Day Seven: Jesus' Mission Field

We began this morning, as we do each morning, with time in the Word and in prayer preparing for what we will be seeing and doing in our travels that day. Here at the Tabgha Pilgerhaus we have a fantastic view over the beautiful Sea of Galilee!

 Enjoying Our Morning Quiet Time Overlooking the Sea of Galilee

Enjoying Our Morning Quiet Time Overlooking the Sea of Galilee

Our first stop of the day was the Church of the Beatitudes which is the traditional location for Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. It's octagonal design reflects each of the eight beatitudes Jesus described.

 My Beautiful Bride at the Church of the Beatitudes

My Beautiful Bride at the Church of the Beatitudes

After visiting the church we found a shady spot to read the Beatitudes and reflect together on the upside-down values of the Kingdom that challenge our worldly assumptions about the "good life."

 Our Group Reflecting on the Mount of Beatitudes

Our Group Reflecting on the Mount of Beatitudes

Just down the hill from there we visited the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes, which is a beautiful reconstruction of a fifth century Byzantine church built on the traditional location where Jesus performed the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. Part of the amazing mosaics that covered the floor of this church included the famous "Tabgha Mosaic" which depicts the five loaves and two fish of the miracle. They are placed just in front of the ancient stone which was remembered as the table where Jesus blessed and broke the bread.

 The Ancient Rock and Mosaic Marking the Feeding of the Five Thousand

The Ancient Rock and Mosaic Marking the Feeding of the Five Thousand

At each of the churches we visit we cross paths with other Christian pilgrims from all around the world who are seeking Jesus and expressing their faith according to their own culture. Lighting candles as a symbol of prayer is one of the traditions I have come to appreciate.

 Two Pilgrims Light Candles in the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes

Two Pilgrims Light Candles in the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes

Even more moving than visiting ancient churches is gathering to worship as the church of today. We were blessed to gather at the lovely lakeside chapel in Tabgha where we reflected on the meaning of this miracle for us today and then joined in sharing Communion together as a group.

 Malcolm Potts Preaching on the Shore at Tabgha

Malcolm Potts Preaching on the Shore at Tabgha

Once again God met us in a powerful way and fed our souls with new insights and growing faith. It is such a blessing to share this spiritual journey with these wonderful brothers and sisters from Australia and across the US. We all agree we are quickly becoming an extended spiritual family!

 The Outdoor Chapel at Tabgha

The Outdoor Chapel at Tabgha

After a full morning of great experiences, we returned to our lovely guesthouse for a tasty lunch and a chance to refresh. After lunch some of us headed back out for a trip to the top of the Cliffs of Arbel and a panoramic view of the north end of the lake. Looking forward to more adventures tomorrow ....

 Another Great Meal Overloking the Lake in the Dining Room of Tabgha Pilgerhaus

Another Great Meal Overloking the Lake in the Dining Room of Tabgha Pilgerhaus

Day Six: Jesus' Headquarters

Today we began our exploration of the area where Jesus decided to establish a center for his Galilean ministry. We are staying at the beautifully restored Tabgha Pilgerhaus, a guesthouse for pilgrims situated on a secluded beach on the Sea of Galilee near the traditional location where Jesus fed the 5000. 

 Breakfast in the Lovely Dining Room of Tabgha Pilgerhaus

Breakfast in the Lovely Dining Room of Tabgha Pilgerhaus

After breakfast we headed to Capernaum, the nearby first-century fishing village where Jesus centered his ministry in Galilee. After visiting the large synagogue built on the foundations of the synagogue where Jesus taught and healed, we took a close look at the houses in Capernaum from Jesus' time. We can see that people did not live in single-family dwellings the way most of us do, nor did they function primarily as a nuclear family. Instead they understood family to be multiple generations of blood and non-blood relations comprising an extended family that shared life and work together. In the New Testament this is called an "oikos." Their houses were built to accommodate multiple nuclear families in rooms surrounding a common courtyard. We were amazed to discover that  the actual extended family home of Simon and Andrew has been discovered here and the remains are preserved underneath the modern church. This is where Jesus made his home and built a new kind of spiritual family, a family on mission!

 The Oikos Homes of Capernaum Next to Simon and Andrew's Home

The Oikos Homes of Capernaum Next to Simon and Andrew's Home

From Capernaum we took a boat trip on the lake to get a clearer picture of this beautiful setting and the various places around the lake where Jesus carried out his mission. We also got a demonstration of fishing with a casting net, much the way Jesus' disciples used to fish! With one cast he caught a small Tilapia! 

 A Jewish Fisherman Demonstrates His Technique on the Sea of Galilee

A Jewish Fisherman Demonstrates His Technique on the Sea of Galilee

Getting off the boat we then visited the museum built to house an amazing archaeological find: a 2,000 year-old fishing boat excavated from the mud at the bottom of the lake! It took decades to restore this one-of-a-kind discovery so that it can be displayed, but it was worth the wait. This 27 foot-long boat is from the time of Jesus and is exactly the kind of boat Jesus and the disciples used as they traveled around the lake.

As is our custom, we had a lovely picnic lunch on the veranda of our guesthouse overlooking the lake. Everyone pitches in to help lay out the feast. However, once we were enjoying our lunch we discovered the policy at this guesthouse is not to bring in outside food---ooops!

 Preparing and Enjoying Another Delicious Picnic Lunch

Preparing and Enjoying Another Delicious Picnic Lunch

After lunch we headed back to Capernaum for a special time of worship and reflection in their outdoor chapel. As we sat literally on the very beach where Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James and John, we reflected on the nature of discipleship in the context of an extended family on mission together. We are experiencing that kind of lifestyle while on this trip and pray we can continue to grow in the Way of Jesus as we return home. At the end of our worship time we felt led to do what Jesus did in this place: minister to those in our midst who needed physical healing. We broke into groups, prayed for each other, and some in the group experienced some significant improvement! Faith grows as we exercise it ...

 Enjoying a Time of Worship on the Beach at Capernaum

Enjoying a Time of Worship on the Beach at Capernaum

Day Five: Jesus' Home

Today we packed our bags and departed the Holy City, heading north to Galilee. We drove through the Jordan Rift Valley, following the ancient pilgrim route along the course of the Jordan River. Driving up the beautiful and strategically important Jezreel Valley we came to Nazareth, perched on the northern ridge of the valley. Modern Nazareth is a large Palestinian city, but in the time of Jesus it was a small and somewhat insignificant village. 

 The Ancient Grotto Preserving the Remains of Jesus' Boyhood Home

The Ancient Grotto Preserving the Remains of Jesus' Boyhood Home

We visited the modern Church of the Annunciation, which is built over and preserves the ruins of three previous churches, a Jewish Christian Synagogue, and a first-century home which has consistently been identified as the boyhood home of Jesus. Unlike many other traditional sites related to the early years of Jesus, this site has a high degree of probability to be historically accurate. Outside the Church we visited the ancient remains of the first-century village and were literally looking at the place where Jesus grew up!

 Exploring the Reconstructed First Century Nazareth Village

Exploring the Reconstructed First Century Nazareth Village

We visited "Nazareth Village," an archaeologically accurate reconstruction of village life from the time of Jesus. There we learned about various aspects of daily life that would have shaped Jesus' boyhood in this place. One of the goats from their herd had just given birth to a new kid only minutes before we arrived!

 This Mamma Goat Just Gave Birth to a New Kid!

This Mamma Goat Just Gave Birth to a New Kid!

We enjoyed demonstrations of the kinds of work that went on in the village of Nazareth at the time of Jesus, including carpentry and weaving. Jesus' family were builders ("teknon") and would have had a thriving business as Herod Antipas was enthusiastically expanding his nearby capital city of Sepphoris.

 Demonstration of a First Century Carpenter at Work

Demonstration of a First Century Carpenter at Work

We concluded our big day with a visit to the huge archaeological excavation at Sepphoris. This was a booming cosmopolitan city made up primarily of Jews who had adopted many aspects of Roman culture. This is where the teenage Jesus would have come on a daily basis with his father and brothers to make a living building the many stone structures that earned this city the nickname "The Ornament of All Galilee."

 Walking the  Ancient Streets of Sepphoris

Walking the  Ancient Streets of Sepphoris

At sunset we arrived at our guesthouse on the northshore of the beautiful lake we call the Sea of Galilee! Looking forward to exploring the new home Jesus established here and the family on mission he built to bring the Good News of the Kingdom to the world ....

 The Sea of Galilee from Tabgha

The Sea of Galilee from Tabgha

Day Four: Jesus' Preparation


Today we marked the beginning of Jesus' public ministry by visiting the traditional site of his baptism by John in the Jordan River. For most of the 30 years I have been coming to the Holy Land the Jordan River was totally inaccessible in the region where Jesus was baptized because it is the border between Jordan and the West Bank. Recently both the Jordanians and the Israelis have developed facilities for pilgrims at this spot and have opened it up so now we can visit it.

 Our Group Arriving at the Traditional Site of Jesus' Baptism in the Jordan River

Our Group Arriving at the Traditional Site of Jesus' Baptism in the Jordan River

One of the most powerful experiences of the trip so far was the privilege of renewing our Baptismal Covenant with God in the very place that the heavens were torn open, the Spirit was poured out, and the Father said, "This is my beloved Son and in him I am well pleased." 

 Pastor Jerry Renewing His Baptismal Covenant in the Jordan River

Pastor Jerry Renewing His Baptismal Covenant in the Jordan River

After our moving and refreshing time in the Jordan River reflecting on the baptism of Jesus, we headed, like he did, into the unforgiving Judean desert wilderness. Wadi Kelt has the only spring for many miles around, so we can say with some certainty that this was the vicinity where Jesus fasted for forty days and sparred with the devil. We took a hike down into this dramatic ravine to visit the ancient Saint George Monastery. 

Unlike most desert monasteries, Saint George's has been known since the sixth century for it's warm hospitality. The monks served us cold drinks and strong Turkish coffee as we wandered the ancient corridors and took in the beautiful views. 

 Receiving Warm Hospitality from the Monks of Saint George's Monastery

Receiving Warm Hospitality from the Monks of Saint George's Monastery

On our hike back out of Wadi Kelt we were besieged as always with Bedouins offering us everything from a cold drink to a donkey ride up the trail! Back in our vans we headed to a nearby desert overlook where we made lunch and enjoyed it together with some young Bedouins while soaking in the amazing desert scenery.

 Worshiping in the Judean Desert Where Jesus Fasted and Was Tempted

Worshiping in the Judean Desert Where Jesus Fasted and Was Tempted

After lunch we had a moving time of worship and reflected on Jesus' forty days of fasting and testing in the wilderness. For many of us our concept of "wilderness" was radically altered by the seemingly endless barren ridges and valleys stretching for untold miles in every direction. 

To top off the day we headed back down to New Testament Jericho and explored the excavated ruins of Herod the Great's Winter Palace situated on the mouth of Wadi Kelt as it opens up just west of Jericho. It was a chance to see an archaeological dig in process and get another glimpse into the opulence and self-indulgence of this self-appointed King of the Jews. It was fascinating to realize that Jesus and the disciples would have passed right by this huge palace every time they "went up to Jerusalem."

We have had an amazing four days in and around Jerusalem following in the Footsteps of Jesus! Tomorrow morning we pack up and head north to Galilee where we will learn more about how Jesus made disciples and built a spiritual family on mission. Can't wait to see what God has in store for us there ...

Day Three: Jesus' Birth

Today we began the journey of actually following Jesus' footsteps by visiting the place of his birth in Bethlehem and the angelic announcement to nearby shepherds. Although we don't have any archaeological evidence to locate the site of Jesus' birth, as early as the third century early Christian pilgrims reference a cave in Bethlehem where he was born. Today the fifth century Church of the Nativity built by Emperor Justinian to replace the Constantinian church that was destroyed in the Samaritan Revolt, stands over that cave.

 Interior of the Church of St Catherine at Manger Square in Bethlehem

Interior of the Church of St Catherine at Manger Square in Bethlehem

Unfortunately the ancient Church of the Nativity is undergoing major roof renovations so we couldn't see much inside. I wasn't too disappointed because I prefer the aesthetics of the next door Church of St. Catherine, even if it doesn't boast the same historical pedigree. The two side by side churches can be a contrast in religiosity vs. living faith. 

 Our Group Pauses in Bethlehem for Reflection and Prayer

Our Group Pauses in Bethlehem for Reflection and Prayer

After visiting the churches we took some time to read Luke's account of Jesus' birth and reflect on the astounding fact that God became real to us by emptying himself and taking on the form of a servant. When you see the place and ponder the circumstances of Jesus' birth it is a powerful reminder that God chooses to work through the humble and submitted, not those who enjoy earthly glory or exercise temporal power. I guess that means if I want God to work through my life I am called to be more humble and submitted to him!

 Malcolm Potts Brings a Word on Psalm 23 at the Shepherd's Fields

Malcolm Potts Brings a Word on Psalm 23 at the Shepherd's Fields

We wound our way out of Bethlehem on a maze of criss-crossed streets heading for the Christian Palestinian village of Bet Sahour, the traditional location of the Shepherd's Fields. As we worshiped in the midst of the ruins of a Byzantine monastery, we glorified God and pondered the connection between the shepherd boy David, his 23rd Psalm, and the shepherds who first heard the good news of Jesus' birth. It was a beautiful moment when Malcolm paused in his teaching to point out the shepherd boy with his flock of sheep on the hill in front of us!

 The Newly Discovered Theater at Herodium

The Newly Discovered Theater at Herodium

Our next stop we explored another of Herod the Great's desert fortress-palaces called Herodium. Herod hollowed out a mountain, smoothed off the sides, and built a circular fortress with huge towers and defensive walls. Down below he built an expansive luxury complex surrounding an impossibly huge swimming pool! Most recently archaeologists discovered that Herod chose Herodium as his final resting place, uncovering a huge sarcophagus, a towering mausoleum, and a buried theater. It is fascinating to see archaeology bringing history to light before our very eyes ...

 Reflecting on True Authority and Power in the Herodium Synagogue

Reflecting on True Authority and Power in the Herodium Synagogue

As we sat in Herod's banquet hall which the Zealots converted into a synagogue we read the account of Herod's slaughter of the innocents in nearby Bethlehem. We couldn't help but contrast Herod's understanding of authority and exercise of power with Jesus of Nazareth. In the end all Herod's glory crumbled and disappeared under dirt and rubble, whereas the movement Jesus started has grown and multiplied for twenty centuries!

 Herod's Lower Palace at Herodium

Herod's Lower Palace at Herodium

Day 1: Jesus' World

Today we began with quiet time for Scripture reading and prayer journaling, followed by another fantastic breakfast buffet. We ate enthusiastically, fortifying ourselves for the challenge of walking the streets of the Old City and climbing the Mount of Olives. The combination of great fresh food and lots of exercises makes The Footsteps of Jesus Experience double as a membership at the gym!

 Another Delicious Breakfast to Start the Day!

Another Delicious Breakfast to Start the Day!

Then we headed out for an overview of Jerusalem and some reflection on the world in which Jesus lived, particularly the temporal and religious leaders of his time. Overlooking the remains of the massive Temple Mount which Herod dramatically expanded, we considered how different the authority and power of Herod, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees was compared to Jesus' authority and power. 

 Walking through the Kidron Valley next to Absolom's Pillar

Walking through the Kidron Valley next to Absolom's Pillar

We headed out of the city walls through the aptly named Dung Gate and walked around the southeast end of the Temple Mount, dropping into the dramatic Kidron Valley. Passing by the mis-named Tombs of the Prophets we noted that Jesus and the disciples would have passed these monuments as well on their walk from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane. 

 The Dome of the Rock as seen from the Mount of Olives

The Dome of the Rock as seen from the Mount of Olives

Crossing the Kidron Valley we began to make our way up the western slope of the Mount of Olives, passing by the Garden of Gethsemane. As we made the arduous climb the city of Jerusalem began to spread out before us. Sitting under some fir trees in the courtyard of the ancient Dominus Flevit Church we contemplated the Temple Mount, built over the peak of Mount Moriah, also called Mount Zion. As we worshiped and read the account of Abraham bringing his only son here to sacrifice him we couldn't help but consider how the God who offered oneness to Abraham in Covenant also offered his son on a nearby rock called Golgotha.

 Worshiping on the Mount of Olives

Worshiping on the Mount of Olives

Making our way back down into the Kidron Valley and back into the Old City through St. Stephen's Gate we followed the Via Dolorosa to a favorite restaurant where we enjoyed lunch and cooled off with delicious lemon and mint iced drinks. As the group went back to the Lutheran Guesthouse to rest, Pam and I went shopping for lunch the next day ....

 Pam Picking Out Fruit and Veggies in the Ancient Crusader Market

Pam Picking Out Fruit and Veggies in the Ancient Crusader Market

With a clearer picture of the religious leaders of Jesus' time we look forward to our continued exploration of the world of Jesus tomorrow!

Day 0: The Group Gathers

As the members of our group of pilgrims were either getting settled in or en route to the Old City of Jerusalem, Pam and I set our with our dear friends Malcolm and Cheryl Potts to explore the Judean hill country south of Jerusalem. Our first challenge of the day was a malfunctioning security code in the rental car which set us back about 45 minutes, but once that was sorted out we headed to a small village in the Palestinian Territory south of Bethlehem to visit the so-called "Solomon's Pools." In the Holy Land anything old and impressive is usually attributed to Solomon at some point whether or not he had anything to do with it!

 Massive Water Storage Pool Built by Herod the Great

Massive Water Storage Pool Built by Herod the Great

In fact these massive pools were built by Herod the Great as part of his ingenious plan to supply water to the growing population of Jerusalem. Since there is only one spring to supply water in the Holy City, Herod's engineers built these water storage pools which were fed by local springs and then the water was directed to Jerusalem some 14 miles away via elaborate aqueducts spanning the hilly territory. After visiting the pools and exploring the aqueducts we enjoyed a classic Middle Eastern lunch in a huge, but empty shopping center built across from the pools, a sad testimony to the economic deprivation of the Palestinian Territories.

From there we headed further south to the ancient town of Hebron, where Abraham and Sarah made their home by the Oaks of Mamre. It was here that Abraham purchesed a plot of land that included the Cave of Machpelah, his future burial site. Ultimately his wife Sarah and his grandson Jacob were buried there and possibly the other patriarchs and matriarchs such as Isaac, Rebecca, Leah and Joseph. In ancient times the Cave of Machpelah was revered as the tomb of the patriarchs and Herod the Great built a magnificent edifice of massive cut stones surrounding it. It is of special interest because it mimics nearly exactly the design of the massive retaining walls surround Herod's Temple Mount. 

 The Tomb of the Patriarchs, The Cave of Machpelah

The Tomb of the Patriarchs, The Cave of Machpelah

Hebron is particularly tense these days because both the Muslims and the Jews lay claim to the Cave of Machpelah as a holy site. Over the centuries each community has laid claim to different parts of the enclosure and partitioned it off from the rest. The result is that the spacious, open air shrine that Herod built has become a compartmentalized maze of religious territorialism. Since it was Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, we were not allowed to enter the Jewish side so only got to visit the Muslim side. While were visiting the mosque a young Muslim man told us the tragic story of a madman who killed 29 people there in 1994.

 Inside the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron

Inside the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron

From Hebron we drove north to Wadi Kelt, the deep ravine that runs from Jericho into the Judean dessert. It is the route follwed by the Roman road from Jerusalem and the setting for Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan. There is an ancient spring there which Herod the Great utilized to bring water to his palace in Jericho. Since this is the area where Jesus spent forty days fasting in the desert and this spring is the only water source for many miles in every direction, it is almost certain that Jesus spent his time of temptation in the area of this spring and came here for water.

 The Spring in Wadi Kelt

The Spring in Wadi Kelt

We decided to drive down a very steep and deeply rutted road that drops into the wadi and discovered that it leads down near the spring! After a 15 minute hike I discovered this amazing little oasis in the midst of the harsh desert, a reminder of how the Father provides for us in our times of testing and temptation. A flock of sheep blocked my way on the return hike and I had to wade through my new wolly friends to get back to the car!

 Desert Sheep on the Trail to the Wadi Kelt Spring

Desert Sheep on the Trail to the Wadi Kelt Spring

That evening the final member of our group arrived and we enjoyed our first dinner together as we officially began our  The Footsteps of Jesus Experience! After dinner we took an evening stroll down to the Western Wall and joined the various Jewish worshipers by praying at the massive stones of the ancient retaining wall of  Herod's Temple Mount. The spiritual adventure has begun ... thanks for joining us!