Capernaum

Pilgrimage to Israel #3

I continue my series on my pilgrimage to Israel with the next step on the journey at Capernaum. Just to let you know, I will intersperse this series on Israel with posts on other subjects to break things up a little! But do hope you’re enjoying this series about the Holy Land.

Capernaum is an ancient town on the north western shores of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. It is biblically significant and Jesus spent a lot of time there.

The town of Capernaum is mentioned a number of times in the Gospels.

You, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, you will go down to Hades. For if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in you, it would have remained until today.

Matthew 11:23 (WEB)


When he came into Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking him for help,

Matthew 8:5 (WEB)

For some background, you will no doubt be aware that Jesus was born in Bethlehem – something we celebrate in this advent season. After his birth, Mary and Joseph took him to Egypt to avoid the wrath of Herod (Matthew 2:13).

After being warned in a dream that it was safe to return, Mary and Joseph returned with Jesus to the town of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. We know very little about his time in Nazareth and His childhood in general, the Gospel narratives refer to only one instance found in the book of Luke (ch. 2, v41-52).

As Jesus began His ministry, he spent much time in and around the Sea of Galilee as I mentioned in a previous post. When he attempted to minister in His home town of Nazareth, the local people rejected Him refusing to accept that he could be anything more than a simple carpenter’s son. After that point Jesus moved his ministry to Capernaum.

He went out from there. He came into his own country, and his disciples followed him. 2 When the Sabbath had come, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many hearing him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things?” and, “What is the wisdom that is given to this man, that such mighty works come about by his hands? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judah, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” So they were offended at him.

Mark 6:1-3 (WEB)

Leaving Nazareth, he came and lived in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali,

Matthew 4:13 (WEB)

Capernaum essentially becomes Jesus’ base of operations for His ministry in the northern part of Israel. It’s an important site and one well worth a visit.

Aside from more great views of the Sea of Galilee, there were two main things we stopped to see.

Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient house supposedly belonging to Peter and his family. Above its ruins is built a chapel with more wonderful acoustics. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to sing, we held a short service there and took advantage of the great sound of the place.

the-house-and-church

In the centre of the chapel is a viewing platform where you can look down over the ruins of the house. While some suggest this is really Peters house, I don’t suppose there is any real way to know for sure. Did Peter live here? Is this where Jesus healed Peters mother in law? Or did he live three doors down on the right? We can’t know.

The second point of interest is the uncovered ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum.

syna caper

Unlike Peters house, this really is the spot of the synagogue and we are confident that Jesus would have spent time there.  When Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah announcing His ministry and who He was, He was at Nazereth – but He would have been in a synagogue much like this one at Capernaum.

You can see from the image what looks like large steps going around the outside. These are in fact seating benches, much like you would see in ancient stadia. The congregation would sit along here and the rabbi would speak and read from the scrolls. We sat in the seats, and we listened to the Scripture that Jesus would have read out loud 2,000 years ago.

We visited Capernaum at the end of our day, and after having looked around the ruins and conducted our service in the chapel, we headed down to the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee once again. As the sun was setting over the hills, it shone brightly and was unusually striking. I’m not suggesting there was anything supernatural about it, but it was great to see such a powerful sunset in such an amazing place.

It was a peaceful place, like so many others we would visit that week, and I was extremely grateful for a few minutes that afternoon to reflect on what I’d seen that first day. I wondered if Jesus Himself would have sat somewhere near where we were sitting, praying or reflecting on His ministry.

This place, like many others we would soon visit, would force us to reflect on who Jesus was, and is. I invite you today to consider who Jesus is and the place He holds in your life.

 

 

 

The Mount of Beatitudes

Pilgrimage to Israel #2

Having spent some time in and around the sea of Galilee, the next step of our pilgrimage took us to the Mount of Beatitudes. This is the mountain where Jesus taught his sermon, and included the eight the attitudes in the eight blessings that he spoke.

You can find these in Matthew five.

Seeing the multitudes, he went up onto the mountain. When he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He opened his mouth and taught them, saying,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.Isaiah 57:1566:2
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they shall be comforted.Isaiah 61:266:10,13
Blessed are the gentle,
    for they shall inherit the earth.[a] Psalm 37:11
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they shall be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
    for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:1-12 (WEB)

MtBe

The church of the Beatitudes sits atop a hill, sloping down to the shores of the sea of Galilee. As Jesus preached his sermon on the Mount, we were told He would likely have sat in a boat on the water, with the crowds gathered on the hillside. He would have projected His voice up the hill and it would have acted much like a stadium, allowing the vast numbers of people to hear His blessed words.

The text of the Bible (above) slightly contradicts this however. It states that Jesus would have been on the hillside, likely up high, and the crowds gathered beneath Him. In a similar way, He could have projected His voice downwards enabling all to hear.

Jesus opens his sermon with these eight blessings. I love the sermon on the Mount, but I must confess to struggling with some of these blessings. The meaning can be hard to grasp at times, and living them out can be even more difficult.

What does it mean, for instance, to be poor in spirit? Likewise, how can any of us hope to be pure?

Yet Jesus pronounces special blessings on those who attain these things. The purpose of my post today is not to teach on the Beatitudes, but I can’t help but pause here for a moment to think about the depth of their meaning.

Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness – moral uprightness and to be in right standing with God?

Are you a peacemaker? Are you there, in the midst of conflict, mediating and offering soothing words? How difficult it is to give a soft answer at times, and yet we know a soft answer turns away wrath – Proverbs 15.

Anyway, back to the blog already in progress… you remember, the one about the place – Mount of Beatitudes!

The chapel is beautiful. There is a real sense of peace here. The building is octagonal in shape; one side for each of the eight blessings.

One of the most notable things about this place are the acoustics of the church. As our group moved quietly around, a few of our number with wonderful voices began to sing. If just a few voices can make such a wonderfully uplifting noise, then what must a whole host of angels sound like? I don’t recall even which song was sung, but I just remember the atmosphere as the harmonies surrounded us.

The gardens surrounding the church are not large, but they are well kept and offer wonderful views of the Sea of Galilee. As you walk around the paths, there are signs displaying the text of each of the beatitudes. Time did not allow us to linger there for too long, but I can imagine it being a wonderful place to just walk around and slowly pray through each blessing in turn.

In that peaceful place, it is easy to forget the troubles that still face the land of Israel today. While the Bible teaches that there will be troubled times in Israel and across the world during the latter days, we know that the Prince of peace will one-day put everything right. We may be persecuted, as the blessing tells us, for His name’s sake, but our trouble on earth is but a wisp in comparison to eternity.

Blessed indeed are the peacemakers, and blessed may you be today and every day that you seek to follow Christ.

Sea of Galilee

Pilgrimage to Israel #1

We began our pilgrimage to Israel on a Sunday morning with a simple Eucharist service. Eucharist means “thanksgiving” I’m told, but in some churches is reference to a Communion service.

As I look around the church, I realised we were a mixed bunch. Some knew each other, while others were strangers. Some were Roman Catholic, and some Anglican, and still others claimed no faith at all. Yet we all jurneyed together, and would support one another throughout the week.

We travelled to London Heathrow, and were subject to understandably high levels of security on both sides of our flight. Touching down in Tel Aviv airport in the late evening, we then drove north to the city of Tiberius which was our base for the first part of the trip.

We awoke that first morning with a sense of excitement, and to views from our hotel of the Sea of Galilee.

During my first trip to Israel, the Sea of Galilee was a particular highlight and was again this time. We drove the short distance from our hotel and boarded a wooden boat – supposedly similar to that used by Jesus and His disciples 2,000 years ago. I suspect Peter’s fishing boat did not have a motor nor a sound system however!

Out in the middle of the lake… and it is a lake, not a sea as the name suggests, the engines were turned off and we had a few moments of quiet to take in the scene. While there has been some changes over the years, it is rather easy to imagine Jesus and His friends sat in a boat on these waters, looking out at the various shorelines.

Some places we would visit in the week to come would be memorials of things we read in the Bible. We cannot say with any certainty that things happened in some of the places where we remember them. However, this lake – this Sea of Galilee – was indeed the very waters where Christ was.

Jesus walked on this sea…

Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat, and go ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he himself sent the multitude away. 46 After he had taken leave of them, he went up the mountain to pray.
47 When evening had come, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 Seeing them distressed in rowing, for the wind was contrary to them, about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea

Mark 6:45-48 (WEB)

There was once a violent storm which rose up on this very sea, and Jesus calmed it…

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let’s go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the multitude, they took him with them, even as he was, in the boat. Other small boats were also with him. 37 A big wind storm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so much that the boat was already filled. 38 He himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion, and they woke him up, and told him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are dying?”

39 He awoke, and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” The wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? How is it that you have no faith?”

41 They were greatly afraid, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Mark 4:35-41 (WEB)

The lake itself isn’t as large as you might imagine. In some respects, it’s difficult to think that such a huge storm could sweep down on to these tranquill waters. Yet to the noth, is a set of mountains and storms can swell and drop down on to the lake with little warning. I’m pleased to report it was calm and sunny while we were there!

What many fail to realise is that most of Jesus’ ministry actually took place in and around this area. When we think of Israel, we may think of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and the sites of the Crucifixion or Resurrection. Most of Jesus’ ministry did not occur there, but rather further north in the vicinity of Galilee.

The feeding of the five thousand, the deliverance of Legion, the healing of the man lowered through the roof on a mat… all of these events took place in the north. Even after Jesus’ resurrection, He met them in Galilee. Peter and the disciples were fishing again, and Jesus met them on the shore.

Later that day, we drove around the lake to Merci Christi – meaning Table of Christ. This is the site, it is thought, where Jesus met His disciples after the Resurrection and had breakfast with Him.

That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”

So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked), and threw himself into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat (for they were not far from the land, but about two hundred cubits away), dragging the net full of fish. So when they got out on the land, they saw a fire of coals there, with fish and bread laid on it. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have just caught.”

John 21:7-10 (WEB)

Just uphill from the shoreline sits a small chapel called “Merci Christi” meaning Table of Christ.

MC

As you exit the chapel, you can turn left and go and sit on the beach. Is it the spot where Jesus and His disciples ate? Not sure, but could be. And for me, that’s the power of this place. We don’t know the exact spot of such things, but we know – for certain – that Jesus walked these shores.

Some sites we would later visit have almost been commercialised, and it can be hard to imagine Jesus in those places. Not here though, not in Galilee. This peaceful place, where you can sit on a beach and hear the lapping of the water, this place is one where Christ was.

Although the Sea of Galilee was a highlight for me, that in no way diminished the rest of the trip. Every place we visited was special in its own way, and should you ever find yourself in Israel, make a special effort to stop by tthe waters where Jesus walked.