My Pilgrimage to Israel: Walking the Land Jesus Walked

January 4

Today is the day I leave for Israel. It’s for a class as part of my pre-seminary studies and also a pilgrimage. I’m not as nervous as some classmates who’ve never been more than 200 miles from home because I’ve traveled internationally before both in and out of the Army. I signed up for this study abroad experience at the end of the Spring 2016 semester, and now it’s less than 24 hours away. It feels surreal. I cannot believe I’m going to actually walk in the land where Jesus walked.
Today is the day I make sure I have everything I need. My battery is charged for my Canon 70D camera, I have my head lamp and water shoes for Hezekiah’s tunnel, my passport, and other necessities. With everything prepared, I am ready to embark on my adventure to the Holy Land.

January 6

My balcony view of the Mediterranean Sea at The Seasons Hotel in Natanya.

My balcony view of the Mediterranean Sea at The Seasons Hotel in Netanya.

We finally arrived in Israel last night around 20:00 hours—about 24 hours of travel. It took a while to get through customs since Israeli security is so tight, but we all made it through without incident and met up with our tour guide, Hela Tamir. The tour guides are filled with a wealth of knowledge about Israel—more than most professors at Christian universities in the West. Hela, for example, is a Messianic Jew who knows virtually everything there is to know about Israel whether it’s Old Testament, New Testament, or modern.
One of the things Hela talked about was the fulfillment of Scripture. She quoted Isaiah 66:8 and told us how on May 15, 1948 their first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared it the state of Israel. She also noted how we as Gentiles are fulfilling Scripture. She quoted Isaiah 2:2, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it.” I’ve been thinking about that Scripture a lot today. I, a mere sinner, am fulfilling Scripture by returning to the Holy Land. Even though I’m standing on the soil of the Holy Land, it still feels so surreal.
I’m currently eating breakfast with a beautiful view of the Mediterranean Sea. As the Old Testament tutor at my university, I’ve drawn the Mediterranean Sea on the ancient map of Israel dozens of times, and just last night I finally got to see it and walk in it bare foot. This morning it’s a warm 50ºF on the sea. Having come from 10º weather in Michigan, this is spring weather to me.

January 7

Roman amphitheatre at Caesarea.

Roman amphitheater at Caesarea.

It’s only day one of sightseeing and already there’s a lot to cover. Our first stop was at a Roman amphitheater in Caesarea. While I’m sitting on the Roman seats, I read Acts 10. Caesarea is where the faithful Roman centurion was, to whom an angel of the Lord appeared and told him to send men to Joppa and bring Peter to him. Joppa is about 60 kilometers away from Caesarea. During this time, Peter receives the following vision:
And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven (vv. 10-16).
The biblical significance of something occurring three times is it signifies when something has been fulfilled. What was fulfilled? We’re about to find out.
While Peter was perplexed by this vision and was trying to ascertain what it meant, Cornelius’ men arrived and beckoned him to meet Cornelius. So Peter travel to Caesarea. Now, Cornelius was a Gentile, and in the Jews’ eyes they were superior to Gentiles, which is why Cornelius fell down before Peter out of reverence (v. 25).
But consider Peter’s following words, who spoke after suddenly realizing the meaning of the vision: “But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am a man.’ And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. And he said to them, ‘You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (vv. 26-28). Not only are unclean animals now clean to eat, but Scripture has been fulfilled through Christ for salvation for all people, even Gentiles!
As I sit at the amphitheater and look out into the Mediterranean Sea, I ponder Peter’s words: “God has shown me I should not call any person common or unclean.” Neither should we. We should never consider someone too unclean—or unworthy—of hearing the Gospel. The Gospel is for all, not something we keep just to ourselves. After all, the word for Gospel is the same word for Good News—εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion). And what do we do with good news? We share it! Let us then share the Gospel to all with joy.
I remember a time, not too long ago, when I accidentally brought a Muslim woman to Christ, whose name I will not give for her protection. We met, and as we talked with each other it became clear to me she was Muslim. Not wanting to face any possible hostility, I had decided not to bring up anything about Christianity or Jesus. Yet the Lord had other plans. As is inevitable when we first meet someone, she asked me what I’m doing for a living. So I was honest and told her I’m a full-time student and didn’t say anything more.
Wanting more details, she asked me what I’m studying, so I mentally sighed and told her I’m studying to be a Lutheran pastor. Her next question was surprising, “Can you teach me about Jesus?” Astonished, I happily obliged and gave her the basics about the Fall of Man and why that called for our necessity for a Savior, how each of us strive to attain salvation on our own especially through works of the Law, how Jesus fulfilled the Law for us, and how His sacrifice was sufficient to cover our sins and thus justifies us by faith. Her next question was even more surprising, “How can Jesus be my Lord and Savior?” So I prayed with her and continued to have her pray in silence with her own words to confess Jesus as her Lord and Savior. To this day, she is a woman on fire for Christ in a Muslim country that hates Christians.
The primary role of a Christian is to proclaim the Gospel (Mark 16:15), not to prove it. We are examples of Christ 24/7. Think about that for a moment. Every second of our lives we are representing Christ to someone. We never know when we may be witnessing, and when we have the chance to actually expound on Christ in a genuine conversation. I’ll be the first to admit my failure. In my sin, I didn’t want any confrontation so I kept the Gospel from the Muslim woman. Yet the Holy Spirit had other plans and gave me the opportunity to give her the Gospel message. Even if she didn’t come to faith, I still would have done my Christian duty. Where one plants, another waters, and God causes the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Megiddo

Tel Megiddo

Now I’m at Tel Megiddo, or what we call Armageddon. A tel is an excavation site that is comprised of a giant mound of ancient civilizations built on top of more ancient civilizations. The deeper the layer, the more ancient it is. At Megiddo, for example, I am standing on about 23 layers of ancient civilizations, all of which have not yet been excavated. Currently there are 30,000 tels in Israel and only 250 have been fully excavated.
As I stand atop Megiddo, I cannot help but imagine the final battle of man to end all persecution, which will take place here. I stare out into the valley of Megiddo and picture thousands of tanks and artillery to march towards Jerusalem. Some say this will be the battle to end all persecution, but ultimately we’re not really sure.
Megiddo is a significant place because it’s a highly strategic location, and many kings have fought over it. When King Ahab fortified it, one of the problems they faced was getting water. In order to get water, people had to go outside the walls to get water, which was disadvantageous and extremely risky. So Ahab built a giant well within the walls, which we got to walk in. You can view my video of our walk in it here. This is a most notable feat because Ahab “did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him” (1 Kings 16:30), which was really bad because all the kings before him were evil as well! Yet this horribly evil king built a well with genius design for the benefit of all those at Megiddo. Even in the midst of such evil, God still provides for His people. This is something we ought to remember in our own lives.
Me on top of Mt. Precipice.

Me on top of Mt. Precipice.

After Megiddo, I have hiked all the way up to Mt. Precipice in Nazareth. On a particular Sabbath day, Jesus read the following passage from Isaiah in a synagogue, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus then told the listeners, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21). After the people asked, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” (v. 22), Jesus said:
“Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian” (vv. 24-27).
This is significant because the widow whom Elijah had helped and the leper Naaman who Elisha had aided were Gentiles. And here Jesus was saying He’s the fulfillment of these Scriptures by coming not only for the Jews, but also the Gentiles—even the Romans whom the Jews were waiting for the Messiah to rescue them from!
As you may well know, the Jews were racist against the Gentiles, so what Jesus said made them really angry. These Jews living in Roman society who had imagined the Messiah as one to rescue them from Roman tyranny is now this man saying He has come to save not only the Jews but even these evil Romans. Surely their anger is understandable, even though it’s also foolish.
Thus the following came to pass, “When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove Him out of the town and brought Him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw Him down the cliff” (vv. 28-29). You may have heard someone say Jesus can’t exist because there’s no cliff in Nazareth to throw Him off. Well, obviously they’ve never been to Nazareth because not only can you see the huge hill I’m standing on, but also where I’m standing in the photo is the most likely place they took Him because it’s smack dab in the center of Nazareth: Mt. Precipice. As you can see in the photo, it would be very easy to push someone off this cliff to their death.
Obviously, they didn’t throw Jesus off the cliff because He died by crucifixion, so what happened? Quite simply, “But passing through their midst, He went away” (v. 30). I can’t help but imagine this scene as Jesus coolly walking through the crowd in slow motion with Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir playing in the background. Mic drop. Y’all can’t do anything.
But in all seriousness, I find the language of this account interesting. It says the people brought Him to the hill, so Jesus let them take Him. He knew what they wanted to do to Him, and He just walked through them after being taken all the way up to that huge hill because they were powerless to do anything (by the way, it’s not an easy hike). So why did He do this? The text doesn’t say. 
Considering the context—Jesus revealing He’s the fulfillment of the One who is to come to the Gentiles—I believe He was demonstrating exactly that. It wasn’t time for Jesus’ death; He still had a mission to accomplish, and that was to reveal Himself to the Gentiles, much like Elijah and Elisha revealed God to the Gentile widow and leper. By walking through the angry crowd, it was as if Jesus were saying, “This is foolishness. I have a ministry to accomplish for these Gentiles I told you about. You cannot stop Me. Move aside.” And He just walks through them. Mic drop.
Did these people finally realize who He was after He demonstrated His power? Maybe. Maybe not. We don’t know. Yet as Christian Gentiles, we know Christ fulfilled the Scriptures for our sake, thanks be to God.
Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee

After a long day of visiting these sites and others, we have arrived at the kibbutz where we’re staying for the night—a little Jewish self-sustaining community. The kibbutz is right on the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus walked on water. This is another surreal moment for me. My feet are touching the water where Jesus’ feet also touched. I think about that moment when Peter walked on the water with Jesus, then as he looked at his surroundings and realized what was happening, and doubted and began to sink.
What a picture of our faith life this is. We’re living by faith, life is going smoothly, walking on water, then we get distracted by our surroundings and lose focus. A bad teacher would use this allegory to teach we should keep doing things for Jesus to maintain our Christ-centered focus (works-based theology).
Yet what does the text say? After Peter cries out, “Lord, save me,” it says, “Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of him” (Matthew 14:30-31). It’s strange Peter called out to Jesus because we know he’s a great swimmer. Peter swam to Jesus when He appeared to the disciples after His resurrection (John 21:7). So why would Peter, a man who’s clearly a great simmer, call out to Him when he falls in the water? Why not just swim back to the boat?
We can make many speculations, but I like to think it’s because trusting in Jesus’ ability is far better than trusting in our own. We may be able to do it ourselves, but Jesus is capable of doing so much more. Like Peter, when we become distracted and fall, we ought to recognize our complete helplessness without Christ and call out to Him, for He will immediately reach out to us and pull us out of deep waters.

January 8

Sailing on the Sea of Galilee.

Sailing on the Sea of Galilee.

This morning I’m sailing on the Sea of Galilee, and I had the amazing opportunity to worship Jesus through music while sailing on the sea where Jesus walked. We read Matthew 8:23-27:
And when He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but He was asleep. And they went and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And He said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey Him?”
We started sailing from Tiberias and thankfully there was no storm. The Sea of Galilee is not really a sea, but a lake—the lowest lake on earth 720 feet below sea level. There was no storm, but the waves were big enough to control the boat at its will, cutting our sailing on the sea short. While we did not experience a storm on this large lake, I know what it’s like to be in the middle of a storm on a large lake.
Back in the summer of 2005 I was on a photography trip with my dad in Algonquin National Park in Canada. We were in our canoe on a large lake paddling to our next destination to camp for the night when a storm literally came out of nowhere. (The same type of sudden storms are infamous on the Sea of Galilee. Just ask the locals.) We were paddling against extremely harsh winds and 2-foot waves and it was difficult to make distance because we were paddling against the the force of the wind and the waves.
Two-foot waves may not seem big, but they are when you’re in a canoe—and when you’re a petite 15-year-old. Plus it’s not really the size that matters, but the force of the waves caused by the wind and the current underneath. It was a frightening experience. I was praying a lot, and I wasn’t even a practicing Christian at this point in my life. I was literally scared for my life, especially because I have a fear of deep water since I can’t swim (Swimming inept, really. Seriously, no swimming technique will keep my potato-shaped body above water). Obviously, I survived the terrible ordeal.
This brings me to my point, which is similar to yesterday’s: Peter knew he was in trouble. Instead of trusting in his own ability, he trusted in Jesus’ ability. I wonder how often we choose to trust ourselves rather than Christ when we’re in trouble. My pilgrimage to Israel is a prime example. When I told people I was going to Israel, many of them told me, “Be careful” and talked about how dangerous it is there, as if I didn’t already know. This is because they trust CNN and not God. I’m here because I trust God, not CNN (Crappy News Network). Not to mention the fact Israel’s security is at least ten times tighter than America’s, and for obvious reasons. Seriously, getting through customs at American airports is a joke compared to Israeli customs.
Hula Valley

Hula Valley

After the excitement of worshiping Jesus on the Sea of Galilee, I am now in the quiet Hula Valley Reserve, which is called Merom in Scripture (Joshua 11:1-11). In this account God promised to deliver the enemies in northern Canaan to the Israelites, and He fulfilled this promise in the Hula Valley. This made me think of the promises God made to His people that still apply to us today, particularly the forgiveness of sins. He forgives us when we repent, in Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. God always keeps His promises, and we meet His fulfillment of these promises in repentance through prayer and the sacraments.
I’m at Nimrod Castle now—a fortress strategically placed on a mountain on the road to Damascus during the Crusades, which was more of a side stop. We’re not here for long, and it’s extremely windy and a bit cold, but it was still cool to see some ancient church history.
Caesarea Philippi. Temple of Pan.

Caesarea Philippi. Temple of Pan.

Caesarea Philippi is our last stop for today, which was where Jesus took the disciples and asked a convicting question, “Who do you say that I am?” To which Peter famously replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-20). This statement is extremely significant because of what Jesus says to Peter next, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (v. 17). Peter did not make this confession of faith with his own knowledge, but it was the Holy Spirit who revealed it to him! An atheist can say Jesus is the Christ just because he knows that’s what the Bible says, but it’s only through the Holy Spirit who gives us the gift of faith to make this confession and acknowledge its reality by faith.
This was a strange place for Jesus to take the disciples because of its heavy paganism where pagans worshiped the half-goat, half-man god, Pan. Jews would never visit such a wicked place, and yet Jesus took the disciples here. To the pagans, Pan was their god. So Jesus asked them the convicting question, “But who do you say that I am?”
This is a question we should all consider every day. Who do we say Jesus is? What gods are we placing above Him? Is it an addiction? Our political philosophies? Human reason and cultural comforts? Our sense of autonomy? Jesus is the Christ, and He reigns supreme. He is to be the head of every part of our lives, even when His Word is not popular with worldly beliefs and cultural customs.

January 9

Tel Dan altar.

Tel Dan altar.

Our first site today was Tel Dan. In order to fully understand the significance of this place, it’s necessary I list all the verses we read here. (Besides, what’s wrong with reading a lot of Scripture?)
The verses were as follows: 1 Kings 11:1-4, 11, 26, 28-32, 34-36, 40; 12:26-30; 13:33-34; 14:7-9, 16; and 15:29-30. I’m going to quote these verses respectively, and please don’t be lazy and skip it. You won’t get the full significance of my visiting Tel Dan without reading the blocked passage:
Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after other gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father… Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this has been your practice and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant [note: his servant, not his son]…
Jeroboam the son of Nebat, an Ephraimite of Zeredah, a servant of Solomon, whose mother’s name was Zeruah, a widow, also lifted up his hand against the king… The man Jeroboam was very able, and when Solomon saw that the young man was industrious he gave him charge over all the forced labor of the house of Joseph. And at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had dressed himself in a new garment, and the two of them were alone in the open country. Then Ahijah laid hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. And he said to Jeroboam, “Take for yourself ten pieces, for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon and will give you ten tribes (but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of My servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city that I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel)…
Nevertheless, I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand, but I will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of David My servant whom I chose, who kept My commandments and My statutes. But I will take the kingdom out of his son’s hands and will give it to you, ten tribes. Yet to his son I will give one tribe, that David My servant may always have a lamp before Me in Jerusalem, the city where I have chosen to put My name.'” …Solomon sought therefore to kill Jeroboam. But Jeroboam arose and fled to Egypt, to Shishak king of Egypt, and was in Egypt until the death of Solomon…
And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David. If this people go up to offer sacrifices in the temple of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah.” So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” And he set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Then this thing became a sin, for the people went as far as Dan to be before one…
After this thing Jeroboam did not turn from his evil way, but made priests for the high places again from among all the people. Any who would, he ordained to be priests of the high places. And this thing became sin to the house of Jeroboam, so as to cut it off and to destroy it from the face of the earth… “Go, tell Jeroboam, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: “Because I exalted you from among the people and made you leader over My people Israel and tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you, and yet you have not been like My servant David, who kept My commandments and followed Me with all his heart, doing only that which was right in My eyes, but you have done evil above all who were before you and have gone and made for yourself other gods and metal images, provoking Me to anger, and have cast Me behind your back… And he will give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, which he sinned and made Israel to sin…”‘”
And as soon as he [Baasha] was king, he killed all the house of Jeroboam. He left to the house of Jeroboam not one that breathed, until he had destroyed it, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by his servant Ahijah the Shilonite. It was for the sins of Jeroboam that he sinned and that he made Israel to sin, and because of the anger to which he provoked the LORD, the God of Israel.
Why did I just have you read all that? To bore you? No, because the picture of Tel Dan I provided above is one of those altars for the false gods Jeroboam set up in Dan. Because of this great sin, God promised to utterly destroy the house of Jeroboam as well as those who worshipped the false gods.
The photo I provided is God’s destruction upon Jeroboam and those who worshiped the false gods here. It’s hard for us to relate to the Old Testament Scriptures that speak of such altars because we have no idea what they look like. Well, now you know what it looks like… At least when it’s utterly destroyed. It was awe-inspiring to witness the aftermath of God’s judgment against those who worship false gods—those who commit spiritual adultery and follow after false religions.
Chorazin (Korazim)

Chorazin (Korazim)

The next site we’re visiting is Chorazin, which today is called Korazim. Here, I read Matthew 11:21-24, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
These are quite damning words coming from Jesus. In essence, Jesus is saying, “If you—Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum—continue your sinful lifestyles, I tell you destruction shall come upon you. If the evil you did were done in Sodom, they would still be living in sin, but God destroyed them because of their sin. And yet the judgment that was upon them will be easier to tolerate than the judgment you will suffer.” We’re visiting all three of these sites today, and I later discovered they were all completely destroyed. Nothing but ruins remain. If there’s anything to learn from Dan, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, it’s when God promises to incur His judgment, it’s going to happen unless we repent.
That was a lot of Law for the first half of the day. Thankfully, we got some Gospel. One of the verses we read here was Mark 8:22-25:
And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to Him a blind man and begged Him touch him. And He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when He had spit on his eyes and laid His hands on him, He asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid His hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.
Reading this passage by itself is difficult to understand without reading the context. Before coming to Israel, I used to always ask myself, “Why didn’t Jesus just heal the blind man completely? Why did He heal his eyes only partially?” For the first time I looked at the context, here at Bethsaida where Jesus performed the miracle. Yesterday I talked about my visit to Caesarea Philippi where Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Before this happened, Jesus performed the miracle on the blind man.
By doing this, Jesus was leading the disciples up to a major theological point. At the beginning of Mark 8 Jesus performed the miracle of feeding 4,000 people. After this, the disciples were complaining about the fact they had no bread. Jesus asked them why they were discussing this matter.
He asks, “And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to Him, “Seven.” And He said to them, “Do you not yet understand” (Mark 8:18-21)? The disciples had literally seen Jesus perform two miracles where he fed thousands of people with merely 12 baskets of bread and then seven baskets. And yet they were worried about having no bread. So Jesus asked, “You still don’t understand who I am?”
After this is when Jesus heals the blind man. The theological point He was making with the blind man seeing people who look like trees is the disciples are not seeing Him clearly. Just as the blind man failed to see the people clearly, so the disciples were failing to see Jesus clearly. Continuing on their journey as Jesus taught them, He led them to the odd place of Caesarea Philippi, where one of the disciples—Peter—was finally able to make the confession through the Holy Spirit Jesus was waiting for: “You are the Christ.”
Am I seeing Jesus clearly? I am right now because of what the Holy Spirit showed me through the Scriptures. Yet when I face troublesome times in my life and when I make plans to do things, am I seeing Jesus clearly? At times it’s fuzzy, and it’s because I’m allowing my sin to block Him, whether it be my pride, my selfishness, or what-have-you.
Every day and in every circumstance we face we should ask ourselves: Am I seeing Jesus clearly? I made the point yesterday it was only through the Holy Spirit that Peter was able to confess Jesus as the Christ. When Jesus seems fuzzy to us—when it seems unsure whether He’s present—we ought to stop, pray, and let the Holy Spirit show us Jesus fully as He is.
Peter's house.

Peter’s house.

I’m now in Capernaum, the third city that was destroyed. Jesus visited Capernaum several times, so we looked at several Scriptures when He was there. At Capernaum I got to see the likely place where Peter’s house was located.
Peter’s house is within and underneath a modern building the excavators built over it. It’s hard to tell from the photo on the right, but this house was huge, at least in the 1st century (there was no good angle to photograph it, unfortunately). This means Peter was actually a rich man; he was a highly successful fisherman.
We know Peter lived in Capernaum because before Jesus called Peter to follow Him, Jesus began His ministry in Capernaum (Matthew 4:12-13). Peter was one of the first disciples Jesus called, who was fishing at the Sea of Galilee. Capernaum is on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, even to this day. So the ruins they found of this house was very likely Peter’s.
Considering Peter’s possible wealth, it makes Peter’s call that much more amazing. Not only did Peter just leave everything behind to follow Jesus, but he also left his wealth behind to follow Him! How many rich people would leave their mansion behind to follow Jesus? Not many, if that. Yet without even knowing who Jesus was, Peter left everything behind—including his wealth—and followed Jesus.
What sacrifices are we willing to make to follow Jesus? These sacrifices are not always easy. For example, as one who is in recovery from pornography addiction, I have to give up movies and TV shows that have nudity in them because nudity and sex scenes are big triggers for me. This means, in order to follow Jesus and be sexually pure, I have to give up shows like Game of Thrones, which I really enjoy.
But if I want to follow Jesus to be sexually pure, I have to exercise the faith to sacrifice such movies and TV shows in order to follow Him. In the same way, I know some men who suffer from same-sex attraction who exercise tremendous faith to follow Jesus by being celibate. Living in a highly sexualized society, this is not an easy thing for us to do. Even Christians are quick to judge people who choose to be celibate. It’s a gift only God gives. So as you think about Peter’s sacrifice, what are you willing to sacrifice in order to follow Jesus with all your heart?
Next, we’re at Magdala, which is a town dedicated to Mary Magdalene because this is where she lived. We often associate Mary Magdalene with being a prostitute, but the synoptic gospels never actually claim she was a prostitute. At Magdala I learned she was actually a wealthy woman.
She was a close companion of Jesus because she funded His ministry (Luke 8:1-3). She was essentially the banker of His ministry because she was wealthy enough to do so. If she were a prostitute, she certainly would not have been able to provide for Jesus “out of [her] means.” This was amazing to learn because women in the 1st century were not treated well. They were considered second-rate citizens.
Not only this, but Mary Magdalene was the first person Jesus appeared to after His resurrection (Mark 16:9)! Obviously women have an extremely important place in Jesus’ ministry! It may not be as pastors, but it’s certainly something quite amazing—as powerful witnesses of the Gospel and ministry support, roles of which are of extremely high importance.
Without Mary Magdalene’s financial support as well as those of other women, Jesus would not have been able to travel as often as He did. Jesus appearing to Mary and other women first is great evidence for His resurrection because in the 1st century, the testimony of women were considered just as trustworthy as a thief’s—so not very trustworthy at all. If Jesus’ resurrection were a giant farce, the gospel writers would not have written women as the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection.
This is a terrific lesson for women today. In Jesus’ eyes, women are not second-rate citizens. Women are extremely important individuals in ministry. Jesus loves women tremendously. Woman was created because man needed a helper. In other words, it wasn’t the woman who needed the man but it was the man who needed the woman. It was the husband who needed a wife, not the other way around. Women are these beautiful blessings God has fashioned into men’s lives who give us aid as amazing support—support we cannot do on our own.
Church of the Primacy of St. Peter

Church of the Primacy of St. Peter

The last site we’re visiting for today is the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter. (This is a Catholic chapel. Catholics think Peter was the first pope, which is why it’s called the primacy of St. Peter.)
This site is likely where Jesus spoke to Peter at the charcoal fire. “Charcoal fire” appears only twice in the entire Bible. The first time is when Peter denied Jesus three times: “Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself” (John 18:18).
The second time—and this is amazing—is when Jesus was on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after His resurrection when some of the disciples saw Him. Peter, Nathanael, and two other disciples were fishing on the Sea of Galilee. While they were fishing, they saw Jesus on the shore, but they did not know it was Him.
They were having trouble catching fish, and after Jesus told them to cast it on the right side and caught a lot of fish, John recognized it was Him,  saying, “It is the Lord” (John 21:7)! Peter was filled with so much joy that he jumped out of the boat and swam to Jesus. Then, here’s the key, “When they got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire in place…” (v. 9). Then Jesus invites them to have breakfast with Him.
This sets us up for what comes next. Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love Me” (vv. 15-19)? Each time, Peter confesses his faith to Jesus. This account ends with Jesus’ simple words, “Follow Me.” It’s a simple ending, yet it is powerful. Jesus approached Peter in Capernaum and spoke the same words, “Follow Me,” to which he responded by dropping everything and leaving even his wealth and hometown behind. Now again, after following Jesus for three years already, Jesus says, “Follow Me,” and Peter does great things in the name of Christ, which we read about in Acts.
What amazing grace. After denying Jesus three times, Peter warms himself at a charcoal fire. He committed a great sin, and he just goes and warms himself as if nothing happened (before he went and wept bitterly for what he had done). Then, in front of another charcoal fire, Jesus shows Peter His amazing grace in spite of his sin. What a terrific image of Jesus’ unconditional love for us. He loves us beyond reason. No matter how hard we fail, Jesus will always love us and forgive us.

January 10

Bet She'an (Beth-shan)

Bet She’an (Beth-shan)

For our first site today, I’m at Bet She’an (Beth-shan). Here, I read 1 Samuel 31. This is where we read about the death of Saul, Jonathan, and the rest of Saul’s sons. The following day, the Philistines who defeated Saul cut off his head and “put his armor in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan” (v. 10).
The people of Jabesh-gilead heard about this, which is 19 kilometers north of Beth-shan, and they went and took down Saul’s body and his sons’ bodies. To finish this story, we have to read 2 Samuel 21:12-14:
David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of his son Jonathan from the men of Jabesh-gilead, who had stolen them from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hanged them, on the day the Philistines killed Saul of Gilboa. And he brought up from there the bones of Saul and the bones of his son Jonathan; and they gathered the bones of those who were hanged. And they buried the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan in the land of Benjamin in Zela, in the tomb of Kish his father. And they did all that the king commanded. And after that God responded to the plea for the land.
This is an image of David’s incredible integrity. It may seem like nothing to us, but this is a proper Jewish burial. Saul sought to take David’s life for years and David still had the integrity and great sense of honor to give Saul a Jewish burial, which he did not deserve. Yet David saw it fitting to give him one.
This makes me think of how I treat my own enemies. Like many other people, in my sin I tend to wish the worst for my enemies, even if they haven’t done anything to me directly. God called David a man after His own heart (Acts 13:22). David was a man who sought the love, mercy, and grace of God even when he sinned. This is one way in which he exemplified God’s heart.
Even though God judged Saul as he deserved, God still loved him. It does not please God when He punishes people. After all, He said, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, and not rather that He should turn from His way and live” (Ezekiel 18:23)? Even though He judged Saul justly, He still showed His love for him through David’s sense of honor in giving him a proper Jewish burial. I should begin to treat my enemies differently—as Jesus told us, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Qumran. Dead Sea scroll caves.

Qumran. Dead Sea scroll caves.

As I stand at Qumran, I am amazed. Qumran is one of the sites where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Just from where I’m standing there are so many caves where they find the scrolls, and many more that haven’t been explored yet.
The interesting thing about when the Dead Sea Scrolls were found is they were found on November 29, 1947, which was the same day Israel declared its independence. God’s providence was definitely present on that day. I don’t know about you, but when it comes to God, I don’t believe in coincidences.
Over 900 scrolls of the Old Testament were found except for Esther, because it’s the only book that doesn’t mention God. One of our greatest finds in the Dead Sea Scrolls is that for a long time, historical-grammatical critics argued Isaiah was written by two different Isaiahs. Yet the Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed all 66 chapters were written by the same man.
What a marvelous find and testimony to the inerrancy of Scripture! A common question asked is: How did these scrolls survive for over 2,000 years? How were they even readable? There’s no humidity at the Dead Sea because it’s 1,420 feet below sea level. It’s an extremely dry climate, so the scrolls and the jars they were contained in were extremely well-preserved. Yet another example of God’s providence.
En Gedi. David's Waterfall.

En Gedi. David’s Waterfall.

Our last stop for today is absolutely beautiful: En Gedi. This is the site where David had the opportunity to kill Saul in a cave while Saul was relieving himself, but he chose not to kill him. We get the whole story in 1 Samuel 24This was my favorite site because when I read this account in the past, I always imagined the cave as this boring, brown colored cave with a random puddle of water inside it.
Yet in actuality, as you can see in the photograph, it’s a luscious green place with a lot of water—a fantastically beautiful oasis. The amazing thing about this place is that it’s smack dab in the middle of the desert. You’re traveling in the dry, brown desert, then suddenly—after hiking several hundred feet up—you’re in a beautiful oasis. Even more amazing, God told David to come here. He told him to go out into the desert for refuge, which might have seemed crazy, and he trusted God and found He led him to this amazing oasis with plenty of greens and water.
As I sit here watching the beautiful waterfall, I’m thinking about where God is calling me to go—to seminary, and then whichever church He calls me to after ordination. I won’t get into the story because it’s long, but there was a time when I left the Pre-Seminary program I’m currently in because I essentially did not trust God with the abilities and skills He gave me and that my introverted personality was not a good match for ministry.
Last year I returned to the Pre-Seminary program and I leave for the LCMS St. Louis seminary in Fall 2017. Like David, I just need to trust God and GO. God is calling me to go somewhere, and I just need to not ask questions and just go. Some of you might be feeling a calling as well. If it’s clear God is calling you to go somewhere—whether it’s a career or even something like going to Israel—just trust Him and go. He’ll take care of the rest.
The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea

Tonight we’re staying at Herod’s Dead Sea Hotel, a 5-star hotel right on the Dead Sea. I took the above photo of the Dead Sea during the sunset. It’s crazy how warm it is here. Because of the drop in elevation, it becomes a lot warmer. It’s currently 65º here, which coming from the cold tundra of Michigan, is early summer weather.
I watched the others in the group float on the Dead Sea. The water is denser than our bodies, so you don’t have to make any effort to float on the water; it does it for you. I’m not a swimmer, so I just sat on the shore and took photos of them on their phones when they asked. As I sat and listened to their laughter and joy, I couldn’t help but smile.
Later tonight at our debriefing, we talked about joy—how it’s contagious and comes from deep inside us, that we are content. I’ve always theologically known what the joy of the Lord was, but here I witnessed it. We were all filled with so much joy. Even though I wasn’t participating in the waterworks, even I experienced joy. The joy of the Lord is an amazing, powerful thing when we have joy with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

January 11

We’re not seeing a lot of sites today, which I’m thankful for because my sciatica from my Army disability is acting up really bad. It hasn’t been this bad in five years, which has made me really upset and it’s been distracting. Of all times for it to act up, it happens on my pilgrimage. Obviously it’s the Devil trying to distract me from what God wants to show me.
This is the camel my friend and I rode, whom we named Sir Archibald Cameltoe III.

This is the camel my friend and I rode on, whom we named Sir Archibald Cameltoe III, even though it was a female.

Our first site today was Arad, which will not sound familiar unless you know the Old Testament better than I do. First of all, Arad is briefly mentioned in Joshua 12:14it’s in the list of kings whom Israel destroyed and took their land.
We find the specifics in Numbers 21:1-3, “When the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming by the way of Atharim, he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive. And Israel vowed a vow to the LORD and said, ‘If you will indeed give this people into my hand, then I will devote their cities to destruction.’ And the LORD heeded the voice of Israel and gave over the Canaanites, and they devoted them and their cities to destruction. So the name of the place was called Hormah,” which means destruction. So basically, we got to see the ruins of Arad. There’s something amazing about seeing the remains of God’s judgement against the enemies of His people.
We also had the enjoyment of riding camels here in the Negev desert. There’s no biblical significance. In the words of our professor, Pastor Dan Flynn, “You can’t not ride camels when you’re in Israel.” So we rode camels just to say we did.
Wilderness of Zin

Wilderness of Zin

Our last place for today is Avdat, which is in the wilderness of Zin. The only thing I want to share about this is to examine the photo on the right. That photo is the wilderness of Zin. As a young Christian, I always imagined the wilderness as being a forested area, because with our American bias that’s the wilderness for us.
Once I got serious about my faith, I learned what the wilderness actually is: The desert. So when you read of the wilderness in Scripture—such as what the Israelites wandered in for 40 years—this photo is what it looks like. After walking in the wilderness for a while, I know why the Israelites had the complaints they did.
It’s not a pleasant place to walk in. How would you like to wander in this desert for 40 years? I certainly wouldn’t. If that doesn’t strike it home for you, imagine wandering in the Texan Chihuahuan Desert or Death Valley for 40 years. That’s not the place you’d want to travel in for 40 years.

January 12

Masada

Masada

Today is much more exciting, despite my sciatica still acting up. Our first site for today is Masada. I learned so much here that there’s only so much I can share with you. In fact, there’s a lot I learned on this whole trip that there’s only so much I can share.
At Masada we had the chance to see the amazing sight of watching Israeli soldiers being inducted into the army. These are kids—men and women only 17- to 19-years-old. It made me miss my own army days. Our guide, Hela, teared up a bit as she told us how happy it makes her to see the freedom Israel finally has to defend their country.
In Israel, it’s required for every man and woman to serve in the military. As an Israeli, you cannot go to college or even start a career without having served first. Women serve for two years and men serve for three. Once you finish your enlistment, you can then go to college and do other things you want with your life.
This is something worth respecting. Because of this, Israel has a standing army of over 600,000 people. In other words, they have 600,000 citizens who are finished serving, but if it’s needed, they can call them in to fight a serious threat—and they all know how to use weapons and have serious military training. Israel’s standing army alone is larger than our own army in America. I don’t say that to scare us, because Israel is our ally. I say that to show how difficult it is for Israel to live in peace and how amazing it is they have such a large standing army, yet one of the lowest gun crime rates in the world. I honestly believe their army requirements are something America should adopt. 
Anyway, Masada was destroyed in 73 AD. You might recall the Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire began in 66 AD, the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, and the surviving Jews hid on top of Masada until 73. As you can tell from the photo, this was about 3,000 feet in elevation, so it was an amazing feat for them to get up there. There’s a walking path to get up here, but fortunately we took the cable cars, which obviously were not a luxury back in 73 AD.
Here’s where the story gets tragic for the Jews. As they looked over the plateau, they saw the Roman soldiers surrounding them. Defeat was inevitable. In response to this, they destroyed everything they had on Masada except for the food so the Roman soldiers, with their corrupt sense of honor, would not say they died of malnutrition. The last thing they did was they dressed in their best Shabbat (Sabbath) clothing, took their swords, and cut their jugular veins.
This is tragic and unimaginable to us Westerners; we would never think to commit suicide in the face of our impending doom. Yet let’s consider Patrick Henry’s words: “Give me liberty or give me death.” Patrick Henry, and other like-minded patriots, preferred death over British tyranny. These surviving Jews tragically chose death to prevent their wives from being raped and their children from tasting slavery.
Now, there was an archaeologist, Yigael Yadin, who was an agnostic and found an Ezekiel 37 scroll at the Masada synagogue. He said it was too holy to touch, so he got the Israeli army to get the scroll. When they found it, they began to cry uncontrollably, and Yadin began to cry and said, “Now I believe.”
Jerusalem

Jerusalem

Our last visit for today is our ascent to Jerusalem—the Holy City. As we drive on the road where Jesus walked up to Jerusalem, we’re reading Psalm 121 and 133, which say the following respectively
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore… Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
We’re not doing much exploring of Jerusalem today because we went to Bethlehem to do some shopping for olive wood! I spent a lot of money…I got some gifts for myself, my mother and father, and stepmom. Anyway, reading those two psalms on the way up to Jerusalem was awe-inspiring. I got to read the psalms Jesus read while on the road to Jerusalem He walked on. That is just amazing. Jerusalem is a very hilly place and it’s surrounded by mountains. As I look upon the hills of Jerusalem, I can see how my help comes from the Lord alone.

January 13

We’re starting today on the Mount of Olives, and we have a view of Mt. Moriah. If you recall, Moriah was where the near-sacrifice of Isaac occurred in Genesis 22. I’ll just take the risk and assume you know the event. Yet why did God put Abraham through that heartache of nearly sacrificing his only son? He was showing him (and us) something with high Christological significance. Not only would sacrificing Isaac’s life not be enough to cover our sins, but God was already going to do that with His only Son, Jesus.
On the Mount of Olives we briefly worshiped in the Tear Drop Church, which is where they believe Jesus said the following words, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37)!
The people of Jerusalem—the Jews—have a history of killing God’s prophets and messengers, Jesus says. Jesus—God—has repeatedly tried to gather Israel through the prophets in spite of their disobedience, and they were not willing to gather around Him then. Just as they failed to obey God then, so they failed to obey Him now at the time Jesus said these words, and even today as there are still many unbelieving Jews who are not saved. These words of Jesus not only illustrate His grace, but it also illustrates Jerusalem’s disobedience. Jesus has tirelessly attempted to gather them around Him, but in the past, at this time, and into the future, they have refused.
Garden of Gethsemane

Garden of Gethsemane

I have been waiting for this next site on our entire trip to Israel. I am standing in the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed the night He was betrayed. We read Matthew 26:36-46, but I love how John’s gospel records His prayer (John 17):
“Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You, since You have given Him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify Me in Your own presence with the glory that I had with You before the world existed.
“I have manifested Your name to the people whom You gave Me out of the world. Yours they were, and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your Word. Now they know that everything that You have given Me is from you. For I have given them the words that You gave Me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from You; and they have believed that You sent Me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. All Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I cam coming to You.
“Holy Father, keep them in Your name, which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are one. While I was with them, I kept them in Your name, which You have given Me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your Word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate Myself, that they may also be sanctified in truth.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are one, I in them and You in Me, that they become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them even as You loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, may be with Me where I am, to see My glory that You have given Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know You, I know You, and these know that You have sent Me. I made known to them Your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which You have loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
Such beautiful words. Having finished the work God sent Him to do, He prays this final prayer. He prays not only for His disciples, but even for us—Christians of all time. He knows we must live in this world, and so He prays God protects us from the Devil. He prays for us to be sanctified in the truth of God’s Word, for us to be one, and to go out into the world so the world may believe in Christ—to know the Father’s love. What an amazing prayer on the night He was betrayed.
In the pit where Jesus was imprisoned in the house of Caiaphas.

In the pit where Jesus was imprisoned in the house of Caiaphas.

Of course, it doesn’t end there. And I’m not talking about the event of His arrest, or His torturing, or even His crucifixion. I’m talking about His imprisonment that same night. When we go through Jesus’ death and resurrection on Easter, we never talk about Jesus’ imprisonment.
This is in Matthew 26:57-75. Before Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate, He first appeared before Caiaphas, a corrupt Jewish high priest. This high priest had a jail cell at the bottom of his house, and this is where Jesus was imprisoned, where He said, “But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). They know this is the house of Caiaphas because archaeologists found pottery with his name on it. The photo on the left is the best I could take. Without the electricity in the photo, this pit would’ve been totally black. In this pit, I read aloud for the group Psalm 88:1-12:
O LORD, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before You. Let my prayer come before You; incline Your ear to my cry! For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom You remember no more, for they are cut off from Your hand. You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and You overwhelm me with all Your waves. You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon You, O LORD; I spread out my hands to You. Do You work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise You? Is Your steadfast love declared in the grave, or Your faithfulness in Abaddon? Are Your wonders known in the darkness, or Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
As I read these words aloud to the group in the pit where Jesus was imprisoned for several hours, I wondered what was going through His mind. The Scriptures do not tell us what Jesus was thinking as He stayed in this dark pit. Perhaps He recited Psalm 88? Perhaps He took this time to think of every single person He was going to die for—for me, for you? Perhaps He prayed again? We do not know what was going through Jesus’ mind as He stayed in this pitch black pit. All I know is this is the deep, dark pit where I should have been imprisoned for my sins, not Jesus.
Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:64 made me think of the prophetic passage, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him. Even so. Amen” (Revelation 1:7). Even the wicked—including Caiaphas the corrupt high priest—will see Jesus sitting at the right hand of God as He returns in the clouds. What an amazing thing for us Christians to look forward to.

January 14

The world's smallest Hebrew Bible.

The world’s smallest Hebrew Bible. The square thing in the center.

I am looking at some of the original Dead Sea Scrolls. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of them for you guys, because we’re not allowed to take pictures of them. But I could take a picture of the world’s smallest Hebrew Bible for you. You might not believe me, but it’s legit. The museum had this to say about it:
The Nano Bible is a gold-plated silicon chip the size of a pinhead on which the entire Hebrew Bible is engraved. The text, consisting of over 1.2 million letters, is carved on the 0.5mm squared chip by means of a focused ion beam. The beam dislodges gold atoms from the plating and creates letters, similar to the way the earliest inscriptions were carved in stone. The writing process takes about an hour and a half. The letters belong to a font unique to this technology and appear darker against their gold background. To read the text it is necessary to use a microscope capable of 10,000x magnification or higher.
This technological marvel is meant to demonstrate the wonders of present-day miniaturization and provide the spectator with a tangible measure of the dimensions involved. Dense information storage is not unique to human culture: The blueprints of all organisms are stored by nature at even higher densities in long DNA molecules and transmitted in this form over generations.
The term “nano” derives from the Greek word nanos, meaning “dwarf.” The unit “nanometer” measures one billionth of a meter, a ratio similar to the size of an olive compared with the entire planet earth. Nanotechnology makes it possible to construct new materials stronger and lighter than steel, to desalinate water more efficiently, to deliver medications to designated parts of the body without harming surrounding tissues, and to detect cancerous cells in early stages. At the dawn of the Nano Age, scientists and engineers are discovering ways to harness such exquisite control over the elementary building blocks of nature for the benefit of mankind and our planet.
The idea of miniaturizing the Bible was conceived by Prof. Uri Sivan and Dr. Ohad Zohar of the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa. It was carried out by members of the Institute, who created the chip and designed the engraving program. The first of two copies was presented by the former President of the State of Israel, Shimon Peres, to Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Israel in 2009. The chip on display here was produced especially for the Information and Study Center of the Shrine of the Book.
While it was really cool to see the world’s smallest Hebrew Bible, it was even cooler to see the ancient manuscripts of the Dead Sea Scrolls. With my limited Hebrew, I was able to read some of the Hebrew on the scrolls.
Jews praying at the Western Wall.

Jews praying at the Western Wall.

At the Western Wall, previously the Wailing Wall, I had the opportunity to touch  it with my own hands and pray. This is the only part of the wall that remains that once surrounded the Temple during the Second Temple Period. This is a holy site for orthodox Jews today, and they come here to pray.
While it’s an amazing sight to behold, we Christians must remember we can pray to Jesus and feel God closely anywhere in the world, whether it’s at the altar at church or in our own homes. We don’t need to to go a holy site in order to feel God’s presence.
The pool of Siloam.

The pool of Siloam.

We also visited a few Hellenistic caves today. The only thing really worth mentioning is our walk through Hezekiah’s tunnel. I didn’t walk through the water part of the tunnel because I didn’t want to walk in cold water for 45 minutes in 50-degree weather, but apparently it was warm, so now I’m regretting my decision.
But from what everyone is saying, it was really dark, wet, and narrow. So I didn’t really miss out on much. Hezekiah’s tunnel was a genius design that brought water into Jerusalem. At the end of the tunnel is the pool of Siloam. The pool of Siloam is where Jesus sent the blind man to wash and when he came out he was healed (John 9).

January 15

I am standing in the Upper Room, where Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28). It’s an amazing thing that we get to partake in Jesus’ body and blood and receive His forgiveness. In His Suppe,r we taste the real sweetness of His forgiveness. Standing in this room and singing Sanctuary makes me eager to receive His forgiveness tomorrow.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

We’re currently revisiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We’re revisiting it today because the other day we didn’t get to spend as much time in it. There’s a “hill” inside it (i.e. stairs) where Catholics believe Christ was crucified, but I find it to be highly unlikely. I will tell you why at a site we’re visiting tomorrow.

January 16

Today is our last day in Israel, and we’re seeing some pretty big sites today. First, I’m currently at the Dome of the Rock, which is the Muslim monument to Mohammed. As a Christian who respects Jews, it just makes me upset that the Muslims stole this site from the Jews.
The Dome of the Rock is on the Temple Mount, where both the Solomonic Temple and the temple of the Second Temple Period were built. Islam literally has no connections tied to this site, yet they took it as their own to build an absurd monument to their false prophet. It was a cool site to see merely for historical purposes, but my entire time walking on it I couldn’t help but be angry.
The pool of Bethesda.

The pool of Bethesda.

At a much better site now, I’m standing at the pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed the invalid (John 5:1-15). The words here should cause us to pause and reflect.
When Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to be healed,” the man does not answer with the expected answer, “Yes.” After all, this man has been invalid for 38 years, so of course he wants to be healed! Instead, the man says, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me” (v. 7). In other words, “I have no one to serve me.” Jesus asked him a direct question, and the man doesn’t even answer it.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m sick, it feels good to have people serve you. I can recall times when I was really sick as a kid when my mother brought food to my bed because I was too ill to get up. Being served like that feels really good. Even today, as a disabled veteran, there are times when I have to use my cane to help me walk and people serve me by opening doors for me and helping me carry food at a cafeteria.
It’s amazing how much kinder people will be to you when you’re handicapped. I even find myself not wanting my back to be cured so I can continue experiencing people being kind to me. While I think those sinful thoughts, at the same time I do want to be cured, but that would also mean no longer having people to serve me.
Jesus doesn’t expose this man’s indirect answer. Instead, He says, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” (v. 8). Is there anything in your life you want healing from, but are making excuses not to trust God to make it happen? In my own case with my back situation, God has blessed me immensely with having 100% of my healthcare covered through the VA (Veterans Affairs). In my sin, I’ve been lazy with getting my medications refilled to help with my back. I need to get up, go to the VA, and get my prescriptions refilled so I can stop feeling pain all the time.
Golgotha

Golgotha

At our last site for today, it makes me sad. I don’t want to leave Israel tomorrow, but I have to. Yet we all had a powerful experience here.
The photo on the left is Golgotha taken at the Garden Tomb, which is where I believe Jesus was crucified simply because of John 19:17-18, “So they took Jesus, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified Him, and with Him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.”
You can’t tell from the angle of the photo, but if you were to be down in the streets looking at the cliff, there would be a part of the cliff that looks like a skull (we were not able to go down there). The guide of the Garden Tomb told us this place was called Golgotha until the 1800s. The guide also showed us an old black and white photo of what it used to look like in the 40s, and it looked like a skull. It definitely looked more like a skull back in Jesus’ time. As time goes on, it is only natural the cliff crumbles and the side starts to look less and less like a skull.
Here at the Garden Tomb we had our worship service. We sang several praises unto God, Pastor John Rathje gave a brief sermon, and we partook of the Lord’s Supper and received forgiveness. Here are where words fail me. I cannot fully describe the experience we had here. During worship, many of us felt the Holy Spirit and were crying. I was not crying because tears do not come to me easily, but my heart was definitely weeping. Here, the death and resurrection of Christ was fully realized for all of us. 

January 17

Finally in my own bed after many, many hours of traveling, I feel weird. As I laid down in the dark silence, it finally occurred to me why I felt so weird: I’m alone. As an introvert, I thrive on alone time. As someone who’s spent most of his life being alone, it’s not strange to me to be alone. Yet I felt strange.
I spent 11 days in Israel with people whom I grew spiritually close to. We were always around each other. And now here, lying in bed, I missed all of them dearly. Here in my bed, my heart cries out to God. I’m tired of being alone. I desire more fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. I desire even more a godly woman to spend my life with. In Israel I experienced the spiritual intimacy I desire with both Christian friends and a godly wife some day.
One of the main motifs I learnt on this pilgrimage is patience. God has been eternally patient with the Israelites in spite of their disobedience and Jesus was patient with Peter and many other sinners. God’s timing is always perfect. God brings His blessings exactly as He intends. As I patiently wait on the Lord, my passion for my pastoral calling has been rekindled to bring God’s light to peoples’ darkness. My spirit has been reinvigorated to continue spending time in God’s Word and His biblical languages to better proclaim God’s Word to God’s people.

Ricky Beckett

Garrick Sinclair "Ricky" Beckett first started his Christian writing on a blog titled "The Lutheran Column" where he hires proficient Lutheran writers to convey biblical truth. Along with the blog, he also writes poetry, string quartets in music composition, enjoys doing photography, reading, and playing video games. Ricky is a graduate from Concordia University-Ann Arbor from the Pre-Seminary program with a major in Christian Thought and a minor in Theological Languages. Currently, Ricky is a seminarian at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis as he works on his Masters of Divinity to become a pastor in the LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod).

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