DR. PHIL BRASSFIELD
Isaiah 9: 6&7– For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of [His] government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.
There are over 65 major Messianic Prophecies in the Old Testament with some 300 unique details concerning the coming of the Jewish Messiah. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Prophets foretold all sorts of things, from the virgin birth and place of Christ’s nativity, to the fact that He would be betrayed by a friend for 30 pieces of silver- even crucified, a method of execution not known by the Jews at the time. But of all the amazing prophecies from the Old Testament regarding the Messiah, there is one prophecy that has become a Christmas classic. It is the passage above recorded for us in Isaiah chapter 9. And it is beautiful! It describes the fact that as a child the Messiah will be born, but as a son, He shall be given, that the responsibility of the government (God’s Kingdom Government) shall be upon His shoulders and that He will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. These descriptions are clearly a mix of human and divine qualities and are perhaps the most beautiful list of titles ever compiled. They are inspiring indeed. But before you get to that passage in verse 6 and 7 with its magnificent beauty, there are actually a few amazing details recorded earlier in verse 1 of the same chapter that we don’t often associate with Christmas.
There is a fragment of verse 1 that is very telling regarding where the Messiah will live and a description of the nature of His being and purpose. The Prophet says, (1) …by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles.(2) The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” Following His baptism by John the Baptist, Jesus moved His ministry headquarters from Nazareth in the “hill country” to a village on the northwest shore of the Lake of Galilee, called Capernaum. Matthew described Capernaum in his Gospel as Jesus’ “own city” (Matt. 9:1), and in an earlier passage he says that Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum in Galilee that the prophecy of Isaiah might be fulfilled (Matt. 4:13-16). Why would Jesus move from Nazareth to Capernaum? Was it just to fulfill a prophecy? Or, was it because of the strategic nature and location of Capernaum? And as the Jewish Messiah, wouldn’t it make more sense for Him to base His ministry in the revered Temple precincts of Jerusalem? Let me attempt to shed some light on these questions.
Why would Jesus move from Nazareth to Capernaum?
Palestine was the land bridge connecting three continents – Europe, Africa and Asia. The early Empires of the World traveled this land-bridge to engage in commerce, conquest and to convey information. The two most important roads in the ancient World were located on this land bridge and passed through Galilee, the Via Maras and the King’s Highway. The Via Maras, called the “Way of The Sea”, traveled along the Mediterranean Sea up into Galilee through Capernaum and on to Damascus; the other was called the King’s Highway and it moved from Galilee along the trans-Jordan highlands then through the desert toward Arabia. Both of these roads travelled near the Lake of Galilee for practical reasons. The Lake of Galilee with its abundant fish and fresh water offered the best place to refresh between Damascus and Alexandria. This made Capernaum an incredibly important and busy frontier city. It was a hub of travel, information and culture.
Jerusalem, on the other hand, was off the beaten path regarding the World stage. It was situated in the Judean highlands some 17 miles off the international trade routes, a great distance in biblical times. It was relevant because of its religious and political significance as opposed to its strategic location. To the Jews it was important, as it was the place of their beloved Temple and the center of Jewish religious life. To the Romans of the 1st Century it was important as the leveraging point for maintaining the balance of power throughout the region. One writer compared Capernaum and Jerusalem regarding their connection to the greater world, “Judea is on the road to nowhere, Galilee was on the road to everywhere.”
Yes, Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and the Jewish nation was the platform upon which God chose to reveal Him. But Jesus was also the Redeemer of the entire World. His mission was not to simply reform the Jewish religion; it was to illuminate the World with the truth! I must say that I am always amazed at the strategic nature of God’s wisdom. Galilee, specifically Capernaum, was the perfect place to accomplish this mission. And God planned the location of Jesus’ ministry hundreds of years before Jesus was even born. It is none other than Capernaum that fits the description from Isaiah’s chapter 9 prophecies completely. The phrase Via Maras is a Latin phrase that means, “the way of the sea”. Capernaum is situated along this road and two miles west of the Jordan River in Galilee with a significant gentile population. There is little doubt that Capernaum is the place that Isaiah said the Messiah would base His ministry. It would be from this place that He would earn the titles mentioned later in the Christmas passage of Isaiah chapter 9.
Over 75% of Jesus’ miracles happened in or near this town (within approximately two miles) at the crossroads of the World. There, He would astonish people with His teaching. He worked miracles, fed thousands, taught the Sermon on the Mount, walked on the water, paid temple taxes with miracle provision, healed the woman with the issue of blood, raised Jarius’ daughter, healed the Centurion’s servant and Peter’s mother in law, and much more. Here, He broke down racial and cultural walls ministering to Jew and Gentile alike as a result of the great cultural diversity of Galilee. No wonder the Prophet said that, “… by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles (a perfect description of the city of Capernaum). (2) The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.”
Matthew, when speaking of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, said in chapter 4 of his Gospel, “News about him spread all over Syria.” Imagine that, all the way to Syria. With every merchant’s caravan and every military regiment travelling the highways through Israel, who while watering the animals, would listen to the messages preached by a young Jewish Rabbi, word spread. As travelers from foreign lands and home folks saw the miracle signs and wonders, word spread. A light of truth and hope was shining to the World from Galilee! Wonderful! Mighty God! Prince of Peace! These pronouncements must have been on the lips of those in the astonished crowds!
We often think of the Light of Christmas being in Bethlehem about a baby, manger, and stable, and about the shepherds of our nativity displays, and it is certainly that. But this Christmas maybe we should be reminded that The Light of Christmas was really the Light of the World! And He was, first, strategically sent to illuminate the entire World from a busy village in Galilee called Capernaum. Let us be reminded that His mission there is still our mission here. Jesus is the Light of the World but He also said that so are you! The light of Christmas still glows from the heart of God and is searching for the lost, those who sit in darkness. Trim your lamp, rekindle the flame of His love and this Christmas remember that you have been sent to a strategic place for a strategic time for a strategic purpose. Light the way. Carry the light. Make Him known! Be the Light of Christmas! Merry Christmas!