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Saturday, October 13, 2012

In which Jesus actually starts doing stuff

This week we're reading Matthew 4:12-25, in which Jesus actually starts doing stuff.

Jesus fulfills a prophecy.

Matthew mentions that Jesus lived near Zebulun and Naphtali. Here is a handy map:

Zebulun and Naphtali are up at the north end. Image source.
Matthew connects this to a prophecy written by Isaiah, which specifically mentions that region and says "the people walking in darkness have seen a great light." It's from Isaiah 9, and I really recommend reading verses 1-7, even though Matthew only quotes verses 1-2.

I suspect that Matthew's first audience would have been familiar with this passage, so Matthew is actually communicating the idea that Jesus fulfilled more than just the 2 verses he copies down. Isaiah 9 is the "to us a child is born" passage, which I hear in a lot of Christmas songs, you know, and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, etc etc. It's basically the lyrics to Handel's Messiah.

So, Jesus is the light that comes to those living in darkness. And he is the Messiah, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, who will reign forever. That's what Matthew is saying here.

The first message that Jesus preaches: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."

When I wrote about John the Baptist, I mentioned that I was uncomfortable with telling people to "repent"- people don't like to be judged. But that's how Jesus starts out- that's the first thing he preaches.

Perfectnumber, if you're uncomfortable with this because feminism has taught you to be loving and accepting toward people who are different from you, instead of assuming they're doing something wrong, then think about this: Feminism is also about identifying sexism, racism, etc, and challenging it when you see it. If that's not "calling people to repentance", I don't know what is.

For now, the question of when and how one should tell people to "repent" is still unclear to me. But it's definitely not inherently bad. Jesus does it, and I trust Jesus. (Feminism does it too.)

What is "the kingdom of heaven"?

Jesus says, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." Is "the kingdom of heaven" a good thing or a bad thing? Is he saying "get ready for something awesome" or "better get your act together before God comes to judge you all"?

Image source.
I think it's safe to say the "kingdom of heaven" is a good thing. Actually, some of the other gospels refer to it as the "kingdom of God", but Matthew uses the term "heaven" instead, out of respect for the Jewish custom of not directly using God's name.

As far as I can tell, the kingdom of heaven is what Jesus started when he lived on earth. It is God's work in the world. And it's something that Jesus totally wants people to be part of.

Why did Jesus pick these 4 guys?

Jesus proceeds to call Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John to be his disciples. Why them? The text makes it sound like Jesus was just walking along, and happened to see them and then call them for no particular reason. Just because they happened to be there, and he happened to be in a let's-call-some-disciples mood.

Seriously though, why them?

I remember when I was a little kid in Sunday School, the point was often made that Jesus called ordinary people to follow him- see, you don't have to be super-smart or know everything about the bible- in fact, the Pharisees weren't the ones following Jesus. It made me wonder whether God really wanted me or not- because I was super-smart and did know everything about the bible (at least compared to the other kids at church). Perhaps other Christian nerds can relate to this?

Surely Jesus had to have some criteria- even if it wasn't the criteria one might expect. It seems the most important requirement was a person's willingness to follow him. Also, perhaps he wanted his group of closest followers to be somewhat diverse, and to have a decent set of skills that would enable them to work well as a team.

"Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."

Haha, get it? Because they're fishermen, but Jesus wants them to fish for PEOPLE instead?

Image source.

So what does this mean? It means they're going to be doing something that really matters, that actually affects people- instead of just fishing. Jesus calls them to help spread his message- about the kingdom of heaven, about Christianity, and everything that goes along with it- and this message would make a difference and change people's lives for the better.

And I want to do that too. I want to be part of Jesus' mission, help other people believe in him too, see God change people's lives.

They left everything and followed him.

Why? Well they must have already known who he was. Perhaps they had even met him before. (Some of the other gospels tell this story slightly differently, so I really think they had met him before.)

Because seriously, if Christians hold this up as an example of faith and obedience, saying we should all be like them... well, you shouldn't just follow any random guy who makes a pun about fishing. Seriously.

"Get in my van, there's free candy. And I will make you fishers of men." Image source.
They knew who Jesus was, but how well did they really know him? Well enough to leave behind their job and family and follow him? The bible doesn't give us an answer on this. Does it matter?

If they had enough reason to leave everything and follow Jesus, then so do I. Dude, at this point Jesus hadn't really done anything- they had no idea what they were in for. That whole "Son of God" bit hadn't been mentioned yet. I know way more about Jesus than these guys did when they started following him. Because I've decided that I'm a Christian, I have no excuse for not obeying him- regardless of the cost. The disciples did it. I can too.

Jesus starts healing everybody.

And we finish this chapter with Jesus healing tons of people, and becoming incredibly popular. Jesus came to bring physical healing and spiritual healing- he preaches a need for repentance, and he heals diseases. He's the best.

In the same way, Christians should help with people's physical needs and spiritual needs. I might even argue that it's inaccurate to say that one is more important than the other.

Summary/ take-home message:

In Matthew 4:12-25, Jesus begins his ministry. He preaches about repentance and the kingdom of heaven, he calls disciples to follow him, and he heals diseases. It's exciting stuff, and in the following chapters we'll get some more details about Jesus' teaching, interactions with his disciples, and miracles.

From the actions of the disciples in this passage, we see that Jesus is worth everything you have. How this actually plays out in the lives of Christians today is complex; we're not leaving fishing equipment on the ground and literally following around some homeless guy. In fact, obedience to Jesus usually looks like being a good friend, treating your family well, etc, rather than "leaving behind" people and jobs.

Stay tuned for next week's post, where we'll see what exactly Jesus was teaching.

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This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: I Would Only Follow a God Who Was Tempted (Matthew 4:1-12)

Next post: Switchin' It Up With The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

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