We saw so many beautiful, awe inspiring places while in Israel. I’m just going to hit on a few in detail and mention the rest. One thing I never expected when I thought about going to the Holy Land was the spiritual softness, the receptivity we experienced there. It is hard to put into words, but I think that is the best I can do. First, seeing the Jews gathering back to Israel from every nation, knowing they are readying for the Messiah. Then to hear our guide and other tour specialists explain the reasons that they believe this or that to be the place where such and such happened. It sounded like they were believers. They were not Christians, but they did know the people of the Bible lived and there is evidence that these stories happened. To listen to their sureness that Christ went here and did this there made your heart ache for them to add that last ingredient…faith. Seeing a whole nation of people who live and walk where the Savior did, who have studied His teachings and the stories of His life for tourism reasons, yet are walking in a stunted faith. They love God and follow their religion, but I ache for them to know Him…to know the Messiah. One tour specialist was talking about how there was so much evidence that Jesus was the Messiah, even down to John the Baptist looking as though he was the incarnation of Elijah, which is so important to Bible prophecy. He said it was enough for anyone to believe Jesus was the Messiah, “….but then things fell apart for him.” He said, referring to being crucified. Yikes! It was enough to break your heart!
As I mentioned, the Sea of Galilee was spectacular. The first few days we toured that region and saw the lake from various viewpoints. We went to an ancient synagogue at Capernaum. We drove by the hillside that they think might be the place Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, because it is a natural amphitheatre. We drove up into the Golan Heights, beautiful mountain country from which we could see Mount Herman in the distance with a dusting of snow over it. There in the Golan Heights, we saw Caesarea Philippi, where the headwaters of the Jordan River are. They have ruins there by the river of an ancient place of idol worship…recesses are cut out of the sheer rock wall that used to house the gods of the Greeks. It is where Peter first confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah.
Late that afternoon we went to a place called Migdal Ohr, a home for orphaned Jewish boys from Russia mainly. It began as a rabbi’s dream to stop the homeless or misguided Jewish youth of Israel from ruining their lives and becoming criminals. He would go out into the streets and into nightclubs and talk to these youth, caring for them and asking them to come live with him and be taught how to become productive citizens. Now it is mainly for the orphans, girls and boys. He brings them in, provides education, training and a loving environment. As we entered, the walkway was lined with bright eyed, enthusiastic young boys, singing us in! It was beautiful. They had an outdoor program of singing, dancing and heard several people talk about the success of the center.
That night (yes, this is all in one day!) we ate dinner at the Kiryat Yam Absorption Center, where they house, teach and train new Jewish immigrants who come to Israel. They currently have a huge number of Ethiopian immigrants, who fled their country this year because of persecution. They will learn Hebrew, learn the culture, the ways of their new country and be trained to work in jobs there before going out on their own to make a life for themselves.
We got home late and fell into bed, instantly becoming unconscious. =)
We visited the new excavations at Bethseida, we went to a museum which is built around an ancient, first century fishing boat that was recently discovered, drove through modern day Cana and Nazareth, very hilly country, housing built in terraced style up the hillsides. It was fun to look out and imagine Jesus growing up there in those hills, plush with trees. Then it was on to a really cool excavation sight called Beit Shean. It is a place the Romans built into a palatial city with Roman bath houses, columns and a theatre, all very much recognizable. Most of the columns were fallen over from an earthquake, but they are piecing it together. It is a really awesome place, very well preserved.
We had a baptismal service in the late afternoon at the Jordan River. The river is small, maybe 25 feet across, and has very steep banks, covered with lush grass and trees. It is a beautiful place! Dinner was at a place called the Lido, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. We ate with a lady who is a Catholic nun from California. Someone asked her if she was baptized today. “Yes, it was wonderful,” she said, holding a finger up to her lips, “but don’t tell the Holy Father!” She is 86 years old and everyone just loved her sweet spirit, she was a joy.
The next day we went to Megiddo, which overlooks the valley of Armageddon, Mount Carmel, where Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal, and Caesarea, right on the Mediterranean Sea. The seashore was beautiful with dark and light blue waters crashing onto the shore. Just above the shore was the magnificently preserved ruins of Caesarea. It was a place built by Herod to honor the Roman Caesar and was the capital of the Roman Province there. It has a large Roman bath, the remains of an elaborate palace which faced out onto the sea, a hippodrome to race horses, and a theatre (still in use today) where Paul went to be heard by Felix, when he declared his Roman citizenship.
We ended the day driving up (up!) into Jerusalem to arrive shortly before sundown to begin the Sabbath at the Western Wall…often called the Wailing Wall. Jerusalem is truly a city on a hill…it is mountainous in fact. In Jerusalem there are several large hills and between them are deep valleys. There are so many houses and buildings all over the hills, however, that is pictures you can’t tell how mountainous it is. We rode into the city to the old song Jerusalem, Jerusalem. It was one of those moments I can’t explain….it brought tears to our eyes and wonder to our hearts. I wrote about the things that happened at the Wall in part 4. It was a very moving experience that we will treasure.