The Temple Mount was quiet the morning I visited. Tour groups scattered across the extensive grounds chatted quietly, while old men huddled together, gray heads bent over their sacred texts. Heavily armed IDF soldiers paced back and forth across the smooth, white Jerusalem stone, their tense postures and the assault rifles slung across their backs the only evidence I was standing on the most hotly contested piece of land on the planet.
"Americans no good!" An old man spat the words as I walked past. "America and Israel no good!"
Although I wasn’t in any danger, the sentiment raised the hair on the back of my neck, and I wondered for a fleeting moment why I had come.
The most common response when telling people I was going to Israel was, "Why would you want to go there?" Granted, the Middle East isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think vacation. Add the constant media coverage of political unrest in this crossroads of religion and culture, and Israel ends up low on most people's bucket lists of places to visit.
Still, I knew I wanted to go to Israel. While I left not knowing what to expect, I came back a changed person.
Israel brought new dimensions to my faith. After watching the soft coral sunrise over the Sea of Galilee and walking the rocky hillsides where Jesus taught, I find myself experiencing the Gospels in a whole new way. Seeing where Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead and lived as one of us has connected me profoundly to both the humanity and the deity of Christ.
Hiking to the cool, clear headwaters of the Jordan River gave me a new appreciation for David's words, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:2 ESV), while the gushing crystal waters of the Spring of En Gedi left an indelible picture in my heart of the living water Jesus promises to his followers.
As I touched the Western Wall in Jerusalem and saw the grandeur of what the Jewish temple used to be, I was overcome by the thought that I am now the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). The enormity of grace and what Christ has done in reconciling us to God takes on new meaning when you’re standing in the shadow of the law.
I also gained a new appreciation for what’s really happening in Israel. The political situation in the Middle East is complex to say the least. While realistic solutions to the Arab/Israeli conflict seem as slippery as the mud of the Dead Sea, one thing is clear: there is a media war raging around Israel as fierce as any physical fight. Most media outlets are shamefully inaccurate in their reporting. If you really want to understand what is happening in Israel and what is at stake, you need to go see for yourself.
Lastly, I was immeasurably blessed by the chance to bless the people of Israel in some small way. Centuries of Crusades and Inquisitions have given Christianity a black eye in this part of the world, but this is slowly changing. Now more than ever, Christians need to visit Israel with a desire to bless her people and show them true Christ-like love and humility.
Go to Israel. Enjoy the kindness and sincerity of her people. Sit down in the beautiful Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem with a plate of creamy hummus and warm falafel. Later, as you explore the cobblestone streets say a prayer for the peace of the city and for a growing knowledge of the Prince of Peace in the hearts of her people.
Go to Israel. You’ll never be the same.