Here is the sermon I gave at St. Peter’s Brownstown, IN on 1/22/17. Thematic content inspiration comes from Concordia Commentary on Matthew by Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs.
Have you ever had a good fortune fall into your lap in the most unexpected of ways? Maybe you have your phone in your pocket and it dials someone in your address book that you didn’t intend to call. Through that call you end up talking to an old friend which leads to an idea about where to spend a future family vacation or a different career direction to take. Sometimes one phone call, one email can change the course of a day, a week, or even our whole life. Sometimes things happen in our life through the most unexpected ways.
God comes to us in the most unexpected ways. In the first four chapters of the gospel of Matthew, leading up to today’s reading we see these amazing ways in which God comes to us. Right at the start of the Matthew’s gospel the genealogy of the birth of Jesus references five women. In the ancient world it was customary for only men to be listed in the genealogy, Fathers begat sons and so on.
But in the genealogy of Jesus, we hear about Rahab the Canaanite, and Ruth the Moabitess, both gentiles. We also hear about Tamar and Bathsheeba, women whose stories we know as connected with the sins of Judah and king David. The line of Jesus comes to us in a way completely different than the wisdom of man would expect.
The next unusual circumstance is when the angel appears to Joseph and tells him that the birth of Jesus will come in a way completely different than the expectation of pious believers. A completely new thing will happen in the virgin birth of Jesus in a manner that will appear to the unfaithful as scandalous.
Next the birth of the Savior is celebrated in most unusual circumstances. Poor and lowly shepherds from a nearby field are the ones who are given the first birth announcement. Pagan gentiles, the Magi from the East appear to acknowledge the birth of Jesus, while Jews in the royal capitol are unaware of the birth of the true king of the Jews.
As Jesus reaches adult years John the Baptist appears to prepare the way for Jesus, preaching and baptizing in fulfillment of the scriptures. But when Jesus appears to him, John is amazed, how can this be that Jesus is seeking to be baptized by John, Jesus is submitting to taking the place of a sinner in the river Jordan! This is nothing like what John expected.
Immediately prior to our reading today, Jesus overcomes the temptations of Satan in the wilderness, emerging victorious. But instead of going to Jerusalem to be king, after John is arrested he withdraws to lowly Galilee of the gentiles to begin his ministry and fulfill the Old testament prophecy.
“People who have walked in darkness have seen a great light” The people of Galilee were victimized by circumstances of geography. Galilee was on the very Northern border of Israel and thus was exposed to attack from outsiders, as well as loss of identity through migrations of peoples of different culture and religious beliefs.
As a result they were as the scripture described people who experienced gloom and anguish. They were seen in contempt by the heart of Israel in Judah. They were down and out, and certainly not highly regarded. Out of this lowly place Jesus chooses to go, to bring a great light and hope to those who were in darkness.
From this context of offering one amazing surprise after another Jesus begins his public ministry. We heard those first words Jesus spoke, Matthew 4:17 “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jesus was announcing that in his very person, the reign of heaven, God’s visitation of the world had begun.
The kingdom of God is near, because in the person of Jesus, everything that has to do with God’s reign in the world is present. The coming of God’s kingdom is none other than Christ himself. Through Jesus God is doing his work of restoration, freedom, and redemption in history. Whatever is disruptive to God’s kingdom coming to us, like our sin and unbelief, Jesus works to remove.
This reign of God’s kingdom is not something we see in expected ways like fire and brimstone and angelic hosts singing around the throne of God. Instead it is seen through the servant love of Jesus. Through the forgiveness Jesus will win on the cross.
The reign of God’s kingdom is not limited to those who are in the right place and the right time in life, those who are most esteemed in society or those who are most religious. Instead God’s kingdom comes to the most unlikely candidates, sinners and those like ourselves who have nothing to offer in ourselves before God.
This reign of God in history, among us, is also present today through the unlikely means of the Word of God and the sacraments. How unlikely that the specific reading of God’s Word in this place on this day should be the vehicle by which God’s forgiveness and restoration are given to us today. How unlikely that I should even be here preaching God’s Word, as months earlier I had not even heard of the town of Brownstown, IN.
Next while walking by the sea of Galilee Jesus calls out to Peter and Andrew: “Come follow me”. Peter and Andrew were likely skilled fisherman, but they were improbable candidates to be the first disciples Jesus called. They were not learned men or men with great authority. God calls unlikely candidates both to hear the good news of the kingdom, and to proclaim it.
These two fisherman were invited to drop everything in life and follow the Son of God. Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. Follow me and enter into a life that has a completely different purpose.
In the context of Matthew chapter 4 as Jesus first proclaimed the coming of the kingdom and called the first disciples by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus has in his very presence brought the kingdom of God to the world in all of its fullness. Yet he had not yet died on the cross as the climax of this reign of God. At that time He had not yet risen from the dead and given the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church.
We experience the reign of Jesus as now and not yet. Jesus has fully won for us our salvation, yet Jesus has not yet brought this salvation to consummation- he has not yet returned to perfect our bodies and create the new heaven and earth.
Today we eagerly await his return in glory. But in faith, we already find in Christ that we have everything. As we live our normal routine everyday lives God’s kingdom In Christ comes to us in power. When we walk through the dark shadows of life God’s Word gives us light and salvation. Even at times when we feel down and out, God’s kingdom comes to us in power through the word and promise of our Savior who walks with us every step we take.
In the context of the nearness of God’s reign, Jesus called his first disciples. We see the same pattern in the calling of both sets of two disciples and can recognize it also as a pattern for us. Nobody becomes Jesus’ disciples by his own initiative. Unlike any other teacher disciple relationship, Jesus calls humans to completely trust and serve him. He is sharing the very initiative of the Son of God.
Jesus offered to the disciples at this calling a future plan for them: “I will make you fishers of men.” They will be made fishers of men in time, as Jesus teaches them and eventually gives them the authority to go out in his name.
We are not given the specific authority of the apostles, for we are not given the privilege of being physically present with Jesus and representing him in the way the Apostles were charged with. However we are given the call to follow Jesus in the form of being believers. Jesus calls all of us to repentance and belief in him as Lord. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Jesus continues to come to us in unexpected ways. Through the kind word of a friend or family member we are encouraged to seek God’s Word. Through a book we read or something we hear on the radio our faith is renewed, and we experience Jesus making himself present to us, appearing to us in the form of His Word. We have in His Word that invitation, “Come follow me”
Part of the urgency of repenting that the kingdom of God is here is the awareness that Jesus will return again. We do not have unlimited time with which to get on track in our lives toward God’s kingdom. We don’t know when he will return, but we do know that he Will Return.
It is as if He has already returned when in worship we delight in praising God for the gift of salvation. As we experience the joy and comfort of having our sin forgiven, it is a foretaste of the feast to come when our Lord returns. This delight is the essence of our Lord’s invitation: “Come follow after me.”