In Capernaum's Synagogue

“As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me. This is that bread which came down from heaven; not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. These things said He in the synagogue, as He taught in Capernaum” (John 6:57-59).

I am thinking today of Capernaum. We were intensely interested in going over the ruins of that ancient city. I suppose you know that until very recently archaeologists were not at all clear as to just where the Capernaum of the Bible actually stood. It had been surmised that possibly it was now a heap of ruins on the shore of the Sea of Galilee south of Tiberias, for behind those ruins rise in majestic grandeur the Horns of Hattin, a double mountain peak which many have supposed to be the scene of the Sermon on the Mount; and yet there were certain things about that site that did not appear to be in full conformity with what was written in the Word of God. So for many years there have been those who surmised that possibly Tel Hum, a mound on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, near where the Jordan enters, might be the actual Capernaum. This, I think, has now been confirmed beyond any question.

Some years ago, a group of German Franciscan monks built a monastery on Tel Hum. During the time of the World War, after General Allen-by’s great victory over the Turks and the German army, these German monks were interned in their own monastery. They were not at liberty to go abroad until after the signing of the Armistice. During that time of their partial confinement, in order to get suitable exercise, they betook themselves to digging in the ground; and they were amazed, as they began to unearth one great block of white limestone after another. They uncovered the ruins of an ancient building which at. first looked as though it might have been a Greek or Roman temple. There were beautiful white limestone pillars, great blocks of stone with which the walls were made; and the flooring of limestone flags remained practically as it was in the days when this building was in use. As they uncovered more and more of it, it became evident that it was never a Roman or a Greek temple; but on the other hand, it was a Jewish synagogue— and yet it was built in Roman style. The cornerstone bears the Roman insignia of the eagle, though it is very much marred as though some Jewish zealot had tried to blot it out in years long gone by. The ornaments found upon the stone and upon the pillars, the capitals and the lintels, are all distinctly Jewish in character. Over and over they found reproduced, as we saw them, the seven-branched candlestick which had its place in the tabernacle and the temple. Then there was unmistakably represented the golden pot of manna that was hidden away in the Holiest of All. Then, too, there were ornaments of olive-leaves, palm-branches, fig-leaves, and the six-pointed Star of David and the five-pointed Star of Solomon. All of these ornaments showed that the building had been used, not by the Romans but by the Jews.

Why, then, was this synagogue Roman in architecture and yet marked with Jewish ornamentation? Scripture itself evidently gives the reason. You remember how, on one occasion, a Roman centurion sent to Jesus, asking Him to look in pity upon his sick servant and help him, and the Jewish representatives who came to the Lord in behalf of this centurion said, “He is worthy for whom Thou shouldest do this: for he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.” Now, this was in Capernaum; and right there amid the ruins of that city it is possible today to walk over the floor of that ancient synagogue and go up upon the rostrum and stand in the very place where undoubtedly the feet of the Lord Jesus stood over and over again. For He was a very frequent visitor to that synagogue, and often gave His message there. It was in that very synagogue that He healed the man who had the withered arm. It was there that the man possessed by a demon interrupted the service by screaming out, “What have we to do with Thee, Jesus of Nazareth? Art Thou come to destroy us?” And you remember the Lord healed the poor afflicted man who had been held in bondage for so long.

It was in this very synagogue that He gave the sermon recorded in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel on the Bread of Life, in which He declared that He Himself was the Living Bread that came down from heaven, “which if a man eat thereof, he shall live forever.” There was something wonderfully solemn to us in going about over these ruins. We could see the place for the Jewish purifications. We could see the chief seats where the leading men of the synagogue sat. As we looked down over the floor and beyond that to the road, in fancy we could see Jesus and His disciples passing by on His way to meet Jairus, who was one of the rulers of that very synagogue. We could see that afflicted woman stealing through the throng, saying in her heart, “If I can but touch the hem of His garment I shall be healed.” Oh, it was so easy to imagine it all as though it happened but yesterday, as we stood on the rostrum of that old building. After having visited some of these eastern lands and being acquainted somewhat with archaeological findings, I feel that God Himself, in these days which some of us believe to be the last days of this dispensation immediately preceding the coming of the Lord Jesus and our gathering together unto Him, is making it absolutely impossible for any normal, honest investigator to be a skeptic or an unbeliever. I have heard so many people say, “Sometimes I would like to believe the Bible, but there are so many things about it that I find so difficult to accept. I am not able to credit its miracles; and I can’t seem to believe in the Deity of Jesus Christ. What do you suggest that I study in order that I may be convinced?” Well, my friends, if you who are listening to me have thoughts like these running through your minds, I would suggest that you become more conversant with modern archaeological findings. In our day the very stones are crying out, proving beyond the question of a doubt the authenticity of the historical portion of the Bible. The very things that have been most questioned are proved to be actual facts. We felt that very strongly as we walked about over the ruins of this synagogue in Capernaum.

And then we turned about and looked to the north-west of the city, and there saw that which wonderfully confirms the Biblical account. You remember that in the Gospel of St. Matthew, where we have the record of the Sermon on the Mount, we are told that our Lord Jesus went up into the mountain. He went from Capernaum up into the mountain, and as you walk out of the city you walk up into this mountain immediately behind it. And it is said that when the Lord Jesus sat down, His disciples came unto Him and He taught them, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and so on. But when you turn to Luke’s Gospel, you read that when “He came down with them and stood in the plain,” and the people thronged about Him, He preached that Sermon on the Mount. And skeptics have said, “Look at that. There is an absolute discrepancy in the Bible utterly impossible to explain away. In the one instance He went up to the mountain and taught, and in the other instance He came down into the plain.”

But as we stood in Capernaum and looked up into that mountain, everything was explained perfectly; for as you walk up into the mountain you come upon a plain or table-land so large in extent that thousands of people might be accommodated there; and then the mountain rose up beyond that table-land to a considerable height; and we could just imagine the Lord Jesus walking with His disciples out of the city of Capernaum and up into the highest part of the mountain for a period of communion with His Father, and then, seeing the multitudes following Him, come down from those heights to the plain, which, after all you see, was on the mountain but yet not so high up as the position that He first took. I fancy that a great many of the so-called discrepancies of the Bible could be explained just as easily if we were more familiar with the facts. Now I want you to think of the day that the Lord Jesus preached that sermon on the Bread of Life in the synagogue of Capernaum. There some of His mightiest deeds had been done. It is called the city of Andrew and Peter. It was in this city that He entered the house of Simon Peter and healed Peter’s wife’s mother who lay sick of a fever. It was in Capernaum that He raised the daughter of Jairus. It was there that He healed the woman who had the issue of blood. The people of Capernaum had privileges such as few others had, of coming into the most intimate contact with the Lord Jesus Christ. And yet the amazing thing is that instead of receiving His message, instead of accepting Him as their Messiah and their Saviour, the vast majority rejected Him. There were a few who received Him. There was Matthew, the Roman tax collector who had his custom-house in Capernaum. He heard the message of Jesus, and the Saviour passed his custom-house and turned to him and said, “Follow Me;” and Matthew rose up, made a great feast to his friends and relatives, bade them all goodbye, wound up his business affairs, and went out to follow Jesus. So there were others who heard His message in Capernaum and believed, but the great bulk turned away from Him. What a solemn thing to become familiar with the message of the gospel and yet turn a deaf ear to it!

Think of Jesus standing in that synagogue and proclaiming that marvelous message in regard to Himself as the Living Bread. The people had intimated to Him that they would like to see a miracle again, such as feeding the multitude with loaves and fishes. They said to Him, “What sign showest Thou then, that we may see, and believe Thee?” They reminded Him that Moses gave them manna from heaven. And Jesus said, “Moses gave you not that bread from heaven, but My Father giveth you the true Bread from heaven. For the true Bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, even the Son of God that gave His life for the world.” And then He went on to show that when all mankind are hungry and famished in their sins and there is nothing in this poor world that can save them, that He had come all the way from heaven to meet the need, and that all who put their trust in Him really feed upon Him. It is important to see that, for our Lord Jesus was not proclaiming the institution of an ordinance here, but He spoke of Himself as the Living Bread; and when He spoke of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, He was not referring to the Communion. That was not yet given to His people until many months afterward, just before He went out to die. He was speaking of heart-appropriation of Himself by faith; to eat the Living Bread is to trust the Saviour; to drink His blood is to believe that through that precious blood shed on Calvary all our sins are put away. As He spoke of this, many turned from Him. Some who, up to that time, had followed Him in a nominal way as His disciples, were grieved, and they went away saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” You see, they took it all so literally, and they never sought for the hidden spiritual meaning that was beneath the surface. But you remember when the Lord Jesus turned to His Apostles, Peter and the rest, and said, sadly, “Will you also go away?” that Simon answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life; and we believe and are sure that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who shall give His life for the world.” You see, Peter was eating the Flesh of the Son of God and drinking His Blood: his words declared it.

Since our Lord Jesus preached that sermon in Capernaum, the same words have been translated into hundreds of different languages, and by the living voice and by the written Word have been carried into the very ends of the earth. But it makes no difference to whom the message goes, what circumstances the hearers or the readers were found in, if they but took Him at His word, if they but believed what He said, and accepted Him as their Saviour, men have found in Him that peace of conscience and heart-satisfaction which He promised them. Listen to these words: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life. I am that Bread of Life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the Bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this Bread, he shall live for ever: and the Bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

See how our Lord Jesus intimates His Deity and His pre-existence here. He came down from Heaven. He did not begin to live when He was born here on earth as the son of the blessed virgin Mary; but He had come from the land of light and glory down into this dark scene in order that He might give His life for the world. And He makes it all so simple. He explains what eating His flesh is in these words: “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life.”

I remember long years ago hearing Ira D. Sankey sing at one of the meetings conducted by that princely man of God, now in heaven, Henry Varley. He sang with great tenderness,

“Some day the silver cord will break,
And I no more as now shall sing,
But, oh, the joy when I awake,
Within the Palace of the King.
And I shall see Him face to face,
And tell the story, saved by grace!”

After singing the entire song Sankey told us the story of his own conversion. He told how he had been brought up piously and religiously, but had come into doubt and fear and conflict of mind as a young man, until he saw that he must get this matter settled. “I must find out whether I can say that I possess eternal life or not.” And he went to God about it, and asked for a word that would settle this definitely and eternally. He opened his Bible, and his eye fell upon John 6:47, this very verse I have read. He read it, and oh, it came to him in new power that day. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life.” Sankey said the words just burned into the depths of his soul, and he said, “Thank God, I do believe in Jesus Christ, and therefore I have eternal life.” He said that he had never lost that assurance all through his life. He knew from that day on that, having believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, he was a Christian. He ministered to thousands of others in that assurance through his sweet song messages, and he died in that assurance, and we can be assured that he, now absent from the body, is present with the Lord.

I am wondering if I am speaking to any today who have said, “I would like to be a Christian. I would like to know definitely that my own sins are put away. I would like to be certain that God has accepted me, but somehow or other, I can’t seem to get that assurance.” Perhaps you have joined the church, and thought when you did that everything would be all right. But you are a church-member and still you are not sure about your salvation. Perhaps you were baptized and have taken the sacrament religiously, and you thought if you did these things that surely your soul would be saved, but you are just as much in the darkness and doubt as ever. Perhaps someone says, “I used to live in all kinds of sin, but I am giving up every wrong thing so far as it is in my power to do so, and I am trying to do right and live an upright life, and still I have no assurance.”

Well, my dear friends, let me remind you that this assurance does not come through anything that you can do, and it isn’t a question of your feelings. There is a little hymn that I like very much which expresses this strikingly:

“Oh, the love of Christ is boundless,
Broad and long and deep and high;
Every doubt and fear is groundless,
Now the word of faith is nigh.
Jesus Christ for our salvation,
Came and shed His precious blood;
Clear I stand from condemnation,
In the risen Son of God.

“I was waiting once for pardon,
I was hoping to be saved,
Waiting, though my heart would harden,
Hoping danger might be braved;
Till by God’s own Truth confounded
I, a sinner, stood confessed,
Richly then His grace abounded,
Jesus gave me perfect rest.

“’Tis not doing, ’tis not praying,
’Tis not weeping saves the soul,
God is now His grace displaying,
Jesus died to make you whole.
Look to Him and life-works follow,
Look to Him without delay,
Look to Him, and ere tomorrow
Thou wilt weep and praise and pray.”

Now, to look to Him is to believe in Him; and to believe in Him is to feed upon the Living Bread, to put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who came down from heaven to give His life to the world, the One who stood that day long ago in the Capernaum synagogue and there revealed Himself to men as the only Saviour for sinners!