Friday, February 14, 2014

Pondering the heart of the Gospel on Day 2 in Israel

I hope you all are enjoying a wonderful Valentine's day.  I know this holiday can be difficult for many people.  I'd like to encourage you if you are sad today.  Just know that you are loved with an everlasting love by the one who made you and delights in you.

I think today is the appropriate day to share the next two places I visited in Israel on my second day.  Sorry for the length of this post, but I think you will enjoy it and agree with its appropriateness for this day at its end.  After the "Mt of Beatitudes" the group headed off in our bus for a place called Tabgha.  I know you might be scratching your head just like I did when I first heard we were going there.  I thought, "Where is that and why are we going there since I don't recall reading that name in the Bible?"

As a matter of fact, it isn't named that in the Bible.  It isn't too far from Capernaum, but a boat would have made getting there a little easier.  It is what some people think of as the "lonely place" that Jesus and the disciples went to after the disciples came back from a mission trip.  Check it out in Mark 6:30-46.  In that passage you will see that it didn't stay lonely for long.  The crowd followed them and Jesus had compassion on them and started teaching them.  But, it was a "lonely" place and there were no restaurants for the crowd to go to when they got hungry.  So, Jesus performed a miracle that we today call the "feeding of the 5000."

an olive press unearthed and sitting in the forecourt of the church
The name comes from the Greek word that means seven springs.  It was changed through the ages from Heptapegon to Et Tapega to Tabgha.  Don't ask me why, as I couldn't really tell you.  It is just the way languages work over the many long years.  This area of the Sea of Galilee has seven hot springs that feed the lake and draw fish to the warmer water.  So, it was a good fishing place too.  

the very famous loaves and fishes mosaic in front of "the rock" where Jesus is said to have laid the loaves and fished
During the first four centuries of the early church the Christians in the area kept alive the memory of Jesus performing this miracle in this place.  They even said he put the five loaves and two fish on one particular rock.  So, once Constantine became a Christian in the 300's, other Christians went to the Holy Land to find Holy sites on which to build churches.  Egeria, a Christian pilgrim in the late 300's, found a church already here with an altar built over a rock.  In 450 a larger Byzantine church was built on the foundations of the earlier church.  There were many mosaics put on the walls and floor of that church.  When it was destroyed by the Persians, many of those floor mosaics remained and were eventually buried only to be discovered again in the 1930's by an archeologist.  A new church was built to protect the mosaics and other artifacts - like the olive press seen above.

This Byzantine church had some of the most beautiful mosaics of the flora and fauna of the local area.  I have chosen just a few to show you here.

The next place we went was very close to the church of the Multiplication and is also in the area called Tabgha.  We walked to the Church of St. Peter's PrimacyIt also holds a long standing tradition from the early centuries of Christianity that this is the place on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection as found in John 21.

There were some stone steps outside this church leading down to the water.  I found several in the shape of a heart.  This is part of the reason why I think it is appropriate to tell you of this place on Valentine's Day.  

They say there were six foundations of double columns shaped like a heart that were used to build a church here during Byzantine times.  Just down from these stones and the church is the Sea of Galilee.  Here we read the story of Jesus and Peter at the end of John 21.  Remember, this was a place that had many fish because of the water coming into the lake from the springs.  There should have been lots of fish for the disciples to catch.  But, they didn't catch anything all night.  Early in the morning, they saw a man on the shore with a fire and fish over it.  The man asked them if they caught any fish and when they said "no" he told them to throw their nets to the other side of the boat.  They did and caught so many fish that they couldn't bring the net into the boat because of the weight of the fish.  They realized it was Jesus and Peter jumped in the water and swam to shore.

The other disciples came to the shore in the boat dragging the full net of fish.  Jesus told them to bring some of the fish they had caught for the fire and Peter went and dragged the net ashore.  It had 153 large fish in it.  Then they all had a breakfast party right there on the beach.  They had fresh caught fish and bread and the presence of the Lord to fill them up body and soul.  

When they had eaten, Jesus began to talk with Peter and He gave him a sort of commission.  He asked Peter if he truly loved Him more than his fishing buddies (the other disciples present).  Peter replied, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."  Jesus then told him to "Feed my lambs."  I'm sure you know the rest of the story - Jesus asked Peter three times variations of the question "Do you truly love me?"  and three times Peter answered "yes" with varying degrees of exasperation.  Jesus commands him to "Feed my lambs", "Take care of my sheep", and "Feed my sheep" after each affirmation from Peter that he does indeed love Jesus more than anything.

After reading this passage, we were given time to visit the church.  I joined others in walking to the shore and putting my hand in the water - just because I was there and could do it.  I decided to just sit a while and listen to the waves come to shore and to reflect on what Jesus was asking of Peter.  In a way, this was Peter's chance to wipe away his three denials of Jesus with three confessions of Jesus.  It is a picture of forgiveness and grace.  Not only did he deny Jesus, but Jesus is telling him to do the work of the church by telling him to Feed his sheep. 

It seems to me there is something of the heart of the Gospel in this story - not just for Peter, but for us.  What is the Gospel?  The good news that God has redeemed us for himself and no longer calls us "sinner" but "child."  What are we to do?  First and foremost, we are to truly love Jesus more than anyone or anything else.  We are disciples of Jesus if we know and love Jesus and are known and loved by Him - in other words, if we are His sheep.  Once we have our relationship to Him figured out or at least in process, then we can in turn feed others with the amazing good news of the Gospel.

Imagine yourself listening to the waves break on the shore.  Imagine being filled up body and soul with good food and the presence of Jesus.  Imagine Him asking you, "your name here, do you truly love me?"  How will you answer?  Is there anything or anyone that is standing in the way of you saying, "yes, Lord, I love you!"?  If you say, "yes", be prepared for Him to tell you to feed His lambs.  How will you do that?  What are some ways that you know you love Him and He loves you?  How can you tell those stories so that you are helping the Holy Spirit fill someone else up body and soul with the love that Jesus has for them?

What do you think of my idea that there is something of the heart of the Gospel in this story?  I just thought on the day we remember love it would be good to also think of the heart of love that God showed to us in Jesus.


  1. Monica McAtee2/18/14, 12:16 AM

    A wonderful message for Valentine's Day Lynn! Such a great day to remember the greatest love of all-John 3:16!
    Thank you for sharing your expereince and pictures...I really enjoy them.