Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:
"The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles:
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death
Light has dawned."
From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
- Matthew 4:12-17
Yesterday we read that after His baptism, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." But He answered, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'" Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you,' and 'In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'" Jesus said to him, "It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'" Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, "All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me." Than Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.'" Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: "The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: . . . " John is put in prison, and it is a starting point for Jesus' ministry. My study bible tells us that the term Galilee of the Gentiles indicates the many non-Jews who lived in the region. Since Galilee had a mixed population, it wasn't considered to be genuinely Jewish as a territory, although many Galilean Gentiles had converted to Judaism in the relatively recent Maccabean period. Since many Galilean Jews had been influenced by the Greek culture and customs, they were generally considered second-class citizens in the perspective of the Jews of Judea. See Isaiah 9:1-2 for the source of the quotation.
"The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned." Darkness, in the context of these verses, means ungodliness, spiritual ignorance. Here, says my study bible, it indicates the Gentiles' unawareness of God and also the Jews being under the shadow of the Old Covenant. To sit in darkness is an indication of being overcome by spiritual ignorance. The great light is the gospel of Christ (see John 1:5).
From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Jesus takes up John's call, in a sign of continuity from Old to New, as John the Baptist is considered the greatest of the Old Testament-type prophets. (See Matthew 3:2.)
We see the continuity in Jesus' words, as the Old Covenant makes way for the New, for the light that is the gospel of Christ -- and for Christ who will say of Himself that He is the light of the world. Interesting that He begins in Galilee, and that many of His first disciples will be Galilean. Many will also be former disciples of the Baptist, another indication of continuity. But why Galilee? Should not the Messiah, the Anointed One, begin in the center of Jewish religious life in Jerusalem? We know He was born in Bethlehem, as prophesied. But why Galilee? He is a Galilean from Nazareth, but where He begins His ministry is in a more cosmopolitan environment, a place close to the intersection of trade, commerce, and travel. In some sense, Jesus begins His ministry in a place with all the characteristics that make the Jews of Galilee looked down upon as impure. It seemingly throws the door open to criticism and scorn. But at the same time it begins a ministry that will go out to the entire world, available to all, and truly "for the life of the world." If we don't really understand the "light shining in the darkness" then we are far from understanding Christ and the purpose of the Incarnation. We go also into considerations of what it means to be "pure" and "impure" -- and an understanding of grace and how it works. Every movement of this ministry teaches us something about God who is love. The story of Jesus' ministry teaches us so much about God; all of it illuminates and writes a "bigger story" than the merely factual in worldly terms. What does it mean that the light shines in places it wouldn't be expected? What does this ministry teach us about grace and its capacities? How about imperfection and weakness, or those thought of as unseemly, or "less than"? Everything tells us a bigger story, but it's a story about light -- the light that shines in the darkness -- and how it is at work in the world, even in ways the world does not understand.