Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
SODOM, CAPERNAUM, SPRINGFIELD
Matt. 11:23a (Holman) “And you, Capernaum,. . .”
Capernaum, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, was a prosperous fishing city where Matthew and others collected tolls and customs on the great road from Damascus to the Mediterranean. We would say, the money was rolling.
Like USA Americans, Capernaum’s citizens were prosperous, possessing everything except God’s peace. Some commodities can’t be bought with money.
Capernaum’s greatest fame was its being Jesus’ hometown (MT 9:1), His earthly abode after moving from Nazareth. Capernaum was heart and center of Jesus’ activities, the headquarters from where He launched His public ministry.
One Saturday night Jesus healed every sick person in Capernaum, thereby giving an example of what all local churches should be doing for their hometowns. Every church should feel responsible for, and seek to relieve, every hurt in its city.
From Capernaum Jesus went on many short-term mission trips, thereby leaving another model we need to follow. We claim we want to be like Jesus. If this is true, we will spend the rest of our lives going on short-term missions trips.
It was a high honor for God’s Son, the most important individual ever to inhabit our planet, to select Capernaum as the capital of His work. When He lived there, it must have been history’s happiest city. Was any town ever more blessed?
As Jesus in our text begins to speak of His hometown, we would expect His face to light up with gladness, as mine does when I talk of Blodgett, Illmo, Cape Girardeau, and Springfield. Instead, His countenance was sad, His words sharp.
Despite the privilege of Messiah living among them, very few in Capernaum believed in Jesus. By and large, the populace refused to repent. Jesus’ hometown was deeply plunged in unbelief, “as if there had never been poured upon it a drop of Divine grace” (Maclaren). Thus, harsh words fell from our gentle Savior’s lips.
Matt. 11:23b “. . .will you be exalted to Heaven? You will go down to
The question’s answer is understood. No, Capernaum will not be exalted to Heaven. The images in our text figuratively denote the highest heights of spiritual privilege and the lowest depths of everlasting ruin. Enjoying privileges ultimately rejected will hurl Capernaum down from heights of honor to the depths of shame. Our Master said the city would be laid low, cast down violently, with a vengeance.
A place saturated with the good news of Jesus enjoys high honor. Hearing the Gospel lifts us toward Heaven, but as Capernaum learned, not into Heaven.
One more step is required to be saved. If on the heights of honor we refuse to believe, our abuse of God’s grace will boomerang us into the abyss of existence.
History unfolded precisely as Jesus predicted. Sadly, Rome soon destroyed Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Chorazin. Capernaum has only two ongoing purposes.
First, Capernaum serves as a warning against abusing spiritual privileges. Its earthly judgment aptly pictures the final judgment it, and cities like it, yet face.
Second, Capernaum helps Israel’s economy. Tourists flock to its ruins to see where Jesus lived. Matthew could do well there. The money is still rolling.
Jesus knew whereof He spoke. Lest we minimize Christ’s ability to predict the future, I remind us, His predictions have been fulfilled with uncanny accuracy.
Bethsaida, Chorazin, and Capernaum, three cities cursed by Jesus, perished. Their physical doom accurately indicates their ultimate doom will be enormous.
On the other hand, Tyre, Sidon, and Tiberias (Capernaum’s near neighbor), three cities not cursed by Jesus, still exist today. Tyre and Sidon became Christian cities. Tiberias became Israel’s brain-trust, the capital of Jewish religious studies.
Of the three cursed cities, the fate of Jesus’ hometown will be worst of all. Their sin against light was no minor matter. God’s most severe judgments are ever reserved for those who receive the most light, yet profit from it the least.
We who enjoy Bibles, freedom, and churches aplenty, must never boast of our privilege. Instead, tremble at our responsibility and increased potential guilt. The higher the precipice we hear on, the more ravaging is unbelief’s fall from it.
The sad history presented in our text is repeating itself before our very eyes. While revival is blazing around the world in many repressed, underprivileged, unchurched nations, a deadly complacency is creeping like sewage across many free, churched, wealthy countries where the Gospel has been heard for centuries.
In many places, people walk miles to attend church all day. Here, many church members are too busy or too tired to drive a car to attend one hour.
In many places, few Bibles are available. People clutch, hug, and kiss them as treasures. Here, Bibles stack up, collect dust, and are ignored, to our loss.
The pathway of blessing is in God’s Word, but He never forces us to read it or walk in its paths. While believing the Bible, be living it, and loving it. In a dark, dangerous world, Scripture is a lamp for our feet, and a light for our path.
Matt. 11:23c “For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in
Sodom, it would have remained until today.”
Was any city ever viler than Sodom? Being the most wicked city of the ancient world, Sodom remains to this day a by-word for perversion. It is the basis of our word sodomy, a term we reserve for the vilest and most unnatural, beastly, unspeakable sins. Despite Sodom’s terrible reputation, Jesus said if Lot, who lived there, had worked miracles in Sodom, it would not have had to be destroyed.
Sodom, the supreme example of overthrow without hope, will fare better in God’s plans than Capernaum. What a shock this revelation was to the Galileans.
What were the miracles done in Capernaum, Jesus’ hometown? One night He fixed every hurt in the city, performing a multitude of healings (MT 8:14-17).
In Capernaum, our Master healed Peter’s mother-in-law of fever, the centurion’s servant (MT 8:5-13), the Nobleman’s son (JN 4:46ff), a demoniac in the synagogue (MK 1:23ff), another demoniac unable to speak (MT 9:33), the paralytic borne by four (MT 9:2-8), two blind men, and the woman with the issue of blood. In addition, in Capernaum Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead.
Nevertheless, the people of Capernaum would not repent. They refused to turn from their political understanding of God’s kingdom, refused to renounce their smugness, feeling they were better than others, and refused to turn from their self-righteousness, feeling they had earned God’s favor, and did not need grace.
Jesus did much good among the citizens of Capernaum, but voiced a deep sense of loss and defeat. Never forget, in all our kind deeds and good doings, little is gained till a soul, due to our efforts, says, “I will arise and go to Jesus.”
This sermon has spoken of Sodom, and spoken of Capernaum. One other city is mentioned in the title of this lesson. I fear the neglect of Christ in our own Springfield is every bit as serious as it was in Capernaum. In fact, when Sodom and Capernaum are being weighed on the scales, where will Springfield weigh in?