View of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives
Walking in the steps of the prophets, patriarchs and Messiah, Charles and Linda Gardner had a wonderful tour with a few days’ bonus, courtesy of the British Embassy…
Just back from a much-anticipated study tour of Israel, I am conscious more than ever that this is God’s land.
Although partially thwarted by security alerts both in the north and south, we nevertheless experienced the miracle of modern Israel.
Just 70 years after being recognised as a reborn state by the United Nations, Israel has developed into a powerful, high-tech democracy (now with the world’s second strongest currency) after Jews returned from every corner of the globe.
The wilderness seems to have barely changed; here, some 3,500 years ago, the multitude of Israelites survived for 40 years in these arid conditions, with water scarce and vegetation hardly visible. Living on manna from heaven taught them to trust the Lord – for “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Even today Bedouin shepherds lead their sheep in this desert from the front, not behind. There are steep ravines, rock faces and sinkholes waiting to catch the sheep off guard, not to mention wolves and other predators, so they need to stay close to the shepherd. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
At the Dead Sea, we are reminded of the ultimate fate of those who pursue licentiousness – the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, destroyed by fire and brimstone.
As we ascended the hills of Galilee, our excellent guide explained how sheep graze by cutting the grass, while goats pull it out by the roots. I thought of the separation of the sheep and goats at the end of the age (Matthew 25:31–46). The sheep feed on fresh pasture, following the Shepherd, while the goats cut themselves off from the roots of their faith by considering Israel forsaken by God.
At Caesarea Philippi, there are remains of idol temples and a huge cave once said to be the gate to Hades (Hell). Here Simon Peter made his great confession: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). And Jesus adds that on this confession of faith he would build his Church (body of believers), and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it.
On the shores of Lake Galilee, we stand where the risen Christ told his disciples to cast their net on the other side of the boat, and they landed 153 fish. In Jewish tradition, the numerical value of this figure adds up to the statement, “I am God.”
But disturbing news followed in our wake. We heard of Hamas terrorists killed in the bombing of a tunnel into Israel from Gaza in the south, and of a suicide bombing in a Druze village across the border in Syria, naturally affecting the Druze1 community within Israel.
This caused a long delay at a checkpoint coming out of Palestinian territory and meant missing part of the tour schedule, including the area where Paul encountered Christ on the road to Damascus.
Standing on the Mount of Olives, I reflected on how Jesus ascended from here and will return to stand here in east Jerusalem (Acts 1:11, Zechariah 14:4), when all Israel will recognise him as their Saviour (Zechariah 12:10, Romans 11:26).
I also thought of how Jesus sweated blood in the Garden of Gethsemane below, with its ancient olive trees symbolic of the Messiah, who was whipped for our transgressions (sticks are used to beat the fruit off at harvest) and crushed for our iniquities, as olives are crushed for their oil (Isaiah 53:4–6).
Now Jewish people are beginning to discover the truth about their Messiah (Yeshua in Hebrew); a Jews for Jesus survey found that an astonishing 20% of Jewish millennials consider Jesus to be “the Son of God”.2
Our tour was run by Shoresh (Hebrew for ‘root’), part of the Church’s Ministry among Jewish people (CMJ), established in this region since the 1840s.
However, our time was unexpectedly lengthened when I was prevented from boarding my El Al flight home – because of not having a visa in my South African passport. The British government is
now fining airlines allowing ‘foreigners’ to enter the UK without a visa. The fact that I have lived in England for nearly 50 years doesn’t seem to count.
It was a stressful week, but suffice to say that my wife Linda and I do not put our ultimate trust in flying chariots or horses but in God, who clearly had a purpose for our extended stay.
Our first extra night was something of an emergency stop, and was spent close to the British Embassy in the luxurious surroundings of Tel Aviv’s Herods Hotel where we were given a champagne reception on being handed the keys to our $300-a-night room!
Thankfully we temporarily settled in nearby Jaffa, known as Joppa in biblical times and famous for Peter’s vision in Simon the Tanner’s house, which opened the way for the Gospel being shared with the Gentiles. So here we are sharing with the Jewish people the precious gift they passed on to us so long ago. May they be truly blessed with Yeshua’s perfect peace!
1 An Arab-Muslim sect loyal to Israel
2 Gateway News, 8 November 2017