Heraclitus, the 6th century BC Greek philosopher observed, ‘Unless you expect the unexpected you will never find truth, for it is hard to discover and hard to attain’.
Come with me to Matthew chapter 4, verses 12 through 25. Matthew records that following the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus began his public ministry in the region of Capernaum in Galilee – the land of Zebulun and Naphtali.
Back in the 8th century BC powerful Assyrian forces had gathered in that very region preparing to conquer the northern kingdom, Israel (720BC). Yet into that darkness Isaiah the prophet spoke of the day when a light would dawn on the northern horizon, and God would honor Galilee of the Gentiles (Isaiah 9:1-2).
In chapter 4, Matthew tells us that Jesus began his public ministry in the north – not in the capital, Jerusalem. ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’, he said.
An Unexpected Message. The kingdom of heaven is not a location but rather refers to God’s supreme rule. Jesus’ words at hand implied that with his presence this had taken on a new immediacy. His words would have awakened the hopes of God’s people who lived with the expectation of the coming of God’s king, the Messiah. Prophets such as Samuel, Isaiah and Ezekiel had spoken of such a time (2 Samuel 7: 11b-13; Isaiah 7:14, 9: 6-7, 11:1-5; Ezekiel 34:23-24).
But Jesus’ call for repentance may well have come as a surprise, for the king was expected to bring in God’s reign of peace and prosperity. He would judge the nations: the time for repentance would be over. The work of the prophets, including John the Baptist, was to prepare the way for the king’s coming.
But Jesus was still calling people to repent, suggesting that there were deeper truths he needed to address before he revealed himself in all his awesome glory, dominion and power.
The real issue Jesus sees with all of us is that we have a heart problem. Heart in the Bible is not just the pump that sends the blood around our bodies, nor is it the seat of our emotions. It refers to the real us.
Let me ask, why do we hurt people we love? Why, in this technologically advanced world are there still divisions within nations and wars between nations? Why is there still so much injustice? It has to do with the desires of our hearts – in our relationships with one another, and especially in our relationship with God. When Jesus was once asked what is the greatest commandment, he responded, saying the first and greatest commandment is that we should love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (Mark 12:30).
An Unexpected Call. It was the practice for good teachers or rabbis in Jesus’ day to have disciples with them. “Follow me,” Jesus said to two fishermen, Peter and Andrew, who were brothers. It wasn’t a command but rather a call. They had choice: they could follow or remain where they were.
But notice Jesus wasn’t just calling them to be followers – to listen and to learn; he was also inviting them to join him in becoming fishers of men and women.
The prophet Jeremiah had spoken of ‘fishing for men and women’, meaning catching men and women for judgement. But the mission Jesus was inviting Peter and Andrew to join him in, was to rescue men and women from judgement – an unexpected call.
Two other fishermen, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also invited to join Jesus in this mission. All four immediately left their families and businesses and followed Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t asking them to sell up their homes or businesses. But such was his impressive nature or his teaching that they were willing to leave their businesses in the hands of others and follow him.
An Unexpected Compassion. With deft brush strokes Matthew introduces us to the pattern of Jesus’ ministry – preaching the good news of the kingdom, as well as healing the sick, and exorcising the demon possessed, at a word and in a moment of time.
Today, the notion of miracles, especially those recorded in the New Testament, are dismissed because ‘we now know the laws of nature’. Against this Dr. John Lennox, Oxford Emeritus Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy responds: ‘The laws of nature that science observes are the observable regularities that God the creator has built into the universe. However, such ‘laws’ don’t prevent God from intervening if he chooses. When he does, we are able to identify the irregularity and speak of it as a miracle’.
If Jesus is God’s unique Son – not just a man, but God in the flesh – if he speaks and acts with the authority and power of God, it is quite consistent for him to be able to perform what we call ‘miraculous’ feats. Indeed, if the Bible is authentic – and it claims to be so – we should expect the unexpected.
Indeed, we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus wielded such extraordinary power that crowds came in droves from near and far – even from far away Jerusalem.
But there is another layer to Jesus’ acts of intervention: they were temporary. People were only restored for a time; they would still all experience death. Wouldn’t the Messiah conquer even death itself?
Here was another potential unexpected twist. Jesus presents us with so much expectation and hope, but he also leaves many questions unanswered.
Three unexpected themes: Jesus commands us to repent, for God’s rule has taken on a new dimension; we need to sort out our relationship with him while we have time. He calls us to follow him and play our part as fishers of men and women: helping others to find the truth. Jesus cares for us at all times, intervening in our lives for our good, giving us a taste of the perfection and joy to come.
What will you do with Jesus? He is both extra-ordinary but very ordinary. He does the expected but constantly says and does the unexpected. But shouldn’t we expect this?
A prayer. Lord God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: mercifully accept our prayers, and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do nothing good without you, grant us the help of your grace, so that in keeping your commands we may please you both in will and deed, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.