Matthew 4:12-20 - The beginning of Jesus’ Ministry

A Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, 14 Nov. 2010


12. And after hearing that John was delivered over, He retreated into Galilee.

13. And after leaving Nazareth, Jesus came to reside in Capernaum in the seaside areas of Zebulon and Naphtali.

14. In order that the word through Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled saying,

15. “Land of Zebulon and land of Naphtali,
      way of the sea, alongside the Jordan,
      Galilee of the ethnicities,

16. the people sitting in darkness saw a great light,
and for those who are sitting in the boondocks of the shadow of death, light rose for them.

17. From then on, Jesus began to preach and to say,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near.”

18. And as He was walking around along the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon (the one called Peter) and Andrew (his brother), throwing a cast-net into the sea, for they were fishermen.

19. And He says to them, “Be here behind me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

20. And immediately letting go of the nets, they followed Him.

1. Jesus’ First ministry projects

John gives much more detail of the 1st year of Christ’s earthly ministry (ATR’s harmony of gospels):

         Just days after His baptism, Jesus visits John the Baptizer in Bethany, and John identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God to his disciples (John 1:27-36)

         Two of John’s disciples (Andrew & John) follow Jesus home (John 1:37-40) (to Nazareth? Nazareth was about as far off the beaten path as you could get if you wanted to be off the radar of the powers in Jerusalem, and this may have been why Joseph settled the family there. ~Beitzel)

         Andrew introduces his brother Simon to Jesus, and Jesus names him Peter. (John 1:41-42)

         Jesus goes to Galilee (Bethsaida?) and calls Phillip to follow him. Phillip introduces Nathanael to Jesus. (John 1:43-51)

         Jesus goes to a family wedding in Cana and turns water to wine. Disciples believe on him. (John 2:1-11)

         Jesus goes to Capernaum with His mom and siblings and disciples for a brief time. (John 2:12) Perhaps to settle His mom and siblings there. Jesus as oldest son taking care of family – Joseph isn’t mentioned as being alive anymore.

         Jesus goes up to Jerusalem for Passover and cleanses the temple [ATR argues that this is separate from the temple-cleansing during the passion week], prophesies of His death and resurrection, and  meets with Nicodemus (John 2:13-3:21)

         Jesus and disciples move to Judea. Jesus baptizes His disciples.
Meanwhile John the Baptizer has moved to Enon near Salim, continuing his baptisms and continuing to bear witness that Jesus is the Messiah. (John 3:22-36)

         When Jesus’ disciples had baptized more followers than John, He moved back to Galilee. (John 4:1-4) Political tensions appear to be the reason:

§         Herod imprisoned John for criticizing him for stealing his brother, Phillip’s wife, Herodias
John would be in prison in Machaerus for a little over a year (ATR).

§         and the Pharisees are mentioned in John 4:1. Perhaps they felt threatened by the growth of Jesus’ influence (and clearing of the temple)

         So this is the setting for Matt. 4:12 – “And after hearing that John was delivered over/arrested/taken into custody/imprisoned, He [Jesus] retreated/ departed/ withdrew [lit. “went up into the countryside”] into Galilee.”

         John 4:4 tells us that Jesus passed through Samaria on the way to Galilee, and had the encounter with the Samaritan woman there.

         Two days later He completed the journey to Galilee and lodged in Cana, where he did his second miracle of healing the son of the nobleman from Capernaum from a distance. (John 4:43-54) I wonder if Jesus’ mom put the nobleman up to it?

         Luke 4:16ff tells us of Jesus going to the synagogue in Nazareth. He was run out of town because He was doing miracles for Gentiles but wouldn’t do a miracle in His hometown.

         This is probably the context for Matt. 4:13. “And after leaving Nazareth, Jesus came to reside/settled/dwelt/lived in Capernaum in the seaside areas of Zebulon and Naphtali.”

         Capernaum = “village of Nahum” is the modern Tel Hum:

§         a large town at the Northern end of the Sea of Galilee, a center of a political and commercial life for the Galilean region.

§         No evidence of a local synagogue at this time appears in archaeological literature, although an impressive synagogue was built there later on.

§         Jesus may have chosen this place because it was an international crossroads, with a major highway going through it, linking Egypt and Israel to Syria, Rome, and Persia.

§         News in this town would quickly spread to the entire known world!

§         Also, with a more cosmopolitan population, there would be less traditional religious resistance to the good news.

2. The Fulfillment of prophecy

14. In order that the word through Isaiah [9:1-2-MT] the prophet might be fulfilled saying,

15. “Land of Zebulon and land of Naphtali... [Point out that this is around Nazareth and Capernaum. Ellipsis leaves out “and the rest He will glorify”] way of the sea [of Chinnereth/ Galilee], alongside [MT, NASB, ESV=beyond] the Jordan, Galilee of the ethnicities/Gentiles

         “Galilee… [was] inhabited by a mixed race of Jews and Gentiles of the bordering Phoenician race (Jdg_1:30; 1Ki_9:11)… It had been [conquered] by Ben-hadad of Syria, two hundred years before [Isaiah’s time] (1Ki_15:20). It was after the Assyrian deportation [under Tiglath Pilezar] colonized with heathens, by Esar-haddon (2Ki_17:24). Hence arose the contempt for it on the part of the southern Jews of purer blood (Joh_1:46; 7:52). The same region which was so darkened once, shall be among the first to receive Messiah’s light…” (JFB’s commentary on Isa 9).


16. the people sitting/dwelling/living [MT & LXX=walking, so this is a loose quote. Does Asian context of sitting in judgment and singular laos – as in the particular people group of Israel - indicate lostness of Pharisees and Sadducees who “sat in the seat of Moses” yet had no understanding of God’s salvation?] in darkness saw a great light, and for those who are sitting [This follows the MT=sitting, rather than the LXX=putting a house down] in the boondocks of the shadow of death, [Greek here is the word for a rural area, not a populated town, although it could be used to indicate a region, and the MT=land, generic so we shouldn’t go overboard with the nuance of the Greek.] light rose/dawned [LXX=will shine] for them.


         What’s it like to sit in darkness?

§         Lonely, scary, unfamiliar

         What’s it like to sit in the shadow of death?

§         Depressing, knowing death is just around the corner, just waiting to die.
No hope of anything more powerful than the power of death. Dread.


Context of the prophecy: from Isaiah 9

         Prophecy of the coming of Christ after the Assyrian and Babylonian captivity.

         4 verses later Isaiah proclaims, “Unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given, and the government is on His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of His empire’s increase and of peace there will be no end…”

         Isaiah prophecies that this Messiah will bring growth to a new kingdom, an increase in joy, breaking the rod of the oppressor, and a peace that spells the end  of the need for battle gear.

         Jesus did this spiritually by breaking the power of sin, death, and the devil through His own death and resurrection.

         Now, can you see why Jesus, after John was imprisoned, took up John’s same message?

17. From then on, Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near [is at hand].” Same as John’s message in 3:2! Mark adds “and believe the Gospel.”


QUESTION: How could there be a “Gospel” before Jesus died and rose again?
ANSWER: Because it was always God’s plan to save those who repent of their sin against God and believe in God’s salvation. Isaiah (52) had already prophesied of the Messiah who would take the “punishment for our peace… and… healing.” Those who believed that God would send the Messiah as a savior were saved in anticipation of what Jesus would do, and it was just as much good news to them as it is good news to us who look back at Jesus in history and believe on Him to save us.

3. Jesus calls Peter and Andrew

18. And as He [Jesus] was walking around along the sea of Galilee [really just a lake – about the size of Milford – or about the same length as Tuttle but 5x wider – but Greek and Hebrew don’t distinguish lakes from seas], He saw two brothers, Simon (the one called Peter) and Andrew (his brother), throwing a cast-net into the sea [amphi + ballw = “two-handed throw” net? or Net that “encircles” the fish?], for they were fishermen [Greek word is actually “salt”/ “halite” cf. Jonah who called the sailors “salty”].


Context of the call from Luke 5:

         Jesus is teaching beside the lake, borrows Peter’s boat and continues preaching,

         Jesus finishes teaching and instructs Peter where to go fishing; Peter gets super catch,

         Peter confesses His sin and worships Jesus,


19. And He says to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

20. And immediately letting go of the nets, they followed Him. [Luke adds that they brought their boats to land and left them too.]

o       The word “left” literally means “let go of” – Is our respect for Jesus so great that we would drop whatever we’re doing immediately? Would we even leave our jobs and all the tools we have bought?

o       It is unusual for God to call someone to abandon their vocation, however. It is not more spiritual to be a preacher than to be a professional. We can make disciples in any trade.

o       If we truly believe the prophecy of Isaiah 9, we will live lives ready to drop everything when Jesus returns!

o       “follow Me” is lit. “be here behind me” – You can’t follow someone if you’re walking out ahead of them. (Illustration of daughters pulling me along in the mall when they didn’t know where the store was!) Are we walking behind Jesus or getting ahead of Him?

o       “I will make” – not a subjunctive wish, but an authoritative view of the future. “This is what I’m going to do; make fishers of men out of you.”

o       Perhaps an allusion to Jer. 16:16, where God speaks of sending fishermen (in part) to find & gather in all the captives from the Babylonian captivity and bring them back into a blessed relationship with God. In other words, God uses the means of human servants to accomplish His plan of reaching out to everyone He loves and calling them into eternal life.


1. Jesus calls us to follow Him, and He calls us to call others:

A.    Will we follow immediately? Follow the still, small voice when the Holy Spirit:

         is nudging your conscience to stop you from doing something wrong

         or encouraging you to do what you ought to do,

         or challenging you to do something for God’s glory you’ve never done before.

B.     One of those things He might challenge us to do it to call other people to faith in Christ. The blessings of God must not stop with us; we must spread the good news!


2. Jesus must be our light:

A.    Don’t be fooled by any other person or thing on this earth that promises to enlighten you! Don’t look for light anywhere else but the Word of God!

B.     He is the only one who can free us from bondage to other people, bondage to our own flesh, and bondage to the devil.

C.     “He offers us salvation in order that we may turn to Him & live to righteousness.” (Calvin)


3. Follow Jesus’ example of a strategic and fruitful life:

A.    Settling in Capernaum: How can we position ourselves so that our message will encounter least resistance and travel the farthest throughout the world?

B.     Visiting Nazareth and Cana and settling family in Capernaum: Seek to be a blessing to your family. Jesus was taking care of his Mom and younger siblings. Don’t avoid challenging family relationships; give them a chance. (You may not be respected though.)

C.     Going through Samaria: Don’t avoid those who are very different. They need God’s good news too.

D.    Moving to Judea, then Leaving Judea and retreating to Galilee:

         There may be times you have to move in order to take advantage of opportunities God gives you, but don’t be a controversialist.

         The kingdom of God is about peace, not about being flamboyant and drawing attention to yourself.

         Jesus knew it wasn’t His time yet, so He didn’t stay in Jerusalem and go out in a blaze of glory that first year.

         John, on the other hand, had fulfilled his ministry and could afford to speak our boldly against sin and get himself thrown in prison.

E.     Going to Passover at temple and to synagogue on Sabbath: Jesus associated formally with the people of God in their regular worship meetings.

F.      Making disciples!