Matthew 4: 12-23
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to proclaim,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
We are the Land of Zebulun and Naphtali!
Let me explain.
Zebulun and Naphtali were regions on the northern outskirts of Judah (Southern Kingdom of the Jewish Promised Land) … a position that left the vulnerable to political force that would convulse around them, to and fro, through the eons.
In the time of the prophet Isaiah they were caught up in the intrigue of the Assyrian Empire. Then centuries later, after God averted that disaster, they were caught up in the Babylonian Empire … and then the Persian Empire … and then Greek Empire … and then the Seleucids and the Ptolemies … and finally the Roman empire in the time of Jesus.
And Jesus … full of uncertainly, anxiety and distress at the news of John’s arrest … chooses this vulnerable region in the outskirts of Jerusalem with all of its uncertainty, anxiety and distress. And there in the tumult of the world, he amplifies John’s message: Repent, the kingdom of heaven has come near!
In the very place with earth’s empires totter most, Jesus breaks in heaven’s empire and all its assurance and peace.
Last Friday our nation’s capital swarmed with crowds around the inauguration of our new president.
Last Saturday our nation’s capital swarmed with protests around the inauguration of our new president.
Today Jesus meets us again with the good news:
Wherever the world is uncertain.
Wherever the world is anxious.
Wherever the world is distress.
Even and especially where the world is uncertain, anxious and distressed …
Jesus draws near with heaven’s kingdom … heaven’s empire …
filled with life and peace.
For even he’s hung on a cross to die
by powers of the world
and powers of the church
and the sin of self-serving common folks like us
who find heaven’s empire too intrusive on the autonomy and priority for our own lives …
God raises him again, revealing eternal validity of the kingdom he brings
where grace is preferred to grudges
justice is afforded to all
truth is honored over falsehood
love outlast hate
and life triumphs over death.
And heaven’s empire still draws near through the advocacy of disciples like
Andrew and Peter, James and John
And all the baptized today
whose lives have been touched by heaven’s kingdom
such that they try to share heaven’s kingdom in all that they say and do.
Whatever your point of view in the uncertain, anxious and distress politics of our time …
whether you support the new president for the possibilities of governing
in a new and more business-like way,
or you are concerned that our new president doesn’t have any experience than he does
as matters of governing a country,
God is counting on you to so with a commitment to the eternal values of heaven’s empire
which promote the well-being of all those whom God loves.
In that way, heaven’s empire in Jesus draws near to “Zebulun and Naphtali” today.