Rev. Charles Lehmann + Epiphany 3 + Matthew 4:12-25
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
If there's anyplace that needed a Savior, it was Galilee. Galilee of the Gentiles was a filthy, disgusting place. They knew nothing of the Laws of the Lord. They ate pork. They mixed meat and dairy. The Jews there were barely worthy of the name. Ever since Tiglath-Pileser conquered the northern kingdom and deported the tribes of Gad and Manasseh, the filthy Gentiles had run amok in Galilee with their swine, and their false gods, and their clothing made with two kinds of thread.
You couldn't go anywhere in Galilee without the influence of false pagan gods slapping you in the face. Tyre and Sidon were filled with Phoenician idols of every description. Caesarea Philippi had a shrine to the Greek god Pan. If you went across the Jordan to the east side of the sea of Galilee... forget it. Swine herds were everywhere and the Torah was forgotten. Just look at how they responded when Jesus healed the demoniac. They pleaded with Him to go away.
But compared to the rest of Israel, Galilee was fairly safe. There was no Roman procurator itching to quell a possible rebellion and no neurotic son of Herod with a thirst for blood and a proclivity toward rage. And so, after Herod Antipas arrests John, it’s off to Galilee for Jesus. It might have been filled with polluted Jews and unenlightened Gentiles, but for a Herod, Antipas’ brother Philip was remarkably sane. He lived a quiet life and ruled his people fairly, doing his best to address the particular needs of his very mixed Arab, Syrian, and Jewish subjects.
But the people of Galilee are what Isaiah prophesied they would be. They live in darkness and in the shadow of death. The Galileans have become the pluralistic and syncretistic culture that many in the world strive to be. No one religion can rise above another. All are legitimate. Galilee is the home of ala carte spirituality. If you’re having trouble having kids, go to Pan. If you want to do some of that old time religion, dabble in that stuff that goes on at the synagogue. Whatever sort of god you need you can probably find in Galilee of the Gentiles.
The Galileans are just like you. They go to synagogue on Saturday and read their horoscope in the Nazareth Star Tribune. They figure the more religion the better. But now you’re probably thinking, “No, I don’t do that new age spiritual stuff. I am a Christian. I’m fully devoted to Jesus.” But what about when things go badly for you. Do you pray? Do you ask for the Lord’s deliverance? Or do you try to make it all work out on your own. Do you work at the problem yourself for a few months and then only when all your plans fail think, “Hmm… maybe I should pray?”
Our list of gods is long and varied. Our idols may be more sophisticated, but they are still idols. We worship our technology, our bank accounts, our jobs, a bottle of nice whiskey, or some vain escapist pleasure. When these gods fail us we can always fall back on plan B, well actually, probably plan F, G, or H… Jesus. He’s willing to wait in line, right?
No. Jesus doesn’t wait. He moves from his temptation in the desert of Judea to Satan’s domain in the north. He rebukes the devil with the words, “Be gone, Satan” and then the Lord presses his advantage and invades Satan’s domain.
What was spoken by the prophet Isaiah has been fulfilled: "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned."
The Galileans could not destroy their false gods. They could not smash the bits of stone and wood and clay that they worshiped. Only the Lord could do that, and so He came in the flesh to establish dominion over the regions that were being overrun by the legions of hell.
And so we expect to see what we see. The Lord frees those oppressed by demons. He calms the minds of epileptics. Paralytics dance at His word. A great cry of grief and misery cries from the demons the Lord has vanquished. Galilee of the Gentiles is being invaded by mercy, peace, and the forgiveness of sins.
But the miracles, the works of healing, and the casting out of evil spirits is point number two in our Gospel reading for today. First things first and second things second. First comes the preaching. Riding immediately on the heals of Isaiah’s prophecy Matthew gives us the words of the Lord’s own sermon. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Galilee of the Gentiles is overrun by demonic influences not because you see horned devils with forked tails slinking in the shadows.
Satan’s most prized dominion is in the hearts of unbelieving men. And so that is why in Fort Collins... our own Galilee of the Gentiles by the way of the see, you don’t see devils lurking about under every bush (even when CU is in town). But what you do see is just as serious. Satan turns our eyes away from the Lord and His gifts to our own works and our own false gods. We look not to Jesus in our times of need but to gods of our own imagining.
With us, just as with the Galileans, the Lord’s work must begin with a sermon. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent of your false gods. Repent of not bringing every care and concern to the Lord. Repent of allowing your idols to stand between you and the one who can truly give comfort, peace, and forgiveness. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is truly at hand. We need not go up into heaven, for the Lord is coming to us.
The Lord has already come to you today in the Holy Absolution, in the Scriptures read from this pulpit, and He is coming to you right now as the Word of God is proclaimed. He will come to you in a few minutes as you receive the body and blood of the Lord in His own supper.
There are no signs and wonders that draw the Lord’s disciples to Him. They probably weren’t there when the heavens opened and the Spirit descended like a dove. They didn’t see the Lord’s showdown with Satan in the Judean wilderness. They see an itinerant preacher who is proclaiming a word of repentance.
It is only at His words of “Come, follow me” that Peter, Andrew, James, and John leave their boats and follow him. They are simple fisherman who hear the voice of their shepherd. For them it is simple words that call them out of the land of darkness and the shadow of death. They have nothing more than you have. Words. Simple plain words in their own language. I do not preach to you in some sort of special holy dialect. I don’t know the tongue of angels. I’m just a hick preacher from Montana speaking to a few Coloradans in the language he learned from his mom and dad.
In His words to these fishermen, the Lord is raising an army to wage war in the hearts of Galilee. He makes them fishers of men. That’s a promise. When these apostles preach to thousands, when a tax collector writes a book called Matthew, when these men go out into the villages to preach the Gospel and cast out demons, it will be Jesus who will be doing the work. The Lord makes them fishers of men. The Lord casts the nets, pulls in the fish and makes them his own despite their constant desire to leap back into the waters.
And so you were also brought into the ark of the Christian church by fishermen sent by the Lord, fishermen who spoke the Word of God to you, who baptized you into the Triune name, who fed you with the Holy Gospel. What goes for the Galileans goes for you. The Lord has called you by the Gospel. He has destroyed your idols. He has taken your idolatry to the cross and there he has died to forgive your sins and the sins of the whole world.
The kingdom of heaven is at hand. The Lord who has suffered and died for you has vanquished the forces of death and hell. There is no room for Satan in you for you have been clothed with Christ. And Jesus, by His earthly ministry and by His suffering, death, and resurrection has won the victory forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.