Day 4 Notes:
We are leaving the northern region of Galilee in Israel where Jesus spent most of His time ministering to people and raising up disciples from a very unlikely place. We have been staying in a hotel in the city of Tiberias (named for the emperor) and today we hit two final spots on the Galilean shores that speak deeply into our hearts. Then it’s on toward Bethlehem.
We stop at a church on a remote area of the shore that commemorates the moment Jesus restored Peter (John 21) to Himself after his denial. There is a restaurant here called, “St. Peters” and I had fish from the Sea prepared in a way I would never have eaten had it not been from this spot. Our group heads out to the shore to share a devotional thought and then we each find a solitary place to pray and thank God for His grace.
We often forget that after Peter denied Christ during His trial, it was Jesus who reached out to Peter and brought him back into the fold. Peter had gone back to fishing. He may have thought a life serving Christ was out of the question considering his failures. But we are reminded this morning that FAILURE is NEVER FINAL for those in the family of God. Jesus made the disciples breakfast that morning on (perhaps) this very spot. He asks Peter three times if he loves Him. Peter says “yes.” Jesus tells him to feed and care for His flock. The mission is still on and Peter will indeed change the world. God’s grace is always greater than our sin (Romans 5:20). No, He has NOT given up on you.
I had to post a picture of the fish I ate. It was terrible. Not my flavor. My wife would have loved it. Next time we go, she can have some. I’ll take the falafel.
From the shores of Galilee, we take a short bus ride to the very important city of Capernaum. What I found fascinating about this ancient location that Jesus chose this particular city as His home during His ministry. The guide explains how it was one of the first planned cities of the ancient world and a strategic location for travel, commerce, and trade. Jesus may have been raised in the backwoods, but He intentionally chose this cosmopolitan city as His home because of its key location. This is a lesson for the Church. We must go to the key locations of our culture where people from all walks of life intersect. The Gospel is THAT important.
In Capernaum, Catholics have commemorated the home of Simon Peter. Amazingly, they have built a “floating” chapel above the ruins of his home. This may have been where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law.
We leave Galilee for one stop along the way to Jerusalem. Bethlehem is one of the most sacred spots for all Christians. The Church in Bethlehem has a short door you have to enter through. It’s a symbol of how we are to approach God and this location. We come humbly before Him and receive what He offers. To not come humbly before God is to miss the humble Christ born to poor Jewish parents. Mary sang it well: “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” Luke 1:52 (ESV).
The Church is ornate. The crowds are immense. The wait to get into the cave that marks the spot of Jesus’ birth and His manger are severely crowded. Many bow at the star to kiss the location and then pray where the manger would have been set back in the cave to protect Christ from the cold. The Palestinian guide explains the many reasons we can be confident this is the spot. However, I’m reminded it is not important to prove where exactly He was born. The most important fact is that He was born. Hallelujah!
I should mention this unbelievable fact. As we entered Bethlehem (an Arab controlled city), we see a huge red sign warning Jews not to enter as their lives would be in danger there. We are given a temporary Palestinian guide for that very reason. I cannot tell you how sad it was to see that sign in the very place where God sent His Son to reconcile the world back to Himself. People’s hearts are so hard.
The day ends at a hotel in Jerusalem. The trip so far has been awe-inspiring and we haven’t even gotten to the city of God. I hope you will bear with me for two final days…
Day 5 is next.