Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 16, 2014
Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
— Matthew 4:12-17, ESV
What words would you use to describe the ministry of Jesus Christ? Matthew chose his carefully as his Gospel unfolds from the birth to the baptism to the temptation to the beginning of the ministry of our Lord and Savior. Joseph had protected Him, John the Baptist had paved the way for Him, but now it is up to Jesus to make a name for Himself by conducting a public ministry carried out on His own terms. And the terms I would use to describe it are: prophetic, symbolic, and homiletic.
One of the key motifs of Matthew’s Gospel is Jesus’ fulfillment of biblical prophecy. About a dozen or so times, he describes some event or action in Jesus’ life as something that “fulfilled” what was written in the Old Testament. His intent was to lead Jewish people, and all people, to place their faith and trust in God, God’s word, and God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
Scholars differ a bit on the exact number of Old Testament prophecies that are fulfilled by the New Testament ministry of Jesus Christ. But there are a bunch of them. Everything from Jesus’ birth to details about His public ministry to graphic pictures of His death are foretold in the prophetic pages of Holy Scripture.
Our text at hand tells of the prophet Isaiah’s prediction (ref. Isaiah 9:1-2) that the virgin born, God incarnate Messiah would minister in the relatively obscure environs of Galilee, a region formerly occupied by two of the twelve tribes of Israel, Zebulun and Naphtali. This did not fit with the prevailing religious and cultural views of the Messiah, but it fit perfectly with the prophetic word of God.
Most religions lead most people astray and away from God. Most of the modern cultural opinions on morality and mortality are wrong. The only source for sure answers to the questions of this life and the life to come is the perfect and prophetic word of God, so much of which is retained and recorded in Holy Scripture, the Bible.
Jesus prophetically fulfilled the Bible, staked His life and prophetic ministry upon it, and commends it to you today, not for your curiosity, but for your faithful obedience. The Bible is not a book to be thumped upon other people’s heads. The Bible is not a story book with overly simplistic formulas for today’s complex life. The Bible is a prophetic book in which God speaks, loves, and leads you into a life that is pleasing to Him and honorable to yourself and others. So follow Jesus, the Prophet with the prophetic ministry.
And follow Jesus, the Master of symbolism. As “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” Jesus fulfilled all of the symbolic sacrifices of Old Covenant religion. As the Master Rabbi/Teacher, Jesus preached in parables that were pregnant with symbolic meanings about the citizens and King of the Kingdom of God. And as the Author and Finisher of the Christian faith, Christ has crowned our faith with an abundant supply of symbols, including the cross, candles, baptismal waters, bread and wine.
One of the greatest symbols Christ fulfilled and used in His ministry was “light.” In the words of Old Testament prophet Isaiah, the New Testament Jesus is and gives a “great light” that conquers darkness and death. Jesus even called Himself, and His followers, the “light of the world.” Why is “light” such a strong symbol of the Savior and the saved?
Light is a symbol of hope. Capernaum and the other towns in Galilee represented a region without much hope. The economy was poor, religion was cold, and if anything outstanding was going to happen in the world, it would be in Judea or Italy or maybe Spain, but certainly not in Galilee. Then, into this darkness walks the Lord Jesus Christ. He came to bring light, symbolizing hope, into their world and ours. Just as nature teaches us that the dark night is followed by day, depression and discouragement can be conquered by hope, especially if that hope is in Jesus Christ.
Light is a symbol of truth. The religious rulers of Jesus’ day were doing it wrong. They were twisting the covenant of God and turning into a means of making rules and money. True teaching was hardly heard, true worship was hardly practiced, and truth itself was as hard to find as a Gentile in the synagogue. Then, into the darkness of error and relativity, in walks the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the truth. He tells the truth. He shines the light on the darkness in our souls and exposes our sin and need of salvation. The light can dawn in your life, forever, if the source of that light is Jesus Christ.
Light is a symbol of salvation, the saved, and our Savior. Salvation is not by works, but by the light of grace. Saved people don’t earn their way to Heaven, the follow the enlightened path of faith. Our Savior did not come to complicate the covenant of God with a litany of laborious legislation, but to light the way of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And that light began to shine, brilliantly and biblically, in Galilee.
The light of Christ chases away our darkness, discouragement, and death. Remember this every day the sun rises. Remember this every time you light a candle. Cherish the symbolism and realism of Jesus Christ as the light of your life.
The prophecies of Scripture and the light of salvation come together in the preaching of Jesus Christ. I use the term “homiletic” because it refers to the study of preaching, the preaching of Jesus and the preaching of those who preach about Jesus. And certainly, no one preached Jesus better than Jesus Himself.
Preaching has fallen on hard times in our day. Most pastors, frankly, don’t even try to do it anymore. Most people don’t want to be preached at, anyway. Preaching has become synonymous with judging, and we live in a world that decidedly does not want to, and in some ways does not need to, be judged.
But the always biblical and sometimes symbolic ministry of Jesus Christ was a homiletical, a preaching, ministry. He came ultimately for the atonement with God that His death and resurrection brings, but all along the way, He preached. “From that time Jesus began to preach” is constructed in such a way as to tell us that Jesus preached from the beginning to the end of His public ministry on earth.
We need to recapture the priority of preaching in the life of Christ and Christianity. Preaching is the God-ordained means of explaining the gospel of salvation and instructing saved people how to live a God-centered life. It is sad to see so many churches today turning away from preaching altogether, or using alternative forms of electronic and entertainment ministries rather than the personal preaching of the word of God. If Jesus came to this church or any church, He would preach.
We need to analyze the key components of preaching in the life of Christ and Christianity. Jesus was always biblical in His preaching, often symbolic, and cuttingly clear. Repentance was always a leading theme. Faith was always implicit if not explicit. And the purpose of repentance and faith was to put people into the “kingdom of heaven (God).” Repentance is a grace that makes a profound change in one’s mind, heart, and soul, a turning away from sin and self to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Faith is a grace that rests in Christ and Christ alone to free us from the penalty, power, and ultimately the presence of sin and death. And, the kingdom of God exists in anyone, any people, and any place where God is king, where Jesus Christ is Lord!
We need to listen and obey the message of the preaching of Christ and Christianity. Preaching, even the preaching of Jesus, is useless to you unless you hear it. Furthermore, hearing it is also useless, unless you heed it. Are you one of the masses of unrepentant, lost people or superficial Christians? Has faith lodged itself in your heart and soul, not just your mind? Is Jesus Christ truly the Lord of your home, hobbies, habits, and entire life?
Repent and believe in God’s Son, for He perfectly and prophetically fulfills God’s word. Find a candle and a cross, and come to the light of salvation through the finished work of Jesus Christ. Believe this preached message about the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, and follow Him into whatever ministry He calls you to, ministry on Jesus’ terms.