Yesterday morning, we got up at 6am, showered, repacked our bags, ate breakfast, jumped on the bus, and drove around the Sea of Galilee where we boarded a large wooden boat. Yes, we rode on the same water where Peter fished and where Jesus calmed the storm. Each of us says about a hundred times a day, “Can you believe we are here?” “Can you believe we are in Israel?” “Can you believe we are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee?”
In the past two days we have also visited Caesarea Phillipi, Bethsaida, Capernaum, Magdala, and Korazim – all places where Jesus walked and spoke. Our guide, a Messianic Jew, has been giving these types of tours for twenty-two years. Although she grew up in New York in a secular home, not practicing faith of any type, she became a Christian after losing her husband at a young age. She decided to move to Israel where she has become a messenger of the gospel to people from all countries who come to the Israel to tour the Holy Land.
In each place we visit, she asks us to bring our Bibles and our cameras. She starts by reading a passage (or several passages) of scripture to connect the site to its significance. She often asks members of our group to share in the reading. She has given us a timeline that begins with Adam and Eve and outlines key periods in Israel’s history to help us make sense of all that we are seeing. She also inserts historical and geographical facts to give us context to aid our understanding.
This morning, we visited a national park that housed both an altar from the reign of Jeroboam (around 900 BCE) and the Canaan Gate which dates all the way back to Abraham over 2200 years before the birth of Christ. We’ve seen ruins from the Roman Period (63-243 CE) and from the time when Jesus lived, the first century.
It’s difficult to keep it all straight. However, some truths are evident over time — man is corrupt and bent on his own desires; God is gracious and continually pursues his people.
Today, we were near the Sea of Galilee, and our guide reminded us that it was near this very location that Jesus, not long after his resurrection, not long after Peter had denied him three times, reinstated Peter. How did He do it? He gently reminded Peter of his humanity, asking him three times, “do you love me?”, and He offered Peter a gracious opportunity to “feed my lambs.” It’s not difficult to draw the connection, is it? Don’t we also deny Christ in our words and, even more often, in our actions or lack of actions? Doesn’t Christ also gently restore us and ask us to feed his lambs?
It’s fairly easy, my small group and I discussed last night, to keep our focus on Christ as we witness all the evidence of His existence here in Israel. Will it be easy when we return to our daily lives – with its due dates, obligations, and stressors? Probably not. We will likely deny Christ and determine to go our own way. Not to worry; Jesus will pursue us. He will offer us grace, as He did Peter, time and time again.
Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.