Sitting on the Mount of Beatitudes
On our Holy Land tours, the Mount of Beatitudes is one of our favorite places to visit in Israel. Much of its attraction can be linked to its serenity. Although a church and some gardens have been added to the site, it is still just part of a huge meadow on the side of a hill overlooking the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is very likely that his was the place where Jesus preached his most famous discourse now known as the Sermon on the Mount.
The hillside is located just a few miles from Capernaum, the once-busy trade center that served as the headquarters for Jesus’ earthly ministry. The mount provided a great get-away spot for the rabbi Jesus to gather his eclectic group of followers known as the disciples. It was on this hillside meadow that He taught and trained them.
It wasn’t long before crowds of people came to hear the rabbi speak. They were initially drawn by the miracles and healings that Jesus performed, but they grew increasingly fascinated by the lessons that he taught. His teachings contradicted those of their own religious leaders known as the Pharisees. Instead of focusing on obeying external laws, as the Pharisees did, Jesus focused on what was going inside his listener’s minds and hearts.
The lessons he shared on the hillside meadow are recounted in Matthew 5-7. Among those lessons Jesus taught that:
- Knowing God is not a religious experience based on someone’s good works. It is a relationship only possible if we are willing to accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord. Our salvation depends upon His good works—not ours.
- Pleasing God does not require strict, self-righteous obedience to written rules and regulations. Instead, it requires a willingness to sacrificially serve others.
- Receiving God’s blessing does not result in external gains in our wealth or status. Instead, it involves internal rewards such as peace, joy, and a sense of worth.
There are eight particular ways that Jesus explained to his followers that they could receive God’s blessing. We call these eight ways, the beatitudes—which is how this meadow got its name.
- You will be blessed if you depend upon God instead of filling your spirit with personal pride. Heaven is reserved for humble people!
- You will be blessed if you weep for those who are hurting. Then you will see the world as God sees it, and God himself will comfort you.
- You will be blessed if you are more successful in God’s eyes than in the world’s. He owns this earth, and He will give you everything you need.
- You will be blessed if your deepest longing is to have a right relationship with God. You will never feel empty or worthless.
- You will be blessed when you show mercy instead of condemnation. If you show mercy, God will show you mercy, too!
- You will be blessed if the desire of your heart is to please God. He will show you amazing things about Himself.
- You will be blessed if you help others find peace with God and with each other. God will delight in calling you His child!
- You will be blessed if you are willing to endure hardship here on earth because of your faith in God. You will be greatly rewarded when you get to heaven!
In the fourth Century AD, a large octagonal Catholic church was built on top of the mount where Jesus so often taught. Each of its octagonal sides represents one of the beatitudes. In a few weeks, our Lakeland, Florida tour group will be sitting on this very hillside. We will be surrounded by pink bougainvillea, graceful cyclamens, and sturdy date palms, experiencing some of the same scenery that Jesus experienced. We will be listening to the birds, and watching the fishing boats ply the Sea of Galilee.
We will be one of many tour groups on the mount. Some will be dressed in bright red or yellow saris, others will be distinguished by all wearing white baseball caps, and still others will be lead by nuns in flowing robes or guides with gold flags fluttering in the breeze. Some visitors will be quietly praying, while others will be joyfully singing hymns in their native languages.
But with everything going on, we will be able to focus on the fact that this is the place where Jesus began to change the course of history, by challenging the Jewish religious leaders of his day, and by laying down the principal tenets of discipleship not only to his disciples but for all his future followers. The Mount of Beatitudes is the place where he taught us how to truly count our blessings!