Fishers of Men (Matthew 4:12-23)
The Beginning of the Ministry of Jesus - John’s ministry was to call for a renewal of Israel and to manifest Jesus as the Christ. After John was imprisoned, the earthly service of Jesus began. Matthew highlights Isaiah 9 as He makes Capernaum His "base of operations,” since this place would be the first place enlightened by the ministry of Jesus. A few verses later in the passage to which Matthew alluded are the well-known words, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God …”
The Location of the Beginning of the Ministry of Jesus - Why here? This area of Zebulun and Naphtali had been compromised since the time of the invasion of Assyria (2Kgs 15:29; 2 Chr 5:26). Jesus began here, perhaps the darkest Israelite section, to proclaim repentance since the kingdom was drawing near in Himself. This passage also describes the call of several key apostles: Peter, Andrew, James and John. The location of His ministry is strongly associated with the “sea” (by way of the sea, walking by the sea, fishing, nets, etc.). Theses fishermen disciples were called to be fishers of men (4:19). In contrast to the OT (farming prophets, e.g., 1Kgs 19:19ff), the new covenant shows dominion over the Gentile “fish of the sea.” This image is seen in the new covenant temple from which water flows making the dead sea fully of life (Ez. 47:8-12 cf Jn. 21:5-11). Essentially, being a fisher of men equals being interested in others made in God’s image from all tribes, not merely “clean” Israelites. Peter would learn this first hand (Acts 10).
The Meaning of the Ministry of Jesus - This passage also reports the beginning of the healing ministry of Jesus. Jesus went throughout the area, ministering in the synagogues, proclaiming the news of the coming kingdom and "curing every disease and every sickness among the people." This is the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus after His baptism and testing in the wilderness (Mt. 4:1-11). The means God chose of sharing the good news to the whole world were a dozen feeble disciples, several of whom were common fisherman. God did not have this news first announced in the centers of power in the world. It was not in Rome or Jerusalem that the ministry of Jesus began. There was an actual "evangelist" that announced in Rome the "good news" to the people, like an anchorman on the news today who would announce in the public square "news" worthy of proclamation. But the gospel of Jesus was not announced by such an evangelist. Rather, the first proclamation about Jesus after His resurrection was by one of these fishermen who had been given the Spirit, after three denials of knowing Jesus. It was Peter who would proclaim, "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The effect of their transformation was recognized: "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized them as companions of Jesus" (Acts 4:13). Such is the work of God in us; to take the ordinary and bring about an extraordinary transformation through His Spirit, making us “fishers of people.”
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as receive a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more