Chapter 21 - The Crisis at Capernaum
THE CRISIS AT CAPERNAUM
ON FRIDAY evening, the day of their arrival at Bethsaida, and on Sabbath morning, the apostles noticed that Jesus was seriously occupied with some momentous problem. There was a tension of uncertainty and suspense of apprehension resting upon all of them. Jesus had said little to them since they left Jerusalem.
It was from among such a group of depressed and disconsolate followers that Jesus went forth on this beautiful Sabbath afternoon to preach his epoch-making sermon in the Capernaum synagogue.
Setting the Stage
A distinguished congregation greeted Jesus at three o'clock on this exquisite Sabbath afternoon in the new Capernaum synagogue. The day before, fifty-three Pharisees and Sadducees had arrived from Jerusalem. More than thirty of the leaders and rulers of the neighboring synagogues were also present. These Jewish religious leaders were acting directly under orders from the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem, and they constituted the orthodox vanguard that had come to inaugurate open warfare on Jesus and his disciples.
Jesus comprehended that he faced the immediate declaration of avowed and open warfare by his increasing enemies, and he elected boldly to assume the offensive.
On Friday evening, and again on Sabbath morning, the Jerusalem leaders had labored long and earnestly with Jairus to prevent Jesus' speaking in the synagogue, but it was of no avail.
Jairus' only reply to all this pleading was:
- "I have granted this request, and I will not violate my word."
Jesus introduced this sermon by reading from the law as found in Deuteronomy:
- "But it shall come to pass, if this people will not hearken to the voice of God, that the curses of transgression shall surely overtake them. The Lord shall cause you to be smitten by your enemies. You shall be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth. And the Lord shall bring you and the king you have set up over you into the hands of a strange nation. You shall become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword among all nations. Your sons and your daughters shall go into captivity. The strangers among you shall rise high in authority while you are brought very low. And these things shall be upon you and your seed forever because you would not hearken to the word of the Lord. Therefore shall you serve your enemies who shall come against you. You shall endure hunger and thirst and wear this alien yoke of iron. The Lord shall bring against you a nation from afar, from the end of the earth, a nation whose tongue you shall not understand, a nation of fierce countenance, a nation that will have little regard for you. And they shall besiege you in all your towns until the high-fortified walls wherein you have trusted come down; and all the land shall fall into their hands. And it shall come to pass that you will be driven to eat the fruit of your own bodies, the flesh of your sons and daughters, during this time of siege, because of the straightness wherewith your enemies shall press you."
When Jesus had finished this reading, he turned to the Prophets and read from Jeremiah:
- "`If you will not hearken to the words of my servants the prophets whom I have sent you, then will I make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth.' And the priests and the teachers heard Jeremiah speak these words in the house of the Lord. And it came to pass that, when Jeremiah had made an end of speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak to all the people, the priests and teachers laid hold of him, saying, `You shall surely die.' And all the people crowded around Jeremiah in the house of the Lord. And when the princes of Judah heard these things, they sat in judgment on Jeremiah. Then spoke the priests to the princes and to all the people, saying: `This man is worthy to die, for he has prophesied against our city, and you have heard him with your own ears.' Then spoke Jeremiah to all the princes and to all the people: `The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and against this city all the words that you have heard. Now, therefore, amend your ways and reform your doings and obey the voice of the Lord your God that you may escape the evil that has been pronounced against you. As for me, behold I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right in your eyes. But know you for certain, if you put me to death, you shall bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this people, for of a truth the Lord has sent me to speak all these words in your ears.'
- "The priests and teachers of that day sought to kill Jeremiah, but the judges would not consent, albeit, for his words of warning, they did let him down by cords in a filthy dungeon until he sank in mire up to his armpits. That is what this people did to the Prophet Jeremiah when he obeyed the Lord's command to warn his brethren of their impending political downfall. Today, I desire to ask you: What will the chief priests and religious leaders of this people do with the man who dares to warn them of the day of their spiritual doom? Will you also seek to put to death the teacher who dares to proclaim the word of the Lord, and who fears not to point out wherein you refuse to walk in the way of light that leads to the entrance to the kingdom of heaven?
- "What is it you seek as evidence of my mission on earth? We have left you undisturbed in your positions of influence and power while we preached glad tidings to the poor and the outcast. We have made no hostile attack upon that which you hold in reverence but have rather proclaimed new liberty for man's fear-ridden soul. I came into the world to reveal my Father and to establish on earth the spiritual brotherhood of the sons of God, the kingdom of heaven. And notwithstanding that I have so many times reminded you that my kingdom is not of this world, still has my Father granted you many manifestations of material wonders in addition to more evidential spiritual transformations and regenerations.
- "What new sign is it that you seek at my hands? I declare that you already have sufficient evidence to enable you to make your decision. Verily, verily, I say to many who sit before me this day, you are confronted with the necessity of choosing which way you will go. I say to you, as Joshua said to your forefathers, `Choose you this day whom you will serve.' Today, many of you stand at the parting of the ways.
- "Some of you, when you could not find me after the feasting of the multitude on the other side, hired the Tiberias fishing fleet, that a week before had taken shelter near by during a storm, to go in pursuit of me, and what for? Not for truth and righteousness or that you might the better know how to serve and minister to your fellow men! No, but rather that you might have more bread for which you had not labored. It was not to fill your souls with the word of life, but only that you might fill the belly with the bread of ease. And long have you been taught that the Messiah, when he should come, would work those wonders that would make life pleasant and easy for all the chosen people. It is not strange then, that you who have been thus taught should long for the loaves and the fishes. But I declare to you that such is not the mission of the Son of Man. I have come to proclaim spiritual liberty, teach eternal truth, and foster living faith.
- "My brethren, hanker not after the meat that perishes but rather seek for the spiritual food that nourishes even to eternal life. This is the bread of life that the Son gives to all who will take it and eat, for the Father has given the Son this life without measure. When you asked me, `What must we do to perform the works of God?' I plainly told you: `This is the work of God, that you believe him whom he has sent.'"
And then said Jesus, pointing up to the device of a pot of manna which decorated the lintel of this new synagogue, and which was embellished with grape clusters:
- "You have thought that your forefathers in the wilderness ate manna -- the bread of heaven -- but I say to you that this was the bread of earth. While Moses did not give your fathers bread from heaven, my Father now stands ready to give you the true bread of life. The bread of heaven is that which comes down from God and gives eternal life to the men of the world. And when you say to me, give us this living bread, I will answer: I am this bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger, while he who believes me shall never thirst. You have seen me, lived with me, and beheld my works, yet you believe not that I came forth from the Father. But to those who do believe -- fear not. All those led of the Father shall come to me, and he who comes to me shall in nowise be cast out.
- "And now let me declare to you, once and for all time, that I have come down upon the earth, not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me. And this is the final will of Him who sent me, that of all those he has given me I should not lose one. This is the will of the Father: That every one who beholds the Son and who believes him shall have eternal life. Only yesterday did I feed you with bread for your bodies; today I offer you the bread of life for your hungry souls. Will you now take the bread of the spirit as you then so willingly ate the bread of this world?"
One of the teachers from Jerusalem (a member of the Sanhedrin) rose up and asked:
- "Do I understand you to say that you are the bread that comes down from heaven, and that the manna which Moses gave to our fathers in the wilderness did not?"
And Jesus answered the Pharisee:
- "You understood aright."
Then said the Pharisee:
- "But are you not Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, the carpenter? Are not your father and mother, as well as your brothers and sisters, well known to many of us? How then is it that you appear here in God's house and declare that you have come down from heaven?"
By this time there was much murmuring in the synagogue, and such a tumult was threatened that Jesus stood up and said:
- "Let us be patient, the truth never suffers from honest examination. I am all that you say but more. The Father and I are one. The Son does only that which the Father teaches him, while all those who are given to the Son by the Father, the Son will receive to himself. You have read where it is written in the Prophets, `You shall all be taught by God,' and that `Those whom the Father teaches will hear also his Son.' Every one who yields to the teaching of the Father's indwelling spirit will eventually come to me. Not that any man has seen the Father, but the Father's spirit does live within man. And the Son who came down from heaven, he has surely seen the Father. And those who truly believe this Son already have eternal life.
- "I am this bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness and are dead. But this bread that comes down from God, if a man eats thereof, he shall never die in spirit. I repeat, I am this living bread, and every soul who attains the realization of this united nature of God and man shall live forever. And this bread of life that I give to all who will receive is my own living and combined nature. The Father in the Son and the Son one with the Father -- that is my life-giving revelation to the world and my saving gift to all nations."
When Jesus had finished speaking, the ruler of the synagogue dismissed the congregation, but they would not depart. They crowded up around Jesus to ask more questions while others murmured and disputed among themselves.
One of the visiting Pharisees, mounting a lamp-stand, shouted out this question:
- "You tell us that you are the bread of life. How can you give us your flesh to eat or your blood to drink? What avail is your teaching if it cannot be carried out?"
And Jesus answered:
- "I did not teach you that my flesh is the bread of life or that my blood is the water thereof. But I did say that my life in the flesh is a bestowal of the bread of heaven. The fact of the Word of God bestowed in the flesh and the phenomenon of the Son of Man subject to the will of God, constitute a reality of experience that is equivalent to the divine sustenance. You cannot eat my flesh nor can you drink my blood, but you can become one in spirit with me even as I am one in spirit with the Father. You can be nourished by the eternal word of God, which is indeed the bread of life, and which has been bestowed in the likeness of mortal flesh, you can be watered in soul by the divine spirit, which is truly the water of life. The Father has sent me into the world to show how he desires to indwell and direct all men. I have so lived this life in the flesh as to inspire all men likewise ever to seek to know and do the will of the indwelling heavenly Father."
Then one of the Jerusalem spies who had been observing Jesus and his apostles, said:
- "We notice that neither you nor your apostles wash your hands properly before you eat bread. You must well know that such a practice as eating with defiled and unwashed hands is a transgression of the law of the elders. Neither do you properly wash your drinking cups and eating vessels. Why is it that you show such disrespect for the traditions of the fathers and the laws of our elders?"
And when Jesus heard him speak, he answered:
- "Why is it that you transgress the commandments of God by the laws of your tradition? The commandment says, `Honor your father and your mother,' and directs that you share with them your substance if necessary. But you enact a law of tradition that permits undutiful children to say that the money wherewith the parents might have been assisted has been `given to God.' The law of the elders thus relieves such crafty children of their responsibility, notwithstanding that the children subsequently use all such monies for their own comfort. Why is it that you in this way make void the commandment by your own tradition? Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, saying: `this people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.'
- "You can see how it is that you desert the commandment while you hold fast to the tradition of men. Altogether willing are you to reject the word of God while you maintain your own traditions. And in many other ways do you dare to set up your own teachings above the law and the prophets."
The After Meeting Continues
Jesus then directed his remarks to all present.
- "But hearken to me all of you. It is not that which enters into the mouth that spiritually defiles the man, but rather that which proceeds out of the mouth and from the heart."
But even the apostles failed fully to grasp the meaning of his words.
Simon Peter asked:
- "Lest some of your hearers be unnecessarily offended, would you explain to us the meaning of these words?"
Jesus to Peter:
- "Are you also hard of understanding? Know you not that every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up? Turn now your attention to those who would know the truth. You cannot compel men to love the truth. Many of these teachers are blind guides. And you know that, if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the pit. But hearken while I tell you the truth concerning those things that morally defile and spiritually contaminate men. I declare it is not that which enters the body by the mouth or gains access to the mind through the eyes and ears that defiles the man. Man is only defiled by that evil which may originate within the heart, and that finds expression in the words and deeds of such unholy persons. Do you not know it is from the heart that there come forth evil thoughts, wicked projects of murder, theft, and adulteries, together with jealousy, pride, anger, revenge, railings, and false witness? And it is just such things that defile men, and not that they eat bread with ceremonially unclean hands."
Last Words in the Synagogue
In the midst of the discussions of this after meeting, one of the Pharisees from Jerusalem brought to Jesus a distraught youth who was possessed of an unruly and rebellious spirit.
Leading this demented lad up to Jesus, he said:
- "What can you do for such affliction as this? Can you cast out devils?"
When the Master looked upon the youth, he was moved with compassion. Beckoning for the lad to come to him, he took him by the hand and said:
- "You know who I am. Come out of him. And I charge one of your loyal fellows to see that you do not return."
Immediately the lad was normal and in his right mind.
This is the first case where Jesus really cast an "evil spirit" out of a human being. All of the previous cases were only supposed possession of the devil. But this was a genuine case of demoniac possession. Even such as sometimes occurred in those days and right up to the day of Pentecost. When the Master's spirit was poured out upon all flesh, making it forever impossible for these few celestial rebels to take such advantage of certain unstable types of human beings.
When the people marveled, one of the Pharisees stood up and charged that Jesus could do these things because he was in league with devils, said the Pharisee:
- "Have nothing to do with this man. He is in partnership with Satan."
Then said Jesus:
- "How can Satan cast out Satan? A kingdom divided against it-self cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, it is soon brought to desolation. Can a city withstand a siege if it is not united? If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then shall his kingdom stand? But you should know that no one can enter into the house of a strong man and despoil his goods except he first overpower and bind that strong man. And so, if I by the power of Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore shall they be your judges. But if I, by the spirit of God, cast out devils, then has the kingdom of God truly come upon you. If you were not blinded by prejudice and misled by fear and pride, you would easily perceive that one who is greater than devils stands in your midst. You compel me to declare that he who is not with me is against me, while he who gathers not with me scatters abroad. Let me utter a solemn warning to you who would presume, with your eyes open and with premeditated malice, knowingly to ascribe the works of God to the doings of devils! Verily, verily, I say to you, all your sins shall be forgiven, even all of your blasphemies, but whosoever shall blaspheme against God with deliberation and wicked intention shall never obtain forgiveness. Since such persistent workers of iniquity will never seek nor receive forgiveness, they are guilty of the sin of eternally rejecting divine forgiveness.
- "Many of you have this day come to the parting of the ways. You have come to a beginning of the making of the inevitable choice between the will of the Father and the self-chosen ways of darkness. As you now choose, so shall you eventually be. You must either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else will the tree become corrupt and its fruit corrupt. I declare that in my Father's eternal kingdom the tree is known by its fruits. But some of you who are as vipers, how can you, having already chosen evil, bring forth good fruits? After all, out of the abundance of the evil in your hearts your mouths speak."
Then stood up another Pharisee, who said:
- "Teacher, we would have you give us a predetermined sign that we will agree upon as establishing your authority and right to teach. Will you agree to such an arrangement?"
And when Jesus heard this, he said:
- "This faithless and sign-seeking generation seeks a token, but no sign shall be given you other than that which you already have, and that which you shall see when the Son of Man departs from among you."
And when he had finished speaking, his apostles surrounded him and led him from the synagogue. In silence they journeyed home with him to Bethsaida. They were all amazed and somewhat terror-stricken by the sudden change in the Master's teaching tactics.
The Saturday Evening
Time and again had Jesus dashed to pieces the hopes of his apostles, repeatedly had he crushed their fondest expectations, but no time of disappointment or season of sorrow had ever equaled that which now overtook them. And, too, there was now admixed with their depression a real fear for their safety. They were all surprisingly startled by the suddenness and completeness of the desertion of the populace. They were also somewhat frightened and disconcerted by the unexpected boldness and assertive determination exhibited by the Pharisees who had come down from Jerusalem. But most of all they were bewildered by Jesus' sudden change of tactics.
And now, on top of all of these worries, when they reached home, Jesus refused to eat. For hours he isolated himself in one of the upper rooms. It was almost midnight when Joab, the leader of the evangelists, returned and reported that about one third of his associates had deserted the cause. All through the evening loyal disciples had come and gone, reporting that the revulsion of feeling toward the Master was general in Capernaum. The leaders from Jerusalem were not slow to feed this feeling of disaffection and in every way possible to seek to promote the movement away from Jesus and his teachings. During these trying hours the twelve women were in session over at Peter's house. They were tremendously upset, but none of them deserted.
It was a little after midnight when Jesus came down from the upper chamber and stood among the twelve and their associates.
- "I recognize that this sifting of the kingdom distresses you, but it is unavoidable. Still, after all the training you have had, was there any good reason why you should stumble at my words? Why is it that you are filled with fear and consternation when you see the kingdom being divested of these lukewarm multitudes and these halfhearted disciples? Why do you grieve when the new day is dawning for the shining forth of the spiritual teachings of the kingdom of heaven? If you find it difficult to endure this test, what then will you do when the Son of Man must return to the Father? When and how will you prepare yourselves for the time when I ascend to the place whence I came to this world?
- "My beloved, you must remember that it is the spirit that quickens. The flesh and all that pertains thereto is of little profit. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. Be of good cheer! I have not deserted you. Many shall be offended by the plain speaking of these days. Already you have heard that many of my disciples have turned back, they walk no more with me. From the beginning I knew that these halfhearted believers would fall out by the way. Did I not choose you twelve men and set you apart as ambassadors of the kingdom? And now at such a time as this would you also desert? Let each of you look to his own faith, for one of you stands in grave danger."
And when Jesus had finished speaking, Simon Peter said:
- "Yes, Lord, we are sad and perplexed, but we will never forsake you. You have taught us the words of eternal life. We have believed in you and followed with you all this time. We will not turn back, for we know that you are sent by God."
And as Peter ceased speaking, they all with one accord nodded their approval of his pledge of loyalty.
Then said Jesus:
- "Go to your rest, for busy times are upon us, active days are just ahead."