On this rock I will build my church
We spent our day north of the Sea of Galilee in the region called Golan Heights, the area of Israel closest to Syria and Lebanon. Our first stop was Qatzrin, an ancient Talmudic village that lived under Jewish Law. Here we learned about the Jewish culture of patri-local living where extended families lived next to and around each other sharing common spaces and resources. As one generation would grow and marry, they would build a new house around the patriarch’s house. In one example of this type of patri-local house within Qatzrin, we read Mark 2:1-12, the story of Jesus healing the paralytic. The biblical story is set in a similar house that is over-crowded with people listening to Jesus teach. As Jesus is teaching, four men are trying to get in through a door with their paralytic friend so that they can set him at the feet of Jesus to be healed but it is too crowded and so they decide to open up the roof and lower their friend down to Jesus from above. As we read this story, sitting in a small home that dates back near to the time of Jesus, we reflect on what it must have been like to be these men standing amongst Jesus and seeing this man forgiven and healed. Wes asked a convicting question after we read through the story, “What am I doing to bring my friends to the feet of Jesus?” These men had such faith in Jesus’s healing power that they literally tore the roof open to get their friend to him. They were desperate to save their friend; are we desperate to save ours?
The ancient Jewish farming village of Katzrin was built around a spring, which still flows. Although there were standing ruins on the site, archaeological excavations have increased the number of accessible ancient buildings. An ancient synagogue was discovered in 1967 and excavated between 1971 and 1984. Other parts of the village were excavated beginning in 1983. Some of the buildings have been reconstructed on their ancient foundations and furnished with replicas of household goods and tools
Our next stop was Caesarea Philippi, a place where the Caananites worshiped their God Baal and later the Romans worshiped Greek Gods such as, Zeus, Pan, Echo, Nymph, etc. It was seen by some pagan worshippers as a conduit to the underworld, and was thus known at the time as the “gates of hell”. It was here that there were shrines and pagan worship of Pan, who was depicted as half man, half goat and was the Greek God of sheep herders, fertility and spiritual possession. We learned of some of the awful pagan practices that were committed here as a form of worship to entice the Gods out of their home in the underworld. But God brings light to the darkest of places.
We then read Matthew 16:13-19
“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
To stand before the “gates of hell” where pagan worshippers gave the best of themselves, of their money, of their energy and to hear Christ’s promise that “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” was chilling. Here, two thousand years later, these shrines to Baal and Pan are in ruins, the pagan worshippers long gone but we, the body of Jesus’s church, are here. In our fallen world, it is a reminder that the only investment we can make here on this earth that is eternal and lasts is in Jesus Christ.
This abundant water supply has made the area very fertile and attractive for religious worship. Numerous temples were built at this city in the Hellenistic and Roman periods.
After this lesson we spent an hour hiking from one part of the national park to the other through the hills and streams that feed the Jordan River. It was at this point where the rain started in and our hike was mostly silent as people did their best to minimize the surface area of mud on their boots and pants. Though the rain was annoying to us tourists, it is helpful to sit and reflect about how life-giving the water and rain is to this area and the people who have lived here for thousands of years. At the end of our hike we came upon a series of waterfalls that was worth the cold and wet journey. One commented that we could have been hiking in the American Ozark because the scenery felt so familiar.
Our last stop of the day was at Tel Dan, which is located at the northern most part of Israel, just a few hundred feet from the Lebanese border. Being here brought meaning to the biblical phrase from “Dan to Beersheba” or from the North to the South of the Israeli promise land.
We end today excited to take hot showers and put on dry clothes and celebrate the New Year! We will end 2015 with a fresh perspective on Jesus building his church on solid rock where the gates of hell will not prevail and thankful for this experience to see some of the places where God gave us his word.
Happy New Years friends and family!
On the northern frontier of the kingdom, Dan was particularly well fortified. This gatehouse was built in the ninth century BCE, probably by Ahab, and is part of a series of gateways discovered.