I have taken many trips in my life but none have affected me as much as my recent trip to Israel. During my ten day pilgrimage to the Holy Land I packed in a lot of sites.
I have visited other Holy sites around Europe in the past, including the Vatican, but they never made me think of anything beyond the beauty of the craftsmanship. Israel is a different place entirely. It is the living history of our Living God.
It is a land dripping in history and bloodshed. It has been conquered and reconquered for many centuries. The land is not rich in terms of resources. They have to irrigate the land and desalinate the soil to make it fertile. It varies greatly around the region, but overall it is very rocky with little water. One plant seems to thrive there naturally, and that is the Olive tree. Olive trees grow all over. The olive is a hearty tree that lives for many centuries, so if you plant them today your great-great grandchildren can enjoy their fruit.
The modern State of Israel has turned a once barren land into rich fields of crops. They have planted countless trees and made many improvements, despite being surrounded by enemies on all sides.
“Israel cannot bring you to God, but experiencing Israel can bring you closer to God.”
I heard these words shortly after landing in Israel. This phrase went through my head a number of times as I explored the country.
People travel to Israel for many reasons. My main reason for the trip was my love of the history. I wanted to walk where Jesus and the disciples walked. I wanted to see the land they knew, worked and loved.
I saw first hand the small desert village where a child, fully man and fully God, was born. He would go on to impact people’s lives around the world for over two thousand years.
I could feel the tug of history when I visited Caesarea and its great theatre. I knew Paul had been on trial and yet here I was sitting in the same arena where it took place. It was there that the Pilate Stone was discovered by archaeologists. The stone was a dedication stone from Pontius Pilate to the emperor Tiberius.
Capernaum is a small fishing village on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It is written about in all four of the Gospels and it is at the synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus taught. The house of the disciple Peter is located a couple of blocks from the synagogue. When you walk the streets of Capernaum you can begin to appreciate what the early Christians went through.
Traveling the country by bus is easy with modern highways and roads. A trip from the shores of Galilee to Caesarea Philippi takes under two hours. Jesus and his disciples walked it, and it took weeks!
The Dead Sea looks amazing when you first set eyes upon it. It is only when you wade in and feel the water that you fully realize why it is called the Dead Sea. The high saline content of the water feels more like a syrup. You cannot sink and there is absolutely no life in it.
I was highly anticipating my trip to the old city of Jerusalem and when I first saw it up on the hill it took my breath away. It was when I arrived at the Western Wall of the first temple that I felt my trip was complete. It was a huge victory for me, not because it is a holier place than any other place, but because of my former life. I had only ever expected to see the wall in pictures.
I saw people crying all along the wall. I saw others who were clearly praying and had been for hours. In other places on my pilgrimage I saw worshipers falling on their knees crying, brought to tears by the act of touching a rock Jesus may have touched.
The best sign I saw was inside the Garden Tomb, which was most likely the Tomb of Jesus. It reads “He is not here, for He is risen” That pretty much sums it up if you are a Christian. There is no place, no rock, no statue, no clothing and no ritual that will bring you closer to God.
God is accessible whether you make it to Israel or not. He wants to have a personal relationship with you regardless of your location, background or station in life. If you do get a chance to visit Israel, I urge you to go. It was a life-changing trip for me.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.