Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | March 18, 2009

Galilee | Day 3

This post is a continuation of the events of March 13. What follows are a few quick reflections on the places we visited as we continued our hike through Galilee.

The Unrestrained | Our first hike of the afternoon took us to the top of a hill west of the Jordan River. What we saw when we reached the top took our breath away. Below us were the ruins of Beth She’an, the only city of the Decapolis located west of the Jordan River. I must add that these were impressive ruins — the evidence of a master-planned community, complete with all of the amenities of life. The people of Beth She’an enjoyed an unrestrained, self-indulgent, and comfortable lifestyle. They had a gymnasium, theatre, sports arena, upscale shopping, good schools, and magnificent temples. Even the public toilets were more extravagant than any of the ruins we saw at other locations in Galilee. Life in Beth She’an was obviously good.

The Ruins of Beth She’an

The ruins of Beth She’an are a compelling advertisement for Hellenism — a people-centered worldview that glorified human knowledge, accomplishment, and experience. Perhaps we were so impressed by what we saw because it was more like home than anything else we had seen. The heroes in Beth She’an were athletes, entertainers, and thinkers. Sounds like home to me! So, it wasn’t too difficult to imagine what life must have been like here. In fact, if you listen carefully you can still hear ancient whispers in the breeze, boasting “Who needs God when we have all this.”

Reminder | Beth She’an reminded me that it is too easy to allow all of the stuff of life to fool us into thinking that we are the measure of all things and that we have no need of God. There is perhaps no greater arrogance than adding stuff to our lives while subtracting God from our lives. That kind of math will get us into trouble. The people of Beth She’an leaned that lesson when an earthquake destroyed their magnificent city in A.D. 749 in only seven seconds. Sometimes it only takes seven seconds or an economic earthquake to remind us that we need more than stuff to survive.

The Unreached | From Beth She’an we traveled north to the ruins of Susita, located on 35-acre plateau on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. The western edge of Susita drops steeply into the Sea of Galilee. Like Beth She’an, Susita was one of the modern Hellenistic cities of the Decapolis. It boasted magnificent Greek buildings, paved streets lined with columns and fountains, theaters, and pagan temples. As we hiked up the steep ancient street leading to the city gates, we saw evidence of a once-splendid city that was both an inviting and forbidding place in Jesus’ day.

Hiking into Susita

Mark 4:35 tells us that Jesus and His disciples traveled across the Sea of Galilee “to the other side.” When they arrived in the vicinity of Susita, they were met by a man possessed by many demons (Mark 5:1-20). Jesus cast the demons out of the man. The demons entered into a herd of pigs that then rushed off the steep slopes into the sea and drowned. It was easy for us to envision the scene from our high vantage point. The man wanted to go with Jesus, but Jesus told him to stay home and tell his story. The grateful man did as Jesus asked and told his story throughout the Decapolis, “and all the people were amazed” (Mark 5:20). That may explain why Susita later became a center of early Christianity. As we stood in the ruins of one of five churches in Susita, I could not help but wonder if this was the fruit of the once-demon possessed man who stayed home and shared his story with others.

Challenge | The one thing that every Christ-follower has is a personal story or testimony about Jesus. As we sat on the rocks overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Brian, our team leader, asked us to pair up and to share our personal story with one another. He then challenged us to do what the once-demon possessed man had done – tell our story often, both at home and “on the other side.” You never know how your story might change the history of a person or a place.

The Unknown | After hiking down Susita’s steep slope, we traveled to a remote location north of the Sea of Galilee and east of the Jordan River. We hiked across rocky fields toward the distant sound of rushing water. Soon the Jordan River was in sight. I expected to see calm waters gently meandering south to their final destination at the Dead Sea. However, at this time of the year the Jordan is a raging river foaming with white-water, a kayakers dream. In fact, we saw a kayak paddle lodged into the twisted limbs of trees caught on rocks in the middle of the river. I hope the kayaker fared better than his paddle.

Brian Teaching at Jordan

Seeing the river in all of its rage helped me to better understand what it took for the Israelites to cross the Jordan. Brian stood on a rock in the water, with rapids churning behind him, as he taught from the third chapter of Joshua. It was on the banks of the Jordan that Joshua ordered the people, saying, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know the way to go, since you have never been this way before…” (Joshua 3:3-4). The river was at flood stage when Joshua led the people to cross, yet as soon as the priests’ feet touched the water, God stopped the flow of the river so that His people could safely cross (Joshua 3:15-16).

Reflection | I thought about Joshua’s orders as I sat and looked across the Jordan River. Whenever we are venturing into the unknown, to a place we have not been before, we must follow God and not get ahead of him. He knows the way we should go. And, we must exercise faith by getting our feet wet. Unless we get our feet wet we will not make much progress. We must exercise faith by getting our feet wet and then we must follow Him.

Note | Read my related blog on Joshua 3 entitled Stay Behind This Year.

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