Falling Into The Bible, Part 5: The Sea of Galilee
- Wednesday, October 23, 2002
I thought I would never see a more beautiful body of water than that of the dark blue Mediterranean Sea. That is, until the following day when we arrived at our hotel in Tiberius, located on the shore of Galilee.
As I stood on my fourth floor balcony, overlooking the place where Jesus had once walked, and had called fishermen to follow Him, and had slept exhausted in a boat during a raging storm -- I found myself completely captivated by this large body of water that is more lake than sea and more history than mere landmark.
It was our second night in Israel and my body was totally out of whack. We'd landed at five the afternoon before with a firm word, "Don't take a nap." We had dinner that evening, then went back to our Tel Aviv hotel, where I'd slept like Adam undergoing Divine Surgery.
But Night Two and I was clueless as to what time it really was. Two hours into what became a nap and I was wide-awake. There was little on television (at least, in English) and so, with nothing else to do, I opened the sliding glass doors to the balcony, made myself comfortable with my Bible and my yellowed copy of God Calling, and settled in for some one-on-one time with God.
As I looked up from my reading I couldn't help but notice the dark outline of the Golan Heights rising above the water. I thought a lot about David and the words he penned about the hillsides and skies of Israel. I stood and leaned over the balcony, studying the shoreline, wondering if this could have been the place where Jesus first saw Peter and Andrew...James and John. "Follow me," He said. And just like that they went.
The sun began to rise, as majestic a view as anything I'd ever seen growing up on the coast of Georgia. I flipped to Psalm 19:5 in my Bible and read out loud, "In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course."
For the most part, the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Sea of Chinnereth in Numbers and Joshua, Lake of Gennesareth in Luke, and the Sea of Tiberius in John) is a calm, "harp shaped" (Chinnereth, in Hebrew, mean harp) body of fresh water that is no more than 13 miles wide and 7 miles long. The Jordan River literally runs right through it, entering in the north and exiting in the south as it makes its way toward the Dead Sea.
Because it appears to sit in a bowl or basin, the calm waters can be whipped to a frenzy by winds as they come through the mountains that surround it. These waters are chock-full of fish and, in the days of Jesus, the cities and area that surrounded it were densely populated. Most of Jesus' ministry took place in the region known as Galilee, near the Sea, and among the people who spoke in a rough and guttural tongue and who-according to Josephus-inhabited 204 cities and villages, the smallest of which held 15,000 citizens.
Learning more about Galilee and what took place there is paramount (or should be) for the modern Christian. It was in Galilee that Jesus grew up, called His disciples (they were all Galileans), preached, performed His first and His last miracles (as well as 23 significant other miracles), and cooked breakfast for His disciples after His death, burial and resurrection.
Shortly after His time in the desert, just after His baptism and just before His ministry began, Jesus went to Galilee to call those He would spend the next three-and-a-half years with in intimate travel.
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. ~~ Matthew 4:18-22
It didn't take long before crowds were following Jesus everywhere He went. He gave the Sermon on the Mount (in Galilee) to a large number of people. They brought their sick, their demon-possessed, and those who were hungry to hear the Word of the Lord, and by this time, He was physically exhausted. Needing some "down time," he slipped into a boat along with his disciples and promptly fell into a deep sleep.
Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!" He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!" ~~Matthew 8:24-27
Just after this, Jesus called Matthew the Tax Collector to follow Him, endured criticism for dining with "tax collectors and sinners" (Matthew 9:11), answered detailed questions from the masses about the Law and grace, healed more of the sick, raised a young girl from the dead, preached continuously, heard that His mother, sisters and brothers were concerned and wanted to speak to Him, began to teach in parables, learned that John the Baptist had been beheaded at the whim of the step-daughter of Herod Antipas, and fed five thousand men (not including women and children) with five loaves and two fish (and still had leftovers).
Once again, exhausted, He needed some down time.
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." "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. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." ~~Matthew 14:22-33
I wish I could find a word to describe the color of the Sea of Galilee, but I cannot. It is a color of blue that's more brilliant than royal blue and more heraldic than azure blue.
It was with great anticipation that our tour group boarded a "Jesus Boat" that took us out into the middle of the Sea of Galilee, toward the (as team member Rebekah called them) blushing Golan Heights. We leaned over the bow and looked into the water, excited to know that in this very place the disciples had fished, the Lord had preached, and slept, and walked. As Rebekah began to tell the story of Jesus' trek on water, the wind began to whip just a bit and the ripples of waves began to crest enough to cause our tour guide, Miriam, to pretend speaking into a phone and say, "Cue the waves." What a moment!
So much can be learned just from the three short stories of what took place at the Sea of Galilee mentioned above. When Jesus called the first four disciples, He was in affect saying to them, "I will take what you do now and show you how you can use it for the Kingdom of God." These men understood the dynamic of fishing. Taking those dynamics, Jesus introduced the dynamics of ministry to them.
I am fascinated by the fact that these four men left immediately to follow Jesus. It occurs to me that He would have recently come out of 40 days and nights in the desert with His Father, would have just been victorious in "The Temptation," and would have then been tended by angels.
Can you imagine the glory that must have surrounded Him? No wonder they "jumped ship and ran." But I also wonder what Zebedee must have thought. Can't you hear him calling after his sons, "Have you lost your minds? Did someone ring the dinner bell? Get back in that boat, boys, and fish!" Yet, in spite of what and who they would have to leave behind, they followed Christ.
I am equally touched by the second story. In life and in ministry we endure storms and stormy situations that seem hopeless. Yet while we panic, Jesus sleeps, undisturbed by the circumstance. All it took was calling out to Him, a few words from Him, and the storm was over. Amazingly, the disciples seemed both stunned and unsure as to what had happened and who He was.
In the third story (a favorite for anyone who has studied the life and ministry of Peter), I quickly call to mind my little nickname for Peter. "Impetuous Pete." Yet I am also reminded that while Peter didn't have enough faith to stay afloat on his feet, he did have enough faith to get out of the boat and walk toward the Savior.
Would I? Would you? Or would we have simply held on to the side of the boat for dear life? Would we have even been in the boat? Would we have followed Him so readily, being willing to leave our lives, family, friends, and earthly work behind?
And this is part of what I learned when I fell into the Bible.
Photo by Eva Marie Everson. Eva Marie Everson is the author of Shadow of Dreams & Summon the Shadows and is an award-winning national speaker. She can be contacted at Bridegroomsbride@aol.com
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