New Dawn

Published: Tuesday, 24 January 2017

DawnThis sermon, ‘New Dawn’, was presented by Geoff Pound on 22 January 2017. It is the fourth in the ‘New’ series in the new year of 2017.

Scripture Reading: Matthew 4:12-23

 12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
    light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

If you happen to be up and outside at dawn, you’ll see and hear and know that dawn signals a new day.

The birds are tuning up for their dawn chorus, the parrots in Ferndale Park are starting to screech and the frogs in the Glen Iris wetlands commence their croaking. Something new is happening. Right from ‘the crack of dawn’, the darkness gradually disappears, while the unstoppable light emerges.

It’s interesting that Down Under, the most hallowed day of the year is not Australia Day[1] but ANZAC Day[2] and the longer we go on from the great wars, the more popular this day becomes. And it starts with the solemn Dawn Service.[3] There’s something eerie and magical going on at the dawn. The darkness symbolizes those who sleep in death, the sorrow and the loss through war and the candles and flame and then the sunrise that speak of hope, gratitude and peace.

Soldiers know that the dawn is one of the most favourable times to attack, so soldiers are called to ‘stand to’, ready to repulse the enemy’s attacks. So the dawn is a call to be alert.

We’ve recently come through Advent and with candles we’ve reenacted the emerging light. Many have celebrated Carols by Candlelight, Christmas with stories of the guiding star and the dark heavens bursting with brilliance at the angelic chorus.

Then all around the world we’ve seen fireworks lighting up the skies to symbolize death to the old year and celebrating the new dawn of 2017.

Today on the Christian calendar, we fast forward thirty years. The silent period when Jesus works in the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth is over. At chapter 4 v2, Matthew’s Gospel signals a new dawn:

4:12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.

The arrest of John, following the temptation of Jesus [Matthew 4:1-11] looks more like darkness than dawn. As Thomas Fuller observed: ‘The darkest hour is just before the dawn’.[4] We see in the arrest of John the darkness of the Roman authorities, whose actions and corrupt practices this prophet was calling into question.

There’s movement and change here in v12:

he [Jesus] withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea…

This isn’t a pleasant sea change. It’s not a lifestyle decision.[5] On the contrary, it calls to mind Mary and Joseph escaping with their baby to Egypt when King Herod was butchering babies in Bethlehem. Now Jesus is on the move again because Herod’s son [Herod Antipas] has arrested John and we know how this will end.

Does it ever worry you that we follow in the footsteps of believers like John, who were arrested and beheaded?

Does it concern you that the Christian life will often pit us against political leaders of our day?

Does it alarm you that we follow One who was executed by the government?

Does it trouble you when we hear Jesus calling us to ‘take up our cross [our execution equipment] and to take it up daily’?

Matthew is writing primarily to a Jewish audience so his geography is significant.

Jesus makes his home in Capernaum by the sea, Matthew says:

in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
    light has dawned.”

Matthew’s readers would know that this region was earlier occupied by Assyria. Under such oppression Isaiah prophesied light coming to the darkness—those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned.

Matthew is keen to show Jesus in the full sweep of history fulfilling Isaiah’s prophetic vision.[6] He presents Jesus as the new dawn breaker coming with justice, freedom and light.

We’d think that an inauguration is best held in the capital—in Canberra, in Washington or in Jerusalem but Jesus starts his ministry in Capernaum[7] with a piddly population of 1000. At the sea of Galilee or as Isaiah declares: ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ so this foreshadows Jesus’ ministry among people of every culture. This inclusive vision reaches its climax in Matthew 28 when

his followers are commissioned to ‘Go and make disciples of people of all nations’.

There’s little fanfare and razzamatazz at this inauguration.[8] It’s geared towards the little people, the ignored and those on the margins.

Christ’s inaugural address can be summed up in one sentence:

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

That’s exactly the theme of John’s preaching and look what happened to him! Jesus isn’t ducking for cover. He’s walking into the furnace.

The author Erik Larson gave a lecture in a large auditorium where the place was filled. He told of how his readership had taken time to develop. When he wrote his first book, his publicist set up a book tour and at one venue, he walked into the auditorium and took his place at the podium, only to find, as he peered out into the cavernous room, that there was only one person present. One woman sitting in the back row. He smiled at her and said, "It's good to see you this evening. Why don't you move up here closer to the front?" She replied, "No, I'll stay put. I might want to leave early."[9]

Jesus called people to go all out. To ‘repent’ is to make (and keep on making)[10] an absolute turn around. No sitting in the back row getting ready to leave early when the pressure comes.

Jesus is not a one-man band for now in v18 he’s assembling his team.

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Last week we studied John’s Gospel where Andrew met Jesus and then he went to his brother Simon and said: “Eureka! We have found the Messiah.”[11]

Matthew presents Jesus calling Andrew and Simon at the same time.[12] He shows how God’s call can come to us while we’re going about our ordinary business. God’s call can be to stay in our work but we’re being asked: “Are we are doing what we are paid for or doing what we are made for?”[13]

Matthew wants to highlight that Jesus began by calling the ordinary, lowly people. [14]

He wants to show at this little village that his call is to the least and those on the margins.

We may find the ‘fishing for people’ image distasteful with notions of using the right bait, hooking, snaring and dragging people into Christ’s kingdom. It’s a violent image. It’s a coercive image but Jesus used a picture that these net fishermen would get. They too would be calling others to join Christ’s network.[15]

I wonder what image Christ would use to call you?

This image valued their occupation.

It shows how our gifts and experience can be transformed into our service for Christ.

Even though we’re often warned about making ‘snap decisions’ or ‘impulse buying’ the repetition of the phrase ‘Immediately they left’, is a sign of Christ’s commanding presence. There’s something about Jesus that evokes an immediate, unwavering response.

They didn’t submit their resume and references.

They didn’t get a contract with salary, housing allowance and retirement package.

They didn’t seem to ask any questions.

When Jesus called, they dropped everything and they followed him.

Matthew shows that the call of Christ may require that we leave our place, that we are prepared to leave our business.

The mention that ‘they left their boat and their father highlights the priority of Christ’s call over family and the cost of discipleship that is borne by those who leave and by those who are left behind.

Once we’ve cleaned up our boats and kissed our family goodbye, wouldn’t we be asking our new boss’ for his five-year Vision and Strategy document? Wouldn’t we at least be asking for our Job Description?

Jesus simply says: “Follow me.” “Follow me and I will make you.”

Matthew hints in v23 at what the discipleship involved:

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Don’t worry that the Romans are advancing their empire for Jesus is calling disciples to be creating a new kingdom. In the midst of such darkness Christ wants us to help bring a new dawn. What a call to trust. No three-year training period before starting but learning on the job.

If we were walking down the street and someone came up behind us and tapped us on the shoulder, naturally we would turn around.[16] Well that’s exactly what happens in the spiritual realm. We go about our daily business and suddenly without any warning we feel a tap on the shoulder.

That tap on the shoulder is the call of God working to transform us into a new person and leading us into the unique work which God has for us to do.

When we sense God’s tap on our shoulder, respond! Follow! Get involved in this costly, valuable work, of helping to bring light into dark places.

Prayer

Nothing out of the ordinary

Just another working day

Strong calloused hands repairing a net

The quiet inwardness of men working

Focused on the task at hand

Suddenly disrupted by a strange voice

An accent not of this world

Drew them away from family and trade

Towards the light of self-forgetting love

The surprise of a brilliant invitation

Perceived in the most mundane duties.[17]

Calling Christ, in the ordinariness of this new week,

Enable us to be sensitive to your voice,

Courageous enough to leave,

Trusting enough to follow You regardless of the consequences.

Let this day be a new dawn in our lives.

Let this week be a new dawn in our country,[18]

As we choose to follow You.

Amen.


[1] Australia Day 2017 is this coming Thursday, 26 January.

[2] Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne, ANZAC Day-25 April.

[3] ANZAC Day Tradition, Australian War Memorial.

[4] The Phrase Finder. Thomas Fuller appears to be the first to note this saying which could have been in peasant folk lore. His text, A Pisgah-Sight of Palestine and the Confines Thereof, 1650. The actual quote: ‘It is always darkest just before the Day dawneth’.

[5] Audrey West says, “This verb (withdraw) is typically used in Matthew when there is movement from one place to another in the face of threatening circumstances…This verse signals that John’s arrest is a dangerous situation for Jesus and he must choose how to respond.” Cited in ‘The Reason of Following’, Left Behind and Loving It, 15 January 2017.

[6] Isaiah 9: 1-2.

[7] Lots of good information in Capernaum, Wikipedia.

[8] The inauguration of the 45th US President was held two days earlier on 20 January 2017. More information at The Inauguration of Donald Trump, Wikipedia.

[9] Alyce McKenzie, ‘All In’, Patheos, 20 January 2014.

[10] The call to repent is present continuous meaning ‘keep on repenting’.

[11] Geoff Pound, New Discoveries, Ashburton Baptist Church, 15 January 2017.

[12] Simon is listed before Andrew.

[13] Janet Hunt makes this distinction in ‘Following Jesus: That for which we are made’, Dancing with the Word, 15 January 2017.

[14] In Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins, “While the fishermen have some economic resources, their social ranking is very low. In Cicero's ranking of occupations (De Off 1.150-51), owners of cultivated land appear first and fishermen last. Athenaeus indicates that fishermen and fishmongers are on a par with money lenders and are socially despised as greedy thieves (Deipnosophistai, 6.224b-28c). The two characters have a socially inferior and economically precarious existence under Roman control. It is among such vulnerable people that God's empire is first manifested. [p. 121]

[15] Some have seen further meaning in what these fishermen were doing when the call came and what Christ called them to do. Simon and Andrew were called while they were ‘casting a net’ (evangelism) while James and John were called when ‘mending their nets’. These two had a calling to restore people to the truth.

[16] This conclusion is inspired by Peter Marshall’s phrase and the sermon of the same, ‘The Tap on the Shoulder’ in Mr. Jones, Meet the Master: Sermons and Prayers of Peter Marshall’.

[17] Rick Fry, A Workaday Gospel, 24 January 2014.

[18] Australia Day 2017 is this coming Thursday, 26 January.