After four days of exploring the world into which Jesus was born and the beginning of his ministry, we left the singularly unique cacophony that is the Old City of Jerusalem and headed north to Galilee, the territory where he spent nearly all his life and carried out the vast majority of his ministry. Driving north through Jericho and into the Jordan Valley we saw the massive agricultural production that modern irrigation has made possible in this desert climate. We stopped along the way to buy some freshly picked watermelons for lunch at a roadside stand ... Pam drives a hard bargain over here!
Two hours later we were plowing our way through bumper to bumper traffic in Nazareth, today the largest Palestinian city in Galilee, though at the time of Jesus it was just a small village. Our first stop was the massive Basilica of the Annunciation built over the ruins of earlier churches dating all the way back to an early Jewish-Christian synagogue which in turn was built over the foundations of the house where Jesus grew up.
Because Jesus' relatives continued to live in Nazareth for over 200 years after his death we have a very high certainty that this is the actual boyhood house of Jesus. The modern church has been built in such a way as to both preserve and display the ancient remains.
As a result we can see the foundations of the actual house of Jesus and the "backyard" where he would have played and fetched water for the family. It brings home the reality of Jesus' full humanity when you see the actual place where he "grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him." (Luke 2:40)
From the church we went to the nearby Nazareth Village, an archaeologically accurate reconstruction of a first-century Galilean village. It was amazing to see the farming techniques, the layout of their extended family homes, to sit in the kind of synagogue Jesus preached in, and to picture the life Jesus and his family lived in Nazareth.
Next we drove to the top of the Mount of Precepice, traditional site where the residents of Nazareth responded to Jesus' first sermon there by trying to throw him off the cliff. We had another great picnic lunch while we enjoyed a panoramic view of the Jezreel Valley which Nazareth overlooks from the north. We sat in the shade of a grove of pine trees while Mike Breen led us to reflect on the extended family of origin who rejected Jesus and led him to call together a different kind of family in a new place.
We ended another incredible day by driving from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee and climbing the Cliffs of Arbel for an overview of the entire area where Jesus established this new home and started proclaiming and living out the Kingdom of God with his newly adopted extended family. After Art Barrett helped us reflect on the shape and rhythm of Jesus' life around this amazing lake, he took his initial vows as a member of The Order of Mission, a covenantal network of missional leaders. It was a moving way to end a day we will not soon forget ...
Now we are settled into our new accommodations at the Peniel Guesthouse on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee and can't wait to see what God has in store for us tomorrow as we begin to explore the places where he preached, healed, and demonstrated what life looks like when we are living in the Kingdom of God!