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Following on the Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee is a freshwater lake located in Israel. It is unique for two reasons. First, sitting 700 feet below sea level, it is the lowest freshwater lake on earth. Second, and far more importantly, it serves as the backdrop for the public ministry of Jesus Christ.

Compared to the Mediterranean Sea, Galilee is tiny. Its surface area is just 64 square miles. Seneca Lake in New York has a surface area of 68 square miles. Because it sits so far below sea level, Galilee is surrounded by highlands that offer spectacular views of the entire pear-shaped lake.

Galilee is just 16 miles from Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus. It would be about an eight-hour trip by foot. I can imagine Jesus’ family taking special trips to the lake — much like we take special trips to the local lakes in our area. It was quaint, intimate, and serene.

After fasting for forty days in the wilderness, Jesus learned that John the Baptist had been imprisoned. He left His home in Nazareth and moved to the lakeside village of Capernaum, where He launched His public ministry.

It is along the shore of Galilee that He calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John. He travels throughout the region of Galilee, preaching and healing the sick. News travels fast, and soon crowds are gathering from everywhere. These were the crowds that followed Him up the mountain and were blessed to hear the Sermon on the Mount. Imagine the spectacular views they had of Galilee as He taught.

According to Matthew’s gospel, it is in the region of Galilee that Jesus spends the vast majority of His ministry. Other than a couple of brief excursions to other areas, Jesus ministered entirely in the area of Galilee before turning His face resolutely toward Jerusalem and the crucifixion.

According to John’s gospel, Jesus made one final trip to Galilee after His resurrection and before ascending into heaven. It is recorded in John 21. It was a powerfully intimate moment when Jesus restored Peter to his ministry.

Galilee is a prime example of God using the smallest and the least to accomplish His purposes. He did the same by choosing the tribe of Judah and the town of Bethlehem to host the birth of Jesus. We often think everything must be bigger to be better, but in Judah, Bethlehem, and Galilee, God demonstrated that small could be the most powerful. There’s a lesson in there for us Christians if we’re willing to see it.

As He traveled throughout Galilee, Jesus gave a simple invitation, “Follow me.” A few accepted His invitation, but most declined. They had good excuses — and so do we today. We have places to go, people to see, and treasure to find. Jesus’ call to “follow me” has always been most inconvenient. Doing so requires submission, sacrifice, and suffering — denying self and taking up a cross — and who would accept an invitation like that?

Jesus warned us that declining his invitation is dangerous. In Matthew 7:13-14, He declares, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate, and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Simply put, following Him leads to life — and rejecting Him leads to destruction.

I’m guessing that some of you are put off and even offended by the stark options offered by Jesus. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. I’m just letting you know what He said. What you do with it is up to you — and so are the consequences.

If you want to follow Him, then here’s how:

First, accept His call to follow. My friend, it won’t be easy, but it will be best. Jesus spoke of His call this way, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” Luke 9:23-24.

Be cautious of anyone who tells you that following Jesus will guarantee wealth, health, and success in this world. The promises of God are eternal and last forever. So, instead of getting caught up in the rotting and rusting stuff of this broken world, set your heart in eternity, where God’s blessings will last forever. Remember, where your treasure is, that’s where your heart will also be.

Second, be faithful in the little things. In Luke 16:10, Jesus says, “Whoever can be trusted with little can also be trusted with much.” For most of us, our entire lives will be filled with little things. We’ll never be famous or leave a lasting mark on history. No matter. God has already shown that He does His most powerful work in little places and through little people — just like you and me and Galilee. All He asks is that we be faithful in doing those little things to the very best of our ability. That’s what people do when they follow Jesus. If there’s something greater to be accomplished, God will bring it our way when the time is right. Until then, rejoice in the little things and do them well!

Third, start following today — regardless of the mistakes of the past. That’s the point Jesus was making to Peter in John 21 along the shore of Galilee. In the moment Jesus needed him the most, Peter denied he even knew Jesus. For Peter, it was a cowardly and unforgivable failure. That’s why he went back to fishing.

Do you have failures like that? Yeah, so do I. Thank God Jesus forgives us and sets us free. In fact, He even redeems our failures by using them to make us stronger and wiser. My friend, the past does not define you. Following Jesus requires that you look forward and leave the past behind. Today is your day to receive His grace and follow. Don’t wait another moment. Don’t let another excuse stop you. If you listen closely, you can still hear Him calling, “Follow me.” Do it.