Sea of Galilee
We spent the next few days based in the city of Tiberias, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Tiberias was established in approximately 20 AD, by Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great) and was named in honor of Tiberius, who was the emperor of Rome at that time. The city was apparently created as a spa, and was centered around 17 mineral hot springs.
The region itself – and not just the body of water – is known as Galilee, and it was in this area that Jesus began His ministry. Many of His early miracles were performed around the shores of the Sea of Galilee (also known as Gennesaret, Kinneret, or Lake Tiberias). Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, would be to the west of the region shown on the map below:
Our hotel was situated overlooking the sea, which is really more like a very large lake. I was surprised by the lack of activity on the water, and still wonder about that even now, after the fact. I think I was expecting to see more boats, or – I don’t know – maybe even jet skis. But no – this was an incredibly peaceful place.
I had an experience here which is hard to describe. The best I can do using my own feeble words is to say that the Holy Spirit inside me leapt for joy – or maybe it was recognition – when I was in Galilee. I felt an incredible sense of focus on Jesus when I was here; actually, to be totally honest, as I prayed I felt Him gently asking me to focus on Him, and Him alone. That sense of focus has stayed with me throughout the year since my visit. I feel that gentle reminder the most during times of crisis, but my goal is for it to be a constant in my life, during the good times as well as the hard times.
Maybe most people who’ve visited Israel say the same type of thing: to walk where Jesus walked is really nothing short of incredible, and even life-changing. I would have to certainly agree. As we travelled around by boat and bus on this day, with each passing hour I felt that my life hereafter was going to be measured in 2 distinct phases: Before Galilee, and After Galilee.
After breakfast on Wednesday, February 19th our first activity of the day was to take a cruise on the Sea of Galilee. Again, the experience left me somewhat speechless at the time, and a year later I still find myself at a loss for adequate words to describe it. The sea was totally calm that morning, and as the boat slowly cruised northward away from Tiberias and the hotels disappeared from view, a feeling of total peace settled on me. It was easy to imagine the shoreline as it had been 2,000 years ago.
The company known as “Sea of Galilee Worship Boats” provided an experience that was more of an unforgettable worship service than a cruise. After a short 15 or 20 minute ride north, we slowed and dropped anchor. The conversation became hushed as our captain, Daniel Carmel, told us his story, and then began to sing. Soon we were all lifting up our voices in worship on the Sea of Galilee. Our pastor Scot led us in a short sermon and then as we began to sing once more, the boat chugged southward back to Tiberias.
We left our new friend Daniel and his crew, and met up once again with our tour guide Kenny and the bus driver, Dudi (which we learned was the Israeli nickname for the name “David”).
It was during our bus tour on this day that I discovered just how lush the Upper Galilee region is. I had no idea before this trip that this particular area is home to many different fruit plantations, owned by the likes of the Dole Corporation.
We drove along the northwestern coast of the sea towards our next stop, Kibbutz Ginnosar, where we had a quick tour of the Yigal Allon Museum and a fascinating look at the “Jesus Boat”. This ancient fishing boat dates back to the time of Jesus, and was discovered in 1986 during a severe drought in the region. The receding shoreline exposed the boat to local fishermen, who reported it to the authorities. There is a short film at the museum explaining the process of excavating and preserving the boat, which was really very interesting, (it was immersed in a chemical bath for 7 years!), and of course the boat itself is on display there.
Our next stop was the Church of the Beatitudes. This tranquil site is traditionally believed to be the location of Jesus’ delivery of the Sermon on the Mount. According to Wikipedia “the current church sits near the ruins of a small Byzantine era church dating to the late 4th century, which contains a rock-cut cistern beneath it and the remains of a small monastery to its southeast”, but aside from that, the location seems right because of the shape of the hillside. The acoustics would have been fantastic in this spot.
A few minutes down the road lay the region of Tabgha, and the Church of the Loaves and Fishes. This is the traditional site of the multiplication of loaves and fishes that is found in all four of the gospels. It was also here that Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, and beautifully, over a breakfast of fish cooked over a charcoal fire, the Lord reinstated Peter. (John 21:1-17).
Our last stop before lunch was Capernaum.