The Beauty of the Holy Land
As the plane pierced through the clouds, we got our first look at the Mediterranean. The sun glistened off the sea and islands dotted the endless blue tapestry below us. About twenty minutes after that astonishing experience, we saw the Holy Land. I had a feeling deep down in my stomach, one that I hadn’t felt for a long time. I felt at home.
We landed in Tel Aviv, roughly an hour before the sun set. We gathered our luggage and left the airport to find our bus. Once we were on the bus, our tour of the Holy Land began. We headed straight from Tel Aviv and went toward Joppa, the port where Jonah hired a ship to flee from God. It is also the place said to be the location of Simon the Tanner’s house, where Peter received the vision of the blanket being lowered with the “unclean” animals on it. This site has two interesting meanings then. It is both the place where an Old Testament prophet fled from the Lord because he was commissioned to go to Gentiles and the place where God revealed His plan to bring His gospel to the Gentiles.
We got to a high point where we could oversee the port and look out onto the Mediterranean Sea. This was it. We were finally in the Holy Land. We students had been looking forward to this trip for several months. It is said to be the highlight of BICS, and we were finally getting our first look at it, standing on the soil that we had read about for so long. This place, even though we had never been here before, felt familiar to us. There was a bond there that can only be explained as a spiritual connection.
I could go on for pages and pages describing the places we saw, talking about how great it was to see the places Abraham saw and to walk where Jesus walked. However, there is only one thing that made this trip special. There is only One Person that made this trip worth it. That person is Jesus the Christ. We weren’t just walking where Jesus walked. We were attaching places to the names we had read about so much. Whenever I read my Bible and read about the Mount of Olives, I can see it. Or the Mount of Beatitudes. Or Jerusalem. The Bible has come alive to me, to all of us, through this trip. It has added to my faith something that can’t be replaced. While those who believe without seeing are blessed, seeing does have its place. It is not necessary for the faith. However, seeing has added another layer to the Bible that can’t be described.
The spiritual connection I had with the Holy Land was the most beneficial aspect of the trip. It didn’t just feel like some sort of field trip or visiting a foreign country to study their culture. We were visiting the home of our faith. This is where the Church started, where Christianity was born through the death and resurrection of Christ, followed by the pouring out of the Spirit on the disciples. The weight of these events can still be felt there. Going to places like the pit where Jesus was kept overnight before His crucifixion felt heavy. You can still feel the impact of what happened there. Christ moved in mighty ways all over this nation, and that is still evident today.
The two places with the greatest connection for me was the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Garden Tomb. We were given a chance to pause and reflect in the Garden of Gethsemane, and it was a very heavy time for all of us. We can look back on history and know what was about to happen, but Jesus prayed there knowing what was about to happen. He had full control of the situation. He could have changed the outcome. He could have called down legions of angels to defend Him and overthrow the Roman Empire, and yet it was in this place that He said not My will, but Your will Father. We were in the place where Jesus gave up His life into the hands of the Father, and it was a reminder to me that I am called to have the same mentality each day, to strive to serve the Lord above all others.
The Garden Tomb had an even greater weight than that of Gethsemane. This was the place (possibly) where Jesus, our Lord and Savior, was laid in the ground, dead. All seemed lost. The disciples had scattered. Those who had been following Christ had turned on Him and had Him crucified. Now, after dying a death that was reserved for the vilest people in the world, Jesus was laid in a Tomb fit for a king. The King of kings and Lord of lords was placed in the ground. Dead. This hit us like a bag of rocks. Yet the beauty of the gospels isn’t that Christ died, but that He was raised on the third day and defeated death and the grave so that it had no more control over us. Death was defeated and life in Christ was placed over it. The true beauty and weight of this place wasn’t that Christ was buried here, but instead that Christ won here.
While on the Temple mount, we visited the Western Wall. This is where modern Jews go to pray, and after praying they place their written prayers in the cracks and crevices of the wall. This wall is significant because it is the wall that would have been closest to the Holy of Holies. This is the closest they believe they can get to God’s presence today. What sticks out most about this place is that it shows the condemnation of the law. The law in the Old Testament wasn’t given to justify us, but instead to show us our sin. The law cannot make us right with God, it can only condemn us before Him. However, through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, we are no longer bound by the law, but are freed from its condemnation in Christ. Hebrews 10 puts it this way,
“Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the reality itself of those things, it can never perfect the worshipers by the same sacrifices they continually offer year after year. Otherwise, wouldn’t they have stopped being offered, since the worshipers, purified once and for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in the sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year after year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin.” (Heb. 10:1-4 CSB)
And this is the beauty of the gospel. We are no longer bound by the law, for it has been fulfilled through Christ and His once-for-all sacrifice upon the cross. Obedience is important, but far more important is the eternal sacrifice that Christ paid for us. Our faith in Him will cause us to strive towards obedience to the law, for the law is still of God. But through Christ, we no longer need to be perfect by our own merit, for this is impossible. Instead, we are made perfect through His perfection being credited to us. We can never and will never be perfect, and God knew that. So, He sent His own Son to die the death of criminals so that criminals could inherit His kingdom. This is the beauty of the Holy Land. Not the mountains or valleys. Not the land, but the events. This one event in this one place has changed the world forever, and hallelujah that we can take part in it!