My Israel Journey–New Testament Sites
Today, let’s continue our New Testament Israel journey by visiting my favorite sites. So where to begin and what to include? We visited more than these, but I wanted to hit the highlights. Before this trip, I never thought of going to the Holy Land, but I am so glad I made the pilgrimage. If you get the chance to go, I highly recommend going. Seeing these Biblical sites in person brought the Gospel to life for me. So once again, grab a cup of coffee and relax as I take you to the Holy Land in words and pictures.
The Shepard’s Fields–Matthew 2
We spent only a little time in Bethlehem because of the crowds. But some things to note show that Bethlehem was a busy city even in Jesus’ day and his birth was more likely a cave than a stable. Caves were everywhere and used by the locals for many purposes, like barns. We spent more time at the site of the Shepard’s’ field and the church on the site. I love the mosaics inside the church and how they portrayed the birth announcement. As we visited these New Testament sites, I could now picture Jesus walking from place to place. Bethlehem is less than six miles from Jerusalem.
Mt Precipice (Jesus rejected by home town) Luke 4:14-30
After spending forty days in the wildness and the temptation of Satan, Jesus returns to Nazareth, his hometown by family heritage. In the synagogue, Jesus announced, “the scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21). As Jesus continued talking, the people became furious and drove him out of town to the hill called Mount Precipice. The hill provided us with incredible views all around, and we witnessed an incredible sunset over the town of Nazareth. Just over 10 miles in the distance, we spotted Mount Tabor. This is where the transfiguration of Jesus occurred. Surrounding this mountain is the Valley of Megiddo, also known as Armageddon. Jesus started his ministry in Nazareth and some day he will return in triumph to Armageddon and usher in a new heaven and new earth.
The Sea of Galilee Matthew 4:18-22
I think this was my favorite area of the entire trip. The natural beauty, tranquility and quietness made it even more appealing, especially when compared to the crowds in Jerusalem. Much of Jesus’ ministry occurred in this and surrounding areas and some I will detail more below. Jesus began calling disciples as he walked the shores of the lake. We took a boat ride on the lake and they showed the way the disciples fished with nets. I caught a photo of the net toss and thought of how Christ called the disciples and us to become fishers of men. In a nearby museum is a display of a partial fishing boat from the time of Jesus that they recovered in the area.
Mount of Beatitudes Matthew 5-7
Within sight of the Sea of Galilee, we made a stop at the spot believed to be the place Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. The mountain sits between the towns of Capernaum and Tiberias. So many events happened in this area besides just the incredible sermon. Capernaum became the center of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus fed the 5,000 here. Peter’s home is in Capernaum. He preached in the local synagogue and Jesus healed Peter’s mother in the town. Mary Magdalene lived near here in the town of Midgal. The ruins of Peter’s house are in Capernaum and they believe it became the first Christian Church long ago. I felt awestruck as I wandered into the areas where Jesus taught and lived.
Death and resurrection of Christ –Matthew 27-28
No trip to Israel would be complete without a visit to the city of Jerusalem. I’m glad we spent time here, but the crowds took away from the experiences. I think that is why I preferred our time at the Sea of Galilee. Also, there are two sites that claim to be the location of the empty tomb of Christ and we visited both. One is called the Garden Tomb, and the other is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. So, I will do a write about each of with photos. The two tombs are less than half-a-mile apart from each other.
The Garden Tomb
We visited this one first. They hewed the tomb into the rocks of the city surrounded by a lovely garden. I found the area peaceful in its solitude and simplicity. A smaller crowd allowed a quiet time for peaceful reflection on the risen Christ. We even enjoyed a communion service in one pavilion within the garden area. This is how I pictured the gardens and tombs in my mind for years. The visit humbled me as I stepped inside the tomb and saw that he was not there. I could picture the angels telling the women, “He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said.” (Matthew 28:6). I wanted to shout a Hallelujah as I marveled at the empty tomb.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
This site sat more in the hustle and bustle of the city of Jerusalem, so felt very noisy and extremely crowded, as the pictures will show. Now, back in Jesus’ day, this area might have been on the outskirts of town so not so busy. The church built on the site is impressive, full of beautiful mosaics, golden altars and amazing artwork. But it felt showy compared to the simple garden tomb. As we waited to get in, the patriarch of the Greek Orthodox church arrived. They cleared a path for him. Bells tolling loudly as monks in black robes escorted him in. All this seemed out of place and contrary to the way Jesus lived his life here. I think he wants us to follow his examples and find happiness in a simple life.
Primacy of Peter John 21:15-19
This is the name given to the spot where Christ appeared to the disciples after he had risen from the grave. Peter returned to fishing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He noticed someone on the beach cooking breakfast. After a few moments, Peter recognized the risen Savior and swam to shore. Jesus asked Peter if he loved him three times in these verses and Peter responded. This restored Peter after he denied Christ three times during the trial. This spot also felt humbling as I pictured the scene. A beautiful statue on the ground portrayed the moment of the encounter. Jesus’ presence felt very real in the setting. And he reminded me we are all called to feed his sheep, both physically and spiritually.
Time in Israel
As our guide said often, Israel is the land where the Bible hugs you. And he was correct. The difficulties and survival of God’s people from the Bible stood out in these desolate lands. They could not do what they did without God and neither can we. If you ever get the chance to go, I recommend it and we felt safe the entire time we were in the country. I leave you with a couple of special pictures that captured the feelings of being in the country of our Lord’s birth and resurrection. His is risen, hallelujah.
Thank you for all the ways you teach us. Thank you for the opportunity to share our journey with others to encourage them. Please guide us always and direct our paths for your glory. We also pray for the peace of Israel. In Jesus’ Holy Name. Amen.