Episode 86 - Jesus' Final Days in Capernaum - Opening Up the Gospels

This is Episode 86 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last episode I introduced the Late Judean and Perean ministry, the 8 or 9 month period that begins in about August of 28AD and ends in April of 29AD just before Jesus is crucified in Jerusalem. I talked about how this period is narrated exclusively by Luke and complemented by John’s Gospel. Before we dive into Luke though, I want to take a look at the final days that Jesus spends in Capernaum before embarking south to Perea. As we’ll see, these days are important for the Twelve. We get a glimpse into what was happening in them and between them after their faith had been severely tested and Jesus had predicted His suffering. Let’s pick up in Mark’s Gospel and read from Mark 9: “They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.” (Mark 9:30–34 ESV) Just a short while before this, Jesus had taken Peter, James, and John up on Mount Hermon to give them a preview of what His coming in glory would be like, with Him shining in splendor and majesty. Then after that, Jesus had dramatically healed a demon-possessed boy, seemingly in or around Caesarea Philippi, and now we see Him and the Twelve heading back towards Capernaum but not in an open way. Mark said that He didn’t want anyone to know He was headed back home. Why is that? Remember, Jesus no longer had any interest in doing ministry in Galilee. We’ve seen how that shift happened back in Episodes 78 and 79. But He does have family back there, so I believe He’s going back to be with them, not to do ministry. Now we have to remember – it hasn’t been that long since Jesus first predicted His suffering to the Twelve on the road to Caesarea Philippi. So now again, while they were on the road back to Galilee, Jesus stops and gets serious with them, telling them once again about His coming death and resurrection. Take a look at what Luke says here: “And all were astonished at the majesty of God. But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”” (Luke 9:43–44 ESV) This is so profound. Just after the healing of the boy, the crowds are marveling and saying “oh my gosh this is amazing!” and Jesus gets all serious and tells His disciples “guys, don’t get caught up in the hype right now. I’m going to die. Let these words sink down into your ears.” Clearly, the season is changing here. Imagine what the Twelve must have been feeling at this moment. Jesus has now predicted His death twice in such a short span of time. You’d think they might have been feeling confusion, shock, or even anger. But their lack of understanding of what Jesus was saying to them became evident in what happened next. The journey back to Capernaum was not a quiet one. Mark said that the disciples were having a heated argument about who the greatest was. Think about what had just happened and why there would be an argument between them about such a thing. Peter, James, and John had gone off with Jesus to this special mountain trip, and when they came back they didn’t tell the other 9 what had happened… Think about how trying this must have been for the other 9. Because many times only Peter, James, and John are the ones chosen to go places with Jesus. That would have been so hard relationally and to still have unity amongst the whole group would have been difficult. And so now back in Capernaum, Jesus asks them what they were talking about on the road, and they are now all silent. But Jesus knew… Check out what He says in Mark 9: “And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”” (Mark 9:35–37 ESV) Jesus brings us into His heart with these words. He’s not in a random field somewhere, He’s back in Capernaum and He’s probably either in the house of His family or in Peter’s house – those are the houses we see Him in most often when He’s in Capernaum. So if that’s the case, this child He picks up is not just a random child running around, but likely His nephew or niece or perhaps Peter’s daughter or son. Just picture this – Jesus comes into the house and a child runs up to Him, yelling “hey Uncle Jesus!” and then He just scoops them up in His arms and holds them. This is the God of Genesis 1 in human flesh, and He has nephews and nieces. Oh, how precious is this? Of course we don’t know the exact details, but all three of the synoptic Gospels make mention of this scene. What’s the main message that Jesus is communicating to the disciples? That leadership is about servanthood. We mostly think that leader equals better, but that is a completely unbiblical relationship. Leaders are often entrusted with more responsibility but that does not mean they are better. What is better according to Jesus is humility and servanthood. What matters to Jesus is that we become like Him in servanthood. The idol of platform ministry in the West is so prevalent. We think that when we’re the leader of something big and important one day, then we’re awesome and we’ve really made it. That’s been so engrained in the ministry mentality here in the West, and yet it has nothing to do with Jesus’ heart just as He makes clear to the disciples here. Matthew and Mark go on to list some teachings that Jesus gives. Now these are often viewed entirely outside of the context, but it seems like they are specifically for the disciples as they are within the house in Capernaum. What Jesus actually says and the severity with which He speaks makes far more sense when we see what just happened on the road back. The first thing we see is in Mark 9 and Luke 9 where John tells Jesus that someone is casting out demons in His name yet they aren’t part of the group of disciples. Jesus responds with an exhortation to humility and unity. The next thing we see is Jesus teaching about stumbling blocks and issues of sin and how to prevent it from causing division among fellow believers and being at peace with one another. Thirdly, we see Jesus instructing the disciples on how to deal with a brother who does sin, and fourthly we see Jesus giving a parable about a master and an unforgiving servant. Everything in this teaching sequence is bound together by the theme of humility, unity, unforgiveness, and how to deal with a brother when there is offense. Again, in context, the reason why Jesus taught these crazy things and gave His disciples these intense warnings about unforgiveness and envy and offense is because in the next 6 months leading up to His death, the pressure on the Twelve would mount from both outside and inside. Jesus was so intense – it’s in this context that we see the verse “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off” and “if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out”. Jesus isn’t talking about immorality here, though maybe there is application of that in another context. He is talking about unforgiveness and envy and offense, he’s talking about interpersonal relationships. He’s saying that offense and envy can put you in Gehenna. Again, Jesus is trying to prepare the Twelve for the dissension and division in the time ahead. I don’t have time to go through all the details here, but I would encourage you to go read Matthew 17 and 18 as well as Mark 9. Remember everything that’s just happened, and feel the weight of what Jesus is saying in context. So once again, Jesus is back home in Capernaum likely spending time with His family. He knows what’s awaiting Him in Jerusalem less than 7 or 8 months away, and so we can probably picture Him spending time with His mother and brothers and friends. How much care did He express for them during this time as they were completely unaware of what awaited Him? John 7 shows us that His own four brothers didn’t understand what He was doing and what His mission was. As the Feast of Tabernacles was drawing near, they tried to convince Him to go to Jerusalem to show off His power. Take a look at what they say: “Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers believed in him.” (John 7:2–5 ESV) Remember the context – Jesus had turned everyone away in the synagogue in Capernaum with the “eat my flesh, drink my blood” sermon, which was so unbelievably offensive to them. So He’s not so much a popular figure anymore, at least up there in Capernaum. And His brothers say “hey Jesus, why don’t you go south to Judea and do all your stuff there, maybe they will believe in you!” Now we can’t forget the chronology that we’ve looked at here – it’s probably somewhere close to October of 28, and it had been over a year since Jesus had been in Jerusalem, back at the feast of Wood Offering in August of 27. We see that in John 5 and we looked at that back in Episode 55. Remember, He didn’t go to the Passover in April of 28. So the last time He was in Jerusalem, His Galilean ministry had not even begun yet. There’s so much that has happened since then – all the miracles, people being raised from the dead, the miraculous feedings… So His brothers are referring to these miracles and saying “Jesus, if you go to Jerusalem and do your big stuff, they’ll believe in you!” Yet John says that Jesus’ brothers did not even believe in Him. But that would not always be the case. We can look forward to the book of Acts or to early church history where we see that all of them came to believe their very brother was both their God and their promised Messiah. What was it like for James to have His own brother appear to Him after the resurrection? Oh, how I wish I could have been there for that moment! Well it’s with these events that Jesus’ Galilean ministry comes to a complete close. Though He would return back up here just briefly before His death, His official appeal to the northern part of Israel was over. From this point forward, Jesus would head south as His face was set resolutely towards Jerusalem. The time was short, the window of opportunity to bear the fruits of repentance was closing, and Jesus would soon fulfill the mission for which He came. In the next episode, we’ll begin journeying towards Judea and Jerusalem with Jesus.