A Short but Powerful Ministry
Text: Matthew 4:12-17
John the Baptiser had a very short ministry. Nevertheless, his ministry made an impact that few could match.
“Now when Jesus heard that John had been
put in prison, He departed to Galilee.”
How did John end up in prison? We need to look at the Gospel of Mark to appreciate the circumstances in which John found himself in prison.
IN THE TRADITION OF THE ANCIENT PROPHETS OF ISRAEL
In some ways, the ancient prophets of Israel functioned as the conscience of the nation. They preached powerful messages urging people to repent from their wrongdoing. They held people accountable for their actions! They had the moral courage to stand up against even kings!
John the Baptiser was in the same tradition of the ancient prophets. When Herod Antipas stole his brother’s wife and married her, John spoke up against the marriage. Strangely, it was Herodias who was angrier with John than Herod Antipas.
“For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of
John, and bound him in prison for the sake of
Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had
married her. For John had said to Herod,
‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s
wife.’ Therefore Herodias held it against him
and wanted to kill him, but she could not; for
Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just
and holy man, and he protected him. And when
he heard him, He did many things, and heard
IMPRISONED FOR HIS OWN SECURITY
Herod respected John even if he himself was well known for his notoriety in his public life. He knew that if Herodias had her way, she would have ordered his death. It was not difficult to hire assassins to kill someone. For his own protection, Herod imprisoned John the Baptiser.
When possible, Herod even called John to preach. And as he listened to the powerful words of John, he was sometimes moved to do many things, presumably good things, out of deference to John. Herod actually “heard him gladly”. Herod was a strange man indeed. On the one hand, he was a ruthless and ambitious ruler. On the other hand, he was glad that he could hear John preach and he would even respond to the messages he heard!
FROM NAZARETH TO CAPERNAUM
Matthew noted that there was a geographical shift in the ministry of Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke, we read that Jesus had an initial ministry in Nazareth.
“So He came to Nazareth, where He had been
brought up. And as His custom was, He went into
the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood
up to read.”
Jesus participated in the worship at the local synagogue in Nazareth. After He completed the reading of a passage from the Book of Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 61:1-2), He declared that He Himself fulfilled the prophetic word He had just read. He claimed that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him and that He had been anointed to preach the Word of the Lord.
Jesus went on to preach on the subject of how prophets did not seem to have any honour in their own country. Others seemed to appreciate the ministry of the prophets of God better. He then went on to cite how Elijah and Elisha ministered to and helped two foreigners instead of Israel.
At that point, the synagogue erupted with anger. They felt that Jesus was reprimanding them. Luke noted how they reacted.
“So all those in the synagogue, when they heard
these things, were filled with wrath, and arose up
and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him
to the brow of the hill on which their city was built,
that they might throw Him down over the cliff.”
Jesus escaped from their evil clutches. From that day on, Jesus moved to Capernaum. This would be His “second home-town”. Matthew noted,
“And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in
Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions
of Zebulun and Naphthali, that it might be
fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet,
‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphthali,
By way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles:
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death
Light has dawned.”
The move from Nazareth to Capernaum was a logical one. Capernaum was a much larger city than Nazareth. Besides there was such a sense of hostility against Jesus in Nazareth that it was wiser to make the move as soon as possible. The move to Capernaum, in Matthew’s understanding, fulfilled the Scriptures!