This week we are going to travel south from the ruins of Dan down to the tri-cities area of Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. The small area between these three cities has been called the “Orthodox Triangle” because there were many Jews who lived in the area. There were also many Gentiles who lived in the area around the Sea of Galilee. As a matter of fact, the city of Tiberias, where we stayed for the first week of our tour of Israel, was entirely a Gentile city. Tiberias was built over a cemetery and therefore it was an unclean city to the Jews and no devout Jew would live there. Although it was one of the two leading cities of the Galilee in New Testament times, we have no record in Scripture that Jesus or His disciples ever visited there.
Just up from Tiberias, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, is where we find the three cities that we are going to visit today—Korazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. It is in this area that Jesus spent the bulk of His time, performed the majority of His miracles, and taught His greatest lessons. The Nelson Illustrated Bible Dictionary estimates that eighteen of the thirty-three recorded miracles of Jesus were performed in the small area around the Sea of Galilee. It also estimates that twenty-five of thirty-three miracles of Jesus were performed in the general area of the region of the Galilee.
It is also important for us to know that most of Jesus’ disciples were from the area of the Galilee. We know that Simon Peter, Andrew, and Matthew made their home in Capernaum, although Peter’s hometown was Bethsaida. Some also believe that James and John were from Capernaum as well. When we went to Capernaum we went to the site of Simon Peter’s home. After Peter’s death, the followers of Jesus built a church over his house. Today there is a Catholic Church built over the original little church where prayers and praise were offered.
We learn from God’s Word that after Jesus was run out of town in Nazareth, He made His way down to the Galilee, specifically to Capernaum where He performed His first miracle there by casting a demon out of a man He met at the synagogue. After Jesus performed this miracle the people were amazed and news about Him began to spread throughout the area. (Luke 4:36-37)
Jesus left the synagogue and visited the home of Simon Peter. We read in Luke 4:38-39.
38 Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. 39So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them. (Luke 4:38-39 NIV)
Time after time, in each of the four Gospels, we read stories of how Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, and taught in the synagogue in Capernaum. The people were so amazed at His teaching that in Mark 1:33 we read, 33 “The whole town gathered at the door…” (Mark 1:33 NIV)
The third city on our tour this morning is the city of Bethsaida. “Bethsaida” means “house of fish” and it was an important city of commerce that was rebuilt by one of Herod the Great’s sons, Phillip. Bethsaida was the home of Andrew and Phillip, and the hometown of Peter. The people of Bethsaida were well acquainted with Jesus, He had performed some of His most wonderful miracles in their presence. If you were to ask people today to name one of Jesus’ miracles, one of the most frequently named would be the feeding of the 5,000. Turn with me to Luke 9:10-17 and let’s read what happened.
10 When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, 11 but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. 12 Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” 13 He replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish– unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” 14(About five thousand men were there.) But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” 15 The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. 16Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. 17They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. (Luke 9:10-17 NIV)
The people of Korazin, Capernaum, and Bethsaida were privileged folks wouldn’t you say? I have to tell you that each day that I walked around the area of the Galilee and visited sites that were visited by Jesus, I thought to myself, “What would it have been like to have been sitting on this hill when Jesus broke the bread and handed the fish to His disciples to give to the hungry people who were hanging on Jesus’ every word? What would it have been like to have watched Jesus heal Simon Peter’s mother-in-law? What would it have been like to have witnessed the marvelous miracles that Jesus performed around the Galilee?” I know this—everything that Jesus did was meant to transform the lives of those who lived in Korazin, Capernaum, and Bethsaida. His teaching, His miracles, His very presence were meant to bring light to dark lives, hope to hopeless souls, and salvation to those who were lost in their sins.
I read a prophecy in Isaiah 9:1 that perfectly illustrates what I am saying. When Joshua and the children of Israel moved into the Promised Land, the land was divided into different regions, one each for the twelve tribes of Israel. The three cities that we are looking at this morning are found in the areas of Zebulun and Naphtali. Listen to what Isaiah predicted more than 700 years before Jesus began His ministry.
1Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan– 2The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:1-2 NIV)
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Wow! How awesome is that! Could a better description be offered for what happened to the people of Korazin, Capernaum, and Bethsaida when Jesus stepped onto the scene! Yet, something must have gone wrong. You may be wondering what I am talking about, but I tell you something went wrong. Let’s turn to our Scripture for today and you will understand what I am talking about. Turn with me to Matthew 11:16-24 and let’s read together.
16“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: 17“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” ‘But wisdom is proved right by her actions.” 20Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21“Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” (Matthew 11:16-24 NIV)
Jesus denounced the very cities where He spent most of His time, performed most of His miracles, and gave most of His teaching. How could that have happened? Why would He do that? The key for us is found in the verses preceding Jesus’ harsh words. Jesus says that the generation of His day was like children who are never satisfied. The people of His day were like the children who sat over in the corner and sneered while the other kids were playing “wedding” or “funeral” in the marketplace while their parents were buying or selling. These games were popular among the kids, but there were always kids who couldn’t be pleased no matter what. Jesus likens His generation to folks just like these kids.
I’ve thought about this Scripture a lot since I was at the sites of Korazin and Capernaum. There is nothing at Korazin today, but a national park showcasing the ruins of Korazin. There is a monastery and a church at the site of Capernaum, but there is no business taking place today. There are no children playing “wedding” or “funeral.” Seems to me that the people of these cities suffered from the disease of indifference—they just didn’t care about the things that Jesus spoke to them about. Nothing moved them, nothing could satisfy them, nothing could fill the void that remained even after Jesus stepped foot on the scene.
How much are we like the people of Korazin, Capernaum, and Bethsaida? I look around today and I see the marvel of God’s creation, the beauty of all that He has made, the rich diversity of the people of this world, and the marvelous opportunities that are before us and yet I see people whose faces scream apathy and indifference when it comes to the things of God. They just don’t care. They are unaffected by it all. I see them in my neighborhood, I see them walk the halls of this church, and I see them everywhere I go. How can we be so numb when we have been so blessed? How can we be too busy for worship, for Bible study, for prayer? How can we? William Barclay wrote,
The plain fact is that when people do not want to listen to the truth, they will easily enough find an excuse for not listening. They do not even try to be consistent in their criticism. (The Gospel of Matthew [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1958],
This was the situation in the tri-cities area and this is our situation today. They were blessed with the very presence of Jesus. They watched as Jesus performed His miracles and taught like nobody had ever taught before and yet they were busy with other things. And so it is in our own day.
My question is this: If Jesus denounced Capernaum, Korazin, and Bethsaida because they had the opportunity to be eyewitnesses to the ministry of Jesus, what are Jesus’ words concerning America? There are over 250,000 churches in America. There are Christian radio stations piping the teaching of God’s Word over the airwaves. There are Christian television stations in every city in America. There are Christian magazines, Christian websites, and much more making the study of God’s Word available to whoever has a desire to learn more of God’s ways. Yet, with all of this at our disposal, are we really any different than the other folks we pass in the aisles of the grocery store or mall? When you go to work in the morning can you tell the difference between those you work with who are followers of Jesus and those who are not? When you go to school can you distinguish between the Christian kids and those who are not? In your neighborhood, can you tell the difference between those who are Christians and those who are not? Not by reading the bumper stickers on their cars, but by the way they live their lives? You can probably think of one or two people in each of these places who are glowing examples of Jesus’ life, love, and compassion. Can you imagine how many people there are in your office who would claim to be a Christian, but you would never know it by watching them? Can you imagine how many kids there are in your school who would say that they are Christians, but if you were tracking their attendance you would find that they are much more committed to the parties on Friday and Saturday night than they are to Sunday school and worship on Sunday morning?
We are passionate about some things in life, but we are not passionate about the things of God. It’s not that we are antagonistic, but we are indifferent. It’s not that we are defiant, but we are indifferent. It’s not that we are vitriolic about the things of God, but we are zombie-like in our indifference. We still go to church, but we are indifferent. We will say our prayers when we find ourselves in trouble, but we are indifferent. We want faith and morals for our kids, but we are indifferent. We want the Church to be there for us when we are in a jam, but we are indifferent. We are just indifferent to the things of God. John MacArthur has written in his commentary on this text from Matthew’s Gospel.
The people of Capernaum never persecuted Jesus, and few of them even criticized Him. They never mocked Him, ridiculed Him, ran Him out of town, or threatened His life. Yet their sin was worse than if they had done those things. Theirs was not the sin of violence or of immorality but of indifference. As G. A. Studdert-Kennedy has written in his poem “Indifference,” “They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.” Jesus’ teaching perhaps mildly interested them, and His miracles entertained them, but nothing more. His grace never rent their hearts, His truth never changed their minds, His warning about sin never provoked repentance, and His offer of salvation never induced faith. And because of their indifferent unbelief Jesus said to them, I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Matthew 8-15, p. 266)
I’m sure those who heard Jesus pronounce His judgment against Korazin, Capernaum, and Bethsaida were shocked that He would even mention these fine, upstanding cities in the same breath as places like Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon. I’m going to assume that you probably don’t know too much about these three cities so let me fill you in. Tyre and Sidon were wealthy cities in Phoenicia. The cities were located on the coastal plains of the Mediterranean Sea, west of the Sea of Galilee. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land the people of Tyre and Sidon were already there and Joshua couldn’t drive them out. Later in Israel’s history, King Ahab married a woman named Jezebel, the daughter of the Sidonian king, Ethbaal. Ahab was denounced for his marriage to Jezebel because she brought with her the worship of Baal to God’s people. Jeremiah and Isaiah prophesied against the cities and promised God’s judgment because of their sin.
The sin of Tyre and Sidon was small potatoes compared to the sin of Sodom. If you will remember, Sodom was destroyed, along with Gomorrah, because of its gross sin of immorality. (Genesis 18) Abraham begged God to spare the city and God said He would spare it if Abraham could find ten righteous men in the whole city. They couldn’t be found so judgment came and Sodom is no more.
I don’t think that it is a mere coincidence that Tyre and Sidon are compared to Korazin and Bethsaida while Sodom is compared to Capernaum by Jesus. Sodom was the most sinful of all cities, “Sin City” if you will, while Capernaum was the one city that had the greatest opportunity of all of the cities of the Galilee to witness the wondrous ministry of Jesus. It is no wonder that Jesus said,
23And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” (Matthew 11:21-24 NIV)
The people of Capernaum couldn’t believe that Jesus would have the nerve to compare their city to the city of Sodom. Sodom was the most sinful city on the planet and the people of Capernaum were Law abiding, fine, upstanding citizens. They had the same mindset as that prophet of the Old Testament who was called by God to go to another “sinful city”—the city of Nineveh.
If you will remember, when Jonah was called by God to go to Nineveh he threw a fit. He hated the Ninevites—every good, God-loving Jew hated the Ninevites. There was nothing good about Nineveh at all. The people were idol worshippers, they were immoral, and in every Jew’s mind they should have been wiped off the face of the earth. When God’s call came Jonah ran the other direction. To make a long story short God finally got Jonah’s attention. He eventually went to Nineveh and delivered God’s message. Turn with me to Jonah 3 and let’s see what happened.
1Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” 3 Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city– a visit required three days. 4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. 6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” 10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:1-10 NIV)
The people of Nineveh were given one chance, one chance, and look what happened. How many chances did the people of Capernaum have to hear the message of Jesus and repent of their sins? I don’t know the exact number, but I can sure tell you that it was more than one. What happened to the hearts of the those who heard Jesus preach in Capernaum? What happened to the hearts of those who watched Him heal Peter’s mother-in-law in Capernaum? What happened? Nothing happened! They were indifferent to the things of God before Jesus arrived and they remained indifferent to the things of God after Jesus moved into their neighborhood.
How many opportunities have you been given to witness the wonders of Jesus in your life? How many of you can stop right now, look back over your life, and see that the Hand of God has been at work in your life in times past? He spared your life. He gave you hope when you were hopeless. He took care of you when you weren’t able to take care of yourself. He put you with a group of people who loved you, stood by you, when others walked away. He’s given you the ability to dress yourself, to go wherever you please, and enjoy another day. How have you responded to Him? Have you surrendered your life to Him? Have you set aside lesser things to make Him the main thing in your life? If not, then Jesus says that the judgment that will come to those who us who have witnessed His grace and mercy, have received His blessings, it will be worse for us on the day of judgment than for the people of Sodom. Why wait another day. You know the Lord is calling you to Himself this very morning—what will you do? Act now for today is the day of salvation.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
May 28, 2006