By Pastor Matt Watson, MVGB Church
My wife, Melissa, and I made a trip to Israel in November. So many folks in the community have asked me about our trip. We are grateful for the interest. We are indebted to the generosity of our church family who prayed and paid our way to the Promised Land. We made the trip to Tel Aviv, Israel on November 10, 2012. This is our story.
First we landed in Tel Aviv at Ben Gurion Airport. Tel Aviv sits adjacent old city Jaffa—better known for the biblical account of Jonah and the big fish. On day two we visited Caesarea Maritima. This Caesarea is the city where Rabbi Akiva was filleted alive by the Romans during the Jewish Revolt that started 122AD. Maritima was fully romanized with Herod’s fresh water bath, a theatre and a dreadful amphitheatre.
Second, we toured Mount Carmel. Elijah called down fire on the prophets of Baal on this Mount. You can read of this account in the book of Kings. We also visited Mount Meggido. This mount is better known as Har-Meggedon or Armageddon. Armageddon is the site of twenty-five globe altering wars between the likes of Assyrians and Egyptians. John the Revelator wrote about Armageddon as the battle place for the war to end all wars.
Third, we dipped in the Jordan River. This place named Yardenit is the location where John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ. The biblical account is spectacularly Trinitarian in Its depiction of the Spirit descending like a dove and a voice saying, “this is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus’ Lordship was well affirmed in the little river Jordan in which we stood. It was special. We also went on a Boat Ride in the Sea of Galilee and learned about net-casting—an essential first century trade. We visited Jesus’ earthly ministry cites at Capernahum and the Mount of the Beatitudes. We went to the place it thought Jesus reinstated the Apostle Peter (John 21) called Peter’s Primacy. We had dinner with Gary Bayer, and wife Cindy, of Mt. Vernon, Indiana. This the third day.
Fourth, we visited the oft referred to Golan Heights region of Northern Israel. One ancient city is Gamla which means “camel.” Gamla is shaped like a camel. Gamla is referred to as “little Masada” because of the similar slaughter that took place there. Gamla was completed destroyed by the Romans in their quest to destroy Judaism. Next we saw the Valley of Tears where sits a memorial to young soldiers lost in defense of modern Israel. The soldiers were surprise attacked in the Six Days War. Israelis call the Valley of Tears “little Normandy.” Next we visited excavated cities of Tel Dan and Tel Hatzor. A “tel” is simply a civilization on top of a civilation on top of a civilization and so on. Tel Dan is where King Jeroboam built a competing city to Jerusalme in 930 BC as we read about in the book of Kings. Tel Hatzor is one of Solomon’s cities like Megiddo and Gezer. Tel Hatzor has twenty layers of civilization! We had dinner at our splendid tour guide house. Our guide and his wife, Boaz and Maggie Shalgi, were tremendous hosts. They live in a kibbutz with ninety other families. Kibbutz means “togetherness” and it is like a gated capitalistic community with shared communal responsibilities. Great was this the fourth day.
Fifth, we visited places in our march to and near Jerusalem. Judges records stories of Gideon and Jabesh. Gideon is famous for choosing a few select hundred left-handed soldiers to defeat a much larger army. God plus one is a majority! The people of God won the victory with just a select few faithful soldiers. God gets the credit when seemingly small things are used for large redemptive purposes. We visited a fully excavated Roman city called Beit She-an. Judges 19 and 1 Samuel 31 connect the story of Saul to the children of Jabesh-Gilead. The children of Jabesh-Gilead did a heroic act to recover the bodies of Saul and sons from the Philistines. They did this under the cover of the night to give them a proper burial. The city was massive and inspiring. This the fifth day.
Sixth, we visited desert places such as Masada, En Gedi, Qumran, and The Dead Sea. Masada is where the famed Roman legion was stymied by just under a thousand heroic Jewish people. Masada was the last stronghold of the Jews when it fell near 72 AD. Masada fell near forty years after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Masada holds its place in history as the place where the people committed mass suicide rather than subject their wives to brutality and children to slavery. Next was the oasis in the desert called En Gedi. The oasis is thought to be the place David cut the hem off of then King Saul’s garment while Saul was asleep. Rabbis think David had problems staying warm late in life because he dared to even alter the garment of the king of Israel. An oasis in the desert is spectacular. One can only survive an hour in the desert without a water supply. Next we visited the site Bedouins discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls—Qumran. The Dead Sea Scrolls were a fantastic 20th century Hebrew text find. Every book of the Old Testament save Esther is contained in this find. Finally, we dipped in the saltiest body of water on planet earth—The Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is thirty-three percent salt, ten times saltier than an ocean, and thus you can float in the sea. Many who suffer from skin disorders visit The Dead Sea or purchase products manufactured from it. These products improve skin quality. This the sixth day.
Seventh, we visited Jerusalem proper. As essential as Sabbath or a “stop day” is to Jewish culture, we did not take one. There was too much to see and too little time to see it. A trip to Israel is more a learning experience than a vacation. Our Bible study tour climaxed, as it should, in the epicenter of religious history—Jerusalem. We went to the Western Wall, nearby Bethlehem, The Blood Field, The Temple Institute, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, The Israel Museum, and The Garden Tomb. All these sites are easily searchable online so let us simply focus on The Garden Tomb now. The Garden Tomb is special because it contains no bones. The central claim to the Christian faith is: “Jesus is Not Here, He is Risen!” No trip to Israel is complete without taking note of what is unseen. Faith is the evidence of things unseen, the substance of things hoped for. Righteousness from God, the only true righteousness imputed to true believers, depends on faith. Our Messianic Jewish tour guide, Boaz, and the staff of British Charities at The Garden Tomb did a fantastic job articulating our faith. For the true believer, the resurrection is the apex of human history where heaven came down so glory could fill my soul. For the true believer, every Sunday is Easter Sunday.
Seven is a number of completion in Scripture. Seven is the number of days in a week and the number of days in creation. A week is all we really had in Israel. The main thing I would say to you if you asked me about our trip to Israel. “You should go!” It’s the trip of a lifetime. So forget about the dream vacation to Hawaii or the cruise to the Bahamas. For the believer there’s no destination this side of heaven like Experience Destination Israel (EDI) (go to editravel-israel.com for more info).
By Pastor Matt Watson, MVGB Church
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