Israel I have just spent ten days touring the land of Israel – my first trip. It was a very enjoyable and insightful time. We based in Jerusalem for half the time, visiting many sites around the city and also venturing out to visit Masada, En Gedi, the Valley of Elah (where David fought Goliath) and Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered). The rest of the time we stayed in Tiberius right on the Sea of Galilee. From there we visited Capernaum, Nazareth (loved the Nazareth Village display), Cana, Mt Carmel (where Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal) and Ceaserea. We also visited ancient Joppa where Jonah boarded a ship headed away from God's call and where Peter had a vision about God's call for him to reach the Gentiles.

I saw a quote on a tour guide book while in Israel: "Five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books and one you will find in the land they call holy. Read the fifth gospel and the world of the four will open to you." I think there is a lot of truth to that statement.

In many ways, visiting Israel turns your Bible from black and white into colour. The cultural and geographical contexts comes alive. Suddenly you know what it feels like  to "go up to Jerusalem" which is high up in the mountains and to "go down to Jericho" which is down by the Dead Sea, many hundred of metres below sea level.

Of course, there is a lot of religiosity too. There are two supposed sites where Jesus was transfigured. In Cana there are two different churches each claiming to have the jars that Jesus used to turn water into wine. There are two different locations where he was supposed to have been crucified and then buried. No one knows for certain. After all, there were many hundreds of years after Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 before Jews or Christians came back into the city and started to re-trace some of these locations. In fact, it was Emperor Constantine's mother, after his supposed conversion to Christianity in the 4th century, who officially tried to establish some of these holy sites In Jerusalem. Since that time, thousands of people have come to the holy land on some sort of pilgrimage – out of interest or looking for an extra blessing. We saw people kissing stones and relics, buying crosses and making sure that they touched various so-called holy places. Superstition is alive and well in Israel.

One thing we know for sure is that we as believers in Jesus are now his temple, his dwelling place. God is now at work in all the world and every place where he is at work is sacred. Visiting Israel can enhance our understanding of the biblical world and what God did in past times … but we don't worship the past. We appreciate it, we learn from it … and we move on … seeking to live each moment with an awareness of God and what he is doing .. right here … right now … wherever we are. 

6 thoughts on “Reflections on Israel

  1. Thank you Mark for your insights. What a thrilling experience to walk where Jesus walked! Glad you all enjoyed your time away. Welcome home 🙂

  2. Thanks Mark for the great writeup – I can really sense the wonderment and reverence behind the words.
    I’m partway through “Walking the Bible” by Bruce Feiler – the author also goes on a journey through the Holy Land and shares his perspective. Highly recommended.

  3. Dear Pastor Mark, I enjoyed one of your sermons earlier this year at Citylife. One thing that took me aback was when you referred to first century ‘Palestine’ as the place that Jesus and His disciples walked. The reality is there was no such place as Palestine in first century Israel. Emperor Hadrian in 135AD first applied the term Palestine to the land of Israel. He replaced the shrines of the Jewish Temple and the Sepulchre of Christ in Jerusalem with the temples to pagan deities. He changed the name of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitalina, and Israel and Judea to Palestine. The word Palestine came from the ancient enemies of Israel – the Philistines. However, the Philistines in the OT were not even Middle Eastern but European peoples from the Adriatic Sea next to Greece. The Philistines disappeared as distinct peoples by the time of the Babylonian Captivity of Judea in 586BC. The term Palestine was first used by Christians around 300AD when Eusebius, a Christian historian from Caesarea applied it in his writings. Pastor Mark, I write this entry with a heart of humility and without a tinge of arrogance for I know you are an experienced, tried and tested man of God. Like yourself, I have had the privilege to visit the Holy Land, and the experience has changed my life. The land of Israel was convenanted to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants forever, but in these days we live there are many who are opposed to the Jews being in that land, and consequently find themselves against God’s plans as well.
    Zechariah 12:2-3 “I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem. 3 On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves.
    God bless and thank you for taking the time to read this.

  4. Good pick up, Winston. I was aware of this and it is interesting to see the origins of the name ‘Palestine.’ I guess I used it because that’s what most people refer to this area by today. What do you think is a better term?

  5. Hi Pastor Mark, thanks for your response, I am glad that you did not take my comment as being something critical or negative. I guess in reference to the first century, apart from the general designation of Israel, the larger regions of Judaea, Samaria, or Galilee can be applied. I hear what you are saying about the popular use of the term ‘Palestine’ today. While I’m not like some Israel supporters who see the Jews as almost infallible, and all their actions as excusable because of their God-given birthright, I do acknowledge their designated role in God’s divine plan, especially in these days after the miraculous rebirth of Israel in 1948. Did you get to visit the Yad Vashem? At the entrance there is a large gate with Ezekiel 37 written on it – the scripture about the valley of the dry bones that God brought to life. I believe that now more than ever we need to support Israel in prayer, especially since we are witnessing more and more nations gathering against it. There is a really good, but hard to find book called ‘Israel: Land of God’s Promise’ written by New Zealander Murray Dixon, who was the rector at Christ Church in Jerusalem for over a decade. If you are interested I am happy to pass the book on to you. God bless, Winston.

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