Jesus launches his preaching ministry
Three different perspectives are given of Jesus in Galilee. Isaiah's prophecy, the Kingdom of God and the power of the Spirit are all given consideration.
Three different perspectives are given of Jesus in Galilee. Isaiah's prophecy, the Kingdom of God and the power of the Spirit are all given consideration.
Hello and welcome to Series 3 and this is Episode 1: this is where 'Jesus launches his preaching ministry in Galilee'.
Introduction and Recap
We're going to use texts from Matthew, Mark and Luke to describe this event. All three of them say slightly different things. We're going to read them one by one and comment on what they have to say about this very important moment individually. Let's remind ourselves of the background. John's Gospel tells us the story of not only Jesus going to be baptised in the River Jordan by John but the things that happened after: the temptation in the wilderness; a quick return to Galilee for the wedding at Cana; but then a lot of events around Jerusalem - including the first cleansing of the Temple, the meeting with Nicodemus and, immediately before this event, the significant journey from Jerusalem to Galilee through Samaria - hostile territory. During this journey, as John 4 told us and we looked at this in our recent episodes at the end of Series 2, Jesus met a Samaritan woman and told her who he was, essentially. This involved a couple of days spent in a Samaritan village with Jesus, his disciples and the Samaritan woman explaining to the villagers who Jesus was and many of those villagers became believers in Jesus as the Messiah. These are the events that have happened just before this.
Jesus returns now to Galilee - his home territory in the north of the country where his hometown, Nazareth, is situated right in the middle of Galilee. He's returned with a handful of disciples (Simon, Andrew, John, Philip and Nathanael) and these five are to be added to later by other disciples, as we shall see. The interesting thing is that at this time very few people in Galilee knew anything much about Jesus and what he'd done recently. It had all taken place in the south of the country, a long way away, in and around Jerusalem - apart from the miracle at the wedding at Cana where Jesus turned the water into wine. I think it would be fair to say that Jesus wasn't well-known at this point and so this is the public launch of his ministry in Galilee where he is going to base himself for for most of his time in ministry, over the next two to three years.
Therefore, this is a very important moment. The three Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) say slightly different things which provide some interesting perspectives on what was going on at this particular time. We're going to start by looking at Matthew 4:12 - 17:
‘When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”’Matthew 4:12-27, NIV
Luke's Gospel tells us a bit more about John the Baptist and his imprisonment. In Luke 3: 19 - 20 we read that
‘John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother's wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.’Luke 3:19-20, NIV
Jesus' Headquarters in Galilee
We've studied the life and ministry of John the Baptist in previous episodes but now we find he's in prison and who is it who's put him in prison? It's the local ruler in Galilee, Herod Antipas or Herod the Tetrarch (known, generally, as ‘Herod’ in the Gospel accounts). He had his capital in a place called Tiberias, a town on the western edge of the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee was a central feature of the area and a very important feature of Jesus' ministry. It's actually a freshwater lake and the waters come down from the mountains in the area of Lebanon to the north. It's 13 kilometres wide and 21 kilometres long, at the longest point. A huge reservoir of fresh water, wonderful fishing stock and a tremendously important supply of fresh water for irrigation and farming. It was a fertile area in central Galilee and Herod had his palace in the town of Tiberias on the western side of the lake, overlooking this beautiful lake and looking up to the mountains behind.
Jesus, who started out in Nazareth his home town, had moved to Capernaum. Capernaum was a fishing village about 15 or 16 kilometres north of Tiberias, on the edge of the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee. It was a beautiful place and a centre of the local fishing industry. Jesus set up his headquarters in Capernaum, very close to Herod Antipas, Herod the ruler - the very person who'd imprisoned John the Baptist and probably incarcerated him in one of his hillside fortresses much further south. There's a strange contrast between Jesus and Herod; they're near to each other when Jesus starts his ministry but there's no record of them ever having met until the last week of Jesus' life and there's no record of Jesus ever going to the capital town of Tiberias. That's just an interesting fact. These two rulers, as it were, were side-by-side; the Kingdom of God was coming through Jesus and Herod's kingdom was in place nearby.
During this time, a little later, Herod executed John the Baptist, as we'll see later on.
This passage is particularly significant for the fact that it quotes from Isaiah 9 and I want to discuss, briefly, the things that Matthew sees being fulfilled in the life of Jesus and in his ministry in Galilee. This is what I call a direct prophecy: the Old Testament prophesies an event directly in the New Testament, and Galilee is the focus. I'm going to read the extended passage from which Matthew quotes, to get a feel of the bigger picture and, as I read this text, I'm going to pause as I go through and comment on a couple of things. The text is Isaiah 9: 1 - 7, some of it you may be familiar with:
‘Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he(God)humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan.’Isaiah 9:1, NIV
In his opening section, the prophet Isaiah says of this particular area (and, by the way, Zebulun and Naphtali are two of the tribes of Israel whose territory is in Galilee so they symbolically represent the Galilee area) that this land, Galilee, has been humbled in the past but it will be exalted in the future - it will be honoured in the future. The prophet Isaiah is referring to the fact that about 700 BC the northern part of Israel, especially Galilee, was taken over by the Assyrians. They conquered the country; they abolished the kingdom there and they deported large numbers of residents; this is the humbling that's spoken of. This land was humbled by the Assyrian invaders about 700 years earlier. Then the prophet Isaiah says that in the future that very same land that was humbled, will be honoured because something special is going to happen in Galilee - bearing in mind that Galilee in the north was not a favoured district in the nation of Israel. Most people believed that the really important things happened in the south of the country, in Judea, and around the capital city of Jerusalem. Prophetically, Isaiah says this place is going to be honoured. He goes on to explain how this place is going to be honoured; he explains how a light is going to come.
Let's follow through the prophecy, beyond what Matthew quotes, and see the full significance of it. Whenever a New Testament writer, or a Gospel writer, quotes an Old Testament text, they're always inviting you to look at the wider context and not just the exact quotation, and that's what we're going to do here to get the fullest possible meaning. Verse 2:
‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.’Isaiah 9:2-7, NIV
Isaiah the prophet is pinpointing Galilee as the place where a light is going to dawn that will change the fortunes of the nation through the birth of a child, who will be a unique child, who turns out to be a successor of King David; who will take the throne of Israel, become the ruler in the country, spiritually, and his Kingdom will extend from the time he arrives right the way through the rest of history. That's an amazingly expansive prophecy and it speaks of the time Jesus comes right the way through to the modern age, where we are now, and into the future beyond us - when his Kingdom will be ruling across the whole earth. ‘Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,’ do you remember that phrase from the Lord's prayer? That's, basically, what's being prophesied here. Matthew sees tremendous significance in the fact that Jesus is from Galilee. That's his home - in Nazareth - that's the place he's going to operate, it's the place we're going to talk about, for the most part, for the rest of this study. Jesus' visits to Jerusalem are occasional until the last week of his life - the week of his death and his resurrection. These are a few comments from Matthew's account.
Mark, who is characteristically brief, adds something important about the message of Jesus. Matthew says he starts to preach, but Mark defines this a little bit more precisely. So Mark 1: 14 - 15:
‘After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”’Mark 1:14-15, NIV
There's some interesting components to this message. First of all, ‘the time has come.’ What time is this? This is the prophetic timing of God. God always planned for his Son to come and be revealed to Israel and to bring salvation to the world, but no one quite knew when that time was going to be. It was the conviction of the Gospel writers, and of Jesus himself, and of Paul the Apostle, for example, that Jesus came at exactly the right time. For example, Paul says in Galatians 4: 4,
‘But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.’‘ When the time had fully come.’Galatians 4:4, NIV
Not only was it the right time, but the reality of what was happening - it wasn't just Jesus coming to speak and talk to people and hope to change a few lives - no - there's something much more profound going on.
The second phrase describes it: ‘the Kingdom of God has come near.’ The Kingdom of God is a very important theme in the Bible. God is seen as the ruler and king of all creation and of all humanity but when King David was appointed the king of Israel it was prophesied (in 2 Samuel 7: 16) that he would be the first of a permanent dynasty - a permanent kingdom or an eternal kingdom - the first king and that his successors would inherit his kingdom. We begin to see, here, that the successor to David is Jesus. We noted when we studied the genealogies of Jesus how he's connected to King David through both his stepfather's line and his mother's line and he is described as the Son of David a number of times in the Gospels. He inherits the Kingdom of God and he brings the Kingdom of God to earth in a special and a new way - not just ruling over the nation of Israel, but actually establishing God's rule throughout the whole world. That's basically what Jesus came to do and he says, clearly, ‘the Kingdom of God has come near.’ As we go through the Gospels, we'll see Jesus time and again explaining what the Kingdom of God is, and there's much to say about that - which we'll talk about in subsequent episodes - but we just need to note here that God's Kingdom is coming. That means that people, men and women from all different nationalities and races, will decide to come under the authority of God through Jesus Christ: through believing in the Gospel and through joining his Church, through being baptised, through becoming disciples and becoming his agents in this world. What we see is, that this Kingdom will spread; that was the point made in Isaiah 9: 1 - 7, and the second half of that passage makes it very clear that his kingdom will grow and continue from that time forward, permanently, until the end of this age. That's exactly what is happening: the Kingdom of God is coming in this world. There are more, and more people who are accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, becoming part of his Church - his Church is growing. It's growing in a situation of conflict and difficulty and often persecution and suffering. That is another very important reality which I don't want to undermine in any way because the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world, they grow together and they're often in tension with each other. What's happening in this world is that the Kingdom is growing in order that, when Jesus comes again, he can receive his Kingdom and bring it to completion and make it visible and obvious to everyone. That won't happen until the Second Coming of Jesus, which we'll talk about more in later episodes because Jesus teaches about that on a number of occasions, particularly towards the end of his life. “The time has come ...The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Repentance is a keyword in Christianity. We've already looked at it when we noted the message of John the Baptist. It means changing your life, changing your mind - so it affects the mind, the actions and the inner heart and motivations. It's a fundamental inner transformation. “Change your mind and your actions,” Jesus is saying, “and believe the good news” - the good news that Jesus is the Son of God and has come to bring salvation to those who will receive him.
Let's turn to Luke's account. We're going to Luke 4: 14 - 15. Whereas Mark centred on the message, Luke's account focuses on the impact of Jesus' ministry.
‘Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.’Luke 4:14-15, NIV
Notice here that Luke emphasises he came ‘in the power of the Spirit.’ This is something that Luke makes very clear. If you look at Luke 4, generally you will notice that when Jesus went into the wilderness (Luke 4: 1) it says he was ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ who had been given to him in power at his baptism when the Holy Spirit came down on him in the form of a dove. So chapter 4: 1, he was full of the Holy Spirit as he went into the wilderness and then later on, in verse 14, when he returned to Galilee he was coming in the power of the Holy Spirit - with the dynamic energy of the Holy Spirit. This led to miracles beginning to happen, which we'll see in subsequent episodes, and it sees him travelling around. He didn't just stand in one place and proclaim this message in the middle of Capernaum, which was his base. No, he travelled around from place to place and he started by preaching in the synagogues.
A synagogue is a Jewish place of worship. If the Jews were unable to get to the Jewish Temple, which most of them were for obvious geographical reasons, then for several hundred years by this time they'd been building local places of worship called synagogues where the men, in particular, were called to weekly worship on the Jewish day of worship - Saturday or the Sabbath. Jesus had grown up worshipping in the synagogue in Nazareth - we'll find out more about that in a subsequent episode when he returns there for a dramatic event. He'd grown up in the synagogues and now he started to preach in them. People invited him in: a local man who seemed to have something special about him spiritually, something prophetic. He was invited in and so his message began to spread. Shortly after that we hear that miracles begin to happen.
Here are three different perspectives on the same event. As we're going through the Gospels studying the life of Jesus, usually I take one passage. If there are more than one account of the same event, I'll generally take the fullest account and speak to you from that account but keeping in mind what the other writers say if they comment on it. On this occasion, it seemed better (because all the accounts are very brief and very different) to spend a little time on all three. Our purpose is to integrate all the four Gospels so you can see the continual story: you can see the themes developing; you can see what's happening step-by-step; and you can see how the Gospels relate to each other. This is a good example, where these three writers emphasise different things in their writing. Matthew emphasises the prophetic significance of Galilee and Jesus coming, by quoting from Isaiah; Mark describes in more detail the exact key points in Jesus' message; and Luke emphasises the power of the Holy Spirit and the growing impact of Jesus as he becomes well-known, for the first time, in his home district of Galilee.
A few reflections to conclude. I love this expression, ‘the time has come.’ That means that this is, literally, the turning point in history in terms of salvation and the offer of forgiveness through Christ to the rest of the world. This is the turning point. Up until this point, the focus of God's actions has been primarily on the people of Israel. He has been shaping them, preparing them, disciplining them, blessing them, giving them prophets, giving them more revelation about himself, giving them a number of different covenants. It's all been a preparation process for this exact moment when the time has come for that process to move to another phase which is from Israel, through Jesus and his immediate Jewish followers (the Apostles and others), the Gospel message is going to go out into the whole world. We're looking here at the turning point in the history of salvation and you and I are living in the good of the fact that this message came then and was spread, very quickly, far away from the land of Israel to every nation where there was opportunity to reach them.
My second reflection is to note, again, something that Luke often emphasises: the power of the Holy Spirit is essential. We've spoken in recent episodes about being ‘born of the Spirit;’ about the Spirit's activity at Jesus' baptism; about Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman saying that God the Father is looking for those who worship ‘in spirit and in truth;’ and here we see that Jesus came ‘in the power of the Spirit.’ This is a very strong expression. The Greek word underlying that speaks of dynamic energy - dynamic energy to get things done, to do miracles. We're going to see a lot of that dynamic energy operating through Christ. As this Kingdom of God gets established through Jesus and his followers, it will be opposed: it will be opposed by the religious authorities in Jerusalem, we'll see that from time to time as the story unfolds; it will be opposed by local people who don't like Jesus' message; and it will be opposed by spiritual forces of darkness that don't want the Gospel to be known and to be spread. These are themes that we'll develop in subsequent episodes. We must pause and reflect on the fact that in this episode the public, official ministry of Jesus, his claims on people's allegiance, have been made abundantly clear. There is no going back from this point, everything is pushing forward and advancing the message, by all means possible. I hope to see you in future episodes as we continue this story.
The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.
- Galilee is the area in which Jesus grew up and was known. Until now his ministry has been largely in the south. Is it easier or harder to be a believer where you are known?
- Spend time thanking God for the growth of his Kingdom especially where there is persecution. Research the countries where Christians are persecuted today and pray for them.
- Using a map of Galilee in the time of Jesus, locate both Nazareth and Capernaum and notice where Tiberias is. Why do you think Jesus chose to base himself at Capernaum?
- The Kingdom of God is an important topic in the Gospels. What you understand about the Kingdom