I’ve been privileged to travel to the Holy Land twice in the past seven years. I’ll lead another group next January on a 10-day in-depth visit to important Biblical sites. If you like, read along as I recount some of the highlights visitors to Israel experience.
The first question I’ve been asked is about safety and security. In Israel, we never were concerned about our safety. In fact, you’ll feel much safer in Israel than you will in Chicago or Atlanta. A border wall and Israeli military presence restricts access from Palestinian terrorists. Terrorist incidents have dropped precipitously since the wall was built.
The second question is my general impression of Israel. First, much of Israel looks like America. It’s clean. Modern freeways and highways. Tel Aviv has skyscrapers and reminds me of Dallas or Houston. Haifa is called the “San Francisco of Israel” because of its port setting on the Mediterranean and high green hills and hillside homes.
Our pilgrimage will begin in Tel Aviv where we land at the beautiful Ben Gurion Airport. We’ll visit Netanya, a Mediterranean resort city which is a favorite vacation destination for the French. From there we go to Caesarea Maritima where archaeologists have uncovered fantastic palaces, frescoes, swimming pools, and engineering feats extraordinary even by modern standards. From there, we visit Mount Carmel where Elijah brought down God’s fire on the pagans. We’ll look down on the Valley of Armageddon – Megiddo – which has and will play an important role in past and future battles. Then to Nazareth to the Church of the Annunciation built over the site where the angel announced to Mary she would become mother to Jesus. We’ll then go to Cana, site where Jesus performed his first miracle turning water into wine at a wedding. Here, our married couples will renew their vows.
Then we overnight on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. From there, we visit Magdala, the Mount of Beatitudes, and Capernaum where Jesus made his ministry headquarters. Then we visit Caesarea Philippi, Tel Dan where we’ll see the city gate Abraham walked through in his search for Lot. Then we spend a day in Beit Shean, one of the most remarkable archaeological discoveries in history. We’ll see Roman ruins that included bathrooms with running hot and cold water, baths, and colored frescoes and tiles.
Then, one of the highlights of the trip to Israel – we stop at the site near Jericho that most believe to be where John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. We’ll renew our Baptismal vows as we stand in the Jordan.
Then it’s on to Jerusalem and our sense of awe will increase. Using Jerusalem as our base, we travel to Ein Gedi where King David hid from King Saul, we’ll see the Qumran site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. We’ll float in the Dead Sea, lowest place on earth. Then we visit one of the truly awe-inspiring places in the world – Masada. Masada is Israel’s version of our Alamo. King Herod built an incredible palace complete with swimming pools and running water on the top and side of a 1,500-foot-high mesa. It’s where 1,000 badly-outnumbered Jews died after holding off Roman soldiers for three years. They agreed to die instead of being raped, tortured, and killed by the Roman army. They burned the storehouses of food and grain so as to deny it the Romans. Today, Israeli military recruits are taken to Masada where they vow “Never Another Masada.”
We’ll go the five miles from Jerusalem into Bethlehem. We’ll visit the Church of the Nativity built over where it is believed the actual stable was and we’ll see the Shepherds’ Fields where the shepherds likely were when the angel announced Jesus’ birth.
One of the many highlights of Jerusalem will be a visit to the Mount of Olives. This is where Jesus and His disciples spent a lot of time and the Garden of Gethsemane is especially moving because this is where Jesus spent His last night before the crucifixion. In fact, there is are several olive trees that are known to be 2,200 to 2,300 years old which means they were growing in the Garden while Jesus was there.
One of the highlights in the Old City of Jerusalem is The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Inside is part of the rock which is believed to be Golgotha (or Cavalry) and a tomb carved out of rock which is believed to be where Jesus was taken.
We’ll see the Western Wall, the most sacred site in Judaism and we’ll have a chance to put our prayers, written in small pieces of paper, into the wall. We’ll see the Temple Mount and its familiar Dome of the Rock.
Other Jerusalem highlights included Mount Zion, Pool of Bethesda, Antonia Fortress where Jesus was tried and flogged before being taken to Caiaphas, the High Priest. We’ll visit Caiaphas’ house where Jesus was held as prisoner the night before He was crucified. Then we’ll walk the Via Dolorosa, visit the Shrine of the Book where the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed, and see the tunnels and archaeological digs under the Western Wall.
We’ll pray, we’ll read Scripture that relates to the particular site we’re visiting, and we’ll do a lot of singing as we see the incredible places we’ve all read about all our lives. If you’re interested in more information about this life-changing experience, email Rev. Dale Chrisman, firstname.lastname@example.org.