The Bitter and the Sweet
Our morning began with a leisurely ride and our first daytime views of the Sea of Galilee. As we passed through the beauty of the cool morning, some of us were hoping to catch a glimpse through our bus windows of local hyraxes sunning on the rocks as we passed by fields of mango and banana trees dotting the hillside.
Our first stop was the Ancient Galilee Boat Museum to see a 2,000-year-old fishing boat preserved by the mud of the Sea of Galilee. This is sometimes called the “Jesus Boat,” as it may have been the same type that Jesus or His disciples used.
As the blessing of more rain gently poured out from above, we gathered for a ride on the slightly choppy Sea of Galilee. We could imagine the disciples in a much stronger storm being frightened and awaking Jesus who would remind them of their lack of faith and instantly calm the waters. Of course, the disciples were in shock, just beginning to see the eternal might of their precious rabbi, leader, and friend.
After the U.S. and Canadian anthems were sung, Roxanne Lightfoot, administrative assistant to Executive Director Jim Showers, sang “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem. Roxanne and Jim reminded us of the need to keep our eyes on Christ and trust Him in the storms of life that we all must face. Isaiah 41:13 and Proverbs 3:5–6 bolstered our faith, as we sang hymns to our Lord and Savior who spent most of His known ministry in this Galilee region. There was a deep spiritual sweetness to much of the morning, which culminated in joyous dancing to “Hava Nagila” as our boat bounced happily along the waves back to shore.
Our return to the Golan Heights on our way to lunch took us by abandoned military bases, deadly minefields behind miles of fences, and other reminders of the attacks brought upon modern Israel by its neighbors. A quick leg-stretch at a roadside vantage point above an active UN observation base offered our first view of Syria and the modern border challenges that began with the Six-Day War and Yom Kippur War and continue to this day. It is strange for most of us to see such lush pastoral beauty where Jesus once walked now peppered with reminders of modern man’s ability to wage war and destruction.
Our lunch break in the Druze village of Mas’ade offered many tables adorned with plentiful and colorful salads with kabobs. A few of us opted for Turkish coffee and baklava, a reminder of the bitter and the sweet. Heading now toward Caesarea Philippi, we passed Mount Hermon and traveled south on a road to Damascus, part of the same Sea Highway we visited on our first day in Joppa. This is likely part of the same road along which Paul once traveled and had a miraculous and transformative encounter with the Lord.
The rain stopped while we next toured Caesarea Philippi. As recorded in Matthew 16, here Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” It was in this area, well-known for pagan idol worship and other ungodly practices, that Peter would begin to declare aloud that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Today, as we heard this reminder of our great hope, set against the backdrop of cliffside pagan remains, it is reassuring to learn that Jesus promised Peter that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church.
Some scholars theorize that the pagan spring at the foot of the cliff, which also was once a pagan temple, may have been known as the gates of hell, and that of which Jesus may have been speaking. But we also know that the real gates of hell will not prevail against His church. Our hope is built not on fallen idols but on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
We would further celebrate this hope at the Yardenit Baptismal Site at the Jordan River! Great testimony and joy abounded as a dozen of us robed up, waded in the water, and made a public affirmation of belief in Jesus as Christ, Lord, and Savior. What could be a better way to end our afternoon?
Our evening would soon begin at a special dinner at the Lido Decks Pagoda in the ancient city of Tiberias. This meal made an average Thanksgiving dinner look like a light snack! With food served family-style in true Middle Eastern tradition, we started with organic soup and salad; a huge fried onion appetizer; a family-sized pita with fresh, authentic hummus; a smoky grilled salmon; beef sirloin; lamb ribs; sweet potato; sweet and sour chicken with fried rice; and, finally, dessert kabobs of fried dates and bananas.
I guess it was O.K.
And by O.K. I mean Oh-my-this-Kitchen-is-amazing!
We’ve now returned to Ramot Resort, beginning our second night here. Under a dark sky, the twinkling lights of Migdal and Tiberias smile at us from across the Galilee. As we look back on the last two days with tired legs and happy hearts, we can remember here in the quiet of this night how the sweet story of salvation has triumphed forever over the darkness within our own hearts.
Although deadly battles and tensions between Israel and other nations have continued throughout the millennia and even today, we know that there is only one Kingdom that truly matters. And by His grace, mercy, and lovingkindness, the battle belongs to the Lord; and we can rest in Him tonight, now, and forever.
Blog author: David Lightfoot
Photos: Roxanne Lightfoot
Administrative Assistant to the Executive Director
The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry