We were off to Israel (from 11–23 May 2015) with our whole family and 44 friends — 51 in all! I was more excited this time than I was 23 years ago. Our 9-month-old son had grown up and had someone else to take care of him; and I could focus on absorbing the Scriptures, and on the Saviour.
Dr Hal Roning was our guide again. He had hardly aged since our last trip, and at 78 years his mind is incredibly sharp. Makhoul assisted with logistics and Ehab was our able bus driver.
Israel is about the size of New Jersey. There are four land types running from north to south: plains, hills, valleys and plateaus.
Caesarea Maritima was our first stop. Herod the Great built a port in the Mediterranean Sea which welcomed ships from all around the then-known world. The city built there prospered. Paul landed at Caesarea after his second and third missionary journeys and was later imprisoned here. Peter and Philip preached here and the Mediterranean became a water highway for the spread of the gospel.
Through the years, different nations have ruled the area. Earthquakes and wars have ravaged the buildings leaving only ruins. However, excavations and renovations have restored the amphitheatre, the horse-racing track and parts of other buildings.
Joel prepared 20 devotionals with personal applications, relating to places we visited, and read them in each setting (they are on his blog). We began each day’s travel with prayer on the bus. The men in the group took turns leading devotions at suppertime. The combination of Hal’s guiding, the devotional instruction of my husband and warm fellowship with fellow travellers made the whole trip extremely worthwhile.
To hear our guide, we used an electronic transmitter. Hal spoke in a normal tone into a mike, and we listened through earphones attached to a box that hung around our neck. We could hear up to 100 yards away.
Atop Mt Carmel we recalled Elijah’s contest with the priests of Baal. We looked at the Brook Kishon to the northwest, where the prophet killed the Baal worshippers. Then we looked toward the sea to the west and imagined a rain cloud the size of a man’s hand that Elijah saw after praying seven times.
To the north were the sites of the Old Testament resurrection by Elisha of the son of a Shunnamite woman who had travelled 15 miles on a donkey in the hot sun, and the New Testament resurrection by Jesus of the only son of a widow in Nain who was in a funeral procession.
Our view also included Mts Tabor and Gilboa. Tel Megiddo overlooks the Valley of Armageddon, where some believe the last battle on earth will be fought. Megiddo is the site of a Bronze Age temple. Close by are King Solomon’s stables.
King Ahab built a shaft and a horizontal tunnel to a water supply outside the city walls, then covered the opening so enemies wouldn’t see it. We trekked down 180 steps to see this, then up 83 steps to go out.
Nazareth, 16 miles away, was a rather despised place in Jesus’ day, but God did special things here. The angel Gabriel appeared to young Mary to announce the conception and coming birth of Jesus, Son of David and Son of God (Luke 1:26).
After Mary and Joseph registered in Bethlehem and sojourned in Egypt, they returned to Nazareth and raised their family there (Matthew 2:23). This little village of perhaps 100 people was the hometown of our Lord until he began his public ministry (Mark 1:9; Luke 2:51).
So to his dying day (and beyond), Christ was known as Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 18:37; Acts 2:22). He even called himself this when he appeared to Saul of Tarsus (Acts 22:8). Early Christians were sometimes mockingly called Nazarenes (Acts 24:5).
Hal described four levels of authenticity for the biblical sites: #1 is a historical spot that we are sure of; #2 spot is solid tradition with convincing evidence; #3 is folklore — a biblical event may or may not have happened here; and #4 is a spot with no evidence.
The water spring in Nazareth is a #1 spot. We know for sure that Jesus and his family would have come here for water because it was the only spring in the village. One can only imagine this young son of a carpenter growing up in favour with God and man, yet knowing he would soon face hatred and scorn. That enmity began in his hometown when Jesus read Scripture in the synagogue (Luke 4:16-32), then identified himself as the subject of Isaiah 61:1-3. Read these beautiful verses and let your heart be filled with love for such a precious Saviour!
Our home for three nights was the Golan Hotel in Tiberias overlooking the beautiful Sea of Galilee. A highlight of our trip was the boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.
This sea is a favourite place for Christians touring Israel, for here much of our Lord’s ministry took place. Here Jesus taught the people from a boat just offshore and walked on the water. Here he calmed a raging storm. The region of Galilee was the place where our Lord began his ministry of public teaching and preaching. His teaching dawned upon the world like the rising of the sun after a long night that had lasted for centuries.
Our boat ride began under a clear and sunny sky, but then dark clouds rolled in. The rain began just after the engines were turned off and my husband had given a moving meditation about Jesus’ ministry on and around the Sea of Galilee.
Rev. Bart Elshout was happy about the storm, for it would provide a vivid illustration for his sermon the coming Sunday evening about Jesus walking on the waves. One man on the boat, dressed as Peter, threw his fishing net out the left side of the boat, then on the right, which gave us a living picture of the story my husband was to preach on Sunday morning from John 21.
After we disembarked, we visited a museum near the dock, where we saw a 2000-year-old boat, discovered in 1986 in the mud on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. This boat is probably very similar to the boat Jesus and the disciples sailed in.
On the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Tabgha (an Arabic name derived from the Greek word for ‘seven springs’) is probably where the crowd of 5000 were fed with the miraculous multiplication of a boy’s lunch of five loaves and two fish.
Hal pointed out part of the large hill that is shaped like a natural amphitheatre, where thousands could have been seated. This is also where the disciples came to fish after Jesus’ resurrection and where they saw him cooking breakfast for them on the shore.
Jesus confronted Peter here, asking him three times if he loved him; then told the apostle, ‘Feed my sheep’. In both cases, Jesus uncovers our insufficiency, which opens the door for Christ’s sufficiency so that we can serve him with confident faith.
To be continued
Mary is the wife of Dr Joel Beeke who is minister of the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, where he is also professor of systematic theology and homiletics.