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THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY – JAN 22, 2017
TEXTS: MATTHEW 4:12-25/ISAIAH 9:1-4/1 COR. 1:10—18
WHAT JESUS BEGAN – TO PREACH - HE CONTINUES!
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. From that time Jesus began to preach. It was a dark time! John had been handed over. John – whose own coming was foretold - who announced the Mightier One – who participated with Jesus in fulfilling all righteousness – was arrested and imprisoned. It was a dark time. John had been handed over.


It was considered a dark region. He withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was a region on the other side of the Jordan – far away from Jerusalem and the Temple – Galilee of the Gentiles. At the time of Isaiah it was devastated by the Assyrian army. There was delusion and the refusal to acknowledge that their deepest problem was spiritual and not political. Even in Jesus’ day it was considered a region of darkness – in the shadows – a place of no account. It was the Northern end of the Holy Land – bordering pagan nations – influenced heavily by pagan practices. Of that despised region – what the prophet Isaiah had spoken is now fulfilled – “the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those sitting in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”  Why is this true?  Because - from that time Jesus began to preach!

 

In that dark time and lowly region the Word made flesh is preaching words of life and light. The promised Messiah is at work in Israel. It may seem a surprising way to bring light into this world’s darkness, but most everything in the life and work of Jesus is surprising. From that time Jesus began to preach.


But before that, how surprising that the Virgin conceives – God’s angels announce - the Shepherds hear and see and tell – the Magi come – the Holy Family flees – then of a sudden (decades later) the man Jesus is baptized (even as John objects) –Jesus is tempted –John is handed over – then Jesus withdraws to Galilee. In that region of no earthly significance – with his way-preparer in dungeon darkness - from that time Jesus began to preach.


Our readings confess like darkness and lowliness of place in the shadow of death also for us. You heard the words - oppression and gloom and anguish and disease and affliction and pain and sickness and demon possession and going down to the dust. Our hymn confessed the darkness of error and delusion and going astray and an oppressed conscience and a weak and doubting heart. Is it not constantly right that we pray – Dear Lord – “mercifully look upon our infirmities, and stretch forth the hand of Your majesty to heal and defend us?” 


That He does! In Christ the light is on! In Christ the light shines also for us who dwell in the region and shadow of death! These very first words that Matthew records Jesus as preaching - pierce our darkness! They are quite literally the words He sent John the Baptist to preach before Him! Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The kingdom of heaven is not primarily a place – but the reign, the rule of God. The kingdom of heaven is what God the King is doing in the person of Jesus. What Jesus is doing in His preaching – in His healing – turns us from the darkness of sin and death to the light of God’s love. From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”


The world scoffs – asking where is the light in that?  “Repent?”  In that scoffing Satan mixes good disciplines and evil desires together to make darkness seem like light! In the light of common-place pornographic entertainment on major shows – in the light of political power that is touted as the most glorious answer – in the light of science and scientism that many believe will make our future the brightest ever - how dull and dreary is Jesus’ preaching – “Repent!”  Judged against the elitist error that man is the measure of all things - where is the light in Jesus’ word?  “Repent!”  Does Jesus mean everyone?  Does Jesus mean you?  Does Jesus mean that you are to turn around – change direction – come back – receive a new heart – a clean heart - even today?  Yes – for kingship does not belong to you. Kingship belongs to the Lord!


From that time Jesus began to preach saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  And while walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them “come after me, and I will make you to be fishers of men. Immediately they left their nets and followed him.


In the light of God’s reign breaking into the world in His person, Jesus calls disciples. Not only is His preaching in an unlikely place of no importance so also He calls the most unlikely people of no importance to be his disciples. Normally a disciple would search out and choose a rabbi – a teacher. But surprisingly Jesus reverses that practice. There are no religious elite here – no scribes whom it might seem sensible for Jesus to call. Surprisingly Jesus calls these fishers of fish – Simon Peter and Andrew - James and John.


He is surely putting the apostolic foundation in place - for these four are among those He would later send out in His name. To them and to others He would say…“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.  For His light-bringing work He first chooses fishers of fish. They did not seek Him - but their response to the authority of His calling word is remarkable and immediate! Without full understanding they literally and physically follow this Man calling them to repent and believe that God’s reign has now broken into the world in Him.


Follow me and I will make you fishers of men. Is it not a wonder that they followed?  And is it not a wonder what Jesus would do with them?  He did not say – “I will teach you how to become fishers of men,” but rather “I will make you to be fishers of men.”  In the coming years these unlikely candidates were fashioned by Jesus into those who would preach Him as the light of the world. He would form them and send them out to catch people for God in the net of God’s Word. Through their proclamation of Christ as God’s light in our darkness He has caught even you.


Fisher of men, Peter, proclaims this about you - you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1Peter 2:9-10). See how you qualify as God’s own possession – not as those who are so bright and enlightened in yourself - but as those receiving God’s mercy in Christ!


Fisher of men John proclaims this about you – God is light – if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus , his Son, cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7). See how you qualify as being in the light – not as those who are so bright and intellectually elite - but as sinners being cleansed by the blood of Christ! It is why –again today - He bids you to drink His blood – for the forgiveness of your sins.


The formation of these fishers of men drew its life from Jesus’ own preaching and healing. He went throughout all Galilee teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and affliction among the people. These fishers of fish were in the synagogues to hear the voice of the Son of God preach the pure Word of God. They were there to see His healing of every disease and affliction. Note how He granted physical healing to all who were brought to Him - but not to all in the land - or in other lands. But note also that when He sent out the apostles He sent toem to bring the light of His Word to every land – to all nations!

 

Dear Christians – see the light here – light brighter than the sun in the desert at high noon - From that time Jesus began to preach! What He began - He has not stopped. Recall how St. Luke begins his second book – In the first book. O Theophilus I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. The one who went through the darkness of our death and the outer darkness of God’s damning wrath against our sin continues to do and teach through those He sends out. The risen and ascended Christ is still choosing and sending out men to preach His eternal reign. They shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it. See the death-defeating, light in that truth?  He has done it! And now light in our darkness emanates from the glorious light shining forth from the inside of His empty tomb. That light pierces the deep darkness of sin and even going down to the dust of death. That light illuminates what happened on His cross not as folly but as the very power of God! He has done it!


That’s why Jesus began to preach. That’s why the ascended Lord continues to proclaim His light-giving and life-giving word also to you. His loving presence with you is the reason the liturgy leads you to stand for the reading of the Holy Gospel. We are not pretending as we address Him in person – present with us – Praise to you, O Christ.


The salvation that He brings even now – even to you - embraces all human need. Perhaps sickness or sadness or serious struggle seems like an impenetrable darkness through which no light now penetrates in your life. Perhaps dark delusions have troubled you – perhaps an oppressed conscience darkens your thoughts from those delusions and your heart doubts whether God’s forgiveness covers you and gives you a new beginning. Perhaps you see yourself on life’s margins – on the edge – in a dark corner - out of view – of no real significance to God. Beloved of God – that can never be!

 

He is faithful to the covering with which He clothed you at the font to defend you! He is here even now at His Table with medicine of immortality to heal you. Those who are healthy have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice. For, I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.


See the light at work when you see and confess your real sin and recognize your infirmities! See the light – the brilliant and beautiful light at work as God mercifully looks upon your infirmities and stretches forth the hand of His majesty to heal and defend you in Jesus. Such is the rule – the reign – the kingdom of heaven on earth. For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.


In the name of Him who is the Light of the world – even   Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

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