Hey everyone! If you haven’t heard yet, we just got back from Israel! Take a look below to read some student takeaways.
Wow! Magdala was one of my favorite sites we went to on the Israel Trip! I loved seeing the 1st century synagogue that Jesus most likely taught. It was so amazing seeing the Bible come to life and being able to picture Mary Magdalene there following Jesus. You hear about Mary in the Bible, but being able to see where she lived was such a unique experience.
Being able to sing “How Great Thou Art” in Magdala is one of my favorite memories because it was so beautiful seeing and hearing everyone in OneLife come together and worship our Lord. Through learning more about Mary Magdalene and Magdala, I was shown the faith that she had to have in following Jesus and telling others about Him. In my time in Israel, the Lord was teaching me about faith, and Magdala was where I saw it come to life.
Caesarea Philippi… the place where people threw sacrifices into a cave dedicated to Pan, the Greek god of fertility. His name is from which the word panic is derived. Next to Pan’s cave, people could revere the gods Echo and Hermes at shrines chiseled in the rock. About a six-hour walk away stands Mount Hermon, the highest point in Israel. For Baal-worshippers, who believed the higher the place the holier, Mount Hermon provided a perfect place of worship.
Caesarea Philippi… a place renowned for its worship of practically every god but Yahweh, whose legacy of idol worship still remains today for visitors to clearly see. Why do we find Jesus and His disciples here on one memorable occasion? Removed from the cities of Israel, the synagogues, the Jewish culture and beliefs, Jesus asks His disciples this question: “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter replies: “the Christ.”
As I look up at the cliff in front of me, Jesus naming Peter “the rock” echoes in my mind. The idea of an unshakable foundation for the church now takes a new shape in my mind. The Gate of Hades – the other name associated with Pan’s cave – stands right in front of me. The power that cave held – that caused so many sacrifices to be offered to a pagan god of fear – would never be able to overcome Christ’s church. But then, why is it that I can only see the shrines and Pan’s cave today? Why is my God invisible, when the sins of the past are still very present?
I realized that my God is very alive, in the parts of His beautiful creation that seem overcome by sin, in the people all around me, everywhere. I thank God that He is superior to the sin and the pain and the mess, too, not only over the beautiful and the good. When seeing brokenness, I can rejoice in knowing that God will redeem and renew the goodness. I can know that ultimately, no matter who seems to be winning, God has the ultimate authority and the final say.
As I look around Capernaum, I can see why Jesus chose this as his “home base.” Capernaum sits right on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, overlooking the whole area of Jesus’ main ministry. The ruins of Capernaum encompass a synagogue, the house of Peter’s mother-in-law, and most of the ancient village.
Although there are only ruins left, it is not hard to picture Jesus walking around here and teaching in the synagogue or under the trees by the water. It’s crazy to think that it was right where we stood that Jesus healed the paralytic that came through a roof (Mark 2:1-12) as well as demonstrated his authority over all things in expelling demons (Luke 4:31-37).
Capernaum was another reminder of Jesus’ perfect example of authority and vulnerability. Although beautiful, Capernaum was just another small town on Galilee. It was occupied by fishermen and the average working members of Jewish society. Jesus didn’t come and live in Jerusalem or in some palace. He came and dwelt among the vulnerable and sick, the demon-possessed and working class.
Although Jesus lived in a humble place, he exerted perfect authority over all things. In Mark 1:21-22, it says that His listeners in Capernaum were “amazed at his teaching” and even the demon in the possessed man recognized Jesus as the “Holy one of God.”
Jesus came as a humble man, but also as the almighty bearer of life changing news. He may have lived in Capernaum 2000 years ago, but his message is just as relevant now as it was then. What an amazing opportunity to stand where Jesus healed people and began to make all things new, knowing that he has healed me and is making me new.
One of the symptoms of being a teenager is oversleeping. Believe me, I am one. And I learned that if you struggle with it, it follows you wherever you go, even to Israel. So the morning I found myself down on the shore of the Sea of Galilee a half an hour later than planned, I was just a little frustrated with myself. Surprisingly though, the unplanned ‘inconvenience’ turned into a pretty great gift. Isn’t it funny how God does things like that?
I found myself sitting alone on some rocks by the waters edge, enjoying the peace of the quiet morning. At some point, God and I started talking. I’ve been processing what it means to trust Him recently. What it means to truly trust. And it hit me that this was one place Peter’s faith was tested. It was on these very waters where Peter trusted Jesus enough to step out of a boat into stormy waters. He kept his eyes on Jesus and walked on water…until his faith wavered. Until a seed of doubt creeped in and he started to sink. How often do I, in the face of a storm in my life, take the risk of stepping out in faith? Do I move towards the One who calms the wind and waters, or do I hide my face in fear in the back of the boat? And very clearly, I heard Him say, “Amara, lay it down. Trust me. I love you far too much to want you to live in your worry.”
The realization that surrendering to Him is something I need to choose daily hit me pretty hard. I need to be okay with giving what plagues my mind up to Him. The sovereign, almighty God of the universe loves me with an outrageous love of another kind. And if I do falter and start to sink, He loves me enough to reach out and rescue me. Every. Single. Time.
Beit Shean was essentially a giant historical playground. The vastness of the ruins to be explored was thrillingly overwhelming. The beautifully preserved city was lined with mustard flowers and topped with grey storm clouds. The goodness of God was on full display. I didn’t come to a poignant and insightful revelation about God while exploring this site: I simply rejoiced in the loveliness around me. And in doing so, I learned more about the character of the God I serve. He creates beauty so we can delight in it, beauty in itself is a purpose. He loved to watch us, his children, run around shrieking in the rain, marveling in the colors of the mosaics and climbing under the ruins to discover ancient homes. I was struck by the kindness of God to lead archaeologists to discover these ruins so we could learn from them and enjoy them. He delights to give us good gifts, and we should delight in them.
My sites were the City of David, the Temple Mount Steps, and Hezekiah’s Tunnel, but I’ll be focusing more on the last one, for that’s the one I did the research for. Hezekiah’s Tunnel is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 32:2-4 and 2 Kings 20:20. I am learning so much about the Bible, Jesus, and all the history behind things. Israel taught me that there’s solid proof that events in the Bible happened, and that people who doubt these things should seriously check this out. I, myself, am a huge critic, but this trip to Israel really helped me enhance my relationship with God, because there was solid proof, yes, but also because it was evident in the people all around me. All I had to do was let loose a little bit and a whole world of opportunities sprang out at me. Going to Israel gave me a newfound respect of the ancient people who took time to make records of things happening, just for us to discover. That stuff is not an accident. I love all that God revealed to me there, good or bad.
I learned a lot from our tour guide and what he taught was amazing, so I’ll try to narrow it down. He really taught us about the Hebrew/Arabic culture in those days and in modern times, which was very fascinating. He also told us a TON about Jesus, and the context in which he was talking. For example, when he tells the Pharisees about the Good Samaritan, we all know it took place in the wilderness, right? But our tour guide literally took us to that same wilderness desert Jesus was talking about, and really put into perspective on just how much “in the wilderness” it was, and how dangerous it was; because of robbers and thirst alike. That was an awesome experience.
God is revealing himself to me through other people and my relationships with them. I previously did not realize how much I affect people’s attitudes when I’m feeling down, and these experiences God has shown me in One Life help me to talk about things in a better, healthier way. I no longer hold onto my bitterness as long as I normally did and have thus had better relationships with my peers.
Masada, a palace and stronghold built by Herod in the Judean wilderness. A palace built to provide refuge, protection, and comfort to those inside. As our group gazed out at the desert from the top of the ruins left behind and listened to stories from the past I began to think about the lyrics “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing”-Martin Luther. In preparation for and during the trip our class was assigned to read The Bible and The Land written by Gary M. Burge. Gary helped me see how God’s characteristics can be found in the land. Just like Masada provided rest and refuge for those who hid inside, Christ is the Rock unchanging, providing me constant refuge (Psalm 18:2).
Qumran has the oldest written record of the Old Testament in the world, but archaeologists have found more than just the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are now finding other things belonging to the Essenes. The buildings we saw being excavated were all for public use. Because the Essenes were all male, they adopted orphans so the group could continue to grow. Some believe that John the Baptist was adopted by them. I’m amazed that the Dead Sea Scrolls weren’t found until 1946.
God is revealing himself to me through the beauty of this area. Even though it is in the wilderness, it is still beautiful.
There are two possible places that the crucifixion and burial of Jesus could’ve happened. The Garden tomb and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I was responsible for presenting on both possible sites and I have to admit that I was pretty set on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher until our tour guide reminded me that in the Bible (Matthew 27:39) it says that “Those who passed by hurled insults at him”. I had always thought that Golgotha was on a hill, but that statement made me rethink. If Jesus was crucified on a hill then that would most likely mean that he would not of been able to hear them, so it would’ve had to be passing on the road or something. At the garden tomb there’s a place where they think Jesus was crucified at, and it wasn’t on a hill.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a building that spans across a proposed location for two of the most significant events in the Biblical narrative of ancient Israel: Jesus’ execution on the cross, and his tomb for burial.
While archaeologists and theologians today differ in their opinions on the whereabouts of the authentic site, there are enough correlations to scripture that would qualify the Church as a plausible candidate. One distinguishing feature of the site that, having learned, has enhanced my experience in Israel, is the execution place and tomb’s distance from the gates of the city of Jerusalem. This is in accord with Hebrews 13:11-12, which reveals not only such a positioning clue, but also a symbolic meaning behind the positioning. The text reads,
The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.
The Jews of ancient Israel would have recognized the spiritual parallel the Hebrew writer was trying to make. No longer would the people have to continually sacrifice animals to the pay the debt for sin against God, but instead, by God, through the power and love of Jesus, the debt was paid once and for all; a relationship not only offered to the Jews, but to the whole of mankind.
It is this kind of revelation that makes the sites within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre worth a visit—not because of any claims there may be to prove it is the place where Jesus was crucified and buried, but because its likelihood allows for the viewer to reflect on the hope passed down in the scriptures for us today, those in the past, and for generations to come.