“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.
I am going to go ahead and throw in a disclaimer here. When I talk about Israel, I am going to be referencing the Bible quite a bit. The entire country is covered in significant places the Bible makes mention of. The majority of tours visiting Israel revolve around religious sites for Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. Travelers visit from all over the world just to hear, see and touch the places where Jesus, the disciples, Mary Magdalene, Paul and other historical figures walked, slept, ate, performed miracles, held gatherings, etc. To keep Scripture hidden, would be to hide Israel.
I had the opportunity to visit my friends, Shane and Becky Boettcher, in the city of Tiberius. (If you want to know more about the Boettcher’s story and why they are in Israel, please see my previous blog post entitled “Introducing The Boettcher Clan”. ) Tiberius has a population of approximately 45,000 people. This steep, hillside city is located in the northern part of Israel along the Sea of Galilee. It is considered one of the four Jewish Holy Cities along with Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed. It is speculated when Jesus was giving the Sermon on the Mount and said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt 5:14 ESV), he was facing the currently known city of Tiberius.
The Sea of Galilee. My first impression of the Sea of Galilee was, “Wow. That is a lot smaller than I imagined it to be.” Since the body of water is basically one large circle, land can be seen with the naked eye, shore to shore. This Midwest Wisconsin girl is used to tree covered islands or inlets where rivers flow in and out of our 15,000+ lakes. (You read that correctly Minnesotans, we Wisconsinites have more lakes than you do. Sorry to brag.) But the Sea of Galilee sits out in the open and as you crest the hill of Tiberius, the entire sea is available for your viewing pleasure.
Big deal, a large body of water. What is so special about that? Scripture is what makes it special. During Jesus’s assumed three-year ministry, his main headquarters were in Capernaum which is located north of Tiberius along the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee shows up in a great number of stories throughout the Bible, especially the New Testament. It was this body of water where Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John left their lucrative business of fishing to follow Jesus (google Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20 or Luke 5:1-11). It was here Jesus multiplied only five loaves of bread and two fish to feed five thousand men as well as women and children (search for Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17 or John 6:5-15). And it was on the Sea of Galilee the disciples were in a boat, caught in a violent storm, that Jesus literally walked upon the water to meet them and called Simon Peter to walk upon the water as well (visit Matthew 14:22-35, Mark 6:45-56 or John 6:16-21). These are just a few examples; and you thought Harry Potter was a good series. Try reading the incredible adventures of Jesus and his disciples sometime. This is just barely scratching the surface.
Side note about me: I am backwards. Reading history or destinations from books does not get me interested to visit a site. But visiting a site gets me more interested to read more about what I have seen. Therefore, I tend to know nothing about something while I am standing in front of it. It is later that the information sinks in for me to understand the big picture. Growing up in a Christian home, I have known stories of the Sea of Galilee. But to take the physical picture and now reread the details of the stories is to comprehend with entirely new eyes.
During my first full day in Tiberius, Becky and the kids took me swimming in the surprisingly warm Sea of Galilee. We went across the body of water where we could view the “City on a Hill” that Jesus may have been referencing. Also, I learned if you swim from the beaches near Tiberius, little fish bite nibble on the dead skin from your legs and feet. (Do not freak out, people pay good money at a spa for this service but visit Israel and it can be included in your stay!) But across the sea, no little fishys nibbling.
A few days later near Ginosar, we viewed a 2000 year old boat, known as the “Jesus Boat”, which had been excavated from the mud and muck of the Sea of Galilee in the mid-1980’s. It is now housed in a museum with fascinating, easy-to-read descriptions of how it was discovered, transferred, dated and preserved to its current location. It is an incredible piece of history with mystery behind it. Who owned the boat? Could Jesus or a disciple have ridden in it at one time? How did it end up getting left behind?
This is also where we boarded a worship boat. What is a worship boat?!? These beautiful, wooden boats are taken out onto Galilee to simply experience the Biblical body of water. They also can be rented by tour groups for praise and worship in song and/or dance. Becky, Abel and I had the opportunity to join a small tour group as we sailed south along the calm water from Ginosar to the harbor of Tiberius. While I did not experience any precipitation during my time in Tiberius or the Sea of Galilee, I could imagine the moment the rains stopped, winds died and the waves ceased when Jesus commanded the storm, “Peace be still.”
One more thing to note about the Sea of Galilee: the famous Jordan River feeds the sea through natural, underground springs that runs north to south. This is the very same Jordan River where John the Baptist baptized believers as well as Jesus. Many baptisms still happen today in the Jordan River just outside of Tiberius. The river is a clear, icy blue color and yet, still fairly warm to the touch. I expected the river to be murky and a bit dirty, but it is not. It is incredibly beautiful.
The song “Oceans” by Hillsong has been the cry of my heart from the very moment this journey was spoken into my heart. To sit in a boat on the Sea of Galilee where Simon Peter was called to literally walk upon the water with Jesus was a special moment for me personally.
Spirit lead me where my trust is without bordersLet me walk upon the watersWherever you would call meTake me deeper than my feet could ever waterAnd my faith would be made strongerIn the presence of my Savior
Follow this link to see Hillsong perform “Oceans” live in one of the worship boats on the Sea of Galilee: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M9GcyHpptMk
Additional side note: I have so much more to share regarding Israel. But will be diverting to talk about Armenia first and will come back to Israel. God-willing, it will all make sense in the end.