Sermon for Sunday January 22nd, 2017, the Third Sunday after Epiphany
The Lessons: Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-13; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23
Topic: Called to follow the Lord Jesus Christ
The Lord Jesus began his ministry in Capernaum in Galilee, a larger town than Nazareth, and more densely populated with Gentiles than Jews. It was a fishing center on the shores of Lake Galilee. It also lay on the “way of the sea,” an ancient trade route from Damascus down to Gaza. Capernaum lay on a road built by the Romans to Caesarea, and the port also provided access by boat to every other city along the coast of the Sea of Galilee. Being on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum lay in the land that had been allocated to the tribe of Naphtali. The prophecy of Isaiah is applicable in that the land of Zebulun had bordered that of Naphtali on the southwest, and Galilee in the first century A.D. included the lands allotted to both Zebulun and Naphtali. At that time, more than half the population of Galilee was non-Jewish in origin. The beginning of Jesus’ ministry is seen as having been prophesied by Isaiah in 9:1-2 [a passage which forms part of our first Lesson today].
MATTHEW 4:12-23: THE CALL TO REPENT
The prophecy is significant because it looks forward to the preaching of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to all the nations of the world, and it views this as a period of enlightenment, when the life-giving light of God shines upon people who lived in the realm of darkness, that is, ignorance of God and bondage to sin. The prophecy implies that the lives of the inhabitants of Galilee would be changed dramatically for the good because of the preaching of the Messiah.
St. Matthew the Evangelist passes at once from the application of this prophecy to the beginning of Jesus’ preaching. How does the dramatic change of life and perception as forecast in the prophecy of Isaiah happen as a result of the preaching of Jesus? St. John the Baptist had preached repentance in view of the kingdom of heaven’s being at hand, but John was now in prison for his testimony. So Jesus Christ begins his preaching with the same message as St. John the Baptist’s, for the message still needed to be heard and obeyed in Galilee, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
An illustration of repentance comes from this account of a missionary visiting a village in the Madras Diocese:
“I once visited a village in the Madras Diocese. There was no road into the village; you reached it by crossing a river, and you could do this either on the south side of the village or the north. The congregation assumed I would come by the southern route, and they had prepared a welcome that only an Indian village can prepare. There were fireworks, music, garlands, fruit and silumbrum (South Indian martial art done on ceremonial occasions) – everything you could imagine.
Unfortunately, I entered the village at the north end and found only a few goats and chickens! Crisis! I had to disappear while word was sent to the assembled congregation, and the entire village did a sort of U-turn to face the other way. Then I duly reappeared.
This is what metanoia means. The reign of God has come near, but you can’t see it because you are looking the wrong way, and expecting the wrong thing. What you think is God isn’t God at all. You have to go through a mental revolution; otherwise the reign of God will be totally hidden from you.”
– Leslie Newbigin: Mission in Christ’s Way (AbeBooks, 2005)
Repentance is a change of heart and mind, a complete about turn from idolatry, selfishness and every form of sin. It implies a change of world view and alignment of our attitude with God’s attitude to ourselves and to all things. It is not just a revolution in thinking, but it must be expressed in a new, godly and righteous way of life. To repent means also to follow Jesus Christ as the first Apostles, Peter, Andrew, James and John, soon found out. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” (Matt. 4:19, KJV) is a radical call. These disciples had to leave the fishing trade, which was their source of income, and follow Jesus. This implied being more concerned about God’s will than they had been about earning an income from fishing and selling their fish. Later, they would become fishers of men by being preachers of the Gospel, but at that stage this was no guaranteed source of income. Together with repentance, therefore, goes faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, faith for his provision for all their needs throughout their lives. But what was their response to Jesus Christ’s call to follow him? In each case, the brothers left their fishing at once and followed Jesus.
Jesus’ call led them to be witnesses to the power of his light and life which first showed itself in his teaching, preaching of the Gospel throughout Galilee, and his healing every kind of sickness and disease among the people (Matt. 4:23). What they witnessed was the transformation of many people’s lives through Jesus’ message of repentance and faith and the works of healing which accompanied it.
The hymn writer Cecil Frances Alexander alluded to this passage in the beautiful words of her hymn “Jesus calls us; o’er the tumult”:
Jesus calls us; o’er the tumult
Of our life’s wild, restless sea,
Day by day his clear voice soundeth,
Saying, “Christian, follow me;”
As, of old, Saint Andrew heard it
By the Galilean lake,
Turned from home and toil and kindred,
Leaving all for his dear sake.
Jesus calls us from the worship
Of the vain world’s golden store;
From each idol that would keep us,
Saying, “Christian, love me more.”
The call of the Lord Jesus Christ to follow him is a radical one – it is not just a call to read the Bible and belong to a church. It is a call to become his disciple, to imitate his loving and righteous way of life, to put our faith in him, to repent, and in so doing, to abandon every closely-clinging sin, such as habitual anger, quick temper, lust, gluttony, jealousy and resentment. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, in which no sin is tolerated, nor any place found for anyone who resolutely continues in any sin (see for example, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:1-6).
The General Confession in our services of Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer and Holy Communion is not a substitute for repentance. It enables us to express our sorrow for sin and our repentance towards God from the sins we have committed, but God sees if we have really turned away from those things. Repentance is a life-long process, since the Holy Spirit will reveal to us more of our sinfulness as life proceeds. This doesn’t mean we can postpone repentance. Repent now, without delay, is the Lord’s call to us. Being a disciple, or follower of Christ, means living life with repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Are you living according to Christ’s call?