In case you missed it, we got back a few weeks ago after spending a little over a week in Israel. This has been a bucket list location to visit for both Zach and I, but even before us, for my dad. He always dreamed of taking his family through Israel, and it finally happened. It was a life-changing trip, and I highly recommend visiting this beautiful country if you have the opportunity.
For us the trip was more than just an amazing opportunity to experience culture and recount history through historical landmarks and ruins. While yes that was part of it, it was also a very spiritual trip for us as we were able to experience first-hand many Biblical locations and also better understand Jesus’ life and ministry there. It was truly life-changing to walk where Jesus walked and understand the setting of the Bible.
We spent the first four days in Jerusalem. We visited iconic locations like the Old City of Jerusalem where you can explore the ruins from King David’s time, the first century temple ruins, and the Garden of Gethsemane. We also went into Bethlehem for a day to visit the Shepherd’s field and possible location of Jesus’ birth. There is so much history in Jerusalem that even taking walks in the neighborhoods surrounding our hotel were incredible. One of the most memorable places for me was visiting the ruins of Caiaphas’ house. In the first century, the high officials would have had deep holes in their homes for the storage of food, but it also could be used as a pit to hold a prisoner awaiting trial. This pit is still in existence today and is possibly where Jesus spent the night of his arrest before his trial the next day. We were able to walk down into the pit and stand there, and imagine what it would have been like for him. He would have been lowered by rope, or more probably thrown in, from the top, to spend the night in fear and agony. My dad said something while we were in there about how Jesus was fully man and fully God. He experienced the horror of his circumstances as a man, but at the same time, He knew us and was thinking of us as he experienced it because He was God. Well, that really brought it home for me, and I fought tears as I thanked Him for what He did. I will never forget this moment.
In Jerusalem we also visited the Garden Tomb and Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Various denominations disagree on where Christ was crucified and buried, but history teaches that it’s possible it was one of these two locations, so we visited both. The Garden Tomb is the location many Protestants believe the crucification occurred. It has a hill which looks like a skull which is mentioned in the Bible (Mark 15:22), as well as a first century tomb carved out of the rock (Matthew 27:60). You are able to walk into a first century tomb that possibly held the body of Christ, and that moment was another I will never forget. The King of Kings died a horrific death and then was laid in a common tomb to save me. Since I was seven I have believed that Christ died for me, but generally have focused on how He resurrected and is alive. And while that is crucial because it’s what allowed us our salvation, seeing the area believed to be where Christ was crucified, and walking into the tomb – the reality of how awful it was really set in. We often glorify the crucification, imagining it taking place on a beautiful hillside, with the sun setting, as seen in so many pictures. But the reality was that it took place right in the middle of the city next to the street where people could look and mock him until He died. Then He was laid in a small, common tomb. I’m so thankful Jesus was willing to experience all of this for me, because I know I don’t deserve it. The weight of not only what He did but HOW He did it is unfathomable. We took communion as a family in the Garden and reflected on what Christ did for us both individually and as a family. He’s had a hand on our family from the beginning, bringing us all together, and we are incredibly thankful for that.
The Holy Sepulchre is the second location considered to be the place where Christ was crucified and buried. Most Catholics and Orthodox Christians revere this site. It is an incredibly ornate church with different styles of decor and LOTS of people. The church was built on the site to preserve the landmark’s location – so there are a few stones within the building that are considered to be from Jesus’ time and burial and many people come to see and touch them. It definitely has a different vibe than the Garden Tomb, but it’s totally worth seeing. It was beautiful to see so many people coming to praise and worship our Heavenly Father.
In addition to experiencing all that Jerusalem has to offer, and traveling to Bethlehem for a day, we took a day and travelled out of the city to see Masada, Ein Gedi, the Qumran Caves, and the Dead Sea. These places are about a two-hour drive outside of Jerusalem into what would be considered the wilderness as referred to in the Gospels. Masada was Herod’s palace and is famous for the siege of Masada by Roman troops that ended with the mass suicide of 960 Jewish people who were hiding there. There is a cable car that takes you up to the ruins, but my siblings, Zach and I decide to hike it. The climb is about about 1200 feet in 1.5 miles. We did it in about 35 minutes and were drenched in sweat! But we got some amazing views and it was worth it in our opinion. Ein Gedi is where David hid in the caves from King Saul, referenced in 1st Samuel. This was another pinch me moment for sure. To tangibly be where David had escaped death was surreal. Last stop of the day was the Dead Sea, and all I have to say is… what a trip! The Dead Sea is unlike ANYTHING I’ve experienced. Because of the extreme salt content, you literally just bob in the water, no swimming required. Also – I feel like the one thing I never read about or nobody has ever shared with me is how there are massive pieces of salt at the bottom- and sharp ones at that! I actually slipped and sliced my finger open on one! But overall, we had a blast swimming and detoxing our bodies with the mud in the Dead Sea.
After Jerusalem we headed North to the region of Galilee, famous for the Sea of Galilee. This is the region where most of Jesus’ ministry took place and many of His miracles. I do have to make note the on the way to Galilee, we stopped by the Jordan River. You are able to get in to be baptized here, and while none of us felt a spiritual push to do so mostly due to the fact that the water was 49 degrees, Zach decided to take the plunge. He not only waded in the water, but baptized himself, and came up asking if anyone had seen a dove! Ha (Matthew 3:16) We got to see so many locations that truthfully, all made sense for the first time. I have grown up reading the Bible and have done my best to study it – but if I’m being honest, I didn’t realize how much I have simply glazed over the setting of the stories. Sure I made up what the location may have looked like in my head, but I never really looked into where everything was. I was captivated while in Israel and couldn’t stop asking questions to better understand what travel and life would have been like for Jesus and His disciples. I can now picture their journeys and put distances and location to the words I’ve read my entire life.
One of my favorite spots in Galilee was Capernaum which is considered to be Jesus’ home during His years of ministry. They have discovered and excavated a great deal of ruins from the city- one of the ruins are even thought to be Peter’s house based on a third century church built above it. To think about Jesus sitting in these homes serving and teaching people, or to imagine a man being lowered through a roof for healing right where I was standing was remarkable. The Bible truly came alive on another level. We also had the opportunity to venture out onto the sea for a sailing excursion which was amazing. What an incredible experience to be on the body of water that Jesus walked on and calmed. The region of Galilee, unlike Jerusalem, is a lot smaller and slower paced. It was amazing to be able to process and really sit deeper into the stories of Jesus’ ministry and what it would have been like for the disciples.
We ended our trip in Tel Aviv for one last family dinner and a quick nap (our flight was at 5am) before flying home. At dinner, we recapped the past week together and the amazing journey it was. What a gift to be able to do this together as a family. You most definitely don’t need to visit Israel to love God or study His Word, because He dwells within us thanks to His perfect son, Jesus. But wow, if you ever get the chance, I highly recommend it. The Bible has come alive in a new way for me that I will never take for granted.