A sermon by Bob Browning, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Frankfort, Ky.

Matthew 4:12-23

January 26, 2014

This morning our attention is drawn to the earliest days of Jesus’ public ministry. Matthew tells us one of the first things Jesus did was to relocate from his boyhood home of Nazareth to a town on the northwestern side of the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum.

It appears Jesus made this move upon hearing John the Baptist had been arrested by Herod Antipas. He needed to get as far from Herod as he could and move to an area where people would be more receptive to his message. Capernaum provided this kind of environment.

Since Capernaum was situated on a major trade route from Syria to Egypt, travelers brought not only new products with them, but also new ideas. As a result, Capernaum was more progressive than Nazareth, and the citizens would listen to Jesus with open minds and hearts. Matthew concludes our text by saying Jesus moved freely about the region teaching and preaching in their synagogues. Capernaum did provide Jesus more security and freedom than Nazareth.

In addition, the number of Gentiles around the Sea of Galilee attracted Jesus. His message was not just for the Jews but for all people, and Capernaum’s large Gentile population interested Jesus.

Sometime after Jesus moved to Capernaum, he was walking along the Sea of Galilee when he came across two brothers, Peter and Andrew. “Follow me,” he said, “and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately, they left their nets and followed Jesus.

In similar fashion, James and John responded to Jesus’ invitation to follow him. Matthew says they immediately left their nets and their father, who was sitting in the boat at that time.

How does this story speak to us this morning? Where does it intersect our lives? Let me answer this question by asking another one. What do the five main characters in this story have in common?

All of them experience significant changes in their lives. They leave everything familiar, and for the most part predictable, to embark on a fascinating and frightening journey of faith. Jesus closed down the carpenter’s shop and left his home of almost thirty years while these four disciples walked away from their lucrative fishing businesses to join God where He was at work in their world.

I stand in awe of this level of commitment, submission and passion to seeking and doing God’s will.  At times their willingness to change everything in their lives to pursue a new course inspires me; at other times it condemns me.

How well do you handle change? Do you dread it or embrace it? Do you fight it or cooperate with it? Do you hold it off as long as you can or initiate it? Do you recognize the need for it or fail to see anything good which can come from it? I suppose our reaction depends upon how radical the change is and the reason for it.

Are you aware that Jesus challenged almost everyone he met to make changes in their life? Listen to the first words he spoke in this text. “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near.”

The word, repent, means to turn. It is a word which invites us to think again, to revisit a decision, to make better choices, to formulate new plans and to change direction. It encompasses a change of heart, mind, behavior, beliefs, values and loyalties in order to become the best person we can be and do our part to make the world around us better.

This is precisely what happened to these four fishermen when Jesus invited them to follow him. They allowed Jesus to give them a fresh dream and to show them new ways to use their talents and skills so they could make the world better for all people. None of this would have been possible had these four fishermen not embraced change.

What a contrast to the rich, young ruler who approached Jesus and asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life. When Jesus told him to sell everything he had, give the money to the poor and then follow him, the ruler turned and walked away. He was unwilling to do what the disciples had done.

Why do you think people are so reluctant to change? Perhaps they are comfortable where they are, even if it is not a good place to be. After all, change is disruptive. Maybe they can’t envision a better life on the other side of the turmoil and have decided to settle for less than their best.

The fear of the unknown can keep some people from making changes. They are uncomfortable starting a journey with more questions than answers in their pocket.

The fear of failure is a big deterrent. What if they don’t succeed? What will people say about them?

I have a counselor friend who tells me it is not uncommon for people to contemplate a change for two years before making a decision. They will find any number of reasons to put it off one more day.

Jesus seemed to be comfortable with change. He certainly wasn’t bashful about challenging others to make changes in their lives to follow him. Everywhere he went he invited people to examine their lives and make changes.

I wonder what he knew and saw they didn’t. I wonder what he sees in you and me that we don’t.

What changes do you think Jesus would like for you to make this year in your life? Would he encourage you to make changes in the way you use your time, talents, resources and influence? Are you too self-absorbed? Is life all about you, and how you can use what God has given you to get what you want? Would Jesus challenge you to rearrange your values and priorities and become a better steward of God’s gifts to you?

Would he like to see you take more risks instead of playing it safe? Would he encourage you to think outside the box and get out of your comfort zone? When was the last time you tried something new and took advantage of an opportunity to expand your boundaries?

Would he challenge you to open your heart and mind by listening to people’s stories and walking in their shoes? I wonder what difference this would make in your attitude and the way you treat those around you. How would their story and perspective on life impact what you believe?

Would he challenge you to rise up and remove yourself from an unhealthy situation? Would he tell you it is time to be honest about what is going on around you and to do something about it?

Would he talk to you about your role in the family? Would he challenge you to be a better mate, parent, child or sibling? Would he ask you to become kinder, more patient, more understanding of others or do more to help out with the chores?

Would he encourage you to get more serious about your faith and your relationship with God? Would he reveal to you where you are not living by the Golden Rule and challenge you to do something about it? Would he ask you to be more trustworthy, reliable, dependable, industrious, responsible, courageous, compassionate, forgiving and humble in the year to come?

Would he challenge you to join him in confronting evil and overcoming darkness? Would he encourage you to speak truth to power by exposing injustice and demanding that all people be treated fairly and with dignity and respect?

What would Jesus ask you to let go of and leave behind in order to make these changes? What is holding you back and keeping you from becoming all God intended for you to do and be when He created you? What is more important to you than your faith, and whom do you trust more than God?

“Repent, for the kingdom of God is near,” Jesus told all who would listen. Embrace change. Always look for ways to join God where He is at work in your life and the world around you and move in that direction. Don’t live out your fears but your dreams.

Whose help do you need to take that first step? I believe the answer is found in the second part of that quote, “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near.”

That phrase, “the kingdom of God has come near,” is not a threat but a promise and a word of hope. The changes we need to make in our lives are possible because God is near, and like a loving parent, God is eager to lead, guide, inspire and encourage us.

At all times and in all places, God will be with us. Never will we be alone because God inhabits the risky places where people are willing to go to join Him in redeeming the world and making it better for all people. God will help you to be, as my friend, Tom Ehrich writes, “humble enough to learn, brave enough to fail, foolish enough to imagine a better world and faithful enough to join with the flawed and broken.”

As I look back upon my life, I realize the times I have been closest to God are the times I have made changes in order to follow where Jesus was leading. Never have I felt more aware of His presence or received more of His blessings.

What about you?

I believe our Capernaum is anywhere God is calling us away from the safe and familiar so God can use us in new ways to make the world better. I also believe Jesus comes to us as he did the disciples by the Sea of Galilee and invites us to trust him and join him on this fascinating and fulfilling journey of faith.

Is Jesus calling you today? If he is, will you take his hand and follow him into this land of new dreams and possibilities? I certainly hope you will.

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