Wednesday, May 4, 2011

From Capernaum to Commercialism

I awoke to a beautiful sunrise over the Sea of Galilee. Another busy day was ahead of us. For me, it would also be a day of mixed emotions--wonderment, thankfulness, and disappointment.

Our first stop was the town where Jesus lived and conduct much of His ministry--Capernaum. The above photo is of Ron Love and I standing inside the remains of a 4th century synagogue, which was built on top of the remains of the synagogue where Jesus would have read the Scriptures and taught. The foundation of Jesus' synagogue is visble beneath the foundation of the 4th century synagogue.

The synagogue is surrounded by excavated foundations of homes from the time of Christ. Jesus walked on these streets. It was on these streets and in this synagogue where Jesus taught, healed the sick and performed other miralcles. It was an emotional time as our tour guide explained some of the prophecies that were fulfilled by Christ, during His time in Capernaum.

Then it was off to the Mount of the Beatitudes, the location where Jesus preached His most famous sermon--the Sermon on the Mount. And here's the traditional site.

Well, most scholars do not believe this is the actual location of where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount.  The location we visited is the location purchased and established by the Roman Catholic Church to commemorate the sermon. I was disappointed to learn that we would not be going to the historic site of the Sermon on the Mount, which is now farm land.

However, I was blessed to have the opportunity to share a devotion from the Sermon on the Mount, at the traditional site. For a couple of months, I knew what passage I would use for the devotion--Matthew 7:13-14. My topic was to be the necessity of a sense of urgency in evangelism. But I was never really settled in my heart and mind about the passage or the subject.

Last night, my heart was moved to share from Matthew 6:25-34. It is a favorite passage of mine and Mahria. The Lord has used it many times over the years, and quite frequently over the last 18 months, to minister to us.  And He has been gracious and kind while I'm in Israel to remind me of the importance of the passage in my life.

I believe the Lord's hand and favor was upon the change, for the devotion seemed to be a timely encouragement to some of the people in the group. As for me, the Lord used the devotion to show me yet again my utter unworthiness to open His Word and teach from it. And He also used the time to remind me to take heed to the Lord's commands in the passage, and to the plea I made to the members of our group.

Next, after a short trip to a museum where an excavated boat--one that would have been used for fishing by men who knew of Jesus and likely heard him preach either in the synagogue or in the streets--was on display.

We then boarded a boat to take a cruise of the Sea of Galilee. It was very peaceful on the water. Worship music played, and I spent time in quiet prayer to my Lord. It was a great time of fellowship with the group.

We hit a couple other sites and enjoyed a bus ride down a very steep and winding mountain road, along the demilitarized border between Israel and Jordan. Of course, the biblical history of Israel is fascinating. But so, too, is the recent history of Israel's rebirth as a sovereign nation.

I titled this blog "From Capernaum to Commercialism" because of our last stop of the day--the Jordan River and the traditional site of Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist. The historic location of the event is actually 60-65 miles south of the traditional site. But, due to military conflict in the area of the historic site, the Israeli government developed a traditional site in a safer area.

When we arrived I thought we had entered a poorly maintained theme park. Before I continue, I think it is important to note that I have no doubt that many people who have visited the location in the past, and who were there today, are genuine followers of Christ and the spiritual experience of being in the Jordan River is no less genuine for them. But what I saw today was, in some ways, heartbreaking.

Not far from the area where the baptisms were taking place, people were enjoying feeding the muskrats and catfish. It felt like I was watching two different areas of a theme park--Baptismland and Muskrat Cove. I wondered what the Lord thought of it all. Oh, no doubt He was blessed by those making genuine public professions of faith in Him. But what about the other activies? What about the false profession of faith hat might be taking place, no matter how sincere?

But then I remembered the Holy Land lies within a fallen creation superintended by a fallen human race. I must look back to that sunrise this morning that God allowed to beautify His creation; that He allowed so that I could observe with wonder His perfect artistry so I could see the sunrise and remember I was in the Land where His risen Son once walked, once bled, and once died so that I could have eternal life.

I hope these blogs have been both informative and encouraging.

Tomorrow...Shiloh, Jericho, and the Dead Sea.