“And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled…‘the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.’” Matthew 4:13-15
Now I understand the Lord said, “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head”; and these words create a tendency to think Jesus had no home at all. That’s not exactly the case. He did have a home—and that home was central for the heart of the Son of Man’s work! Let me show you what I mean.
Luke records a major incident in Nazareth, the town of His upbringing, as Jesus returned to minister. The locals had heard of the great things He did in Capernaum. The expectation was that Nazareth’s favorite son would do at least the same if not more for the hometown crowd. Instead, from the dais in the synagogue, they received a rebuke. Luke 4:23-24 records the incident as such:
And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.”
Jesus, never the one to placate the crowd, spoke the truth of their hearts thus enraging the populous. The citizen’s response was clear: “And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.” In America’s Old West lingo this would be referred to as, “being run out of Dodge.” Nazareth had rejected Jesus the Nazarene. Matthew tells us of His next move; literally—“And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea…” And though He is still known as Jesus of Nazareth, the favorite son status had waned.
However, before we despair that the Savior is now a man without a country, let’s understand the move was in complete fulfillment of the scriptures. His move took Him to “the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled…‘the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.’” Capernaum; where Peter lived—was the small fishing hamlet where He called most of His Apostles. Capernaum became His home where He performed so many of His miracles! In this small village a great light dawned. This insignificant coastal town watched as the greatest ministry ever unfolded. And the attitude of Jesus’ heart was to help this little village hamlet where He lived!
For a little over two and a half years the Lord’s ministry would go out and return to Capernaum until He begins what theologians referred to as the Perean Ministry. For a moment, let’s think about the established Capernaum religious community where most of the action happens. What do we know about this little fishing village? Historically, Capernaum was a semi-modern town, begun as early as the 2nd century BC. At the Lord’s time, it’s estimated to have had a population of only about 1,500 people. Archeologists say that only two synagogues were ever built in this small fishermen’s hamlet, one right one top of other. The second was a “rebuilding project” done in the fourth century; the first structure is the original synagogue referred to in Luke 7 and built by a Gentile Centurion. The synagogue was the center of Hebrew social life. We know from Jewish tradition there had to be at least 10 men attending for it to exist. Reading Luke 13 tells us Jarius was the chief ruler among a clique of elders.
From John we learn this synagogue is the one the Lord gave His the famous “I am the Bread of Life” discourse. Of coarse the Apostle writes in his gospel that for many people this was the turning point for following Jesus. (John 6:66 “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.”) Capernaum had received great light and should have embraced the Savior for the great things He spoke and did in their little community. Sadly, they too were choosing the same path of Nazareth in rejection of the Hope of the world. In answer to their denial Jesus utters the warning, “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.” They should have been exalted to heaven for accommodating the greatest ministry the world had ever seen. Instead, for their unbelief the Lord utters the sobering words, “You shall be brought down to Hades.” This small village called Capernaum was presented with one of the harshest woes of judgment found in the scriptures.
However, apart from the Apostles, there was one man in Capernaum who was a divine variable of change and hope—a Gentile Centurion. Luke reveals the Centurion’s faith parlayed a change of promise for the village of Capernaum. The dying servant of a caring Centurion would become a barometer of challenge to this small fishing hamlet. This Roman leader single-handedly became a contrast to the closed and hardening Jewish community of Capernaum’s religious.
No doubt, since Jesus lived and preached there, it’s not unreasonable to think that He knew whom the Centurion was and what this Roman officer meant to this small Jewish enclave of fishermen. In that context it really sounds manipulative to read the words from Luke 7 of what the elders spoke to Jesus, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” The, elders didn’t ask, “Can you help a dying servant?” It was more like, “can you do a favor for this rich man who provides for our synagogue?” To them the servant was just another dying man who was well connected.
This is why I think this Centurion was a divine variable! He throws everything these Capernaum Jews understood about faith and religion into question. The Centurion was what they should have been! What moved the heart of Jesus to go and help? Was it the man’s love for the Jewish faith and religion? Or, was it the Centurion’s affection for a servant? Only reading the Gospel of Luke gives us this impression. In Matthew’s gospel there is no mention whatsoever of the elders and their mission. Only Luke presents the Centurion sending the elders of the synagogue to Jesus. In fact, when you read Matthew’s account you’re left with the impression that the Centurion came face-to-face presenting the whole case to Jesus himself. There’s no mention of these proxies coming to Christ at all.
This is the difference between writing the same story for Jewish readers or Gentiles—it’s all about the target audience. Matthew connects the Jewish reader with the Savior’s love for a Gentile humanity. In doing so he gives the impression of a face-to-face meeting. In reality Luke wants the less acquainted Gentile reader to understand the Capernaum synagogue dynamics of the Jewish religion. This was a big deal to Luke as he gives us the divine variable. Luke’s account is much more complicated; Matthew simplifies things and omits the Centurion’s intermediaries. Interestingly, both give the same conclusion: “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
Whatever the perspective, at the end of the day Jesus is mostly impressed by the Centurion’s demonstration of faith in Him as the Son of Man—He believed the words of the Nazarene alone could heal. He was a greater example of faith than Jesus’ own people! The Lord is commending the faith of this Gentile’s understanding of His word and power for healing. That’s what attracted the attention of Jesus to this man—not the great donations to the coffers of the Capernaum synagogue. In fact, this is one of the few instances in the scriptures where we see a healing that does not involve touching someone or producing an activity to see the miracle happen. The event is done without the physical presence of Jesus at the location. That is a divine variable—miracles generally didn’t happen that way—the hand of God was moving because someone had the audacity to believe the words of Jesus! He said to the Savior, “Say the word, and let my servant be healed.”
Reading this leads me to ask myself one question: Am I willing for a divine variable to happen in my life? Or do I see things as having to be a certain way and not allow the flexible of new life to refresh the work of God. Have I lived like a complacent citizen in Capernaum for too long while a great ministry works around me? As God is glorified, why not look at things the way the Centurion did. I want to be able to say, “Lord, just speak the word and I’ll believe the miracle you want to perform.” I don’t need the fancy trappings of my religious perceptions to see you work; just work, Lord!” In changing from a cynical outlook to this fresh attitude I learn I can expect a divine visitation into my little hamlet community fellowship of my spiritual Capernaum. Look for the Divine Variables at Home!
J. Robert Hanson
 Peræa in Greek means “the country beyond.” Traditionally its limits have been considered to be the eastern bank of the Jordan River between the rivers Arnon (Wadi Mujib) and Hieromax (Yarmouk River). It is said this area was the final itinerary of the Savior. However, when New Testament commentators speak of Christ’s Perean Ministry they refer to a period of time more than region. It begins with His departure from Galilee (Matt 19:1, Mark 10:1) and ends with the anointing by Mary in Bethany (Matt 26).
 John 6:58 “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.