Scripture: And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. Matthew 4:19-20, 23 ESV
Observation: The remainder of chapter 4 introduces Jesus’ Galilean ministry: calling his first four disciples (Peter, Andrew, James, and John) and teaching, preaching, and healing the afflicted (vv.18-23). Matthew also tells us that his fame spread throughout Syria and that great crowds followed him, traveling from the Roman-occupied eastern region of Galilee (Decapolis), Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan (vv.24-25), providing a glimpse into his last commission to his disciples (28:18-20). The rest of Matthew’s gospel expands on Jesus’ triumphant mission and his dispensation of grace to those who struggle to follow him.
Of note, the Galilean territory where Jesus began his ministry was about seventy by forty square miles and comprised 204 cities and villages (according to the historian Josephus). This area alone would take many months to cover in an itinerate ministry. And the reference to Syria pertained to the region north of the Sea of Galilee.
Regarding the infirmed, Matthew’s audience would understand the underlying cause of their suffering is the consequence of a fallen world marred by sin, whether of their or another’s making or an inherited defect.
Lastly, Matthew’s use of the word “follow” does not imply that the crowds sought to order their lives around what Jesus preached, but to find shalom peace and health. (More to be said about this below.)
Takeaway: Unlike the crowds, Jesus’ first four disciples (and seven of the next eight) left it all behind to order their lives around this extraordinary rabbi whose very presence and voice emanated the attributes of God. So they took the first step without knowing where it would lead. And that was all that Jesus commanded for now: follow me. Consequently, their lives would radically change for the better, but along the way, they would learn to die to “self,” to take up their cross and follow the one who would soon die for them. And along the way, they would discover that Jesus is more than a great teacher and miracle worker, but the Messiah foretold by the prophets. Still, they had much more to learn about his world-changing mission that would eclipse their myopic, nationalistic aspirations.
So how does this passage speak to us? Two thousand years later, nothing much has changed: he calls us, and we respond; his Spirit leads us, and we follow. And, like the disciples, we bring our egocentric expectations to the mission. So his Spirit begins the process of showing us where we need to die to ourselves and rise to new life in Christ. It’s not a one-off but a lifestyle of ordering our lives around Christ by cooperating with his Holy Spirit to replace our old destructive patterns with new life-giving habits founded in love and obedience to our Lord. And along the way, we behold glimpses of his glorious kingdom-building work in and through us to others. Thus, together with all God’s children, we find healing for our weary souls and eternal joy in the presence of the one in whom we have ordered our lives.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your Son who continues his ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing in and through us by the leading of the Holy Spirit. So would you please help us cooperate with the Holy Spirit to order our lives around your Son so we might glorify you and enjoy you forever? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling