Disclaimer: I originally published this with Geeks Under Grace, and have revised it here for this blog. You can find my shorter version on the trip here. I was in Israel between January 6th and 17th of 2017. Each day are the original journal entries I had written in my journal during the pilgrimage (with some revisions), and I’m keeping it in the present tense so I can take you on the trip with me. So, when reading this, remember that in these entries I was in my senior year of my undergrad. (This revision was posted during my first year at Concordia Seminary in 2018.) This is a really long article, so feel free to take it day by day as I’ve segmented it. Basically, this is a bunch of Bible studies put into one.
January 4, 2017
Today is the day I leave for Israel. It’s for a class as part of my pre-seminary studies and also a pilgrimage. I’m not as nervous as some classmates who’ve never been more than 200 miles from home because I’ve traveled internationally before both in and out of the Army. I signed up for this study abroad experience at the end of the Spring 2016 semester, and now it’s less than 24 hours away. It feels surreal. I cannot believe I’m going to actually walk in the land where Jesus walked.
Today is the day I make sure I have everything I need. My battery is charged for my Canon 70D camera, I have my head lamp and water shoes for Hezekiah’s tunnel, my passport, and other necessities. With everything prepared, I am ready to embark on my pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
We finally arrived in Israel last night around 20:00 hours—about 24 hours of travel. It took a while to get through customs since Israel’s security is so tight (which it has to be), but we all made it through without incident and met up with our tour guide, Hela Tamir. The tour guides are filled with a wealth of knowledge about Israel—more than most professors at Christian universities in the West. Hela, for example, is a Messianic Jew who knows virtually everything there is to know about Israel whether it’s Old Testament, New Testament, or modern history.
One of the things Hela talked about was the fulfilment of Scripture. She quoted Isaiah 66:8 and told us how on May 15, 1948 their first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared it the state of Israel. (She did not state that this Isaiah passage was a prophecy of Israel becoming a nation, but rather that this historic moment is reflective of this particular scripture.) She also noted how we as Gentiles are fulfilling Scripture. She quoted Isaiah 2:2, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it.” I’ve been thinking about that Scripture a lot today. I, a mere sinner, am fulfilling Scripture by returning to the Holy Land. Even though I’m standing on the soil of the Holy Land, it still feels so surreal.
I’m currently eating breakfast with a beautiful view of the Mediterranean Sea. As the Old Testament tutor at my university, I’ve drawn the Mediterranean Sea on the ancient map of Israel dozens of times, and just last night I finally got to see it and walk in it barefoot. This morning it’s a warm 50ºF on the sea. Having come from 10º weather in Michigan, this is spring weather to me.
It’s only day one of sightseeing and already there’s a lot to cover. Our first stop was at a Roman amphitheatre in Caesarea. Whilst I’m sitting on the Roman seats, the group and I are reading Acts 10. Caesarea is where the faithful Roman centurion was, to whom an angel of the Lord appeared and told him to send men to Joppa and bring St. Peter to him. Joppa is about 60 kilometres (37.28 miles) away from Caesarea. During this time, Peter receives the following vision:
And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but whilst they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven (vv. 10-16).
The theological significance of something occurring three times is it signifies when something has been fulfilled. What was fulfilled? We’re about to find out.
Whilst this vision perplexed Peter and as he was trying to ascertain what it meant, Cornelius’ men arrived and beckoned him to meet Cornelius. So, Peter traveled to Caesarea. Now, Cornelius was a Gentile, and in the Jews’ eyes they were superior to Gentiles, which is why Cornelius fell down before Peter out of reverence (v. 25). But consider Peter’s following words, who speaks after suddenly realising the meaning of the vision:
But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown that I should not call any person common or unclean” (vv. 26-28).
Not only are unclean animals now clean to eat, but Scripture has been fulfilled through Christ for salvation to all people, even Gentiles!
As I sit at the amphitheatre and look out into the Mediterranean Sea, I ponder Peter’s words: “God has shown me I should not call any person common or unclean.” Neither should we. We should never consider someone too unclean—or unworthy—of hearing the Gospel. The Gospel is for all, not something we keep just to ourselves. After all, the word for the Gospel is the same word for Good News: εὐαγγέλιον (euangélion). And what do we do with good news? We share it! Let us, then, share the Gospel to all with joy.
I remember a time, not too long ago, when I accidentally brought a Muslim woman to Christ, whose name I will not give for her protection. We met, and as we talked with each other it became clear to me she was Muslim. As a person who avoids conflict, I had decided not to bring up anything about Christianity or Jesus. Yet the Lord had other plans. As is inevitable when we first meet someone, she asked me what I’m doing for a living. So, I was honest and told her I’m a full-time student and didn’t say anything more.
However, wanting more details, she asked me what I’m studying, so I mentally sighed and told her I’m studying to be a Lutheran pastor. Her next question was surprising, “Can you teach me about Jesus?” Astonished, I happily obliged and gave her the basics about the Rebellion of Man (or what we commonly call the Fall of Man, which I think is a misnomer), why that called for our necessity of a Saviour, how each of us strive to attain salvation on our own especially through our own means, how Jesus fulfilled the Law for us, and how His sacrifice was sufficient to cover our sins and thus justifies us by faith. Essentially, I gave her the basics.
Her next question was even more surprising, “How can Jesus be my Lord and Saviour?” So, I explained to her all she really needs to do is to simply believe with all her heart, mind, and soul that she’s a sinner in need of forgiveness, that Jesus died for her sins, and that He rose from the dead, and to confess this with her mouth. We prayed for a little bit after my explaining this and gave her some online resources to learn more about the Christian faith (she lives in Albania). To this day, she is a woman on fire for Christ in a Muslim country that hates Christians.
The primary role of the Christian is to proclaim the Gospel (Mark 16:15), not to prove it. We are examples of Christ 24/7. Think about that for a moment. Every second of our lives we are representing Christ to someone. This should be both humbling and convicting. Every moment, we are witnessing about Christ, whether we’re witnessing Him faithfully or unfaithfully. When we recognise we are witnessing about Him unfaithfully, we need to repent. In my sin, I didn’t want any confrontation with a Muslim, so I kept the Gospel from her. Yet the Holy Spirit had other plans and gave me the opportunity to give her the Gospel message. Even if she didn’t come to faith, I still would have done my Christian duty. Where one plants, another waters, and God causes the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Now I’m at Tel Megiddo, or what we call Armageddon. A tel is an excavation site that is comprised of a giant mound of ancient civilisations built on top of more ancient civilisations. The deeper the layer, the more ancient it is. At Megiddeo, for example, I am standing on about 23 layers of ancient civilisations, all of which have not yet been excavated. Currently, there are 30,000 tels in Israel and only 250 have been fully excavated!
Megiddo is a historically significant place because it was a highly strategic location, and many kings have fought over it. When King Ahab fortified it, one of the problems they faced was getting water. In order to get water, people had to go outside the walls to get water, which was disadvantageous and extremely risky. So, Ahab built a giant well within the walls, which we got to walk in. You can view my video here. This is a most notable feat because Ahab “did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him” (1 Kings 16:30), which must’ve been insurmountably bad because all the kings before him were evil as well! Yet this horribly evil king built a well with genius design for the benefit of all those at Megiddo.
Even in the midst of such evil, God still provides for His people. This is something we ought to remember in our own lives.
After Megiddo, I have hiked all the way up to Mt. Precipice in Nazareth. On a particular Sabbath day, Jesus read the following passage from Isaiah in a synagogue in Nazareth, “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because of which He has anointed Me to proclaim Good News to the poor. He sent Me to proclaim to the captives forgiveness and to the blind recovery of sight, to send out freedom for those who are being oppressed, to proclaim the favourable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19, my own Greek translation). Jesus then told the listeners, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21). After the people asked, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (v. 22), Jesus said:
“Truly, I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his homeland. But in truth I say to you: There were many widows in the days of Elijah in Israel, when the skies were shut for three years and six months, as a great famine occurred over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath in Sidon, to a female widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them were cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian” (vv. 24-27, my own Greek translation).
This is significant because the widow whom Elijah had helped and the leper Naaman whom Elisha had aided were Gentiles. And here, Jesus was saying He’s the fulfilment of these Scriptures by coming not only for the Jews, but also the Gentiles—even the Romans whom the Jews were waiting for the Messiah to rescue them from!
As you may well know, the Jews were racist against the Gentiles, so what Jesus said made them really angry. These Jews living in Roman society had imagined the Messiah as one to rescue them from Roman tyranny. And now, this man claiming to be the Messiah is saying He has come to save not only the Jews but even these evil Roman Gentiles. Surely, their anger is understandable, even though it’s also foolish.
Thus, the following came to pass, “Whilst they were hearing these things, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. And rising up, they threw Him outside of the town and brought Him up to the edge of the hill on which the town had been built so that they could throw Him down a cliff” (vv. 28-29, my own Greek translation). There’s an old atheistic saying: “Jesus couldn’t have existed because there’s no cliff in Nazareth to throw Him off.” Clearly, they’ve never been to Nazareth because not only can you see the huge hill I’m standing on (above), but also where I’m standing in the photo is the most likely place they took Him because it’s smack dab in the centre of Nazareth: Mt. Precipice. As you can see in this photo, it would be quite easy to push someone off this cliff to their death, possibly breaking their neck or splitting their head open on the many huge rocks down the large hill. If the above photo is not convincing, refer to the photo on the left, which is on the edge of the hill.
Obviously, they didn’t throw Jesus off the cliff because He died by crucifixion. So, what happened? Quite simply, “But going through their midst, He went away” (v. 30, my own Greek translation). I can’t help but imagine this scene as Jesus coolly walking through the crowd in slow motion with Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir playing in the background. Mic drop. Y’all can’t do anything.
But in all seriousness, I find the language of this account interesting. It says the people brought Him to the hill, so Jesus let them take Him. He knew what they wanted to do to Him, and He just walked through them after being taken all the way up to that huge hill because they were powerless to do anything (by the way, it’s not an easy hike). So, why did He do this? The text doesn’t say.
Did these people finally realise who He was after He demonstrated His power? Maybe. Maybe not. We don’t know. Yet as Christian Gentiles, we know Christ fulfilled the Scriptures for our sake, thanks be to God.
After a long day of visiting these sites and others, we have arrived at the kibbutz where we’re staying for the night—a little Jewish self-sustaining community. The kibbutz is right on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus walked on water. This is another surreal moment for me. My feet are touching the water where Jesus’ feet also touched. I think about that moment when Peter walked on the water with Jesus, then as he looked at his surroundings and realised what was happening as he doubted and began to sink.
What a picture of our faith life this is. We’re living by faith, life is going smoothly, walking on water, then we get distracted by our surroundings and lose focus. A bad teacher would use this allegory to teach we should keep doing things for Jesus to maintain our Christ-centred focus (works-based theology).
What does the text say? After Peter cries out, “Lord, save me,” it says, “Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of him” (Matthew 14:30-31). It’s stranger that Peter called out to Jesus because we know he’s a great swimmer. Peter swam to Jesus when He appeared to the disciples after His resurrection (John 21:7). So, why would Peter, a man who’s clearly a great swimmer (which a fisherman has to be), call out to Him when he falls in the water? Why not just swim back to the boat?
We can make many speculations, but I like to think it’s because trusting in Jesus’ ability is far better than trusting in our own. Perhaps, in that moment of fear, Peter knew Jesus was the only one who could save him (He was standing on water, after all).
This morning, I’m sailing on the Sea of Galilee, and I had the amazing opportunity to worship Jesus through music whilst sailing on the sea where Jesus walked. We also read Matthew 8:23-27:
And when He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but He was asleep, and they went and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” And He said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey Him?”
We started sailing from Tiberias and thankfully, there was no storm. The Sea of Galilee is not really a sea, but more of a lake—the lowest lake on earth 720 feet below sea level. There was no storm, but the waves were large enough to control the boat at its will every now and then, cutting short our sailing on the sea. Whilst we did not experience a storm on this large lake, I know what it’s like to be in the middle of a storm on a large lake.
Back in the summer of 2005, I was on a photography trip with my dad in Algonquin National Park in Canada. We were in our canoe on a large lake paddling to our next destination to camp for the night when a storm literally came out of nowhere. (The same type of sudden storms is infamous on the Sea of Galilee. Just ask the locals.) We were paddling against extremely harsh winds and 2-foot waves and it was difficult to make distance because we were paddling against the force of the wind and the waves.
Two-foot waves may not seem big, but they are when you’re in a canoe—and when you’re a petite 15-year-old. Plus, it’s not really the size that matters, but the force of the waves caused by the wind and the current underneath. It was a frightening experience. I was praying a lot, and I wasn’t even a practicing Christian at this point in my life. I was literally scared for my life, especially because I have a fear of deep water since I can’t swim. (Swimming inept, really. Seriously, no swimming technique will keep my potato-shaped body above water.) Obviously, I survived the terrible ordeal.
This brings me to my point, which is similar to yesterday’s: Peter knew he was in trouble. Instead of trusting in his own ability, he trusted in Jesus’ ability. I wonder how often we choose to trust ourselves rather than Christ when we’re in trouble. My pilgrimage to Israel is a prime example. When I told people I was going to Israel, many of them told me, “Be careful” and talked about how dangerous it is there, as if I didn’t already know and hadn’t already considered that. This is because they trust CNN and not God. I’m here because I trust God, not CNN (Crappy News Network). Not to mention the fact that Israel’s security is at least ten times tighter than America’s, and for obvious reasons.
After the excitement of worshipping Jesus on the Sea of Galilee, I am now in the quiet Hula Valley Reserve, which is called Merom in Scripture (Joshua 11:1-11). In this account, God promised to deliver the enemies in northern Canaan to the Israelites, and He fulfilled this promise in the Hula Valley.
This made me think of the promise God made to His people that still applies to us today, particularly the forgiveness of sins. He forgives us when we repent, in Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. God always keeps His promises, and we meet His fulfilment of these promises in repentance through prayer and the sacraments.
I’m at Nimrod Castle now—a fortress strategically placed on a mountain on the road to Damascus during the Crusades, which was more of a side stop. We’re not here for long, and it’s extremely windy and a bit cold, but it was still cool to see some ancient church history.
Caesarea Philippi is our last stop for today, which was where Jesus took the disciples and asked a convicting question, “Who do you say that I am?” To which Peter famously replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-20). This statement is extremely significant because of what Jesus says to Peter next, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (v. 17). Peter did not make this confession of faith with his own knowledge, but it was the Holy Spirit who revealed it to him! An atheist can say Jesus is the Christ just because he knows that’s what the Bible says, but it’s only through the Holy Spirit who gives us the gift of faith to believe this and confess this.
This was a strange place for Jesus to take the disciples because of its heavy paganism where pagans worshipped the half-goat, half-man god, Pan. Jews would never visit such a wicked place, and yet Jesus took the disciples here, who were Jewish. To the pagans, Pan was their god. So, Jesus asked them the convicting question, “But who do you say that I am?”
This is a question we should all consider every day. Who do we say Jesus is? What gods (idols) are we placing above Him? Is it addiction? Our political philosophies? Human reason and cultural comforts? Our sense of autonomy? Jesus is the Christ, and He reigns supreme. He is to be the head of every part of our lives, even when His Word is not popular with worldly beliefs and cultural customs.
Our first site today was Tel Dan. In order to fully understand the significance of this place, it’s necessary I list all the verses we read here. (Besides, what’s wrong with reading a lot of Scripture?) It’s all from the Old Testament, so if you think the Old Testament is boring, you shouldn’t, since it all points to Christ. If you want to know the New Testament, you have to know the Old Testament.
The verses were as follows: 1 Kings 11:1-4, 11, 26, 28-32, 34-36, 40; 12:26-30; 13:33-34; 14:7-9, 16; and 15:19-30. I’m going to quote these verses respectively, and please don’t be lazy and skip it. However, if you ignore my exhortation, I will provide brief synopses at the end of each passage explaining what’s going on in brackets, but still read the whole thing! Even if you read the whole passages, you should still read what I put in brackets for clarification of what’s going on, especially if you get confused. You won’t get the full significance of my visiting Tel Dan without reading the following blocked passages:
1 Kings 11:1-4, 11, 26, 28-32, 34-36, 40, Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after other gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father…
Therefore, the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this has been your practice and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant…
Jeroboam the son of Nebat, an Ephraimite of Zeredah, a servant of Solomon, whose mother’s name was Zeruah, a widow, also lifted up his hand against the king…
The man Jeroboam was very able, and when Solomon saw that the young man was industrious, he gave him charge over all the forced labour of the house of Joseph. And at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had dressed himself in a new garment, and the two of them were alone in the open country. Then Ahijah laid hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. And he said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and will give you ten tribes (but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of My servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel)…
“Nevertheless, I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, but I will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of David My servant whom I chose, who kept My commandments and My statutes. But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hand and will give it to you, ten tribes. Yet to his son I will give one tribe, that David My servant may always have a lamp before Me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen to put My name…
Solomon sought, therefore, to kill Jeroboam. But Jeroboam arose and fled into Egypt, to Shishak king of Egypt, and was in Egypt until the death of Solomon.
[Here, God commanded Solomon and the Israelites not to intermarry with the pagan nations they overcame. Many racists use this as a reason for why intermarriage is a sin, but God is not saying not to intermarry because of their race, but because they worship other gods! Anyway, Solomon, in his lust for these women, marries an absurd amount of women and also has an absurd amount of concubines, which was a typical practice of pagan kings in his day. So, not heeding God’s warning, God told Solomon He’s going to take the kingdom away from him and give it to his servant, not his son. So, God is not only taking the kingdom away from him personally, but also from the rest of his line. God then sends the prophet Ahijah to explain to Jeroboam, Solomon’s servant, what God was going to do—to give him the kingdom of Israel—but not until after Solomon has died according to His promise He made to David. God emphasises several times that He is only going to given Jeroboam 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel, according to the promise He made to David that his line will continue forever, which is ultimately fulfilled in Christ (see the genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17). When Solomon finds out Jeroboam’s purpose, he seeks to kill him, but Jeroboam flees to Egypt under the protection of Shishak the king of Egypt until Solomon dies. What’s most interesting is that God said David kept His commandments. But did he? David committed adultery with Bathsheba and passively murdered her husband, Uriah. Obviously, David didn’t keep God’s commandments. But knowing the context of justification by faith, the faith we share with Abraham (Romans 4:1-8), in Christ he has kept God’s commandments since Christ has kept them for him and us.]
1 Kings 12:26-30, And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” So, the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one.
[With Solomon dead, Jeroboam has now taken the throne. Directly before this chosen passage, the kingdom of Israel had divided into two kingdoms—the northern kingdom Israel and the southern kingdom Judah (vv. 1-25), leaving Rehoboam as the king of Judah and Jeroboam the king of Israel. Jeroboam was worried that by the people of Israel going to Jerusalem in Judah to offer sacrifices at the Temple, they would swear allegiance to Judah—where the city of David is, the city God has chosen His name to dwell—and rebel against him. So, in his paranoia, he fashioned false gods and set one in Bethel (southern Israel) and one in Dan (northern Israel), the place where I am now standing. You would think that knowing what their ancestors did in the wilderness when Aaron fashioned golden calves for them, they would remember this and its consequences. But, of course, they didn’t.]
1 Kings 13:33-34, After this thing, Jeroboam did not return from his evil way, but made priests for the high places again from among all the people. Any who would, he ordained to be priests of the high places. And this thing became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the earth.
[After Jeroboam set up the false gods in their places, he did not repent of this idolatry. Instead, he continued in his evil by making other altars to which people would offer sacrifices to false gods, he ordained his own priests to these false gods, and he ordained anyone who would accept the offer! This was a grave sin in God’s eyes, and one that would utterly destroy the places of these altars as well as his line.]
1 Kings 14:7-9, 16, [This is Ahijah speaking to Jeroboam’s wife, likely just one of his many wives.] “Go, tell Jeroboam, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: “Because I have exalted you from among the people and made you leader over My people Israel and tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you, and yet you have not been like My servant David, who kept My commandments and followed Me with all his heart, doing only that which was right in My eyes, but you have done evil above all who were before you and have gone and made for yourself other gods and metal images, provoking Me to anger, and have cast Me behind your back… And He will give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, which he sinned and made Israel to sin.”
[Here, God uses others to confront Jeroboam’s sin. It’s interesting that God directly told Solomon he was going to lose the kingdom, probably out of respect to his father David. But here, God doesn’t even send Ahijah to tell him of his coming destruction, just as he used Ahijah to tell him he was going to inherit the kingdom. Instead, He tells Ahijah to tell his wife to tell Jeroboam what’s going to happen. Jeroboam was paranoid that Israel was going to make allegiance to Judah because the Temple was located in its capital, Jerusalem, which would remind them of their forefather David. In order not to lose the people to possible rebellion, he created false gods for the people to worship. Ironically, he is going to lose them anyway because he led them into sin.]
1 Kings 15:19-30, [This is King Asa speaking, who now reigns in Judah at this time. Also, before this text, Jeroboam has died (14:19-20).] “Let there be a covenant between me and you [Ben-hadad, king of Syria, who lived in Damascus], as there was between my father and your father. Behold, I am sending to you a present of silver and gold. Go, break your covenant with Baasha king of Israel, that he may withdraw from me.” And Ben-hadad listened to King Asa and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel and conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-beth-maacah, and all Chinneroth, with all the land of Naphtali. And when Baasha heard of it, he stopped building Ramah, and he lived in Tirzah. Then King Asa made a proclamation to all Judah, none was exempt, and they carried away the stones of Ramah and its timber, with which Baasha had been building, and with them King Asa built Geba of Bejamin and Mizpah. Now the rest of all the acts of Asa, all his might, and all that he did, and the cities that he built, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? But in his old age he was diseased in his feet. And Asa slept with his fathers and was buried with his fathers in the city of David his father, and Jehoshaphat his son reigned in his place. [At this point, the text continues as a side note about what happened after Jeroboam’s death.] Nadab the son of Jeroboam began to reign over Israel in the second year of Asa king of Judah, and he reigned over Israel two years. He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and walked in the way of his father, and in his sin which he made Israel to sin. Baasha the son of Ahijah, of the house of Issachar, conspired against him. And Baasha struck him down at Gibbethon, which belonged to the Philistines, for Nadab and all Israel were laying siege to Gibbethon. So, Baasha killed him in the third year of Asa king of Judah and reigned in his place. And as soon as he was king, he killed all the house of Jeroboam. He left to the house of Jeroboam not one that breathed, until he had destroyed it, according to the word of the LORD that He spoke by His servant Ahijah the Shilonite. It was for the sins of Jeroboam that he sinned and that he made Israel to sin, and because of the anger to which he provoked the LORD, the God of Israel.
[Finally, here we come to the destruction of Dan, which are the remains you see in the photo above. After Jeroboam died, his son Nadab takes the throne. The now king of Judah, Asa, allied with Ben-hadad the king of Syria to kill Baasha the king of Israel (which we’re not told he reigns until the next chapter), destroying Dan in the process as a result of Jeroboam’s sin. Before Baasha’s reign (the account given doesn’t discuss it in this order), Baasha the son of the prophet Ahijah kills Nadab the son of Jeroboam and the rest of his family! Such was the price for apostasy and leading all of Israel into apostasy.]
The photo I provided above is the ruins of God’s destruction upon Jeroboam and those who worshipped the false gods at Dan. It’s hard for us to relate to the Old Testament Scriptures that speak of such altars because we have no idea what they look like. Well, now you know what it looks like… At least when it’s utterly destroyed. It was awe-inspiring to witness the aftermath of God’s judgement against those who worshipped false gods—those who commit spiritual adultery and follow after false religions. It was also terrifying.
The next site we’re visiting is Chorazin, which today is called Korazim. Here, I read Matthew 11:21-24, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgement for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgement for the land of Sodom than for you.”
Whoa. These are quite some damning words coming from Jesus. In essence, Jesus is saying, “If you—Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum—continue in your sinful lifestyles and do not repent, I tell you destruction shall come upon you. If the evil you did were done in Sodom, they would still be living in sin, but God destroyed them because of their sin. And yet the judgement that was upon them will be easier to tolerate than the judgement you will suffer.” We’re visiting all three of these sites today, and I later discovered they were all completely destroyed. Nothing but ruins remain. If there’s anything to learn from Dan, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, it’s that when God promises to incur His judgement, it’s going to happen unless we repent.
That was a lot of Law for the first half of the day. Thankfully, we got some Gospel. One of the verses we read at Bethsaida was Mark 8:22-25:
And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to Him a blind man and begged Him to touch him. And He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when He had spat on his eyes and laid His hands on him, He asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid His hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.
Reading this passage by itself is difficult to understand without reading the context. Before coming to Israel, I used to always ask myself, “Why didn’t Jesus just heal the blind man completely? Why did He heal his sight only partially?” So, I finally decided to look at the context.
Yesterday, I talked about my visit to Caesarea Philippi where Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Before this happened, Jesus performed this miracle on the blind man. By doing this, Jesus was leading the disciples up to a major theological point.
At the beginning of Mark 8, Jesus performed the miracle of feeding 4,000 people. After this, the disciples were complaining about the fact that they had no bread. Jesus asked them why they were discussing this matter. He says:
“And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to Him, “Seven.” And He said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:18-21)
The disciples had literally seen Jesus perform two miracles where He fed thousands of people with merely 12 baskets of bread and then 7 baskets. And yet, they were worried about having no bread. So, Jesus asked, “You still don’t understand who I am?”
Following this event, Jesus heals the blind man. The theological point He was making with the blind man seeing people who look like trees is the disciples are not seeing Him clearly. Just as the blind man failed to see the people clearly, so the disciples were failing to see Jesus clearly. Continuing on their journey as Jesus taught them, He led them to the odd place of Caesarea Philippi, where Peter was finally able to make the confession through the Holy Spirit Jesus was waiting for: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Am I seeing Jesus clearly? I am right now because of what the Holy Spirit showed me through the Scriptures. Yet when I face troublesome times in my life and when I make plans to do things—especially as I study the Word academically—am I seeing Jesus clearly? At times it’s fuzzy, and it’s because I’m allowing my sin to block Him, whether it’d be my pride, selfishness, or what-have-you.
Every day and in every circumstance, we face a question we should ask ourselves: Am I seeing Jesus clearly? I made the point yesterday it was only through the Holy Spirit that Peter was able to confess Jesus as the Christ. When Jesus seems fuzzy to us—when it seems unsure whether He’s present—we ought to stop, pray, and ask the Holy Spirit to show us Jesus fully as He is.
I’m now at Capernaum, the third city that was destroyed. Jesus visited Capernaum several times, so we looked at several Scriptures when He was there. Here, I had the chance to see the likely place where St. Peter’s house was located.
Peter’s house is within and underneath a modern chapel the excavators built over it, which is unfortunate because it’s difficult to see what Peter’s house looked like, which you can tell in the photo to the left. That’s the best angle I could get. Regardless, this house was huge, at least in the first century. This means Peter was actually pretty darn wealthy; he was a highly successful fisherman.
We know Peter lived in Capernaum because before Jesus called Peter to follow Him, Jesus began His ministry in Capernaum (Matthew 4:12-13). Peter was one of the first disciples Jesus called, who was fishing on the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum is on the northern shore of the lake, even to this day. So, the ruins they found of this house was most likely Peter’s.
Considering Peter’s possible wealth, it changes the implications of Peter’s call to follow Jesus. Not only did Peter just leave everything behind to follow Jesus, but he also left his wealth behind to follow Him. How many rich people in the history of humanity have left their wealth to follow Jesus? Or, to put it another way, how many rich people in the history of humanity trust in Jesus more than their wealth? Not many. Yet without even knowing who Jesus was, Peter left everything behind—including his wealth—and followed Jesus.
What sacrifices must we make to follow Jesus? These sacrifices are not always easy. For example, as one who is recovering from pornography addiction, I have to give up movies and TV shows that have nudity in them because nudity and sex scenes are big triggers for me. This means, in order to follow Jesus faithfully and be sexually pure, I have to give up shows like Game of Thrones, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed because the literature is amazing.
If I want to follow Jesus faithfully by being sexually pure, I have to exercise the faith to sacrifice such movies and TV shows in order to follow Him, which such faith is something only the Holy Spirit can give. In the same way, I know some men who suffer with same-sex attraction who exercise tremendous faith to follow Jesus faithfully by being celibate. Living in a highly sexualised society, this is not an easy task. Even Christians are quick to judge people who choose to live in the vocation of celibacy. So, as you think about Peter’s sacrifice, what do you need to sacrifice in order to follow Jesus faithfully? Whatever it is, pray that God gives you the Holy Spirit to live faithfully.
Next, we’re at Magdala, which is a town dedicated to Mary Magdalene because this is where she lived (it was not called Magdala during Jesus’ ministry). We often assume Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, but the synoptic gospels never actually claim she was a prostitute. She was actually a wealthy woman.
She was a close companion of Jesus because she funded His ministry (Luke 8:1-3). She was essentially the banker of Jesus’ ministry because she was wealthy enough to do so. If she were a prostitute, she certainly would not have been able to provide for Jesus “out of [her] means.” Prostitutes in first century Rome were not wealthy! Many of them were prostitutes precisely because they were too poor to do any other trade and had no husband to care for them. This is quite amazing because not only was Mary Magdalene not a prostitute, but women were also considered second-rate citizens, yet she along with other women were Jesus’ financial support in His ministry.
Not only that, but Mary Magdalene was also the first person Jesus appeared to in His resurrection (Mark 16:9)! (People speculate that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife, gaining their evidence from the Gnostic gospels. But when it comes to the person and work of Christ, no biblical scholar takes these false gospels seriously, even biblical scholars who aren’t Christian. Even so, the Gnostic gospels reject Jesus as the Son of God as well as many other orthodox doctrines about His work and person. So, it makes no sense to trust these false gospels about Jesus’ personal life when they don’t even get his work and personhood right in the first place.)
Obviously, women have an extremely important place in Jesus’ ministry. It might not be as pastors, but it’s certainly something quite amazing—as powerful witnesses of the Gospel and ministry support, roles of which are of extremely high importance.
Without Mary Magdalene’s financial support as well as those other women who accompanied Him, Jesus would not have been able to travel as often as He did, let alone eat. Jesus appearing to Mary and other women first is great evidence for His resurrection because in the first century, the testimony of women were considered no more trustworthy than a thief’s. If Jesus’ resurrection was a giant farce, the gospel writers would not have recorded women as the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection; they would’ve changed it to men, likely to Jesus’ closest companions, the disciples. But they didn’t.
These are important facts for women today. In Jesus’ eyes, quite contrary to first century Rome, women are not second-rate citizens. Women are extremely important individuals in ministry. Jesus loves women tremendously. Woman was created because man needed a helper. In other words, it wasn’t the woman who needed the man but it was the man who needed the woman. It was the husband who needed a wife, not the other way around.
Today, I think we have lost the importance of what it means to be needed. God created the man because He wanted to, but He created the woman because the man was alone and needed a helper—He created the woman out of the man’s need. In God’s order of creation, their creative purpose might be to serve and to support, but Jesus Christ—the only Son of God—was the greatest servant of all. If anything, women should be extremely honoured to be created for that purpose—the same purpose for which Jesus came into the world (Matthew 20:28). Women are these beautiful creatures God has fashioned into men’s lives who give us aid and amazing support—support we cannot live without.
The last site we’re visiting for today is the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter. (This is a Catholic chapel. Catholics think Peter was the first pope, which is why it’s called the “Primacy” of St. Peter.)
This site was likely where Jesus spoke to Peter at the charcoal fire. “Charcoal fire” appears only twice in the entire Scriptures, and only in the New Testament, and only in the gospel of St. John. The first time is when John records Peter’s threefold denial: “Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself” (John 18:18).
The second time—and this is amazing—is when Jesus was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after His resurrection when some of the disciples saw Him. Peter, Nathanael, and two other disciples were fishing on the Sea of Galilee (John was one of those two but he never refers to himself in the first person in his gospel). Whilst they were fishing, they saw Jesus on the shore, but they did not know it was Him.
They were having trouble catching fish, and after Jesus told them to cast it on the right side and they caught a lot of fish, John recognised Jesus, saying, “It is the Lord” (John 21:7)! Peter was filled with so much joy that he jumped out of the boat and swam to Jesus. Then, and here’s the key, “When they got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire in place…” (v. 9). Then Jesus invites them to have breakfast with Him.
This sets us up for what comes next. Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love Me” (vv. 15-19)? Each time, Peter confesses his faith to Jesus. This account ends with Jesus’ simple words, “Follow Me.” It is a simple yet profound ending, especially for Peter. Jesus approached Peter in Capernaum and spoke the same words, “Follow Me,” to which he responded by dropping everything and leaving even his wealth and hometown behind. Now again, after following Jesus for three years already, Jesus says, “Follow Me,” and Peter does great things in the name of Christ, which we read about in Acts.
What amazing grace. After denying Jesus three times, Peter warms himself at a charcoal fire. He committed a grave sin, and he just goes and warms himself as if nothing happened (this was before he went and wept bitterly for what he had done). Then, in front of another charcoal fire, Jesus shows Peter His amazing grace in spite of his sin. At the first charcoal fire, Jesus wasn’t even there! This just shows the level of His omniscience. What a terrific image of Jesus’ unconditional love for Peter.
For our first site today, I’m at Bet She’an (Beth-shan). Here, I read 1 Samuel 31. This is where we read the account of the death of Saul, Jonathan, and the rest of his sons. The following day, the Philistines who defeated Saul cut off his head and “put his armour in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan” (v. 10).
The people of Jabesh-gilead heard about this, which is 19 kilometres (11.8 miles) north of Beth-shan, and they went and took down Saul’s body and his sons’ bodies. To finish this story, we have to read 2 Samuel 21:12-14:
David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of his son Jonathan from the men of Jabesh-gilead, who had stolen them from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hung them, on the day the Philistines killed Saul of Gilboa. And he brought up from there the bones of Saul and the bones of his son Jonathan; and they gathered the bones of those who were hanged. And they buried the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan in the land of Benjamin in Zeal, in the tomb of Kish his father. And they did all that the king commanded. And after that, God responded to the plea for the land.
This shows David’s incredible integrity. It may seem like nothing to us, but what we just read is a proper Jewish burial in B.C. Israel. Saul sought to take David’s life for years and David still had the integrity and great sense of honour to give Saul a proper Jewish burial, which he did not deserve. Yet David saw it fitting to give him one.
This makes me think of how I treat my own enemies. Like many other people, in my sin I tend to wish the worst for my enemies, even if they haven’t done anything to me directly. God called David a man after His own heart (Acts 13:22). David was a man who sought the love, mercy, and grace of God even when he sinned. What we just read above is one way in which he exemplified God’s heart.
Even though God judged Saul as he deserved, God still loved him. I think it would be erroneous to think God takes pleasure when He punishes people what’s owed them. After all, He said, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, and not rather that He should turn from His way and live” (Ezekiel 18:23)? Even though He judged Saul justly, He still showed His love for him through David’s sense of honour in giving him a proper Jewish burial. I should begin to treat my enemies differently—as Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
As I stand at Qumran, I am amazed. (I know I’ve used that word a lot, but I don’t know how else to describe my pilgrimage!) Qumran is one of the sites where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Just from where I’m standing in the photo to the left there are so many caves where they found the scrolls, and many more that haven’t been explored yet.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were found on November 29, 1947, which was the same day Israel declared its independence. Over 900 scrolls of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings were found except for Esther, because it’s the only book that doesn’t mention God. One of our greatest finds in the Dead Sea Scrolls is that for a long time, historical-grammatical critics argued Isaiah was written by two different Isaiahs. Finding the Dead Sea Scrolls helped to confirm that all 66 chapters of Isaiah were in fact written by the same man. What a marvelous find and testimony to the inerrancy of Scripture!
A common question asked is: How did these scrolls survive for over 2,000 years? How were they even readable? There’s no humidity at the Dead Sea because it’s 1,420 feet below sea level. So, it’s an extremely arid climate, so the scrolls and the jars that contained them were extremely well-preserved. This, to me, just shows God’s providential care over His Word. I don’t know about you, but when it comes to God, I don’t believe in coincidences.
Our last stop for today is absolutely beautiful and my favourite place we visited: En Gedi. That name probably doesn’t mean anything to you, but the account that happened there will. This is the site where David had his first opportunity to kill Saul in a cave whilst Saul was relieving himself, but he chose not to kill him. We get the whole account in 1 Samuel 24. This was my favourite site because when I read this account in the past, I always imagined the cave as this boring, brown coloured cave with a random puddle of water in it.
Yet, as you can see in the photograph to the right, it’s a luscious green place with a lot of water—a fantastically beautiful oasis. The amazing thing about this place is that it’s smack dab in the middle of the desert. You’re traveling in the dry, brown desert, then suddenly—after hiking several hundred feet up—you’re in a breathtaking oasis. Even more amazing, God told David to come here. He told him to go out into the desert for refuge, which might have seemed hopeless to David, but he trusted God and found He had led him to this breathtaking oasis with plenty of greens and water.
As I sit here watching the beautiful waterfall, I’m thinking about where God is calling me to go—to seminary, and then to whichever church He calls me after ordination. I won’t get into the story because it’s long (and this whole thing is absurdly long enough as it is), but there was a time when I left the pre-seminary programme because I essentially did not trust God with the abilities and skills He gave me and that my introverted personality was not a good match for ministry.
So, like David, I just have to trust God and go. God is calling me to go somewhere and I do not need to question Him. Some of you might be feeling a calling as well. If it’s clear God is calling you to go somewhere—whether it’s a career or even something like going to Israel—just trust Him and go. He’ll take care of the rest.
Tonight, we’re staying at Herod’s Dead Sea Hotel, a 5-star hotel right on the Dead Sea (my second favourite site). I took the above photo of the Dead Sea during the sunset. It’s crazy how warm it is here. Because of the drop in elevation, it becomes a lot warmer. It’s currently 75º here, which coming from the cold tundra of Michigan, is early summer weather.
I’m watching the others in the group float on the Dead Sea. The water is denser than our bodies, so you don’t have to make any effort to float on the water; it does it for you. I’m not a swimmer, so I’m just sitting on the shore and took photos of them on their phones when they asked. As I sit and listen to their laughter and joy, I can’t help but smile.
Later tonight at our debriefing, we talked about joy—how it’s contagious and comes from deep inside us, that we are content. I’ve always theologically known what the joy of the Lord is, but here I witnessed it. We were all filled with so much joy. Even though I wasn’t participating in the waterworks, even I experienced the joy. The joy of the Lord is an amazing, powerful thing when we have joy with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We’re not seeing a lot of sites today, which I’m thankful for because my lumbar radiculopathy (sciatica) from my Army disability is nearly killing me. It hasn’t been this bad in five years, which has made me really upset and it’s been distracting. Of all times for it to act up, it happens on my pilgrimage. Obviously, it’s the Devil trying to distract me from what God wants me to see.
Our first site today was Arad, which will not sound familiar unless you know the Old Testament better than I do. Arad is briefly mentioned in Joshua 12:14; it’s in the list of kings whom Israel destroyed and took their land.
We find the specifics of Arad in Numbers 21:1-3, “When the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming by the way of Atharim, he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive. And Israel [Jacob] vowed a vow to the LORD and said, ‘If you will indeed give this people into my hand, then I will devote their cities to destruction.’ And the LORD heeded the voice of Israel and gave over the Canaanites, and they devoted them and their cities to destruction. So, the name of the place was called Hormah,” which means destruction. So, basically, we got to see the ruins of Arad. There’s something amazing about seeing the remains of God’s judgement agains the enemies of His people, but also terrifying.
We also had the enjoyment of riding camels here in the Negev desert. There’s no biblical significance (other than the fact that they were likely animals of transport in biblical times). In the words of our professor for the class, Pastor Dan Flynn, “You can’t not ride camels when you’re in Israel.” So, we rode camels just to say we did.
Our last place for today is Avdat, which is in the wilderness of Zin. The only thing I want to share about this is to examine the photo on the right. That photo is the wilderness of Zin. As a young Christian, I always imagined the wilderness as being a forested area, because with our American cultural understanding, that’s the wilderness for us.
Once I got serious about my faith, I learnt what the wilderness actually is: the desert. So, when you read of the wilderness in Scripture—such as what the Israelites wandered in for 40 years—this photo is what it looks like. After walking in the wilderness for a while, I know why the Israelites had the complaints they did. It gets dry (pun intended) and boring very easily. It’s not a pleasant place to walk in, let alone live in. How would you like to wander in this desert for 40 years? I certainly wouldn’t. If that doesn’t strike it home for you, imagine wandering in the Texan Chihuahuan Desert or Death Valley for 40 years. That’s not a place you’d want to wander around for 40 years.
Today is much more exciting, despite my sciatica still acting up. Our first site for today is Masada. I learnt so much here that there’s only so much I can share with you. In fact, there’s a lot I learnt on this whole trip that there’s only so much I can share. If you’ve gotten this far, props to you. There are still five more days to go!
At Masada, we had the chance to see Israeli soldiers being inducted into the army. These are kids—men and women only 17- to 19-years-old. It made me miss my own army days. Our guide, Hela, teared up a bit as she told us how happy it makes her to see the freedom Israel finally has to defend their country. Whilst we were on top of Masada, we also saw Israeli jets flying over the Dead Sea a few times. Hela told us they were testing airborne tactics to fly below radar so as not to be detected by their enemies’ radars. When we first heard the jets, Hela said, “You know what that sound is? It’s the sound of freedom.” At such a patriotic comment, we all realised that Israelis are really just small Americans.
In Israel, it’s required for every man and woman to serve in the military. As an Israeli, you cannot go to college or even start a career without having served first. Women serve for two years and men serve for three. Once you finish your enlistment, you can then go to college and do other things you want with your life.
This is something worth respecting. Because of this, Israel has a standing army of over 600,000 people. What this means is that they have 600,000 citizens who are finished serving, but if it’s needed, they can call them to fight a serious threat—and they all know how to use weapons and have serious military training. Israel’s standing army alone is larger than our own army in America. I don’t say that to scare us, because Israel is our ally (for now). I say that to show how difficult it is for Israel to live in peace and how amazing it is that they have such a large standing army, yet one of the lowest gun crime rates in the world. I honestly believe their army requirements are something America should adopt.
Anyway, Masada was destroyed in AD 73. If you know history really well, you might recall the Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire began in AD 66, the Temple was destroyed in AD 70, and the surviving Jews hid on top of Masada until AD 73. As you might be able to tell from the photo, this was about 3,000 feet in elevation, so it was an amazing feat for them to get up there. There’s a walking path to get up here, but fortunately we took the cable cars, which obviously were not a luxury back in the first century.
Here’s where the story gets tragic for the Jews. As they looked over the plateau, they saw the Roman soldiers surrounding them. Defeat was inevitable. Known for their genius architecture, the Romans built ramps going all the way up to Masada. In response to their imminent doom, the Jews on Masada destroyed everything they had except for the food so the Roman soldiers, with their corrupt sense of honour, would not say they died of malnutrition. The last thing they did was they dressed in their best Shabbat (Sabbath) clothing, took their swords, and cut their jugular veins, including the women and children.
This is tragic and unimaginable to us Westerners; we would never think to commit suicide in the face of our impending doom. Yet let’s consider Patrick Henry’s words, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Patrick Henry, and other like-minded patriots, preferred death to British tyranny. This quote is famous for us Americans because it’s the battle cry of the American Revolution, and as patriots, these words are our battle cry, too. These surviving Jews tragically chose death to prevent their wives from being raped and their children from tasting slavery. They preferred death to Roman tyranny. I’m not saying whether or not this is right, but we we can certainly sympathise with their plight.
Lastly—just an interesting factoid—there was an archaeologist, Yigael Yadin, who was an agnostic and found an Ezekiel 37 scroll at the Masada synagogue. He said it was too holy to touch, so he got the Israeli army to get the scroll. When they found it, they began to cry uncontrollably, and Yadin began to cry and said, “Now I believe.”
Our last visit for today is our ascent to Jerusalem—the Holy City. As we drive on the road where Jesus walked up to Jerusalem, we’re reading Psalms 121 and 133, which say the following:
Psalm 121, I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.
Psalm 133, Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
We’re not exploring Jerusalem much today because we went to Bethlehem to shop for olive wood! I spent a lot of money… I got some gifts for myself, my mother and father, and stepmom. Anyway, reading those two psalms on the way up to Jerusalem was awe-inspiring. I got to read the psalms Jesus read whilst on the road to Jerusalem He walked on! That is just amazing!
Jerusalem is a hilly place and it’s surrounded by mountains. As I look upon the hills of Jerusalem, I can see how my help comes from the Lord alone.
Today started on the Mount of Olives, and we have a view of Mt. Moriah. If you recall, Mt. Moriah was where the near-sacrifice of Isaac occurred in Genesis 22. I’ll just take the risk and assume you know the event. Yet why did God put Abraham through that heartache of nearly sacrificing his only son? Two things. One, God was testing him, and by faith Abraham knew that if it were truly God’s will to sacrifice his son, He would raise him from the dead; and if it was not His will, he knew God would provide. The second thing is of high Christological significance. Not only would sacrificing Isaac’s life not be enough to cover the sins of the world, but God was already going to do that with His only Son, Jesus.
On the mount of Olives, we briefly worshipped in the Tear Drop Church, which is where they believe Jesus said the following words, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37)!
The people of Jerusalem—the Jews—have a history of killing God’s prophets and messengers. Jesus—God—has repeatedly tried to gather Israel through the prophets in spite of their disobedience and apostasy, but they were not willing to gather around Him. Just as they failed to obey God then, so they failed to obey Him in Christ, and even today as there are still many unbelieving Jews who are not saved. These words of Jesus not only illustrate His grace, but it also illustrates Jerusalem’s disobedience. God has tirelessly attempted to gather them around Him, but in the past, at this time, and into the future, they refuse and kill His messengers.
I have been waiting for this next site on our entire trip to Israel. I am standing in the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed the night He was betrayed. We read Matthew 26:36-46, but I love how John’s gospel records His prayer in John 17. Read those texts on your own before reading on, whether in your own Bible our on the hyperlinks I provided.
Having finished His earthly ministry, Jesus prays His final prayer. He prays not only for His disciples, but even for us—the catholic church (Christians of all time). He knows we must live in this world, and so He prays God protects us from the Devil, for us to be in unity, and to go out into the world so the world may believe in Him—to know the Father’s love. What an amazing prayer on the night He was betrayed!
Of course, it doesn’t end there. And I’m not talking about the event of His arrest, or His torturing, or even His crucifixion. I’m talking about His imprisonment that same night. When we recall Jesus’ betrayal, death, and resurrection throughout Holy Week, His imprisonment is almost always overlooked.
This is in Matthew 26:57-75. Before Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, He first stood before Caiaphas, a corrupt Jewish high priest. This high priest had a jail cell at the bottom of his house, and this is where Jesus was imprisoned, where He said, “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).
Archaeologists know this is the house of Caiaphas because they found pottery with his name on it. The photo on the left is the best I could take of the pit Jesus was in. Without the electricity in the photo, this pit would’ve been pitch black. In this pit, our tour guide, Hela, had me read aloud Psalm 88:1-12:
O LORD, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before You. Let my prayer come before You; incline Your ear to my cry! For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom You remember no more, for they are cut off from Your hand. You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and You overwhelm me with all Your waves. You have caused my companions to shun me; You have made me a horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon You, O LORD; I spread out my hands to You. Do You work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise You? Is Your steadfast love declared in the grave, or Your faithfulness in Abaddon? Are Your wonders known in the darkness, or Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
As I read these words aloud to the group in the pit where Jesus was imprisoned for several hours, I wondered what was going through His mind. The Scriptures do not tell us what Jesus was thinking as He stayed in this dark pit. Perhaps He recited Psalm 88? Perhaps He took this time to think of every single person He was going to die for—for me, for you? Perhaps He prayed again? We do not know what was going through Jesus’ mind as He stayed in this pitch black pit. All I know is this is the deep, dark pit where I should be imprisoned for my sins, not Jesus.
Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:64 made me think of the prophetic passage, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him. Even so. Amen” (Revelation 1:7). Even the wicked—including Caiaphas the corrupt high priest—will see Jesus sitting at the right hand of God as He returns in the clouds, but it will not end well for them as it will for we who believe. What an amazing thing for us Christians to look forward to!
I am looking at some of the original Dead Sea Scrolls. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos because we’re not allowed to take pictures of them. But I could take a picture of the world’s smallest Hebrew Bible. You might not believe me, but it’s legit. Some of you science nerds might get a kick out of this. The museum had this to say about it:
The Nano Bible is a gold-plated silicon chip the size of a pinhead on which the entire Hebrew Bible is engraved. The text, consisting of over 1.2 million letters, is carved on the 0.5mm squared chip by means of a focused ion beam. The beam dislodges gold atoms from the plating and creates letters, similar to the way the earliest inscriptions were carved in stone. The writing process takes about an hour and a half. The letters belong to a font unique to this technology and appear darker against their gold background. To read the text it is necessary to use a microscope capable of 10,000x magnification or higher.
This technological marvel is meant to demonstrate the wonders of present-day miniaturization and provide the spectator with a tangible measure of the dimensions involved. Dense information storage is not unique to human culture: The blueprints of all organisms are stored by nature at even higher densities in long DNA molecules and transmitted in this form over generations.
The term “nano” derives from the Greek word nanos, meaning “dwarf.” The unit “nanometer” measures one billionth of a meter, a ratio similar to the size of an olive compared with the entire planet earth. Nanotechnology makes it possible to construct new materials stronger and lighter than steel, to desalinate water more efficiently, to deliver medications to designated parts of the body without harming surrounding tissues, and to detect cancerous cells in early stages. At the dawn of the Nano Age, scientists and engineers are discovering ways to harness such exquisite control over the elementary building blocks of nature for the benefit of mankind and our planet.
The idea of miniaturizing the Bible was conceived by Prof. Uri Sivan and Dr. Ohad Zohar of the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa. It was carried out by members of the Institute, who created the chip and designed the engraving program. The first of two copies was presented by the former President of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres, to Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Israel in 2009. The chip on display here was produced especially for the Information and Study Center of the Shrine of the Book.
As I read this description, I couldn’t help but imagine creating a parody called, “Honey, I Shrunk My Bible!”
Anyway, whilst it was really cool to see the world’s smallest Hebrew Bible, it was even cooler to see the ancient manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls. With my limited Hebrew, I was able to read some of the Hebrew on the scrolls, which was quite awe-inspiring.
At the Western Wall, previously the Wailing Wall, I had the opportunity to touch it with my own hands and pray. This is the only part of the wall that remains that once surrounded the Temple during the Second Temple Period. This is a holy site for orthodox Jews, and they come here for meaningful prayer.
Whilst it’s an amazing sight to behold and awe-inspiring as pilgrims to write our prayers on a piece of paper and place them inside the wall, we Christians must remember we can pray to Jesus anywhere in the world, whether it’s at the altar at church or in our own homes. We don’t need to go to a holy site in order to feel God’s presence.
We also visited a few Hellenistic caves today. The only thing really worth mentioning is our walk through Hezekiah’s tunnel. I didn’t walk through the water part of the tunnel because I didn’t want to walk in cold water for 45 minutes in 50-degree weather, but apparently it was warm, so now I’m regretting my decision. From what everyone is saying, it was really dark, wet, and narrow. So, I didn’t really miss out on much.
Hezekiah’s tunnel was a genius design that brought water into Jerusalem. At the end of the tunnel is the pool of Siloam, which is where Jesus sent the man born blind to wash and when he came out he was healed (John 9).
I am standing in the Upper Room where Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28). It’s an amazing thing that we get to partake in Jesus’ body and blood and receive His forgiveness. In His Supper, we taste the real sweetness of His forgiveness. Standing in this room and singing Sanctuary makes me eager to receive His forgiveness tomorrow.
We’re currently revisiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We’re revisiting today because the other day we didn’t get to spend much time in it. There’s a “hill” inside it (i.e. stairs) where Catholics believe Christ was crucified, but I find that to be highly unlikely. I will tell you why at a site we’re visiting tomorrow.
Today is our last day in Israel, and we’re seeing some pretty big sites today. First, I’m currently at the Dome of the Rock, which is the Muslim monument to Mohammed. As a Christian who respects the Jews, it makes me upset that the Muslims stole this site from the Jews.
The Dome of the Rock is on the Temple Mount where both the Solomonic Temple and the temple of the Second Temple Period were built. Islam literally has no connections tied to this site, yet they took it as their own to build an absurd monument to their false prophet. It was a cool site to see merely for historical purposes, but my entire time walking on it I couldn’t help but be angry with their historical impertinence.
At a much better site now, I’m standing at the pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed the invalid (John 5:1-15). This passage should cause us to pause and reflect.
When Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to be healed,” the man does not answer with the expected answer, “Yes.” After all, this man has been invalid for 38 years, so of course he wants to be healed! Instead, the man says, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and whilst I am going, another steps down before me” (v. 7). In other words, “I have no one to serve me, and when I try to go myself, another person steps in front of me.” Jesus asked him a direct question, and the man doesn’t even answer it.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m sick, it feels good to have people serve you. I can recall when I had the flu in 4th grade and my mother brought food to my bed because I was too ill to get up. Being served like that feels really good. Even today, as a disabled veteran, there are times when I have to use my cane to help me walk and people serve me by opening doors for me and helping me carry food at a cafeteria. Even on good days when I don’t have to use my cane, people serve me by lifting heavy objects for me. Being served feels good.
It’s amazing how much kinder people will be to you when you’re handicapped. I even find myself not wanting my back to be cured so I can continue experiencing people’s kindness. Whilst I think those sinful thoughts, at the same time I do want to be cured so I can run again and go on long hikes, but in my selfishness that would also mean no longer having people to serve me.
Given this man’s indirect answer, Jesus doesn’t do what we would expect. He doesn’t expose the man’s indirect answer. Instead, He says, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” (v. 8). And, as we know, the man does just that. What an amazing display of Jesus’ grace!
The photo on the right is Golgotha taken at the Garden Tomb, which is the most likely place where Jesus was crucified and buried. The evidence is in John 19:17-18, 38-42:
So, they took Jesus, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified Him, and with Him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them… After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So, he came and took away His body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So, they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So, because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
Obviously Jesus was crucified at Golgotha and was buried in a garden that was very close to the hill. So, the “hill” inside the Holy Sepulchre being the place where Jesus was crucified does not make any sense. Sorry, Catholics.
You can’t tell from the angle of the photo, but if you were to be down in the streets looking at the cliff, there would be a part of the cliff that looks like a skull (we were not able to go down there). The guide of the Garden Tomb told us this hill was historically called Golgotha until the 1800s. The guide also showed us an old black and white photo of what it used to look like in the 40s, and the side of the hill looked a lot like a skull. It definitely looked more like a skull back in Jesus’ time. Due to erosion, the further away we move from the date of Jesus’ crucifixion, the less the side of the hill looks like a skull.
We had our worship service here at the Garden Tomb. We sang several praises unto God, Pastor John Rathje gave a brief sermon, and we partook of the Lord’s Supper and received forgiveness.
This traveling account has been extremely lengthy and detailed. This is where words fail me. I cannot fully describe the experience we had here. During worship, many of us were filled with the Holy Spirit and couldn’t help but cry tears of fear, awe, and joy: fear because our sins put Jesus on the cross, awe that Jesus willingly chose to die for our sins, and joy that He is risen. Jesus’ death and resurrection gained a whole new meaning to us here at the Garden Tomb alongside Golgotha.
Finally, in my own bed after many, many hours of traveling, I feel weird. As I laid down in the dark silence, it finally occurred to me why I felt so weird: I’m alone.
As an introvert, I thrive on alone time. As someone who’s spent most of his life being alone, it’s not strange to me to be alone. Yet I felt strange.
I spent 11 days in Israel with people whom I grew spiritually close to. We were always around each other. And now here, lying in bed, I missed all of them dearly. Here in my bed, my heart cries out to God. I’m tired of being alone. I desire more fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ, and I desire a godly wife with whom we can bring glory to God. In Israel, I experienced the spiritual intimacy I desire with both Christian friends and a godly wife some day.
One of the main motifs I learnt on this pilgrimage is patience. God has been eternally patient with the Israelites in spite of their disobedience and even apostasy, and Jesus was patient with Peter and many other sinners. God’s timing is always perfect, whether we like it or not. God brings His blessings (and vengeance) exactly as He intends.
People say patience is a virtue, but I disagree. Virtues are things like compassion, loyalty, honesty, grace, mercy, and so on. Patience is a discipline. Patience is not a thing you just have; it is something you have to work on. Except God. For God, patience is a virtue because He is patience. For us, patience is a discipline; we constantly have to work at it.
As I patiently wait on the Lord, my passion for my pastoral calling has been rekindled to bring God’s light to people’s darkness. This patience is something I have to continually work on. It is not some virtue I have to somehow acquire; it is something I have to continually discipline myself in during my seminary studies, and even more when I’m called to a congregation. You don’t have patience; you practice patience, but God has patience with us. May the Lord continue to discipline me with patience as I endeavour towards becoming a pastor and when I am a pastor to adequately proclaim the Gospel.