Monday, September 21, 2015

Israel - Mt. of Beatitudes

The next stop on our trip through Israel is the Mount of Beatitudes.  The name of this mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee is Mount Eremos.  In the fourth century, the Byzantines built a church on the mountain.  Later, the Franciscans built a chapel on the site, which stands today.

Ascending Mt. Eremos
Rather than going to the normal “touristy” location on the mount (the chapel location), our guide took us up the sea-facing side of Mount Eremos.  We made a short ascension to a small location on the mountainside under a tree.  From this location, we had a wonderful view of the lake.  As a pastor in our group read from the Scriptures, I was impressed by the serenity of the location.  I thought about how Jesus’ voice could have carried down the mountainside while he preached the Sermon on the Mount.  Boaz Shalgi, our tour guide from EDI Travel, provided some insights from the mountainside.  He mentioned that from this mountain, one could see a city that was high on the other side of the lake.  Jesus’ hearers would have been able to see the city when He said “A city on a hill cannot be hid.” (Matt. 5:14)  The people could literally see the practical point that Jesus was making.  As the prominent city could be seen plainly and could not be hidden, so followers of Christ should shine and have a testimony that is plain for all to see.  
Mount Arbel
While Mount Eremos is the traditional site of the sermon on the mount, there is another site nearby that has been argued to be the likely spot for this occasion.  Mount Arbel is southwest of Mount Ermos.  It provides a large cliff in addition to a flat place.  According to Beck, this meets both the narrative in Matthew and in Luke.1 A friend of mine, Dr. Richard Liverance, took a group of people there as the site for the Sermon on the Mount. (Incidentally, he is planning a trip to Israel next year (2016). If you are interested, message me at my Google+ account.) From this site, the region of the Sea of Galilee can be seen including the cities that surround the lake. I cannot discuss the location of the Sermon on the Mount without discussing the contents of this important discourse. Jesus shockingly calls out that one's righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders of that day. (Matt. 5:20)  The people considered them the religious elite.  Jesus identifies in this sermon that one cannot just practice outward religious ceremony in order to please God.  One must have a heart that obeys Him fully, which we cannot humanly accomplish. So, how can we have a perfect heart before God? Paul states in his letter to the Romans (3:28), "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law." Faith in the perfect Christ's death as our substitute fulfills this on our behalf. Those who have been justified by Jesus' blood are reconciled to God. (Rom. 5:9-11).

The next stop on our tour of Israel is going to be Capernaum, the city where Jesus centered His Galilean ministry.

1 John A. Beck, Discovery House Bible Atlas (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Discovery House Publishers, 2015), 248-49.