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Living In Jesus' Town (Matthew 4:12-13)Rev. Dr. William A. Lewis, March 12, 2017
After Jesus was baptized, He made His way home to Nazareth, filled with the Spirit and ready to begin His ministry. On the Sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue and read from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus stunned everyone by saying, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In no uncertain terms, Jesus claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah.
You can imagine how the people who saw Him grow up from childhood received this: “The Messiah? You’re just Joseph’s son. Prove it with some miracles.” Jesus gets into a war of words and indicates foreigners will receive God’s grace before those who don’t believe. They drove Him out of the city to throw Him over a cliff, but He passed through their midst. Jesus’ first sermon didn’t go too well! Interestingly, the first statement of His deity resulted in almost being killed, and His last statement about His deity resulted in being killed.
So Jesus moves to Capernaum. Three fourths of Jesus’ ministry happened in this small region of northern Galilee. From Nazareth to Capernaum, Jesus would have traveled through Magdala, which is where He would have met Mary Magdalene from whom He cast out seven demons.
She then followed Jesus as did several other women who used their financial means to support His ministry. It was this Mary who was the first witness to the resurrection. Here’s a quick story about Mary Magdalene. She was in Rome having an audience with Caesar about Jesus who she proclaimed rose from the dead, to which Caesar responded, “There is no hope that someone rose from the dead than that orange could turn red.” The orange turned red.
Anyway, Capernaum is Jesus’ new home, a fishing town that led to the trade route to Damascus, the second oldest city in the world. It was the Old Testament prophet Nahum’s town, the second most important town in the gospels after Jerusalem. Jesus called His first five disciples from here, and the Bible records twelve miracles in Capernaum.
Jesus’ home town…can you imagine living in Jesus’ town?! Meeting Him for coffee at the “Jehovah Java” shop, or when He says, “God bless you,” it means something extra! Some celebrities are known to bless their neighbors. The boxer, Manny Pacio, hands out money to the poor. Jesus healed everybody.
There are stories from the Apocrapha when Jesus was a child. He would make birds out of the sand box and toss them up and they flew away. It’d be cool to have the Son of God in the house. “Jesus, we’re low on milk”…like He did when He turned the water into wine.
But Jesus was not self-serving; He was all about serving others. Miracles were to restore people back to God, demonstrating the love of God. Miracles indicated Jesus’ identity. They point to the ultimate healing that will take place in the kingdom of God.
Capernaum was a town with a Roman customs office and guess who collected the Roman taxes? Matthew, who became a disciple. Did you ever wonder why the chief tax collector, Zaccheus, pursued Jesus? Maybe it’s because he heard one of his colleagues threw away a lucrative lifestyle for Him. Matthew throws a party for his friends to meet Jesus. The characters at the party would be the social rejects because tax collectors were considered traitors to the Jewish society. Matthew wants his friends to meet Jesus who accepts outcasts.
Sometimes Kim Hawk will throw a party and invite me. Then she pulls me aside, “Okay, this person is struggling with cancer, and I’ve been talking to these folks about Jesus, so close the deal. I’ve invited that person to church; make him come Sunday." I thought I was going to a party, but she puts me to work.
Archeologist found a first century house in Capernaum where both worship and fishing remnants were found. It’s thought to be Peter’s home, because the Byzantine Church in the third century put a church on that spot. We think this is where Jesus lived. It’s where Jesus healed Peter’s mother in-law of a fever…a double miracle!
This leads us to Peter’s call which happened at Capernaum. Jesus and Peter have been introduced, Peter has seen miracles, and is comfortable associating with Jesus, like many who dabble in their religion. So Jesus steps into Peter’s boat to preach, while Peter cleans his net from a night of fruitless fishing. Peter is listening to the words of God as he tends to his fishing gear. Then Jesus tells Peter to put out into deep water. “Let’s go fishing.” In other words, it is time to leave the shallow world where so many are content to live and let’s go deep with Me. No more superficial relationship with God. You are invited into a deep friendship with Your Creator. Peter argues, “Lord, we fished all night and caught nothing.” This is a crucial moment. Peter could have said, “No, I’m a professional fisherman and you are a professional preacher. Let’s stay in our lanes.” But he concedes to the Lord and when he does a great quantity of fish is caught. Peter would have missed the power of God by not following Jesus’ words.
Peter has an interesting response. You’d think he’d say, “Jesus is great for the fishing business.” But instead he says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” When we enter God’s presence, we comprehend our need for forgiveness and our real identity that we are not self-sufficient, that Jesus is our source. We can’t clean up our lives without His help.
Notice how Jesus responds: “Fear not.” This is God’s opinion of our sin. Jesus has come to fix this problem that separates us from God and destroys our experience in life. Your unworthiness is being replaced as you are restored to your original value a child of God.
Then Jesus gives Peter a new identity and purpose: to be fishers of men. Rather than living to make ends meet or acquiring worldly trinkets, we have a serious purpose to bless humanity. This is Peter’s calling and our calling.
I read about a man who felt called by God to dig a hole in the jungle of El Salvador. For the last 19 years, he gets up at 3:00 AM and digs. While I do not want to judge what God might have told someone to do, I would want to check that against scripture because the Lord wants us to lift people out of holes and be a blessing to humanity.
Sometimes the call to ministry is costly. It was Peter’s house where the four friends lowered the paralyzed man into Jesus’ presence to be healed. The four guys find a crowd surrounding the house, so they improvised and removed the roof. I heard a sermon “Who’s going to pay for the roof!” The pastor missed the point; healing a human life is more important than our stuff. In fact, our resources are supposed to be used so others can be brought into Jesus’ presence.
Can you imagine impulsive Peter watching the roof of his house being destroyed, barely able to control himself while Jesus patiently awaits the inevitable. There was desperation of four friends to see that another person got healed. Are you willing to fight for another person’s faith and healing, spending your money or be inconvenienced?
Notice Jesus addresses the paralyzed man’s heart first and says, “Your sins are forgiven.” What kind of sins would a paralyzed man commit? The deadliest sins: resentment, arrogance, judgment, lovelessness are sins we commit without lifting a finger.
Jesus’ first priority is not your physical world, but your soul that lasts forever. How many of us get paralyzed over a sin committed against us or a failure we haven’t forgiven ourselves for. Life’s trials can paralyze us. A man got into heated argument with his daughter who went out and committed suicide. You can imagine how it destroyed him. His world stopped; he couldn’t function. What good is a physical healing if we remain disconnected from God?
We often assume God is punishing us when we get an illness or something goes bad. But God does not inject cancer cells into your body or cause your children to die. That is merely the result of living in a sin tainted world. Jesus came to rectify all of that.
The scripture says, “Seeing their faith” (the four friends). Their faith caused someone else to be touched by Jesus. Your faith has power because when you become an intercessor, someone else’s sins can be forgiven. Maybe it’s time all of us put a list together of people we know and care about that are not in a relationship with Jesus. They could be non-believers or “used to be” Christians.
Remember when our faith was weak, someone cared for us, prodded us. Now it is our turn. It’s as easy as having coffee together: “Hey I was challenged at my church. Do you go to church? No, how come?” Then listen to their story. People have lots of pain in their lives.
Like the man who bumped into a pirate and said, “You look terrible. What happened?” The pirate said, “I got this wooden leg because I got hit by a cannon ball. I got this hook because I did not fare so well in a sword fight. I got this eye patch because one day we were at sea and bird flew overhead and got me in the eye.” The man said, “You can’t lose an eye from that!” The pirate said, “It was my first day with the hook.” People have stories of loss and struggle and unfair circumstances which inevitably get blamed on God.
Do your homework: 1st pray for the Holy Spirit to move through you, 2nd investigate answers to their questions, 3rd meet with them again – not a hard sell, just care about them.
Another powerful place in Capernaum is the synagogue. It is amazing to stand in the very spot where Jesus taught and healed people! It is in this synagogue a demon possessed man sat and interrupted Jesus’ preaching. I’ve been interrupted in the middle of a sermon a few times: people passing out and once someone died. I guess I have killer sermons. I‘ve been shouted at, but fortunately no demons interrupting me. I met a Christian from China who says it’s a normal occurrence in the middle of a worship service for the pastor to cast demons out of possessed people. It’s fascinating these people make it to church and get delivered.
Demons? Are you sure this isn’t a psychiatric disorder? The ancient world didn’t understand complex medical issues or mental illness and thus classified it as demons. But you can’t classify all such references in the Bible to natural causes. For instance, the demon Jesus cast out shouted, “I know you are the Holy one of God.”
Jesus came to address the forces, influences, habits and thoughts that are destructive to ourselves or others. Jesus is the source of deliverance from the pain, voices, and turmoil in our head and heart.
We know of three times Jesus raised the dead. Once it happened in Capernaum when Jesus raises the synagogue official’s daughter from the dead. The religious leader sought Jesus’ help and when she was announced dead, Jesus told him, “Do not fear; only believe.”
Jesus’ ministry at Capernaum has a reoccurring theme: believe.
This leads to another significant conversation that occurred. In Capernaum in John 6, Jesus fed the 5,000 and then went home. The crowd found Him at Capernaum and wanted to make Jesus king, but the Lord said you just want food for your bodies, not the spiritual essence I bring. So they asked, “What shall we do, that we may see the works of God? Jesus answered, “This is the work of God that you believe in Him who He has sent.”
We do our best to avoid the wrath of God and obtain God’s blessings by living correctly, having our theology in order and serving others. But nothing we do will incline God to move towards us.
What God wants from us is to believe in His love for us, demonstrated in His Son who came to take upon Himself our sins so we are forever united back to our Heavenly Father. We don’t earn it; we don’t even maintain it. It is all about receiving God’s free gift and then living in that relationship.
During Thursday night service, we covered the passage Abraham believed to be God’s promise and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Believing in God’s love is where our energy should go.
It is in Capernaum that the centurion had his servant healed by asking Jesus to heal. But, he said, “You don’t have to come to my house, just say the word” Jesus said, “I have not seen such faith in all Israel.”
Hebrews 11:6 “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” It is as simple and difficult as just believing God. So what situation are you struggling with right now? Turn it over to God; choose to believe He can and will care for you.
Sadly, Jesus did all these miracles and preached so powerfully, yet they would not embrace Him. So He told them that it would be better for Sodom and Gomorrah than it would be for Capernaum in the last days.
Unbelief blocks all that God wants to give you.
19th century Danish theologian Soren Kierkegarrd identified two kinds of religion. Religion A is faith in name only: the practice of attending church without genuine faith in the living Lord. Religion B is life-transforming, a destiny-changing experience. It’s a definitive commitment to Jesus who establishes an ongoing personal relationship between a forgiven sinner and a gracious God.
Capernaum was Jesus’ town. Could you imagine bumping into Him on the street? Actually, what’s most amazing for us is we get to live in Jesus’ zip code. You see, He has moved into our hearts so we always have access to Him. Believe it and step into it!
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12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, (ESV)