Jesus was facing the first temptation of his ministry: the temptation of being a one-town Messiah. Jesus had met all the benchmarks of being a successful messiah in the town of Capernaum. People were speaking well of him and his new teaching. They were amazed at his authority over unclean spirits. His fame was spreading throughout all the surrounding regions of Galilee. There were healing miracles. His ministry in Capernaum could not have gone much better. Things were good in Capernaum. Jesus could have easily spent his whole life and ministry in that town: losing focus, losing perspective, becoming comfortable in irrelevancy – a one town messiah.
How easy it would have been for Jesus to yield to the temptation of Capernaum when Simon told him, “Everyone is searching for you.” Thankfully Jesus did not yield to the first temptation of ministry as he said to Simon and the other persons who were with him, “Let us go on to the next towns that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.” Faithfully remembering the focus of his calling, Jesus chose not to be a one town messiah as he went throughout all Galilee preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. Faithfully remembering the focus of his ministry, Jesus answered God’s call beyond the tempting comfort of Capernaum.
Jesus is not alone in facing the temptation of Capernaum. Any person who is called to be a follower of Jesus understands that the first temptation of Christian discipleship is the temptation to lose focus and perspective as our faith becomes irrelevant. Maybe that is part of the reason Jesus went out to a lonely place and prayed following his first day of ministry at Capernaum. Perhaps he realized the temptation of being a one-town messiah – living in the comfortable expectations of the present as he became comfortably irrelevant for the needs of the future. Jesus knew he needed to faithfully remember God’s call if he was going to become more than a one-town Messiah.
James Wolf, a United Methodist pastor, tells this story about a person named John who faithfully remembered God’s call upon his life:
“We have a Bible study during the middle of the week and we try to use it as a time both to hold each other and hold each other accountable. I mean, how have we done in living this stuff out? And John came in one night. He’s homeless, as are a number of the folks in our congregation. And he said, all right, I’m gonna tell this story on myself before anybody else tells it. You all know I’ve been trying to turn my life around and it’s not been easy. What you don’t know probably is how bad I was. I mean, I was so bad I had all the cars and the women and the money and the power that any one person could want. I was so bad that when I walked down the street folks crossed to the other side just to get out of my way.
“I’m trying to turn my life around and my life’s gotten worse. Last night I spent the night at the Mission – nowhere else to go. I wake up this morning and someone has stolen my shoes. Y’all hear what I’m talkin’ about? Somebody stole my shoes. So I get my knife out. I hadn’t given up that part of my old life yet. It’s a big knife I’m walking down all those tables ‘cause I mean to get my shoes back. And Jim starts hollering from the other side of the room: ‘You ‘member what we talked about in Bible study, ‘bout if they take your cloak and you got another give ‘em that one, too. John, put down that knife. They took your shoes; give ‘em your socks.’
And I tell ‘em, huh-uh, I’m not giving ‘em my socks. I want my shoes. And I go up and down there with my knife and I mean to get my shoes. And Jim keeps hollering and he hollers and he hollers, ‘Put down that knife, give ‘em your socks.’ So I folded up my knife, slowly, but I folded it up. I put it in my pocket. I walked barefoot to the Service Center this morning. I begged another pair of shoes … (it’s) hard to live this stuff out.”
156-157, The Powers That Be, Walter Wink
It is not easy to walk in vulnerable faith as you live out God’s call upon your life. Just ask Jesus who faced the temptation of being a one-town Messiah. It would have been easy for Jesus to stay in the comfortable expectations of Capernaum. That’s why he told Simon, “Let us go on to the next towns that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.”
Answering God’s call upon his life, Jesus was able to become more than a one town messiah as he went throughout all Galilee and eventually to Calvary as he taught about what it meant for him to be God’s Messiah for the world. Answering God’s call upon his life, Jesus was able to move beyond the temptation of being a one-town Messiah who became comfortable in irrelevancy.
Seville Square in Pensacola, Florida was an old historical area that had deteriorated. Community interest in preserving some of the historical spots and restoring some of the old buildings saved this area from ruin. The area, however, has seen a real transformation. Little low-rent shotgun houses in that area, which could have been bought in the early 1970s for $5,000 are now worth 10 to 20 times that much.
Right off Seville Square is a historic old church. It is said to be one of the first Episcopal Churches in the United States. Services were authorized to be held on that spot in 1763. By 1779 a small congregation had been organized. A building was constructed in 1832. If you go
to that church today, you will find a marker on the door indicating that it is no longer a church, but a historic museum. The hours of operation say, “Closed on Sundays and Mondays.” Here is a historic building – but it is no longer a church. Somewhere in its past, it failed to have a relevant connection with its community, so it is now a relic of the past: a museum that attracts people who are interested in past history.
A tragic reality of Christianity is that followers of Jesus can become relics of the past as we lose focus on God’s call upon our lives: losing focus, losing perspective, becoming comfortable in irrelevancy. This was the temptation Jesus faced as the town Messiah of Capernaum. This is why we are called to follow Jesus beyond Capernaum to Calvary. Our calling is to believe in Jesus who was more than a one-town Messiah. Our calling is to follow the Messiah of the world.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
More Than a One Town Messiah
by Pastor Marc Brown
September 26, 2021
Accompanying Scriptures: Mark 1:21-39
(full online service video below)
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for September 19, 2021
Opening Music “Soldiers of Christ, Arise!” arr. Robert J. Hughes
Call to Worship
One: This is the day the Lord has made.
All: Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Scripture Lesson Mark 1:21-39
The Good News “More Than a One Town Messiah”
Closing Music “Here I Am, Lord”
I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry. All who dwell in dark and sin my hand will save. I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright. Who will bear my light to them? Whom shall I send? Here I am Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.
I, the Lord of snow and rain, I have borne my people’s pain. I have wept for love of them. They turn away. I will break their hearts of stone, give them hearts for love alone. I will speak my word to them. Whom shall I send? Here I am Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.
I, the Lord of wind and flame, I will tend the poor and lame. I will set a feast for them. My hand will save. Finest bread I will provide till their hearts be satisfied. I will give my life to them. Whom shall I send? Here I am Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.