Summary of the Text
Preaching Angle: John Arrested, Jesus Preaches the Kingdom
The major event in redemptive history which immediately precedes this passage is Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. I can’t imagine a 40 day fast (maybe you can, or maybe you know someone who has fasted 40 days, or maybe even you have!), let alone a one-on-one temptation with the accuser. Yet, as Matthew sets up his Gospel, he recounts for us Jesus’ successful obedience to the Father and rejection of the devil’s schemes. In fact, Matthew is showing us in narrative form Jesus’ New Adam/Second Adam theology. Where Adam failed to obey God in the midst of the devil’s tricks, Jesus succeeded, and it’s this active obedience which is imputed to us as an alien righteousness, credited to our account (Rom 5:12-21).
Now, coming off the heels of that powerful event, Matthew’s Gospel narrative notes a drop, a complication in the plot. After such a great success comes what would seem like such a great setback. John, a relative of Jesus and the major figure who went before the Lord to prepare God’s people for Christ (Matt 3:2-3), is arrested. And how does Jesus respond? The text reads, “he withdrew into Galilee” (Matt 4:12 ESV). It could seem like Jesus, upon hearing that another powerful Kingdom worker was arrested because of his Kingdom work, flees danger to avoid a similar fate. But Matthew doesn’t allow us to conclude this for long.
In fact, in verses 13-14, Matthew shows us how Jesus’ travel into the Galilean cities fulfills God’s Old Testament promises to His people. Matthew quotes Isaiah 9 and 42, demonstrating that Jesus is in full control of the situation, turning what would seem like a major setback into a major success in proving God’s ability to fulfill promises. Jesus’ travel shows us that He is not fleeing from a potential run in with the law; rather, He demonstrates His power, control, and connection with the Father as Jesus fulfills Old Testament prophecy: Zebulun, Naphtali, and the Gentiles who live there—they’ve seen a great light! The light of the Christ!
Not only does Jesus’ travel demonstrate that He isn’t avoiding a possible arrest, but notice what Jesus does as He’s traveling around Galilee: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 4:17 ESV). If Jesus were afraid of arrest and imprisonment because of His Kingdom ministry, He wouldn’t be preaching the Kingdom and doing Kingdom ministry! Yet, He wasn’t afraid. He knew His goal. He knew where He was headed. It was “for the joy that was set before Him [He] endured the cross” (Heb 12:2 ESV). Jesus wasn’t afraid. He was likely saddened by the news of John’s arrest, but He was no less resolved to carry out the plans which the Father, the Holy Spirit, and He had planned from before the foundations of the world.
Preaching Angle: Jesus calls His Disciples
A great deal can be said about Jesus’ calling His disciples: discipleship, leaving aside one’s family, leaving aside one’s career goals, and the like. What is so striking at a more basic level is the power of Jesus’ call. Jesus’ call and the simple response of the disciples seems to reflect God’s demonstrable power in creation, akin to that in Genesis: “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light” (Gen 1:3 ESV). Jesus’ call to Simon (Peter), Andrew, James, and John unfolded similarly: “Follow me” and they did. If you know the human heart, you know that the greater miracle isn’t creation ex nihilo, creation by fiat; the greater miracle is Jesus’ calling to His disciples. He called; they followed. That’s power.
Jesus’ call here reminds us of God’s effectual calling. When we were dead in our trespasses and sins, God called us and made us alive in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:1-10). And in calling us, He saved us, and he saved us fully (Rom 8:3o). And when Jesus calls His disciples, their whole lives are changed. Their earthly lives were changed. They began following the King. They learned ministry from the Maker. They saw the one who was the fulfillment of all Old Testament hope fulfilling prophecies. And not only were their earthly lives changed. Their eternal lives were changed. When Jesus calls, He saves, both now and forever.
Preaching Angle: Preaching and Healing
The final verse in this day’s lectionary reading is Matthew 4:23, and it’s powerful: “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (ESV). The way Matthew describes Jesus’ Galilean ministry reminds us of David’s words in Psalm 68:18: “You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there” (ESV).
It’s as though those whom Jesus healed were the captives whom He led to freedom, giving them gifts of healing and the Gospel. Not only this, but the apostle Paul picks up on Psalm 68:18 to highlight the spiritual gifts Christ has given His Church through His ascension (Eph 4:8). The point to note here in Matthew 4:23 is that in Christ’s descent, in His humiliation, in His coming to earth, He gave great gifts to men and women. He taught in their synagogues. He proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom. He healed every disease and affliction. These are powerful gifts. Just imagine receiving His teaching, His preaching, or His healing. And this teaching, preaching, and healing is given to us today through the ministry of the Holy Spirit according to the witness of Holy Scripture.
Dustin grew up in Springfield, MO later graduating from Evangel University and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, studying Biblical Hebrew and Greek, Theology, and ancient history.
He and his wife, Debbie, married in 2009 and have three children: Abigail, Judah, and Ezra. Dustin still rides BMX bikes, listens to hardcore music, loves research and writing, and enjoys helping his family seek and savor King Jesus.
The recognition of sin is the beginning of salvation.
Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, by saying: Repent, intended that the whole life of believers should be repentance.”
John Calvin, in his commentary on Matthew 4:22, discusses the power and sweetness of Christ’s call to His disciples and their response:
“The first thing that strikes us here is the power of Christ’s voice. Not that his voice alone makes so powerful an impression on the hearts of men: but those whom the Lord is pleased to lead and draw to himself, are inwardly addressed by his Spirit, that they may obey his voice. The second is, the commendation bestowed on the docility and ready obedience of his disciples, who prefer the call of Christ to all worldly affairs. The ministers of the Word ought, in a particular manner, to be directed by this example, to lay aside all other occupations, and to devote themselves unreservedly to the Church, to which they are appointed.”
John Calvin, Harmony of the Evangelists; vol 1, p. 244.
Sometimes we get numb to what repenting toward Christ’s Kingdom really looks like, or what it would sound like if we were told to follow another king. John Piper gives a paraphrastic-parable of what a town crier might sound like announcing forgiveness:
“Good news is for proclaiming—for heralding the way an old-fashioned town crier would do.
Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye! All rebels, insurgents, dissidents, and protesters against the King! Hear the royal decree! A great day of reckoning is coming, a day of justice and vengeance. But now hear this, all inhabitants of the King’s realm! Amnesty is herewith published by the mercy of your Sovereign. A price has been paid. All debts may be forgiven. All rebellion absolved. All dishonor pardoned. None is excluded from this offer. Lay down the weapons of rebellion, kneel in submission, receive the royal amnesty as a gift of imperial love, swear fealty to your sovereign, and rise a free and happy subject of your King.”
John Piper, God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself; Crossway, p. 19.