Capernaum was a city located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee and, as we read in Matthew chapter 4, it was ‘in the borders of Zabulon, and Nephthalim’, v. 13. That is, it was in the area of the land divided between these two tribes in the time of Joshua. We also read that it became the chosen home city of the Lord, both as a fulfilment of scripture, vv. 14, 15, and after the Lord was driven from Nazareth by an attempt to kill Him. Capernaum was also the home of Peter and Andrew.
In this study of a town that is mentioned often in the scriptures it is important to note what Matthew records about it, ‘The people which sat in darkness saw great light’, v. 16. Notice, also, ‘From that time Jesus began to preach’, v. 17. According to Matthew, then, this was the time of the commencement of the Lord’s public ministry and some of that was conducted in Capernaum. Set against the opposition to the Lord in His hometown of Nazareth, what was the response in Capernaum?
When did this event occur? We are told - ‘on the sabbath day’, v. 21. On the day of gathering for religious purposes, the Lord was in the synagogue. Although we will comment upon the situation in the synagogue, nevertheless the Lord was there. A simple practical application is that we should never forsake the gatherings of the Lord’s people if we can be there! We are also told, ‘he entered … and taught’. There was a willingness to listen to the Lord. At present, this reception stands in stark contrast to that experienced in Nazareth. Here they marvelled and were astonished - this was something which they had not heard before and it was delivered with ‘authority, and not as the scribes’, v. 22.
The difference between the teaching of the Lord and that of the scribes was marked. Not only could He read the scriptures giving their sense, because He was their source, but also because the Lord conveyed His message with moral authority. While many might point at the scribes and highlight their hypocrisy, they could not do that with the Lord. We see that in the miracle that follows.
Notice, though, that the synagogue was occupied by a man with an unclean spirit. What does this tell us about the place in which the scriptures were read and taught, and where the people came to worship God? You will remember when the disciples pointed out the marvel of the temple in Jerusalem, its architecture, and stones. It was merely an empty shell, a picture of what the temple once was and meant. Here the synagogue in Capernaum was but a faint representation of what it should have been. As Matthew stated, ‘the people … sat in darkness’, Matt. 4. 16.
But notice what caused this demon-possessed man to cry out. He states, ‘Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth?’ v. 24. It was not the presence of the scribes or other Jewish leaders. It was not the presence of the sabbath crowd of worshippers. Clearly, it was the Lord. He was ‘the Holy One of God’ and could silence the demon and deliver the demoniac.
But we note that the demon did not give up easily. We are told by Mark that the demon tore the man - he went into convulsions or spasms. Having no control over his own body, Luke chapter 4 verse 35 tells us that the man was thrown into the midst of the people in the synagogue. Gladly, however, we can say, nothing is too hard for God!
This forms the first miracle recorded by Mark in his Gospel.
If the previous verses tell us of a very public deliverance, this event is somewhat more private - it occurs in the home. We have mentioned the moral authority of the Lord in the deliverance of the demoniac and, in Mark’s Gospel, that deliverance is immediately followed by the healing of Peter’s wife’s mother in the home. Equally, the Lord is back in Capernaum in chapter 2 to heal the man who was sick of the palsy. All of these displays of the Lord’s power assist us in appreciating His authority and power in the physical and spiritual realms.
Let us remember the context of this event; the Saviour was in Peter’s house, and, as we have seen, it was a place He often resorted to because He was welcomed there. On this occasion, the crowd was such that, ‘there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door’, v. 2.
The house is packed. Interest is high and the Lord is in His own neighbourhood. The Lord is the preacher and, as we have mentioned, the power of the Lord was present. Humanly speaking, all seems right for a time of rich blessing.
Perhaps there have been times when we have convened special gospel meetings about which we have prayed and petitioned the Lord to bless. In those meetings there has been a sense of the Spirit of God at work in the hearts of different individuals and yet there has been no one saved. Remember that this was the experience of the Lord here, and it is a timely reminder of the hardness of men’s hearts!
Note the extent of the man’s physical need. It took four men to bring him upon his bed. The word for ‘bed’, more likely a simple pallet, tells us something of this man’s poverty brought about by his paralysis. But what is remarkable about verse 5 is that Mark tells us, ‘When Jesus saw their faith’. The man’s physical and material need was evident. However, the Saviour sees past the physical and is concerned with his spiritual need. ‘Son, thy sins be forgiven thee’. The lesson is that the spiritual must take priority before the physical and material.
However, this miracle presents the Pharisees with a problem. Only God can forgive sins. Logically, therefore, either the Lord was God, or He blasphemed. They came to the second conclusion. Sadly, like so many today, their decision as to the situation was coloured by their view of the Saviour; their minds were already closed to the truth. In the light of compelling evidence in the restoration of the man, they were ‘reasoning in their hearts’. They had no desire to learn the truth from the Saviour or to express their views before the multitude.
But is there not a further challenge here? The response of the Saviour meant that He could read the thoughts and reasoning of their hearts. There was no statement from the scribes. There was no evidence in their posture. The Lord knew intuitively. Mark records, ‘Jesus perceived in his spirit’, v. 8. How sobering for each of us! Nothing is hidden from the Lord as to our thoughts, words, or deeds!
As Luke tells us, this event occurred after the Lord ‘had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people’, v. 1. The Lord’s arrival generated interest from a Roman centurion who had a servant who was sick. He sent ‘the elders of the Jews’ to petition the Lord for His help.
Ignoring the 21st-century view of slavery and all that it means to many different people, we need to think about this request in first-century terms. Wasn’t it only a slave? Surely, another one could be purchased from the slave market. Why expend such time and effort for a slave? Whilst such comments may be offensive to people today, they ought to enable us to see the concern and compassion exhibited by the centurion and, particularly, the Lord in responding to his request. Both put a value upon human life far above that which was the common view of the time.
In addition to the centurion’s concern for his slave, we can note his attitude towards the Saviour. Although a man of some significance in military terms and having a favourable reputation in the town, v. 5, his approach to the Lord is significant. The manner in which the elders delivered the centurion’s message, ‘beseeching’, v. 3, is an indication of his thoughts. His own words are, ‘I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof’, v. 6. If they had but seen it, what a challenge this was to the Jews of the town. This Gentile centurion had a greater appreciation of the Saviour than they did, and that appreciation extended beyond who the Saviour was to what He could do - ‘say in a word, and my servant shall be healed’, v. 7. What faith!
Whilst the Lord had commenced the journey to the centurion’s house, the servant was healed at a distance. Luke records, ‘he was … not far from the house’, v. 6. Although not the significant distance between Cana and Capernaum for the healing of the nobleman’s son, John 4. 46, it exhibits the Lord’s power. He is not limited by distance from the patient, or the degree of the patient’s illness!
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