Both the gospels of Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus made the city of Capernaum his hometown, but they don’t tell us how he got there. Jesus’ actually hometown was Nazareth so after his time in the wilderness that’s where he returned, but he didn’t stay there and it is the gospel of Luke that tells us why. Once Jesus arrived in Nazareth he entered the Synagogue and read from a section of Isaiah that talked about the coming of the Messiah. Luke 4:18-19 Jesus read these words and then sat down, which meant he was going to teach the people and what Jesus said was,Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. In other words Jesus said the spirit of the Lord is upon ME. I am the Messiah. I am the one who has come to bring good news and to set people free. This did not go over well with the people. In fact, this hometown crowd drove Jesus out to a cliff with every intention of throwing him off it to his death. But Jesus just walked through the people and left Nazareth. It says he passed through the midst of them and went on his WAY.
The way of Jesus took him north to the city of Capernaum and it was from here that Jesus engaged in ministry. But why did Jesus pick Capernaum as his new hometown? Why did Jesus choose this city and not, say, Jerusalem? Matthew tells us why. Matthew 4:13-16. Capernaum was in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, it was the on the road to the sea across the Jordan, and so Jesus went there to fulfill the words of Isaiah, but it wasn’t just to fill the scriptures, Capernaum was a good location for other reasons. It was a hard working city with a strong fishing and farming industry so Jesus would find people who understood the simple things in life and faith. It had a large Jewish population but unlike the Jewish community in Nazareth this community was open to new and fresh ideas. So this was a great location for Jesus to begin his ministry.
Today in Capernaum there are 2 important sites that people visit.
The first is the ruins of a synagogue that dates to the 3rdcentury. This synagogue was built on top of another one that would have been the place Jesus went for worship. You can see the white stones are from the synagogue in the 3rd Century but the darker stones are the ones that would have been there when Jesus was around. It’s amazing to think that Jesus could have walked on those very stones and sat on those walls.
The 2nd important site is about 90 feet from the synagogue and it is the ruins of what is believed to be a Christian church also built in the third century.
Today there is a very modern church built on top of the original church and the floor is glass so you can get the feel of worshipping in what might have been one of the first Christian Churches ever built.
Now it is important to remember that many of the early Christian churches were built on locations connected to the life and ministry of Jesus. Churches were built where they believed Jesus was born and where he died and last week we saw that in the 3rdcentury they built a monastery over the cave where Jesus may have spent time in the wilderness. So the question people began to ask was what was so special about this location in Capernaum? In the 1960’s, archeological work found that below the church was a house and so people began to ask, what was so special about this house? Whose house was this?
Well, we heard the answer this morning from Mark 1:29.
They left the synagogue and immediately entered the home of Simon Peter. So it is believed that Peter lived close to the synagogue and so it is believed that this location, 90 feet from the synagogue where Jesus taught, is where Peter lived and where Jesus would have most likely made his home while he was in the city. But these locations aren’t just where Jesus lived and worshipped, these were the locations of Jesus’ earliest miracles, miracles that became the foundation of his ministry. In the synagogue Jesus drove out demons and in the house next door he healed the sick. Healing and driving out demons was part of the ongoing work of Jesus and therefore they need to be part of the ongoing work of our lives as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
So let’s talk about driving out demons. There are several stories of Jesus driving out demonic or evil spirits and it raises the question if there are still demons active today? This not an easy question to answer. In Jesus day, there was none of the scientific and medical knowledge we have today so many things were simply seen as people being possessed by demons. Take epilepsy for example, when people suffered from what we would call an epileptic seizure those around them thought they were possessed by a demon and in fact there is a classic example of this found in Mark 9:17-18. What the man describes here we might call a grand mal seizure, but in Jesus day the only way they could describe it was to talk about it in terms of demon possession. Some psychiatric disorders and mental illnesses that we are able to diagnose might have been seen as demon possession. Even things like fevers, blindness and paralysis were often seen as the work of demons. When Jesus confronted these situations, it was not important for him to define what was going on in medical, emotional or spiritual terms – he just wanted to heal and deliver people so they could experience the fullness of life. Jesus was working in the context of a first century worldview and so whether people saw sickness or demon possession, Jesus didn’t try to diagnose, he simply offered healing and wholeness.
Today we live in the context of a very different worldview. Through scientific, medical and psychological advancements we diagnose things differently which means we can bring about healing and wholeness in different ways. So some of the situations in the bible we read about as demon possession we may call something else, but let me be clear, there are still not demonic forces at work in our world and in the lives of people today. They may look different but they are real.
The summer I worked in Yellowstone National Park we would walk through the campground each Saturday night telling people about our worship services the next morning. When I would enter a campsite I would always introduce myself by saying, “Hi, my name is Andy and I am working with the Christian Ministry in the National Park.” I will never forget walking into one site and when I got to the world “Christian” one of the women at the campsite became hysterical. She screamed and yelled and told me to leave while everyone else just seemed to look at her. I was stunned and honestly terrified. I walked away and shared what happened with another member of the ministry team. We believed that this woman was possessed. We believed there were demonic forces working in her life that lashed out at the name of Christ and so we prayed for her. That scene helped me understand that there are still forces of evil at work in people’s lives so we need to take this seriously and pray for situations where we see or feel the power of evil at work.
What is important to remember as we sense demonic forces is that demons are always afraid of Jesus – not the other way around. When demons saw Jesus coming they were terrified because they knew Jesus had power over them, that is what we heard in Mark 1:23-24. The demons are afraid of Jesus because they know he has the power to destroy them. What this means for us is that if we experience something that seems evil and demonic, we don’t need to be terrified, we just need to stand strong in the name of Jesus. Whether it is the tempting voice of the devil leading us astray or more powerful forces of evil we sense in our lives, the lives of others or the world around us, we need to claim the power of Jesus, pray in the name of Jesus and say to these forces of evil – be silent and be gone.
Jesus cast out demons in the synagogue and then 90 feet away he healed people and so the second question we need to wrestle with is if God still heals people? I believe he does and part of the reason I do is because I was blessed to be the pastor of Bob Crook. Bob was a member of my church in Altoona and he was diagnosed with cancer. The prognosis was not good and the doctors told him to go home and in a few weeks call hospice to come and help him get ready to die. They went home but instead of calling hospice, they called on God. They prayed, asked us to pray, and trusted God to lead them to different ways to treat the cancer and after several months they returned to the doctor who did all the tests again to see how far the cancer had spread. When the doctor came into the room he said to them, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but we can’t find any sign of the cancer. We can’t explain it, but you are cancer free.” He told the doctor, I can explain it, God healed me.”
We called Bob the miracle man, not just because of that situation but a few years earlier Bob had a brain tumor and they went to Pittsburgh for very delicate and extensive surgery to remove the tumor. The doctors cut open Bob’s head and when they opened the skull the tumor popped out complete and in one piece. The doctors looked at themselves and said, “well, let’s close him up” and they did. The tumor was out and there was no explanation except for the power of God. So I do believe God heals – sometimes it is miraculous and instantaneous and sometimes it is through all the medical advances God gives us, but I do believe God heals – but I also know that true and eternal healing isn’t found in this world but in the kingdom of God to come.
When I met Mary she was battling cancer and she had incredible faith that that God would heal her. She believed this; her family believed it and so did the church. We held a healing service one night and after the service Mary said she felt so much better and she improved for many months. Things really began to look good, and then they got the news that the cancer was spreading. When I prayed with her again we prayed for God to heal her, but we both knew that the healing God would bring would come in heaven not in her home. She accepted that and at her funeral we gave thanks that God finally and forever healed her.
As we look at the ruins of Capernaum and think about what Jesus did at the house of Peter and how he healed people, we need to understand God healing people is real. If we are going to walk in the way of Jesus we need to help bring this healing to those around us, but what does that look like? To answer this we need to look at another story that happened at the house of Peter. At the beginning of Mark 2, Jesus has returned to Capernaum and it says he was at home – which we assume is the home of Peter. When news of Jesus being there got out a huge crowd of people gathered to hear Jesus teach and preach and to watch him heal the sick and demon possessed. Four men carried to Peter’s house a friend of theirs who had been paralyzed and they wanted Jesus to heal him, but they couldn’t get their friend into the house, so they climbed up on the roof, which would have been made of mud, stones and straw and began to tear the roof apart.
This is one of my favorite scenes in the Bible. Picture Jesus sitting at a table, the room would have been noisy and chaotic with all those people crammed in there and no one may have noticed the little bits of dirt and dust coming down from the roof because dust and dirt would have been flying everywhere with all the people around. And then all of a sudden a big chunk of mud falls on someone’s head and everyone looks up at sees the sky through the hole. And somewhere in the house was Peter going ballistic scrambling over people to get to the roof and see what is going on. And then four heads pop through the hole as the men look down to see where they are and if it is a good location to lower their friend. And then the ropes drop down and a stretcher is lowered into the house. What a scene, and all the while Jesus is sitting there thinking to himself, Wow, these men must really love their friend.
So the paralyzed man is lowered into the room and when he hits the ground I picture his four friends looking through the hole again and they aren’t looking at their friend, they are looking at Jesus and Jesus looks right at them and he sees their faith and trust in God and it is because of their faith that Jesus heals the paralyzed man. That’s what it says, look at Mark 2:5. It was their faith that moved the heart of Jesus and it was their faith that moved the hand of God.
The way of Jesus was to heal people and set them free from spiritual, physical and emotional problems and if we are going to walk in the way of Jesus, if we are going to follow in his footsteps then we need to do the same thing. For most of us this means that we live lives like these four friends and find ways to be part of the process of God’s healing power. It’s not just doctors and nurses that God uses to heal people and it’s not just counselors and therapists who work to help people experience freedom and wholeness in life – God uses all of us. God uses artists and teachers and scientists and business owners. God uses people who pray and sing and visit and knit.
The prayer shawl ministry of our church brings people healing. A few weeks ago, Tina McKinley was in the hospital with several serious problems. She told Larry to bring in her prayer shawl and the nurses said, you can’t bring in your own blankets. Tina said it was not a blanket and she was going to have it with her. The next day when Tina got her prayer shawl – her situation began to improve. It wasn’t just the antibiotics she was getting, it was also the prayers and it was that shawl. Her friends helped bring her God’s healing.
Seeing the way Jesus lived in Capernaum shows us the way we need to live. We need to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and allow God to use us as instruments of his grace and healing.
The Way ~ Capernaum
In Capernaum, Jesus healed people spiritually, emotionally and physically and at Peter’s house we see four friends following in the footsteps of Jesus (Mark 2:1-12.).
1. Identify some friends who have helped bring God’s healing into your life. Take time this week to not only thank God for them, but thank them as well!
2. Identify ways you can be a “stretcher-bearer” in the lives of others.
· Who needs your help today?
· What can you do to bring God’s healing into their lives?
3. What specific gift has God given you that you can use to help heal others spiritually, emotionally and physically? How can you use this gift in the life of the church?
For further reflection:
Jesus defined his work using the words of Isaiah 61. Jesus was going to:
● Bring good news to the poor
● Release those held captive
● Restore sight to the blind
● Set the oppressed free
● Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
Reflect on what each of these things meant for Jesus and examples of how he lived out this mission.
How can we follow in the footsteps of Jesus and live out this same mission today? (Be specific and identify missions and ministry you can engage in this summer.)