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If you were giving birth to a movement to change the world, would you consider starting in a podunk town in a second-rate country? A travel brochure for Capernaum or Israel would have certainly not included such a disparaging caricature of the area, but that is probably how Israel and Capernaum were viewed in their day.
Israel had been dominated by super powers for at least 500 years. Capernaum was a small fishing village with half the population of the 64052 zip code in Independence.
Let’s read the text and try to understand the logic of why God began his great work at this locality.
Matthew 4.12-17 – 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.”
The word, repent, literally means to “change your mind.” What if God started his mission in Capernaum in an effort to have people change their minds about what they think about him?
(1) Capernaum was filled with mixed-race people who had settled there after they had returned from exile in Babylon. They were suspect by the people living in Jerusalem, who had a more pure heritage. Most of Jesus’ ministry was performed in the northern reaches of Israel among Capernaum-like people.
The region was called “Galilee of the Gentiles,” possibly because their heritage made them more open to other races of people.
Since the good news of God’s love is to be taken to all of nations (Matthew 28.19-20), Capernaum may actually have been a good place to begin.
(2) Galilee was described, by Isaiah as “a people who sat in darkness” and “those who sat in the region and shadow of death” (Verse 16).
Try putting that on the advertising poster for your local Chamber of Commerce. It’s almost as good as being designated the “Meth Capital of the World” by “Rolling Stone” magazine.
Yet, this is where God desired to begin his world-changing mission. Out of his great love, God desired to have his “great light” to “dawn” on these people.
(3) “Jesus made his home in Capernaum” (verse 13).
God is not the distant and strange god of the Greeks, living on Mount Olympus. He is not the god of the rulers of Rome, who paraded their wealth and privilege before the masses in the celebrations of their gods.
The true and living God, made his home in the darkness and the mixed racial environment of Capernaum. John beautifully pictures an up-close and personal God in the opening words of his Gospel. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (John 1.14).
God is not distant and untouchable. He lives among us and makes his home right where we are.
Change Your Mind About God
Jesus was on a mission to help people change their mind about God, so they could change their relationship with God. Walter Brueggemann said Jesus’ kingdom message declared the world to be “Under New Management.”
What kind of Manager is behind the “Under New Management” situation of the world?
— God loves all people and all races. God’s new management program begins in a place of mixed races and cultures and ends with a message to “all nations” (Matthew 28.19).
— God makes his home among people who are living in darkness and the shadow of death. He lives among us in a real and personal way, so we can begin living in his light and life.
— God is a God of action, not just “pretty words.” Our world has been “Under New Management,” since the day Jesus declared his purposes in Capernaum. God invites all of us to step into a new reality, the reality of life under his rule, one of light and life.
The next section is an example of how God truly wants to live with people through Jesus (and in our day, through the Holy Spirit).
The Greatest Opportunity of All
When we repent, we literally change our minds. That extends to changing our minds about what we think about the opportunities that come our way.
A new, creative, and exciting job with more pay is an opportunity. A chance to travel and to experience a beautiful mountain or an ocean is an opportunity. A chance to spend every day with the greatest Being to ever grace Planet Earth is the greatest opportunity of all.
Let’s read how four men and their families experienced the greatest opportunity of a lifetime.
Matthew 4.18-22 – 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.
The first thing Jesus did as the Manager of a world that is Under New Management, was to gather four men to follow him. Jesus was so invested in people that he didn’t begin any aspect of his ministry until he had a few people to share it with him.
The story of God being partners with people is as old as the day when Jesus called Peter and Andrew and James and John. God is calling people today in order to give them an opportunity of a lifetime.
Last night, I sat in a folding chair in front of my car in the church’s parking lot of Maywood Baptist Church for a worship service. I looked over a crowd of people who were once in darkness, living in a shadow world of self-centered destruction. Jesus came to them and brought them life and light.
Like the first disciples, Jesus has said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Wow! Have they responded to that call!
If you want to hear from people who resemble the people of Galilee, come to Maywood Baptist Church next Saturday night at 6:30. Like the first four disciples, we will have four followers of Jesus tell their story.
— Heather Gloria, who has six years of sobriety and who leads a women’s small group.
— Darren Jackson, who has five years of sobriety and who is one of the best AA sponsors I know.
— Cory Hodges, who has four years of sobriety and serves in numerous ways in God’s kingdom.
— Matt Uhl, who has one year of sobriety and is a key leader with the Good Foundation recovery ministry.
I don’t have space or memory to tell all of the stories that are a part of the people I saw last night. Each person is an example of God’s amazing love, his willingness to be a part of our lives, and the light and life he brings to the world.
Western Independence is not Capernaum. However, we are one of those unlikely places that God wants to use in his Under New Management mission. Let’s be sure to say, “Yes,” when he says, “Follow me!”
Dear Jesus, thank you for showing us who God actually is. We praise you for every aspect of your nature. Please help us to experience every part of the life you desire us to have.