You know what it’s like. Someone tells you a story. You like it. Then you get to see that story in living color. Now you don’t just like it. You love it.
Being in Israel was like that for us today. The stories on the Bible’s pages emerged from the page. They are no longer just Holy Writ. They are Holy Real.
Touring the winding highways filled with flowers and olive trees isn’t like going to Disneyworld or visiting Yellowstone. Israel feels expansive, although it’s only about the size of New Jersey. Modern and ancient overlap in what we’ve seen in northern Israel at this point. Urban and a rich pastoral vibe go together. As the tour leaders of Jewish Voice told us several times, our tour to Israel would be a 3-D experience.
So far, so good.
To hear the howl of the Mediterranean Sea as it roared upon the shores of Caesarea was like hearing the summons Paul may have felt when he traveled on his missionary journeys on the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. Caesarea was built by Herod the Great and the site of the headquarters of the Judaea Province that Pontius Pilate once governed. Caesarea also is where the Jewish Apostle Peter introduced the Gentile Cornelius to the Gospel. Cornelius and his whole household were saved.
The 3-D perspective of visiting Israel deepened when we stood at the summit of Mount Carmel. In Hebrew, Carmel means “The Vineyard of God.” And it was lush like that.
The mist hung over the valley below as we stood at the monastery to gaze at the panoramic view. Elijah, the fiery prophet, is associated with this mountain. His contemporary, King Ahab of the northern kingdom of Israel, married a Phoenician woman named Jezebel. You probably heard about her.
She brought 450 priests of Baal to Israel–an open affront to the God of Israel. Baal was believed to be the controller of rain by his followers, but Elijah shut that down. He prayed for no rain and none came for three years. Then, when God told him, Elijah prayed for the rain to return.
Elijah also defied, confronted and beat Jezebel’s prophets at Mount Carmel, giving an explosive clap-back to anyone and everybody that God is God alone.
And there we were, on a rainy day, a yucky start for a tour, an agricultural blessing for Israel, and a Bible study in living color.
At Megiddo, we had lunch, toured King Ahab’s horse stables and walked down more than 100 steps into an ancient water system on that same ancient tel. Ancient technology is amazing!
When we finally sat down to worship and study the Word, the sky was warm and sunny with a slight, occasional wind. Rabbi Jonathan Bernis, president and CEO of Jewish Voice, delivered a compact but moving teaching about Jesus’s two comings. Jesus came first as a Lamb and He would return as a Lion.
We had powerful visuals to help us understand the Lamb and the Lion. We had seen Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, from our tour bus. And from our hotel room in Tiberias, we can view the Sea of Galilee where Jesus frequently ministered. Both locations are two examples of Jesus’ first coming.
Megiddo, however, points to the soon-coming arrival of the battle-ready Lion of God. Megiddo, which we know as Armageddon, is the future site connected to a terrible war where Jesus will defeat those who rise up against God’s enemies.
Some scholars may say that Megiddo is only a figurative reference, but the point is, when Jesus returns, He will come with a scepter, not a manger or a net full of fish. He will come to Earth rule and reign.
Now is the time, as Bernis said, to grow closer to Him as the gracious, forgiving and merciful Lamb of God. Being in the land God chose to call His own affirms why it’s imperative to get closer to Him with every step we take.
Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:6-7, NASB).
And today was only Day One.