Jocelyn sat on the south steps of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and set her thoughts free. She imagined the scene that Luke describes in his gospel of a twelve-year old Jesus absenting himself from his parents after Passover. It was now a “day’s journey” later. The story was familiar to Jocelyn. She’d read it in the Bible, heard it preached and thought about it many times. But for the first time she knew exactly in her mother’s heart how Mary must have felt.
Visiting Israel may simply be on your bucket list of experiences but once you’ve been there you’ll have a whole new view of Jesus, the Bible and your faith.
Having returned a few hours ago from two weeks on an exciting tour of Israel and Jordan with 24 other “pilgrims” will undoubtedly influence my enthusiasm for the experience. Having five hours of sleep over the past 48 hours will also have some bearing. But knowing that each one had a perspective changing, spiritual experience makes the work of touring its own reward.
We sailed on the Sea of Galilee and viewed a shoreline largely unchanged since Jesus’ days in Capernaum. The mountains that Jesus awoke to everyday in his formative years in Nazareth still impress observers like us today. We walked where Jesus walked – on the very pavement stones he traversed many times. The experiences of Jesus in the Gospels now have a fresh perspective that offers rich insights – like Jocelyn’s view of Mary.
A Mother’s Insight
Reading about twelve-year old Jesus sitting with a group of teachers and asking them post-Passover questions always impressed Jocelyn with his spiritual maturity. Sitting on the south steps of the temple mount the view of the deep valley that Mary and Joseph climbed in searching for Jesus informed her opinion of their emotions. Jerusalem is on a steep mountain – one that they were fortunate to have to climb as a family only once or twice a year. A day’s journey would have taken them to the bottom and on their way to Jericho. And now they were forced to turn around and re-climb the mountain. Needlessly.
Every strenuous step Mary wondered how her son could be so thoughtless. Mary was weary, sore, drained and strained when she found Jesus. And it’s Mary who reacts. “Son, why have you treated us like this?” Jocelyn could relate to Mary in a new way remembering the weariness of sleepless nights and early mornings our sons would arrive home.
New perspective is just one of the benefits of making an investment in your faith by going to Israel. International travel is expensive. But making a pilgrimage to Israel is an education worth saving for. When you arrive you feel you’re home.
12 Benefits of Going to Israel
1. Going to Israel reminds me that my Christianity is thoroughly westernized. Being in Israel is sobering for a devoted western Christian because it informs you that everything familiar in our culture is foreign to the culture of the Bible. Seeing faith through Eastern eyes is light for your soul.
2. When you read the Gospel accounts of Jesus, remember you’re following a 32-year-old Jewish male. His beliefs and practices were informed by his Jewish context. When you think of Jesus is he muscular and sinewy or slim? Are his hands soft or calloused? Is his complexion white, olive or darkly tanned? Is his beard trimmed or ragged? Does he have a hearty laugh or a consistently stoic expression? Was he serious about everything or joyful and playful?
3. Having an Israeli simply pronounce familiar names and locations opens your eyes to a cross-cultural experience. The Bible literally becomes 3D.
4. Israel has one fresh water resource – the Sea of Galilee. Wells and springs were crucial. Much of Israel is a desert – the Negev.
5. Israelis observe the Sabbath. Hotel menus are different. Our guide Moshe pointed out that even the elevators reflect the uniqueness of the day – there is a Shabbat elevator in each hotel that does no work. Time is set aside for family traditions by practicing and secular Jews.
6. Walking through Yad Vashem – the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre – is an unforgettable experience. This was our third time through and there is never enough time to fully soak up the sights and sounds. This experience leaves you incredulous at the rise of anti-Semitism in the world – including Canada and the US – today. Never again.
7. From limestone in the south to volcanic rock in the north, every slope in Israel is adorned with rocks. Everywhere you go in Israel, you are either on a mountain viewing the plains or on the plains awed by the majesty of a mountain. Traverse Israel by land or air and you won’t be able to keep yourself from thinking, “I never imagined Israel this way. Wow.” Topography becomes a more valuable resource than a concordance. Viewing the Jericho Road (below) helps you understand how treacherous it was to travel alone.
8. Jesus taking his disciples to Caesarea Philippi to ask them the question, “Who do men say I am?” underscores the lengths he would go to make a point. This was a three-day journey deep into the most pagan of Gentile territory. The trip surely made little sense to his disciples. Good Jews didn’t frequent this area. We stood by the same spring of water where Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say I am?” His declaration, “I will build my Church” was intentionally made in a Gentile context to show his Church would be for all, not just Jews.
9. Jesus was quite content to limit his ministry to a localized area on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
10. Matthew records Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” in chapters 5-7. What we read is actually a summary of Jesus’ teaching in Galilee – the “best of” Jesus. Sitting on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee informs you of two things – there would have been no shortage of rocks for Jesus to be seated on as he taught and what caught the attention of his listeners was the simplicity, practicality and authority of his words.
11. Moshe, our Jewish guide, caught our attention when he explained that Jewish males, after their 12th birthday, would seek out a rabbi to teach them the ways of God. They would ask the rabbi if they could follow him. Jesus was different. He invited twelve young men to follow him.
12. Jesus was part of a living tradition less focused on theology and more concerned with living rightly in this world. Re-think the “Lord’s Prayer” not as a theological reflection but as a call to action. Jesus asks for God’s will to be done. He was really confessing a partnership with his Father and His laws. Jews in Jesus’ day understood that God’s will is done on earth through obedience to the Torah.
Safe To Travel To Israel
This was our third tour of Israel and one thing is certainly consistent. Israel is one of the securest places for tourists or pilgrims in the world. We traveled with a knowledgeable guide, a skilled driver, stayed in four-star hotels, and never concerned ourselves for one minute with worry about safety.
APPLICATION: The 24 people on our tour came from Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton, and Aurora. We jelled quickly, made new friendships and supported each other. Jocelyn and I will be forming another tour soon with International Heritage Tours. Let us know of your interest and share this post with friends. Please leave a comment below. Shalom.
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