This is Galilee.
Most likely, Jesus walked this very hillside to spend time in prayer. Perhaps he stopped here for lunch with his disciples, or stood at this very spot to teach a crowd of eager people – I’m picturing five thousand people trampling the brush on this hillside.
It’s one of the most surprising truths of the New Testament – Jesus didn’t spend much time in Jerusalem. Jerusalem! Epicenter of Israel; city of the Great Temple; home of the high priest; obsession of the prophets; yet mostly avoided by Jesus? Why?
Jesus was spending time in the rolling hills and small villages of Galilee instead. Jesus was hanging with fishermen, tax collectors, political outcasts, prostitutes, and a boatload of hard-partying characters with super sketchy backgrounds. Jesus was blue collar.
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, religious leaders, insulated from the common people by layer upon layer of pomp and pretension, sharpened their knives for the kill. Who was this Jesus to steal the hearts of the people and upset the status quo?
If you want to take in the history of Israel, the struggle of the centuries, the essence of Judaism, and the pinnacle point of the Gospel – the death and resurrection of Christ – go to Jerusalem.
If you want to get a feel for the heart of Jesus – go to Galilee.
Forty years ago I sat on a hillside in Galilee, opened my Bible and read the words of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount.
Seeing the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
(Mat 5:1-10 ESV)
It was 1974. Picture shoulder length hair, a handlebar mustache with gnarly sideburns, backpack and a bandana. I was 20 years old; a new believer in Christ, less than two years old in the faith. Syrian forces were shelling the Golan Heights just 20 miles away. Israeli Jets screamed above at treetop level. The explosive sound of armed conflict echoed in the distance as I opened my Bible to read these life changing words of Christ, spoken on a hillside in Galilee.
It was then and there I realized Jesus Christ came to start a revolution – not a political revolution, or an armed revolution – but the only revolution that can ever truly change this broken world: a revolution of the human heart.
Jesus began his ministry and centered his ministry in Galilee. It was here Jesus came preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:23). It was here Jesus taught the common people about a radically different kind of kingdom; different than anything they had ever experienced or imagined. It was here Jesus put the love, power, and grace of God on display and invited followers to join him in his mission to a broken world.
40 years later the world is still at war. Today, hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees are massed in Lebanon, just tens of miles north of Galilee. Not far away, camps of Islamic extremists are scattered near the Syrian border at the base of the Golan Heights. The brokenness of our world is intense, and it’s never far from the hills of Galilee.
40 years later the words of Christ still hold absolute sway over my heart and mind. I’m all-in on joining Christ in his mission to bring the love, power, and grace of God to broken lives in a broken world.
This May: Galilee, the Sermon on the Mount, the good news of a different kind of kingdom, and a fresh commitment to Jesus Christ the Risen Lord.