Dear reader, won’t you browse through PART 1 of HOW HOLY IS THE HOLY LAND? It will really help with understanding the question and picking up the threads of our Israel experience just a few weeks ago…
The third broad paint brush stroke on the canvas of our Israel impressions just recently would be that of Jesus’ humanity and divinity (which historically and scripturally are probably impossible to separate, in my mind anyway).
From this point of view our Galilean and Jordan River experience were very ‘special’ (‘holy’) indeed. The excitement built up as we drove through Cana, the site of Jesus’ first miracle, then north to Tel Dan bordering Lebanon and Syria, then south along the Golan Heights to the high escarpment of Gamla where we caught sight of Griffon vultures circling in the clear sky and more importantly the Sea of Galilee in the hazy distance. Eventually, really tired due to much walking in terrible heat (for us from temperate Port Elizabeth), we arrived at the hotel, literally on Galilee – our bedroom about 10 metres from the water-side! Following a refreshing swim in the lake, a good night’s rest and a delicious fruit breakfast the next morning, we boarded a boat to take us across Galilee and explore some of the areas around the lake mentioned so often in the Gospel records. [on board the boat the crew played Nkosi Sikilela over the loudspeaker and waved the S.A. flag – yours truly temporarily lost his mind and proceeded to do a Zulu-dance-cum-Madiba-shuffle, much to the merriment of the onlookers and his personal embarassment at getting so carried away!]
Talking in our little groups, Melanie and I and others marvelled at Jesus’ toughness and commitment in walking these distances, from hilly Nazareth in the south-west to Galilee and surrounds in the north-east, down the Jordan River area, etc. Ok, Israel is tiny and distances small, but his feet must have been pretty gnarled and worn from covering uphill and downhill, along rough pathways and narrow roadways, to accomplish his mission: the calling of his disciples and teaching the gathering crowds the essential message of the Kingdom. How we huffed and puffed in the heat and rubbed our sore feet at night, even with the benefit of good walking shoes to get from site to site!
Call it sentimental (I beg to differ humbly with the great preacher, Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, who saw little or no place for sentimentality in the Christian life: to my way of thinking it’s just part and parcel of life on earth, as ordinary and yet complex human beings), but somehow one was particularly aware, perhaps even mystically, of Jesus’ reality and nearness in the largely unspoilt Galilean countryside. On our return from Israel I popped in at the office of our previous congregation in Port Elizabeth, and was greeted by enthusiastic questions about our Israeli experience. Sue related how, about a year before her coming to South Africa from the UK to be married (quite a few years ago now), she and her husband-to-be had spent time working on a kibbutz. At the time she was a definite non-believer and Dave a nominal believer. But as they sometimes sat chatting by the fire-side on the shores of Galilee, Sue thought to herself, ‘Yeh, it could all be true. I can ‘see’ Jesus walking by the lake-side and even on the water! Yeh, it really seems possible,’ or thoughts to that effect. We had the same feeling recently, much more intensely perhaps because of our many years of trying to follow the Carpenter.
And so we visited Capernaum, Peter’s home village, and the surrounds which included the beautiful Mt. of Beatitudes, with the brown rolling hills meeting the aquamarine water’s edge, and colourful pink bougainvillea blossoms framing some of the scenes. Under the trees I ventured to ask our very inter-generational group, just how do we live the Beatitudes? History is replete with examples of famous Christians who acknowledged their utter failure in this regard. Might it just be possible by a daily surrender to the indwelling Christ? Is it perhaps only by faith in him? [personal comment: in a day when some Christians seem to be engrossed in returning to Mt. Sinai and the Ten Commandments, why are we not giving the same attention to Jesus and his teaching on another Mount beside Galilee? (Mt. 5-7)] Then at Ginosar museum we saw the 2000-year-old fishing boat, miraculously recovered from a Galilean beach and carefully (and scientifically) restored for visitors to view, a sample of the boats Jesus would have used for teaching the crowds and calling those first fishermen to follow him.
Further down the Jordan River we stopped for John our leader to baptise Leigh-Anne, and Dan a youth pastor (who could easily have been mistaken for one of those American pictures of Jesus with blue eyes and golden locks) to baptise Ryan, in another ‘special’ (‘holy’) moment as they professed Christ as Lord. We witnessed, applauded, sang and hugged!
‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild?’ Undoubtedly. And yet the Jesus of the Bible should also make us shiver, especially if we are in that most dangerous place for a Christian to be in, viz. one of safety and comfort. In his ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis relates how Lucy is about to meet Aslan, the lion, and she asks, ‘Is–is he a man?’ ‘Aslan a man!’ said Mr. Beaver sternly. ‘Certainly not. I tell you he is King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion — the Lion, the great Lion. ‘Ooh!’ said Susan, ‘I’d thought he was a man. Is he — quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.’ ‘That you will, dearie, and no mistake,’ said Mrs. Beaver; ‘if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.’ ‘Then he isn’t safe?’ said Lucy. ‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you!’
When Peter saw the miraculous catch of fish after following Jesus’ instructions as to where to let down their nets after fishing all night without a catch, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.’ So they pulled their boats up on the short, left everything and followed him (Lk. 5:1-11).
[PART 3 will follow soon]