I’ve just returned from a quick visit to Israel. This was the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to be there and when I returned, I said to my wife that to a certain extent I had prepared myself for a number of disappointments and possibly those were even worse than I anticipated. But it was also a privilege to have been there. We saw much more than is shown to normal tours, as this was actually a promotion for potential tour leaders (and I was invited to go because someone who would have gone withdrew at the last moment and the place was already booked and they were just looking for someone to fill the space.)
Having spoken to other people who had been to Israel before, most of them emphasise the amazing spiritual experience they had. As for myself, I had very little of this. The climax of a trip to Israel, walking the Via Dolorosa, the road which Jesus followed according to tradition to be crucified, left me more frustrated than excited. Obviously I realise that many of the so-called stations en route to the cross can never be proven to be the historical places where the things happened of which we read in the Bible. Furthermore, there are so many churches built along this route where people kneel and kiss stones and other things which are claimed to be historical, that it really becomes impossible (at least for me) to experience what really happened to Jesus.
But it was great to stand on truly historical places. One of the extras we had was a tour deep down under the city of Jerusalem where excavations are taking place to expose the original temple walls which existed in the times of Jesus (definitely not recommended for anyone suffering from claustrophobia) and this was an amazing experience. The highlight for myself was the visit to Masada where the Jews held out against a Roman siege for three years and then eventually killed each other rather than allowing them to fall into the hands of the Romans. Another great experience was being on Mount Carmel where Elijah won the match against the Ba’al prophets. The greatest irritation there was that an air force landing strip had been built at the foot of the mountain and every minute or so an F-16 (or something similar) zipped across the sky making it nearly impossible to become quiet in the presence of the Lord.
On Monday we were specially blessed when we stayed over on the banks of the Sea of Galilee at Tiberias and it was full moon. As the moon came up over the mountains surrounding the Sea of Galilee, I could really imagine Jesus sitting there with his disciples, watching the moon rise. And at least no church was built on the water!
It was good to be there. It was a privilege which I had never granted myself and probably would not have done, had it not been for this special offer that came my way. I would hardly be able to preach in the future without seeing in my mind the lay of the country. But I would never claim that this had been the climax of my spiritual road with God.
I did however have a great experience – not while in Israel, but on my way back. But I’ll write about that tomorrow.