The Lesson of the Three Cities

The ruins speak.
Adapted from the work of ICEJ President, Dr. Jürgen Bühler

Ancient synagogue at Chorazin

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades.” Luke 10:13-15.

All three cities were located in close proximity on the north end of the Sea of Galilee and each experienced a powerful demonstration of the ministry of Jesus.

We do not know much about Jesus’ ministry in Chorazin, but we do know that Bethsaida was the hometown of three of the disciples of Jesus (John 1:44). Jesus visited this bustling fishing village from time to time and “spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing” (Luke 9:11).

Capernaum was referred to as “his own town” in reference to Jesus (Matthew 9:1) as he took up residence there Matthew 4:13). There, he preached regularly in the local synagogue (Luke 4:31) and performed many signs and wonders.

However, these three cities failed to respond to Jesus’ message and did not repent in spite of his dynamic ministry in them in both word and deed like no other cities. Looking at their ruins today along the northern shoreline of the Galilee, we see some important lessons.

Jesus indicates that God’s judgment is not uniform. Some cities will experience a more severe judgment than others, as each is judged in its generation. For example, for Tyre and Sidon the judgment of God “will be more tolerable…”, he warns.

Here the standard of Jesus seems different than our human and religious impulses would tell us. Apparently, ungodly cities may be judged less harshly than cities steeped in religious tradition but which fail to respond to the move of God in their midst. Jesus explains this principle in the following way: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required.” (Luke 12:48)

The passage from Luke 10 presents a clear warning not to count the great and eternal salvation offered through Jesus as cheap grace. The letter of Hebrews warned the early church and us today, that “For since the message declared by angels [the Old Testament] proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation which was declared at first by the Lord…” (Hebrews 2:2-3).

Some Christians today believe exactly the opposite. They view the Old Testament era as a time of the great foreboding judgment of God, while today we live in an age of grace when the Lord is only bountiful in mercy with His people.

Yet the above passage suggests the opposite. The life of Jesus – and the salvation purchased through his death, burial and resurrection – is the greatest gift God could offer to mankind. It indeed cost Him everything. But this radical offer of God’s incredible love requires a radical response from us. The three cities in Galilee failed to produce that response. The ruins today remind us of that.

Therefore, let us rather follow those who committed their lives to the Saviour and Redeemer. The reward will be a city that is indestructible, and an inheritance that is eternal.

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