Walking the Jesus Trailby Dan Stolebarger
The Lord gave me a specific word for that special group of people: “We were a ragtag collection of Believers who were in need of instruction, inspiration, restoration and JOY! And over the next four days we were to be praying for all of these things!”
Over the last 60 years of my life there have been three quotes that I have etched in stone. The first from my bride: “I know one thing, if I marry you our life will never be boring and will truly be an adventure!” The second from Chuck Missler: “Dan, when your feet hit the ground at Ben Gurion, you are going to have a strange sensation—you are going to feel like you are HOME!” And now the latest, and this one is from Jane Ben Ari: “One thing for certain, once you have walked the Land, you will never be content riding into the Galilee on a bus!”
Last month, 19 of us took four days to walk from Nazareth to Capernaum on what is now known in Israel as the Jesus Trail. We walked 45 miles and that experience, my friends, will not be forgotten!
We spent our first night in Nazareth after having spent a part of the day at the Church of the Annunciation and the Old Arab markets. That night I gave our group the assignment to read both Psalm 69 as well as Isaiah 61. I wanted to make sure that we understood some of the pain Jesus must have felt as a child growing up here as well as the proclamation that in their hearing the prophecy from Isaiah was fulfilled!
I also chose John 1:36-39 as a daily theme. The Lord gave me a specific word for that special group of people: “We were a ragtag collection of Believers who were in need of instruction, inspiration, restoration and JOY! And over the next four days we were to be praying for all of these things!”
The morning came quickly … and we walked! It is a steep ascent of over 500 steps to get from the grotto to the ridge that we would take on our way to Zippori. I am sure in the midst of this ascent many were thinking, “We must be crazy!” but once we reached the ridge we were able to establish a comfortable pace. I noticed that we did not travel in a pack but were spaced out on the trail in small groups—probably much like when He walked with His disciples on the road.
Today, Nazareth is a sprawling city, with a large Arab population. Unfortunately within the Arab-Israeli community there is little regard for upkeep of public areas and they often seem to be filled with trash. This was true on the trail as well, but it was good to be away from the streets and houses and out walking on dirt paths in the countryside.
We arrived in Zippori after three hours and took a break. Some rested while others took advantage of Jane’s guiding and toured the site. Zippori, at the time of Jesus, was a Roman city that would have been a possible site for employment for Joseph (and possibly his sons). Remember, Nazareth was very small. Some believe less than ten families lived in the caves there. No wonder Nathaniel asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” However, Zippori would have been considered a metropolis in comparison, which is why many believed Joseph would have practiced his trade there.
After an hour or so we continued our walk to the last stop for the day, the place where Jesus performed His first miracle. As we walked we questioned why, of all His miracles, He chose to change water into wine as His first? Our final answer settled on the simple yet profound truth that Jesus just wanted to provide JOY! Somehow I knew that the Lord wanted us to know that He alone is the provider of JOY and we remembered our reading from Isaiah the night before:
To console those who mourn in Zion,to give them beauty for ashes,the oil of joy for mourning,the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness,the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.
– Isaiah 61:3
After our arrival in Cana, our bus was waiting to take us to Kibbutz Lavy. This kibbutz is located about halfway between Nazareth and Magdala and what a wonderful place to get refreshed (and the meals were amazing!). This would be our home for the next two nights.
Day two—no cheating: Our bus picked us up and took us back to the stopping place in Cana from the previous day. Our second day on the trail would be filled with amazing scenery far away from the crowds of the city. This was truly a special day walking the Jesus Trail and the assignment for the day was to pay attention to what you see. Most of the countryside was maintained by Israeli Jews so the cleanliness was very noticeable and appreciated by us all. Again we walked in small groups, stopping to rest in the shade from time to time.
When we came to our lunch spot I took the opportunity to inquire about what they had seen. Here’s the report: vineyards, fig trees, pomegranates, wheat, barley, olive trees and dates. Interesting to note that these are the seven species that God promised to give them in the Land that He was giving to the Jews.
I just had to teach on the wheat and the tares since it provided the perfect backdrop for our lunch break! We continued our trek and this time there was no bus waiting to pick us up because we now had our kibbutz in sight and this would be our final stop for this day.
Day three was the hardest and most strenuous. This was the day that we walked up the Horns of Hattim, which provided a majestic view of the Galilee, and then trekked through the Valley of Doves far below the cliffs of Arbel to Beit Bracha in Migdal. We had tough terrain and in order to avoid getting drenched in the riverbeds, we would often have to jump from stone to stone, greatly aided by our human chains! The site was spectacular as we walked below the caves of Arbel where the zealots hid from the Roman garrisons.
This was an exhausting day, but I knew what was waiting for our group at Beit Bracha (a prayer retreat center in Migdal). As a surprise for the group (and a birthday present for one of the JT’ers, as we came to call ourselves), my wife Sharon arranged a surprise evening boat cruise on the Sea of Galilee with our good friend Daniel Carmel on his boat called FAITH! A perfect end to a great day as we sailed at sunset and worshiped the Lord together!
Our last day was also to be our shortest day as far as distance. We left early and walked through the mango groves to the springs of Tabgha where we were reminded of Peter and his special beach. This was the beach of restoration as Jesus prepared a special breakfast and restored our fallen brother! Remember the word given on that first night: Joy, Restoration, Inspiration and Instruction all played a part of this walk!
And then there it was—the sign that read C A P H A R N A U M. Each of us got to the end and slapped the sign and had enough left in us for one more group picture! I will never as long as I live forget this Walk and I encourage you to join us one day soon as we Walk the Jesus Trail!
[For a slideshow of our trip, please see terrywhitephotos.phanfare.com.]