Published on Friday June 17, 2022
Today I woke early (though not intentionally) and so decided to watch the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee.
After breakfast we set off for Nazareth were we were given a tour of the site where the village farm from the 1st century has been excavated and partially re-created, along with people acting as if they were 1st century Nazarenes.
Today Nazareth is a large, affluent city, but in Jesus's day it was a small village with a communal farm growing wheat for the community, an olive grove for making oil, and a vineyard with wine press. Looking at the environment Jesus grew up in it is easy to see where many of his parables and word-pictures came from.
We then spent some time in downtown Nazareth. The city is 30% Christian and 70% Muslim and so, it being Friday, there was an open air Islamic service going on. Hundreds of men gathered to chant set responses and then they listened to a sermon. I also listened to the sermon but didn't understand anything, so now I know what its like for WCF Sunday by Sunday! Having said that, can you imagine what it would be like to have open air gospel services in Britain every Sunday?
Our last stop was Meggido, which is a key, strategic plain overlooked by a 'tell'. A tell is an artificial hill made up of layers that have been created through history by people building on the ruins of the previous owners. Archeological digs at Tel Meggido have revealed 30 distinct layers, showing just how desirable this particular site was.
What made it so valuable? All trade between Egypt and Mesopotamia had to pass through the plain of Meggido, and whoever held Tel Meggido could charge a road tax!
As a result, Meggido was the location of a huge battle in the 15th century BC between Egypt and an alliance of Cananite kingdoms who were ultimately defeated. The battle was so devastating that in the New Testament the name of Meggido has been modified to Armageddon, and is referenced as the place where the final battle between God and His enemies will take place. The last day of history will come, and the good news is that God's victory is a certainty.
And that's the end of my tour of the Bible lands. It's been an amazing opportunity to fill in so many gaps in my understanding, and to go from reading about something to seeing and experiencing it has been well worth it. It has been a privilege to be here and I'm truly grateful for the opportunity, and to WCF for releasing me to take a Sabbatical so I could come.
I look forward to using the phrase 'when I was in Israel' every sermon from now until the end of my ministry!
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -Published on Thursday June 16, 2022
The Golan Heights is the area to the North East of the Sea of Galilee. Today we toured in the coach around a number of the significant sites in the area.
We started with Hazor, a fortress which pre-dated Israel's entry into the land. When Joshua led the people across the Jordan and Jericho fell, word got out that they were on the march and so Jabin, the king of Hazor, formed an alliance with the surrounding kings in order to fight against the Israelites. Joshua's army defeated the alliance, then Joshua attacked the fortress of Hazor and burned it down (Joshua 11:1-11). The excavated ruins of the fortress show foundation stones that have cracked due to the intense heat of being burned. The stones above the dark line are later building works on top of the burnt fortress.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -Published on Wednesday June 15, 2022
Next stop was Dan in the far north. Dan was one of the twelve tribes and was awarded this territory in the North, but then failed to hold that territory, so they had to move down south, to the West of Jerusalem. Part of the problem was that the city of Dan, in the North, became a centre of idolatry.
This is the altar that Jeroboam set up at Dan for sacrificing to one of the two golden calves he made, because the Northern tribes were not able to access the Temple to worship God (1 Kings 12:26-29).
After this we went to Banias, which is a spring and the most important source of the Jordan River. The Jordan has always been incredibly important to the people of Israel in that it is their primary source of water. Banias is also a centre for the worship of Pan, one of the pagan gods that the people of the time looked up to.
We then travelled a short distance to Caesarea Philippi, the town that grew up around the spring of Banias. It is also a town that Jesus visited with His disciples, and has a temple grotto to Pan carved out of the cliff face. It was in this town that Jesus asked the disciples who they thought He is, and Peter said "You are the Christ" (Mark 8:27-30). The penny had finally dropped for Peter.
We moved on to a place on the border with Syria where we could look out and reflect on the tensions that have taken place between between Israel and its neighbours. The Golan Heights used to belong to Syria, but Israel captured the region in 1967. Israel has this incredibly diverse history, giving us the prince of peace, but never seeming to be far from war.
We headed back to Galilee and, after a few members of the group had a swim in the lake (to cool off in the 39 centigrade heat), we went to the Garasenes - which was a gentile area in Jesus's day. We stopped at the spot that is traditionally thought to be where Jesus met the demon possessed man called Legion. The man was in a state of uncontrollable suffering due to possession by multiple demons. Jesus cast those demons out into a herd of pigs, who ran down the slope and into the water. The man was then fine, in his right mind, but the people didn't like this and asked Jesus to leave their region (Mark 5:1-20). Jesus brings blessing, but is not always welcome.
The Sea of Galilee is a really peaceful lake, which was not the case in Jesus's day. In the first century there were 26 fishing ports around the edge, and lots of towns and villages living off of the fishing trade.
Most of those towns and villages have gone now. But, imaging the busy shore life and easy travel by boat from one town to another, its easy to see why Jesus chose Galilee to start His ministry, and to choose His first disciples who were, of course, fishermen.
We set out early from our hotel to catch a boat from Tiberias. The boat is an approximate recreation of a first century boat, perhaps like the fishing boats that people like Peter, Andrew, James and John would have used for their trade.
Jesus was sleeping in one of their boats on the evening when a storm nearly swamped them. Jesus needed to be woken up to rebuke the wind and waves, and bring instant peace to the lake (Mark 4:35-41). With the lake being the size it is, you can see why the disciples thought they were going to die in the storm. There would be no swimming to shore.
We set down near Capernaun and the coach,which had driven around the lake, met us there to take us to our first stop, which was Korazin. This is a town that Jesus rebuked severely along with Bethsaida: "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago." (Luke 10:13). The town is now a ruin.
Then we moved on to Tabgha, which is the place where, according to tradition, the risen Jesus cooked breakfast for the disciples who had gone back to fishing. He then forgave and re-instated Peter as a disciple. There is now a Catholic church on the site venerating the rock on which Peter is believed to have been re-instated, a very important place for the Catholic church who see Peter as the first Pope.
After a lunch at Magdala, the place where Mary Magdalene came from, we went to the ruins of Capernaum. This is a really important town in the gospels as it was where Jesus lived while ministering in the towns and villages around the lake. There is a 4th century synagogue built on the remains of the first century synagogue. Jesus taught in the first century synagogue. (Mark 1:21-28). The people were amazed, and He immediately faced demonic opposition, which didn't slow Him down at all.
There is also a modern Catholic church in Capernaum. It is built on pillars above the ruins of a previous, 4th century church, which was also built on the ruins of a first century house which was believed to be the house Peter's mother-in-law lived in. Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law when she was sick in the house (Mark 1:29-31) and this led to the people bringing all their sick friends and relatives to Jesus. Eventually He had to move on because He didn't have time to preach because of all the healing people wanted.- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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