When the light of God came into the world it began to shine in a small fishing village and from there would spread to the whole world. Some were willing to join it by immediately changing their entire lives. What about us?
I pray that the beginnings of Christian discipleship encourage us to also be bold disciples.
We will look at the place where discipleship began, and how readily those first disciples were to drop everything to follow the Light of the world.
Jesus spent most of his ministry in and around Capernaum (Matthew 4:13). Pronounced in Greek kap-er-na-’OOM, it was a Hebrew hamlet, Kafer Nahum (ka-’FER na-’HOOM), meaning Nahumville and it sat on the north shore of Lake Galilee. Later in Jesus’ ministry the only public building was the synagogue, reputedly built by the Roman centurion whose servant Jesus healed. There were no paved streets, public restrooms and the synagogue was the community center. It was a small fishing village on a main road. Capernaum was also the place where Peter and his wife owned a house. The architecture was stone homes with thatched roofs, lending itself to the later healing of a paralyzed man who was lowered through a roof. Perhaps Jesus chose this town on a major trade route as a center of his early ministry because his first disciples came from there.
The fanatical preacher
There he was standing in the street again obsessively broadcasting the same propaganda. A lot of people listened to the fanatical preacher. He was a newcomer to town, a hillbilly from the back woods and he had some radical ideas. Other people were angered by his message which they thought to be foolishness. Some just paid him no heed. Yet, he had a few devotees. Word is that they just walked off their jobs to follow him and his wild-eyed doctrines. Had he lost touch with reality? Could it just be that this man was who he claimed to be? Could it be that it is we who have lost touch with reality? Could reality be that we are lost and without hope and desperately in need of the repentance that preacher from Nazareth taught in Capernaum so long ago?
The yoke of sin
We all carry burdens and don’t even know it. There are burdens of guilt, consequences of life’s bad decisions that we or others have made, and the oppressive nature of a world of greed. Some face burdens of child-support or alimony from a failed marriage, children they cannot see because of court orders, infertility, disease, loneliness, household responsibilities, taxes, mountains of red tape, inequity in the workplace and crime and so on. A prophecy in Isaiah 9:1-4 spoke of one who would shatter the yoke that burdens. If our western democracies are really free then we don’t need Jesus. But the truth is, only Jesus can remove the burden of sin. That Old Testament prophecy began to be fulfilled exactly where it was predicted to be, in Capernum along the border of Zebulun and Naphtali (Matthew 4:13).
Light in our darkness
Isaiah prophesied of a light that would begin to dawn in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. In a world of fear and darkness where is there light? Statesmen travel back and forwards to make peace but there is none. Legislators wrestle with laws to save their people but they are not saved. Lawyers fight to relieve their clients’ burdens, but burdens remain. Armies fight against oppression, but oppression has not ceased. We spend a lifetime building strongholds to protect ourselves but there is no bulletproof protection. Composer of many songs, the ancient Jewish King David sang “the Lord is my light and my salvation.” Matthew 4:15-16 quoted Isaiah with the words, where death casts its shadow, a light shines. Death is the theme of the nightly news. Jesus is the answer that some few speak about but even fewer seek.
Christianity’s "foolish" message
Beginning at Capernaum on Lake Galilee a light began to shine into this dark world (Matthew 4:15-16). Jesus began to publicly announce the kingdom of heaven. The village of Capernaum did not at first receive that message, and so Jesus denounced it. Modern Capernaum stands as a monument to church division with half owned by Franciscans and the other half owned by Greek Orthodox Christians. In our silly squabbles down through Christian history we have often forgotten the power of that light. That unifying message of the cross is considered to be foolishness outside of Christianity (1 Corinthians 1:10-18). Human politics has no power to unite Christians, yet that message does. It is the power of the cross, the power of God. It is a power that we ignore when we squabble over the things that divide us.
The path to change
Repentance is the primary message of Jesus’ preaching (Matthew 4:17; Luke 24:47) but how does this occur? It begins like the Greek word suggests, as a change of heart. That change is a gift from heaven. In the beginning God said, let there be light, and in the beginning of a new creation in us he must shed divine light on our hearts. At first we find the light fascinating and eventually are ashamed of the darkness in us and the world. In humiliation, we will experience a change of heart, a change from arrogance and self-reliance to humility and reliance on God. Shame grows into a hatred of sin and begins to transform our actions. We fall short of perfection but love the light so much more than the darkness, and we love more deeply God’s forgiveness.
What Jesus wants preached
There are a lot of topics that preachers speak about many of which are helpful, but there is always a central theme which Jesus demands. Repentance and the kingdom of heaven are themes with which Jesus began his ministry (Matthew 4:17) and repentance and forgiveness are themes with which he concluded it (Luke 24:47), saying that this would continue to be preached into all the world. Repentance refers to a continual life-changing experience which begins with an initial change of heart and progresses towards an ever growing life of becoming more like God in every way. When we submit to God, we are forgiven all our past wrongdoings and come under the protection of his spiritual kingdom. We grow less interested in the useless pursuits of this world and more interested in living the way of real joy.
Are snap judgments always wrong? Is second guessing a decision made on a whim always good? How many of us have made intuitive decisions on the spur of the moment that have turned out to be the right thing to do? On the other side of the coin, we often see people who make impulsive decisions which they don’t stick with. Is a snap decision like the parable of the seed sown on stony ground that quickly springs up but has not root and no staying power? The disciples’ sudden decision to follow Jesus (Matthew 4:20, 22) seems to contradict that idea. It is appropriate to make some choices speedily, even decisions with lifelong consequences. Going with our instincts can be the right choice. If we trust that Jesus will lead us to green pastures, why delay following him?
What hinders us from following Christ more fully? What nets are holding us back, an overcrowded life or an addiction to something harmful? What do we need to leave behind, a bad habit or a bad attitude? Do we see really Jesus as the Light in a dark world? How willing are we willing to drop everything else from our complicated lives and follow Jesus?