The Text: Matthew 4:12-23
Echoing the Gospel
John the Baptist’s ministry was ended. The work that God called him to do was done. John preached the Word he was given, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2), and, “behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the word” (Jn 1:29).
For faithfully witnessing about Christ John was put in prison. He condemned King Herod’s marriage as adultery, and rightly so. But Herod was not interested in the Word of God and he locked John away. The baptiser decreased: Jesus was increasing (Jn 3:30).
After Jesus was baptised He overcame the temptations of the devil in the wilderness. Then we read that Jesus goes to live in Capernaum, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Living there Jesus fulfils the prophecy we heard earlier from Isaiah, that the Lord has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
Capernaum is in the north of Israel, where Jews and Gentiles lived side by side. The Jews in Jerusalem regarded Galilee as a backwater, and the Jews who lived there were considered lesser Jews than themselves. But it is among those thought of as being less – second rate Jews and pagan Gentiles – that Jesus went to live and first began to preach about the kingdom of God.
Jesus’ preaching was straight to the point, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” In this preaching we hear the messages of the Law and the Gospel. The two go hand in hand, never to be separated, but always clearly distinguished. To only preach “repent” will motivate people to run around and do all sorts of good works. That kind of Church looks very busy, but it is all done in the hope of showing their repentance to God, but never knowing for certain if God loves them. There is no rest in a church like that. Preaching Law without Gospel drives people to despair.
To only preach “the kingdom of God is at hand”, referring to the riches of God’s grace, makes believers think they do no wrong. If the Law—the Ten Commandments—are not preached, how do we know what sin is? Preaching Gospel without Law makes saints into sinners.
John the Baptist, and all the prophets before him, preached repentance and the nearness of God’s kingdom. Jesus was echoing John, who in turn echoed the prophets. In time, the apostles and pastors who followed Jesus would echo His words and call sinners to repentance and point them to God’s forgiveness.
The first disciple of Jesus came from among those Jews in Galilee. The first disciples were fishermen—devout, hard working men who were looking for the Messiah. John the Baptist pointed them to Jesus and now their Lord comes to them and commands them, “follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Peter and Andrew follow without hesitation. James and John join them. Soon others would join them.
These men left everything to follow Jesus. They left behind their families and homes, their work and communities, all to follow Jesus, and learn to be fishers of people.
It is the preaching of Law and Gospel—repentance and the nearness of God’s kingdom—that enabled those fishermen to leave their nets. It is the powerful Word of God that planted the seed of faith and hope in their hearts and made them disciples. It is the same Word of God that convicts us of sin—the Word that brings us the forgiveness Jesus earned on the cross and raises us to new life in Baptism. It is the Word of absolution proclaimed in the Divine Service that removes my guilt before coming to the Altar to eat the visible Word that grants life everlasting. In all these ways the kingdom of heaven is at hand when the King comes and does His work of bringing heaven to us.
This understanding that the divine Word gives us cannot be found anywhere else. The knowledge of what is truly sin and displeasing to God comes only from the Word, not a dream or government policy or society. If we use human wisdom to determine what sin is, that list would change continuously.
The Gospel comes from the same Word. The Good News of the Son of God becoming man, then dying for sinners and rising from dead is not a message that could come from any human author. The Gospel is the wonderful revelation of God’s grace for sinners. It shows us the Lamb who was slain for us, so we can have life with God now and forever. The Word of the Gospel comes as light into our hearts driving to drive out darkness and death.
We are all encouraged to echo what we have heardTo speak again what the prophets and apostles said: To witness Christ crucified for sinners. Now, those who witness the cross are regarded by many as old fashioned. But to witness anything else is to deny that we are born sinners and that we have a Saviour. Christians who hold to the promises of the Word are thought of as fools. The world rejects the authority of Word of God. But to Jesus’ disciples, to you and me, the message of our crucified Saviour is peace and life; for, The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1Cor 1:18).
It is by the power of God that we are disciples of Jesus. We cannot make ourselves His followers. It happens when the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel and we realise that God’s love for this sinner, and that everything needed for my salvation has been already been done by Jesus. Trusting the message of the Gospel is called faith, and it can only happen by hearing the Word of God.
A disciple of Jesus listens, learns and lives by the Word of God. It is our lifeline to God. Disciples hear the Word as the voice of God. We listen to God speak in the reading of Scripture in the Divine Service, the preaching of the Church, the richness of the hymns. We listen to the Word at home, where the Lord speaks as we come to the Word daily to be fed by Him.
Disciples listen and we learn and grow in the Word together as Church. Being a disciple of Jesus is not only about you and your Bible. We are baptised into the Church, made part of the body of Christ which stretches back to Adam and Eve, to Moses and Abraham, to Luther and Sasse. We seek the wisdom of the ages to understand the Word of God, because they had the Holy Spirit also.
Jesus’s disciples listen and learn, and we live by the Word. Through the Word, God communicates His life to us, in forgiving our sins and in granting us the Holy Spirit; the Lord and giver of Life. In the Word joined to water, bread and wine, God grants us heavenly gifts.
The disciples of Jesus listen, learn and live by the Word, and we echo that Word. We speak to others what we hear from Jesus. We shine the light that has driven the darkness from our hearts. The same Word that speaks Jesus to us, we share to make Him known among our family and friends and work colleagues. We are fishers of people as we follow Jesus and echo His words. Even the power to speak the Word does not come from us. It comes from the Word in us, from the Holy Spirit who lives in us and brings the words of Jesus to mind.
It is important for us to know that we never graduate from being a disciple. We are always a learner. As long as we remain in this sinful flesh we need to hear the call to repent and feed again on the forgiveness God. We never complete our learning.
Being a disciple of Jesus does not necessarily mean you have to leave your job or family or community. It may of course mean exactly that. Some men are called to move and study at Australian Lutheran College to train for pastoral ministry. Others are called to be camp directors or lay workers or Bible translators, far away from where they once lived.
Most of us are called to be a disciple right where you are now, to your family or housemates, to your neighbourhood and community. Wherever you live, Jesus calls you to follow Him, listen to His words, receive His grace and mercy and echo His words in your home, your marriage, to your friends, even to your enemies. That is what Jesus did and He was saved from death. He commands us to do the same and He promises to rescue us from all our sins and raise us from dead.
Let us always give thanks to God who speaks so clearly about our salvation in Christ, and who gives us His Holy Spirit to keep us believing. Praise God that He daily catches us up in the net of the Gospel and leads us to catch others with the gifts of forgiveness and promise of life everlasting. Let us keep hearing the Divine Word that we remain disciples of Jesus, who leads His people onto the joys of heaven. Amen.
Let’s pray. Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word, that walking in the footsteps of Jesus we would be built up in faith and echo the Gospel to the world, so that your kingdom would grow. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.