Sermon 1690 Matthew 4.12-23 January 26, 2020
The grind has started. 2020 looks to be a long, hard year, and not just because of February 29. I know we have it easy compared to other generations. Yes, the flu has been terrible. We actually had to close down our Kindergarten and First Grade for a day a while ago. But it isn’t like the Black Death, the waves of bubonic plague that swept the world six hundred years ago killing one out of every four. Yes, we’ve got a lot of holiday debt to pay off on our credit cards, but it isn’t like someone can demand we be sold into slavery to balance the books.
Life in the consumer society we find ourselves in 21st century America can be a grind. All the advertising tells us we need to get away to a tropical island or go on a cruise, but we’ve got this gut feeling one week away is not going to cut it. I’ve got just the thing for you.
Jesus Dawned on Us
Heaven in the land of death (12-16).
Good news in the land of drudgery (17-23).
“When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew 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 land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond 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 has come near (12-16).’”
We tend to think things in Jesus’ life were inevitable, like where he was born, where he lived. Of course he had to be born in Bethlehem. Of course he had to work in Capernaum. That’s why he went there. That doesn’t seem to be the case. Jesus didn’t deliberately work it so Scripture would be fulfilled. That would be as fake as a smart high school boy wooing a cute coed with the poetry of John Keats, but she thinks he is writing it! It seems Jesus wanted to work more towards Jerusalem, along the Jordan where John the Baptist had worked. But when King Herod put John the Baptist in prison and the religious leaders in Jerusalem were tickled pink, the writing was on the wall. Jesus could be next. Go home. Back then people lived and died within five miles of where they were born. Nazareth was familiar. Jesus had family there. Matthew never tells us the story, but Nazareth is out of the question after Jesus preaches his first sermon there. The people want to kill him! Scratch Nazareth. Jesus moves to Capernaum, just as the Scripture said he would.
You might say, Jesus dawned on Capernaum. It needed some good news. In the prophet Isaiah’s day, that region of northern Israel was a no-man’s land, a slaughter house the day after. A fierce enemy had come through and killed everyone in sight. The stench of decay hung in the air. The land was depopulated. An attack like that sets a culture back. Many Jews avoided the area for centuries, just like we don’t step on graves when we are walking in a cemetery. Non-Jewish people moved in. When a few renegade Jewish pioneers moved in much later, it was an anything goes religious scene. Because of that, Capernaum was a safe place for Jesus. Yes, there would be Jewish people there who were expecting the Savior of the world to come, but there would be many others who couldn’t care less. Eat, drink and be merry, because tomorrow we die. It’s the way things are. It’s the cycle of life and death.
Then Jesus dawned on them. There was heaven in the land of death. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Stop thinking this is all there is. Stop thinking that everything revolves around you. There is something better, much better.
The kingdom of heaven has come near. Heaven in the land of death.
I found it hard to believe the last time our Congress declared war was in 1942, against Axis allies Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. Wouldn’t it be nice if that was really the last time our troops fought? It seems like we’ve had nothing but war from then on. Even without military actions, the headlines are filled with death, death, death. Death by plane or car crashes, death by floods, death by disease, death by homicide. We live in the land of death. All the money we spend on security proves it. We are afraid of what is outside our door and, sometimes, what is inside our homes. We know one day death will catch up to us, but maybe not today. Visionaries even postulate that if we halt the aging process and live forever, the rich who could afford such gene therapy would be immobilized by their fear of accidental death.
The kingdom of heaven has come near. Heaven in the land of death. What a different message that is. It takes a change of mind to even process it. Repent. Stop thinking this is all there is. Stop thinking there are no rules to life except “don’t get caught.” Stop thinking everything will turn out alright, somehow, if there is anything after the end.
There is something after the end. There is a place of peace and joy. It is the home of the blessed. No more suffering. No more pain. The human race has always dreamed of a place like this, even if it didn’t dare to lay claim to it. Heaven in the land of death. Jesus has dawned on us.
Jesus has dawned on us. Good news in the land of drudgery.
“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.’ Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people (18-23).”
I don’t want to give the impression that the disciples were running away from something. They weren’t. They led respectable and productive lives. Being a disciple of Jesus wasn’t like joining the French Foreign Legion, where only the love-lost or outlaws on the lam enlisted. They would have been perfectly happy if Jesus had never called them. That’s why the church has always looked for people who don’t need to serve in the public ministry. Those are the ones the church calls to serve as pastors and teachers and, on the local level, council members, Sunday School and Vacation Bible School teachers and whatever position there is in the local congregation. Pity the church whose choir director feels he or she must sing a solo every Sunday! It is not for those who need to be the center of attention. It is not for those who desire the respectability service in the church offers. If somebody in the ministry needs the job they shouldn’t have it. A different motivation is desired—love for the Lord reflected in love for the Lord’s people.
Like I said, there certainly was that with James and John, with Peter and Andrew. They could have kept fishing the rest of their lives. Nothing wrong with that. They would have kept their faith in the Savior to come and would have made the connection with Jesus. They would have ended up in heaven, just like their father, Zebedee, ended up in heaven, though Jesus didn’t call him to be a disciple. Their love for Jesus moved them to want to reach out to others, to be “fishers of men.”
With that said, you have got to admit being a fisherman is drudgery. Oh, not the catching fish part. That’s exhilarating. That’s why we still drown worms, for the nibble on the hook. That’s why we spend hours casting, the hit that bends the fishing rod. No, the drudgery comes afterwards--preparing and fixing the nets. Dullsville. Being a commercial fisherman meant you did that a lot, because nets were expensive and you needed to maintain them. Us kids, we didn’t care how many snarls the line had—Dad would untangle it. Not so with Peter, Andrew, James and John.
You would think drudgery is a thing of the past with all our entertainment options. But maybe that’s just proof living in today’s America we are finding more drudgery than ever, so we must turn to entertainment, movies, sports, video games, drugs, booze, gambling, even—my word, did I read that right? The 80s yacht rock of the Windjammers at the Red Rock is coming back? My point is irrefutable! We need yacht rock to escape the daily grind! It takes our mind off our troubles for a few hours.
All kidding aside, drudgery is the message that things are only going to get worse. The best you can do is keep the suffering at levels where they are as you wait your turn to die. When Jesus dawns on us, there’s a better message than “Come, Sail Away with Me” for the next four minutes and 28 seconds. Good news dawns in the land of drudgery when Jesus dawns on us.
Peter and Andrew, James and John already knew who Jesus was. They had made the trip south to be baptized by John. There’s every indication they had been disciples of John, even if it were volunteers for a month helpers of John the Baptist. They had been there when Jesus was baptized. At John the Baptist’s urging they had followed Jesus, part-time I guess is how we would call it. So this call to abandon everything and follow him full-time was not something out of the blue. But there was the choice. Keep fishing and mending nets for the rest of your life or do something better. “I will make you fishers of men.”
They followed. And they watched. Jesus healed every disease and sickness among the people. And they listened. Jesus went through all the towns of Galilee, teaching and preaching the good news.
Christians have always grappled with the issue, stay or go on a great adventure of faith. The world sees no struggle. “Go!” it advises. “Leave behind the drudgery. Call it a retreat, call it a mission, call it a sabbatical or a gap year or lost decade. There’s always time to get back to your ordinary life. Live a little.” The world doesn’t even care how you spend it, as long as you walk away from your responsibilities to those the Lord has put in your life! You can be Johnny Dustpan giving his last concert in Santa Fe before he enters a Buddhist monastery. You can be Elder Smith getting ready for a two year mission in Marseille, France. You could even be going with the big mega-church’s youth group to build substandard housing in Mexico. “That’s what your faith is all about!”
At the heart of it all, I guess, is that the sinful human nature finds the preaching of the Gospel, the believing of the Good News, to be so ordinary, so boring. The devil tries to turn the message of Jesus into drudgery so we look for something more exciting and call that our religion. That’s what Martin Luther fought against, the idea of monks and nuns and priests being closer to God. Every believer is close to God. Jesus has dawned on every Christian and with that dawning came a message that broke us out of the devil’s prison and the mindless drudgery of sin. Rather than run away on crusade or pilgrimage, stay. Stay in the place where the Lord put you. Keep the position in life the Lord granted you. Be the best mother, the best father, the best plumber, accountant, baker, police officer, you can be. Be just and fair in all you do. Let your faith show by your respect for all people and your hard work. Go the extra mile, for Christ went to Calvary for you.
We call it vocation, the Christian calling. You have that calling, for you were baptized. Jesus dawned on you. I had that calling long before I became a pastor. Jesus dawned on me. That calling will embrace us after we retire. That calling will be ours until the day we enter heaven. Good news in the land of drudgery.
God has saved more souls through a believing father and mother bringing their children to Holy Baptism and then taking them to church, to Sunday School, to Catechism, than through thousands of Crusaders fighting battles with the cross painted on their shields. More hearts have been touched by a Christian friend, neighbor or co-worker sharing the reason they believe Jesus is their Lord and Savior, the reason they did not go to pieces when tragedy struck their life, than through mobs of clerics breezing through masses for the dead. The Gospel advances through a well-run church with a dedicated church council, Sunday School and usher staffs, who knows the preaching and teaching of the Gospel is the most important thing. Everything we do is so that people can learn about their Lord. Good news in the land of drudgery.
When the Holy Spirit makes that calling of Jesus embrace us, we discover something else. The drudgery isn’t drudgery. The grind isn’t the grind. “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was sick and in prison and you visited me.” Whatever we did for the least of these, we have done for Jesus.
Instead of waiting for our turn to die, we’ve got opportunities to show Jesus’ love and be loved by others, in turn, eight days a week, from the crack of dawn to the last minutes in prayer before we go to sleep.
Jesus Dawned on Us
Heaven in the land of death (12-16).
Good news in the land of drudgery (17-23).
One week away won’t cut it. Why would I want to leave Jesus behind? Even a staycation wouldn’t do. You have contentment and fulfillment right in your back yard. Jesus has dawned on us and the grind is just a state of other people’s mind.