This is the final post in a short series on Matthew 1-4. To catch up on the previous entry, click here.
Who did Jesus come for? Who did He want to be most affected by His ministry and work? If you’ve been following along in our journey through Matthew 1-4, you might say He came for the Jewish people. After all, the book opens with the geneology of a prominent Jewish family and features multiple quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s true that Jesus spent most of His time within the nation of Israel, but was that His only focus? Was He aware of how far His legacy would go? I believe He was aware and was intentional about officially starting His earthly ministry. As we close out in Matthew 4:12-25, Jesus is coming off His victory over the devil in the desert and prepping to launch Himself onto the path that will lead to the cross. But within the opening moments of His ministry, Jesus subtly sets a standard that shows He’s not just reaching out to Jews but the whole world.
Getting Settled (v.12-17)
John the Baptist has been arrested for angering King Herod. Jesus hears of this and retreats from the region of Judea to avoid possible arrest. After all, John recently proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah to throngs of people. Jesus plants Himself in the northernmost area of Israel, Galilee. It turns out that this fulfills a prophecy found in Isaiah 9, which predicts a light shining upon that region. The important phrase to note here is one of the titles given to Galilee; it is called Galilee of the Gentiles. This tip of Israel communicated the most with the rest of the world. It was closest to Rome and before then invading armies came through the north first. The original tribes there had been conquered and scattered and Gentiles were brought in to replace them. It is noteworthy that Jesus doesn’t begin preaching in Jerusalem, the heart of Jewish society. Instead He settles in Galilee, closer to a mixed culture.
Getting Followed (v. 18-22)
Teachers in those days didn’t just have pupils, they had disciples. Jesus begins gathering a select group of disciples around Him and He starts with four fishermen. If John 1 provides the first meeting between Jesus and these men (and it seems likely), then this is their official calling. They respond, leaving all behind to join in Jesus’ mission. The way He lays out His intention is by telling two of them, I will make you fishers of men. Notice He leaves the target audience open to men (or humanity) in general, not just Israel. They perhaps thought they were becoming generals of an army and their “fishing” would be more brutal. But they eventually learned that Jesus didn’t come to obliterate the nations; He came to enlarge the scope of who could be considered part of the people of God.
Getting Attention (v. 23-25)
Now Jesus’ ministry kicks into full swing. His preaching and healing draws a crowd. Matthew gives us a good idea of how wide-ranging Jesus’ efforts were reaching. Crowds from neighboring Syria and beyond the Jordan came to be healed and hear Him teach. He was also drawing Jews, but the crowds following behind Him were mixed with other nationalities. Though Matthew seems to be writing for a largely Jewish audience, this paragraph is an emphatic statement that Jesus wasn’t only for the Jews, He was here for the whole world.
The gospel was never meant for just one people group. Jesus’ early ministry shows this. The “God with us” is emerging onto the scene and He’s seeking people of all types. Though many Christians don’t intend to, I think we limit the reach of the gospel. We extend it to those like us but don’t mix in with other cultures, bearing the awkwardness that often accompanies that. But awkward and uncomfortable situations didn’t deter Jesus from reaching out to all, and His Church should be no different. The whole world needs the gospel, and those who believe it must share it with the whole world.