We spent days visiting the most important places in the Holy Land. I spent a lot of time studying the faces of the people outside the bus windows. Israel is a clash of cultures, each competing for a place of authority and security for their families and their point of view. The people who live in Israel, live in the shadows of their past, in the tensions of their present, with hope for a better future.
From the Cliffs of Arbel, we viewed the Sea of Galilee and the region of this world where Jesus chose to spend seventy percent of his time. I imagined standing there with Jesus and wondered about his thoughts. From those cliffs he would have seen the boats coming and going from Capernaum. He could see the Roman soldiers marching along the Via Maris, the major highway of that day and today. When Jesus looked at the people of Israel he saw a clash of cultures too.
From our hotel room, I watched an Orthodox Jewish family enjoying the beach with their children. Dad was dressed in a long, black coat and wore the traditional hat over his hair. The forelocks were long and curled alongside his face because Leviticus 19:27 says, “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.” Mom wore a long, conservative skirt and a blouse with long sleeves. She pushed a baby carriage while her two young sons ran to the water with their dad. I watched as all of them picked up stones and tried to skip them on the water of the Sea of Galilee. I smiled thinking that some things are the same, anywhere in the world.
We visited Capernaum and walked the same streets Jesus walked. We saw the synagogue he attended and the coastline where he would have stood when he called out his first disciples. The Sea of Galilee is still full of fish today, and we watched fishing boats head out another day’s work. When Jesus chose his disciples, he chose men who knew how to work and men who knew what it meant to serve and provide food for others. When Jesus told them they would be “fishers of men,” they received a new calling. People will always need food physically, but spiritual food is the higher priority.
The city of Jerusalem still sits high on a hill. Our ears popped as the bus took us “up to Jerusalem.” It is hard to explain the impact of exiting a tunnel that has been cut through the mountain, rounding a corner and seeing the sun reflect on the Old City. It takes some imagination to see the city like it would have been in the day of Christ. Crowds of people vie for selfies and group photos with the ancient city in the background. The Dome of the Rock catches the sun and is the most prominent feature in the photos. The dome is considered sacred to both Muslims and Jews because they believe it to be the place where Abraham offered his son to God. The Muslims believe Abraham offered Ishmael on that rock; the Jews believe it was Isaac. The Muslims also believe it is the rock where Muhammed began his journey to heaven. Jewish people aren’t allowed anywhere near that place, so many descend to a place underground which they believe is the closest they can get to that rock. People pray at that underground spot twenty-four hours a day. As I stood looking at the Old City, jostled by the crowds, listening to the constant shouts and honking of horns, I thought about Jesus viewing that same city two thousand years ago.
Luke 19:41–44 says, “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.'”
I think about the piles of massive stones that once made up the walls of ancient Jerusalem. I think about the garden where Jesus waited for the soldiers, the bus lot that sits in front of the place many believe is Calvary, and the tomb nearby where Jesus could have been buried. I don’t think any Christian can visit Israel without shedding some tears. We cry for some of the same reasons Jesus wept. Jesus came to save the world, but most of the world has chosen to ignore him.
As I think about my time in Israel, I realize that people, and human nature, remain the same. We skip rocks on the water that Jesus walked on. We go to work but don’t realize we have a higher calling. We build temples that will one day be torn down. We forget to rejoice that we have a Savior. And Jesus would view the chaos of our cities and shed tears, because He came to bring us peace.
Jesus told his disciples that he was the “good shepherd.” He said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” I looked at Jerusalem and realized they need the good shepherd. But it’s equally important to look at my own city, my own neighborhood and my own life and know the same is true for us.
Study the faces of the people around you today. Christians are a blessed people, with eternal hope. Let’s live with the same calling Jesus gave his disciples by the Sea of Galilee. Our highest purpose is to be a “fisher of men.” Whatever plans we have for this day, let’s take a minute to praise God for our abundant blessings. All of us live in a Jerusalem, with a clash of cultures. Those of us who know the Messiah have a higher calling.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
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