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Israel Study Tour Blog

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Road to Jerusalem

By: Johnnie Moore, Day 3, Bet'Shean, Ceaserea Maritima, Megiddo, and Jerusalem

Today, we departed the gorgeous hills of Galilee to head toward Jerusalem.  Along the way, we stopped at one of the most important digs in the nation of Israel.  The city of Bet'Shean held the distinction of being the most glorious of the ten cities Rome constructed on its eastern most border (the so-called Decapolis).  Aside from being the city upon whose walls King Saul's body was hung after his fatal and final defeat, the ruins of Bet'Shean provided for us a perfect opportunity to acquaint the students with life in a Roman city during the time of Jesus.  Our lecture took us around the massive, but only partially uncovered city. Along the way we spoke about Roman entertainment in a Theatre, Roman life in a bathhouse, and the Roman economy along the cities central avenue. 

Here we're getting an explanation of the Roman love for Theatre in one.  It's from the theatre that we get the famous Christian word "hypocrite" - an actor.

 

Since Jesus lived during the height of the Roman Empire, and since the Gospel blanketed the earth from Rome's provinces, it's essential to understand the life and times of the Romans to master the context of the New Testament.  Thankfully, our guide was a veritable encyclopedia. He literally deposited with us volumes of information regarding 1st century life and culture over our two hour visit to the site.

 

From there we went on to Megiddo, where we visited one of Solomon's chariot cities, and looked over the Valley of Armegeddon.  Oddly, enough, along the way we discovered on the side of the road a Snowflex facility just like the one sitting on top of Liberty mountain!

From Megiddo, we could see Mount Carmel in the background.  With it in eye shot Clayton King gave us a recounting of the triumphant story of Elijah's defeat of the prophets of Baal there. 

We also spent plenty of time on Megiddo discussing warfare and trading from the time of the Old Testament. Our guide gave us a clear explanation about the significance of the Valley of Megiddo, and why it has been a crossroads of civilizations and a battlefield for so many centuries.  As he was doing it, Biblical story after Biblical story came alive in our imaginations. 

We then continued along our route to Jerusalem by way of Herod the Great's fantastic Roman city on the Mediterrean.  Caeserea Maritima was the Roman seat in the area, which also made it the seat of Pontious Pilate (archealogists even found there a stone with his name inscribed upon it).

It was also the city where the Apostle Paul was imprisoned for two years, and where he was tried before King Agrippa II.  I took the opportunity to read Paul's defense (as recorded in the Book of Acts) in the very theatre where Paul made his defense.  From here, Paul was transferred to Rome where he would remain under house arrest until the day he was martyred. Interestly, Paul concludes the book of Philippians by sending greetings from all the believers in Rome, including "those from Caeser's household." 

Perhaps, Paul excercised his right, as a Roman citizen, to appeal to Caeser for the sole purpose of getting an opportunity to take the Gospel with him into Caeser's presence?

After a long day, we road into Jerusalem, and found ourselves awestruck by the site of the city as we pulled into town.  The city is awe-inspiring.  Looking at her rolling hills and ancient walls make you feel like you've been transported to another time and place.  It's like stumbling into a time machine.

We'll spend the next several days her exploring the sites and sounds of this place that millions have declared "holy" for thousands of years.  As we're doing it we'll follow Jesus step-by-step to the cross.

Posted at 2:14 PM | Permalink

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Gates of Hell

By: Johnnie Moore, Day 2, Caeserea Philipi, and The Golan

For thousands of years a city in the heights north of Galilee was known as the seat of pagan worship.  In Jesus' day Caeserea Philipi had temples to Zeus and various other Greek gods, but it was best known as the place where the god "Pan" was born and lived.  Pan was a god of nature who was believed to have, among others, the power to make an infertile woman fertile.  His temple was built perched over the entrance to the gave where the Jordan River emerged from underneath the mountains.  Its water gushed from the cave imposingly.  People would travel for many miles to make a sacrifice to appease Pan for various reasons, and you would throw your sacrifice into the mouth of the Jordan.

If it was taken in by the Jordan, totally disappear then the people would assume that Pan had received their sacrifice.  If the Jordan didn't consume the sacrifice and it floated out of the mouth down the river it was assumed that Pan was not satisfied. 

It would take about 30 seconds to realize whether Pan had received your offering.  It's from these 30 seconds of fearful anticipation that we have our word "PANic."  Can you imagine the fear as you stood there waiting to see Pan's response?  And, by the way, people would travel for many, many miles and many days, spending money they didn't have in the hopes that Pan would help them.  It was their last ditch effort, and it was a risky one. 

In Jesus' day they referred to the mouth of the Jordan, and the place of Pan's sacrifice, as the "Gate of Hell."

So, when Jesus inaugurated his church in Caeserea Philipi and told Peter that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against it" it was as if he was talking on Pan, face-to-face.  Gates are, of course, defensive mechanisms for an army.  Jesus was saying that the gates of hell could not contain the advance of his kingdom.

Today, Pan's temple lies in total ruin and the mouth of the Jordan no longer gushes from the cave. An earthquake in the 8th century re-routed the water underneath the cliff, and all that remains of Pan is the crushed and crumbling facade of the moutain and the ruins that archealogists have discovered in their digs. 

Meanwhile Jesus' kingdom is still "forcefully advancing." The Gates of Hell can't begin to withstand the power of Jesus.  The only people still visiting this defunct, pagan city are the Christian pilgrims who are still - in some way - advancing on the Gates of Hell.

Caeserea Philipi was the northernmost city in Jesus' ministry. It was 25 miles away from the Sea of Galilee.  So, why did Jesus go all the way here to speak first about his church?  It took a lot of effort to get to this place.

Jesus went to the seat of Pagan Worship in his day to proclaim the inauguration of HIS kingdom on earth. Which also proclaimed the desecration of the enemies kingdom, and the demons shuddered. 

The fact that Jesus went into the heart of enemy territory to declare war when he inaugurated the church also tells us something about our Savior.  He isn't a frail Savior.  He's a warrior. That defeated the enemy on our behalf.

From Caeserea Philipi we took a four mile hike beside the Jordan River.  As we went along the River it increased in power, flowing mightily through the mountains and valleys and down at least two waterfalls. Here are some of our team members posing for a picture at the end of the gorgeous, and strenuous, trail:

 

Along the way, our phenonmenal guide took us off the beaten path to some recently discovered ruins of another part of Caeserea Philipi.  We are among a very small group of tourists to have this opportunity.  The ruins, which are of a 1st Century palace that once stood prominently in the city have only recently been discovered.  A man working on another dig was going on a walk while eating his lunch.  He wasn't paying as much attention to his feet as he was his sandwich.  So, he fell into a hole.  The hole led several feet down into a long buried corridor of a 1st Century palace.  Now, they're just beginning to raise the money to begin to unearth the massive structure that lies underneath.  The small bit of it that had already been unearthed provided for us a great, behind-the-scenes opportunity to talk about archeology and 1st Century building. 

From Caeserea Philipi we turned our attention to modern Israel as we drove deeper and deeper into the Golan Heights.  We spent a lot of time discussing the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the establishment of the modern Israeli nation, and its wars.  We literally went war-by-war, and discussed them from almost every perspective.  We decided to do the primary lecture from the top of a mountain that was a stronghold in the 1967 war.  From here we could see Lebanon and Syria, the UN camp that still exists in the buffer zone, and the defunct and abandoned Syrian city that was a striking post for the Syrian forces.  It was gorgeous and surreal.  Especially since the war bunkers still sit there on top of the mountain. 

After the lecture we let the students explore the underground caves that were used for safety and for enemy engagement. 

Here's the view of the Lebonese side:

NOTE: Thankfully, now that we're in Jerusalem, I have access to more realiable internet.  So, later today or this evening, I intend on posting more of my entries from the last couple of days.  So, stay tuned ...

Posted at 2:14 PM | Permalink

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Stalking Jesus

By : Johnnie Moore at 6:00PM, The Beatitudes, Capernaum, Chorazin, and The Jordan

The sun is setting.  It is absolutely stunning. It's as if God is playing with the sky.  The shades of blue and organge are mixing together into a new kind of color that I've never seen before.  I've seen plenty of sunsets in my life, and plenty of beautiful ones too.  But, this one is just different.  I'm watching, just to my right outside of a large window, the sun is setting over the Sea of Galilee. The Sea is like a mirror reflecting the sky's constantly changing canvas, and I can't help but be overwhelmed with the thought that this sunset must be similar to many sunsets that Jesus saw when he sat peacefully and prayerfully on these hills.

This is actually our second full day of touring, but a totally unmanageable internet connection crippled me from blogging yesterday.  So, I'm going to record our adventures with a little taste of jet lag, which, by the way, also makes this an even more accurate depiction of what we're experiencing.

On our first day we led the students in a crash course in Jesus' life and ministry around the Sea of Galilee.  We started at the Mount of Beatitudes where we joined up with another tour happening simultaneously and led by Jonathan Falwell and Ben Gutierrez. We sat there on the traditional hill where Jesus delivered the tentents of his Kingdom Ethic, and rather than fill up the air with our interpretations, we instead did something far more profound.  Jonathan Falwell, Ben Gutierrez, Clayton King and I took turns reading the Sermon on the Mount word for word.  At the end, we reflected on the response of the people as Matthew - the former IRS agent-turned-Christian - recorded.  He said that "Jesus taught with authority, not like the teachers of the law."

All day, we reflected on the fact that Jesus' shattered the religious system on the Sermon on the Mount as he often stated, "you've heard it said, but I tell you." Jesus flew in the face of the Pharisaical form of Godliness that had soured the people of God as he corrected their system and established his own. 

As we stood there, it took far less imagination to get a sense of what it might have been like to sit on that hillside and hear Jesus teach.

From there we went on to one of the three cities that Jesus cursed for unbelief. Oddly enough, Chorazin was destroyed by an earthquake in the 8th century, and lies till this day crumbled.  It's rare for a tour to take an excursion to Chorazin, but our phenominal tour guide wisely guided us to this off-the-beaten-path ruin in order to allow us an opportunity to teach about early Jewish life and religion in a much quieter place than the primary sites that are filled to capacity with pilgrims from around the world. 

Here, around a massive table, Clayton and I talked about Jesus and the beatitudes and the Kingdom of God.  We mined out the pictures and emotions and theology and practicality of what we had already seen and heard.

 

From Chorazin, we went to the city where Jesus performed most of his miracles. Capernaum was his home for 18 months, and it was also the city from which he called his first group of disciples.  Matthew lived here and Jesus healed Simon Peter's mother-in-law here.  He healed a Centurion's servant and raised Jairus' daughter, and was in the middle of healing a slew of others when a couple of friends ripped off the roof of the house he was in, in order to drop down their friend.  We took the opportunity at Capernaum to go story-by-story, revealing the religious, cultural, and historical significance of this village that sat on top of some of the major trading routes of Jesus' day.

Perhaps the highlight at Capernaum was when Clayton King read the story of Jesus teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum when a demon possessed man spoke out saying, "we know who you are, why are you here?"

After reading this story we released the students to visit the very synagogue where this encounter happened, and where Jesus taught much of what is recorded in the New Testament.

From here we went on to visit the site where Jesus performed the feeding of the Five Thousand, and I drew the attention of the students to the context of the encounter.  Jesus had just learned that his cousin, and dear friend, John the Baptist had been beheaded by Herod.  He decides to escape to the otherside of the Sea for some quiet time to think and to pray.  When he arrives he discovers a crowd waiting for him.  Despite his broken heart, the account says that Jesus "had compassion on them." He took this as a divine encounter and began to teach the people despite his own broken heart.  This teaching led into the feeding of the Five Thousand.

This is, by the way, one of our goals on this excursion. We want to unveil the context of scripture to our students, and from it withdraw as closely as possible an idea of what it must have been like to be an eye witness of Jesus'life and ministry.

We concluded the day with a baptism service on the banks of the Jordan River.  We baptized 27 members of our group. I'm not sure they'll ever forget the experience of being baptized in the same river as King Jesus.

Well, now the sun is fully set, and the book is closing on another day.  Tomorrow, we have much ahead of us on what has already become a spiritual experience of a lifetime.

Posted at 4:23 PM | Permalink

Monday, March 21, 2011

Luggage Scans, Jet Lag and the Beginning of One Big Adventure

By: Johnnie Moore at 11:22PM, North of the Sea of Galilee

Well, here we are.  

After more than 24 hours of travel we find ourselves in an idyllic resort on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee.  The night's darkness shielded the glory of the Sea, but tomorrow morning everyone will awake to see it gleaming on the horizon.

Our group of 47 find themselves here after a harrowing day of travel. They came from far and wide, from dozens of different places, and via airplanes, trains and automobiles.  We have residential and online students, some friends of friends, and even a couple of parents and grandparents.  Our group is diverse, energetic, and ready for an adventure. 

And that's definitely what they're in store for.  

Tomorrow we'll hit the ground running with a 6:30AM wake up call (5AM for me!), and then a day filled with following the footsteps of Jesus through his Galilean ministry.  We'll visit the city where he did more miracles than any other (Capernaum), we'll go to the hillside where he unveiled his more-than-profound Beatitudes, we'll take a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, and visit the place of the feeding of the five thousand.  We'll then wrap up the day with an opportunity to be baptized in the Jordan River.

As we were traversing the route from Tel Aviv to our hotel, I gave the students a couple of words of advice.  First, I suggested that they "take advantage of every opportunity." A trip like this is ultimately what you make of it.  These students need to dive into the experience, ask questions, read the land like they would a good book, and let their minds and hearts become intertwined so that this is both an educational and spiritual experience.  Secondly, I suggested that they learn again to use their imagination.  Israel is a now a first world country. It's vastly different than it was 2000 years ago.  So in some places the students will have to climb into another time using the mind that God has given them.  Our imagination is a gift of God to take us into other places. It allows us to throw ourselves into the stories of scripture. While we're there we can walk around a bit and observe new things and ultimately discover what those things mean to our lives today.  Finally, I suggested that they look at each Biblical and historical site to find the answer to four different questions:

  1. What did it look like here?  What would it look like had I been there to record this moment or this place?
  2. What did it feel like here?  What emotions would be most prevalent in this place or situation.
  3. Which piece of truth was Jesus sharing here?  What would I have learned had I been there?
  4. What practical application would I have found in this place?  How would I have immediately changed my life based upon what I had experienced?

This is the place on earth where people have, throughout all of history, been closest to God.  It's also the place where a couple of disciples didn't recognize the risen Jesus when they starred at him face-to-face on the Emmaus.  

While we're here these students will most certainly have more than a few opportunities to stare at Jesus face-to-face as they walk where he walked, but I also want them to "recognize" him.  What might it have been like to shadow him as he played with history and wielded redemption to remake the world?

Tomorrow, the adventure will begin in full force.  We will throw everyone in, and, hopefully, they'll leave baptized into a deeper faith and experience with their LORD.

 

Postedby Andrea Moore at 2:15 PM | Permalink