“Into the Heart of the Ministry of Jesus” is what our guide, Malcolm, said about the places we visited and experienced today. Once again it was a full day of visiting sites around the Sea of Galilee. After dinner tonight I asked five individuals what they felt was the most impactful and significant experience for each personally. Very specific things were mentioned about how each site impacted them. Where did we visit today? We visited some of the ‘big name” locations of the life of Jesus and then a site which is not directly linked to His life.
First, we traveled to Magdala, which is the home of Mary Magdalene; one person mentioned in all four Gospels and carried the initial news of the resurrection back to the disciples. An entirely new excavation site has opened since we came to Israel in 2007 revealing incredible discoveries. One of those discoveries is a small 1st century synagogue. (Pictured above). Because of its east-west orientation instead of the normal north-south orientation, our guide feels it gives reasonable evidence that it was a Messianic Synagogue, in other words, a synagogue built and used by Christian Jews.
The Mount of the Beatitudes is a beautiful location maintained by a division of nuns. It overlooks the Sea of Galilee and the site definitely seems to fit the description given in the Bible. We had a few minutes to just sit and give thought to what Jesus taught in the Beatitudes and the entire Sermon on the Mount. It is awesome to have the privilege to read and consider Jesus’ teaching in the place where he likely taught the crowd following him.
From the Mount of the Beatitudes, we went a short distance to Tabgha where Jesus met with his disciples following his resurrection. Peter and other disciples had gone back to fishing and Jesus met them in the morning after a discouraging night of fishing. He called to them to cast their nets to the other side of the boat and they caught a huge number of fish- 153. Becoming aware it was Jesus on the seashore, Peter jumped in and swam to shore. This is the location where, in John 21, Jesus has fixed a breakfast for the disciples and reinstates Peter to ministry. A spiritually powerful experience for us.
A short distance from Tabgha is the home of Jesus in the Galilee, Capernaum. So many miracles were done in Capernaum- healing of the man with withered hand, man lowered through the roof by four friends, Peter’s mother-in-law and others. The picture above is of a 4th century synagogue built over the foundation of a 1st century synagogue. It is so powerful in our life to know that we are definitely in a place where Jesus lived and ministered to the people.
After lunch, we drove to the southern end of the Sea of Galilee to where the Jordan River flows out and makes its way to the Dead Sea. Thirty-two of our tour group were baptized, the majority were rededication baptisms but three were first time baptisms. Two Romanian women, a mother and daughter, had come to be baptized and were not with anyone. They joined our baptism experience and we felt honored to help them experience what was so wonderful for our group.
Our last stop of the day was the Decapolis city of Bet Shean. The excavation at this location is very significant and reveals a city that reaches back in time to before the Exodus from Egypt. Several climbed the stairs to the top of the hill in the background to the original stronghold. It was on the walls of this city that the Philistines hanged King Saul’s lifeless body after their defeat of Israel. As you look out over this powerful city and think of the power of kings and governments it is good to know and remember that they have not, and ultimately will never be able to, hold back the Good News of Jesus. He is the true King and His Reign is over all!
Tom and Roberta Hurt