Epiphany 3 Year A - Matthew 4:12-23
12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali - 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: 15 "Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles - 16 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." 17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." 18 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. 19 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 20 At once they left their nets and followed him. 21 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, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. 23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
Some time ago a newspaper has featured the story of a man called O'Neill who gave up his £300,000 per annum job to look after his two children. On a Breakfast programme they were asking for people's opinions about this radical change in direction.
In 1987 I left my job as an Office Manager and began to study for three yars at a Vicar Factory. My fellow students included a former : builder; R.A.F. pilot; teacher; car mechanic; musician and people from many occupations.
In today's gospel we have four men who leave the security of their jobs, homes and families to follow a travelling teacher. They were starting three years of training so they could change from being fishermen to fishers of men.
Why would people today give up their nice homes, well paid jobs, live on a student grant for two or three years, be less well paid and become a curate for three or four years before becoming a Vicar ?
Why would Simon leave his family business to travel around with Jesus, having no income and accepting food and lodgings where they could get them.
The answer is the same to each question. Because Jesus is the Messiah and he calls people to follow him. For some this will mean a change of job. For everyone, this will mean changing their lives radically.
How do we know that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who delivers people from sin ? There are a number of pointers :
1) John the Baptist, ( cf last week John 1:29-42 ) he pointed Andrew and another of his disciples to Jesus, 'the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world'. ( John 1:29 )
2) The Old Testament. With the imprisonment of John the Baptist Jesus moved away from Herod and Nazareth to Capernaum, which is on the North of the Sea of Galilee.
Matthew's gospel was written for Jews to convince them that Jesus is the Messiah. It includes many references to the Old Testament to do this. Here Matthew quotes another Messianic prophecy from Isaiah 9:1f. Jesus spent most of his public ministry "in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali" (v. 13), which is north and west of the Sea of Galilee.
3) Jesus healed sick people. Since Adam sickness has been in the world because of humankind's sin. In taking away sickness Jesus demonstrated that he had power to undo the effects of sin. Verse 24 mentions that Jesus delivered people who were possessed by evil spirits, and this shows that Jesus has power over evil.
4) Jesus also taught in the synagogues and preached in the open air. Verse 17 informs us of the thrust of his teaching, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
Matthew didn't want to offend his Jewish readers by using the word 'God', so he used 'heaven' instead. We could paraphrase this as ' Change your direction, the reign of God is coming !'
The church that my parents attend is looking for a new Vicar and is interviewing clergy. The last two have stayed at my parents' home. Perhaps they think that clergy are unusual and that, having a clergyman as a son equips my parents to cater for them better !
The first man that was interviewed did not impress my mother because she felt that he was not humble and very sure of himself.
The reign of God was coming through the person, works, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus. His teaching was focused upon himself. But Jesus was entitled to focus upon himself because of who he was, God and man, and what he had come to do, to reconcile people to God. This is something that we especially focus upon in this Holy Communion Service. As we receive the bread and wine, representing the body and blood of Jesus given for us, this symbolises our acceptance of him. This has to involve repenting, as Jesus said in verse 17. The need to repent is still the same. The way in which people repent has changed since Jesus uttered those words. Those words were uttered towards the start of Jesus earthly ministry before he had revealed himself as the Messiah. Before he had died for the sins of the world. Before he had risen from the dead, ascended back to heaven, and sent His Spirit to his disciples.
I was collecting photographs from a Pharmacy early this month. A man in front of me purchased some nicotine patches to help him give up smoking. After he had gone I asked the assistant if they sold more of these patches early in a New Year as people tried to keep their resolutions.
Repentance is more than thinking that we ought to change or feeling sorry for one's sins. It is a radical and deliberate turning or returning to God that results in moral and ethical change and action.
We should focus on ourselves, our unworthiness, our need for a Saviour. We should then focus on him and repent, change the way that we live our lives.
When the fishermen heard the call of Jesus they left everything that they had to follow him. This was almost a picture of repentance. The Greek for 'repent', 'metanoia' literally means a 'change of mind'. Our minds are to be changed, renewed through the work of the Holy Spirit, in the light of the Bible, cf Romans 12:1f.
A faith without repentance is no faith at all.
In the 1980's Al Johnson, from Kansas, came to faith in Jesus. What made his story remarkable was not his conversion, but the fact that as a result of his newfound faith in Christ, he confessed to a bank robbery he had participated in when he was nineteen years old. Because the statute of limitations on the case had run out, Johnson could not be prosecuted for the offence. Still, he believed his relationship with Christ demanded a confession so he even voluntarily repaid his share of the stolen money ! His story was so mind-blowing that it was reported in several newspapers.
The remarkable conclusion to the story about the fishermen was that they did become fishers of men, evangelists. On the day of Pentecost the fisherman, Simon, became the fisher of men, Peter. Three thousand people responded to his first ever sermon. Peter started to fulfil the mission that Jesus had given him, of being 'rocky', upon whom the early church would be built. This is something we looked at last week, John 1:42.
To summarise, our trust in Jesus should lead us to repent, change direction and live radically distinctive lives for Him.