Korazin: Knowing Too Much and Believing Too Little

Matthew 11:20-24

November 1, 2009 | Ray Pritchard

It was only ten days ago, though it seems much longer, that we awoke on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. By “we” I mean the 15 people who joined our tour group on a pilgrimage to the land of the Bible. On this particular day we started by taking a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and then saw the “Jesus boat” that may have been used by our Lord and his disciples. Later we would head north through the “finger” of Galilee to Dan and ultimately on to Caesarea Philippi, site of Peter’s Great Confession (Matthew 16:13-16),  and then along the Golan Heights to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, to the spot called Kursi or Gergasa where Christ cast out the “legion” of demons from the man who wandered among the tombs. He sent the demons into a herd of swine who then rushed down a steep bank and drowned in the Sea of Galilee (Mark 5:1-20).

All in all, a very busy day.

After we left the “Jesus boat” and headed north, Malcolm Cartier (our tour guide) told us he had a site he wanted us to see. As we drove through the hills just north of the Sea of Galilee, we rounded a curve and there before were the remains of what once had been a vibrant, vital first-century city called Korazin.

Located north of Capernaum and just north of the Mount of the Beatitudes, it was an excellent location for a town. Close to the water, but not too close. Built in the hills so the weather was moderate.

You may have seen Korazin spelled Khorazin or Chorazin, but they all refer to the same place. We know the location because Eusebius describes it for us.

The “Orthodox Triangle”

When we got off the bus, Malcolm took us on a brief tour, showing us the homes built around an ancient, well-preserved synagogue dating from the 4th century. The homes were built of the dark basalt rock native to the area. Like many biblical sites in Galilee, Korazin is off by itself, away from urban sprawl so when you see the remains that have been excavated, you are stepping back in history twenty centuries.

Korazin was part of the “Orthodox triangle” in Jesus’ day. The other two parts of the triangle were the nearby towns of Bethsaida (home to Peter, Andrew and Philip) and Capernaum. Those three towns were filled with devout Jews who took the Law seriously. Malcolm spent quite a bit of time showing us the well-preserved remains of the 4th-century synagogue whose ascending steps were built after the design of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem. You could easily tell that for the residents of Korazin, religion stood at the center of community life. In fact, the layout of the town placed the synagogue in a prime location. The synagogue contains a “Moses seat” for the men who read from the Torah.

Those three towns were filled with devout Jews who took the Law seriously.
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Archaeologists have uncovered many homes in Korazin, several public buildings, and an olive oil press. Malcolm took time to show us the home of what must have a wealthy family. We stood inside the stone walls and wondered who had lived there in Jesus’ day.

The thought struck me that Korazin must have been a pleasant place to live in the first century. Certainly the ruins suggested that quite a few wealthy people lived there. In the lower section of the town (not all of it has been excavated), you could see more modest homes. No doubt the weather here was agreeable, you could get fish from the nearby Sea of Galilee, and you could travel west to Nazareth or around the lake to Tiberius, and for the appointed feasts, you could easily make your way along good roads to Jerusalem.

All in all, Korazin was a fine place to live. Not too large, not too small. Prosperous enough, good location, close to everything that mattered. And the people tended to be observant Jews who wanted to obey the Law of God.

Woe to You, Korazin!

Here’s what we know about Korazin and Jesus. The Lord must have spent a lot of time there. That makes sense because nearby Capernaum was his ministry headquarters. We know he worked many miracles in that region. He also did a lot of teaching there.

All in all, Korazin was a fine place to live. Not too large, not too small.
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The people of Korazin knew Jesus, and Jesus knew them.

We know this because of something Jesus said in Matthew 11.

Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you (vv. 20-22).

Then he added these words about Capernaum, the city where he spent most of his time and where he had worked so many miracles:

And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you (vv. 23-24).

Jesus worked miracles in Korazin. Note the plural. Miracles. Not just one but many. We don’t know which ones because the New Testament doesn’t tell us. When we visited the site, Malcolm recalled the words at the end of John’s gospel:

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written (John 21:25).

Did he give sight to the blind?
Did he cure a sick child?
Did he heal a withered hand?
Did he cleanse a leper?
Did he cause the lame to walk?
Did he cast out demons?
Did he raise the dead?

Jesus worked miracles in Korazin. Note the plural. Miracles.

We don’t know, but this much we do know. They heard his words, listened to his message, knew who he was, and they saw the miracles he performed.

And yet they did not repent.
They knew too much and believed too little.

Note the comparison Jesus makes. Tyre and Sidon were heathen cities on the Mediterranean coast. Jesus went to that region only once. He was there long enough to meet a Canaanite woman whose faith deeply moved him (Matthew 15:21-28). Those two cities represented evil arrogance and a prideful disdain for the God of Israel.

But if they had seen what Korazin saw, they would have repented long ago.

Better for Sodom in the Judgment Day

And then there is Sodom, which in the Old Testament stands for the very epitome of evil. The city perished because God could not find even 10 righteous men within its walls (see Genesis 18:16-33). It perished for the lack of a handful of godly men. Sodom stands as a symbol for gross immorality, sexual perversion, widespread corruption, unconcern for the poor, and a complete rejection of God.

And yet . . . and yet . . . and yet.

Sodom will be better off in the day of judgment than Capernaum.
Tyre and Sidon will be better off than Korazin.

Jesus said the godless will be better off than the religious because the religious knew the truth and did nothing about it. Religion-even good, solid, biblical religion-can be a hindrance to knowing God because your religion can keep you from finding Christ.

Religion-even good, solid, biblical religion-can be a hindrance to knowing God because your religion can keep you from finding Christ.
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The people of Korazin had plenty of knowledge.
They knew the Torah of God.
They went to the synagogue faithfully.
They had plenty of knowledge.

But when Jesus came to them, they would not repent.
When Jesus worked miracles, they would not believe in him.

This ought to teach us something about the impact of miracles. I sometimes hear people say, “If only we had some miracles happen, people would believe.” Not necessarily. Miracles by themselves prove nothing. Miracles can amaze us, startle us, shock us, but they don’t necessarily lead us to God. Miracles do happen, and we should thank God when they do, but miracles don’t necessarily cause people to turn to Jesus.

Light Saves and Condemns

Why will it be more tolerable for Sodom in the day of judgment than for Korazin? Light both saves and condemns. Sodom never had much light so the people there lived in deep darkness. But in Korazin they had the Light of the World walking in their midst. They saw Jesus, knew him, heard him, listened to him, and saw his miracles.

Better in that case to be a pagan than a religious person.
At least the pagan can say, “I never knew about Jesus.”
The men of Korazin couldn’t make that excuse.

Miracles can amaze us, startle us, shock us, but they don’t necessarily lead us to God.
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If you had asked, “Where would you rather live? In Korazin or Sodom?” everyone would say “Korazin, of course.” And from the standpoint of a good place to live, that would be the right answer. But from an eternal standpoint, Sodom would be better-even with all its immorality-because the judgment will be much greater for those who knew so much and still did not believe.

Here, I think, is the ultimate irony. God’s judgment is always according to light. Light received leads to more light. Light rejected leads only to the darkness. By that standard, the beautiful and prosperous town of Korazin was darker than Sodom or Tyre or Sidon.

Jesus came often to Korazin and worked miracles there. He must have loved the people. He certainly gave them every opportunity to repent. He favored Korazin with multiple miracles.

He taught them the way.
He showed them the way.
And still they did not repent.

A Message for Religious People

Let every religious person who reads my words take them to heart. Light both saves and condemns. And if you should attend a fine, strong, Bible-believing, gospel-preaching church with a good outreach, a fine ministry, a godly pastor, a beautiful building, an excellent reputation, if you are a member, if you sing in the choir, if you teach Sunday School, if you are an elder or a deacon, then pay close attention to what God is saying.

Light both saves and condemns.
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It would be better to be a reprobate than to be religious if your religion does not lead you to Jesus. Don’t take your blessings for granted. Don’t think that outward observance matters more than the state of your heart.

Perhaps the men of Korazin liked Jesus. We don’t really know. But there is no record that they tried to push him off a cliff like the people of Nazareth tried to do (Luke 4:28-30). I wonder if they enjoyed Jesus, admired him even, and listened with detached interest as he gave them the Bread of Life. Perhaps they thought him to be a bit over the top but a fine fellow nonetheless. It’s always easy to find ways to minimize Jesus even while claiming to admire him from a distance.

This is a warning for religious people for whom Jesus is optional.
He is not an option.
He is the Lord God of the universe.
Bow down and worship him!

Jesus is not an option.
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Better not to have a miracle than to have a miracle and not repent.
Better to be sick and not cured than to be cured and not give the glory to God.
Better not to experience God than to experience God and stay the same as you were.

Better to Be Like Sodom

Finally, I come to the most shocking thought, one that I can hardly accept myself:

Better to be like Sodom than to be like Korazin.

Writing about these words of Jesus, J. C. Ryle puts the matter this way:

It is possible to hear Christ preached, and to see Christ’s miracles, and yet to remain unconverted. They teach us, not least, that man is responsible for the state of his own soul.

God’s judgment in the end will be entirely just. The men of Sodom will be judged in the last day, and that judgment will be fearsome indeed. But much greater will be judgment on the upstanding religious town of Korazin.

Better to be like Sodom than to be like Korazin.
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So the message is one of warning and of hope. To the religious, these words remind us that it is not merely open sin and gross immorality that God judges. He also sees the attitude of the heart that does not take Christ seriously. “We only have to sit still and do nothing, when the gospel is pressed on our acceptance, and we shall find ourselves one day in the pit.”

Ryle goes on to say that “no sin makes less noise, but none so surely damns the soul, as unbelief.”

It is a great advantage to live under the sound of the gospel.
It is a greater condemnation to hear the gospel and do nothing about it.

Let us set our minds on this one resolve-that we will not trifle with Jesus but will take him seriously.

Come, Ye Sinners

Where is the message of hope? Suppose that someone reading these words feels like their sin is so great that it can never be forgiven. Consider the words of Jesus. Sodom could have been saved. Tyre and Sidon could have been saved. And you can be saved too.

Man is responsible for the state of his own soul.
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No case is hopeless where the heart is truly open to the Lord.
No sin can keep us from Jesus except the sin of unbelief.

An old hymn by Joseph Hart (given a contemporary setting by Todd Agnew) offers us all the hope we need:

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
full of pity, love, and power

Let not conscience make you linger,
nor of fitness fondly dream;
all that he requires as fitness
is to know your need of him.

Come, you weary, heavy laden,
lost and ruined by the fall;
if you tarry till you’re better,
you will never come at all.

During our Holy Land tour, a woman who heard me preach in Oak Park said there was one thing I  said that touched her more than anything else. At the end of my sermons, I would often say,

Run to the cross.

Let that be the final word of this message.

“No sin makes less noise, but none so surely damns the soul, as unbelief.”
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If you are religious, run to the cross.
If you are irreligious, run to the cross.

If you are a church member, run to the cross.
If you never go to church, run to the cross.

If you live a good life, run to the cross.
If you are ashamed of your life, run to the cross.

Don’t make the mistake of Korazin and take Jesus for granted. The day of grace comes to an end sooner or later. What will you say in the day of judgment if you have neglected the Son of God?

It will prove to be better in the Last Day to have been a Buddhist or a Hindu or a Muslim or a secularist than to have been a Baptist or a Lutheran or a Catholic and never come to Jesus. You who know so much, trust not in your knowledge. You can know too much and believe too little. This is the message from Korazin to us today.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?