The year is 30 A.D. Two teenage boys are apprentices in a cobbler shop in Capernaum, a small town by the Sea of Galilee. Their master is out of town on a leather buying trip.
The boys are distracted from their work by noise from people rushing around outside. They ask a man about it and he says the prophet from Nazareth is nearby and will be giving a sermon on a hillside facing the Sea of Galilee. This sermon would be later known as the Sermon on the Mount. The boys looked at one another in astonishment and said “What are we waiting for, let’s go!”
They gather their bedrolls and some food. They secure the shop and head out the door. When they get to the gate of the city they unexpectedly meet their master returning early from his trip.and he says to them “Where are you boys going!? Get back in that shop and make shoes and sandals and saddles!” The boys turn around crestfallen and walk with their master back to the shop. The master cobbler asks them “What were you going out there to see anyway?” The older boy says “We were going out to see Jesus of Nazareth.” The cobbler stammers and says “Jesus is here, near Capernaum!? “Why didn’t you say so! I’ve heard He performs miracles! Let’s go!”
However, they were in for a very rude awakening. The Jewish people of Galilee who heard the words of Jesus that day heard things that conflicted against the mindset of first century thinking. They expected a war cry to throw out the Romans but they got a teaching about sins and the need to repent. Jesus Christ (Christ means the same as Messiah) said many things that were opposed to the worldly thinking of the time. Theologians would later call these sayings “contra mundum” which means “against the world.“ However, Jesus has a powerful way of proving that His teachings are true words from God.
The cobbler and his two apprentices and most of the town of Capernaum went to hear Jesus deliver His most famous sermon. It was after sunset by the time they returned to Capernaum. The cobbler and the apprentices didn’t say a word to each other the whole way back. The boys could see that their master was not a happy man. Finally one of them speaks up and says “What did you think of the sermon?”
The cobbler said “What did I think of it? I hated it!!! This Jesus is supposed to be more than a prophet. He’s supposed to be the Messiah of Israel. We’ve waited 1500 years for this!? It’s been 1500 years or so since Moses and now Messiah has come. And what did he say to us? He said to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. He said love your enemies. He said to bless those who persecute you. He said that if you want to enter the kingdom of God you have to have a righteousness that’s superior to that of the Pharisees who are the strictest legalists of our Jewish faith. Jesus even commanded us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect!” [Matthew 5:20-48]. “Who can rise to this standard?”
The cobbler continued: “Jesus spoke about hell in the sermon we just heard. And Jesus spoke the saddest words I’ve ever heard in my life. Jesus said “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.” [Matthew 7:13-14 NASB]. Boys, do you know what this means!? It means most of humanity is headed to hell!!! What a tragedy! What drama! God’s standards are so high that people can’t keep these standards and therefore most of humanity is headed to destruction!”
The three of them grimly walked to the shop and pondered the words of Jesus. It was not what they expected at all. They expected the Messiah to praise the Pharisees who were so diligent about keeping the law. However, Jesus said that the law is much stricter than even the Pharisees understood it. God’s law applies even to the thoughts and motives of the heart.
Jesus said that even to look at a woman lustfully is to commit adultery and break the seventh commandment. The boys pondered what Jesus said and they wondered why they should accept it. They followed the ministry of Jesus from that day forward as He traveled around Galilee and later Judea and Jerusalem.
Jesus taught them this strict view of God’s law so they would see the futility of trying to keep the law perfectly to earn entrance to paradise after death. Jesus would go on to die on the cross and take the penalty of our sins upon Himself. Only by putting faith in Christ and receiving salvation through Christ, and not self effort, can salvation be gained. Keeping the law is important but it does not earn salvation. Only Christ, by his death on our behalf, earned our salvation. “A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28).
Jesus taught the people more about hell than any other prophet, priest or king in the Bible. He talked about hell in graphic, lurid terms. Jesus taught that most people are headed to hell. This is very hard for people of the first century or any century to accept. Then Jesus walked on water and He raised the dead and He healed people blind from birth to prove that His words are from God and they are true.
I’ve often wondered why Jesus spoke so much about hell. And then I realized that hell and the cross are connected. Jesus taught about hell and warned people about hell because He came to take our hell upon Himself. Hell is the penalty for sins and Jesus took the penalty of our sins upon himself. Jesus said that He came “to give His life a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28 NASB).
The boys believed Christ’s message along with multitudes of others not because they were initially in agreement with His words but they saw the miracles. Looking back from the 21st century, we see the commands to love your enemies and bless those who persecute you as noble and as peacemaking. But in the first century those words grated against their ears in a horrific way.
Why did Christianity spread throughout the ancient world? Philosophers and historians wondered why this message spread. Jesus gives the answer as to why His message was accepted even though He knew that His words were difficult.
In John 15:24 Jesus said that He did “the works that no one else did” (NASB). The entire 9th chapter of the Gospel of John is about Jesus healing a man who was born blind. The man who was healed said in John 9:32 “Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind” (NASB).
Centuries later Mohammed came along and he did no miracles. Mohammed preached a message that was in accordance with the world. He preached a macho message. He preached a message of warfare and conquest. It didn’t take miracles to get people to accept this. Mohammed preached a message claiming that you can earn your salvation by doing good works. He didn’t have to work miracles to promote his message.
Karl Marx preached his message exhorting workers to rise up and rebel against the rich. Marx did no miracles to promote his message. His message was in accordance with the brutality of the world.
The Bible says that signs and wonders follow those who preach the gospel (John 14:12). The apostles and the disciples went forth and they too worked miracles and raised the dead and opened blind eyes and this helped Christianity to be accepted.
The ancient Greeks received the message of Christ because of the miracles. The Greeks were offended by parts of the Christian message, especially the resurrection. Greek paganism had a very low view of physical life. The Greek philosophers regarded the human body as the prison house of the soul. They were very negative towards physical things. The Stoics abused their flesh. The Epicureans indulged their flesh. They didn’t think flesh was important one way or the other. They could abuse it or indulge it.
Christ will redeem our flesh through the resurrection of all Christians. The Greeks were convinced and believed that God’s Son came In the flesh, in a human body. Why were they so convinced? They were convinced by the miracles that proved that the apostles’ gospel message were true words from God Himself.
Miracles of healing still occur today in answer to Christian prayer. Other religions and cults have miracles or paranormal phenomena but Christian miracles are greater. The religion with the best miracles wins and that religion is Christianity.
Jesus’s words are difficult yet the Christian message is a beautiful message. Paradise is a free gift given to those who turn to Christ and ask for forgiveness of sins and receive the benefit of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. It is after we receive salvation that we go on to follow Christ as Lord and obey His commands. We do good works from a grateful heart that has received forgiveness. I invite you to turn to Christ today to receive forgiveness of sins.
Steps to salvation:
Jesus said “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7).
Prayer to receive salvation:
“Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).
To receive the salvation that Jesus purchased for us at the terrible cost of His suffering and death on our behalf I invite you to pray this simple prayer:
“Dear heavenly Father, I thank you for sending Jesus, the promised Messiah, to die for my sins. I admit that I am a sinner. I repent of my sins and I ask for your forgiveness on the basis of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I ask you to fill me with your Holy Spirit to empower me to serve you under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
If you prayed this prayer in the humble sincerity of your heart then you have received everlasting life, which includes power to live right in this life and entrance into heaven in the afterlife!