (Lk 4:24)
  • Instead, Jesus went to the town of Capernaum & that seemed to serve as a home-base for Him for much of His adult ministry. Located north of the sea of Galilee, in the far northern end of Judea.  Zebulun & Naphtali were actually regions in the old northern kingdom of Israel, which means they had been overrun by the Assyrians long ago.  Much of the area assimilated by the Assyrians became known as Samaria, and they had much of their “Jewishness” bred out of them. …  As for Zebulun & Naphtali (and much of the region surrounding the Sea of Galilee), it was a mix of Jews & Gentiles – a fitting place for Matthew to begin telling the account of the Jewish Messiah sent to provide salvation for the entire world.

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.”

  • Recall that much of Matthew is dedicated to showing how Jesus is the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy. [Birthplace of Bethlehem – flight to Egypt – persecution from Herod – Nazarene origin – John as the voice, etc.]  Now as Jesus’ ministry expands to the next level (beyond the humble beginnings recounted in John 1-4), we see prophecy fulfilled again.  Original telling: Isaiah 9:1-2.  Contextually, this is part of the larger Immanuel prophecy.  Although God had promised that Assyria would invade the northern kingdom to bring God’s discipline upon the people, God had also promised that He would bring freedom & light to the land.  Ultimately, this freedom & light would find it’s fulfillment in the government of the child who was born of a virgin (Isa 7:14) & He would institute a new kingdom – one unlike that of which the world had ever known.  Isaiah 9:6–7, "(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." []  This is the Lord Jesus Christ!  This is the Kingdom of Heaven: introduced during Jesus’ 1st coming, and brought to fulfillment in Jesus 2nd coming…
  • Note two aspects to the Isaiah prophecy: the blessing & the light
    • The blessing: The privilege of being the physical home to the Messiah did not go to Jerusalem or Hebron or Jericho, or any of the more famous cities of Judea.  Instead, the Messiah went north to Galilee – to the back-country areas of Zebulun & Naphtali.  The Christ did not reside among the well-to-do of Judea, among the religious elite; He lived among a people who were far from God – to a mixture of Jews & Gentiles.  It would be as if the Lord did not go to NYC or Chicago or LA, but instead came & lived among the unexpected people of East Texas. J  What a blessing – what a privilege!
    • The light: To the people in the far-reaches of the country who had no light, light was given.  They had lived in the shadow of death, with competing religions and false gods & all sorts of things that would take their attention away from the one true God they were supposed to serve & worship.  They were in darkness without hope, and then (out of nowhere!) God graces them with the Light of the World!  Light had dawned among them.  The only question was: would they respond?
      • If you’ve heard the gospel message of how salvation comes by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ (even one time!), then you’ve been shown the marvelous light.  God has been faithful to show you the way out of the darkness of sin & death & how to be forgiven & experience abundant everlasting life through the Son of God.  How have you responded to that message?  Have you come into the light – or have you rejected it & chosen to stay in the darkness?

17 From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

  • Note this was the exact message that John the Baptist had preached.  Not only did Jesus go into the same area in which John was arrested, but He preached the same message as well.  This certainly would have attracted attention!
  • Two parts to the message.  Part 1: Repent!  To repent is to turn.  It’s a change of mind & direction…  We need to change our mind regarding our sin, in that we need to see it as being truly sinful & rebellion against God.  It’s not a lifestyle choice – it’s not a little indulgence – it’s not fudging the truth – it’s not just pixels on a screen…it’s SIN.  And sin earns death for the sinner.  We are fallen people in desperate need of a Savior!  The 1st step is to turn away from that sin & turn in humility/surrender to God.
  • Part 2: Be prepared!  John preached of the coming kingdom; Jesus preached of its initiation.  The “kingdom of heaven is at hand” – the King had now come & there is no more time to wait.  God had been patient in generations past, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:30-31).  God has sent the King/the Judge & now is the opportunity we have to place our faith & trust in Him, asking for forgiveness.  We dare not wait!

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.

  • The scene changes as Matthew turns his attention from an introduction of the Galilean ministry to the specific calling of the 1st disciples.
  • What makes this so interesting is that Simon, Andrew, James, and John had already known Jesus.  At the very least, we’re told that Simon Peter & Andrew had begun to follow Jesus shortly after His baptism (John 1:40-42).  It seems that the brothers had traveled with Jesus for a while as His disciples (perhaps part-time), and at some point ended up back home at the family business.  This didn’t seem unusual to Peter – apparently he did the same thing after Jesus’ resurrection, prior to Pentecost (Jn 21: 3).  Like the rest of us, the disciples seemed to go through stages of their growth in their relationship with Christ, gradually coming to more & more trust in Him the more time they spent in His presence.
  • BTW – to be a fisherman at the time was a labor-intensive career.  This wasn’t fishing by casting a line; this was fishing by continually casting a heavy net over the side of the boat & then hauling back up a catch of (hopefully) many fish.  These weren’t scholars or men locked in ivory towers (though scholarship is helpful!); these were everyday men – folks just like everyone else.
    • Jesus calls everyday people to follow Him.  And Jesus empowers everyday people to do incredible things in ministry.  Ministry in the NT is never left to a certain class of people – ALL of the people of God are called & equipped by Him to minister for Him.

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.

  • Again, they had known Jesus – they had followed Him at His invitation – they knew much about Him; but there was a moment that they were distinctively called & it changed their life forever.
  • The call itself was interesting: “Follow Me” – literally “Come after Me.”  It’s rather short & to the point, isn’t it?  Granted, since Simon Peter & Andrew had already known Jesus & ministered with Him, they had quite a bit of context to base His invitation upon – yet still, this is the essence of what it means to be a disciple.  Remember that in the Great Commission, the Lord Jesus has commanded us to make “disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19); not converts.  A convert might have prayed a prayer of salvation with his mouth, but never truly meant it in his heart & although he claims to be a Christian, he never worships or prays, shows evidence of a transformed life, or even fellowships with other believers except a couple of times a year.  There’s no way that person could be called a disciple.  Those who truly respond to the call of Christ Jesus to be saved become disciples.  What’s the mark of a disciple?  Disciples respond to the call to follow Christ.  Disciples follow His teaching, His ways, His commands.  Disciples spend time in the presence of their Master, and learn of Him (not just “from” Him).
    • BTW – it’s impossible to actually BE a disciple of Jesus Christ without being a convert.  Some might claim “Oh, I’m a disciple of Jesus because I try to live by His moral teachings, but I’m not what someone would consider to be a ‘Christian.’”  A non-Christian disciple of Christ is a contradiction in terms…it doesn’t exist.  A disciple is someone who “follows” Christ.  By definition, it means we don’t just follow His teachings, but we are identified with His person.
  • With the call came a promise.  (Actually, a career change!) They were already fishermen; now they would be “fishers OF men.”  Instead of casting nets made of rope for fish, they would be casting the net of the gospel for people.  Yet just as they would have trusted God for their catch of the day (after all, they could not see the net as it sunk into the depths of the lake; they had no idea if they would bring up any fish at all), they would still need to trust God for any catch of men through the gospel.
    • That’s still the essence of evangelism today!  All we can do is cast the net – it’s up to God to bring in the catch.  To use other analogies, we plant the seed – we tend the field, but God is the One who prepares someone for the harvest.  Granted, we need to use the right net (the gospel of Jesus Christ) & we need to live our lives in such a way that our words have credibility – but this realization ought to take a lot of the pressure off.  Some people get so nervous when it comes to the idea of evangelism (sharing their faith).  Yet all we need to do is cast the net!  God is responsible for the haul; we simply need to be faithful in our casting.
  • Was this change their own doing?  No.  Jesus is the One who would do the work in their life.  Jesus is the One who would “make” them fishers of men.  Jesus would teach them (through doctrine), would model ministry to them (through His life), and would later equip them & empower them for the task (through the Holy Spirit).  The only thing they needed to do was respond to His call.
    • Likewise for us.  Whether you need to take a step of faith in sharing your faith, or simply take the first step by becoming a disciple of Jesus, all you need to do is to respond to His call.  Follow 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.

  • It wasn’t just Simon Peter & Andrew, but it was also James & John.  Likely they had also followed Jesus for a time after His baptism, but they went back to the family business, just like the others.  What made them go back, we don’t know.
  • We DO know how they responded to Jesus’ call: immediate obedience – just like Simon Peter & Andrew.  When the Lord Jesus called to them, they left family & career to follow Christ.  They don’t even seem to have finished mending the current net they were on!  Contrast this with the rich young ruler – he had personally asked Jesus how to be saved & as Jesus got to the heart of this young man’s personal idol (his wealth), the man turned away.  In response, Jesus proclaimed it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.  Peter compared what he & the other disciples had left behind (they had left literally everything!), to which Jesus responded: Luke 18:29–30, "(29) So He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, (30) who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.” " []  To follow Christ, we’ve got to be willing to leave everything behind – and yet we can trust that God will provide for us everything we need.  There is no cost too great to following the call of Christ Jesus.  To what could it possibly be compared?  Wealth?  Even the streets are made of gold in the New Jerusalem.  Family?  You’ll have millions of brothers & sisters around the world.  Power/prestige?  Even the servant of the Most High God has a greater privilege than the most powerful person on the earth.  The call of the Son of God is greater than anything the world offers!  We’ve got to respond while we’ve got the opportunity – we’ve got to respond when we hear the call!
  • Question: will following Christ always mean leaving your family behind?  Not necessarily.  Though it will always mean a complete abandonment of who you used to be.  When you have a new Lord, you have new loyalties.  Jesus said that if someone comes to Him, but does not hate his father & mother, wife, children & his own life, he could not be Jesus’ disciple (Lk 14:26).  Is Jesus saying that we have to divorce our spouses & abandon our children?  Absolutely not!  (Heaven forbid!  He actually tells us exactly the opposite regarding marriage…)  What Jesus IS saying is that we have to love Him greater than all of those other things.  Our love for Christ has to make our feelings toward our family look like hatred in comparison.  Obviously children are to honor their father & mother (the 5th Commandment, regardless of age) & spouses are to love one another & provide for their families, etc.  But the ultimate & highest loyalty for a disciple of Christ is NOT their family, but rather the Lord Jesus Himself.

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.

  • Another scene change, as Matthew gives a general overview of Jesus’ whole ministry in the Galilean area.  3 aspects.
  • Ministry #1: teaching.  (Doctrine)  The synagogues were a rather late development in the history of the Jews & likely started up during the time of the Babylonian captivity.  For centuries, the primary focus of the life of an Israelite was the tabernacle/temple.  That was the place where sacrifices were made & worship was performed.  Yet what could a Jew do when he/she didn’t have access to the temple?  They would assemble together on the Sabbath & learn from the Scriptures.  This practice carried over when they returned to the land & any town that had a minimum of 10 people could form a synagogue.  Frequently, the leaders of the synagogues would ask visiting dignitaries & others to teach – which is the method by which Jesus (and later Paul) would be invited to teach in so many different synagogues as they travelled from town to town.  Teaching (doctrine) is important to Christ!  The Scriptures need to be read by the people of God & opened up through solid teaching.
    • It’s interesting that Jesus’ ministry of teaching is listed first (and listed often throughout the gospels).  Obviously Jesus did far more than teach (as we’ll see), but teaching had primary importance – even beyond all the miracles He performed.  The miracles were simply the sign that authenticated His teaching (as He told John’s disciples – Mt 11:5).  The exposition of the Scriptures (teaching) ought to have primary importance in a church, because it had primary importance to Jesus.
  • Ministry #2: preaching.  (Evangelism)  Along with the teaching came proclamation.  The Greek word here implies the work of a herald (as with John the Baptist).  Jesus would not just teach the gathered assembly in the synagogues, but He would go out to the masses & proclaim prophetic truth.  Although there’s an element of this in many preachers today, notice there’s a specific context of preaching listed here: Jesus was “preaching the gospel of the kingdom.”  IOW, this wasn’t simply passionate pulpit preaching (although that has its place); this was evangelism.  Jesus was proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of Heaven that had come, and how to be a part of it by turning from sin (repentance), and following Him as Lord.
    • We’ve already seen the importance of evangelism in the calling of the disciples.  This is absolutely an essential part of any Church!  If the Church (i.e. born-again Christians) does not proclaim to people the need to follow Christ, who will?
  • Ministry #3: healing. (Service)  Lastly, Jesus performed miracles among the people.  Jesus showed Himself to be far more than just another teacher/preacher – He demonstrated that He had been sent by God, because He had the power of God.  He healed “all kinds of sickness” among the people – there was no illness brought to Christ that was too hard for Him to heal.  When He healed them, He healed them fully & immediately.  Obviously the miracles serve a function of authentication – but they also demonstrate the compassion of Christ.  Prior to feeding the 5000, Matthew tells us that when Jesus saw the multitude, He had compassion upon them & healed their sick (Mt 14:14).  Because of His great love for people, He served them in their need & demonstrated to them the power & grace of God.
    • Ultimately, that’s what acts of service are for the Church today, as well.  Whether it’s a medical mission team (meeting needs for healing) or a food pantry, or serving the widows & orphans – the reason the Church does these things is because we ought to share in the compassion of our Lord & demonstrate to the world the grace of God.  Acts of service & compassion show in a practical way the love of God for an individual & can be a powerful part of bringing someone to the point of following Christ.
  • All aspects of His ministry are important!  It’s easy to get focused on one or two of these things & lose sight of the other.  Ideally churches ought to be balanced in this, with every aspect present in some way.
    • This is part of the reason for every member of a local fellowship to be involved in service. One person may be exceptionally gifted in areas of compassionate service – but if he/she isn’t serving, then the local church is going to be missing out in that area.  Or in evangelism, or teaching, etc.

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.

  • Note the location.  Because Jesus lived in the north, the Gentiles from the northern countries heard all about Him & came to Him – even from historical enemies such as Syria.  Obviously salvation came first for the Jew, but it went out into all the world & Jesus ministered to Jew & Gentile alike.
  • The reason why people came from so far away is obvious: miraculous healings surrounded Christ!  Whether the diseases were physical, or spiritual, there was no disease Jesus could not heal.  He’s the Master Physician!
  • The reason that so much healing is associated with Jesus’ ministry?  Authentication of the King.  Jesus had been proclaimed to be the King; now He demonstrates the proof.  Obviously the healings show His compassion for the people that came to Him – but most importantly, Jesus’ mastery of illness shows the foretaste of His kingdom.  Matthew’s whole narrative here shows how John foretold of the coming King, and how Jesus took that message & ministry once John was gone.  He IS the King who has come, and His kingdom is such as has completely victory over sin, sickness, and death.  There ought to be no doubt to the people that this was no ordinary Man; He is the King of Kings & Lord of Lords who graciously dwelt among them.

25 Great multitudes followed Him—from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.

  • Jew & Gentile alike turned out from miles around to follow Him.  Decapolis was just on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, but Jerusalem was far to the south.  Even people from eastern lands beyond the Jordan came to see Jesus & follow Him.
  • Keep in mind there’s a distinct difference between the “following” the multitudes did, and the “following” that Simon Peter & the other disciples did.  The multitudes seemed to follow for the miracles (as will be seen in the feeding of the 5000), but fell away easily when the teaching became too hard, or the Jewish leaders had issues with Jesus.  The disciples followed Jesus because of His distinct call & because they recognized Jesus was the Christ who alone had the words of eternal life (Jn 6:68).
    • Lots of people claim to follow Christ – but which category are you in?  Are you one of the multitude – or are you a true disciple?  The difference is literally the difference between life & death.

So the ministry of Jesus has begun & already much is taking place!

  • The region of Galilee had been given the privilege of having the Light of the World to dwell among them.  Would they respond to the Light?
  • The disciples actually heard the personal call of Jesus Christ to come & follow Him.  Would they leave everything behind for the sake of the Lord Jesus?
  • The multitudes came from miles around and witnessed the teaching, preaching, and healing of Christ. There ought to be no doubt to them that Jesus is God in the flesh.  Would they respond to His ministry?


Encounters with the Lord Jesus always demand a response.  There is simply no way that someone can hear the call of God in the flesh & not be prompted to a response of some sort.  Some people will prefer the darkness to the light.  Some people get disturbed by the cost of following Christ.  Some people get distracted by the “stuff” they think they can get out of Jesus.  Yet others see Jesus for who He is & leave everything to follow Him.

How have you responded?  Does it show?
How will you respond today?


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