This morning we toured the sobering Holocaust museum, called Yad Vashem.
The Hebrew words Yad Vashem means, “a hand and a name,” an idiom from Isaiah 56:5 that refers to a memorial.
Every time I go to the museum, I visit the “Row of Righteous Gentiles.” A row of trees planted in dedication to individuals like Corrie Ten Boom, Oskar Schindler, and many others, honors those Gentiles who risked their lives by sheltering and helping the Jews during a time when few did.
This part of the Jordan River has seen significant transitions in Israel’s history. Amazingly, the waters of the river parted here:
For Joshua, as Israel entered the Promised Land for the first time.
For Elijah and Elisha, as Israel prepared to leave the land in Exile.
For Jesus, the sky parted (not the river) at His baptism.
All in this same place!
The transitions that occurred there were sometimes national—as with Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and John and Jesus. But the area also had its personal transitions—even conversions—as in the cases of Rahab, Naaman, Zaccheus, and Bartimaeus.
Be they national or personal transitions—or both—any new beginning also requires an ending. It requires leaving one shore and crossing the river for another.
While in Jerusalem, I like to ponder the psalms that the pilgrims of old would recite from memory as they came “up” to Jerusalem for the annual feasts.
These Psalms of Ascents (Psalms 120-134) stirred up critical reminders of basic themes in a believer’s life. Reminders of faith, forgiveness, family, children, peace, hope, brotherhood, sacrifice, and right attitudes toward God and people. Indeed we need to hear these themes often.
Built into the first-century Jewish culture was the necessity of reminders and repetition—the need of rehearsing truth when the Roman world around them countered God’s Word at every step.
During the reign of King Saul, the Philistines controlled Beth-shan. The army of Israel fought the Philistines on nearby Mount Gilboa, and King Saul and his sons were killed. Their bodies hung in effigy on the walls of nearby Beth-shan until Hebrews from Jabesh-gilead recovered them (1 Samuel 31).
As our entire tour group sat in the theater today, Reg Grant portrayed one of these brave Hebrews who reclaimed Saul’s body from the wall. Chuck Swindoll gave a message on King Saul, which challenged each of us to evaluate our lives for spiritual erosion.
As we arrived at Caesarea Philippi today, we saw the place where archaeology has uncovered an open-air shrine above a cave from which water flows. This water forms the headwaters of the Jordan River.
Niches in the side of the cliff (still visible today) held statues of the Greek god Pan—the mythical half man, half goat who played the panpipe. We get the word “panic” from this frightful god, and it’s no small wonder! The myth says Pan once was chasing a nymph named Syrinx, who turned herself into a stand of marsh reeds. So Pan made a flute from the reeds, and that’s how the panpipe got its name—it’s also why the Walt Disney character Peter Pan plays the flute. (Sorry, kids.)
So why did we come here? Better question: why did Jesus come up here?
Jesus brought His twelve disciples all the way up to the pagan region of Banias/Caesarea Philippi to ask them the question:
Who do people say that the Son of Man is? (Matthew 16:13).
The people, of course, saw Jesus as nothing more than a good man or a moral teacher—one whom some would even call a prophet.
“But who do you say that I am?” He asked His followers. They responded that they believed He was the Messiah of God (Matthew 16:16).
The hills surrounding the Sea of Galilee frame the lake like a portrait.
Chuck taught us from the beatitudes this morning on the mount where Jesus delivered them. The Church of the Beatitudes has eight sides commemorate the eight “beatitudes” that began Jesus’ celebrated Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-10).
The hillsides are bursting with wildflowers, fresh grass, and spectacular color. The tranquil slopes tower above fruit crops and fertile fields that stretch beside the lake.
Regardless of how often I visit the Sea of Galilee, and no matter where I stand to view the picture, the subject always seems to be smiling.