When is it time for ______?
I googled that question and my search engine finished the question in these ways: When is it time for a divorce? When is it time for a nursing home? When is it time for hospice care? To buy a new car? To break up? To let go? To move on? When is it time for the first kiss? (Side note: If you have to google that question, it probably isn’t time yet …) When is it time to move on from a guy? When is it time to move on from a girl? When is it time …?
The fourth chapter of Matthew inspires that question. This is the place in the story of Jesus where he decides the time is right to step into his public ministry. The Kingdom of Heaven has now come near, in earnest. A new movement is about to make itself known. And here, we learn how Jesus began the movement that changed the world.
The End of an Era
When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee.
A true prophet was called and equipped by God, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak God’s message. Prophets get people ready. Prophets have a way of explaining reality so that it changes the way we see things. They show us truths about God and about ourselves that we may not have seen on our own. God has always used prophets, and still does. Every age has its own prophets. But in our family history, there is a season of prophetic ministry leading up to Jesus that we call the Prophetic era.
The first prophet recorded in the Old Testament is Samuel, who lived and prophesied around 1020 BC. Then came Nathan. Then, a season when the Kingdom was divided – Israel to the north and Judah to the south. The prophets of Israel were Elijah, Elisha, Amos, and Hosea. The prophets of Judah were Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Ezekiel, Obadiah, Haggai, Zechariah, Joel, Malachi, and Jonah.
Then there was four hundred years of silence. Four hundred years of waiting and wondering and watching. Then … fire!
John the Baptist came into his prophetic ministry preaching fiery sermons. He had a thing for holiness. He called people to repentance. He called them to prepare for the coming Messiah. John’s arch nemesis was Herod, a politician who obviously had a personal war raging inside – a war between the two sides of himself. Herod was opposed to John precisely because of this inner battle. He had a thirst for spiritual things and for knowledge, and he also had a thing for his brother’s wife. John, opposed – on holiness grounds – Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife. That got John thrown into prison.
Before we judge Herod too harshly, we have to confess that we’ve all got a little of the spirit of Herod living inside us. It’s that thing that rationalizes our bad decisions, that makes us try too hard to make sense of things that make no sense for us. So we date things and marry things that aren’t good for us, that pull us away from God’s best. We lose sight of God’s timing. We neglect to let go, to move on, to grow up, when the Spirit calls us forward.
With John’s arrest the era of the prophets comes to an end. This is a huge moment, and we reach it in Matthew 4:12. Unless you know better, you could easily pass by this verse, assuming it merely marks a transition from one scene to another. But this one line is so much more than a place holder. This line signifies the end of an era. This signifies the end of the prophetic era and the beginning of the messianic era. Yes, Jesus has been on the scene for thirty years already, but that moment when John steps back and Jesus steps forward … well, that moment represents an atmospheric shift. A spiritual climate change.
From this one verse, we learn something about how movements are birthed. It begins with a shift from one season to the next. The “trick” is learning how to recognize the time for that shift. God’s time. “When is it time for _____?”
The great theologian, Tupac Shakur, says, “You can spend minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even months over-analyzing a situation; trying to put the pieces together, justifying what could’ve, would’ve happened… or you can just leave the pieces on the floor and move on.”
Tori Amos says, “Girls, you’ve gotta know when it’s time to turn the page.”
The writer of Ecclesiastes says (Ecclesiastes 3:1), “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”
Matthew 4:12 inspires a hunger for divine timing. Is there a stirring in your spirit? Or even a sense that you’re pounding the brakes, trying to keep something from happening? Is there a nudge within, confirming what you may know or what you may be trying to ignore? The first step in any Kingdom movement is that step that moves us out of one season and into another. Divine timing requires a connection with the Holy Spirit.
The Way of the Sea
Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
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.”
Jesus marks his move from the prophetic era into the messianic era by physically moving into a new place. Matthew marks the move by quoting from Isaiah, who mentions the Way of the Sea. The ancient name for The Way of the Sea is Via Maris. This was a trade route that ran along the Mediterranean, connecting Egypt to Syria. It ran right alongside the territory of people who weren’t exactly enemies, nor were they friends. Zebulun and Naphtali were bad influences. These were like the hoodlum friends who lived up the street, the ones your mother didn’t want you to hang out with because every time you did, you paid for it.
On one side, the sea. On the other side, temptation. This is the road Jesus walked, right after he spent forty days being tempted by Satan out in the wilderness. This was the road he took out of the wilderness. Do you find an assurance in that thought, as I do? A comfort? This teaches me that long before you took that wrong turn, long before you ended up in enemy territory, long before you lost your battle with temptation, long before you called on God to heal your diseases and cast out your demons, long before you limped out of the wilderness and experienced your own treacherous journey toward Kingdom purposes, Jesus walked this very way. He walked out of his wilderness and traveled the Way of the Sea. He felt your pain and conquered your enemies and cut a path out of that darkness.
Be encouraged! There is a way forward, and it leads into the purposes of God.
The Call to Repent
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
N.T. Wright says that in the first century, Kingdom talk meant revolution. Israel had experienced more than one political revolution and at the time Jesus showed up, they were living under the oppressive rule of yet another one. By entering into his public ministry, by claiming a new Kingdom was near, it sounds as if he is calling for a revolution. And in fact, he was. Not a political revolution, but a personal one. Jesus was calling for people to overthrow the oppressive and self-seeking kings who ruled over hearts, usurping the place of God at the center. And he called people to begin this revolution with the subversive act of repentance. Which means that repentance is not about shame. It is about freedom. It is the gift of another chance. Repentance is ultimately about hope.
Carl Medearis is a follower of Jesus who is considered an expert in the field of Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations. He lived as a missionary in Lebanon for twelve years. In his book, Muslims, Christians and Jesus, Medearis talks about going to a meeting of some top-level Lebanese political leaders. He says he was there “to discuss how these men could work with us in bridging the Arab East with the American West.” At that gathering, he met a man named Mohsen, a Sunni Muslim parliament member. In the course of conversation Mohsen asked Medearis what he did for a living. Now, Medearis is something like a missionary to the Muslim world, but he’s pretty careful about saying it that way. So when this guy asked him who he was, Medearis said he’d never used this term before or since, but in that moment he was inspired to call himself a “hope broker.” Mohsen asked what a hope broker was, and Medearis said, “Well … I deal hope.” Mohsen had just been talking about how desperate the situation in Lebanon was at the time, so he was really interested in this hope broker. He asked Medearis, “Where do you get it? The hope. Where do you get your hope?”
Medearis said, “Well, it is so simple it’s almost silly. Here’s the idea: we gather a few people together about once a week. We do a few basic things. First, we try to pray for the country. We are a mix of Muslims, Christians and Druze [Druze are a sect of Islam]. We all say we believe in a God who can save people, so we thought we’d start where we agree–with prayer. But lately, we’ve realized we need more than prayer. We need something to bind us together. Something to focus on. To study. So we decided to study the life of a great person who we could all agree on.”
Medearis asked if Mohsen could think of someone they could study that they could all agree on and Mohsen mentioned a few names like Gandhi and Mother Teresa. Then, suddenly he pounded his fist on the table (Medearis said it scared him to death) and he said, “I’ve got it! It’s Jesus! Muslims like Jesus. Druze like Jesus. Even Christians like Jesus!” That’s exactly the way he said it! “Even Christians …!” Then Mohsen asked Medearis if he would start a group with members of the Lebanese parliament and so they did. They started a study in the Lebanese parliament and they studied through the gospel of Luke. That little group of Lebanese leaders studying Jesus together hasn’t changed the world – at least not yet. But do you see how it could quite possibly start a revolution?
This is the way of Jesus. He creates revolutions. He infiltrates cultures and souls and he calls on us to change direction, and he does it not to shame us but to give us a future with hope. To give us direction. Forward movement.
The Gathering of Leaders
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. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
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, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
Talk about revolutions. These first men who laid down their lives to follow Jesus had their worlds rocked by his very presence. And Jesus conquered their hearts by taking their natural gifts – the things they are already good at – and spiritualizing them. Good fishermen began to fish for people. Think of it as a conversion of purpose – a moment when a person realizes they are made for more than a paycheck. A great God makes people for greatness! We discover from the example of the disciples that when our lives are aligned with the values of the Kingdom, we become part of a movement of God. If not, we can actually stifle forward movement. N.T. Wright phrases this same idea as a question: “Are we working to extend God’s Kingdom in the world? Or are we standing in its way?”
The Coming of the Kingdom
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.
In this passage, we’ve moved from the prophetic era into the messianic era. We’ve witnessed Jesus as he negotiated the tests that come with change. We’ve heard him vocalize what is most important to a Kingdom movement. And we’ve seen him call a team together.
Now, he goes out to practice the Kingdom of God. He begins to live this, painting a radical picture of the Kingdom: lame walking, blind seeing, lepers being cleansing, dead being raised and poor people soaking in good news. What a work! What a revolution! This is not the staid and stuffy display of religious scholars one-upping each other on the ability to follow rules. This is a messy, joyful, radical display of healing power!
When is it time for you to get involved with that kind of work?