Two fishermen, brothers Moshe and Yuval Lufan, trudged along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel—the same body of water where Jesus’s disciples cast their nets. Moshe and Yuval kept their heads down, their eyes fixed on the muddy ground, searching for archaeological treasure.
It was the winter of 1986, and a drought gripped the region, causing the Sea of Galilee to lower. The Lufan brothers were also amateur archaeologists, and they wondered if the receding lake would reveal any wondrous discoveries.
The brothers stumbled across the oval shape of what appeared to be a boat sunken in the mud along the edge of the Sea of Galilee. Excited by the possibilities, they called in experts, who carefully dug into the mud, uncovering one of the greatest archaeological finds in Israel’s history.
They discovered an intact fishing boat—the same kind of boat that would have been used by Jesus and His disciples. In fact, radiocarbon dating found that the wooden boat was used sometime around the time of Jesus, give or take 80 years. It can’t be proven that the disciples used this particular boat, but it’d be shocking if they could. The disciples didn’t etch their boat with graffiti such as, “Peter was here.”
Word about the discovery spread quickly, and as archaeologists began to carefully dig out the boat, crowds gathered and vendors sold food and beverages along the beach. Rumors also spread that treasure had been found in the fishing boat, so guards were posted at night.
On the first day of excavation, the experts were amazed when a sudden downpour, lasting only about a minute, created a perfect double rainbow across the Sea of Galilee. One of the excavators said this was like a sign from God, blessing the discovery.
For eleven days, they carefully uncovered the boat—27 feet long, 7.5 feet wide, and 4.3 feet high. Back in Jesus’s day, four people would’ve rowed this boat, and it also would’ve had a single sail.
The big question was how to move the ancient boat onto land without it crumbling to pieces. Excavators decided to encase the entire wooden structure in a coat of polyurethane and then float the boat to a spot where it could be lifted out of the water. When the boat floated away, encased in polyurethane, one of the workers stretched out on top, becoming the first person to “sail” the boat in 2,000 years.
My wife, Nancy, and I saw the boat, which some call “the Jesus Boat,” beautifully displayed at the Yigal Allon Galilee Boat Museum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Along the walls surrounding the Jesus Boat are illustrations, photographs, and information about the boat, and one picture in particular caught my eye.
The illustration displayed twelve types of wood that were used to build the Jesus Boat—and two of those woods came from trees with startling names. One wood is called Christ Thorn, a spiky wood that tradition says was used to create the crown of thorns on Jesus’s head when he was crucified. Another type of wood came from the Judas Tree, a tree that legend says Judas hanged himself on when he was crushed by grief over betraying Jesus.
Christ Thorn. Judas Tree.
Both woods were found in the Jesus Boat. And both woods had traditional connections to objects and people who tried to stand in the way of Jesus’s mission.
To me, this boat is a symbol of the strength of the Kingdom of God. This boat had Christ Thorn and Judas Tree wood built into its very fabric, and yet it survived all these years. Similarly, the Kingdom of God will continue to survive and thrive, no matter what forces are arrayed against it. If Judas and the crucifixion can’t stop the Kingdom, what can?
The boat is also a parable of our individual lives. It tells me that we too can survive, even in the midst of terrible trials, if we’re on board with Jesus. He will make your life seaworthy, even when leaks are springing up all around you.
There is no such thing as a perfect world, or Utopia, on this earth. “Utopia” literally means “no place,” so even the word itself tells us there is no perfect place on Earth. Jesus is building His Kingdom out of imperfect, bickering, bumbling people like us. From the very beginning of His ministry, He has been trying to unite us, starting with the bickering Jews and Gentiles in New Testament days.
In Ephesians 2:14-18, Paul writes that Jesus “is our peace,” and He destroyed “the dividing wall of hostility” that existed between Jews and Gentiles. Ironically, Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians when he was in prison for allegedly bringing a non-Jew into the part of the Temple forbidden to Gentiles.
As Paul goes on to say, “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace.” Today, He’s still building His Kingdom out of people who squabble, and His goal remains the same—to tear down the dividing wall of hostility.
All followers of Jesus are part of the Jesus Boat, our Ark, and He welcomes us, flaws and all. We’re all in the same boat together. Thank God it’s the Jesus Boat.