Summary: The Jesus of Faith meets the Jesus of history in the discoveries of Peter’s House and the Jesus Boat in Capernaum.
The Jesus Boat
one of 600 sermons by
Jackson Snyder, June 20, 2002
Today’s Gospel story is known as “The Calming of the Storm.” Jesus and the disciples are in a boat, crossing the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret). A great storm overtakes them and the boat is swamped with water and sinking, yet Jesus remains asleep through it all until his hysterical disciple awakes him with the words, “We are lost; don’t you care?” Jesus arises and rebukes the wind, then commands the sea to be still. Following his command, the storm abates and there is a great calm. Of course, the others in the boat are amazed that Jesus has authority over weather conditions. “Who can this be?” they ask each other in amazement.
If we turn over to Matthew’s version of the event, we find Jesus and his disciples setting out from the town of Capernaum, their headquarters. Capernaum is situated on the northern shore of the Sea. Jesus has been teaching in Capernaum, staying at Simon Peter’s house (we suppose), where he healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (Matthew 8:14-15). Simon Peter owned a fishing business that employed several of the other disciples.
The outstanding event of our story today is that Jesus destroyed the storm. It was a miraculous sign. Skeptics today simply don’t believe that such a power was available to him. Even many Bible scholars profess that the miracles of Jesus were not historical facts, but greatly exaggerated accounts of natural occurrences, written for the purpose of converting readers. In fact, one of the most influential Bible scholars of the 20th century, whose work is studied in every mainline Bible school in the country, maintained that absolutely nothing could be known about the Jesus of history (Rudolf Bultmann) – there was just too little evidence of his life outside of the New Testament.
Searching for History
For the last two hundred years, Bible students have been looking for this Jesus of history that stands behind the Jesus of faith that we know so well. This “Quest for the Historical Jesus” (Albert Schweitzer) has taken many roads over the years, including:
· The in-depth study of both biblical and non-biblical texts relating to Jesus,
· Major attempts at locating the actual places mentioned in the Gospels, and
· Widespread archaeological digs throughout Israel in search of clues.
In the field of archaeology, there have been many stupendous discoveries that shed light the Jesus of history and his world: The evidence points more and more to the historicity and factuality of the Gospel accounts. I want to tell you about two amazing evidences that have come to light in the last twenty years, both pertain directly to Capernaum and Jesus’ forays upon the turbulent Sea of Galilee.
Simon Peter’s House
The first find is the very house in which Jesus stayed, taught and healed the mother-in-law. Yes, Simon Peter’s house has been located, identified by etchings of crosses and over one hundred graffiti in five ancient languages scattered over the foundation stones and remaining wall structures. The house has been dated to the time of Jesus by coins found within. Fishhooks were found under the pavement. A large room had been forged in the middle of the house, which had been plastered several times over, a sign of frequent use, undoubtedly as a gathering place. The walls were too weak to support a tile roof; tree branches, palm fronds and mud were used instead, reminiscent of Mark 2:1-5, the story of letting the paralyzed man down through the roof. Peter’s living room in Capernaum, right beside the seashore, is the earliest church ever found; Jesus himself was the pastor. This is indeed sensational.
The Ginnosar Boat
The second fabulous discovery was made in 1986. There had been a drought in Israel and the Sea of Galilee was at low ebb. Not far from Capernaum, buried in the mud of the lake, was found a wooden boat, which was cleared of mud, enclosed in foam and floated out. To the amazement of scientists, carbon dating revealed that this boat had been in use during the time of Jesus.
The boat was built to last from the wood of other boats. It’s ribbed, mortared and nailed together. At 26 ½ feet long, 7 ½ feet wide and 4 ½ feet high, this boat was plenty large enough to accommodate 13 men. We can’t help but speculate: could this be the very boat that held Jesus and the disciples on their journeys across the lake, the boat from which he taught the crowds, the boat from which he commanded the storm to silence? Could this be the boat? Well, maybe. To have his boat in our possession now might be a greater miracle than his stopping a little old storm. Appropriately, it became known as “The Jesus Boat.”