Jesus of Galilee
THE SEA OF GALILEE
"And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, casting out demons and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people" . . . a vast amount of work capsuled in a few lines.
At some time during his stay in Galilee, whether it was now or later on, as some believe, Jesus came to the town of Nazareth where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue as was his custom on the Sabbath day. And he stood up to read, and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the sacred scroll and found the place where it was written:
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon him. And he began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Then he taught, and all spoke well of him, wondering at the gracious words which proceeded from his mouth; and they said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the son of the carpenter Joseph? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?"
And he said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did in Capernaum, do here also in your country.' " (In other words, "Physician, heal your own people.") But they took offense at him, and he did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief. (Indeed, a healing depends in large part on the faith of him who is to be healed.)
And he said, "Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.
When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built that they might throw him down headlong. But passing through the midst of them, he went away.
From that time forward Capernaum, some twenty-odd miles away, became his base of operations. As he moved about Galilee in the performance of his growing ministry, Capernaum was the most logical place from which to work. For it was situated on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, on the caravan route from Damascus to Egypt and the Mediterranean.
This sea was an active center of Galilean life, and to it or near- by passed most of the roads in Galilee. Travelers and merchants converged about the lake in the course of their activities, and fish from its waters were transported in all directions.
Before Jesus' time this body of water had been called Lake Gennesaret, but during his time it was usually called the Sea of Galilee. Not long after that, it became the Sea of Tiberius -- named for the Gentile city which was built in his youth, on its western shore toward Nazareth.
Jesus did not preach in Tiberius, there being no prepared ground in so new and political a city for teaching at that time. Built and named for the Roman Emperor, it had been planned as a health spa by virtue of the nearby hot mineral springs. These sulphuric springs would sometimes cause hot streams beneath the waters of the lake, near its southern outlet. (Could this sulphrous atmosphere have had something to do with Tiberius' reputation as a sinful city?)
There is no record of Jesus going there. His ministry was for those who awaited the Messiah, and he worked all about the northern end of the lake, and as far as the land of the Phoenicians on the Mediterranean.
The sea itself was like a vast bowl, with openings at the north and south ends where the Jordan flowed in and out again with a flat land area on the northwest shore called the Plain of Gennesaret. The sea is of great age, below sea level and quite deep, almost surrounded by mountains. It is not really a sea at all, but a large fresh-water lake, about thirteen miles long, and eight miles across at its widest part, rich with fish.
Capernaum was situated three miles west of the Jordan River on the international highway, near the border between the territory of Herod Antipas and that of his brother Philip. Because of its border location there was a Roman military and customs post located there. It was a cosmopolitan center to which most Galileans gravitated for their dealings and was also an important center for the fishing industry.
The population was mostly Jewish; the religious life of the people was intense, and not too much disturbed by the Greek influences entrenched a short distance away. Yet Galilee was somewhat despised by ardent Pharisees because of a population mixture, with many Gentiles or non-Jews also living there, and they would accuse Jesus later (John 7:52) saying, "Study the Scriptures and you will find that prophets do not come from Galilee."
Capernaum was about halfway between Magdala to its west and Bethsaida, six miles to the east. Magdala is noted in the Gospels only as the home of Mary Magdalene; but Bethsaida was the home of at least four fishermen disciples. Bethsaida means "house of fishing," and the town was situated across the border in the tetrarchy of Philip.
One day Jesus was at Bethsaida on the shore near the fishing fleets. People were pressing so close, seeking to hear the word of God, that he could scarcely move without entering the water. So seeing two boats standing empty, for the fishermen had gone out of them to wash their nets, he got into one of the boats which belonged to Simon and asked him to put out a little from the shore.
From this point of vantage he was able to talk to the people, teaching them. When he had finished, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch."
Simon answered, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets." Though reason told him it was no use, he trusted the Master enough to obey him and the results were beyond any normal probability. For when they had done this, they enclosed a great school of fish, and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. Never had they seen anything like this!
So they came and filled both the boats with so many fish that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord."
Peter was an impetuous man of strong feeling, and he was astonished at the catch of fish, as were all they that were with him. His partners in the other boat were James and John, whose father, Zebedee, had a fishing fleet.
Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Henceforth you will be catching men."
The next day, as Jesus walked by the sea, he saw the two brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew, who had come with him from Jordan, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, in the boat mending their nets, and he called them also, and immediately they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
Then the disciples accompanied him as he went into neigh- boring towns and all about Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people. So his fame spread even to the north throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.
One day a leper came to him beseeching and knelt before Jesus saying, "If you will, you can make me clean."
Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, "I will; be clean."
And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, saying to him, "See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to the people."
Perhaps you would like to look at what Moses had commanded in such cases, in Leviticus 14: 2-32:
There is more which includes the washing of clothes and cutting of hair, and further offering after eight days. For his clothing must also be cleansed so as not to retain the contamination.
It is probable that had the leper obeyed, it would have given the priesthood a higher opinion and proof of Jesus' work and healing. As it was, the healed one disobeyed and immediately went out and began to talk freely about his healing to everyone, and spread the news to such an extent that Jesus was no longer able to openly enter a town, but had to remain out in the country, where the people came to him from every quarter.
Some days later he returned to Capernaum, and when it was reported that he was at home, many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door. Sitting by were some Pharisees and doctors of the law who had come in from other towns; and the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal. And while he was preaching the Word to them, four men came carrying a paralytic for him to heal, but they could not get near him, because of the crowd. So someone removed some tiles from the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let him down with the pallet on which he lay, in the midst before Jesus. And when Jesus saw such faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven."
Some of the scribes and Pharisees sitting there began questioning in their hearts. "Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" And immediately Jesus perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins' -- he said to the man who was paralyzed, "I say to you, rise, take up your bed and go home."
Then the man arose and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all, glorifying God, so that they were all amazed and they too glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this! We have seen strange things today!"
The Hebrew word for "sin" (het' or hetta' ah) may mean either the sin committed or its consequences, and one of the principle consequences of sin, according to Jewish teaching, was physical deformity; thus Jesus' words may have included both the invisible moral guilt and the visible consequence.
Whatever the man had done or thought inside himself in this life or before, that had brought on this stoppage of the action of his muscles -- perhaps a stubborn or continuous refusal to act when it was required that he do so -- Jesus had not merely pronounced the words of healing, he had actually and completely within himself forgiven the man whatever had been the cause of his illness. He saw the man not only physically whole, but he saw the flaw in his character removed, so he was now whole and faultless throughout.
For one does not heal from the outside, but must clear the person of all the load he bears within himself and take it away. In sincerely calling him, "My son," Jesus had removed the barrier of strangeness and gathered him into his own purity and godliness.