Geography is very important in the book of Matthew. When Jesus moves to a new city or area, Matthew often explains how this move fulfilled prophecy. When Jesus is born in Bethlehem, Matthew reminds you how this fulfilled Micah 5:2. When Jesus is taken to Egypt as a baby, Matthew describes this move as a fulfillment of prophecy.
In our passage this morning, Jesus travels to Capernaum in Galilee. Matthew then explains how this move fulfills an Old Testament prophecy. You must pay close attention to geography in the Book of Matthew.
Remember, Israel was a land full of history. Each area and city in Israel has a story behind it from the Old Testament. Many cities were the subject of famous OT prophecies. The Jews either held high regard for a city, or disdain for a city, based upon the OT history associated with that area.
Now it goes without saying that our Lord was fully aware of the OT history and prophecies associated with each area of Israel. Jesus did not haphazardly choose his itinerary. Jesus traveled to certain places for a reason, and that reason is associated with the Old Testament.
Now I know you are getting tired of hearing me say this, but it is important enough to repeat; in the first seven chapters of Matthew, Jesus relives Israel’s history. Like Israel, Jesus was persecuted as a baby. Like Israel he went into Egypt and was led out of Egypt. Like Israel he came back from Egypt and entered the waters of judgment; Israel in the Red Sea and Jesus in the Jordan River. Like Israel, Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tested; Israel for forty years, Jesus for forty days.
There is only one great event from Israel’s life that is missing, and that is their receiving the Law from Moses on Mt. Sinai. Soon we will come to Matt 5, where Jesus, the New Moses, climbs the mountain and delivers God’s final revelation.
Do you see the importance of geography in Matthew? The places Jesus has gone have shown us that Jesus is the Israel of God; he is the one who receives all the promises in the Old Testament.
We will now consider another reason Matthew’s geography is so important. Matt 4:12-17 records the beginning of our Lord’s public ministry. Up until v. 12 Jesus has not preached at all. He has allowed John to do the preaching. But then John is arrested. John was the last OT prophet; now that John is in prison, Jesus begins his ministry.
When Jesus begins his ministry, Matthew gives us more geography. Matthew wants you to be fully aware exactly where Jesus goes when he begins preaching. When our Lord heard that John had been arrested, he headed north to Galilee. Jesus headed north to Galilee.
His first stop was in Nazareth, where he grew up. The Jews believed that no Messiah would come from a backwater town like Nazareth. After all, the Old Testament said nothing great about Nazareth.
By Jesus having Nazareth as his hometown, we learn something about him. Jesus would not be what the Jews expected. Jesus would be a lowly king without much honor or earthly respect, just like his hometown.
Luke records for us what happened when Jesus preached in Nazareth. The people refused to believe that their hometown boy could be the Messiah. They sought to throw Jesus off a cliff, but he escaped. So he left Nazareth and headed further north, to the city of Capernaum. Now Matthew stops the story and considers the significance of this move.
Capernaum was a fishing village of about 2,000 people located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. After being rejected in Nazareth, Jesus made Capernaum his adopted hometown. Jesus performed more miracles in Capernaum than in any other place. Capernaum became the headquarters of his ministry, if you will.
Matthew quotes from Isaiah 9 to demonstrate how this move to Capernaum was the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy. In Isaiah 9 the prophet spoke of coming judgment on the ten northern tribes of Israel, because they had made Baal their god. God would judge the northern tribes by sending the nation Assyria to enslave them.
Assyria defeated northern tribes around 722 BC. The first two tribes taken into captivity were Zebulun and Naphtali, which was the area Jesus had now moved into. But Isaiah has more to say about this land. A light would one day shine in this area that only knew judgment.
Jesus Christ centers his ministry in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, and Matthew proclaims to us that the prophecy of Isaiah is now fulfilled. The people of these lands have now seen a great light because Jesus, the Son of God, had arrived. The land that was the first to be judged is the place where Jesus ministers the most.
What a glorious place Capernaum was during those three years of Jesus’ ministry. Here Jesus would choose his first disciples. Outside this village he would give his Sermon on the Mount. Here he would heal the centurion’s servant and the man filled with demons. Here he would heal the paralytic and raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Here he would preach his bread of life sermon to the multitudes. Yes, a great light had come into this area of Galilee.
Matthew especially would have fond memories of this first summer of Jesus’ ministry. Matthew lived in Capernaum. He had spent his days collecting taxes, motivated only by the love of money; living in the darkness.
Then Matthew began to hear this prophet preaching good news of forgiveness of sins, and of a kingdom of heaven available to sinners like himself. He began to love this Prophet who spoke so sweetly to sinners. During that first summer Matthew began to question the importance of his money.
Then one summer day the light shone on his booth. Jesus stopped and addressed him. Jesus called him out of sin and darkness and into the kingdom of heaven. Matthew gladly obeyed the call. He left behind everything to follow his Savior. What glorious memories Matthew held of that summer when the light was shining on Northern Galilee.
But notice in Isaiah’s prophecy how he describes this area; Galilee of the Gentiles. A light will shine on Galilee of the Gentiles. You see, this area of Galilee was predominately a Gentile area. Capernaum was located on a highway that ran from the Mediterranean coast to Damascus. Merchants from all over would stop there to rest and fish.
The Jewish population was the minority population. The Jews there could not afford their own synagogue, but the Roman centurion built them one, for he held the Jews in high regard.
Do not miss the significance of this. Jesus made a predominately Gentile city his headquarters for ministry. Why? So you would see that his plan all along was to include the Gentiles in his kingdom. You are not an afterthought in God’s plan. You are not a plan B. Jesus came to bring his kingdom to the Jews and Gentiles alike.
Even though Jesus preached in a predominantly Gentile area, he still preached to the Jews. Jesus said he would first call Israel to repentance.
Now let us come to our main point this morning. What else do we learn from the geography of Matthew? Consider the geography of Jesus’ travels so far in the Book. He is born in Bethlehem and flees to Egypt. He returns to Egypt and lives in Nazareth. He goes to be baptized by John in the Judean desert, and then he returns to Nazareth. After being rejected in Nazareth, he moves further north and makes Capernaum his hometown. He spends the majority of his three years preaching in the cities around the Sea of Galilee. And each time Jesus moves to a different location, Matthew stops and shows how this move fulfilled prophecy.
Doesn’t something seem odd to you about all this? Aren’t we missing something important in Matthew’s geography? There is a question begging to be asked? Do you see it? What city is the subject of almost all the OT prophecies concerning the Messiah?
Yes, some of you are thinking it. What about Jerusalem? There is one place conspicuously absent in all this. Jerusalem is the subject of almost every prophecy in the Old Testament; not Capernaum, not Nazareth, not Galilee; but Jerusalem.
The Son of David was to come and rule forever in Jerusalem. Jerusalem would be the place where God’s glory would shine. When the Messiah came, Gentiles from all the nations were to stream to Jerusalem to worship the king. Where was the Messiah supposed to rebuild his glorious temple? Jerusalem.
Do you see the problem? The Old Testament predicted the Messiah would come and do almost all his work in Jerusalem. Yet Jesus stays away from Jerusalem as much as possible. Notice in v. 12; when John is arrested Jesus withdraws to Galilee. Jerusalem is not a safe place for him.
To make matters worse, when Matthew finally mentions the city of Jerusalem, he dos not connect the city with all those glorious promises in the Old Testament. Matthew only refers to Jerusalem as the place where Jesus’ enemies are plotting to destroy him. When Jesus mentions Jerusalem, he mentions it as the place where he will suffer and be killed.
Do you see why his disciples were so confused? Master, the way you speak about Jerusalem is far different from the way the Old Testament speaks about Jerusalem. Why are you not in Jerusalem making it glorious like the prophecies said?
So what’s going on? Why is there such disharmony between the OT prophecies about the glory of Jerusalem, and the way that Jesus speaks of Jerusalem? If the OT predicts Jesus comes to restore Jerusalem, why does he stay away from that city as much as possible? Why does Matthew refuse to connect Jerusalem with the OT prophecies of that city? Has Jesus failed to bring about those promises? Isn’t he the Messiah?
Or is it possible that there is another Jerusalem? Is it possible that the Jerusalem our Lord has come to reign in is not of a city this world? Could there be another kingdom beyond what the Jews were expecting?
Our answer is found in v. 17 – From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The kingdom the Old Testament prophesied about is a kingdom of heaven. Jerusalem was not in heaven. Would Jesus reign from Jerusalem? Yes, he will reign from the Jerusalem above. Would Gentiles come streaming into Jerusalem to worship the king? Yes, they will come to the Jerusalem from above.
How does one enter into Jesus’ kingdom? Do they have to travel to Jerusalem to see the king? No, they were to repent. When people admit their sinfulness and believe in Jesus, they are in his kingdom; they are members of the Jerusalem from above.
The kingdom of God is not of this world. As there are two Israels, Israel of the flesh and Israel of the Spirit; there are two Jerusalems. The kingdom Jesus came to bring is a kingdom centered in the heavenly Jerusalem. It is not of this world.
The kingdom Jesus brought is a kingdom of grace, a kingdom where the Lord rules in the hearts of redeemed men; a kingdom of the Holy Spirit, a kingdom of forgiveness of sins and love between brothers and sisters in Christ. This is our kingdom; this is the Jerusalem that fulfills the Old Testament. Now you see why Matthew refuses to equate the earthly Jerusalem with any Old Testament prophecy.
The writer of Hebrews did not want you to miss this, so he reminded you in chapter 12 that when you worship Christ you have come to the heavenly Jerusalem. The Son of David is reigning now from his heavenly throne in his heavenly city.
When you believe in Christ for salvation, you are members of the Jerusalem from above. You are living proof that the Gentiles would one day stream to Jerusalem to worship God. That is exactly what you are doing right now.
Notice from our text how the kingdom of heaven comes. It comes through the preaching of the gospel. Jesus came and preached, and where the gospel was believed, there was the kingdom. Since you would never have come to Christ’s kingdom, he came down from heaven to bring the kingdom to you. Jesus suffered and died for your sins in earthly Jerusalem so he could bring you into his heavenly Jerusalem.
The light that shone on Galilee was not a light of political freedom, but the light of freedom from sin and judgment. The light that shone on Galilee was the light of heaven itself.
By refusing to connect old Jerusalem to any prophecies, Matthew is pointing you to a better Jerusalem and a better kingdom; a kingdom more glorious than anything earth could provide. Jesus said that the Old Testament is fulfilled in me.
Lay up your treasure in the kingdom of heaven. Do not live as if this world is what matters most. Do not despise the glory of this kingdom. Love everything about this kingdom – her communion of the saints, her doctrine, her worship, her Bible, and her glory that is hidden from those who love this world.
Your king has freely given you his kingdom. Serve your king well, live in thankful devotion that God has given you heaven’s everlasting kingdom. The kingdom he has given you is a treasure worth more valuable than anything this life could offer. Beloved, as citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, love his kingdom. Amen