We are getting to know this Galilean seaside town fairly well. We have been here only five days but we feel very much at home. Each day we have taken in more and more of the unique sites that are associated with the Bible, most with the ministry of Jesus. This morning we drove to a small kibutz (communal settlement) located just where the Jordan River leaves the Sea of Galilee and begins its long journey to the Dead Sea. In fact, the Jordan River twists and turns its way south so greatly that the distance it travels, as the crow flies, is only some 65 miles. But the actual distance covered by its meandering course is over 200 miles. Within just a stone’s throw of where it leaves the Sea is the little community called Yardinet. Those who have been to Israel on tours will know this place as the location of the site for those who want to baptized in the Jordan River (as Jesus was baptized). It is not certain that Jesus was baptized here in this area but there are some who try to make a case for it. Either way, this place is in a beautiful location and has been constructed in such a way as to make public baptisms a very easy and sacred event. There are several small and personal meeting places where a group can gather, pray, sing and watch their members be baptized by their leader. Two years ago I was the only pastor on our tour group that came here, so I was appointed as the baptizer. It was a wonderful opportunity to speak to the group of about 35 people about the importance of identifying with Christ through the rite of baptism and assisting about a dozen or more of our group to accomplish their desire to be baptized in the manner and place of our Savior. There are changing rooms, video cameras that automatically record each baptism so that each participant can have a record of the event, a gift shop to browse in and everything to make this a pleasant and memorable occasion.
We then drove to the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee to visit the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes. Obviously, with a name this long this was built to commemorate the feeding of the 5,000, the only miracle of Jesus (besides the resurrection) that is found in all four of the gospels. The more modern church was built over a 5th Century Byzantine church with some beautiful mosaics that are in an amazing state of preservation. I think the feeding took place on the NE corner of the Sea as opposed to this location, according to the way the gospels describe it. But they try to make a case for that location by saying that there were two such miraculous feedings (that is true) but I think they still got it in the wrong place. Whatever…….!
The other church we visited is called the Church of the Beatitudes which sits high on a hill overlooking the Sea. It is so called because it is thought that in this spot Jesus gave his famous Sermon on the Mount which begins with his blessings or “beatitudes.” Whether they got the right spot for this or not, I must say one thing—this place is one of the most beautiful spots in the world with its manicured gardens of flowers and plants, its walkways, its many types of trees and bushes—they must have a full time gardener taking care of this place. It is a delightful place and if you look around you will see that it is one of the most imposing spots on a high hill overlooking the sea, so it fits the description of the gospel narratives. The church is small but all around are quotes from the beatitudes. So it is a must visit for everyone who believes the Bible and wants a little inspiration to send him on his way.
Tomorrow we leave Tiberias and head south toward Masada, En Gedi, and the Dead Sea. But before we get there we will visit an archaeological excavation taking place not far from here that is just on our way. Our visit is made possible by a friend who was reading our blog and offered us the opportunity to meet the director of the dig and get a tour around. I’ll tell you about that later.
Bud & Kathy
Bud and Kathy Downs are making another trip to the Lands of the Bible-- first Turkey and Greece (from May 11 to 22) and then to Israel (from May 22 to June 8). We invite you to join us through our travel blog. We intend to post regular updates and pictures of Bible sites.