Israel, Part 1

Steve and I recently returned from an incredible trip to Israel. It was amazing! I’ve had a fascination with the Holy Land for many years, but never imagined I’d ever have the opportunity to go. What a blessing to be able to spend several days exploring parts of this historic, fascinating country. Since we’ve returned, a lot of people have asked about our trip, wondering what stood out the most or what places we most enjoyed. It’s hard to single out any one place or any specific activity, but there are a few highlights I know I’ll always treasure deeply, and I wanted to share some of them here.

First, I loved the privilege of walking in the very places Jesus lived his earthly life. It was as if our Abba Father took us on a road trip to show us the places His Son lived, loved, ministered and healed during his 33 years on earth. What fun to visit these places firsthand!

Another beautiful gift this trip provided is the way it brought Scripture to life. Whether we were visiting historical sites, walking where Jesus did, or simply driving along the highway, time and again a passage of Scripture would come to mind. The leaders of our trip, Pastor Marty and Jenny Schmidt from the Bridge Church in Ottumwa, IA, taught at several of the sites. Marty read Scripture passages that were pertinent to where we were visiting, and also shared some of his own thoughts and “wonderings.” We were also blessed by the knowledge of our Israeli tour guide, Ari, who gave us deeper insights into the history (past and more recent) of the Promised Land. It was wonderful to be in the actual location (or close to the actual location) of where these events took place thousands of years ago. An added bonus is that now, when we read Scripture, it seems to be in 3D and living color!

Steve and I were also fascinated to simply be in this unique place, to witness firsthand the restoration of this tiny nation. As we read about Israel and its intriguing history — especially of its rebirth as a nation in 1948 — and then toured and explored it in person, we were amazed at how ancient prophecies have been fulfilled in recent history and are continuing to unfold to this day.

We were also intrigued by the reality that three of the world’s major religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — revere Jerusalem as a holy city. This was very evident as we walked through the Old City, which is divided into four quarters: the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter and the Armenian Quarter. I’ll share more about that in a future blog post.

I took 500+ pictures over the course of our ten-day trip (we 7 days spent touring), but I promise I won’t bore you with all of them! I do, however, want to share a few from each place or site we visited. I’ll include a brief explanation under each one.

We spent the first two nights in Tel Aviv, a beautiful, modern city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
View from our hotel room in Tel Aviv.
The first full day in Israel was a rest day, with the option of a short tour. Steve and I opted to stay in Tel Aviv. We took a short walk from our hotel to the ancient sea port city of Joppa. This is the same port from which Jonah sailed to flee to Tarshish rather than going to Nineveh, as God had commanded him (see Jonah 1).
This is also where the apostle Peter raised a much-loved woman named Dorcas back to life (Acts 9); and where he had a vision on the rooftop of Simon the Tanner’s home, calling him to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with the Gentiles (Acts 10) .
Other references in Scripture to Joppa: Joshua 19:46-47; 2 Chron. 2:16; Ezra 3:7.
Our first full day of touring took us up the Mediterranean coastline to the ruins of Caesarea Maritima, a city built by Herod the Great in 22 BC. This historic city was named in honor of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus, and served as the seat of the Roman government for over 500 years. Caesarea played a prominent role in the life of the early Christian believers. Several passages in the New Testament book of Acts make reference to Caesarea: Acts 8:40; 9:30; 10; 12:19-24; 18:22; 21:8-9; 23:23-27:2.
The hippodrome at Caesarea.
This arena was the venue for games which were held every four years. Spectators filled the stands for exciting horse-and-chariot races, athletics, gladiator combat and hunting matches. You’ll notice the seating area on the right of the photo.
“I appeal unto Caesar!” Acts 25:11 This was the city the Apostle Paul was sent to be tried.
Steve saluting his photographer (!) in the ancient amphitheater, where the Apostle Paul made his defense before Felix, Festus (both Roman governors) and eventually King Herod Agrippa II (Acts 23-27).
We continued up the coastline to Mt. Carmel, where the prophet Elijah held his epic contest with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18).
“O Lord, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.” (I Kings 18:36-37).
God provided indisputable evidence to remind the people that He, alone, is the One True God. (And no, we didn’t see any burn marks on the mountain!)
On top of Mt. Carmel
This was also where Elijah, a man of great faith and powerful prayers, prayed that a 3-1/2 year drought would end. Elijah told his servant, “Go and look toward the sea.” After seven times of going back and forth to check, Elijah’s servant finally saw a little cloud in the distance. Soon, the sky turned black and a terrific rainstorm drenched the land.
“The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops” (James 5:16b-18).
Lord, there is such power in our earnest, heartfelt prayers. May we pray with the same boldness and confidence Elijah had! Amen.
Our final stop on our first day of touring was at Megiddo (Armageddon in Hebrew). The city of Megiddo guarded a strategic pass through Mount Carmel — the most important trade route that linked Egypt in the south to Syria in the north. This site dates back to 4000 BC. Twenty separate layers of civilization have been uncovered here, each one built on top of the ruins of the preceding city.
Some OT Scripture references to Megiddo: Joshua 12:7,21; Judges 1:27; 5:19-20; I Kings 4:12; 9:15; 10:26; 2 Kings 9:27; 23:29-30; 2 Chron. 35:20-24
Archaeologists have uncovered an amazing waterway that was dug under the city to bring in water. Our Israeli tour guide, Ari, told us they dug the tunnel from opposite ends and eventually met up with each other. Incredible!
Megiddo / Armageddon
Many believe that Armageddon will be the literal place of the final battle of evil against the Lord God where He will destroy His enemies. This comes from Rev. 16:13-16; 20:1-10.
“And then I (John) saw three evil spirits…. They are demonic spirits who work miracles and go out to all the rulers of the world to gather them for battle against the Lord on that great judgment day of God the Almighty.
‘Look, I will come as unexpectedly as a thief! Blessed are all who are watching for me, who keep their clothing ready so they will not have to walk around naked and ashamed.’
And the demonic spirits gathered all the rulers and their armies to a place with the Hebrew name
Armageddon.”

Regardless of how, where, or when this will take place, we know that someday Jesus will return. Are you ready? Are you eagerly watching for His return?

We spent the next two nights in Tiberias, a city on the western shore of the beautiful Sea of Galilee. This “sea,” which is actually Israel’s largest freshwater lake, divides the Golan Heights from the district of Galilee in the northern part of Israel. This relatively small body of water is known by a lot of other names: the Lake of Galilee, Lake of Gennesaret, Lake of Gennesar, Sea of Chinnereth, Sea of Chinneroth, and the Sea of Tiberias.

I found it interesting that even though this city is located in the region where Jesus lived and ministered, there is no record in Scripture of Jesus ever visiting Tiberias.

A boat on the Sea of Galilee. The Golan Heights are on the opposite shore.
Our first stop in this region of Galilee was the Mount of the Beatitudes. As you can see from the sign, there are a few rules for proper dress and behavior when visiting this site. I’m not sure Jesus was quite as particular to those he ministered to!
As we sat on the ancient mountain from which Jesus taught his followers 2000 years ago, Pastor Marty shared with us the same message Jesus gave — the message commonly called the Sermon on the Mount.
“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.
He said, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven..'” (Matt. 5-7)
One of the gals from the Bridge Church brought her guitar. What a joy to sing praises to Jesus in this special place! An added treat was hearing worshipers from many other nations singing praise songs in their own languages.
Another view from the Mount of the Beatitudes.
We discovered that over the centuries many small churches have been built on what are traditionally considered holy sites. Our next stop took us to a small beach along the shore of the Sea of Galilee where it is believed that Peter was reinstated by Jesus after his resurrection. The Church of the Primacy of St. Peter was built on this beach.
“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt. 16:18).

It was perhaps on this very beach that Jesus unexpectedly appeared to a few of his disciples following his resurrection. The disciples, somewhat confused about what they were supposed to do following the death and resurrection of their beloved Lord and Teacher, had gone back to fishing (for fish). After one very discouraging and unsuccessful night, they were surprised to hear a voice calling out to them from the shore. The man suggested they throw their nets on the other side of the boat, which immediately resulted in a HUGE catch! Imagine their joy and delight when they realized it was Jesus! Peter excitedly jumped out of the boat to go to him. Later, after Jesus fixed them a delicious breakfast of fish on the beach, Jesus reinstated Peter.
“Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied. “You know I love you.”
“Then feed my sheep.” (see John 21)
Steve and I standing in the Sea of Galilee (unlike Jesus who could stand — and walk — ON the Sea of Galilee!)
This was one of our favorite stops. It was easy to envision Jesus and his disciples enjoying each other’s company on this serene little beach.
Next, we visited the ruins of Capernaum, a small village on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. This was where Jesus lived for a couple of years, following his rejection from his boyhood town of Nazareth.
These are the ruins of a synagogue believed to have been built in 300 AD. This synagogue was most likely built over the one in which Jesus would have worshiped, taught and healed. There are numerous references to Capernaum in the gospels.
The ancient village of Capernaum. It was much smaller than I would have anticipated it to be.
We know from Scripture that Peter, Jesus’ disciple, lived in Capernaum. This area is widely believed to be the remains of his home. Jesus compassionately healed many people in this very place.
“When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.
When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the evil spirits with a word and healed all the sick.” (Matt. 8:14-16).
This modern church was built over the reputed site of Peter’s home in Capernaum and is designed to protect the remains of the house. Visitors are allowed to view them from above through the church’s glass floor. We didn’t go into the church, as they were holding a service at the time.
Next we visited a museum at Ginosar Kibbutz on the Sea of Galilee. This museum houses a 2000 year old fishing boat that was discovered by a couple of fishermen in January of 1986. This boat was buried deep in the mud near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. There’s no evidence that it belonged to Jesus’ followers or that Jesus was ever in it, but various types of testing prove that it dates back at least 2000 years.
After checking out the museum, we went on a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. Marty read the story of Jesus calming a violent storm that struck the sea while Jesus and his disciples were crossing to the other side. Jesus was sound asleep in the boat when the storm began raging, but the disciples were not that calm! With a word, Jesus stilled the storm. The disciples were amazed at how quickly and completely the storm stopped.
“Who is this man?” his disciples asked. “Even the winds and waves obey him!”
After Jesus and his disciples safely arrived on the other side of the lake, they were immediately confronted by a another violent “storm.” A homeless, naked, demon-possessed man began screaming at them. Jesus graciously healed the man by casting out the demons. With Jesus’ permission the demons entered a herd of pigs and plunged into this very body of water. Jesus then restored the man’s mind — and his dignity — and provided him with clothes. Where did the clothes come from? Marty suggested that perhaps Jesus had taken along an extra set of clothing and used it as a pillow to sleep on while in the boat. It’s certainly possible!
“Go back to your family, and tell them everything God has done for you.”
(see Matt. 8:23-34; Mk 4:35-5:20; Lk 8:22-39)
Worship on the Sea of Galilee.
You’ll notice the two flags flying high. First, the Israeli flag was hoisted while their national anthem was played. Immediately following that, the American flag was raised as our national anthem played. Very touching!
Other boats on the beautiful Sea of Galilee.

Our final stop that day was the Jordan River, specifically to a place know as the Yardinet. This spot, located on the banks of the Jordan River just south of the Sea of Galilee, is where many tourists and pilgrims go to be baptized in the same water that Jesus was baptized in by John the Baptist. We were given the option of being baptized, and both Steve and I chose to participate as a symbol of our love and commitment to Jesus. What a beautiful experience to be immersed in these ancient waters! “Buried with Christ in His death; raised to new life!”

Joy!
Pastor Marty Schmidt is on the right and Ryan Van Maanen is on the left.
A high-five after being immersed!
The Jordan River
“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well-pleased” (Mk 1:9-11).

Thanks for reading! I’ll continue with the show-and-tell on future blogs — I can’t wait to share the rest!

Note: Several of the historical facts I shared were gleaned from a few books I read before going to Israel. If you’re interested in learning more about this amazing country, I’d recommend these books as a start.

  • The Rock, the Road, and the Rabbi, by Kathie Lee Gifford.
  • Jesus, a Pilgrimage, by James Martin, SJ
  • The Holy Land, by George W. Knight
  • The Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land, by Charles H Dyer and Gregory A. Hatteberg.
  • The Holy Bible!

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