“Reaching, Teaching, Caring: Following the Footsteps of Jesus” (Matthew 4:23 sermon)


The yellow footprints you see are scattered all over our Marine Corps Recruit Depots in San Diego and in Parris Island. In the early stages of a Marine recruit’s time at the training base, these footprints show the young Recruits where to go, where to stand, and what to do. And after following these steps during their training, these young men earn the title of United States Marine.

The Bible tells us in I Peter 2:21 that Jesus left us an example to “follow in His steps.” Jesus did not leave us yellow footprints to follow on the ground like at those Marine bases, but He HAS left us His example in His word. We just saw a couple of weeks ago in our study of Matthew 4:18-22 that Jesus calls us to follow Him, and we saw that that means that we are to follow Him by doing the same things that He was doing in the world. If that is so, then one of the most important questions we can ask is: “What was Jesus doing in the world, so that we may imitate it?” Now, there is SO much that Jesus did, recorded for us the Gospels. Is there a way that we can “condense” or “summarize” it, so that we can get a handle on it and imitate it? As a matter of fact, the Lord did provide for us just such a summary, here in Matthew 4:23 and again later in this book. Let’s look at verse 23, and its summary of Jesus’ ministry to people:

“Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4:23)

Here the Bible give us Jesus’ ministry in a nutshell. In fact, if you turn to Matthew 9:35, you will find this EXACT verse repeated again — word for word — as a summary of Jesus’ earthly ministry to people. In between we find many of the instances of healing and teaching that Matthew records. It is like these two verses (Matt. 4:23 & 9:35) put a “parenthesis” around the earthly ministry of Jesus, saying, Here is the summary of Jesus’ ministry here on earth; here is what He did while He was here: He was “teaching” in the synagogues; He was “proclaiming the gospel” of the Kingdom; and He was “healing” sicknesses among the people.

I. Jesus’ Ministry: Reaching/Teaching/Caring

Let’s analyze these ministries of Jesus for a few minutes, and see what we can learn from them. What we will find is that Jesus ministry to people while He was here on earth included at least 3 major areas:

He was REACHING People with the Gospel

It says here that Jesus was “proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom.” That is, He was telling people how to be saved; to repent and believe in the Gospel.

Reaching people with the gospel was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry.
We saw in Matthew 4:17 that as He began His ministry, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He was reaching out to people with the gospel; telling them how they could become a part of the Kingdom of Heaven.

In fact, at one point in His ministry, in Luke 9, Jesus was headed for Jerusalem, and He was going to stay in a certain village, but the village they were coming to rejected Him. James and John said: “Lord, do You want us to call fire down from heaven and consume them?” But Jesus turned to them and said (:56), “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to SAVE them.” So Jesus re-emphasized here that the purpose for which He came to earth for was to “save” people — to REACH them for God.
So Jesus’ ministry here on earth was first of all about “reaching” people.
B. He was also about TEACHING people and growing them spiritually.

It says here that He “was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues.” Jesus had a heart to teach people the truth, versus the lies they had grown up believing and which were destroying their lives.

Mark 6:34 says that when Jesus went ashore from the Sea of Galilee one day, “He saw a large multitude, and He felt compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and He began to teach them many things.”
Jesus wanted not only to reach people with the gospel so that they might be saved, He wanted to teach them so that their lives could be changed by following God’s word as they were discipled.
C. He was also CARING for people and ministering to their needs.
Matt. 4:23 says He was “healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” Why did He do this?

Partially, He did it to fulfill scripture, and show people that He was the Messiah. Several times in Matthew it tells us that when Jesus healed someone, it fulfilled an Old Testament Messianic prophecy. For example, Matthew 8:14-16 describes how Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever, and then healed many others who came to their home. Then :17 says “This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: ‘He Himself took our infirmities and carried away our diseases.'” So partially, Jesus healed in order to fulfill prophecies and show everyone that He was the Messiah.

But it was also more than this. Jesus didn’t just heal people from their sicknesses in some “cold-hearted” way, just to prove who He was. He did it because He really LOVED these people; He had a genuine compassion for them, and wanted to help them and meet their needs.
— Matthew 14:14 tells how when Jesus saw the large crowd, He “felt compassion for them and healed their sick.” He healed those people in the crowd that day because He really had a compassion, a love, for them.
— We see this again in Luke 7, where He came across a funeral procession of the only son of a widow woman, and :13 says, “When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her.” And then He raised that young man from the dead!

We see this all through the Gospels: that Jesus would “SEE” the needs of people, and then He would “FEEL compassion” for them, and then He will DO something to help them. (By the way: this is a good study: Go through the Gospels and look for all the places where it says that Jesus “SAW”, “FELT COMPASSION” & then DID something to help. It is a very enlightening study!) But the bottom line is, Jesus healed because He CARED. He cared for people — and He still cares for us today!

SO: we can summarize Jesus’ ministry in these 3 terms: He went about:
Reaching people: sharing the gospel with them
Teaching people the word of God, and
Caring for people and ministering to their needs.

So “REACHING, TEACHING, & CARING” is a good “nutshell summary” of Jesus’ ministry while He was here on earth.

II. Our Ministry: Reaching/Teaching/Caring

But listen, this is not just an academic study of what Jesus did here on earth. I Peter 2:21 said that Jesus left us an example that we should “follow in His steps.” We are to imitate what He did. Now, it is important to say that Jesus is not “only” our Example; He is also our Lord & Savior who redeemed us, and He did SOME things which we can’t imitate: He is God and we are not; we are not sinless like He is; we can’t die on the cross to save anyone. Jesus was unique in those things. But having said that, He IS also an Example for us; Peter says that we are to “follow in His steps.” Scripture tells us that we are to purposefully imitate Him, and become like Him. Ephesians 4:13 says the goal of a Christian here on earth is to become mature in the fullness of Christ — we are to become like Him.

Some years ago Charles Sheldon wrote a little novel called In His Steps, about what happened in a church when everyone decided to follow in the steps of Jesus and ask, “What would Jesus do?” before everything they did. We’ve all seen bracelets and bumper stickers based off that idea: WWJD, “What would Jesus do?” And sometimes people find themselves in situations, and they wonder: “What WOULD Jesus do” in this situation? And that’s a great question to ask. If you are here today, and you are wondering what to do in a certain situation, ask yourself: “What would Jesus do?” and you will have your answer.

But listen: we don’t have to “dream up” some answer to that question, “What would Jesus do?” The answer to that question is found right here in Matthew 4:23! What DID Jesus do when He was here on earth? He was Reaching/Teaching/Caring for people. So if you and I are serious about “Following in His steps” and doing what Jesus did when He was here, that means that we should be “reaching, teaching, and caring.” What does God want you to be doing in the world? He wants you to do what Jesus did. Imitate Him: “reach, teach & care” for people.

If you are really following Jesus, that means that:
— there should be some way in your life in which you are involved in REACHING out to people with the gospel: inviting them to church; telling them about Jesus.
— there should be some way in your life that you are TEACHING, discipling, mentoring others to grow in their faith. It could mean teaching a Sunday School or discipleship class, or mentoring one-on-one, formally or informally, but in some way you will be teaching/discipling others.
— and you should be consistently CARING for others: beginning with your own family, neighbors, Sunday School class members; those in the hospital, homebound, nursing homes — in SOME way you should be consistently caring for people like Jesus did.

Just like Jesus’ life could be summarized by Matthew here as “Reaching, Teaching, & Caring”, so OUR lives should be able to summarized by “reaching, teaching, & caring” for people.

Do you ever stop and look back at your life, and think about what you have done? I do. Often at night I’ll think back on the day, or in the morning in my prayer time I’ll recall the previous day, and think: what was I able to do today that was good; that was of eternal value? And you know, we all fall short in many ways. But if I can look back on a week and say, “you know, I did not do everything in the world this week; there are still things left to do. But if I can see that I have at least reached out or witnessed to someone; if I have been part of teaching or discipling someone; if I have cared for someone — then at least in those ways, I was like Jesus this week, and I can be at peace with that.

We should take this example of Jesus and ask ourselves regularly: Am I REACHING out with the gospel to people in some way? Am I TEACHING a class or discipling people? Am I CARING for people regularly? Am I following “in His steps” by “reaching, and teaching, and caring”?

III. Our Church’s Ministry: Reaching/Teaching/Caring
We need to see this same paradigm applies to the church. Churches are pulled in so many directions; what should the ministry of our church be here in the world? It’s the same thing: we should be “reaching, teaching & caring for people” just like Jesus modeled for us.

(Now I would add that there is one more ingredient in that mix, not found here in Matthew 4:23, and that is “Worship.” In Matthew 4:10, just before He went about “reaching, teaching & caring”, Jesus said, “You shall worship the Lord your God.” We are to build our lives on the foundation of daily worship of God as individuals — we can’t really “reach & teach & care” unless we are abiding in Christ every day and worshiping Him. And our primary ministry together as a church is to worship GOD. HE is the center for us. But regarding our ministries to people, the church is to do what Jesus did in the world: we are to be “Reaching, teaching, & caring.”)

We see this in the Book of Acts, where 2:42-47 describes the ministry activities of the early church, and we see the same “reaching — teaching — caring” ministries of Jesus followed by His church:
— Verses 46 & 47 says “they continued with one mind in the Temple” and were “praising God.” (That is WORSHIPING)
— :42 says “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching (that is TEACHING);
— :45 says “they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” (that is CARING)
— and :47 closes the chapter saying: “The Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (they were REACHING).
So here we have the same thing again: the Early Church followed in the steps of Jesus by first worshiping God, and then serving Him by: “Reaching, Teaching, & Caring” for people.

So the lesson for us as a church is: If “Reaching, Teaching & Caring” was the ministry of Jesus, and “Reaching, Teaching, Caring” was the ministry of the early church, then “Reaching, Teaching & Caring” should be the outline of our church ministry as well.

This really helps us as a church. What are we supposed to be doing here on earth as a church? We don’t need to “dream up” some “vision”; we don’t need to “reinvent the wheel” of what we are supposed to be about. We don’t need to just imitate what “everyone else is doing.” God’s word tells us here just what we are supposed to be doing as a church. We are supposed to be “reaching, teaching, caring.” We are to be REACHING out to bring people in; we are to be TEACHING and making disciples; and we are to be CARING for people. Those (along with worshiping) are to be our business as a church — and we need to make sure we keep the priorities of Jesus as our priorities, and not allow ourselves to become distracted from them, and spend all our time and effort on things that the Lord never called us to do.

It’s so easy to get sidetracked from your main mission. I remember reading about a church in the Philadelphia area that was being lauded for its great productions of the English Gilbert & Sullivan comic operas. Now I LOVE Gilbert & Sullivan — but when I read that I thought, what in the world is a CHURCH doing spending all that time producing English comic operas? A New Testament church has been charged by God to follow in the steps of Jesus, by reaching, and teaching and caring for people. If we’re not careful, we’ll get distracted doing all kinds of other things that don’t have anything to do with that core mission.

As pastor, and staff, and deacons, and church ministry leaders, we need to constantly keep this in mind as we form plans and make ministry decisions for our church. We are here to “worship God, and serve Him by reaching, teaching, & caring for people.” THAT is our vision. THAT is our mission. THAT is what we are supposed to be planning for and doing. And we need to make sure that we keep HIS ministry as OUR ministry.

Whenever someone has a new idea for something in our church, we need to ask the question: does this fit with the mission that God given us?
— Does it lead people to worship God?
— Does it reach people with the Gospel?
— Does it disciple people and teach them the truth of God’s word?
— Does it care for people in Jesus’ name?
And if it does not do any of those things, then we should know right off: we don’t need to be doing it. Our business as a church is to follow in the steps of Jesus by worshiping God and serving Him by “reaching, teaching, and caring” for people. And if it doesn’t involve that, then we do not need to be distracted from our mission by doing it!
THE SUNDAY SCHOOL MINISTRY: Reaching/Teaching/Caring
In this same line, we need to realize that the purpose of our Sunday School — the biggest ministry and the backbone of our church — is this same thing. The purpose of the Sunday School is to reach and teach and care for people. Many churches are doing away with Sunday School — and then they wonder why they aren’t discipling and caring for people they way they want to. We need to understand the key role that Sunday School plays in our church, in “reaching, teaching, & caring” for people. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if a church could have only ONE ministry, that ministry should be the Sunday School, because the Sunday School is uniquely positioned to fulfill all 3 of the the priority ministries of Jesus in the whole church: it is set up to REACH & TEACH & CARE for every age group in the church.

A) Reaching through the Sunday School
The Sunday School organizes our church into age-graded units, which can reach and teach and minister to every age group in the church, from nursery to senior adult. But to accomplish that mission we first have to get it into our minds that Sunday School is NOT just a “class”. One of its most important responsibilities we have in Sunday School is to REACH OUT to people and invite them to come in.

And inviting someone to Sunday School is one of the best things you can do to reach them. I read a statistic a few years ago that a person who is in Bible Study is 3 times more likely to be saved than one who is not. So one of the best things you can do if you want to see someone saved is to get them in a Sunday School class. Then when they DO get saved, they have a support group already built in, to disciple them and help them grow.

So let’s keep REACHING people in the forefront of our minds as we serve in our Sunday School. Let’s pray in our classes about people who are lost and who need to be with us; and let’s purposefully invite people to come. Every class should ask ourselves regularly: “Who should be here today who is not?” “What we can we do as a class to REACH people in this age group?” Sunday School is about REACHING people like Jesus did.

B) TEACHING through the Sunday School
Every week in our Sunday School classes, the word of God is shared, and people are taught God’s truth, and can grow in their discipleship. Teachers, let’s be sure that we have a real vision for discipleship as you lead your Sunday School class. Don’t just “teach a lesson” — make it your goal for your members to GROW spiritually through your time together. Let’s “make disciples” through our Sunday School who leave that room walking more closely with the Lord than when they came in.

C) CARING through the Sunday School
Sunday School is also be the indispensable front line of CARING for people in our church. Sunday School takes that 300+ people we have in worship, and divides us down into small groups of 8 or 10 or 15 or so, where you can know people personally, know what their needs are; know whether they are there or not. You can’t do that in a big crowd in the worship service.

That’s why we want all of our members to be a part of a Sunday School class. You need to be in a group that knows you and cares about you — and YOU need to be part of group that is caring for others! And the best way we have to do that, is through our Sunday School. I believe there are a number of people here today, whose response to this message needs to be to enroll in one of our Sunday School classes, so you can be part of our church’s best “reaching, teaching, and caring” ministry with your life.

Listen: it matters what you do with your life. A couple of years ago, they began interviewing candidates for a one-way space trip to begin a colony on the planet Mars. There is no possibility of a return trip; no way to get back, so it would be a one-way trip. They narrowed it down to 200 candidates, including a women from Great Britain, whom they asked about the risk of the trip: aren’t you afraid? And she answered: “Of course I am scared. It’s something that has never been done before, it’s a leap into the unknown. When people ask me why I am going to Mars to die, I say we are all going to die, but it’s important what you do before you die.”

What she said is so true. It matters what you do with your life before you die. When you die, I guarantee you, you will not wish you had watched more television, or played more video games! The only thing that will matter in that day how much like Jesus you were: did you “reach and teach and care” for people. And you’ll only wish you had done more.

I love the poem that Keith shared with our students the other night at the youth rally. It was by C.T. Studd, who left his life as an athletic star in England to go on the mission field. Many of you know it, but it’s so true: “Just one life; twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.”

What can you do with your life that will last? Money is not going to last; possessions are not going to last; fame is not going to last; pleasure is not going to last. What will last? What will make a difference for eternity? What Jesus did with His brief time here. He knew. Jesus only had 3 years of active ministry before His time here was over. And what did He do? He proclaimed the gospel; He taught in the synagogue; and He ministered to people with needs. He reached; He taught; He cared.

If you want to do something with your brief life that will last for eternity, then follow “in the steps” of Jesus, and start doing what He was doing on the earth: spread the gospel; teach God’s word, and care for people.
Reach & Teach & Care.

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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1 Response to “Reaching, Teaching, Caring: Following the Footsteps of Jesus” (Matthew 4:23 sermon)

  1. Pingback: Summer holiday time to knock and ask, and time to share | From guestwriters

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