We started Tuesday with a morning hike up Mount Arbel, which provided amazing views of everything below. The group is continually struck by how people used to live – like climbing a mountain is NBD to them. People were used to their environment. We come in from America and wonder how anyone could live in such a harsh place, yet to them it’s just home.
People also did what they had to in order to survive. If an enemy was coming, you climbed the mountain and lived in a cave. No indoor plumbing, no phone chargers, no Netflix. Just you and your family surviving.
After that, we went to the traditional site of the Mount of Beatitudes. In Jesus’s first sermon, he calls Christians to go beyond an empty following of tradition, and “exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees.” [5:20] How can we possibly do that…unless someone is righteous for us. That someone is Jesus and salvation is by faith alone.
After that, we visited the ancient cities of Chorazin and Capernaum. Chorazin was one of the cities that was cursed by Jesus in the gospels [see Matthew 11:21; Luke 10:13] for unbelief. They saw Jesus’ miracles all over the region of Galilee and yet somehow, still people rejected Him. Indeed, some reject Him still. [read more about Chorazin here.]
Capernaum was a bit of a different story. Let’s talk about the history first. In Capernaum, archeologists have found an enormous, ancient, and beautiful synagogue.
This synagogue is like many other sites in the Holy Land in that it spans several time periods. You can see the black volcanic rock of the time of Jesus and then the next layer of white stone of the later centuries, which accounts for the buildings that are still standing today. See pic and sign below.
We have good reason to believe that Jesus actually taught here during his time at Capernaum. [Wikipedia has a quick summary here.]
The more difficult part of the site is the alleged house of Peter, where a Catholic Church has been built upon. The site also includes a statue of Peter, where people waited in line to touch, pray to, and have their picture taken. I grabbed a quick shot, but didn’t even get it in frame before I was bumped out of the way by someone pushing in.
This points out a colossal difference in theology that has big effects in life. Again, as mentioned in previous posts, relics and holy sites can’t help us get closer to God. Praying to a statue is idolatry and a violation of the second commandment. Let’s explore how that plays into some of the things here.
The verse on the statue is Matthew 16:18, where Jesus has just wrapped up a conversation with the disciples about who he really was. Peter confesses “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. [16:15].
Then Jesus responds –
“And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:17–18 ESV)
In Catholic theology, this is the ordination of Peter as the first pope and head of the church. However, this can’t be correct. It’s not Peter who is the head, it’s Jesus. [See Ephesians 4:15, 5:23, etc.] The church doesn’t belong to Peter, it belongs to Jesus, who just said that he will build HIS church, not Peter’s church.
It wasn’t Peter himself that the church will be built on, but rather what Peter said – the rock solid truth of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. THAT’s what the church should be built on. Not a man, Jesus – the Son of Man. It was difficult to see the desperation of some, clamoring for a connection to God through an empty statue.
Thank you Jesus, who is our righteousness.
After that, we skipped the pay toilets and headed to see a legit Galilean fishing boat that was discovered in the 1980’s and restored.
What a remarkable find, and a great story of collaboration and hard work that allows us to see a real chunk of history from the time of Jesus.
After a yummy lunch on the water and a bird show, we headed to the Jordan River, the source of water for the Sea of Galilee.
This is a popular baptism site, and indeed there were several people being baptized right then and there in the waters of the Jordan. Baptism is a critical part of the Christian faith [see post on the Highlands blog from this Summer] and, although I would take issue with the commercialization and out-of-church-context baptismal setting, it was good to see people excited about their new life in Jesus.
After paying for the toilets this time [and believe me, it wasn’t worth the price of admission] then we had the chance for a sunset boat ride on Galilee. This was absolutely one of the high points of the trip. Michael Boys lead us in a time of reflection from God’s Word and it hit me like a ton of bricks that I was looking at the same sights as Jesus did. The water. The mountains. The setting sun. How many times had he done this? It was so peaceful and beautiful.
And THAT is why this trip is amazing. We are so thankful that we got the chance to be here. This should be on every Christian’s bucket list. In the midst of the non-stop walking and information overflow, the crowds, the tension of theology overflowing into life – there is Jesus. It’s all about Him.