Recently I had the opportunity to take a trip to Israel, and if there is one thing I learned, it is that context is everything. It is one thing we don’t really understand unless we travel to the Holy Land.
Placing ourselves in Jesus’s shoes as he preached and proclaimed his message adds a significant perspective to the gospel. Knowing that Jesus was a Jew matters. Understanding that he spoke while Israel was an occupied territory is important. Realizing that he ministered amidst a cultural melting pot helps us gain a deeper sense of his message.
In John 10 Jesus speaks to the Jews during the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem. My Bible footnote reminds me this is Hanukkah. How many of us Christians understand this Jewish holiday that Jesus certainly celebrated? Do we know it’s traditions, history and rituals?
In addition, the text also adds the descriptors that it is winter and Jesus is walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. As I bundled up in a hat and gloves and donned rain gear during my stay, I learned that it’s not always warm and sunny in Jerusalem. (Jesus must have owned some quality North Face gear!) I also learned more about the temple, the outline of it, and where Solomon’s Colonnade must have stood.
The following are a few Journal entries during my trip that I hope will inspire and hopefully provide biblical context to help us define Jesus’ message.
“Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” Acts 11.19-21
No matter where they went or what they did, the gospel was proclaimed.
Those who had been scattered by persecution that happened when Stephen was killed traveled in one direction (to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch) and those believers spread the word only among the Jews (v.19). However, some of them, Jewish men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch but brought the gospel to the Gentiles and they told “them the good news about the Lord Jesus.”
A mass proclamation of the Gospel message went forth. These believing Jews didn’t go to plant churches, to produce big budgets, or polished programs for their own livelihood or personal benefits. They didn’t go to push political agendas for particular social or theological issues — they went to spread the Gospel. They went to take that which they had been given to the least, the last and the lost. These new believers felt a burden for sinners and a longing for others to know what they knew — that Jesus Christ was Messiah.
At this very moment, I am on a plane flying towards Israel. I am on an airplane going to the land of the origin of faith for both Jews and Christians. I am going on a pilgrimage with other Christian believers to the place of the birth of the Church. Just as the Acts believers took the gospel forth in power, passion and purpose — so I am returning with the hope I have found in Jesus.
I am returning twenty one centuries after Christ came and lived, died and rose again, and fulfilled the great work of God among the Jews. I am a result of those who carried the mission, who crossed the seas and risked life and limb to share God’s message. Centuries later, doused in a different languages and customs, built upon traditions and culture, I bear the marks of their witness, testimony and sacrifice.
It all began in Israel when God offered the promise to the Abraham and Sarah: when Moses delivered the people out of slavery – when God’s Son came to redeem the lost. I bear the fruit of their labor and the inheritance of the promise. The thousands of American teenagers touched and saved by the Holy Spirit through my own ministry over the past twenty-five years is a sign of the continued movement of God to save a lost world. (Yet I take no credit. It all belongs to God.)
For this and so much more, I give Him praise. I give praise that I have the opportunity to view with fresh eyes the history, love, life and liberty of those who believed and gave it all. I get to walk where Jesus walked, see the land where he lived and the people he loved. For this I give thanks.
After two thousand years, I am returning with a community of believers to give God glory and proclaim the name that Jesus saves- both now and forever more.
“O Lord God, you are glorified! Your gospel began long ago when you created people in your message. When the spoken Word was revealed and your Spirit roamed the faceless void of the earth, you sent your son Jesus to save us and to fulfill all you had promised. Come now, Holy Spirit, fill us with your power and love. Allow us to know the truth of that power and to bear witness to the world. I pray I might have new eyes to see the birth of my beginnings and to live in the power of your resurrection. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen
“As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.” Mark 1:16-18
It never gets old. I have been three times to Israel and again I find myself staring upon the Sea of Galilee (actually a large lake) where Jesus walked, lived and ministered. I find myself in my second full day of this eight day journey and the privilege I feel to be in the Holy Land is nothing short of spectacular. For some reason, the Lord keeps allowing me to return to this place to make a pilgrimage and grow in my faith and my relationship with him.
This morning I’m sitting upon the shore of Galilee in a Kibbutz, which is a very nice resort. I can’t help but go to one of my favorite verses in Mark where Jesus called his disciples. Two thousand years ago the Son of God walked these shores. I’m on the southern edge of the sea and looking across to Tiberius and Cana where he typically spent most of his time.
The Scripture tells us that as Jesus walked among us, he saw Simon Peter and Andrew casting their nets into the lake — they were fishing for livelihood. Jesus meets them where they are and he does the same for us.
Jesus says, “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once, “they left their nets and followed Jesus.” Aren’t we glad they did? They are our spiritual grandfathers! People who were the first to turn to Jesus and turn away from their own desires. They came to Jesus, dropped their nets (their vocation, security and livelihood) and followed Jesus. They responded to Jesus along this very shore line. Jesus was just taking a seaside stroll – gathering followers for his kingdom.
Which brings me back to present day reality — I am sitting here because Jesus said, “Follow me.” After millions and millions of people dropped their nets (figuratively), I too have the chance to hear, respond and find hope, grace and meaning to life. I have the privilege today to hear the Master’s voice and obey his commands.
The Master walks along the shoreline today calling for all to “come and follow.” He is about transforming hearts and lives, forgiving sin, and redeeming the lost. As Max Lucado once wrote, “God came near.” He did this way back for Peter and Andrew, and he does for us today.
What a blessing we have to walk with God this very day. Whether you are in Galilee, Israel or Marble Falls, Texas – or another distant land- God is near to the broken hearted. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.
“O Lord God, I love and praise you! For you are so good to us! Thank you for drawing us into a relationship with Jesus! Thank you for saving us, loving us and giving us purpose for this life. I love you Lord and praise you this day. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen
to be continued