The Sea of Galilee is beautiful. It is north of Jerusalem, and while we were there, eating “Peter’s Fish” at one of the open seaside hotels, we were throwing bits of bread over the wall into the sea. The fish were so many that they formed a huge black spot in the clear water. Birds from every variety were begging their food at the end of the table. Flowers seemed to grow wild forming a collar around the sea. Trees circled the lake to give it a shady backdrop of green. It was one of the most wonderful memories we had while visiting the Holy Land.
Tiberias (another name for the sea) is the largest city directly on the sea. As you circle clockwise you come to Capernaum, the hometown of Simon Peter. The Galilee is larger than you visualize and as our tour guide brought the van to a stop, we wondered why. We removed our shoes and walked in the headwaters of the Jordan River. Galilee has an overflow and when the waters rise above sea level, it just releases the excess to an open dam which forms the river called “The Jordan”. Like a huge drainpipe the Jordan receives the crystal clear waters of the Galilee that starts its downward journey almost the length of Israel. Nature controls the entire process. Walking in the shallows of the river, you get a feeling of purity given in the transparent liquid. The river is the separating mark between Israel and Jordan. It wanders and curves following the lay of the land.
Suddenly the scene is changed. From the height of our view we could see that awesome lonely picture of a sea forsaken – the Dead Sea. Its location is at the bottom of the world, the lowest point on our planet. It is a sea of death like no other you will ever see. Nothing grows for miles around. No trees, no shrubs or plant life of any kind; just large grotesque salt figures that have pushed their way to and beyond the surface of the ground. No fish could live in the waters, no birds could be found on its shores. The sea is 82 per cent content salt. The fresh waters have been bleached as they make their death like fall from the Galilee to the tomb of the Dead Sea. It takes everything – it gives nothing – and has an ungodly look on its very surface. One drop of its water in the eye would bring an immediate emergency. One mouthful would cause one to wretch.
So it is with life. To release life is to live. To receive life only to grasp it, hold it, chain and possess it brings certain death. Contemporary writers (including this one) makes poor historians. One must release life – let go of it and see it from a distance to properly understand it. This is why, so many times decisions we make seem so vital and important, yet viewed later in life pale in value and significance. Other decision and experiences that seemed trivial at the time only later find their true meaning and value.
Forgiveness is the key to releasing life. Few marriages would still be held sacred without this grace, and most that have experienced death by divorce forfeited its power. When one experiences the New Birth, Jesus comes to live within. The one dominant characteristic of the Christ was his unending forgiveness. Even on the cross he pled for those who crucified him. Paul wrote, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who love me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
To forgive readily, generously and lovingly is the Spirit of Christ in man. To release is to forgive all that trespass our ways, whether they asked or not. Forgive them whether they repent or not. You forgive, you release – allow the water of life to flow freely through you. No bitterness will “spring up and devour you” (Hebrews 12:15). To the contrary, the sweetness of life will draw the good to you. Make plans early to grow up and be a sweet old man or woman.
Life and death are truly like those two great seas. One gives, the other just receives. One releases and the other retains. One is sweet and attracts life. The other is dead and refuses life.
Jesus spoke a parable about a servant that owed his master millions. He pled for his life and the master forgave him all his debt. The same servant, while finding a fellow servant that owed him a few dollars demanded payment. The debtor begged him to give him more time but he would not and he cast him into prison. When the Master heard of it, he recalled that servant and committed him to the tormentors till he should pay all that was due him. ‘So likewise shall my heavenly father do also unto you, if you, from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother his trespasses” (Matthew 18:21-35).
The Dead Sea is a dead loss. The Galilee is a living testimony of grace and forgiveness. Two things are important. Know what to release and know what to hold on to. When Paul wrote, “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17), he could well have said, “Forgive without ceasing”. Both are keys to the same lock and answers to life’s most difficult problems.