By J.R. Miller
In Matthew's gospel, the story of the first months of our Lord's public ministry is omitted. Several chapters of John's gospel come in between verses 11 and 12 of Matthew's fourth chapter. The mission of John the Baptist was to go before Christ and prepare His way. When he had done this, introducing Him to the people--John's work was really ended. But he continued to preach for some months, until he was arrested by Herod and cast into prison. Then it was that Jesus went into Galilee. Why He did this, we are not told. Some suppose it was to avoid John's fate--but this scarcely seems a sufficient reason. Indeed, in Galilee he would be nearer to Herod than in Jerusalem. Is it not more likely that it was just because John was now shut up in prison and his voice silenced, that Jesus went to Galilee? John had spoken of Jesus coming after him, and He came at once and began to speak.
He dwelt in Capernaum. At that time Capernaum was an important city on the Sea of Galilee. Now nobody knows certainly what its site was. It was a city of wonderful privilege. For a long time Jesus made His home there. It was exalted in thus having the Son of God walk on its streets, speak His blessed words to its people, and do His works of mercy and love in its homes of suffering and sorrow. But in spite of all this honor and favor shown to Capernaum, Jesus was rejected there.
Matthew tells us that it was in fulfillment of prophecy that Jesus went to Capernaum. He was needed there. It was a region of moral and spiritual darkness. It is such places that always draw Jesus. Human need in every form, appeals to His compassion. When men travel over the world--they usually visit regions in which they will see scenes of beauty, of grandeur, of wonder. But Jesus was in this world to do good, to save the lost, to change wildernesses into gardens of roses--and He went where there was the greatest need, the deepest darkness. Churches sometimes move away from sections of cities which have been emptied of prosperous homes and the attractions of fashion. Whatever may be said of the expediency of following the drift of population with our churches--we need to beware of abandoning decaying communities, of taking away from the people who remain the blessings of the gospel. Jesus did not go into Galilee as a tourist--but as a missionary. He was a teacher come from God to tell the people of the love of God for them. The same words were used of John the Baptist in describing His ministry. Yet there was a great difference in the two men and in their preaching. John spoke sternly and severely. He spoke of the fire, the fan, the ax of the punishment of sin. Jesus came with gentle and winning words.
Yet His first call, like John's, was to repentance. All men need to repent. We never can reach the gates of heaven, unless we repent. The prodigal son had to rise and leave the far country, and walk back all the painful way to his father's house--before he could be restored to favor and be at home again. That is what every impenitent man must do. The first step in coming to Christ, is repentance.
We must be sure that we know just what this word means. Some people imagine, that if they are sorry for doing wrong, that they have repented. But mere sorrow for a wrong way--does not take us out of that way. Tears of penitence will not blot out sin; we must turn about and walk in holy paths. Repentance is ceasing to make blots on the record, and beginning to live a fair, clean, white life.
It was a familiar and homely scene which Jesus saw one day, as He was walking beside the sea. "He saw two brethren casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen." It is interesting to notice the kind of people Jesus sought for His disciples. He did not look for great and famous men. He did not go up to the temple and gather about Him rabbis and priests. He wanted men who were teachable, ready to listen to the truth and believe it, men who could be influenced by Him for good, whom He could train in the ways of His kingdom.
Jesus is always looking for men who will become His disciples. He has a great work in hand, and needs and calls for helpers. He wants those who will believe His message. He does not take prejudiced men, men whose opinions are so obstinately held, that they will not listen to His words nor accept His teachings; he wants teachable men. He does not choose those who are wise in this world's wisdom, for they might not readily accept the wisdom of God which He teaches. Nor does He seek idlers. He goes among those who are busy in the duty of the day. He found a king for Israel, in a boy who was keeping sheep. He found a prophet to succeed Elijah, in a young man who was plowing in the filed. He found a missionary for India, in a humble shoemaker, busy at his bench, ready for the Divine call, unable ever to say "No" to God. If we would be chosen to take part in Christ's great work--we must seek to be ready for it, with heart warm, mind open to receive truth, and ready for any service to which God may call us.
"Come, follow Me--and I will make you fishers of men." First of all, the disciple must go with Christ. This meant, in their case, leaving their business and attaching themselves to His household. It may not mean that to us--ordinarily we are to continue in the calling in which we are when we give ourselves to Him. But always it means joining ourselves to Him in heart and life. It means the complete surrendering of the mastership of our lives. No longer are we our own; we belong to Him. We are to go where He bids us to go--and do what He bids us to do. We are to think of His interests, not of our own. There can be no serving of Christ, no doing of His work, without first being with Him. "Without Me," he said, "you can do nothing" (John 15:5). But with Him, we are ready for any service, any duty, any work, and nothing is impossible to us.
First, they were to be with Him, and then He would make them fishers of men. They had been fishers of fish; they were to give up their old calling and take a higher one. The lessons of patience, quiet waiting and persistence, which they had learned in their daily and nightly work on the sea--would be of use to them in their new duties. They were to fish in the dark waters of sin for perishing men and save them, take them alive. Christ would teach them their new calling, "I will make you fishers of men." It was holy service to which He called them, and calls us. He does not want us to follow Him just for the joy of His salvation and the comfort of His friendship--He wants us to be His, that we may win others also to be His.
Instantly these fishermen dropped their tackle and their nets, left everything, and went away with their new Master. They were not a moment in deciding. They loved Him, and they were most glad to go with Him. "At once they left their nets and followed Him." Sometimes the sneer is heard, "They had little to leave!" True, it was not much in money value. Yet these nets and this fishing business were all they had. It was by these, that they earned their living. Now at the call of their new Master--they gave up all, cut themselves off from the means of support, burnt their bridges behind them, and in simple obedience and faith went with Him.
That is what we should do, when we hear the call of Christ. We should obey instantly, without questioning. No matter how great the sacrifice involved, we should make it cheerfully for His sake. Though to obey cuts us off from our ordinary means of livelihood and leaves us without provision even for tomorrow, we should not hesitate. Christ will take care of His servants when they are faithfully doing His will. "At once" is also an important phrase in the sentence. A great many people are forever postponing duties. When Christ calls, they say, "Yes, tomorrow." But every call should be answered instantly. Get this "At once" into all your obedience.
The charge never could be made against Jesus, that He thought only of men's spiritual needs and neglected their bodily needs. Continually we see Him doing good in common ways and helping people in their common needs. Here He is "teaching," "preaching," "healing." He did not give good advice, exhort people to be true and honest, and then be indifferent to their sufferings. He fed them when they were hungry, opened the eyes of their blind, cured their sick children, healed their diseases. Always this is the law of Christ's ministry. He cares for our whole being. Every trouble of ours whatever, whether of body, mind, or soul--moves Him with compassion.
It is a great comfort to us to know that our Lord is not indifferent to our diseases, that He would use them for our spiritual benefit, that He is ready to give us the grace we need--if we endure them patiently and submissively, and that He will heal us when His wise purpose in our affliction has been accomplished. Jesus is the great Healer--He is continually healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people. Wherever the Christian missionary goes, the hospital is set up alongside the chapel. In our church work we should think of men's bodies as well as of their souls--if we would wholly fulfill Christ's mission and purpose.
This picture of Jesus ought also to be a great comfort to all those who are suffering. He is going about everywhere healing. Is He any less strong now, than He was then? Does he love us less now, than He loved the sick people in Galilee? Will He not heal us, too, in the way that is best? In the sick-room of every Christian, Jesus sits, to give cheer. The sufferer may know, as he prays for healing, that his prayer will be heard and answered. Sickness has a mission--it sets lessons for us to learn. It is very unfortunate if one who is sick recovers and is not better in heart and life afterward. We should pray that the sickness may fulfill its mission in us and for us, and then that we get well.
"And His fame went throughout all Syria." No wonder. Such blessed news could not be suppressed. When Jesus healed all the sick people in one town, it could not be otherwise than that the report would fly abroad, reaching other towns. It is not to be wondered at that everyone who had a sick friend, hearing about the great Healer, would then want to bring that friend at once to Him. Thousands of people poured out to find Him who had this marvelous power.
Just so, whenever Jesus saves a sinner--the news should go out, and others who have unsaved friends should bring them at once to Him. We who know about Christ's power to heal and save--should go everywhere telling the news that those who are in their sins may be roused up to seek Him as their Savior.