Where You Might Not Expect - Matthew 4:12–25
No one likes to waste their time or money. So when you make some kind of investment, you do so where you believe there will be a good chance of return. There are certain criteria for determining if something is a good investment.
You can look at similar investments and ask, “Could what happened there happen here?” You can ask, “Are the conditions favorable?” And that is smart. No one would fault you for it. But when we think about investing ourselves in the extending of God’s kingdom, whether through prayer, or time, or through money or some other kind of giving, we can start to think about it as we would any other kind of investment. We can size up people and places to determine if the place is a lost cause or if a person is a hopeless case.
And so people or places are quickly written off as unreachable and the effort to extend God’s kingdom is labeled a waste of time. Why do we do this? Well, we assume that we can predict where God is willing or able to work. However, the Scriptures demonstrate, and history proves, that God doesn’t operate according to human predictions and expectations. In fact, often the opposite is true. He glorifies himself where we might not expect.
And since he does this, we should look for God to do things to extend his kingdom and glorify his name in unexpected places. But what kinds of things does God do where we might not expect?
On page 6 in the worship guide, as usual, you’ll notice an outline of three things in Matthew 4:
1. God shines his light,
2. gathers his leaders,
3. and showers his blessings.
Also, notice the maps there. Geography is very important to Matthew here, so I included, for the first time ever, maps.
Now first, we see God shining his light in unexpected places.
If we compare this part of Matthew with the gospel of John, a little further in the New Testament, it’s clear that Matthew skips time after the wilderness testing of Jesus. Some scholars think as much as a year could have passed between chapter 4, verse 11 and 12. Evidently the time in which Jesus and John the Baptist overlapped in their ministries was something of a time of preparation for Jesus and for those around him. But Matthew is concerned, not with that, but with this new season of Jesus’ ministry. In fact we see this as the formal beginning of Jesus’ ministry, not in Judea but in Galilee. Notice the map printed there. On the bottom map, Judea is in the south, and then Samaria above that, and then Galilee. The area of Judea had the Dead Sea, and up in Galilee they had the Sea of Galilee, and the Jordan River runs north-south between those two regions.
Jesus was baptized somewhere slightly north of the Dead Sea in Judea along the Jordan River. In the first three chapters of John, we learn that Jesus went to north to Galilee, where is was originally from, then came back to Jerusalem, and now he is prompted to go again up to Galilee. There was about 75 miles between them. At this point, John the Baptist fades into the background, just as he said he would. Verse 12 says he was arrested, and he would not be released, but would be put to death. Luke 3 tells us that John was arrested for calling out king Herod’s evil behavior. And Matthew writes that because of the arrest, Jesus, “withdrew into Galilee.” John 4 says Jesus was gaining popularity and the Jewish religious leaders were taking notice.
It was not yet Jesus’ time to be arrested and to die. So he went to Nazareth, his hometown, but Luke 4 tells us they rejected him. And so verse  says he left Nazareth, and “went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali.” All of this is the region of Galilee. This territory was formerly part of the Promised Land. Notice the top map in the worship guide, identifying the land allotted to each of the 12 tribes of Israel, formerly called Jacob. Back when the 12 tribes were assigned their portions in the Promised Land, two of Jacob’s sons, Zebulun and Naphtali, received land in the north. That northern land fell into idolatry years later and was the first to be hit by foreign invaders. Old Testament prophecy said the judgment of God was going to come from the north. The Assyrians came from the north and hit this area first, hitting them hard. That was long ago, and at this point Rome is in power. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali is now called Galilee. And the people of that area were despised by the Judeans. It was seen as a hopeless place. But it’s where Nazareth is (Jesus’ home), it’s where Capernaum is located where he went to live. Also Cana is up there, where Jesus turned water to wine. The apostle John records examples of skepticism that anything good could come from there.
But Matthew wants first century Jews to see, and God wants us to see, that God works in hopeless places. God’s plan was always for the nations, even though the Psalms and other parts of the Old Testament acknowledge that the nations were evil.
God’s plan was that the nations would see his glory through Israel. This is how we should understand Exodus 19, where God instructs Moses to tell the people:  if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;  and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
God set them apart to glorify him and fulfill his promise that Abraham would have an offspring, and from that offspring, all families of the earth would be blessed. Israel was redeemed to be a blessing and a light, but they failed to be. However, Matthew shows us that Jesus Christ is that true Israel, that true blessing and light. We read earlier in Isaiah 49 that the suffering servant was to be a light to the nations. By going again to Galilee to do what he is about to do, Jesus fulfilled the words of Isaiah 9.
Look at Verse , the prophet Isaiah wrote, “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.”
Jesus’ decision to go to Galilee did not derail God’s plans. It fulfilled them. It only looks like Jesus went to Galilee due to unforeseen circumstances. His light would shine in this inferior and unimportant place, a place without the “pure” customs and practices of Jewish religion. It was hopeless up there in Galilee, but not when true Israel shines his light. Verse  “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This is the message John had been preaching. But Jesus is saying it outside of Judea. The kingdom of God is spreading.
Matthew 9 says that on one occasion Jesus was eating with tax collectors and sinners, sort of a catch-all phrase for hopeless cases and despicable people. When the religious leaders saw this, they said to Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when (Jesus) heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick…I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Right before that, Jesus had called a despised Jewish tax collector to follow him. That person was Matthew, who wrote this gospel. Matthew wrote that Christ came shining light into the darkness, because Christ had shone his light in Matthew’s own darkness.
Who have you written off or given up on? I’ve heard story after story of God shining his light in unexpected places and seemingly hopeless people coming to faith in Jesus. Perhaps you have also. Are you willing to pray, talk about Jesus, telling people how he shined in your darkness? Are you willing to even look foolish for the sake of Jesus?
Also, God gathers his leaders in unexpected places.
Not only is God bringing people to himself in the darkness of Galilee, he’s also choosing the leaders of the church. Jesus’ closest disciples are from this area. There may alsp be some lapse in time between verse 17 and 18. Verse  says “While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.  And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Jesus would later refer his kingdom with a fishing analogy. In Matthew 13, Jesus says, “the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.” These unlikely men will cast the net by preaching the kingdom.
They answer the call, verse 20 says,  Immediately they left their nets and followed him. John 1 describes them as following him earlier. They likely followed awhile, and then went back to work some more. Some scholars speculate that the miraculous catching of a large number of fish at Jesus’ direction (described in Luke 5) may have preceded this, but Matthew did not include that event because it wasn’t essential to the point he’s making.
Clearly, where Jesus found these leaders is the point. Look also at verse  “And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.  Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”
They were in a good-sized boat, big enough for many people. Mark 1 says this boat also contained hired servants. Contrary to what is sometimes implied, they weren’t poor. They were not religious scribes or teachers, but they did have livelihoods. In fact, Peter says they gave up much to follow Jesus. And it is interesting that Jesus calls fishermen. In Jeremiah 16, as God describes how he will send his people into exile, Jeremiah writes,  “Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the LORD, and they shall catch them.” The fishers were the Babylonians – the invaders, catching the people and taking them away. But now the net will be cast not to banish people, but to save them.
When companies get into difficulty, often they change the leadership. I enjoy a reality TV show called “The Profit,” where Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World and some other companies, goes into a struggling company with potential, buys half the company, and then makes them organized and profitable. It’s amazing how experienced, knowledgeable leadership can accomplish so much. In fact, when we first began to plant Good Shepherd, we had a dear couple who were part of our fellowship and the husband specialized in “fixing” companies. Owners would bring him in to turn things around and make the company profitable. He did it for a company here and then another company came calling, and they moved on. But imagine you work for a company that needs strong leadership, and the man in charge says,“I’m bringing in new leaders.” So you reply, “Great, what are their credentials.” And the owner says, “Well, none really. They haven’t actually done any of this before.”
Your confidence might not be so high. But it’s not unlike God to find a man and prepare him for a role that neither the man himself or others around him would have envisioned for him. God doesn’t always choose the man with the stacked resume or distinguished pedigree. There’s no better example than king David, the youngest of his brothers, merely a shepherd boy whom God would use in mighty ways for his glory.
When the prophet Samuel visits the home of Jesse, David’s father, Samuel assumes God’s choice for king was the firstborn Eliab. But God corrects Samuel. 1 Samuel 16,  But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” God’s leader is not always the person we would identify. The Jewish people did not assume that the Messiah would gather his most trusted leaders from the despised region of Galilee, must less out on the fishing boats.
Who do you think is the man qualified to be a leader of God’s people? Is it the most exciting communicator with the most dynamic personality? Is it the man with the most impressive resume? Is it the best looking man? Or is the man who demonstrates humility, love, submission to the LORD, who relies on the Word and the Spirit for God’s kingdom work, the man in whom God has developed the heart of a shepherd? Jesus saw that it was these men, whom he would gather from Galilee and other unexpected places, who would, after training and testing, be the right men to lead the church.
And finally, God showers his blessings in unexpected places.
This last section of the passage quickly summarizes things Jesus was doing, but also is intentional to point out where he did those things. Verse , And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. When we read this in the present day, the geography kind of fades into the background, because it means very little to us. We’re most interested in the miracles. A common question is “Did that really happen?” We see Jesus doing this, and later the apostles do it. What was the purpose of that? Why don’t ministers do this today? The prophet Isaiah said that these miraculous healings would signify the coming of the Messiah. They set Jesus apart from previous men who claimed to be the Messiah. The apostles performed miracles to show the passing of the baton from Jesus to them, and their authority to establish the church through their preaching, church planting and writing.
Starting next week, Matthew gives us a sample of Jesus’ teaching and preaching. These verses set the table for that. Now “synagogues” were buildings for Jewish worship where they gathered to pray and hear the Scriptures read and taught. But Jesus’ teaching is different in that the Scriptures point to him. He explained the meaning of various Old Testament Scriptures in light of his coming into the world. And he proclaimed the “euangelion” or “gospel.” This was their word for “good news,” where we get our word “evangelism.” It was the good news “of the kingdom.”
To Jews and all who worshipped the covenant God of Israel, this meant more than simply “God reign as king.” They were waiting for what we understand to be the Davidic kingdom. In 2 Samuel 7, Yahweh made a covenant with king David that one of his descendants would sit on the throne forever - an eternal king with an eternal kingdom. The healings, and the teaching and preaching made it clear, or at least it should have, that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, was the authentic King. He was both a conquering King and a Suffering Servant. And so, verse , “his fame spread throughout all Syria,” meaning beyond the borders of Israel. And they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains,those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them.  And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
Matthew’s emphasizes the places. Notice the map again. People from everywhere are responding to Jesus. Jesus is showering the blessings of God on all people, not because they deserve it, not because of where they are from or how likely they are to receive him, but because of his undeserved favor – his grace. Here was the one who had power over evil, over the physical body - the eternal king, the Messiah - and he’s showering them with blessings.
Think of the blessing for the church in the present day: the blessing of his Word, of daily individual communion with him, of worship on the Lord’s Day, of family worship in the home, of the fellowship of believers by the power of the Holy Spirit, of our hope in prayer, of seeing God expand his kingdom in the lives of people.
We should look for God to pour out his blessings. Do you believe that God would shower blessings in unexpected places, for people to be unexpectedly convicted of sin, for people to unexpectedly change? Would you pray for this?
All sermons are personal to the preacher. But this one is especially personal to me because I see myself as one on whom God’s light has shone unexpectedly, and also as a leader gathered from an unexpected place, and in addition, one who has received so many of God’s blessings unexpectedly. Actually, all of us are in the same position, that if you go back generations, who would have known we would be so blessed to know God and bring him glory? As we go to the table today, we worship the one who brought us to God. Let’s pray.