The Sabbath in Capernaum
The Sabbath in Capernaum
Read Mark 1:21-34
One Sabbath early in His public ministry, Christ was in Capernaum, where He had settled after having been rejected at Nazareth (Matt. 4:13). He first preached and performed a number of miracles. He cast an unclean spirit out of a man in the synagogue; healed Peter’s mother-in-law, who was afflicted with a fever; and healed many who came to the door of Peter’s home that evening for healing. What a Sabbath this must have been! It’s no wonder that Christ would say of Capernaum that it had been “exalted unto heaven” (Matt. 11:23). Certainly on this Sabbath, Christ had brought heaven close to Capernaum and Capernaum close to heaven. Let’s look at some aspects of this special day.
We are not told specifically the content of Christ’s teaching in the synagogue. Undoubtedly, it dealt with themes such as repentance, the kingdom, and divine grace, as His sermons had on previous occasions (see Mark 1:15, Luke 4:15-27). Synagogue services at this time usually involved read prayers, Scripture readings, and expositions by scribes. Apparently, the scribes didn’t dare go beyond quotations from the fathers, opinions from men on various points of doctrine or life. But with Christ, it was very different. When He preached, the people quickly recognized two things:
Authority. Authority refers to the right to speak and act a certain way. For example, kings and Congresses are given authority, and they in turn delegate authority to others. Christ had received a commission to be the chief Prophet of His people, and in His preaching He exercised that commission with authority. Moreover, the preaching of Christ not only concerned the kingdom of God; it undoubtedly also manifested the kingdom, or the rule of God in grace.
Freshness. When the congregants asked, “What new doctrine is this?” they didn’t intend to say that Christ was teaching something different from the Old Testament. Instead, He spoke in a way that gave the Old Testament truths freshness and clarity unmatched by the scribes.
Both of these features of Christ’s teaching attested to the fact that He had come from heaven. Is it any wonder His words conveyed authority and freshness?
The second aspect of this day is a display of heavenly power as Christ cast out a demon. The Devil probably didn’t mind much when the scribes preached in the synagogue. But when Christ preached, the Devil’s strongholds were being threatened. Suddenly, a loud noise interrupted the service in Capernaum. It was a cry from a man possessed of an unclean spirit. Whenever heaven makes its presence known, hell rushes to do the same. This evil spirit drew attention to itself and away from Jesus Christ.
Some question why this demon would call Christ “the holy one of God” (v. 24). The explanation here is that knowledge is power and the Devil wants people to think he knows, and thus controls, more than he does. He controls nothing apart from what the Sovereign in heaven permits him to control, and that only for God’s greater glory. Thus Christ used this demonic outburst for His own glory. He rebuked and silenced the unclean spirit and drove him out of the man. The Devil could no longer possess this man and hold him in bondage.
Wherever the kingdom of God’s grace comes, the domain of the Devil will suffer loss. He cannot stop the progress of Christ’s kingdom, and everything he does will ultimately further God’s cause, as it did this Sabbath in Capernaum (see vv. 27-28).
Christ not only showed His power in the public gathering of His church, He also did it in private, in the homes of His people. After the service in the synagogue, Christ went to Simon Peter’s house, where they found his mother-in-law suffering from a fever. We all know the inconvenience and irritation sickness brings to a household. This may have been a more dreadful fever than most of those we are used to; yet it certainly did not rank with things like demon possession. We might think that Christ would have saved His miracle-working power for a “big” problem.
Nevertheless, Christ showed His powerful compassion by “standing over her” (Luke 4:39), taking her by the hand (Matt. 8:15), lifting her up (Mark 1:31), and rebuking the fever (Luke 4:39). In an instant, the fever was not only driven away, but the woman’s strength was renewed, so much so that she immediately began serving the Savior (v. 31). We might have expected her to take some additional rest, but instead, “immediately she arose and ministered unto them” (Luke 4:39). In a single moment, Christ’s miracle had turned this home into a place fragrant with heaven’s bountiful grace.
In fact, the aroma of grace spilled beyond the home of Peter. Just a little while later, all of Capernaum was at the door where Christ was staying with their sick, dying, and demon-possessed family members, friends, and neighbors.
and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them.Luke 4:40
Did a hospital ever see as many patients healed in such a short span as that Sabbath evening in Capernaum? What compassion was showed to Capernaum by Christ!
A Heavenly Surety←⤒🔗
We can be thankful for Sabbaths when heaven sees to come close, and the reign of grace makes an impact on our churches and homes and communities. Yet we must remember that such experiences come only because of a Surety sent down from heaven. Matthew helps us understand this. After he records some of the events of this Sabbath in Capernaum, he notes how they fulfill a prophecy from the Old Testament:
Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.Matt. 8:17, quoting Isa. 53:4
As Christ moved among the rows of the sick and dying outside the home of Peter that day, He was not only dispensing healing and turning back the curse; He was taking upon Himself these diseases and preparing to die under a curse. Through this reference to prophecy, Matthew unveils a side to this Sabbath that probably most, if not all, failed to process that day. Christ was bestowing mercies from heaven, but at the cost of His own suffering of hell some three years later.
Equally sobering was the fact that many appeared not to have profited from this day in their hearts. Only a few chapters later, we read how Christ mentioned Capernaum by name among those cities which, though “exalted to heaven” through His ministry, would be “brought down to hell” (Matt. 11:23). May the mercies we have in our churches, homes, and communities direct us to the feet of the Surety for true life through Him, and not testify against us in the final day.
- What can we learn about Christ’s speaking with authority – for both preachers and hearers alike?
- A fever is something that takes hold of the capacities of the body, keeping them from functioning normally. What sorts of mental, emotional, and spiritual fevers can sometimes take hold of us that we need Christ to rebuke, and how does He do that even today?
- Peter’s mother-in-law used her newfound strength in the service of the Lord. What spiritual lesson does this suggest?
- Peter’s mother-in-law served Christ in the confines of the house. How is this a help and lesson for those whose primary place of influence is their homes?
- What subtle warnings does this passage imply, especially in light of Matthew 8:17 and 11:23?
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