Jesus' Movement Begins in Galilee"
a sermon based upon Matthew 4:12-17
I thank Rev. Gene Bacon for serving as our Reader this morning (on short notice) and quote again how today’s text began: "Now, when Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, he went and dwelt in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali… the land toward the sea, across the Jordan [which the prophet Isaiah called] Galilee of the Gentiles."
It’s my intent to "unpack" that opening description in the course of this morning’s sermon (Galilee, Nazareth, Capernaum, the territory formerly allocated to the tribes of Zebulun & Naphtali – the land toward the sea and across the Jordan), but first notice the tension! Out of the blue, John the Baptist had been arrested!
Jesus had publicly associated himself with the Baptist’s movement when he was baptized by John in the Jordan River. Following the arrest of John by King Herod Antipas, Jesus has to decide whether to remain in the shadows, safe from the prying eyes of government informers, or to boldly take up the cause.
When Jesus heard that John the Baptist, his cousin and his partner in the early Gospel movement, had been arrested by King Herod... (Matthew tells us)… Jesus withdrew to Galilee.
"Withdrew to Galilee?" That sounds like a retreat, doesn’t it? "Withdrew..." It sounds like a turtle pulling its head back under the shell for protection.
Somehow, the Jesus whom we saw (just last Sunday) wrestling with the devil about the future direction of his ministry doesn’t strike me as a "withdrawing" (retreating) individual ... not even when King Herod is on the warpath against John the Baptist and his Gospel movement. Surely, Jesus wouldn’t start his public ministry by advancing to the rear! (?) Yet Matthew tells us that "He withdrew..."
"...to Galilee." Okay, so he’s headed for home. But where is Jesus withdrawing from? Where has he been up ’til now?
Thus far in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had been (A) born in Bethlehem in Judea (Chapter 2: verse 1), had spent his first few years (B) as a refugee in Egypt (2:14) fleeing from King Herod the Great, and then (C) Jesus settled with his parents (Joseph & Mary) in the city of Nazareth in Galilee (2:23). … Obviously, then, since Jesus is technically a Galilean, what does it mean to say that He "withdrew to Galilee?" Where’s he coming from?
Well, two weeks ago, when we read about Jesus’ baptism, it meant that Jesus had left his Nazareth home to go downstate – out of the upper Galilee region to join John at the River Jordan. (I hope you read my little overview of the topography of the Jordan River like I shared with the children using my 1897 map.)