I am thinking that no one really wants to hear a sermon this morning but that you might be more interested in some of my thoughts and reflections of the Holy Land, so my goal today is to share my journey with you and I hope I can engage all of our senses: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. So let’s start at the beginning.Since I arrived in Israel at night, this was my first real glimpse of the Holy Land.
It was so beautiful I wanted to share the moment with you.
Our journey did begin at the Sea of Galilee and what I loved about this region was that so much of what we saw would have been exactly what Jesus would have seen. The mountains haven’t changed much in 2000 years, the sea hasn’t changed, and as long as we weren’t looking at the city of Tiberius, then the landscape would be much the same as it was 2000 years ago.
|Sea of Galilee|
The first thing we did was sail on the sea of Galilee and as we got ready to sail God reminded me of all of you because the boat next to us was named “faith”.
Out on the water and looking at the mountains I was overcome thinking – this is what Jesus would have seen.
When they turned off the motor and we just sailed quietly along the sea I realized that what I was hearing was what Jesus would have heard – the waves lapping on the boat and the birds flying and squawking around us.
On this first day I was really overwhelmed thinking – this is what Jesus would have seen and heard and experienced.
The sea is really not a sea at all but a large lake and I’ll be honest, it was not as large as I imagined it. You could easily see across the lake from Tiberius in the West
to the Golan Heights in the East.
|Sea of Galilee looking toward the Golan Heights|
The Golan Heights would have been the gentile region of the Garasenes where Jesus drove the legion of demons into the herd of pigs. In Mark 5 it says the pigs rushed down the steep bank and into the sea and were drowned. When you look at the mountains in this area and how they run down steeply into the see you can understand clearly it all could have happened.
Not far from shore but quite a climb up into the mountains was the hillside where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.
It is now a monastery with gardens so it’s hard to imagine it as just an open field with people sitting around him,
but you could still see a large area with the feel of a natural amphitheater.
You can almost picture people sitting and how they would have been able to hear Jesus. I never really thought about the view Jesus would have had as he delivered the sermon, but this is what Jesus was looking at as he preached, the Sea of Galilee.
From the Sea of Galilee we went to Nazareth which was the hometown of Jesus and it is a city built in the hills and I’m talking some pretty steep hillsides. We visited the well that Mary would have gone to every day to get water and when Jesus was young he would have gone with her and that well has been flowing for over 2000 years. The well still flows in the church and while it’s dark in the grotto so it is hard to see, you can really hear it. This is what Jesus would have heard as a child every day.
We walked from Mary’s well to Mary’s house
This time it was clear that the city of Nazareth didn’t look at all like it would have in Jesus day. It’s a modern little town with street vendors and stores and people just living their lives not even thinking about where they were and what was all around them.
As we walked past vendors selling everything imaginable part of me just wanted to shout at people – “do you not know that you walking the streets that Jesus walked? Don’t you know that the well Jesus went to get water is right there and his home is right here?”
I couldn’t believe so many people just seemed oblivious to presence of God around them and then it came to me that it was the same in Jesus day. Most people didn’t recognize Jesus for who he was so they just went about their daily lives and didn’t see God in their midst and then I realized it is the same way today. How many times am I guilty of not seeing the presence of God in my life from day to day? And that’s the thing that was driven home every day of the trip, God sent Jesus into a very ordinary world. We call it the holy land and it is because God walked there and chose this area, but when Jesus arrived it was just an ordinary land filled with people going about their lives – but God was with them. The same is true today. God still comes into our ordinary lives but we can experience him if we will open our eyes and ears and hearts.
Now let’s jump down to the Judean wilderness. There are three main areas in Israel: Galilee in the north, Jerusalem in the middle and the Judean wilderness in the south. Between Jerusalem and Jericho is a vast expanse of complete wilderness.
|Judean Wilderness – on the Road to Jericho|
It is barren, mountainous, dry and rocky – it is also incredibly beautiful! Living in this region are shepherds – Bedouins actually – who make their living raising sheep and riding donkeys to heard them.
|A Bedouin Community|
Our guide Mick shared with us how these people live and work hard and how the ones he has met have been very happy. They don’t have all the things we think are necessary for a happy life, like all the electronic gadgets, 24 hour sports, news and entertainment and comfortable homes and new cars, but they also don’t have all the worries, stress and anxiety that we have. It was in this region where I got to see two little boys in action. One was the little boy who helped us ride the camel.
He handled that thing like a pro.
The other was Mohammed who was a different kind of pro. He could charmed people out of their belongings and then turned around and sell them $1 plastic bracelets. Different jobs, but honestly they both seemed so happy and full of life.
One of the things I didn’t realize about the Holy Land is how mountainous this region is.
From Jerusalem to Jericho there is an elevation change of 3500 ft in under 16 miles. The Mt. of Olives is 2300 ft above sea level and Jericho is 1200 ft below sea level. To give you some perspective, the highest spot in PA isn’t even 3500 (it’s Mt. Davis at 3,212). This is a barren area and as you can imagine, the summer time it is hot, we are talking over 120 degrees during the day. I have to say, I’m not sure I ever thought about Jesus living in such a hot area, but he did, and this is the region where Jesus was both baptized by John and then spent 40 days in the wilderness.
These are the mountains where tradition says Jesus spent his time being tempted
|Mt of Temptation outside of Jericho|
and here is Jericho.
One of the temptations I never thought about was that if Jesus was in these mountains he would have been able to look down on Jericho which at that time would have been a lush green valley filled with trees growing all kinds of fruits. Jericho still grows just about every kind of citrus fruit you can name. So think about it, when Jesus was in the mountains he wasn’t just being tempted he was doing what? Fasting. It would be like fasting in view of your favorite restaurant and what a temptation that alone would have been for Jesus.
Just a quick note, this is also the area where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls
|Cave where first Dead Sea Scrolls were found|
and where you will find Mossada which was the last hold out for the Jews after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. If you ever saw the movie, then you know the story.
Now let me share a few thoughts about Jerusalem.
It is a crowded diverse busy urban city with a lot of history and a lot of division. At one time or another the following people ruled Jerusalem: The Caananites – Israel – Persia – The Greeks – The Romans
The Byzantines – The Crusaders – The Ottomans – The British – and now Israel
Each time a new nation came to power they would often tear down what was there or build on top of it which means there are walls and building and remains from each time period. We saw things from the Cannanite period,
the Jewish period,
|Remains from the original walls of Jerusalem|
a lot from the Roman period.
|The teaching steps just outside the Temple Walls|
|The Pinnacle of the Temle|
Many of the churches were from the Byzantine, Crusader, and Ottoman periods. It was the Roman period which was the period of Jesus and many of the walls that you see around the city are from the time of Herod the Great who rebuilt Jerusalem in 63 BC
Our day in the Old City was spent walking the Via Dolorosa.
|One of the Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa|
This road traces the path Jesus walked as he carried the cross from Herod’s palace to Golgotha or Calvary. Since so much of the city of Jerusalem has been built up through the years it is hard to really get a feel for what Jesus would have seen or experienced as he made this final journey but what I tell you is that it would have been a hard climb carrying a cross.
|City Streets in the Old City of Jerusalem|
Remember, this is a hilly country and even in the city of Jerusalem there is a lot of climbing and the streets would have been narrow and crowded because it was the Passover. During the Passover the population of Jerusalem would go from 70,000 to well over 700,000.
Like in Nazareth, it amazed me that people could go about their ordinary lives in such an amazing and holy place. The Stations of the Cross and these amazing historic and holy areas are surrounded by people selling meat and baked goods and spices as well as souvenirs and bins of remote controls (which I really didn’t understand) and all kinds of clothes. Again, it seemed sad to have people just going about life in such a holy place oblivious to all that was around them, but then again I realized that we do the same thing. God still comes into a very ordinary world and lives among very ordinary people and gives his love and life to people like us who often don’t take the time to notice. My hope is that I will somehow notice God and give thanks for the life and love of Jesus every day.
One last reflection I want to share has to do with a question I kept asking myself. Why did God chose this land?
|Panorama view from Meggido|
At times it is rugged and in some places the land is harsh and hostile and yet it is a tiny spot that has been fought over for centuries and I kept asking myself why God told Abraham that this was the promised land, and then our visit to Meggido began to answer those questions. If you look at a map, you see that Israel is the location where the three great land masses of Europe, Asia and Africa all converge.
So in many ways, this was the center of the world and if God was going to somehow reach out to all people then this was the place where he could do it. Let’s look back and see why God chose Abraham in the first place, look atGenesis 12:1-3. The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth.
God chose Abraham for one reason – to be a blessing to all nations. God chose Abraham so that he could bless all the nations and all the people of the world through him and through his family and the only way God could do that is if he put Abraham and his family which are the people of God, right into the center of the world. This way Abraham and his family could spread the news about God to all people. God sent Abraham to this place because it was the only place and the only way that God could reach the entire world and that was God’s desire to reach everyone and to bless everyone.
That is still God’s desire, to reveal his presence and love to al the world and to bless every person with Shalom, which is not just peace but the fullness of life and peace that only God can give. Now here’s what we need to remember, God chose to offer his peace and the gift of life to the world not through a supernatural power but through a person, first Abraham and then Jesus. God chose to bless the people of the world, all the people of the world, through his people, first the family of Abraham, the nation of Israel, and now the family of Jesus which is the church – you and me. We are the ones God wants to use to bless the world. We are the people God wants to use to offer the those who are living ordinary lives all around us – Shalom.