Day One & Two
We arrived at Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport a little after 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, April 11. The flight over was a bit of a challenge, even though it was comfortable, a Boeing 777-200, the flight time made it difficult to sleep. So most of us were fuzzy-brained at the first stop along this wonderful pilgrimage journey, Caesarea Maritime.
Caesarea Maritime, or Caesarea by the Sea, was a port city along the coast of the Mediterranean, envisioned and built by Herod the Great between 22 and 10 B.C., to serve as a deep harbor for commercial traffic, connecting the Mediterranean world with the Via Maris (the Road of the Sea), a major trading route connecting Africa, Asia, and Europe, running through the coastal plain of Israel.
Caesarea was a very “Roman” city, complete with baths, a theater, and a hippodrome. It served as the home of Pontius Pilate and other Roman officials. It was also the home of one Cornelius, a Roman military officer and a “God-fearer.” God-fearers were Gentiles who worshiped the God of Israel, but didn’t fully convert, as that would entail circumcision.
Peter was in Joppa, in 37 A.D., when God gave him a dream concerning what was clean and unclean to eat. God told him to not call anything he made unclean. At the same time God gave Cornelius a dream to send a messenger to bring Peter to Caesarea. Cornelius invited Peter into his house as his guest and Peter shared with Cornelius and his household the Good News about Jesus. As he was speaking the Holy Spirit filled Cornelius and members of his household. The professed allegiance to Jesus and Peter baptized them. This is all recorded in Acts 10. This pivotal incident served as the genesis of the Gentile mission, the beginning of the fulfillment of Jesus’ command to his followers to make disciples of all nations, all ethnic groups, seeking to bring all of God’s lost children back into the family of God.
The first stop this morning was at a church that’s been built in the traditional location of Jesus’ breakfast with the disciples following the resurrection along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It’s called the Church of the Primacy of Peter. From there we visited Capernaum, the town that became the home base of Jesus’ ministry on the shore of Galilee. It was also Peter’s adopted hometown. In the ruins of the town, scholars have located what they believe to be Peter’s mother-in-law’s house, where Jesus is believed to have stayed in Capernaum (or Kafr Naum, the Hebrew name). Also in this town are the ruins of a rather large synogogue that was built in the third century A.D. on top of the remains of the first century synagogue where Jesus attended and taught. It’s truly amazing to be in this place, this land where Jesus first proclaimed the Good News about the Kingdom of God.
The Church of the Multiplication was built on the site traditionally associated with the Sermon on the Mount. The modern church was built on top of the remains of a church that dates to Fourth Century. Pilgrims had been visiting this site since the earliest times. On the floor of the Fourth Century church was a beautiful mosaic, much of which is still intact. I have a chalice and paten from this church decorated with the beautiful pattern that sits on the floor beneath the altar depicting two fish and loaves of bread in a basket.
At each site one of our fellow pilgrims read the Scripture associated with the events which took place there, then Pastor Bob or I share a brief devotional. Our guide, Hana Kessler, also shares from her wealth of knowledge concerning the biblical events that we have learned from history and archaeology. It makes for both a learning and spiritually enriching experience.
In 1986 an amateur Israeli archaeologists discovered a boat submerged in the mud in the Sea of Galilee. It was excavated, preserved, and is now on display in a special museum on the shoreline. The boat dates to the time of Jesus. It’s not hard to imagine that Jesus at the very least, saw this boat with his own eyes while he was proclaiming the Kingdom of God around the Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is not particularly large, and the area in which the boat was discovered is an area Jesus frequented. Who knows? The boat may have belonged to Simon Peter or one of the other fisherman who left their nets to become fishers of men and women, boys and girls.
Our group then hopped aboard a modern boat for a cruise along the Sea of Galilee. We paused out on the lake as they captain shut down the motor. The calm out on the water was amazing. We read the story of Jesus calming the storm and remembered that the Lord is here in the midst of the storms of our lives to bring peace and rest.
After the boat ride we enjoyed a lunch of fried whole St. Peter’s Fish. Yummy!
Off on the bus again to take the short ride to Magdala. Magdala was a wealthy town on the Western shore of the Sea of Galilee which was destroyed in the Jewish War with Rome in the late first century and was never rebuilt. Thus the ruins, which were only discovered twelve years ago, are the actual ruins of the hometown of Mary Magdalene (Mary of Magdala). Jesus was here after he made his way down to the Sea when he left his hometown of Nazareth.
The Jordan River was our last destination of the day. We participated in a Baptismal Remembrance service and I was privileged to baptize my cousin, Jessica Ellenwood, who is a fellow pilgrim on our journey. What a joy to participate in this wonderful occasion. God is good!