February 15: Today we left the Galilee and headed south to the desert, and the Dead Sea area.
Before getting too far though, we stopped at a Kibbutz named Gesher so we could get a feel for some of Israel’s more recent history. A kibbutz is a settlement of people who work towards the collective good of their community. It’s a unique thing to Israel, and learning about the lifestyle today took us out of ancient history and more into the history of Israel over the last century. Many pioneers of the Kibbutz movement were Jews fleeing persecution around Europe, and many of these started prior to the formation of Israel as an independent state. They were not religious communities, like say – the Amish communities are in the US. It was more of a secular movement which relied on concepts of socialism, independent spirits, and fiercely creative plans on making a living on land that many other people didn’t want. Our guide at the Gesher gave us some great history on the wars of 1948, and 1967 and the role of his Kibbutz at stopping the progress of the Jordanian army. These were brave people who stared down trained soldiers, blew up bridges, and fought to keep the land they had worked so hard for. Pretty inspiring. We discussed later as a group, that this stop wasn’t ‘about Jesus’ per-se. But the story of Jesus didn’t stop at the cross, or in 1st century Galilee. It continues today, and is active in the events of present-time Israel and into the future. Jesus will return here.
After the Kibbutz, we headed further south into the desert and stopped at one of the best preserved Roman ruins in Israel. An ancient town named Bet-She’an. Bet-She’an was a premier city in the first half of the last millennia, and it was one of the leading cities of the Decapolis.
February 14: Today was full of rain. We knew it would be, which is why we decided to go out on the water and hike through the wilderness yesterday. God’s timing was perfect though, and we never really got stuck out in the storm.
When we got on the bus, after devotion and breakfast, the rain was coming down hard. So we headed to a museum which held the remains of a typical Galilee fishing boat from about two thousand years ago. It was one of the first water bound ships that archaeologists had been able successfully recover and restore. (Many ancient people buried ships in dry ground, but recovering a water-logged ship from thousands of years prior had never been accomplished.) We’ll spare you the details of how they did it – suffice to say this: That boat was pretty small. It looked like it could hold about 12 apostles, but not a whole lot more. Which made it all the more understandable why it would be very frightening to get stuck in a massive storm.
After the museum, we went to visit the ruined city of Chorazin. It was right on the edge of the Sea of Galilee and wound its way up the hillside. It looked not unlike Jesus’s home-base of Capernaum, in that it was right on the water and had a synagogue up the hill. Jesus did many great things in the town of Chorazin. He performed miracles and showed them mighty works such that the whole town should have repented. Matthew 11:21 – But Jesus cursed this place and said that if he had shown the Gentile towns up the coast these same miracles, even the Gentiles would have repented. (Huge insult back then – ‘even the Gentiles would have gotten this right…’) Jesus said that Chorazin’s ending would be worse than Sodom because of their lack of faith. And as we walked around the ruins – it felt like a fulfilled prophecy.
February 13: Our second full day in Israel began with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. As we approached the dock, it was clear to everyone that the waves were choppy with breakers and that wind was whipping around…but no one turned back. And the experience - like many we had as the day went on – helped us feel closer to the bible story in a way that ‘placed it’ right in front of us. We could literally feel the boat rocking and the waves splashing. We got to look over the edge and imagine stepping off at the calling of Jesus. It was easy to envision a storm brewing quickly on that 5 by 10 mile body of water, even one that could frighten the most seasoned fisherman in the group of disciples.
The boat ride set a good tone for the day, and we all felt invigorated - like conquering seafarers as we headed out to our next body of water: The River Jordan. This was a really special stop because three of our group publicly professed their faith in the Lord Jesus and got baptized. It was hard not to get choked up as each one of them discussed the importance of Christ in their lives. Another aspect to this stop that was special – brothers got baptized together, and watching their respective reactions to each other embracing Jesus - was a vulnerable and beautiful sight to behold.