A Tale of Two Cities

Easter always reminds me of a trip I made a few years ago to Jerusalem. I had the privilege of spending a week in Israel on one of those “Where Jesus Walked” holidays. One very special item on the itinerary was a visit to Capernaum and Nazareth. We were able to visit both towns in the same afternoon, as they are geographically very close. This made me think about the very different reactions that Jesus received in these places, despite being almost neighbours. When Jesus went to Nazareth, he was not able to do any great wonders (Mark 6:1-6), yet when He ministered in Capernaum He enjoyed the most extraordinary success (Mark 2:1-12; Matthew 8:5-17). Certainly, Jesus was the same person with the same anointing and calling in each place. He did not change, ever. So what was different?

Perhaps the answer lies in Paul’s theology concerning the battle for the mind (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). The mindset of the Nazareth people was cynical while those from Capernaum seemed to embrace the Spirit’s ministry with faith and enthusiasm. To develop signs and wonders in British churches today, we will certainly need to “pull down the strongholds” but these are not nasty demons hovering in the sky, but rather the negative or sceptical mindsets that exist inside our heads.

For example, many Christians believe that to experience a miracle will require one of two things: either a visit to “somewhere else” – perhaps a conference or revival hotspot – or the arrival in our local church of an anointed speaker. The unspoken theology is that miracles don’t really happen in the local Sunday church because only the pastor is on offer. This was the problem that Nazareth had with Jesus – He was the local boy! As an itinerant evangelist, I usually have great favour and faith when I minister in someone else’s church, but as a local pastor I see fewer results. There is something peculiar in us that considers a guest speaker as somehow “more powerful” and this erroneous thinking has to go. We must see miracles wrought by the hands of local elders in local churches if we want to have Capernaum results!

Statistically speaking, greater miracles do seem to happen abroad. My experience is that the general level of unbelief is a little less, perhaps due to a Catholic foundation, and especially where humanism and Darwinism have not taken hold, or where there is little money for medicines. However, Jesus said that only a small size of faith is required. In Luke 17:5-10, He taught that the miraculous is not dependant on the size of faith, but whether or not we have put it to work. Faith can become lazy if unexercised. If you have never prayed for a headache, you will find it hard to pray and believe for the paralysed or the terminally ill. Faith has to develop, like a muscle, and grow stronger. So if your faith seems weak, you just need to start using it. Jesus’ promise is that it will grow!

In recent decades, there has arisen an expectation that a mighty wave of miracles is on the way, but that this is for “the revival” to come. What nonsense! Now, don’t get me wrong, I trust that a better day is coming for Britain. There are large prayer and revival movements now and they are a blessing. But there can be a real danger to this doctrine of “waiting” and “praying.” Praise God if there is a revival but what about now? Surely, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is revival, if only we will use the power from on high that we have been given. I’m sure that’s what our Pentecostal fathers believed. Controversial though it is to say, we don’t need any more power. The key, as always, is bold action!

An erroneous belief in the “God of tomorrow” was just as prevalent in Jesus’ day. When He spoke from Isaiah 61 the crowd lapped it up until He suggested that this anointing was actually present (Luke 4:14-30). Martha wept at the tomb of her brother in the eleventh chapter of John, wishing that Jesus had been present in the past and confident that He could do something wonderful in the dim and distant future. But Jesus was the resurrection, standing right in front of her now. Let’s stop waiting and start acting upon the promises of Scripture, which are eternal and for very generation.

The good news is that if you are a citizen of Nazareth, moving to Capernaum is not difficult. Let’s arise in the power of the Spirit and actively forsake our Nazareth attitude to embrace the child-like faith of Capernaum. Then we, and our needy communities, shall say with them of old: “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:12)

Originally published in JOY Magazine, April 2009

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