Our trip began in Tiberius, a town on the Sea of Galilee.
Thanks to jet lag (coming and going, awesome), I woke up early enough our first morning to see the sun rise over the water, and I sat there with my Bible opened in my lap, the words of this place, of the disciples, taken by surprise by the calmed storm all around them running through my mind… “Who then is this, that He commands even winds and water, and they obey Him?”
It was most definitely a theme that resonated with me over the days we spent in this part of the country, visiting the sites of His ministry around the Sea of Galilee. Do you ever read Scripture and wonder at all the travel that Jesus did back and forth to all these places with the Sea of Galilee popping up again and again, with crowds following Him everywhere? What did that look like? Why all the moving? Well, I got a clearer picture of it as we were there, seeing how all of these towns and communities are around the Sea of Galilee (which is not a sea but a large lake – who knew, right?!), all of them close enough to see but far enough that Jesus would have needed to feed the five thousand there at Tabgha as they would have been unable to travel back to their homes. When we were actually on a boat on the water, our tour guide pointed them out by name. The places where Jesus would have called His disciples to leave their nets and follow Him. The Mount of Beatitudes, where we would pray the Lord’s prayer when we visited. The home of Mary Magdalene, the very places where His fame would spread. Capernaum, where He healed the man lowered through the roof by his friends, where He showed that He had the power to forgive sins. We walked in those places, imagining the noise and the urgency that surrounded Jesus as it became clearer who He was, as desperate people followed Him, as His touch healed them and His words called them to more, as there was so much going on —
I thought about it as we stopped in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, as Scripture was read about how He calmed the storm with a word, how He walked on the water, how He gave His peace there in that very place. So powerful, feeling the wind on my face and breathing in the scent of the waters, hearing His words resonate in my heart. “Peace. Be still.”
The mood was lightened a little bit when they started playing Amazing Grace in the silence, and I listened in for a few measures and whispered to Wes, “Is that… that’s Elvis, right?” Yes, they were playing Elvis’s Gospel album. Apparently, our Palestinian tour guides love them some Elvis. Who doesn’t, though, right? (Like a little piece of Tupelo, Mississippi on the Sea of Galilee, y’all.)
We visited some of the places where Jesus spoke harshly as well. “Woe to you, Chorazin!” I kept saying as we walked through the ruins of Chorazin. Wes and I visited Tyre and Sidon while in Lebanon – places where Jesus also spoke condemnation – and they were left in shambles just like Chorazin. One place that definitely wasn’t in shambles but that still flourishes today was Nazareth, Jesus’s boyhood hometown (!!!), which we also visited. I hadn’t expected Nazareth to be an emotional stop as the main focus of our visit was the church where the angel visited Mary and told her that she was going to have a child. I think we as Baptists can sometimes discount the miraculous in what happened with Mary as we attempt to affirm her humanity and reject the teachings that she has any divinity. Yes, she was just human. But something miraculous happened to her, and I’ve got to imagine that every day of her life spent with Jesus was full of awe and wonder. Can you even imagine?!
I was thinking about it as we went into the church, as we went down deeper below ground level, until we were looking at the original site of Mary’s house, of the place where the angel came to her. And as miraculous and amazing as that was, my attention was on the stone staircase, the walls, the places that our guide said were parts of the original house of Mary’s parents. Jesus grew up in Nazareth (after that brief time in Egypt), and as I looked at this site, I could imagine Mary visiting here as a young wife with her children, with Jesus, who likely learned to crawl up those very stairs, who later undoubtedly ran up them as a child, who spent time here, in this very place.
“So real,” I sobbed to Wes in a whisper as the nuns that are caretakers of the building sang hymns upstairs. “He was here.”
The tears didn’t end as our tour guide took us outside and pointed up the road, showing us where Joseph lived, where Jesus would have grown up and worked alongside His father. Then, to the site of the synagogue that Jesus would have attended as a boy (I can’t even, y’all!), where He would have been handed the scroll of Isaiah at the beginning of His ministry, where He read the prophecy about Himself, where He told them just who He was…
My heart was so full as we walked back down to the bus, through the streets of Nazareth, walking alongside people who call this holy place home. The very places He walked, the very people who are descended from His people, His world, His place, this corner of the world…
… and somehow, half a world away, He found me. I was struck again and again throughout this trip how unlikely it is that what happened in this small corner of the world, this small town, would have world-changing implications two thousand years later. But that’s God. God, who could have come just for Israel… He came for me. That in the chaos of my sin and my fallenness, He calms and stills the wind and the waves, rebuking me and loving me in the same breath, calling me to Himself, to the man of Nazareth, for His glory.
I was overwhelmed, y’all. So overwhelmed. May I never stop being overwhelmed by Jesus and who He is and all that He’s done!
Up next, a random spot that we didn’t realize the significance of until we were standing right there in the water…