Today was our final day in and around Galilee (specifically in the north-eastern part Israel around the Golan Heights) and each of our stops was a slice of life for Jesus’ ministry.
Here’s a rapid fire list of our day:
Overlooking the ruins of Gamla
This was a city filled with Zealots, the most radical group of Jews in the ancient world. On a scale of how a Jew felt about the Romans, the Zealots fell on the far side of the pendulum:
LOVES ROME HATES ROME
Herodians Sadducees Pharisees Zealots
The Zealots lived with Torah in one hand and a sword in the other. And many of them occupied Gamla. It was near this setting, to mainly this audience, that Jesus delivered His yoke, the longest portion of His recorded words, the most famous sermon, The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). And different than what they believed and hoped Messiah would be (a King who would destroy Rome) Jesus said things like: “Love and pray for your enemy.” “Turn the other cheek.” “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”
Jesus was a revolutionary, but not like the Jewish people might have expected. His revolution was much better, much deeper, much more eternal.
Talk about preaching to the wrong audience! But Jesus’ message was about a different kind of Kingdom and He had the hutzpah to boldly declare it. It’s also believed that it was this kind of audience (or a majority of them) were who Jesus fed 5000 of (Luke 9).
Another thing to think about is that Jesus had a Zealot in his group of disciples (Simon/Peter)! The guy He would say His church would be built on! (Matthew 16:18) Nobody was outside of His Kingdom!
2). Dan. No we didn’t go visit a guy named Dan, but instead we went to the furthest northern part of Israel to where the tribe of Dan went to after ditching the land God gave them in Canaan. And after only a few minutes of being there, I could see why.
Especially coming from the desert, this area was absolutely gorgeous! Green, lush, and cool, with a gushing river (the start of the Jordan River) that came from the snow melt off of Mount Hermon (in fact, modern day Jews snow ski at the top of Mount Hermon in the winter!). It was called “Eden” and for good reason.
While the tribe of Dan might have liked their decision at first, the problem for them was that they were continually conquered by every single nation invading Israel. Because they were right on the northern border and possessed such a coveted land, they were always been killed and destroyed. Oops.
In the city where the Israelites settled, there was a temple that perfectly matched God’s description for His temple except for one small detail: a golden calf (about the side of a loaf of bread) sitting in The Most Holy Place. Ironically, the temple was for God’s people to come worship Yahweh, but through paying tribute to the golden calf as well (1 Kings 12).
Our group had a lot of discussion on our American, Western churches doing the same thing often times. Sometimes we put things like pastors or worship leaders or technology in the front and, while we’re definitely worshipping God, are also filtering that worship through a someone or something first, which isn’t true worship in the first place. It was a powerful moment of thought.
We are all pastors (1 Peter 2:9) and no matter whether we work at a church or a Target or United Airlines, we need to take our call very seriously, but not take ourselves too seriously. Our call: To bless others, so they can bless their neighbors, so they can bless the world with the Gospel message of Jesus.
***WARNING: EXPLICIT CONTENT BELOW…THAT POWERFULLY SPEAKS TO THE POWER OF GOD***
3). Caesarea Philippi. This was a Neo Coris city (a city known for the worship of a major god) that was built around worship to the god Pan. No not, Peter Pan, a god who was intensely perverse. The temple to Pan, the god of fertility, was built right by a cave where water flowed out (that was called “Hades”) and worship was done through sexually perverse acts including temple prostitution, outdoor orgies, and bestiality with goats (since Pan had the legs and features of a goat).
These acts of worship often got so out of control that it’s where we get words like “pandemic”, “panic”, and “pandemonium.”
A look at the outdoor shrine (on right), temple (center), and gate of Hades (left – cave where water came out)
In Matthew 16, we read about Jesus coming to this place. Leaving the triangle (see yesterday’s post) of a safe bubble and coming to a city steeped in paganism and sin. A city Jewish boys and girls were forbidden to come to (keep in mind all the disciples, except peter, are teenagers).
Jesus brings His disciples here to give them a taste of the world He is going to send them out into. A snapshot of the darkness and perversion that is out there, filled with people who were created in God’s image and so desperately need His love. He’s preparing them. He’s teaching them to walk like Him in places like this.
Much like we do every day. Just like Jesus, we disciple people so we can then apostle (“sent-out one”) them.
In Mark 8, Jesus (the text says “loudly”) declares to His followers and anyone else listening that He is true life!
4). Susita (Hippos). We finished our day in the ruins of an ancient Roman city, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
It was the place Jesus called “The Other Side” (Mark 5) both symbolically and literally being the opposite of the triangle they spent most of their time in. The disciples would again have been terrified to go there, especially since the first thing that happened when they got across was they were met by a naked, dirty, demon-possessed Roman man who screamed at Jesus. Actually, in reading the text, it becomes clear that the disciples were too afraid to get out of the boat and it was only Jesus was went ashore and encountered the man.
This was an environment saturated with things that were “unclean” to the Jewish people. Gentiles, Rome, tombs, the nudity of the man, and demons. And it was in the face of this that Jesus spoke to the demons (which were in the hundreds, based on their name: “legion”), telling them to get out. The Roman people came to see what had happened: Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. (vs. 15)
Rod pointed out an extremely interesting detail in this verse, which is that the man was dressed. Who dressed him? Well, from what we know, the only person who was with the man was Jesus. Meaning Jesus not only cast demons out of the man, but lovingly helped dress him as well.
But Jesus wasn’t done.
The account continues, saying the man begged to become a follower of Jesus. But He said no for a historic reason.
And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.” And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled. (vs. 18-20)
The reason this is historic is because this man went on to become a significant source for the message of Jesus in the early days of the church. Jesus took an “unclean” man and made him (a gentile) His first missionary, the first apostle. In fact, when walking out of Hippos, we saw a church from around 500 AD that was there because of his direct influence in the area to tell his story and spread the love of Jesus.
A small picture of the big picture that God has been doing since the beginning of time and that Jesus came to demonstrate and die for: Bringing Shalom to chaos; bringing hope to despair; bringing joy to fear; bringing light to darkness, bringing life to death, bringing peace to the world.
Oh and we also walked in a place where Abraham walked 3000 years ago and added rocks to a pile of people we’re praying come to know Jesus.
It was an amazing day and tomorrow we head to our final hotel for the trip as we get to explore in and around the city of Jerusalem for our final 3 days.