If you want to know the history of the Church, you must go to a tiny fishing village on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee. This sleepy town of 1,500 people hardly seems like the place where a worldwide movement would start, but that is exactly what was birthed out of the town of Capernaum in the first century AD.
Honestly, my time in Capernaum may have been my favorite stop on my entire trip to Israel. I love Jesus and His church, and the ruins of this tiny town pointed me right to them both. A mighty story can be told in three pictures.
On the shores of Capernaum Jesus first called some of His most prominent disciples: Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Jesus saw these fishermen, and He asked them to follow Him and become fishers of men. As fishermen, these four captured live things and made them dead. As fishers of men, they would free dead men and offer them life in Christ. This was a wonderful upgrade!
Inside the town of Capernaum, Jesus would ask another man, Matthew, to follow Him. I have always heard that tax collectors (like Matthew) were disliked by their contemporaries. Seeing the size of Capernaum, however, gave this new meaning. Matthew was not some faceless bureaucrat who worked in an office in the big city. He was one of a few dozen families who lived in a fishing village. Everyone knew him . . . and his mother . . . and his kids. Peter, Andrew, James, and John certainly knew him as well – and paid tax TO HIM. Jesus had quite a job uniting this crew!
The picture of the coastline reminded me that Jesus began the church with an invitation. The same way He invited us to follow Him the moment we trusted Jesus as Savior. The fishermen’s story is something we share.
Though Capernaum was a small town, it had a synagogue where Jewish people could gather to read the Scripture and discuss its meaning. To some degree, Capernaum was Jesus’s adopted hometown during His Galilean ministry, and it was here in this synagogue where Jesus taught some of His first sermons. Years later, after Jesus death and resurrection, many Jews came back to Capernaum to talk about the teachings of the “Nazarene” (as they described Him.) In the excavated ruins of Capernaum, the synagogue was easily the biggest building in town. The large synagogue was a reminder that Jesus was Himself a Jew, and most who first followed Jesus were Jews as well. Christians (of Jewish or Gentile background) share a common history and the same God. Seeing this synagogue was a reminder of that.
Capernaum was Peter’s home town. Peter’s wife and mother-in-law lived there. It was in this house that some of Jesus’s miracles took place. Because of these reasons, it is not a surprise that early Christians gathered in Peter’s house to worship God together. In recent years, archaeologists unearthed a particular home in Capernaum that most believe was Peter’s home. What is fascinating about this home, is that it appears to have been added onto several times. The walls of this small first century house just kept moving out. The reason for this expansion is obvious. As the church in Capernaum grew, they kept needing more and more room for the new Christians to gather and worship. Seeing this ever expanding house reminds me that Jesus is on a mission to build and grow His church. As more are reached with the Gospel, we can praise God as we get to move another wall.
The small town of Capernaum demonstrates the growth of the early church. From the invitation to follow Jesus, to Christianity’s roots in Judaism, to the increasing expansion of the church, this small town’s pictures tell the story of Christianity’s early roots.