Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 4:13a (Holman) He left Nazareth behind. . .
Jesus first went to Galilee, the region He came from. Galilee was 50 miles long, north to south, and 25 miles wide, east to west. It had been part of the Northern Kingdom of Israel that broke away from Solomon.
Jesus had a natural affection for where He grew up, but unfortunately, His boyhood town of Nazareth became the first town to reject Him (Luke 4:29). Jesus, a perfect gentleman, doesn’t stay long where He’s unwelcome. This warning needs to be heeded by individuals, families, cities, and nations.
Jesus left. He relinquished the family business to His brothers, hugged his mother and sisters, and said farewell to friends. The question was; where will He go? He chose to stay in his own region. We would say his own state.
Matt. 4:13b . . .and went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region
of Zebulun and Naphtali.
Capernaum sat on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, about three miles west of where the Jordan River emptied into it. It was near the border between the Old Testament family divisions Zebulun and Naphtali.
Capernaum, the nerve center of northern Israel, was on the Syria to Egypt highway, one of the world’s leading roads. From this strategic location, everywhere Jesus would want to travel to was easily accessible.
The hustle and bustle of the Roman Empire could be felt in Capernaum. Farming, manufacturing, and trade flourished. It was a great place for a tax collector to work. Matthew, our author, made his living here.
Fishing was a huge industry. Fish were transported in salt. It was a good place for fisherman like Peter, Andrew, James, and John to prosper.
Matt. 4:14-15a This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet
Isaiah: Land of Zebulun and Naphtali, along the sea
road, beyond the Jordan,. . .
Matthew quoted a prediction Isaiah (9:1-2) had made 700 years earlier about Galilee. It’s no surprise Matthew liked a passage about his home area.
In the Assyrian conquest, northern Israel took the worst abuse. It was brought to its knees. Isaiah comforted this grieving region by promising them a deliverer would come. Matthew concluded; Isaiah believed Assyria would be thrown off because he believed Messiah would one day come.
Matthew was touched by the comfort this prediction had offered to his people. It helped him think Messiah would also be gentle and strong. Being human, Jesus feels our hurts. Being divine, He can heal our hurts. His gentle heart overlooks no sadness; His strong arm finds no trouble too hard to fix.
Some seem to think their sins are too huge to be forgiven. Did Christ die on a cross to save only little sins and sinner-ettes? The instrument of His death was a cross, a cross, a cross. All sin was put in Him. This was a serious death with huge consequences.
Matt. 4:15b . . .Galilee of the Gentiles!
Galilee was cosmopolitan. Commerce brought many Gentiles to the region. This foreshadowed Matthew 28:19-20. By choosing Galilee, Jesus declared war against worldwide powers of evil. This moved Him closer to the world He came to reach. It gave Him a chance to minister in areas most neglected by others.
We know it is for everyone because Jesus commanded us to take the Gospel to every creature. They were to begin at Jerusalem, at home among the hardest crowd; murderers, Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians. Start in the devil’s throneroom. Let the worst sinners hear first.
Jesus went to people in needy places. The mission of every believer is people. To do to and tfor them what Jesus did to them.
The condition of Galileans and us all.
The presence of many Gentiles made Capernaum more open to new ideas. It was fertile ground for a new message. Lots of variety.
Matt. 4:16a The people who live in darkness have seen a great light,. . .
Darkness—the word has a tough sound to it. Night was made for nocturnal animals, which cannot have a personal relationship with God. There is a reason why we call the third shift the graveyard shift. In Scripture darkness refers to several things. One, ignorance. People in spiritual darkness are clueless on points of most concern to humans. They don’t know who created them, why He created them, how to please Him, and what their everlasting destiny will be. To think on these things would bring gloom, so just don’t think about them is all that makes life tolerable.
Two, error. People who choose to live without God have to live only the light of nature and human reasoning. Thus, they are often wrong. Not knowing right from wrong, they err grievously.
Three, danger. If people are not taught of God, only one other teacher inhabits the spiritual realm. His is a school with many students. They are okay with their lives, loving darkness more than light (JN 3:19-21).
Fear, hopelessness—no help in sight, listless action, the highest parts of our nature paralyzed, misery, fear, discomfort, sadness.
But do not despair. God loves to bring light to the darkest places. Matthew knew this. He was one of those who had lived in darkness in Capernaum. He remembered night, what it was like before Jesus came.
As he looked back as an older man on his own home town, as he reflected on the change Jesus brought, he could only describe the change in his town as the turning on of the lights. It was said Luther turned the lights on in Europe. When Calvin led the Genevans out of darkness into the light of hte Gospel, in gratitude they coined new money bearing the inscription, “After darkness light”.
Matt. 4:16b . . .and for those living in the shadowland of death, light
They are living in it. It is a continuing posture, a place they meant to stay in. Contented, they were not thinking of finding a way out. They were in Deathville, death country, death’s haunt, where death ruled and subjected all to its tyranny.
In this context, light dawned, shone brilliantly here first. It started here. It was a divine sunrise.
It is only a shadowland here. There is hope to escape it.