The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
February 6-7, 2011
Text: Matthew 4:12-25
Dear Friends in Christ,
Jesus ministry goes through several stages. This becomes more clear when one compares John’s Gospel with the other three gospels. During those first months Jesus began to gather followers on a part time basis. Many of them were with Jesus on His early trip to Jerusalem, at the Wedding of Cana and so forth. But Christ’s ministry changes after this. It becomes more formal and more open. The disciples are called to full time ministry. This escalation of Christ’s ministry happens at the time that John the Baptist is arrested by King Herod. So Christ and John are not competing with one another. It is only during those very early months, before Jesus ministry hits its full stride that they are both out there. But then we are told that John during that time was preaching in the desert of Judea, near some springs of water. Jesus was in Galilee and Jerusalem.
What was the relationship between Jesus and His disciples? It probably varied. Philip and Bartholomew come from Cana. They are not part of the group of fishermen. They probably first met Jesus during the early days of His ministry. But John and James are cousins of Jesus, as is likely the case also with the other James and the other Judas, who is sometimes called Thaddeus. For them, the surprise was realizing that one of their own was a prophet and perhaps the Messiah. Peter and Andrew, as business partners of James and John, likely also had previously met Jesus. The moments where Jesus turns to individuals and says to them “follow me” is almost assuredly not the first time that they had met.
Jesus began to preach. His message really is a continuation of John’s message - repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. Only now it is really at hand, right now. What is interesting is that Jesus didn’t baptize anyone. In some other places in the Gospels, we see that his disciples baptized people, but Jesus does not. Since many of Jesus disciples are also former disciples of John, it is not surprising that they continued to baptize.
Why was it important that people repent? Because God was among them. Only the repentant would survive the presence of God. We must remember that Christ was the one who appeared to Isaiah in the Holy Place of the temple. Christ was the one who spoke from the top of Mount Sinai and so forth. Just because they couldn’t see the glory, doesn’t mean that the danger of Christ’s presence was any less. And indeed later in the Gospels we see Christ placing curses on the cities of Galilee for their rejection of Him.
As Christ began to preach, His fame quickly spread. It says in our text that people came from every direction to hear Him. The places that are described would suggest that His fame, in these early days extended about one hundred to one hundred and fifty miles. In addition to preaching, Christ healed every kind of disease.
Some believed, but eventually, as we know, many rejected Christ. I have to wonder how many of us would have likewise rejected Christ if had seen and heard Him in person. I’m glad for myself, that I will never have to find out. It is so much better to be living in this end of history. But just because we ourselves might have rejected Christ, does that excuse the people of Christ’s day? No. Not at all. They saw the light. What was that light? Christ’s words and deeds. They saw the blind see, the deaf hear, the lepers cleansed, the lame walk, and so forth. No one in the history of Israel had every done the works that Christ did. Now you might say, but Old Testament prophets performed miracles. But not like this they didn’t. Oh, they did a miracle here and there. Probably Moses, Elijah, Elisha, and Daniel are associated with the greatest number of miracles. But Christ probably performed more miracles in a typical day of His ministry than all the Old Testament prophets put together did in their entire ministries. This was dramatic. This was powerful.
Another point that must be made here is that Christ both preached and performed miracles by His own authority. He would say things like; I tell you, rise and walk. This was wholly different from the prophets. I think of Elijah raising the son of the Widow of Zaraphath. Elijah lays himself upon the body of the boy and prays to God. He doesn’t command God. He approaches God as a beggar, begging for the life the child. Jesus doesn’t beg. He commands. He commands the demons, the diseases, the deformities and they obey Him. Seeing all this, and seeing the attitude of Christ, the people should have believed. But many did not. This goes to the nature of faith and unbelief. True faith is rational. It is based upon revealed facts. It is unbelief that is, in the end, irrational. And of course the final sign that ought have brought all men to their knees in fear and repentance is the resurrection. For indeed, what other man laid down His life and took it up again? I would suggest that it is indeed rational to place our trust in the One Man who did indeed lay down His life and take it up again. But yet, many do not believe.
Our text is operating on two levels. First, in terms of the season. It speaks of Christ as God. Remember that the theme of Epiphany is that a man - Jesus of Nazareth - is revealed to be God. But it is also a text about faith. This is a time of sifting. You have those who are curious and you have those who are hitching their horse to the wagon. But you also, under the surface, have those who are starting to question and reject Jesus. Christ is starting the sorting process that John the Baptist warned was coming.
Faith as we noted is based upon knowledge and fact. God does not require an irrational leap. Yet, by our very natures, we resist, we reject. We are born in trespasses and sin, enemies of God. How does God respond? He overwhelms us with the facts. He gives us so many facts that there is no rational way to resist. Then the Holy Spirit works in the hearts men, so that the facts go from simple academic knowledge to trust. For faith in the end is trust. If I am in an airplane and the engines have failed, and there is a parachute, I can crash and burn or I can trust in the parachute. Sadly, many become so fearful that they cling to doom.
It is often said that we are saved by faith. That is correct only to a point. It is really by means of faith. Faith does not cause our salvation. That would place salvation within us rather than in Christ. Rather, faith is the means, the connection, the wire. The cause is the Grace of God. Christ saves us. It’s that simple. In fact, by His death, He has paid the price of all sins - the sins of every human being. Faith in Christ connects us to that reality. So we are right to say that without faith, we cannot be saved. Our trust must always be in Christ’s death and resurrection. Our trust is in a real human being, who died on a certain day, on a real wooden cross, in a real place. Our trust is in those facts. But faith is more than this. For in faith we also understand that this man is God. We understand that His death is for us.
Christ came, called His disciples and began to preach and perform miracles. He did these things as signs to show the world that God was among them in the flesh. Some believed. Some did not. And so for us today. Do we see the signs? Do we see Christ present among us, raising us from the dead in the waters of Baptism, feeding us with His supper, and speaking His Word of forgiveness? Or are we deaf as the proverbial post to God? We have no excuse. We have the signs. We have all the signs we need in the Word - signs that point us to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.