By: Brandon Dirks
Thursday: Mount of Beatitudes, Caesarea Philipi (Banias), Birkat Ram, Syrian border, Jordan River
Woke up this morning at 2 am, coughing! Surprise! Never went back to sleep, kept coughing! Surprise! Chest heavy, hard to breathe, exhausted. Started a Z-pack. Surprise!
I was so “out of it” I hardly remember visiting the site where Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount. However, it was a stunning view of the Sea of Galilee. It really does look like a heart. I do remember the guide saying, “We do not know the exact spot where the sermon was given, but we know THIS is the mountain from which he gave it.” I then spent the rest of my visit there…in the bathroom. Surprise!
We continued in the bus to climb the mountain heading toward Mt. Hermon…a BEAUTIFUL, snow-capped mountain from which much of the Jordan River comes. This mountain is in the northwest corner of Israel, bordering with Syria and Lebanon, Golan Heights on the east, and Upper Galilee on the west. But that direction was a winding mountain road. Motion nausea! Surprise!
Stopping at Caesarea Philippi (Banias) opened up the Bible to me like never before! Surprise! Given to Philip by Herod, he named it Caesarea after Caesar, but then after himself not to get it confused with Caesarea Maritima. King Agrippa II came to Caesarea to see Herod the Great’s Palace to see Jesus in Acts 24. We explored the “Gates of Hades,” a cave along a rocky cliff where many of the area pagans believed the god Pan lived–gateway to Hades. It is believed that this is where Jesus asked his disciples who the people think he is. Peter replied with, “You are the Christ, the Messiah.” Jesus affirms Peter, (maybe pointing to the cave), saying that upon this rock I will be build my church and not even the gates of Hades will prevail against it! Surprise!
Then, in the hot sun, we are told we are taking a 40 minute hike. Surprise! I’m sure this will make me feel better (that’s sarcasm, Kenzie). Along the way, we walk up to an excavation site of King Agrippa II palace! Wow!
From there, we bused further up the winding mountain, had lunch in a Druze diner in Birkat Ram, and drove on to the Golan Heights. Stopping, we get out of the bus, and the tour guide points to a small collection of white buildings–the United Nations Observation Outpost–to make sure that the Syrians and Israelis are playing ‘nice.’ We were at the Syrian border! Surprise! Turning around, I look upon a little hill not 100 yards from me, and see an Israeli military outpost, radar, and missile launchers. Surprise! But in looking around, I can now tell why this is such an important place. It is the gateway to so much!
Napping down the mountain for an hour, our final stop is at the Jordan River…finally. You should read Patty’s blog about her experience (ed. note – technical difficulties have delayed Patty’s post)–this is the biggest reason why she came…and she asked me to assist her in remembering her baptism in the Jordan…total immersion. Surprise!
After renting a white gown and towel, I go into the bathroom to change. Looking into my backpack, I realize…I forgot my bathing suit! Surprise! (I had to make do…enough said.)
As we emerged and moved to the river’s edge, the bus passengers waiting on the five of us were singing a hymn. A short devotional, and then it was time for the group to touch the water to remember their baptism. A few people from our group asked me to make the sign of the cross on their foreheads! Whew. Surprise!
Then it was time for the five of us to “go in.” I led the group in, and my first step in was…frigid. Absolutely frigid. Surprise! REALLY COLD…There was no way I would forget this moment…especially since there wasn’t much on me to keep me warm :).
One by one, they dropped themselves into the water, and then I prayed over them. Patty. Chris. Bob. And then another bus passenger, who I hadn’t really met, asked me to assist him. Surprise!
Then it was my turn. I purposely stayed under water for as long as I could…a moment to experience this “thin place” just between the Lord and me. And, then, Patty prayed that the Holy Spirit make me into a disciple of Jesus Christ (and I thought I could hear God whisper to me…a disciple who makes disciples!). Surprise. But not really.
Breaking my heart.