Introduction. Read Matthew4v12to25. This passage summarises the three great activities of Jesus' life. William Barclay puts it like this: Jesus came preaching to dispel ignorance, teaching to correct all misunderstanding and healing to make men whole.

(1) Jesus the Preacher. see vs12to17.

The Greek word translated 'to preach' actually means 'to herald'. The herald proclaims the king's business. The preacher makes God's will known. This is what Jesus did. Let us look at:

(a) His sphere of operations.

Jesus chose to work:

  • In Galilee and not Judea. Jesus made this choice after the arrest of John the Baptist for a variety of reasons.

    • Galilee was much more populous than Judea. Much of Judea was semi-desert and very sparsely populated. In Galilee Jesus could draw huge crowds to listen to his message. The arrival of lots of people in Galilee to hear Jesus was facilitated by the regions accessibility. It was where a great north - south route intersected an important west to east route. So, people came from all around.

    • The population of Galilee was much more receptive to new ideas than the religious folk of Judea. Galileans were of mixed race. There were relatively few pure blooded Jews in Galilee. In 104 BC Aristobulus re-conquered Galilee for the Jewish nation and forcibly circumcised many of the inhabitants. They were made Jews by force!

      Judea was cut off from the mainstream. The people of Jerusalem were conservative, insular and resistant to change. Luke reports Jesus as saying in a chapter of ironies: It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail. Lk16v17. AV A tittle was akin to the dot over the letter i.

    • Galilee was a safer place for Jesus to be than Judea. John had been arrested and Jesus was associated with him. The time had not come for Jesus to be silenced. He had much to teach his disciples and needed a secure base from which to do so.

    The gospel needs to be proclaimed where people are and where they are open to the good news of Christ and him crucified. I have found people receptive to God's truth in school assemblies, funerals and particularly at the Christian camp I worked at for many years. It is not much use preaching the gospel to the converted or the preoccupied. One of the problems with open air preaching today is that people are preoccupied with something else. They are not often in a very receptive mood.

  • In Capernaum rather than Nazareth. Mark and Luke describe what happened when Jesus tried to teach in Nazareth - his home village. He was not honoured. People were offended by him. Few believed in him and most rejected his message. As a consequence Jesus made Capernaum his headquarters.

    There are people who attend church regularly who don't really believe in Jesus. They have heard the gospel including Jesus' call for a commitment. If the preacher manages to get through and shakes them up a bit they will leave the service mortally offended. One wonders sometimes whether it is worth persevering with such folk. Jesus left Nazareth to its own devices owing to the persistent disbelief of its inhabitants.

(b) The nature of his ministry.

Matthew saw the ministry of Jesus as the fulfilment of the words of Isaiah: 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. v16. Also Is9vs1and2.

Jesus commenced his campaign at a time people were in the dark. They were in ignorance about:

  • The nature of God.

  • How to please God. Even the great masters of the law in Jerusalem neglected what really mattered. They tithed their herbs but neglected justice, mercy and faithfulness. See Mt23v23.

  • What God's kingdom would be like. Most Jews, including Jesus' disciples, thought in terms of an earthly kingdom. Even at the Ascension of Jesus the disciples were still thinking along these lines. See Acts1v6.

  • Life after death.

Some people who attend church remain in ignorance about the fundamental truths of Christianity. That is why it is good for Christians to attend an Alpha Course and also why from time to time the preacher needs to proclaim the basic tenants of the Faith.

(c) His message. "Repent for the kingdom of God is near."

  • The delivery. Jesus delivered his message in the same way a herald would proclaim an edict from the king. So, Jesus spoke clearly, confidently and authoritively. There are many examples of Jesus preaching like this in John's gospel. See Jn6v35to40, Jn7v37to38, Jn10v1to18 and Jn12v44to46.

  • The content. All we are told about the content of Jesus' preaching in the passage is: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near." This certainly has the merit of being brief, direct and uncomplicated!! However, I cannot believe that Jesus did a Jonah and parroted this statement over and over again without elaboration. It leaves too many questions unanswered - questions we know from the four gospel Jesus addressed - questions like:

    • What would the king of the kingdom be like? God's Messiah, his anointed one, would reign. Right from the start Jesus announces himself as the Messiah. He outlines his priorities in the synagogue at Nazareth. See Lk4v18and19. Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus proclaimed his divinely appointed role as the light of the world, the living water, the bread of heaven, the good shepherd, the way, the truth and the life and the true vine.

    • What does the king expect of his subjects? He expects them to repent! I believe Jesus states brilliantly and briefly what he requires of his subjects in the Beatitudes. They also indicate what we should repent of:

      If we are poor in spirit we have to repent of arrogance and pride.

      If we mourn we repent of a cavalier attitude to sin.

      If we are meek we repent of self-indulgence.

      If we are merciful we repent of a hard-hearted and uncaring spirit.

      If we are pure in heart we repent of mixed motives and self-interest.

      If we are a peacemaker we repent of a mean spirit and an unhelpful attitude.

      If our righteousness makes us safe to persecute we will repent of touchiness, resentment and a short temper.

    • How can men and women enter the kingdom? In the course of his teaching Jesus could not have made this clearer. When the disciples asked: "Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Mt18v2and3. We enter the kingdom through simple, child-like trust in Jesus. He is the narrow gate through which we enter onto the narrow way that leads to life.

There is probably not as much genuine preaching done in churches as should be the case. Most of what passes for preaching is actually teaching. It IS important that Christians are taught. Jesus was a teacher as well as being a preacher. Nevertheless preaching should not be neglected because the concise, straightforward, passionate and stirring proclamation of the gospel addresses the hearts of men. I did this recently when I preached on the two ways. It was not a closely reasoned, erudite sermon but a fervent presentation of the gospel. The small congregation really appreciated it!

(2) Jesus the teacher. See v18to22.

The Christian teacher develops the meaning, significance and relevance of proclaimed truth. Jesus might have proclaimed that one of the two greatest demands of Old Testament Law was to love your neighbour as yourself. He also taught how this worked in practice in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus doubtless proclaimed without elaboration the marvellous Beatitudes. I have a series of expositions on the Beatitudes explaining in detail what they signify. See Beatitudes index.

Let us examine what the passage tells us about:

(a) The teacher's choice. During my time as a school teacher I was not able to select my pupils. I had to teach who I was given! Who would I have chosen if given the opportunity: the prettiest girls? The nicest girls? The cleverest girls and boys? Children with the most supportive parents? Those who had already been well taught? I know the choice - given the chance- I should make. I should choose those keenest to learn.

What a huge difference motivation makes. There were several boys I managed to teach virtually nothing. They did not see the point of Geography. On leaving school and taking up a trade they applied themselves to study with great enthusiasm to become electricians, plumbers, builders and the like.

Jesus did not choose any of the religious leaders to be his disciples but fishermen who were eager to learn. We know that they were keen because they left their nets and followed him.

We should be keen to learn more as Christians. The words of the hymn should be true of us:

          More about Jesus would I know
          More of his grace to others show;
          More of his saving fullness see,
          More of His love - who died for me.

          More about Jesus let me learn,
          More of his holy will discern;
          Spirit of God, my teacher be,
          Showing the things of God to me.

It is very rewarding to teach keen pupils. They are not always the easiest to manage. I can remember many years ago teaching a girl called Rachel. She was always talking in my lessons - interrupting - arguing. Her liveliness was in large part due to her enthusiasm for the subject. Rachel drove me mad but she was the only one in the class to get an A grade at GCSE.

Pastors should bear this in mind. It may well be the keenest Christians who are the most difficult to manage - especially if there are few outlets for their enthusiasm.

(b) The teacher's expectation. During my teaching career there was one group of pupils of whom I had different expectations to the rest. I expected those who chose to do A level Geography to be committed. I expected them be committed both to the subject and to me their teacher. It was vital they believed in me personally to properly instruct them in the subject and prepare them for the A level examination.

Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow HIM. They had to leave their job as fishermen and commit to Jesus personally. As Peter once reminded Jesus - they left all to follow him.

There is absolutely no doubt that Jesus expects this of all who believe in him; an undertaking to obey and to serve. We have to face up to the fact that that being a Christian is going to cost us. We cannot follow Jesus at our convenience. We have to leave our nets to follow him. My mother would often quote from Isaac Watts' hymn, 'Am I a soldier of the Cross':

          Must I be carried to the skies
          On flowery beds of ease,
          While others fought to win the prize
          And sailed through bloody seas.

(c) The teacher's objective. Jesus said: "I will make you fishers of men." He was going to teach his disciples to win men and women for Christ. He would do this through the instruction he gave and the example he set.

It will help us to understand HOW to win men for Christ by looking at what makes a successful line fisherman. The accomplished angler:

  • Relies on the fact that the fish are hungry. If there is no spiritual hunger it is almost impossible to catch men for Christ. Soulless communism leaves men and women hungry for the gospel and helps to explain church growth in countries like China.

  • Knows that all fish are not the same. Different species of fish take different kinds of bait. It is not much use fly fishing for carp! Even Jesus resorted to story-telling because of the hardness of heart of his hearers. A different approach is needed for fishing in a school assembly from fishing at a funeral.

  • Knows the best place and time to fish. I recently watched a TV program that featured a man clambering over rocks off the northeast coast of England in a howling gale to fish for cod. The rough sea not only stirs up the mud, sand and shingle of the foreshore but also the food that cod feed on.

    There is no doubt that certain times and places are particularly conducive to fishing for men - for example: church retreats and Christian camps.

  • Does his best to attract the fish. Bottom feeders can be drawn to the hook using ground bait. Trout respond greedily to carefully made, artificial flies.

    An Alpha Course is an attractive prospect for those on the periphery of the church. The gospel is presented in an attractive fashion with the opportunity to discuss and to socialise over a good meal.

  • Has acquired skill in playing and landing a fish. It is one thing for the fish to take the bait it is another thing to bring it safely to the landing net.

    Many a young person takes the bait and shows interest in being a Christian but are never successfully landed in the church. A young person may make a profession at a Christian camp but finds things very different on attending their local church. Before long they make good their escape!

    Satan is particularly active soon after a person is hooked for Christ. This is something C.S. Lewis deals with in his book, 'The Screwtape Letters.' The new convert looks round his local church and sees a very unprepossessing group of people and decides Christianity is not for them - a big tug and they are free!

  • Shows patience and perseverance. The fisherman has to be able to accept failure. He may have to go fishing again and again before making a catch. Some stretches of water are over-fished and this makes the fish very wary and difficult to reel in. I can remember taking my nephew Joe to fish in the Ouse at Ely. There were plenty of fish about but they were very, very cautious about taking the bait. They had been caught before!

    This a problem in many small churches. The congregation have heard the gospel preached many times and have become what is called gospel hardened. People become so used to ignoring the bait that they will never be caught for Christ.

  • Doesn't want to draw attention to himself. There are gospel preachers who fail in this regard. They are larger than life characters with flamboyant personalities and great oratorical skills. They may attract a personal following - but this is not the same thing as drawing men and women to Jesus. The evangelist Paul was compared unfavourably with the super apostles from Jerusalem who out shone him in looks and preaching ability. See exposition on 2Cor10.

Jesus the healer. See vs23to25.

People came to Jesus from far and wide with every imaginable debilitating and distressing disease. Jesus healed them all. This was an aspect of Jesus' ministry never equalled before or since. It is true the apostles worked miracles but nothing on the scale of Jesus. He was unique as a spectacularly successful healer. Why did Jesus have power in such measure? There are three possible reasons:

(a) To attract attention. The Pharisee Nicodemus said: "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no-one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." Jn3v1and2.

The miracles Jesus performed meant that he could not be ignored. It is amazing that more people did not believe in Jesus. He said in exasperation once that even if one should return from the dead still the religious mafia in Jerusalem would not believe.

Today, nothing quite attracts the attention of unbelievers like a dramatic conversion. Atheists and secularists try to explain away the great change that occurs when a man believes in Jesus. Conversions like that which happened to Paul on the road to Damascus remain the best evidence of Christ's power to save and transform lives.

(b) To exhibit compassion. Jesus shared the human condition. He felt sorry for those who were suffering. Consequently Jesus chose to use the power endued him from on high to relieve suffering and make men and women whole. He made no charge! Jesus was not a profit making phenomenon. The Master had no ulterior motive for healing the sick. The Bible tells us on more than one occasion he was moved with compassion.

It is good for Christ's church to be engaged in charitable work. However charities should not be run as businesses. They should be an expression of the public's compassion for the suffering. They should not even be seen as a means of winning souls for Jesus.

(c) To illustrate Christ's mission. Jesus' main mission was not to heal sickness of the body or mind but of the soul. In this respect Jesus has been wonderfully successful. To use the words of Charles Wesley:

          He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
          He sets the prisoner free;
          His blood can make the foulest clean;
          His blood availed for me.

Jesus is able to deal with sin both in root and branch and flower and fruit. In this he is unlike all other.