In the United States, a structure built or an event that took place a few hundred years ago is considered old. In Israel, that’s nothing. As we have been traversing the area around Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) the past few days, we’ve seen a landscape riddled with history going back thousands of years. And we are just getting started.
We began our final day around Lake Kinneret at the site where Jesus encountered the demoniac (Mark 5). Jesus and His disciples had crossed over the lake to the Gentile side, where a man known to be overpowering chains and cutting himself with rocks was known to be terrorizing the hills. The disciples had probably heard his horrifying shrieks out on the lake. But Jesus was not afraid. He cast the demons out of the man and into a herd of pigs, who went careening down the steep slope into the lake.
Jesus told the man, now in his right mind, to “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19, NIV) and it appears that is what the man did. The area became a hub of Christian activity for centuries. Ruins of a Byzantine monastery from 500 A.D. are nearby, and we studied the significance of the disciples and Jesus crossing the sea (and Jesus calming a storm along the way!) sitting in the ruins. The hill caves the demoniac probably inhabited are still visible, and the way the pigs ran down is believed to be a certain slope—the only place on the east side of Kinneret where they could have dropped right into the lake.
After visiting Kursi, we drove to the northern border of Israel, to Tel Dan, where we saw the oldest ruins we have seen yet. It was here that the tribe of Dan settled after rejecting the territory they’d been given (Judges 18). We saw portions of the city wall and the inner and outer city gates. Inside the city borders, we saw the excavated ruins of the altar where Jeroboam set up one of the golden calves for the people of the northern kingdom to worship after the division of the nation (1 Kings 12).
It was fascinating to see the steps to the altar still there today, used by God’s chosen people to offer pagan sacrifices. We contemplated the snowball effect of sin and idolatry for the northern kingdom of Israel that ultimately led to its demise.
We then visited Caesarea Philippi, where we reflected on the conversations recorded in Matthew 16:13-27, which took place right in the vicinity of a shrine to the Greek god Pan. Today, we saw the huge cavern that housed the shrine, along with the platforms where statues of various gods were staged. We learned that Jesus brought the disciples to the center of paganism in the region as He began to prepare them for His suffering and death. It was here that Simon declared that Jesus was the Messiah, and here—likely in view of the giant rock faces dedicated to false gods—that Jesus called him Peter—”rock”—and said that “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” It was here that Jesus began to tell them of his death and resurrection, and here that Jesus explained exactly what it would cost His disciples to follow Him:
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25, NIV)
In the afternoon, we drove back to Galilee and the shore of the lake to visit the site traditionally thought to be where Jesus appeared to the disciples after His resurrection (John 21), when He made them breakfast on the shore and reinstated Peter after his betrayal before the crucifixion. We enjoyed a special time of devotion, reflection, and prayer on the beautiful, rocky shore.
We ended the day’s travel with a fun visit to a local kibbutz where they make a multitude of products from olives. Later in the evening, we wrapped up our time by the lake with more time spent worshiping our awesome God, who still ministers in this place today.
Please keep praying for health, safety, and good weather. Praise God—today we enjoyed a wonderfully clear day and were able to see the snow-capped peaks of Mount Hermon during our drive to Dan. Pray for comprehension and clear communication with one another as we seek to process everything that we are seeing, learning, and experiencing. Pray that we will glorify the Lord with our eagerness to learn, love for one another, and testimony to those we encounter.
Stay tuned! Check back in the coming days for more updates from our trip.