Monday, September 17, 2012

Nazareth, Where Christianity Was Born

In recounting the roots of Christianity--the belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of the living God--many titles have been given him; among them is Jesus of Nazareth.

Nazareth was the city from which Jesus traveled to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. Situated in Lower Galilee, it occupies a natural amphitheater-like setting on the southern slope of Mount Jebel es-Sikh. The ancient section of town features stone homes layered in hanging tiers. The terraces are carved from limestone. It is an attractive town where olive and fig trees flourish and the white facades of buildings shine in the sun. A natural spring runs down the mountainside providing water to the residents of Nazareth.

The Gospel according to the Evangelist Matthew recounts the genealogy of Jesus the Christ. Here Jesus is referred to as the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. Fourteen generations of this family would precede the birth of the historical Jesus of Nazareth whom Christians refer to as the Messiah, Savior, "The Light of the World." Although census registry obligations led Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem where Jesus was born, Nazareth was the place where Joseph and Mary lived; and where Jesus grew up. He would work his first miracle of changing water into wine for a young couple's marriage feast at a village of Cana, four miles Northeast of Nazareth.

At the time Joseph, Mary and Jesus returned to Nazareth, it was a mere hamlet. Today, Nazareth is a bustling city. Besides the industry and new construction, it is also the commercial and cultural center for Israel's Arab community. Arabic is first language of most residents. Actually, Christians are the minority today in Nazareth. However, Arabs and Israelis use the town's name itself to designate Christianity as a faith. The legacy of the Christ lives on in the region where Jesus was often referred to as "the Nazarene."

At the time of Jesus, the town of Nazareth consisted of homes,oil and wine presses, fields and farms. Based on information from archeological digs, a replica of the town was recreated using the same techniques and materials used 2,000 years ago. Seeing the recreated village, visitors can gain a better understanding of daily life at the time of Christ. And seeing the setting as it was in the time of Christ helps bring relevance to the teachings, parables, and images Jesus used when preaching. One can also gain an appreciation of Jewish culture of that period as there is also a re-created synagogue as it may have appeared in the Galilean village.

Modern-day tourists visiting the region around Nazareth, can walk the "Jesus Trail". The trail traces routes Jesus most likely took while in the Galilee Region traveling from Nazareth to Zippori, Kana, and down to the Sea of Galilee. The trail today passes through olive groves, many ruins, historic structures, and ancient springs. The places Jesus spent time in included Bethany, near Jerusalem on the slope of the Mount of Olives, home to his friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. He traveled to Jericho where he restored sight to Bartimaeus. Jesus pronounced his "woe" warnings while visiting Korazin. It is recorded he traveled through Tiberius on the Western shore of the Sea of Galilee; and to Nain, a village where he restored life to a widow's son. Many tours today feature readings from Scripture tying the events of his travels to these places. Jesus of Nazareth preached wherever he went.

The Nazarene began his preaching following his departure from Nazareth; he began living in the region of Capernaum (Kfar Nahum). Near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus spoke these words which were meant to fulfill the words of the prophet Isiah: "Land of Zebulon and land of Nephathalim, by the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan River, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light; and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death, a light has arisen." (Matthew 4:12-17). The light to which both Isaiah and Jesus referred is believed to be Jesus Himself, the Messiah who was sent to earth to preach salvation. He spoke these words often: "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand". He went all around Galilee teaching and preaching the Gospel of love of God, love of neighbor all with the goal in mind of everyone achieving eternal life. As he traveled, He worked miracles of healing, and his fame reached into places like Syria. Large crowds began to follow this intriguing preacher from the town of Nazareth.

The Horns of Hattin, a rocky hill near the Sea of Galilee, is believed to be the place where Jesus gave The Sermon on the Mount. This stirring message known as The Beatitudes, or Blesseds, outlined clear-cut rules and promises for those willing to live as followers of Christ and spread his message. The rewards would not be realized in this world, but in the next. The kingdom at hand of which Jesus of Nazareth spoke was indeed a reference to everlasting life in Heaven. The basic teaching of Christianity remains: what one does in this world will matter very much in the next life--the heavenly realm of which Jesus spoke when he lived in Nazareth.

The newly released Story of Jesus book by Carl Michaelis paints a vivid picture of the people surrounding Jesus and the way of life of the community of his followers. Although fictional, Carl Michaelis did his best to keep his story of Jesus historically accurate as well as engaging and thrilling.

Check out this webpage - The Story of Jesus to find out more.