Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the name of Jesus, who brought light to the darkness – dear disciples:
We have come to expect it in the season of Epiphany. After all this is the time of the church year in which we focus on Jesus revealing himself as the promised Savior. So we expect to see great things. We expect to hear the story of wise men following a star, of the Spirit descending on Jesus in the form of a dove, of Jesus turning water into wine, or of the many other miracles Jesus performed. But then we hear today’s Gospel. There is a minor mention of healing, but the main emphasis is on the fulfillment of prophecy and on Jesus’ preaching. Preaching – simple, every day speech – nothing flashy, nothing too impressive, really. We might even dare to suggest it is boring. Friends, listen to the words! Recall that God has revealed and continues to reveal himself primarily through preaching. So today we learn: Jesus reveals himself by preaching!
We tend to be quite impressed with Jesus’ miracles and the extraordinary things that happened as Jesus did his teaching and preaching. Things that demonstrated he was the Christ and things that verified that his teaching was different – it had authority. Equally impressive is this account from Matthew’s Gospel. When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali – to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: “Land of Zebulun and Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
What’s so impressive about this? Consider God’s perfect timing of things. When John the Baptist is silenced by imprisonment, Jesus begins his public preaching. Jesus took his preaching to people, who had not heard it. He proclaimed the same message as John, but now it was time for Jesus to reveal himself to the sinners he came to save. But it isn’t only the impeccable timing of God that impresses us. The fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies is every bit as impressive as any miracle. These two impressive facts point out to us that God had the salvation of the world planned out from eternity. Now he was carrying out the heart of that saving plan. What an incredible God we have – one who planned out our salvation to the smallest detail!
So Jesus reveals himself as the one whose way John was preparing and as the one who came in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. He revealed himself by proclaiming the message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Everything is about this message. This is the heart of Jesus’ mission and Jesus’ ministry. He says to us, as John had proclaimed, “Repent!” Whenever the Church has begun to stray away from the teaching of our triune God, this is the reforming, wake-up call that must be sounded. So in the midst of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law teaching a salvation by means of keeping their rules and regulations – the clear trumpet call of God is sounded – Repent! In the midst of a medieval church teaching penance and indulgences, a pay as you go system of salvation – the clear trumpet call of God is sounded – “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, in saying, “Repent,” intended that the whole life of believers should be a life of repentance.” So today, we need to hear preaching that urges us to repent. In this message Jesus condemns us for our sin. He points out our need for his salvation – salvation that is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The reason Jesus gives for repenting is that the kingdom of heaven is near. There will come a time when we will stand before Jesus as the righteous Judge. That will come at the end of time or at the end of our time. All this reminds us that our life in this world will come to an end. Perhaps this is the area we most need to hear and head the call to repentance. Luther put his finger on a weakness we all face because of our sinful flesh. He wrote: This is correctly taught, but not easily learned; rightly preached, but not so soon believed; correctly impressed upon the heart, but not easily followed; well said, but poorly practiced . . . Were we to confess the truth, we would have to admit that we seldom think of the fact that we must depart and leave this life; and for that reason our mind is not constantly set on our eternal home. . . Whoever does not direct and prepare his heart for yonder imperishable life, but continues to cling only to this temporal, perishable life, does not understand what Baptism, Gospel, Christ, faith, mean. We have not been baptized unto this life . . . As soon as the child is baptized . . . he is from that hour dedicated unto eternal life, so that henceforth throughout his life he is only a pilgrim and stranger in this world, prepared and ready to leave this temporal life, always hoping and looking for the life to come. Recall, dear friends, our citizenship is in heaven. Through faith in Christ we have eternal life. We need to stop clinging to this life and the things of this life as if this is all we have. We need to recognize a deep need we all have to grow in our faith and our focus on the heaven Jesus has won for us. Sin still clings to us. What I know and confess, I struggle to apply. I know I am a stranger here, and yet I live as if my only citizenship were here on earth. I long for heaven and boldly confess to others, “I can’t wait to get there. But then under my breath I say, “But not now, Lord.” So the call to repent applies to each of us here today. We are sinners. We need Jesus. The good news is that he has come to set us free from sin, death, and Satan. We are forgiven. In this forgiveness, we live to praise him. In this forgiveness, we look forward to the goal of our faith – eternal life. In this forgiveness, we strive to walk the walk.
That is the other part of Jesus’ revealing himself through preaching. It is an invitation to follow. A call to follow him into death, to follow him out of the grave, and to follow him to heaven itself! This truly is an awesome invitation!
In this account the invitation goes like this: As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
The invitation is a powerful one for it is the gospel. As such it gives people the ability to do what it asks them to do. Did you catch the noble task Jesus would perform with these men? He would take these fishermen and make them fishers of men. He would use them to issue the follow me invitation to many other people. Jesus continues to do that today through us. Some he calls into fulltime service in the church, others he places in other vocations so that they can witness to the people around them at work, school, or wherever. What a great privilege Christ gives us – to spread the news about the heaven he has won!
Matthew closes this account by informing us: Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. So the Word was taught and proclaimed. The message was backed up and verified by the healing of the people. This healing not only served to show that the teaching was from God, but also gave the people a glimpse of the heaven that Jesus came to win. For we too can look forward to having perfect bodies when we are with Jesus in heaven!
What amazing preaching! It calls us to account for our sins, leads us to repent, and shows us our forgiving Savior. It also calls us to proclaim the good news! Lord, help us to share the good news of forgiveness and heaven with everyone! Amen.