Here we are at the end of summer, and many of our schedules and events begin to normalize and grow more consistent. As we walked through the Psalms this summer, we focused around that main question of How do we approach God? That is essentially what each of the Psalmist was doing, as an offer of worship — approaching YHWH, with complaints, with sorrow, with needs, with thanksgiving. And as we dig into Scripture today, it will serve as a bit of a bridge to the series that we’ll be starting next week.
As you heard in the reading of the text, we are shifting into a different type of biblical literature, a different time period, even a different recorded language. Yet, we are essentially approaching God once again. Or maybe better put — God is approaching humanity on His terms. Showing us that God Himself is approachable. We as God’s people need that reminder time and time again — that He is approachable — and that indeed He does approach us! Look at the time and time again that people the people of God have been afraid to approach God — Mt Sinai. “Moses you go talk to God, we’re afraid that God will kill us.” Then the Law — here is how you approach God. But they forget. They feel the distance between His holiness and their sinfulness — so they drift and think that created things which are more tangible, they are more approachable. Then captivity as punishment for chasing after other gods. Only to be brought back to the land as a directive from pagan King Cyrus who was directed by God to have His people return and rebuild the temple. But, sadly there was no visible filling of the temple of God’s presence as there was before. Had God’s people squandered their opportunity to approach God and for God to approach them? Then, we get to the New Testament — a new oppressive kingdom is ruling, Rome. And the NT begins with a Covenantal and Royal lineage, and through the written word of Matthew do we get to know the Immanuel, God with us, Jesus.
Today’s text begs us to ask the very basic question:
What is so important about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry? Throughout these next months, I want us to dive deep into Jesus, God with flesh, approachable indeed. We want to know His character, we want to know His teaching, we want to know His authority and power. That is the foundation of where we turn to now.
Just as a little bit more context for where we find our text amidst Matthew’s narrative, first we find the birth account of Jesus, next we have this beautiful commissioning of Jesus. God audibly speaking about Jesus being His Son. Then after this special moment, Jesus leaves to be tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Matthew’s Jewish audience would have quickly caught the correlation of Jesus being in the wilderness for 40 days just as the Israelites were in the wilderness for 40 years. Just as they would be astonished and curious about all the prophetic fulfillment that Matthew highlights through his narrative. It is after this preparatory work of Jesus’ mission that our text now comes.
I want to pick up in verse 13-14, we’ll come back to 12. So let me remind you, Jesus born in Bethlehem — flight to Egypt, then settle back in Nazareth. All of these elements were in fulfillment of Scripture, hopeful anticipation by the prophets. So he leaves Nazareth a very insignificant town in the region of Palestine which was at that time within the vast Roman Empire. But, it was Jesus’ hometown where He grew up, where He watched his earthly adopted father Joseph work with his hands. Where He matured, His nature was divine, but His nature was also human — fully God, fully man — look how approachable He is…This Nazarene — a run-of-the-mill family, from a nondescript little village — it would be the same as coming from Ronneby, that little gathering of houses on State road 23 just north of us.
Now, He’s heading out after all has been prepared for the start of His ministry — He’s heading to Capernaum. Just on the Northern tip of the Sea of Galilee about 20 miles from Nazareth. This town is important to understand as well. Being on the northern edge of the biblical region, they were a people that were greatly oppressed by the Assyrians when the divided kingdom of Israel fell. Through this long occupation, their Jewishness became more gentile in the common society. Because of its specific location, it was literally surrounded by gentiles. So Jesus goes from this small close-knit village life — to enter into one of the busiest areas in the region. The historian Josephus recounts that there were 204 villages in that Galilee region, and none of them had fewer than 15,000 inhabitants. Because of its proximity to gentile ideas, and because of its masses, they were a people that were open to something new. The elite Jews would have been disgusted of the masses that had undoubtedly fallen into synchronistic worship — adding in a little pagan to their Judaism. This is a people that would not have been recounted as a group of faithful Jews. Even though they were prosperous for the great fishing industry and the fertile agriculture that would have been exported from the region. To the rest of the Jewish region, they would have been overlooked as “those gentiles to the North”. Jesus went here for a reason.
Matthew is recording this specifically for us to understand. Jesus, God with us — came from an insignificant village. He went to a people that by religious standards were lacking. Even though this was a part of the original “promised land” to Abraham. Zebulun and Naphtali. Two of the tribes that were given an inheritance in the new land. Yet now heavily influenced by the pagan gentiles in their day-to-day lives. These were a people that were despised by the rest and the “more holy” in Jerusalem. But this overlooked city is where Jesus would have an opportunity to start His ministry to a much larger audience. It’s where he would, just after our passage, pick His disciples — again a despised people. Matthew wants us to see the point in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus begins His ministry as an insignificant Nazarene to an overlooked people. This is important — that God is able to take the seemingly unworthy and use them for His perfect purposes. And these are the stories that give us hope. Some of the movies and stories that we connect with the most are the ones that take the down and out — and are transformed through various circumstances to be something or do something great. Think movies like miracle on ice — about the ’88 Olympic gold medal.
“God does not act in accordance with the expectations of people, even religious people; he does his great work among the lowly and the despised. While Jesus did not mingle much with Gentiles, the salvation he came to bring was just as much for them as for the Jews. It was important accordingly that he lived in an area greatly influenced by Gentiles.”
The actual King of the universe — does not demand allegiance that is rightfully His, rather He comes and He himself is lowly and approaches the overlooked. This is how He begins His ministry. We now move to Matthew’s quote of Isaiah. Verses 12; 15-16. Ironic that even Isaiah calls this area the land of the gentiles, certainly in His day it would have still been dominated by Jewish religious practice, comparatively to the 1st century. On account of all of these pagan cultures surrounding them — there is but a darkness in their midst. This is what John the baptizer had begun — making straight the way for the Lord. He was preparing for the one that would Light the way for people to find ultimate restoration and peace. But, what is meant by this darkness? What does it mean to sit in darkness?
I love the way Spurgeon summarizes this:
- Darkness of ignorance
- Darkness of error
- Darkness of discomfort and sorrow 
Can you see the great emphasis on KNOWLEDGE of Truth? This is ever apparent in our common society today — who do we believe? Spurgeon again,
“Men who know not the truth, since they must have some faith, seek out many inventions; for, if they are not taught of God, they soon become taught of Satan, and apt scholars are they in his school.” 
That’s what characterizes these people of Galilee—searching for something. Looking for the new thing that will help them achieve what only God can do. Think of this beautiful narrative that has been crafted by Matthew — the lowly Jesus, though the very Son of God — God Himself. Chooses the overlooked people that are searching for a peace only God can give. These are the people that Jesus chooses to bring the light to first. They again are yet feeling the sorrow of being a people that are overlooked by their own kind, a people that have little knowledge of the Law, that have been oppressed for many years. They are wondering in darkness for true rest, needing light — and that light has come. The light that will give rest—“The mind that knows not God, knows not the heart’s best rest.”  But, now in fulfillment of Isaiah — it’s worth reading Isaiah 9:1-7. Matthew wants us and his original readers to see. He is that child — He is that Prince of Peace — Wonderful Counselor. That light in the Darkness. He is Jesus, God With Us. Fulfillment.
Look at the small phrase that begins our passage — after John was arrested — John has already proclaimed in Matthews Gospel that the one that “Comes AFTER ME” is greater. Jesus is accepting the baton so to speak from John the baptized. Claiming I am the one to come after John — He prepared the way for me. He made straight the paths for those to see me, I give light in darkness. We must see the significance of these elements in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus begins His ministry by fulfilling prophecy as He brings light into the darkness. I often talk about the fact that all of Scripture is pointing us to Jesus — that He is the thread that runs throughout the entire biblical landscape. And Matthew is putting an exclamation point on the fact that the thread that we knew not who — is here— is Jesus. He is the one the gives light to those sitting in ignorance, light to those who error, and light to those who are burdened and sorrowful. This is the hope of trusting in the Gospel of Christ Jesus!
We now move to Jesus’ message: Verse 17
This again comes back to looking at the significance to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry — where we are headed. I titled this The Way to the Mount. That is where we will arrive next week — the Mount. But now we begin to hear his all important message — The Kingdom of Heaven. This is important language that we need to have a foundational knowledge of. It is one of the most common thematic elements of all Matthew’s writing and is paramount to us understanding what Jesus teaches on the mount. The Kingdom is not of this world. It is what Jesus has brought. It is only here by the way that Jesus has come, God’s Son, God Himself with flesh on. That is why Jesus can say it is at hand — it has been ushered in. We call this inaugurated eschatology — which are fancy words that mean: Already but not yet. This is proclamation of something important — the Greek word — κηρύσσειν.
Is that of a herald stepping up to pass along vital information — there was authority in its message alone. Jesus with authority is Preaching the message that God’s Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven, Where God Himself resides has now come. It’s not fully realized but it is here. We can be sure of that. When Matthew records the word “at hand”. He uses the Greek perfect tense which we have a hard time translating — but it is to get across this idea that it there is an ongoing result of a completed action. Again— already (the action is completed— the Kingdom is here). But not yet— (there are ongoing results that have not been completed). The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Yet it is important to see that Jesus is PREACHING repentance. Repentance is turning from the old, the evil, the sinful. It is grieving over our lack of living to God’s standard. The important distinction is that Jesus is preaching not teaching here — “Teaching is directed primarily towards informing the mind; preaching towards reaching the will.”  Jesus is saying don’t just change your mind — change your desires. Turn your desires to God —It’s as if Jesus is saying, “I’m here to light your way to desire God, not the world.”
This last point is simple:
Jesus begins His ministry by proclaiming a New Kingdom, announcing inclusion by repentance. So what do we do with the importance of Jesus beginning ministry? How does it affect us in reality?
Take away – 1
We must be encouraged that Jesus looks for those who have been overlooked.
Take away – 2
We must fix our eyes on the light of the Gospel.
Take away – 3
We must repent. This is the offer of Jesus. The Kingdom is here — in all of us that profess Christ as our Savior — we are little Kingdom Outposts in a dark world. We want you to be a part of that too. Come to Jesus, turn your heart from your sin — and trust that His life, death, and resurrection are sufficient to make you His. That is grace — Jesus’ actions were on our behalf — we don’t deserve it. But trust that He has given it. The is the Way to the Mount — First a regenerated Spirit by our Savior Jesus.
1 William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Third Ed., The New Daily Study Bible (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 2001), 83.
2 Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1992), 82.
3 C. H. Spurgeon, “Light for Those Who Sit in Darkness,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 17 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1871), 506.
4 C. H. Spurgeon, “Light for Those Who Sit in Darkness,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 17 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1871), 506.
5 C. H. Spurgeon, “Light for Those Who Sit in Darkness,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 17 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1871), 506.
6 Michael Green, The Message of Matthew: The Kingdom of Heaven, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 86.