Heaven Shines Down in Capernaum
Fifth in a series of nine
Luke 4:31-44 // 1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13 // Jeremiah 1:4-10
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon theme is Heaven Shines Down, and our sermon text leads us to heaven shining down in Capernaum, “And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
We are focusing on the specific locations of our texts in these days, to say this: that God does not choose places at random but deliberately. God does not ignore the past of his people but uses every bit, every scrap of everything that they are to demonstrate his salvation.
In the past weeks, we’ve been seeing heaven shine down at Bethlehem outside of Jerusalem, at the Jordan River where John baptizes Jesus, and at Cana where Jesus turns water into wine.
And last week we saw Nazareth, the little hometown where Jesus grew up, where Jesus was rejected, because “Jesus [was not] the Messiah they had in mind.” But “because Jesus was rejected, we are accepted... Because he rose up again on the third day, we understand not only that there will be a happy ending to our own stories, we know that the stories we live out here and now are full of both significance and opportunity.”
Today we turn our attention to Capernaum of Galilee. It was a Mankato-sized kind of a place to the Twin Cities metropolis of Jerusalem. It’s on the north side of the Sea of Galilee where the mountain snow fed a pure little lake with abundant fish. It was situated in about as beautiful a place as inland Judea had to offer. Capernaum was on the trade routes from Babylon in the east to Egypt in the west. It was a place of growing wealth.
It was a place where Jews and Gentiles alike mixed. Isaiah prophesied about this place, just before he writes what we have painted on the walls of our Sanctuary, “To us a child is born, to us a son is given”.... he says, “In the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” Jerusalem, the center of Jewish worship, was far away enough that the people had to rely on synagogues and Pharisees to practice their faith. Galilee and Capernaum were a place where the Jewish population was always aware, sometimes uncomfortably aware, of their Gentile neighbors.
So, into this Mankato, full of foreigners and Jews, Jesus comes preaching with authority, driving out demons, and healing the sick as the crowds gather around.
Three thoughts on the shift that happens in our text, as Jesus, who was just in Nazareth, comes to Capernaum.
Thought #1, A shift from what he (said) to what he (did). In Nazareth he says that he comes to proclaim good news and to free people from their oppression. In Capernaum, he starts doing it. In Nazareth, he quotes the proverb “Physician heal thyself,” and tells them that Elijah and Elisha served the Gentiles, and in Capernaum, he starts doing as Elijah and Elisha did. In Nazareth, he inaugurates his ministry with the words of Isaiah, and in Capernaum, he begins to teach with an authority that is both simple and deep.
We might not know what he said in that synagogue exactly, but we do know what he preached the rest of his ministry. He would ask us to shift from what we say to what we do...
Do you say that you practice forgiveness, or do you practice putting the sins of others away? Do you say it’s good to humbly confess your own sins, or do you take the time to set your defensiveness aside and admit that you can be at fault? Have you lately been praying for your enemies? Have you lately been looking for ways to give up your shirt when someone asks for your coat?
Thought #2, A shift from where he had (been) to where he was (going). In Nazareth, he was hometown boy. In Capernaum, he is a teacher with authority. In Nazareth, he was among those familiar to him. In Capernaum, he is among those who were getting to know him through his miracles and teachings. In Nazareth, he was among those who knew who he had been. In Capernaum, he begins looking toward the journey that ends at the cross and the open tomb.
I’ll tell you what I’m not saying: I’m not saying that his life in Nazareth didn’t matter. I’m not saying that the virgin birth is meaningless. No, quite the opposite. I am saying that it all makes far more sense when we see the ending.
You see what dribbling drills are supposed to do when you start driving the lane in a basketball game. You see what basic training drills are supposed to do when you get into combat. You see what the very mundane, the very basic, the trivial, does when you look to the end and get to see the whole picture. You see what it means for Jesus to preach what he preaches here, when you look to the cross and the open tomb.
Jesus shifts to inaugurating the kingdom of heaven, a kingdom that turns upside down what it means to have power, a kingdom finds its strength in weakness, a kingdom that finds its purpose in the death of the Savior. He shifts from where he has been to where he is going.
The kingdom of heaven is like a family that is finding its focus to be less on where their loved one has been, the struggle she has been through, the pain that he is in, and more on the place where their loved one is going. They find themselves less and less dwelling on the loss that they are feeling, and more and more looking forward to the day when they see each other again.
Thought #3, A shift from the (earthly) to the (heavenly). Galilee was ripe for rebellion. Two hundred years before Jesus, the Maccabeans led a revolt that freed the Jewish people into an independent state. “Thirty years before Jesus, Judas the Galilean led another revolt. Thirty years after Jesus, they would try again, and the Romans would end up destroying the temple of Jerusalem.” So, when Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is near,” the people a generation before him would have taken it literally and taken up arms, the people a generation after him would have taken it literally and taken up arms, so you could well guess that the people in Jesus’s day would have taken it literally too.
But Jesus shifts from the earthly to the heavenly, and remember that heavenly for the Christian doesn’t so much mean a specific place as it means the presence of God.
Jesus shifts from the earthly—from what you can see and taste and touch and feel and know—to the heavenly—who God is for eternity, treasures that moth and rust could never destroy.
I’ll what else heavenly DOESN’T mean. It doesn’t mean that the earthly has no meaning. On the contrary, the Christian believes that when we shift from the earthly to the heavenly, then the earthly stuff, the earthly life, all of the mundane ordinary things of our day are filled with an extraordinary meaning.
The lepers walking, the blind and the demon-oppressed finding relief, the fevers getting healed, they aren’t just about temporary relief and quality of life and band-aid solutions, because ailments and troubles would always come back... but in this moment, they point toward the way that Jesus will make all things right in the cross. They point to the heavenly blessings that give meaning to the earthly tools we use.
You shall not steal. Money isn’t just another earthly thing; it is a tool to lift the cross high. Don’t use money to enact your will. Don’t use it as a tool for your own entertainment. Use it as a tool to bless others and encourage them.
You shall not murder. Serving your neighbor isn’t just a good thing to do; is it the reason why God made humanity to exist.
You shall not commit adultery. Marriage isn’t just a stable place to find love or raise children; it is a picture of Jesus laying down his life for his church.
You shall not give false testimony. Telling the truth isn’t just a good thing; it is the only way to cultivate the honest community which points toward the new Jerusalem.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s stuff. Loving people more than you love stuff isn’t just a helpful tip when life goes wrong; it is a little piece of how God so loved the whole world that he gave his only son, how he knows all the hairs on your head, how the God who watches over the sparrows watches over you too.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town, a church that is made up of all kinds of individual stories, all kinds of people in community, the sort of community known for caring for any who comes through their doors, loving people in the ways that they need, forgiving others as they have been forgiven by their God, and living in the hope that all of this life points toward something more.
Amen and amen.
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