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The Life of Jesus - Series 3: Episode 4

Miracles in Capernaum

| Martin Charlesworth
Luke 4:31-41
Mark 1:21-34
Matthew 8:14-17

Jesus has authority to heal the sick. Many are brought after the Sabbath ends. Jesus also has authority over demons. We are in a spiritual battle today.

Jesus has authority to heal the sick. Many are brought after the Sabbath ends. Jesus also has authority over demons. We are in a spiritual battle today.


Hello and welcome to Series 3 and Episode 4 and it's entitled ‘Miracles in Capernaum.’

Introduction and Recap

Very shortly, we're going to look at the text for this episode, which is from Luke 4 but let me remind you of the story so far. Jesus, having been baptised, gone up to Jerusalem, and been in the wilderness, has come back to Galilee to start his public ministry and he's based himself at the fishing village (or town) of Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee. All sorts of extraordinary miracles have started to happen. He's preaching everywhere, drawing huge crowds, healing the sick, casting out demons from people and causing a sensation. The crowds are getting bigger and bigger, people are travelling from further and further.

In the last episode, there was a very significant event that took place: for the first time since Jesus had started his public ministry he returned to his home-town of Nazareth. I described the fact that he went up to the synagogue on the Sabbath day (the Saturday worship, a traditional day of worship for the Jewish people) and was invited in the synagogue worship to read a text from the Hebrew Scriptures (or the Old Testament) and he chose Isaiah 61, the first few verses, which describes a person - the Servant of the Lord (we know to be the Messiah and Son of God) coming, preaching, healing, forgiving sins, casting out demonic forces and bringing relief of poverty and need, for those who are destitute and in difficulty. When he was in the synagogue and he read this, the initial response was favourable but then it turned hostile and people began to realise that people from other social groups and racial groups were going to be favoured by this message. They struggled to understand how Jesus, who was just an ordinary carpenter and builder, based in a family firm in Nazareth, was suddenly the Son of God and the Messiah. It was all a bit too much for them. He left Nazareth, having been in conflict with many of the residents there who rejected his new-found identity. That had just happened.

Capernaum Headquarters

The focus of Jesus' ministry is not the town of Nazareth, but the town of Capernaum which is the town we're going to talk about today, where the events of this episode take place. This is a fishing village on the north-west of the Sea of Galilee and just a few hundred people would have lived there in the time of Jesus. It's very well-preserved in terms of archaeology and people visit the archaeological sites by their tens of thousands as tourists today. They can imagine some of the life of the time of Jesus. You can see the remains of a synagogue there; you can see the remains of all sorts of different domestic homes. You can see how close this village is to the lake and can understand how fishing was the number one trade of people living in Capernaum. It appears that Jesus decided to make this village the headquarters of his three years ministry - his public ministry. This is the place he came back to time and time again; he didn't go back to his home-town in Nazareth, he came here to Capernaum and some of his disciples lived there. One of them was Simon Peter, whose mother-in-law appears as a character in the story that we're going to discuss today. Remarkable things are happening and in Nazareth Jesus explained all the things that were going to happen through his coming Kingdom and then, immediately afterwards, as Luke tells the story, some things that Jesus predicted happening are actually described as happening.

That's the basis on which we're going to read the story now and see what we can learn from this amazing series of events. If you'd like to turn to Luke 4: 31 - 41:

‘Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath he taught the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority. In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” “Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him. All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!” And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area. 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. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them. At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew (that) he was the Messiah.’

Luke 4:31-41, NIV

This is a very dynamic story, isn't it? We move from Nazareth, where there had been controversy and unbelief, to Capernaum and we're on the Sabbath day which is, quite possibly, the Sabbath after the Sabbath he was in Nazareth - maybe one week later. What a contrast! Here, in the town of Capernaum, Jesus receives a very open welcome. People are intrigued; people are keen to listen; people have a measure of faith and expectancy. They're coming and asking him for help and they are responding to his teaching.

Jesus' Authority

In the first incident, he's teaching in the synagogue and and they notice that ‘his words had authority.’ This is an interesting point. Authority is emphasised in this passage when he casts out the demon - they say that he has authority and power. This is quite an interesting thing to reflect on for a moment. Jesus' words had authority in the sense that they had the ring of truth about them; they made sense. He could answer questions clearly and decisively; he spoke on the basis of things that he'd lived so there was a coherence and an integrity about Jesus but also, what they noticed was that when he spoke, the words had power. When he confronted the demon that was operating within a person and troubling somebody, he was able to speak words that caused a response. ‘Be quiet! ... Come out of him!’ were the words he spoke and this evil force very quickly left the man. Jesus had power and authority. This was an observation made by people throughout Jesus' ministry and later on they compared Jesus to the standard teachers of the day - the Teachers of the Law, the Pharisees, the Sadducees - (we'll talk more about them in later episodes): people who knew a lot, studied a lot, gave a lot of rules and regulations but didn't have an inner sense of authority about them and they didn't even live the way they taught; they didn't even follow their own teachings. You may be able to relate to this; it's a problem in the modern world too. With many religious teachers we find hypocrisy, double standards, lying behind their teaching, but Jesus' authority was such that he followed, believed and carried out everything that he taught - we'll hear more about that in subsequent episodes. He had that authority and that authority was shown in this passage to extend to healing the sick and casting out demons.

Demonic Forces

Demonic forces are introduced into the narrative here without much explanation and the reason for this is that the Jews had a clear understanding beforehand, which the writers aren't questioning. That understanding was that in the spiritual world there are forces of good and forces of darkness. The forces of good are God himself and his Holy Spirit living in people and operating through them, and also angels - literal, personal angels. We've encountered them already on a number of occasions, particularly in the birth narratives. On the other hand, there are evil forces, demonic forces, and satanic forces. We've already encountered the leading virtual opponent of Jesus - Satan or ‘the devil’, in the story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. Here we find a small demonic power, or spirit, operating within an individual. The Bible presupposes that individual people can be infiltrated, to some measure or another, by evil forces. That's not an assumption held by many people in the Western world today, but in other societies people believe something similar and are aware of supernatural evil. It's important to say that the power of good and the power of evil - God's power and satanic power - are not seen as equal in the Bible. Far from it! God's power is greatly superior and this is demonstrated in the life of Jesus: whenever there's a confrontation, Jesus wins that confrontation and that power retreats and people are set free. This is what happens in this particular case. The man is set free from an impure spirit. We'll have occasion to discuss this issue further, several times, during our studies because Jesus casting out demons and demonic forces was a regular occurrence.

Peter's Mother-in-law Healed

The healing of Peter's mother-in-law is a wonderful little touch of narrative - a very personal story about a family member of the leading disciple, Simon Peter, and obviously he would recount and remember this story very well because it's in his own family home where Jesus may even have been staying, (we don't know for certain but that's a possibility) that we find that this miracle taking place. Jesus rebuked the fever and the fever left; this is an organic illness that is healed by the word of Jesus. Jesus is setting a pattern for healing that is going to take place numerous times throughout the Gospels. What's actually happening in this narrative, and in the events preceding it, is that Jesus' reputation is growing and growing, and people are beginning to travel from further and further away in order to meet Jesus and to experience his power. This process will continue for a long time. Jesus was becoming very popular.

Healing at Sunset

In the final section of our passage, there's a very interesting description. I'm going to read it again, verse 40:

‘At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “(You're) the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah.’

Luke 4:40-41, NIV

The significance of sunset here is important. The events we've seen described took place on the Sabbath day. The Jewish community had strong rules about the Sabbath day. It was a day of rest, a day when work was not allowed and people were not working in their farms, on the land. They were not travelling apart from certain necessary journeys; they were based at home. They were worshipping in the synagogue; they were living quietly at home during the Sabbath. There were many rules from the Law of Moses and lots of other traditions had grown up and so people didn't venture out on any special events during the Sabbath day. Of the two miracles that have occurred, one happens in the synagogue, where they'd gone to worship, and one happens in a home where Jesus was experiencing hospitality. But at sunset, the point when the day ended because the Jewish days ended at sunset rather than midnight or the following morning. At sunset, the regulations controlling people moving around freely were lifted.

As the sun set in Capernaum that day, people in and around the town began to think, “This is our moment to receive God's help.” On that very day there had been two miracles (one in the synagogue, one in the home of Simon Peter's family where his mother-in-law was sick) and very quickly word got out about these things. The synagogue event particularly was a public event. People would have come to the synagogue service and they would have seen a man being released from an impure spirit. They had gone home and told their families at lunchtime and in the afternoon. Something spontaneous happens in and around Capernaum - we don't know how far people are travelling but I think they were coming from a further distance as well - but I can see a significant local effect here. Two things happened on the day and people came in the evening thinking, “We need help and we know where to go.” That's the effect that Jesus has on people even today! Jesus, as he is preached through the Church, has that effect: people suddenly realise, “I know where to go because I know there's authority and power in the name of Jesus.” We'll come to that point again in just a moment.

The crowds gathered and it wasn't just one healing; it was many healings and many occurrences of demons being cast out. The Nazareth manifesto that Jesus had spoken about, probably the previous week, which said ‘I came to bring recovery of sight for the blind and to set the oppressed free’ (in other words, healing miracles and breaking the oppression of satanic power) was “Today being fulfilled.”  Here we are in Capernaum, and they are happening! A single miracle, a healing miracle, and a deliverance miracle described earlier in the day and then, after sunset, multiple miracles of both types are occurring for the citizens of Capernaum and the surrounding area. It's a wonderful, wonderful story.


What reflections could we draw from this story that help us to use it well as Christian disciples, and learn from it, if we are enquiring about the faith? First of all, the miraculous healing and deliverance power of Jesus is now established. We will see these two themes continuing all the way through the Gospels - Jesus will be healing the sick and casting out demons on many, many occasions. They are hallmarks of his ministry; they're signs that the Kingdom of God has come; they're signs that the Nazareth manifesto is being lived out. Interestingly enough, the Church is called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus so we should not just think these events happened 2000 years ago - these events are specific only to the life and ministry of Jesus. As we continue with our studies, and we get further along in the Gospels, we'll see that Jesus began to equip his disciples and particularly his twelve Apostles (the senior ‘called’ disciples, who took the name Apostle). He equipped them with power, instruction and experience and said, “You need to go and lay hands on the sick. You need to go and cast out demons.” When we see the narrative unfolding in the book of Acts, we find extraordinary miracles taking place through the Apostles and through some of the other Christian leaders and members of churches. That miraculous power that we're beginning to see manifested here, isn't only confined to the lifetime of Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit, it is the calling of the Church today to pray for outstanding miracles - particularly in its evangelistic mission with unbelievers.

It's noticeable here, to take another point of significance, that demonic opposition to Jesus becomes manifest, or clear, or comes into the public domain. As soon as Jesus started his public ministry, it provoked a response from evil powers. The first, obvious, response is Satan's temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, immediately after his baptism, for 40 days during which he was fasting. We described that in an earlier episode. Here we see that, as Jesus is teaching, an impure spirit operating within a man who is listening, calls out, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” There's a disruptive element there. There's a confrontation element. There's a sense of two different spiritual forces meeting: Jesus and the forces of darkness. It's interesting that the demonic forces identified here operating with individual people, know who Jesus is. You can see that in three ways: the man in the synagogue calls out, with the demonic power speaking through him, describing Jesus as ‘the Holy One of God’ and subsequently, in Luke 4: 41, we find evil spirits describing Jesus as ‘the Son of God’ and Luke says ‘they knew he was the Messiah.’ It's quite clear that powers of darkness know the identity of Jesus and they fear the identity of Jesus, because Jesus has the power to set people free from all darkness and he has the power to set us free from sin through his death on the cross. We are involved in an ongoing spiritual battle. Paul says in Ephesians 6: 12,

‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, ... authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’

Ephesians 6:12, NIV

The Church enters into a spiritual battle, following the footsteps of Jesus. We're seeing the early stages of that battle described in this narrative and in the surrounding texts but let's take courage, because what we see here is the Kingdom of God advancing. When the Kingdom of God advances, there is a need for miracles - healing miracles - to demonstrate the power of God. There's also a provoking of satanic forces because their control over people is being challenged. Our faith is in Jesus whose Kingdom is advancing. He said in Mark 1: 14 and 15, which took place just prior to this episode: “The time has come, … The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”  There's a pushing forward and a call to repent and believe, that is taking place at this time in Jesus' ministry.

The series of events that we've looked at today, describes some of that process and will help us see how Jesus' Kingdom is going to develop. As subsequent episodes take place, we'll see Jesus firming up his calling of disciples and firming up his teaching on how we should live if we're his disciples. We'll see many more examples of miracles as Jesus begins to travel around. At this point, the focus is primarily on Capernaum, his headquarters (place of operation) and the area immediately around it; but shortly we'll see that he extends his sphere of operation and mission well beyond Capernaum.

Thanks for reading this episode and I hope you'll join us for future ones as well.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. Jesus’ words had ‘authority’. Use tagging to see how much that was true of his ministry.
  • Discipleship
    1. What is your understanding about the Devil, and his power? How does that match up to the Bible’s understanding? Are you influenced by your culture in this?
    2. Spend time praying for the Holy Spirit to release more miracles in your area.
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. Authority is often seen as negative in the modern world. What is the difference in Jesus’ authority?
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