Shainu and I just got back from spending a week in Israel. A quick recap:
How we got there: We have a good friend at Seven Mile Road who knows everyone; one of those networking types who has a connection in every corner of the world. Anyway, he recommended us to a local Philadelphia Jewish Federation that runs these Interfaith religious leaders’ trips to Israel and we got selected. They offer this ridiculous discount where both of us went to Israel for less than the price of one (airfare, hotels, meals, guide, etc – all included).
The cool part of this whole thing is that Shainu and I have always wanted to go to Israel. It was always our answer to the question, “If you could go to one place, where would it be?” And when we got married, we would jokingly say, “For our fifth wedding anniversary, we’ll go to Israel.” 2010 is year 5 for us. What a gracious God!
Being there: We had four prayers going to Israel. 1) That Hannah would do well without us and enjoy time with extended family. 2) That we would have a wonderful time together and grow in our marriage. 3) That all the people on our trip would have health to participate well. 4) That God would grow our affection for Jesus, His word, His church, and His mission. God graciously answered all four of these prayers.
The trip was a combination of a spiritual pilgrimage and an academic journey – a feast for the mind and soul. We traveled to sites concerning both ancient and modern Israel. Here’s some highlights:
Day One: We arrived in Tel Aviv and hit the road right away. We visited Independence Hall, where Israel declared their independence in 1948. So picture July 4, 1776 – but this just happened 61 years ago. And in that short time, Israel has already had 9 wars. Learning both their history and modern realities was incredible. After visiting some other sites, we went to Caesarea which was basically Rome’s capital in Israel during the time of Jesus. This is where Herod the Great built a great theater and Pontius Pilate would have been stationed.
Day Two: We visited the ancient city of Safed. This is the highest city in Galilee and may have been what Jesus was looking at when He said “A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” We ended the day by staying at a hotel next to the Sea of Galilee. Literally outside our bedroom window was the Sea where Jesus called his first disciples, calmed the storm, and walked on water. Incredible.
Day Three: We went to Nazareth where Jesus would have grown up. In particular, we went to what is called the Synagogue Church where they think Jesus would have read the words of Isaiah, declared Himself to be its fulfillment, and been rejected (Lk. 4:16-30).
Day Four: We were now in Jerusalem and began the day by standing atop the Mount of Olives. From here, you could see all of Jerusalem, and even Judea and Samaria. Here, Jesus wept over Jerusalem, spent the night of His betrayal and arrest (Mt. 26:30), commissioned His disciples to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth and ascended to Heaven (Acts 1:6-12). And many believe it is here where Jesus will one day return (Zech. 14:4; Acts 1:11)
On this day, we also visited the Western Wall which was probably my favorite part of the trip (more on that tomorrow).
Day Five: Being in Jerusalem itself is spellbinding. Everywhere you look, you have like three millenia of history surrounding you. America is like a toddler when you consider the history of an old region like Israel. We visited the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus raised a man who had been an invalid for 38 years (John 5:1-17).
What was neat was that this was one of the places they were pretty sure was authentic. When you go to Israel, you quickly realize that some of the sites are more “traditional” than authentic. And so you quickly have to make an adjustment in your mind. Either you can get discouraged thinking this spot isn’t real.
Or, you recognize that Jerusalem is a small place and though you may not be standing in the exact spot, you are within footsteps of where it all happened. This understanding preserved the awe of being there. Nevertheless, it was especially meaningful when you stood somewhere where they were almost positive Jesus stood as well.
Day Six: We got a guided tour through Yad Vashem, a musuem and memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. It was an incredibly moving and emotional experience. Later that night, we packed our bags and began the journey home. By God’s grace, I think we both left with renewed affection each other, for Jesus, His word, His church, and His mission.