Last week, we read in the gospel of Matthew of Jesus' baptism by John, which was immediately followed by forty days in the wilderness. Jesus has returned from this difficult experience, and is told that John has been arrested.
Herod the tetrarch had John the Baptizer arrested because of John's preaching against Herod's sin (Matt. 14:4). We'll get all the details of that when we get to chapter fourteen.
When Jesus heard of John being arrested, it says that He withdrew into Galilee. This sounds sort of chicken, doesn't it? Like He's running away from danger. Well, He's not.
First of all, it is important to know which Herod this is. You see, this wasn't Herod who was king of all Judea when Jesus was born. He had died decades before. This was Herod Antipas, the tetrarch who reigned over a fourth part of the region.
In Luke chapter three, we read,
Luke 3:1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ee-too-RAH-yah and Trakh-o-NEE-tis, and Loo-san-EE-as was tetrarch of Abilene
Jesus returned from the wilderness of Judea and heard that John had been arrested by Herod. But He wasn't in Herod's district, He was in Pontius Pilate's district. Herod was the tetrarch of Galilee.
Secondly, the word "withdrew" in Greek is "an-akh-o-REH-o," which means, "to go back." The NIV says "returned," while the KJV says "departed." These are good translations of this word.
Now, read the verse again:
Matt. 4:12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He WENT BACK into Galilee
Jesus wasn't running from Herod. He was returning to Herod's jurisdiction, to Herod's own backyard! Luke clarifies this as well in chapter four of his gospel:
Luke 4:13-15 When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time. And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district. And He began teaching in their synagogues...
Jesus didn't withdraw in fear - He went up in power. And this, by the way, is why Pilate later sent the arrested Jesus to Herod (Luke 23:7).
Again, Matthew points out how Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus. He assumes that you know the Old Testament, and challenges you to be a student of Old Testament prophecy.
Isaiah had prophecied of this region, saying that although it had been previously judged by God, in the future it would be particularly blessed.
Is. 9:1-2 But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.
Galilee was looked at with scorn. On the day of Pentecost, it was disparagingly said of the disciples, "Are not all these who are speaking Galieans?" (Acts 2:7). But God had shined a great light in that dark land.
Jesus' message sounds strangely familiar. That's because it was word-for-word what John's message had been (Matt. 3:2).
This tells me several things:
Number one, if a minister is arrested or beheaded, God's still going to get His message out. Many times when God is using us powerfully, we can begin to think that we are essential in the kingdom of God. But the fact is, God's kingdom prospered before I began teaching the Word, and will continue to long after I am dead.
Number two, it tells me that although there may be different personalities amongst ministers, the message is still the same. Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees and lawyers the vast difference in technique between He and John.
Luke 7:31-35 "To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.' For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, He has a demon!' The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children."
John and Jesus had two completely different methods of ministry. John was harsh while Jesus was graceful. But their message was the same. In other words, both the flute and the dirge produced the same result: people repented because of John's ministry, people repented because of Jesus' ministry. The wisdom of the message was proven out by both results. And so their mannerisms were different, but their message was the same. Just like Paul told Timothy (2Tim 1:13) to "retain the standard" of sound words. The delivery might be different, but the message is identical.
Thirdly, don't forget the importance of the message itself: repent, because the kingdom is coming quickly! Remember that the word "repent" is "met-an-o-EH-o," from "met-AH," meaning "after" and "no-EH-o," meaning "having understanding." Understand, comprehend, what your sin is, then get rid of it. Turn away from it. Hate it. Why? Because the kingdom of God is coming. God is going to judge the world and judge sin. No one in their right mind wants to be a part of that!
Jesus had a very basic method of getting people to follow Him. He simply said, "Follow Me." And people did follow Him. Just like they drop what they're doing in life to follow Him today.
In my life, I had a plan. Having signed a six-album record contract with sales around the globe, I was about to record my second album, go on tour across the United States, and then do the third one, and go on tour in Europe. But then Jesus said, "Follow Me." And just like Peter, Andrew, James, and John left their nets and followed, so did I. As a matter of fact, I didn't even pick up the guitar for a year after that. And you know what? It's been a far grander adventure than recording and touring would have been.
And just as He was healing all sorts of people from all sorts of afflictions, He has done the same for me. Physically, He has performed miracles for me. Emotionally, He has healed my twisted and tormented mind. Spiritually, He has relieved my pain and suffering.
Let me ask you: What are you suffering from today? What has pained you? What has kept you paralyzed? Jesus can heal you. All that's required of you is to come to Him as He preaches repentance and says, "Follow Me."