If the Trees Could Talk (Israel Part 20)

The Church of the Agony, commemorating the traditional site where the disciples fell asleep while Jesus prayed the night before HIs crucifixion.
The Church of the Agony, commemorating the traditional site where the disciples fell asleep while Jesus prayed the night before HIs crucifixion.

On the night before Jesus headed to the cross, He asked a few close friends to join Him in a Garden located on the Mount of Olives for a night of prayer.  The place where they gathered, was a grove of olive trees known of as the Garden of Gethsemane. 

Mark Burget & I in Gethsemane
Mark Burget & I in Gethsemane

Gethsemane literally is a word meaning “Oil Press” in Aramaic.  It was a grove of olive trees just across the Kidron valley to the east of the city of Jerusalem.  It was a serene and peaceful retreat away from the hustle and bustle of the city, but still close enough to see the Temple in the distance.  From where Jesus gathered with His disciples the night before His arrest, He could see the very city in which He would be tried and convicted on trumped up charges the very next day. 

Don’t you wish you could hear the prayers Jesus was praying on such a stressful night?  Thankfully, some of what Jesus prayed is recorded for us in the Gospel accounts:

“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” – Matthew 26:39

As we read the above sentence, however, we need to amplify the emotion behind it.  Mark tells us that before He began praying, Jesus informed His disciples that His “soul is very sorrowful, even to death. (Mark 14:34)”  Jesus emotional stress is further displayed by Luke’s comments in  Luke 22:44, “And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”  We simply cannot read these words without passion in our voices.

We know some of what that night looked like, but there are still missing moments I wish could be recovered.  Upon visiting the Garden of Gethsemane on my trip to the Holy Land, I saw olive trees that have been dated as old as 2,000 years old.  That’s right, scholars tell us these very trees would have witnessed Jesus praying beneath them!  If only those trees could talk!

Extremely old olive trees in Gethesemane
Extremely old olive trees in Gethesemane
The traditional rock where Jesus prayed in Gethsemane.
The traditional rock where Jesus prayed in Gethsemane.

Spending time in the Garden reminded me that Jesus made an intentional decision to die on the cross.  He was no victim.  He was not taken by surprise.  Before the mob even formed to carry Him away, He knew full well what was coming.  And yet, He stayed in the Garden.  He did not run to Masada or hide in Ein Gedi.  He stood there on that rock and waited for Judas to show up with a band of thugs to carry Him away. 

Why did Jesus stay?  Why did He choose to die?  He did so for two very important reasons:

  1. He stayed to fulfill the will of God.  (Matthew 26:39).  God’s will was more important than anything else to Jesus.  I always have struggled with the modern worship song “Above All.”  In the song, it says that Jesus thinks of me “above all.”  This is not true.  Jesus stayed in the Garden (in His own words) primarily because of God, not because of the disciples.  Jesus’s primary motivation was to do the will of the Father and submit to His wisdom.
  2. He stayed because the will of God was to save us through Jesus . . . because of His great love for us (Romans 5:8).  God’s will was to save humanity from their sins.  Praise God for this!  This flows out of God’s love for those created in His image.  It is important for us to see that Jesus was obeying God’s will and God’s will was to sacrifice the Son so that we might live.  We are not saved by accident.  We are saved because of the will of God.

The next time you consider the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, please take the time to meditate on Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He did not die on accident or because He could not outrun the Romans.  Jesus died because the Father willed it.  He died because in His death we might live.  He died because God so loved the world.  As you ponder this, praise God for His indescribable gift.

This mural sites above the altar at the front of the Church of the Agony on the Mount of Olives.
This mural sites above the altar at the front of the Church of the Agony on the Mount of Olives.

The King of Glory Shall Come In (Israel part 19)

Looking at the Beautiful Gate from the Mount of Olives.
Looking at the Beautiful Gate from the Mount of Olives.

Jesus is coming back.  Did you know that?  He has promised that one day He will return to the earth as a reigning and conquering King.  Some today believe this is merely a superstition.  I don’t.  I think this is a real event approaching on the horizon.  You know who else believed that Jesus would return one day?  Muslims in the 1500’s.

Proof of my claim that Muslims of the sixteenth century believed Jesus would return is based on rock solid evidence — the 15 foot thick stones that cover the Golden Gate (or Beautiful Gate as it was termed in the New Testament times).  When the Turks took the city of Jerusalem around 1519 under the direction of the leader Suleiman, they wanted to make it hard for the Messiah to enter the city of Jerusalem.  They were aware of Zechariah’s prophecy which says, “On that day His feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. (Zechariah 14:4)”  The Muslims believed that when Messiah comes, He will approach Jerusalem from the East, and enter the city via the Beautiful Gate.  Knowing this, Suleiman enacted two security measures to protect the Turks from the promised Jewish/Christian Messiah:

  1. He closed off the Beautiful Gate with stones to prevent Jesus from entering the City as He promised.
  2. He created a graveyard right next to the closed off Beautiful Gate, believing that Jesus (as a priest) would not defile Himself by walking through a graveyard.

Seeing this “defense system” was comical to me.  When Messiah comes, He will SPLIT THE MOUNT OF OLIVES IN TWO . . . I don’t think a few stones (regardless of size) will slow Him down.  Also, Jesus RAISED THE DEAD.  His relationship with cemeteries is absolutely unique in all creation.  At His return people are either raised to eternal life or raised to eternal judgment.  A few tombstones prove no match for someone with His authority and power!

Standing on the Mount of Olives and looking back at the Beautiful gate, however, also reminded me that when Jesus first came to the earth and presented Himself to the people on Palm Sunday, He indeed approached the city from the East.  He rode down the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley, and up to the city of Jerusalem, passing through the Beautiful Gate.  He came in the first century as the suffering servant to bleed and die for us on the cross.  The next time Jesus approaches Jerusalem from the East, He will come as a Conquering King, riding a Stallion (not a donkey), and ushering in the new reality His death on the cross opened up years earlier. 

Humans (you and I included) sometimes think that we can “outsmart” God.  We think we can deceive Him and He will never know.  We think we can somehow avoid judgment by putting a few stones of our best efforts in His way.  All these attempts are as futile as the Muslims efforts to prevent His triumphal second entry.  Jesus, with His power and authority, is without parallel.  The only appropriate response to Jesus Christ is to worship Him as Lord and Savior.  Let us stop building worthless walls to keep Him out and instead welcome Him into our lives.  As Psalm 24:7-10 says:

“Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.  Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle!  Lift up your heads, O gates!  And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.  Who is this King of glory?  The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory!”

A panoramic view of the Old City of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.
A panoramic view of the Old City of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem (Israel part 18)

Pic 2Driving into the modern day city of Bethlehem may have been one of the more intimidating moments of my trip to the Holy Land.  Before we left Jerusalem to head to Bethlehem, our Israeli tour guide had to get off the bus . . . as an Israeli citizen, he was not allowed to visit the city.  At first, this reality did not fully register with me.  When we drove up to the military checkpoint entering Bethlehem, however, I understood more of the situation.  A large red sign stood near the turnoff into Bethlehem (a town in the West Bank): “This road leads to Area ‘A’ under the Palestinian Authority.  The entrance for Israeli citizens is forbidden, dangerous to your lives and is against the Israeli law.”  This sign drove home the harsh reality.  It also was not what I expected.  Somehow I thought I would see a sign that says, “Welcome to Bethlehem – Birthplace of the Prince of Peace.”  Instead it said, “if you come in here you may die.”  This town needs a new public relations director!

Of course, the sign represented the political reality more than a true threat to our physical safety.  Relations between the Jews and the Palestinians is always tenuous, especially in the areas of the West Bank.  As a foreign traveler, I found both Jews and Palestinians were eager to host us at all the sites, welcome us into their shops and restaurants, and greet us with a warm smile and friendly handshake.  Signs like the one entering Bethlehem were the reason why so many friends back home kept inquiring of our safety while we traveled, but really felt out of place given our experience in the country.  As a matter of fact, right after we entered the city gates of Bethlehem, our bus was boarded by a very friendly Palestinian Christian man who served as our guide inside the city of Bethlehem.  I never felt the least bit threatened or unwelcome in the areas of the city we visited.

Church of the Nativity - Bethlehem
Church of the Nativity – Bethlehem

Oh, the little town of Bethlehem was really an interesting place to visit.  In this city, we saw:

  • The Shepherd’s field where the angels visited the shepherds on the night Jesus was born. 
  • The Church of the Nativity, commemorating the traditional site where Jesus was born.
  • Jerome’s cave . . . a dark cool spot where Jerome worked for 30 years, translating the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into Latin . . . a work that was completed in 386 AD and has been called the Latin Vulgate. 
Shepherd's Field - Bethlehem
Shepherd’s Field – Bethlehem

Beneath the church of the Nativity, there was one more thing we saw that made an impact.  Next to Jerome’s cave, our guide made a comment that at this site, a mass grave was discovered revealing a number of infant bodies dating back to the first century.  Of course, this jives with the Matthew 2:16-18 account of Herod the Great killing infants in Bethlehem to try to eliminate Messiah before His life could really get going.  Seeing that grave, reminded me that Bethlehem is the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, but He is needed because we live in a world of war. 

Grave where infant bodies were found beneath the church of the Nativity
Grave where infant bodies were found beneath the church of the Nativity

From the very beginning, Jesus faced opposition that wanted to kill Him.  From the very beginning, those who associated themselves with Jesus have been treated harshly because of Him.  In a sense, these dead infant bodies were some of the very first martyrs.  Ever since that moment, Satan has attempted to lash out against Jesus by attacking His children.  Our Christian Palestinian guide shared with us the harsh treatment Christians have received from Muslim extremists in Bethlehem even today.  Though the times have changed, the opposition to Jesus Christ still remains.

Visiting Bethlehem reminded me that we still have a need for the Prince of Peace to fully materialize the Kingdom promised by God.  We still live in a world with signs that point to sin’s deadly consequences.  However, one day, when Jesus comes back again, these signs will be taken down.  The graves will be emptied, as the martyrs join Jesus in a triumphal procession through the earth.  The Prince of Peace will one day make good on His promise in places like Bethlehem . . . and Oklahoma . . . and wherever you live.  The hopes and fears of all the years will be met in Jesus that night.

Jesus the Great (Israel part 17)

Model of Herodian
Model of Herodian

During the months leading up to our trip to Israel, my wife and I formed a number of expectations about the trip.  We could not wait to see the historic sites where the Biblical stories took place.  Primarily, we were excited to see the locations associated with David, Solomon, Abraham, and (most of all) Jesus Christ.  After arriving in country, however, it became clear that any modern tour of Israel would go beyond seeing the sites of the heroes of the Old and New Testament.  A comprehensive tour of the holy land would not be complete without seeing the building prowess of one particular man who lived in the years surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ – King Herod the Great.

Herod ruled Israel (under Roman authority) for 37 years according to the historian Josephus, and is mentioned only briefly in the New Testament as the paranoid King who ordered the murder of all males two years old and younger in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill Jesus at the time of His birth (see Matthew 2:16-18).  To be clear, Herod was a murderous, egotistical madman who ruled his country (and his family) with fear and force.  In spite of those terrible flaws, however, Herod was a great builder.  The nation of Israel today is scattered with ruins of his rule.  During his short time in leadership, Herod built the desert fortress of Masada, expanded greatly the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, built the premiere sea port in Caesarea Maritima, and many other smaller building projects around the country. 

Ruins of Herodian
Ruins of Herodian

One of Herod’s most known building accomplishments was the fortress he named Herodion.  Herodian was a manmade hill built just outside of the city of Jerusalem that rose to the highest point in the Judean wilderness.  You might think that Herod built this fortress up so that he could see the city of Jerusalem from his patio.  Most however believe that Herod built up Herodian NOT so that he could see Jerusalem, but so that Jerusalem could see HIM.  It is believed that Herodian and all of its splendor (with parks, and theaters, and pools, and houses) was built to “show off” his greatness to the rest of the nation.

While visiting Herodian, we watched a short film about Herod’s death.  Apparently, as Herod began to die, he planned out all the details surrounding his funeral and burial.  Herod was to be buried at Herodian with all of his crown jewels.  He did not want to pass along any of his fortune to his family . . . he wanted it to die with him. 

Seeing the story of Herod was a vivid picture for me of human selfishness on steroids . . . and where that leads in life.  Herod had the means and opportunity to make life all about himself.  No doubt, he accomplished many things in life.  However, the the ruins of Herodian remind us of the short-lived nature of human accomplishment . . . every stone in Herodian is a reminder of the failed attempts at immortality by the force of human machismo.  It is a sad story indeed.

I contrast this “great” king with the King of Kings, Jesus Christ.  Jesus came “not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)  Jesus did not “consider equality with God something to be grasped but emptied Himself in the form of a servant . . . becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8)  Instead of clinging to His heavenly riches, Jesus chose to give to us “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 1:3)  Herod is the best (and worst) of what humanity can do and be without God — a tragic collision of creative potential and destructive violence.  Jesus on the other hand shows us the pattern of what true greatness looks like.  Greatness that will last.  Greatness that is eternal.  Greatness that is generous. 

Too many people today try to be the next Herod the Great; spending their lives in an incessant pursuit of more, bigger, better – always with a self-centered bent.  Jesus offers us something more.  He offers us true greatness.  An opportunity to live our lives as they were intended:  following His example, cleansed by His sacrifice, and empowered by His Spirit.  Let us follow His great lead by taking on the mind of Christ: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:3-5)

Kimberly and I from the top of Herodian
Kimberly and I from the top of Herodian

Baptism (Israel part 16)

IMG_0306The Greek word for baptism means “to submerge” or “to dip.”  The word actually has its roots OUTSIDE religious understanding.  Ancient Greek writings show the word used to describe the sinking of a ship into the sea.  If someone who spoke the Greek language in the first century were to see the Titanic sink into the ocean, they would describe it as “the Titanic was baptized into the Atlantic.”

With those etymological roots, it is easy to see where the literal/physical meaning of the word could quickly become associated with one thing being fully identified with something else.  In our Titanic analogy, we would say that when the Titanic was baptized into the Atlantic, the Titanic become so associated with the ocean that when you looked at the water from the shoreline, you would not be able to tell the difference between the Titanic and the Atlantic . . . the two had become one.

With this background, it should not surprise us that the term baptism was used by religious people to describe someone’s immersion into a new reality.  If someone underwent a baptism of repentance (as they did under the direction of John the Baptist in the New Testament) they were showing symbolically with their immersion into water that they were identifying with a newness of life. 

In the same way, when Jesus commands His followers to baptize people who decide to follow Him (in Matthew 28:18-20), He is calling His followers to fully associate themselves with Jesus Christ.  In Christian baptism, a new believer in Jesus Christ is symbolically “buried” beneath the water as a picture of their burial with Christ.  When Jesus died on the cross, He offered up His life as a sacrifice to satisfy God’s wrath concerning people’s sinfulness.  By being baptized into Christ’s death (Romans 6:3), Christians are trusting that their association with Jesus death and burial means that God’s anger toward their sin is fully resolved.  In a similar way, when a Christian is brought back up above the baptism water, they are symbolically being identified with Jesus’s resurrection life.  Christians have the privilege of entering into an eternal life of fellowship with God (Romans 6:4).  In this way, Christian baptism is a beautiful picture of all that God has done for us in Christ.  As Paul says in Colossians 3:3, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”  The two have become one.

While visiting Israel, I had the great privilege of going to a site called Yardenit on the Jordan River just south of the Sea of Galilee.  This site commemorates the time when Jesus Himself was baptized in the Jordan River by John.  While we were at this site, I was able to watch as several of my fellow travelers were baptized.  It was a beautiful and powerful picture, thinking about Jesus’s model and our identification with Him.  It was a joy to celebrate with my friends in this way while on our trip.

Seeing their baptism, however, also reminded me of my own baptism . . . years ago in the swimming pool of Nick and Linda Losole.  Their water was chlorinated and heated, while the Jordan was full of fish and cool.  However, neither water was more holy than the other.  As the Ethiopian Eunuch taught us in Acts 8, any body of water can become a place where we symbolically associate ourselves with Christ.  Seeing baptisms in the Jordan River, however, simply reminded me of the roots of this great symbol.

Have you been water baptized since trusting in Christ?  If not, why not?  You do not need to fly to a faraway land to publicly identify with Jesus.  However, if you are ever in Galilee and have not yet been baptized, I can’t think of a better place to celebrate new life in Christ!

IMG_0315 IMG_0316 IMG_0317 IMG_0318 IMG_0319 IMG_0320 IMG_0321 IMG_0322

The End of the World As We Know It (Israel part 15)

Friend  and fellow traveler Angie Niblett providing the devotional at Megiddo.
Friend and fellow traveler Angie Niblett providing the devotional at Megiddo.

Sci-fi movies (like the 1998 film “Armageddon”) have long provided their guess as to how the world will end – and who will ultimately be the Savior.  In the case of the before mentioned summer blockbuster, an asteroid was the culprit, and Bruce Willis was the savior.  Though many (including many Christian theologians) debate the exact look of the end of the world, I think we can all agree that it will not end THAT way!

Though there are different interpretations about HOW the world will end, there is a particular location in the nation of Israel that Revelation 16:16 says will be one of the spots WHERE the key cataclysmic events will take place – the area around Megiddo (or as it is called in Revelation 16, Armageddon.)  Additionally, the entire book of Revelation is quite clear that Jesus is the Savior – riding in on His white horse and establishing His Kingdom in full effect.

Seeing the area around Megiddo was a reminder for me that the world indeed has an end date (and place).  Just like seeing the clock clicking down on the scoreboard reminds athletic teams to increase their urgency as the game nears it end, so biblical prophecy is designed to keep us focused on what matters most, and whose team we need to be on if we intend on winning the game.

Today, Megiddo is a ghost town.  Sure, it is a location with historic significance – serving as an important military outpost for a lengthy period 3,000+ years ago – but the fort of Megiddo has lay dormant since 586 BC.  Today, it is a pile of ruins.  In that respect, it was an important place to reflect upon the end of the world.  Cities of great prominence will one day look like the rock pile at Megiddo.  If we put our hope in the world . . . if our savior is our wealth or good deeds . . . we don’t stand a ghost of a chance.  However, if we know Jesus . . . if He is our Savior, then the place where the world ends is also the place where Eternal Life continues. 

Take a moment today and look at life’s scoreboard.  The clock is ticking down.  Who is your Savior?

The wall around the ancient fort at Megiddo
The wall around the ancient fort at Megiddo

The Hand(writing) of God (Israel part 14)

A statue of Elijah atop Mount Carmel
A statue of Elijah atop Mount Carmel

When I make valuable purchases with my credit card, I have to provide a signature to verify my identity.  The original signature on the back of the card is compared to the signature on the receipt as an added security measure.  It is interesting that most stores do not bother with this validation on purchases under $50, but for major expenses, security measures are put into practice.

When it comes to verifying the identity of the Son of God in the first century, God provided His “signature” centuries earlier on the back of the prophet Elijah.

In 1 Kings 17 – 2 Kings 2, we see the biblical account of the prophet Elijah.  Elijah’s ministry included:

  • A time of isolation in the wilderness that preceded the start of his ministry (1 Kings 17:1-7)
  • The miraculous multiplication of food (1 Kings 17:8-16)
  • Physical healing, featuring a resurrection from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24)
  • Public chastening of false religious leaders (1 Kings 18:17-40)
  • “Insider knowledge” about the weather (1 Kings 17:1, 18:1, 41-46)
  • An ascension into heaven (2 Kings 2:11)

Does any of that sound familiar?  It should.  Much of this is echoed in the ministry of Jesus Christ:

  • Jesus spent time in the wilderness before beginning His public ministry (Mark 1:12-13)
  • Jesus multiplied food on a couple of occasions feeding thousands (Mark 6:30-44)
  • Jesus performed many miracles, including raising a few from the dead (John 11:1-44)
  • Jesus often was challenged by the misguided religious leaders of His day and publicly corrected their misunderstandings (John 8:31-59)
  • Jesus commanded the wind and the waves (Mark 4:35-41)
  • After His resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven (Acts 1:8-11)

I really believe that a lot of what God was doing through Elijah was providing His signature verification so that centuries later, when Messiah Jesus Christ came offering His incredibly valuable Life, the Jews (and ultimately all people on the earth) would know that Jesus was indeed the promised Christ.

On our trip to Israel, we visited a monastery that rests atop Mount Carmel where Elijah triumphed over the prophets of Baal.  While we were there, I found myself remembering all that God had done through Elijah, and how He had done so much through the pattern of Elijah’s life to point His people to Jesus Christ. 

If you have not done so recently, scan through Elijah’s life and see the verification of the signature of God shine through.

The view from atop Mount Carmel.  I see a "cloud as small as a hand"
The view from atop Mount Carmel. I see a “cloud as small as a hand”

Waiting Room (Israel part 13)

IMG_0264Time moves quickly . . . until it doesn’t.  In my life, most of the time, days fly by.  My family and friends have frequently heard me say “I can’t believe it is already _________(insert month, season, or holiday).”  Time seems to race by – most of the time.

Sometimes, though, time screeches to a halt.  When you are waiting for a phone call back after a job interview . . .  or a biopsy, every second has the pace of a monopoly game.  Dealing with grief (like the death of a loved one or the loss of a dream) also stops time in its tracks.

Our modern world seems designed for swift progress.  We microwave our food and can travel halfway around the world via jet plane in just a few hours.  Everything is supposed to move with breakneck speed.  Because of that, we can be confused when our life slows down.  Not only do we struggle with the PAIN of the diagnosis, rejection, or loss, but it is compounded because we feel inferior that it takes more than 10 minutes to get over something.

Sometimes, however, God does not work as fast as we want Him to.  From our perspective, sometimes God stops the stopwatch.  We need to remember that.  Take the Apostle Paul, for example.  Though Paul’s life seems to be at breakneck speed as we read the book of Acts, we sometimes forget the years in the wilderness after his conversion;  the years in exile back in Tarsus before Barnabas brought him to Antioch; or the two years in prison in Caesarea awaiting trial before Felix and Festus (and ultimately Caesar.) 

The theater in Caesarea
The theater in Caesarea

I was thinking about seasons when “time stands still” as I walked the streets of Caesarea on the Mediterranean Sea during our time in Israel.  Paul languished in prison for two years in Caesarea while a Roman leader waited for someone to bribe him for Paul’s release.  Though these years take only a verse or two in the book of Acts, they could have felt like an eternity to the Apostle Paul.

How is the clock moving in your life right now?  Is it racing along, or has it slowed to a snail’s pace.  No doubt your circumstances help you measure the pace of your life.  Paul’s experience in Caesarea, however, reminds us that sometimes being square in the middle of God’s plans (like Paul in Acts 22-28), means waiting for the next chapter to start, the pain to subside, or the diagnosis to be definitive.  Apparently, God needs to marinate some things deeply into us over a longer period of time.

No doubt God redeemed the time Paul spent in prison in a variety of ways, and no doubt God wants to bless you and others through your seasons of waiting as well.  Paul waited in Caesarea . . . where are the places you have waited on the Lord?  Know that God is at work bringing to fruition His good plans regardless of how fast you perceive the clock to be moving.


Inches Away (Israel part 12)


In 1986 drought conditions led to low water on the Sea of Galilee.  The low waters revealed some items that had long been submerged beneath the sea’s surface.  One of the items that poked its head through the mud and muck was the outside edges of an old wooden fishing boat.  After investigating the ruins of this boat, it was determined that the boat was 2,000 years old . . . that’s right – the fishing boat found was most likely on the waters of the Sea of Galilee in the days of Jesus and His disciples!

The story of the rescue and preservation of this boat was remarkably told at the Ginosar Kibbutz fishing boat museum that we visited on our tour of Israel.  It was truly amazing to walk around a fishing boat that would have been similar to the boats Jesus and the disciples used in the first century.  Seeing the size and look of the boat helped me put into greater focus one of the most remarkable stories from Jesus interactions with His disciples on the Sea of Galilee.

In Matthew 8:23-27, Jesus is on a boat with His disciples on the sea (similar to the boat in Ginosar).  While they are sailing at night, a mighty storm broke out.  The boat was taking on water and the disciples were very afraid for their lives.  While the disciples strained against their oars, Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat.

In my mind, I had always imagined this scene differently.  The boat the disciples and Jesus were on was always a multi-layered “house boat” like the U.S.S. Minnow from Gilligan’s Island.  While the disciples were up on the deck, Jesus was far away in HIs state room.  Deep down I knew this was never the way it really went down, but for some reason, in my mind, Jesus was rooms away.  Seeing the boat in Ginosar, I realized that Jesus was within eyeshot of the disciples in their dismay.  The first century fishing boat was only 27 feet long and 7 feet wide.  With 13 people on this boat, someone in their group was within inches of Jesus . . . possibly even touching Him . . . and yet they were afraid.  What a scene this must have been!

Seeing this boat reminds me of the tension so many of us feel in life.  Even on days when we can “feel Jesus” (like when we have a refreshing time reading our Bibles, a deep season of prayer, an enriching time of fellowship, or participate in a moving worship service) we are just one storm away from wondering where He is.  We leave church encouraged, but fight with our spouse, child, or friend on the way home and come away discouraged.  We have our quiet time reading of God’s faithfulness and wisdom, then doubt His plan when things don’t go as we planned.  The rain drops of life tend have a propensity to blind us from the presence of God in our lives.

Once the disciples woke Jesus up, however, He immediately took action.  He spoke to the wind and the waves, and they immediately ceased.  This demonstrated Jesus power over all things . . . and was intended to inspire faith in the disciples — and in us.  The next time a storm is threatening you in this life, remember Who is in the boat with you . . . and remember that He is only inches away.


God’s Favorite Lake (Israel Part 11)

IMG_0213Do you have a favorite lake?  If you live in Oklahoma (as I do), you may have a great affection for Grand Lake, or Lake Texhoma, or Lake Eufala.  These lakes are favorites of ours NOT just because of their natural beauty, but because of the memories we have on their waters and around their shores.  I learned to waterski on Lake Tenkiller.  I played golf all around the shores of Grand Lake.  We had family vacations at Lake Texhoma.  These memories make these bodies of water special.

Did you know that in the Bible (particularly the New Testament), it seems like God has a favorite lake?  It sure seems like the Sea of Galilee is one of God’s personal favorites – not because it is the most beautiful natural setting (though it is quite pretty), but because of the memories He has with His people on and around its waters. 

IMG_0215Throughout Jesus’s early ministry, He spent time around the Sea of Galilee.  He called His disciples to follow Him from its shores.  He taught sermons from the surrounding hillsides.  He fed thousands on its banks.  He caught scores of fish from its waters.  He stopped raging storms on its waters with a single spoken word.  He even walked on top of its waves to meet up with His disciples as they rowed ahead.  That’s quite a history!  It sure trumps the 87 I shot at Chickasaw Pointe on Lake Texhoma!

It is clear to see that Jesus used the Sea of Galilee as a prominent setting for His ministry . . . but as I visited the Sea of Galilee on my trip to Israel, I began to think more and more about WHY Jesus used this particular body of water.  Though it is impossible to know for sure, I think Jesus used this body of water because it was so familiar to the people He was relating to at the time.

The Sea of Galilee was the most prominent geographic feature of the section of Israel where Jesus grew up.  The entire northern economy centered around this lake.  Towns surrounded its shores.  Fish from its waters and crops from its surrounding fields fed the people.  It is estimated that as many as 250,000 people lived in Galilee at the time of Jesus, and the Lake was what they knew . . . so Jesus used it to teach the people about Himself.

  • Everyone in Galilee knew of the fierce storms that could spring up on the Sea of Galilee.  That is why Jesus used these storms to demonstrate His power and sovereignty to His disciples.
  • Everyone in Galilee knew of the farms around the lake that were often owned by wealthy people who lived in the southern part of the country.  These wealthy landowners would frequently leave their land for long periods of time in the hands of their servants who would steward the property until the master returned.  It is interesting how Jesus used this phenomena to teach His disciples through parables about our stewardship responsibilities on this earth while we wait for His return.
  • Everyone in Galilee knew what it meant to be a fisherman . . . that is why it made so much sense for Jesus to call His disciples “fishers of men.”

Jesus used what His disciples knew to communicate who He was so that they would trust Him with all they had.

Jesus communicated His identity to His disciples in ways they could understand.  I am so thankful He does the same thing for us today.  By preserving the New Testament record for us, we can see Jesus in “3-D,” living life in the world we inhabit.  More than just proverbs and poems, Jesus calmed storms, walked on water, multiplied fish and loaves, and taught in vivid illustrations so that we would know Him!

Visiting the Sea of Galilee was a true treat for me . . . but thankfully God has not required that I go there to find Him.  He pursued me and found me all the way in Oklahoma, speaking a language I knew to reveal to me who He is so that I might trust Him with all I have — and He wants to do the same for you.

I had the chance to preach a short message on the Sea of Galilee
I had the chance to preach a short message on the Sea of Galilee