The crisp, clear morning air felt invigorating as our group of 35 pilgrims climbed aboard this old Israeli fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee last week.
Across the water on a distant hillside, we could see the city of Tiberias.
Along another shoreline, palm trees waved in the gentle breeze from the village of Magdala where Mary Magdeline lived.
We set sail on smooth waters and marveled at the 360 degree view of the very shores where Jesus performed so many miracles.
Some were overcome with emotion. Some could only grasp for words to convey their amazement. Some could not wipe the smile from their faces at the sheer joy of sailing where Jesus had sailed!
And we gave thanks.
I read portions from Matthew 14 where Jesus walked on water. Where Peter walked on water. Where Jesus rescued Peter even when Peter’s faith faltered in the storm.
As Scripture rang out over the glassy surface, we remembered how He had faithfully rescued each of us from storms, as well.
And we gave thanks.
We read where Jesus calmed frightening storms, swirling waters, and anxious hearts as His peace filled us to overflowing like those ancient boats overflowed with fish.
Then as worship music played, we praised God on the very water where God in the flesh had sailed.
We sailed past Bethsaida where Jesus fed the 5,000 with two small fish and five barley loaves and gave thanks that He fills for our every need. We glimpsed the temple ruins of Capernaum where Jesus taught near Peter’s home and gave thanks for His living and active Word.
JESUS. HAD. BEEN. HERE.
Jesus sailed with us that very day on the boat.
By the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is with us every moment of every day. Wherever you find yourself this Thanksgiving, take comfort that you are never alone.
His love never fails, never stops, and is never conditional. His unconditional love for us took Him all the way to the cross.
And for that beautiful truth, we give abundant thanks.
After six hectic tour days, today was truly a soul refreshing break. Strengthened by another delicious breakfast at the hotel, we loaded up the bus and headed toward our first stop: Ein Gedi.
Ein Gedi is a lush oasis in the middle of the Judean desert. After miles of desert and desert mountains, our eyes feasted on field after field of date palm trees (a successful cash crop here). Who knew these existed in such abundance here!
Ein Gedi literally means “the spring of the kid (young goat)” and we saw some of those goats almost immediately! These Ibex are wild and in abundance in these desert mountains, and it was such a treat to see them roaming wild!
Ein Gedi takes its name from a freshwater spring which flows from the rocks over 650 feet above the Dead Sea. When King Saul heard that David was in the vicinity of Ein Gedi, he gathered several thousand soldiers and hunted for David in these very caves. There’s a LOT of history in these caves.
It was in these very caves where David hid from Saul and wrote many of the Psalms (1 Samuel 23:29). We started out the day hiking up to the springs where David spent much of his wilderness time running from Saul.
The morning grew warm and the climb was not for the faint of heart, but we did it! The hidden springs along the way and shade toward the falls felt refreshing from the inside out. It felt like we climbed Mount Everest, so naturally we took a group victory picture!
From Ein Gedi, we headed through the desert to Qumran. This settlement was home to the Essenes, a devout set of Pharisees who moved out to Ein Gedi because they disapproved of many religious practices in Jerusalem. From here they wrote all of the Old Testament scrolls over and over by hand and sealed them in clay jars to faithfully preserve the Old Testament texts. The only book not found was Esther. The scrolls were discovered by a boy in 1947 and have verified the accuracy and reliability of Scripture. Hallelujah!
Then we headed to the Dead Sea! The saline content in the Dead Sea is 37%, which means no living organism can survive in it. The beautiful, panoramic view of the Dead Sea from the highway roads was truly stunning!
We finished this day refreshed and better acquainted as brothers and sisters in Christ. What a most perfect day!
It’s hard to know where to begin when you travel through Jesus’ life in 10 hours. On this crisp 45 degree morning, we began at the Temple Mount in Old Jerusalem, which is built on Mount Moriah (the place believed to be where Abraham offered his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice to God).
Atop this Temple Mount stands the famous Gold Dome of the Rock. The morning sun glinted off of the gold-plated dome made it feel like it would burst into flame at any moment!
As we left the Temple Mount, we walked the Vio Dolorosa, the last steps that Jesus walked through Jerusalem toward Calvary. The route winds itself through the Old City of Jerusalem, starting at a school near the Lion’s Gate and ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion).
The old streets bustled with people of many languages, shopkeepers hawking their wares, and street vendors offering a strand of beads for a few shekels. It was a sensory overload as vivid color and noise were everywhere – except inside the churches. There is a Lutheran Church in Old Town Jerusalem and it was fun to see Wayne behind the altar (even if it was only for pictures)!
The Via Dolorosa took us through the 14 stations of the cross where it was powerful to see the traditionally-held places where Jesus was condemned by Pilate, received His cross and then fell under its weight.
It seemed only fitting that such a spiritually meaningful journey ended at the Church of Holy Sepulchre. There has been a church on this site since 326 AD and is believed to be the location where Christ was crucified. Old Byzantine mosaic tiles and beautiful frescos were lit by dozens of suspended lanterns placed there by Christians, Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic churches.
There was so much history and spiritually powerful meaning along this route that I could hardly catch my breath at times.
Finally, our group gathered at the Western Wall for a personal time of prayer and reflection. Some of us wrote out prayers on small pieces of paper and stuffed them into the cracks of the Wall as we prayed (a tradition there). Tears ran down my face as I prayed for the people and situations that God laid on my heart.
We walked out of Old Town of Jerusalem inspired, tired, and awed. Then it was time for Bethlehem! We enjoyed a scrumptious lunch upon arrival, then given a rare opportunity to see how olive wood is gathered and carved by hand and machines.
Naturally, a stop in the shop that produced those items was given! (That’s a post for a different day.) The angels made the announcement HERE! The shepherds heard the message HERE The star shone RIGHT HERE.
The Church of the Nativity sits just next to the Shepherds’ Hill Church, both honoring Jesus’ birth and the proclamation of the shepherds: “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a Son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed him in a manger.” Luke 2:6-7
We are back at our hotel in Jerusalem for the evening, marveling at God’s grace, love and provision for each of us.
Today was simply incredible! My morning began by watching the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee as its cool breezes and lapping waves provides the soundtrack to my prayers. As I looked out over the calm waters, the realization hit home hard: Jesus walked on THIS water. Jesus performed miracles on and around THIS water. Jesus preached by THIS water. JOY!!
We enjoyed another incredible breakfast at the hotel, then it was “All Aboard!” in a replica wooden “Jesus boat” to set sail across the Sea of Galilee. The captain welcomed us by turning the boat into an American vessel for our journey by playing the Star Spangled Banner. The American and Jerusalem flags waved majestically side-by-side in the morning sun as we sang our national anthem.
I read the account from Matthew 14 of Jesus (and Peter) walking on the very waters on which we sailed. The captain played several familiar worship songs as we sang, visited, sat in silent awe, or let emotions roll down our cheeks. Meanwhile, these words rang fresh in our minds: And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:32-33
We disembarked to tour through the Jesus boat museum where we saw a beautifully preserved fishing boat that had been discovered and excavated in the 1980s that dated back to Jesus’ day. The archaeologists identified 12 different types of wood used on that boat, indicating its constant fishing use over a long period of time. There is a good chance that Jesus knew or came in contact with the owners of this very boat!
By 10:30 am, we were back on the bus headed to the Mount of Beatitudes. It was a busy, bustling place. Wayne gathered us on the steps facing the front of the church and led a powerful devotion while reading the beatitudes from Matthew 5.
As we drove away from the Mount of Beatitudes toward Capernaum, the panoramic view of the rolling hills and mountains around the Sea of Galilee was simply stunning.
Capernaum is the seaside location where Jesus spent much time with Peter and teaching in the synagogue. Built over the original black stone synagogue of Jesus’ day, the remains of a white stone synagogue stood dramatically. A boat-shaped church has been built over the site of Peter’s home to help preserve it.
We had worked up quite an appetite, so we stopped at a local establishment and ordered the famous “Peter’s Fish.” Yes, they serve it head and all! I’m not accustomed to my food staring back at me, but this was a special exception.
Our next stop was Tabgha, a Byzantine church dating from 350 AD, commemorating the place where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the 5,000. We walked on intricate mosaic tiles that were over 1,500 years old!
Our final stop for the day was at the Jordan River where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. We remembered our baptisms in a special ceremony in the Jordan River. God’s gift of baptism was celebrated with joy, tears, and raw, beautiful emotion. How very appropriate that the Jordan River ends at the Dead Sea — the lowest place on Earth. “Our sins are carried to the depths of the sea to be remembered no more.” Micah 7:18-20
We are back at the hotel on the Sea of Galilee for the night, my mind still whirling at what we experienced today. It is sobering and surreal to walk the very same places as Jesus and His disciples walked over 2,000 years ago. Sweet dreams, fellow disciples.
Following an excellent hotel breakfast in Netanya, Tel Aviv, we struck out toward Caesarea. Along the way, Ori (our Jewish guide) taught us several Hebrew phrases such as please, thank you, and good morning. He also taught us how to count to ten in Hebrew, which was fun to hear recited with Texas accents.
Caesarea is both a nature and archaeological site in Israel. The roads leading toward the remains of Herod’s seaside palace and port were lined with colorful flowers and olive trees. The cool sea breeze felt wonderful as we made our way into the remains of the first century Roman amphitheater, which faces the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
We gathered on the steep stone seats and I read from Acts 10 where Peter shared his first Gospel message here in Caesarea with the Gentiles through Cornelius. “God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” (Acts 10) I love Cornelius’ intentionality to gather his family and friends to hear the Gospel!
Next to the amphitheater are the remains of Herod the Great’s palace, which is slowly being swallowed by the sea. (This Herod was responsible for the slaughter of the innocents as he sought to destroy Jesus as a child.)
We stood in the very spot where Paul made his appeal to Herod to be tried before Caesar in Rome! We walked down the hillside to marvel at Herod’s 20,000 seat Hippodrome that hosted his chariot races. Before leaving Caesarea, we dipped our toes in the Mediterranean surf.
As we left Caesarea, we passed vast banana plantations being cultivated for commercial revenue. It was surprising to see rows and rows of banana trees in the middle of the desert! We stopped to be awed by the architecture of Herod’s famous aqueducts that brought fresh water into Caesarea from 15 miles away.
From Caesarea, we made our way to Mount Carmel. Wayne taught a very thought-provoking message about Elijah and his contest with the prophets of Baal from 1 Kings 18. There is a stunning panoramic view from the top of Mount Carmel across the Jezreel Valley. We enjoyed a hearty lunch with the most incredible array of fresh, colorful vegetables before leaving Mount Carmel for Megiddo.
Megiddo is so much more than simply the future site of the biblical end times battle. Megiddo stands at the most strategic crossroads in all of Israel. Active excavations have uncovered impressive fortifications, including this stone edifice built by none other than Solomon!
As gusty winds and storm clouds gathered around us, I shared portions from the book of Revelation about the epic end times battle as we looked over the very fields where it will begin. Then we made our way down 180 steps into the cool darkness of an ancient water well that was drilled through the heart of Megiddo’s mountain to provide/protect fresh water supplies into the city in times of conflict.
From Megiddo we headed straight to the bustling city of Nazareth (Jesus’ childhood home). The Church of the Annunciation sits where it is believed that the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah. The modern façade holds beautiful carvings of Gabriel and Mary at the top with the four Gospel writers etched below.
The courtyard’s colonnade holds dozens of mosaic artwork pieces donated from various countries which depict the annunciation. The diversity and beauty of each piece took our breath away.
The Church of the Annunciation is a working church, and there was a service being conducted as we entered. Careful to be respectfully silent, we made our way down around the church, marveling at the vast painted ceiling and art pieces lining the walls (once again showing various country’s interpretations of the annunciation). The contribution from the USA here was an incredible three dimensional likeness of Mary.
We descended the steps to view the place believed to be Jesus’ childhood home with Joseph and Mary.
We made our way back to the bus to depart for our hotel on the Sea of Galilee. We passed through Cana as night closed in and saw the church on a hill where Jesus turned water to wine in his very first miracle.
We arrived at our hotel to sit down and enjoy a most scrumptious buffet together as we exchanged impressions about our eventful day. Everyone was dumbfounded at the variety and beauty of this delicious feast.
Walking some of the places today where Jesus walked and spent time as a child reaffirmed the continuity of the past into the present where Jesus still lives inside of every believer. What a beautiful pilgrimage. Thank you, God, for a truly remarkable day!
After eighteen months of planning and preparation, my group and I leave for Israel on Wednesday!
Pastor Wayne Graumann and I will be teaching at various locations as our group of 35 pilgrims make our way through the Holy Land. Here are the dates and locations during our journey:
Wednesday, Nov. 13 – Depart the USA, arriving in Tel Aviv on Nov. 14th Thursday, Nov. 14 – Jaffa, Caesarea Friday, Nov. 15 – Megiddo, Mt. Carmel, Nazareth, Cana, Mount of Precipice Saturday, Nov. 16 – Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, Bethsaida, Jordan River, Tabgha, Church of Primacy of St. Peter Sunday, Nov. 17 – Caesarea Philippi, Tel Dan, Gideon Springs, Beit Shean, Jerusalem Monday, Nov. 18 – Western Wall, Temple Mount, Via Dolorosa, Southern Steps, Bethlehem Tuesday, Nov. 19 – Qumran, Ein Gedi, Dead Sea (swim/float), Jericho Wednesday, Nov. 20 – City of David, Shrine of the Book, Model City, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, Pool of Siloam, St. Peter Gallicantu, Garden Tomb Thursday, Nov. 21 – Mount of Olives, Palm Sunday Road, Elah Valley and the Garden of Gethsemane Friday, Nov. 22 – Depart the Holy Land to return home forever changed
Wayne and I will both be blogging (with photos) each day along our journey and we would love for you to follow along. My posts will appear here and Wayne & Kathy’s posts will be here: https://gofarther.me/
We would covet your prayers as our group of 35 walks the very places where Jesus walked. The spiritual growth that each of us will experience simply cannot be overstated. We carry you in our hearts with us!