Shalom! Welcome to Israel
Step onto Israeli soil. Check! It was a bright, crisp morning. A cool, salty breeze blew around us as we got off the cruise ship to take our first steps onto the Israeli soil. I felt like I was stepping back in time – back to where it all began. A big sign read “Welcome to Haifa, Israel.” Yes, I was finally here. Praise God. Haifa is Israel’s 3rd largest city.
As the bus drove on the highway, the guide told us the hill we saw was Mt. Karmel. It was on this mountain the the Prophet Elijah challenged the 450 prophets of Baal. This is surreal. Am I really here?
From there, we drove past the Sea of Galilee. We arrived in Tabgha, at the Church of the Beatitudes. The church overlooks the Sea of Galilee. The slopes from the church down to the sea made a natural theater at which the multitudes sat to listen to Jesus as He taught the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5-7) The breeze from the sea, and the curvature of the slopes created natural acoustics that carried the voice of Jesus to the audience. The manicured landscape welcomed the visitor to the church. Like many of the churches we have visited, this church was well adorned. I sat on the pew to pray and reflect.
From there, we drove a short distance to the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Before reaching the shores, we were greeted by an antic little church. Surrounding the church were big rocks. Inside the church, towards the front was a big rock that lay across the altar. This little church is the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter. This is said to be the rock at which Jesus said to Peter, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,and the gates of Hades[b] will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[c] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)
Outside the church was the Northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. After listening to the reading of the Scriptures, we went to touch the water. I sat on a rock, while reflecting on the ministry of Jesus. This is where He walked on water. This is where Jesus told the disciples to cast the net onto the deep end. On these shores, Jesus made a fish fry for breakfast for the disciples. I feel blessed, honored, and humbled to step my foot here. Praise God!
We had lunch on the dock at the Lunch the “Docks Restaurant” in Tiberius. The restaurant sits at the edge of the Galilee Lake. The glassy, blue water of the water glimmered in front of us. Most of us ordered the mouthwatering Peter’s fish, salad, and fries. The dessert was a plate of fresh, cool dates. Probably, the fish Jesus grilled for the disciples on that early morning tasted as good. I wondered.
To cap off the day, we went to the Jordan River. We witnessed various baptisms taking place. Many of the people being baptized have been baptized before. They are getting baptized as a sentimental and significant act of following the example of Jesus Christ.
The river was peaceful. Eucalyptus and other types of trees lined the banks of the river. The river was leaner yet cleaner than I had imagined. I paused to reflect on the evangelistic ministry of John the Baptist. He preached on these river banks. He preached repentance. He paved the way for the coming of Christ. His dedication led him to live in the desert eating locusts and honey. His attire was far from fashionable – camel skin!
I also pondered in the words of God at the baptism of Jesus. Earlier, John had pointed to Jesus while saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” (John ) As John concluded baptizing Jesus, the heavens opened up. The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove. God the Father spoke, “This is my son, in whom I well pleased. Listen to Him.” There, at the Jordan River, we see the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit!
What does baptism mean to me? Who is Jesus to me? Do I let Him take away my sins? Do I listen to Him?