Israel Tour Updates – 2015

Greetings from Israel

Greetings from Tiberias, Israel.

Sea of Galilee
Yesterday was a very long, but exciting day for me and my tour group. We left JFK in New York at 6:45 pm, and after flying for 10.5 hours arrived here at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. After meeting our Israeli guide and bus driver, our tour began with a drive during rush hour though Tel Aviv. We toured the ancient remains of the Biblical Roman city of Caesarea on the Mediterranean Sea. Here we visited the theater where the Apostle Paul stood before Roman authorities on several occasions while he was a prisoner of Rome for 3 years. I reminded our group that Caesarea is a special place for Gentile believers. It was here in the house of Cornelius, recorded in Acts 10, that the first Gentile convert was added to the early church, which at that time was made up of only Jewish believers. It was an excellent place to start our tour and remind ourselves that our faith has Jewish roots.

Next, with the sun beginning to set behind us, our bus took us through the hills of Galilee to our hotel here on the shores of Galilee. I was too tired to upload this article, so after dinner I went to bed. However, suddenly, a thunder storm arose here on the Sea of Galilee. Doesn’t that sound familiar! So, I am sending this along to you, asking you to pray for our group. What an awesome God we serve!

See below for more reports from Israel.

Israel Update 2

The Galilee and the Golan Heights

Today, Wednesday, November 4th, was another great day for our tour group in Israel. Our morning began with an awesome worship service as we the sailed on the Sea of Galilee. We were treated to Hebrew worship music by Daniel Carmel, a local Israeli Jewish believer. We were all so moved that we felt like we could have walked on water.

Boat on Sea of Galilee

Next, our bus took us to the Jordan River where I had the privilege of baptizing some of the believers in our group. Our tour around the beautiful Sea of Galilee included Magdala (the hometown of Mary Magdalene). Here we saw the impressive remains of the synagogue that Jesus preached in, along with the remains of the ancient fish market. Visiting Capernaum, the headquarters of Jesus’ Galilee ministry, was a real treat. The special feature of this site are the remains of the house of Peter’s mother-in-law, mentioned in Mark 1:30-31. More miracles were performed by Jesus in Capernaum that any other location in all of Israel.

Due to the ongoing war in Syria, we were all surprised by a very special visit to the border of Syria and Lebanon. From a high mountain, we literally looked into the areas where the battle is raging between the Islamic groups that are fighting against the army of Syrian President, Bassar Assad, and other Islamic groups. Everything on the Israeli side of the border was enjoying total peace. Our visit near the border of Lebanon took us to Caesarea Philippi, were Peter made his confession about Jesus being the Son of God. (Matthew 16:13-20) Visiting this sight and learning about the historical customs and significance of this area holds the key to unlocking the real meaning of this passage.

We returned to our hotel physically exhausted, but spiritually energized by what we saw and learned on this day in Israel. Tomorrow we will go up to Jerusalem.

Israel Update 3

From Nazareth to Jerusalem

Today was an incredible day. Just like in Biblical days, we went from the Sea of Galilee (600 feet below Sea Level) to the Holy City of Jerusalem in the Judean Mountains (2,400 feet above Sea Level). We learned what it means to “go up to Jerusalem.”

Our 45-minute ride on our tour bus took us from the shores of the Sea of Galilee through the very scenic Galilee hills to the city of Nazareth. The olive groves and terraced hills in some ways look much like they did when Jesus walked this road 2,000 years ago. On our way, we passed through Cana, where Jesus turned the water into wine at the beginning of his ministry. Next, we visited a hill that overlooks Nazareth and the Valley of Armageddon. We were made to think of what must have passed through Jesus’ mind as a lad when from His hometown He looked into this valley where the armies of the world would gather to confront Him at the end of this age. From this mountain peak we could also see Mount Tabor, where it is believed Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John. Our minds were flooded with passages from the Gospels about the life and ministry of our precious Lord.
Actor in Nazareth Village
Next we visited Nazareth Village, a reproduction of the village of Nazareth as it was in the days of Jesus. Here we learned much about the unique customs and way of life of Jesus and His city. We saw several old olive trees, a wine press dating back to the first century, a replica of a synagogue like the ones Jesus would have preached in, and a watch tower. The actors at this village are Arab Christians that live in Nazareth.

After lunch, we were thrilled to visit Megiddo and view remains of the ancient chariot city of King Solomon about 2,900 years ago. These impressive archeological remains gave us a glimpse into this military outpost that guarded the very important highway that connect the ancient world to the south and north of Israel. We walked through the gates into this city, viewed the stable where 900 horses were kept, and walked through an ancient water tunnel dating back to the time of King Ahab.

Our ride up to Jerusalem took us through Tel Aviv, and up to the City of God, the crown jewel in the hand of our God. (Isaiah 62:3) What a privilege to be in the capital of Israel and the Mount Zion. “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the Great King.” (Psalm 48:2)

Israel Update 4

Day One in Jerusalem

Mike on a camel!
After a delicious breakfast in our hotel in Jerusalem, our tour bus took us to the top of the Mount of Olives for a panoramic view of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Our guide gave us an excellent overview of the history of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. We laughed together as we watched several in our group ride a camel on the Mount of Olives, including me. After our group picture, we walked together down the Hosanna Trail on the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane. Here among the olive trees, some dating back to the time of Christ, we had a brief devotional as we reflected upon the suffering of our Lord the night before His crucifixion. What an unforgettable and memorable experience!

Next, our bus took us across the Kidron Valley, where we began to explore the remains of the ancient city of David. Everyone in our group was enthralled with this tour. We watched a 3-D movie of the history of Jerusalem, followed by an extensive tour of the archeological remains of this city. Our descent through the tunnel of the Gihon Spring, carved out by the Canaanites over 3,500 years ago, was captivating. It was through this tunnel that the men of King David were able to enter into and capture the ancient Jebusite city, making it the eternal capital of the Jewish people almost 3,000 years ago. We were moved by the many archeological reports of numerous Biblical items that confirm the historical records in the Bible.

Our final stop of the day was a visit to the remains of the house of Jewish high priest, Caiaphas, who directed the Jewish trial against Jesus in a dungeon at his residence, before transporting Him to Pilate to be condemned to death. Our devotions took place in the very place where they put Jesus on trial and He suffered at the hands of the Jewish elders under the direction of the High Priest. Our time of worship in this place moved us to tears of joy as we contemplated what our Savior suffered for us.

Israel Update 5

Day two in Jerusalem

Our first stop for the day was at Calvary and the Garden Tomb. As we entered into this peaceful and beautiful garden outside the ancient walls of Jerusalem, we were greeted by Patrick, an Irish believer who is a volunteer with the Church of England, which owns and maintains this property. What a thrill to hear Patrick share the Scriptures and rejoice with us that our Lord suffered, died, and arose from the grave to purchase our salvation. His description of the evidence that supports the possibility that we were viewing the place of the crucifixion and resurrection was very compelling and convincing.

Tomb – possibly Jesus’

However, he reminded us that it really does not matter where Jesus was crucified, but it is important to know that He did and that He lives in our hearts! After our walk from Calvary we entered into the empty tomb. Our small group was able to enter into the tomb together. Here, in a few moments of worship, we sang inside of the tomb, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” This was followed by a few moments of devotions under the trees of the garden, not too far from the tomb. Good Friday and Easter will never be the same for any of us. We are now eyewitnesses of the resurrection. The tomb is empty!

Following this visit, we entered into the Old City of Jerusalem through the Saint Steven’s gate, where Steven was stoned as the first martyr of the church. (Acts 7:54-60) The walkway through this gate took us to the remains of the ancient Pool of Bethesda. As recorded by John, it was here that Jesus healed a man that had a crippling disease for 38 years. (John 5:1-16) From here we walked the old cobble-stoned streets of Old Jerusalem to the Sisters of Zion Convent. After a brief explanation by our guide, we descended into the basement of this convent to discover the archeological discovery made here almost 100 years ago. We walked upon the first-century stones of the fortress where the Roman soldiers mocked Jesus as a Jewish king. We saw the etching in one of the stones that is called “the game of the king.” We also saw the image of a scorpion etched in the stone, which was the insignia of the Roman legion that was in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Not too far from these courtyard stones, we were able to walk upon the very pavement stones of the street in Jerusalem were Jesus began to carry His cross to Calvary. It was a powerful and overwhelming experience to stand in this place and to be reminded of what took place to our Lord before He died for our sins. We continued through the unique and enchanting narrow streets of the Old City. Each of us enjoyed lunch in one of the many little street cafes of the Old City, and shopped where tourists have shopped for hundreds of years. As is my custom, I purchased a loaf of bread that had been baked in the ovens of Jerusalem that morning, and proceeded to break bread with everyone in my group. How special to break bread with the disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem!

Our afternoon was filled with two exciting visits. At the Israeli Museum, we toured the detailed massive stone model of ancient Jerusalem as it would have appeared in the first century. This was followed by a brief visit to the Shrine of the Book, to examine the Dead Sea Scrolls and other artifacts that were discovered at Qumran almost 70 years ago. Our final stop of the days was at a new exhibit in Jerusalem, The Friends of Zion Museum. This compelling and dramatic exhibit featured the stories and records of many Gentiles who played a significant role in the establishment of the Modern State of Israel. We returned to our hotel, with our minds and souls flooded with the word and work of God in the City of God!

Israel Update 6

Touring the Dead Sea Area

After our Sunday morning devotions on our bus, we traveled down the new Jericho Road from Jerusalem (about 2,400 feet above Sea Level) to the Dead Sea (about 1,200 feet below Sea Level).  As we passed through the Judean Wilderness, we saw several Bedouin camps, along with their flocks of sheep and goats grazing on the hill sides, just as in Biblical times.   A little over an hour later, we arrived at Qumran, the home of the ancient sect called the Essences that created the Dead Sea scrolls.  We heard the story of their unique mission and living conditions.  We saw the main cave (picture on right) where they discovered the scroll of Isaiah.

Leaving Qumran, we traveled down the narrow road along the shores of the Dead Sea and the colorful and jagged cliffs of the Judean Wilderness, until we reached Masada, a rocky fortress where almost 1,000 Jews took refuge from the invading Romans for 7 years (66 A.D. – 73 A.D.)  A cable-car took us to the top of the mountain, 1,300 feet high.  Here we examined the ruins of this fortress that was created by King Herod the Great 90 years before the Jewish rebels took control of the mountain.  We were all fascinated with Herod’s elaborate creation on the top of this large rocky plateau in the middle of the desert.  The water and food that was still available to the Jewish rebels on the mountain, placed there by Herod, was more than enough for the time they occupied Masada.  It took the Romans several years to prepare a siege ramp to reach the top of the mountain. The night before the Romans were ready to break through, the Jews on top of Masada decided to take their own lives and die as free people, rather than suffer the abuse and slavery the Romans would have forced upon them.  Today, Masada stands as a very important symbol of freedom and bravery for the modern nation of Israel.

After our moving visit to Masada, it was time for some fun. Several in our group decided to float in the unusual waters of the Dead Sea, which is 33 percent salt and minerals.  After this, our bus ascended the Judean mountains, approaching Jerusalem silhouetted in a beautiful sunset.  It was the perfect way to end this most rewarding and incredible day in one of the most unusual places a person can visit in the world.

Israel Update 7

Last Day of our Tour in Israel

Our last day of touring in Israel began with a visit to the Davidson Center, a center dedicated to informing people concerning the Jewish temples and temple worship during Biblical days.  We enjoyed a very informative film that depicted what it was like for a Jewish person to bring a sacrifice to the temple during Jesus’ days in the first century.  After this, we visited the remains of the southern retaining wall of the temple.  Here we walked along the very place where Jesus cleansed the temple and people purchased their animals for sacrifice.  Then, we stood on the very steps that Jesus would have descended 2,000 years ago when He came out of the temple.  This was followed by a visit to the very famous Wailing Wall.  How special it was to touch this historic wall and take in the sites at this most important site in the religion of Judaism.

Following this, we walked through the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and visited the remains of the original main street, called the “Cardo.”  Along the way, we saw the menorah that has been created in recent years, that is destined to stand in the newly built Jewish temple in the future.  It was very rewarding to visit this area of Jerusalem that has been home to the Jewish people for thousands of years.

Our next stop was the memorial to the Holocaust, Yad Vashem.  Our group was deeply moved by the overwhelming number of testimonies and archives that came out of this horrific period of time in Jewish history.  We were only able to view a small segment of the vast displays that record this tragic historical event.  We certainly were reminded why there needs to be a modern nation of Israel today.

Our bus then transported us to the city limits of Bethlehem, where we were able to look into the shepherd fields and recall the story of that first Christmas so long ago.  Then, our bus took us to the Valley of Elah, where the little shepherd boy from Bethlehem, David, slew the Philistine giant, Goliath.  Reading the account of this confrontation in 1 Samuel 17:1-4, and looking at this location today was amazing.  We saw the little brook where David selected the five stones as he approached Goliath.  One could just imagine this event taking place before your very eyes.

From here our group traveled back to Tel Aviv for a special farewell dinner and then to the airport for our departure flight home on El Al.  As we all leave Israel and each other there are mixed emotions.  We now feel very much like we are a family.  We have laughed, cried, prayed, and worshipped together in the land of the Bible.  We will never be the same.  Our faith now has a 3-D reality.  The Bible is more alive than ever before.  We all feel like we are leaving a little part of our heart behind in the land of our faith.  Someday, we shall return.  Praise the Lord for this incredible privilege!!