By the time you are reading this article my travels to Greece and Israel will be nearly over. Wish you were here!
I’m sitting in my hotel room in the city of Tiberias with a view overlooking the Sea of Galilee. I’m hosting 25 people from my church on a two-week tour of the Holy Land including a couple of days in Athens and Corinth, Greece.
So, let me bring you in on some of the fascinating experiences we’ve had to this point. In Athens we had the opportunity to visit Mars Hill where the Apostle Paul complimented the Athenians. Standing atop the hill he said to them, “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” Paul then proceeded to preach to them about salvation through Jesus Christ. Mars Hill offers a commanding view of Athens. We also visited the Parthenon atop the Acropolis. For a piece of more recent history, we stopped by the Olympic Stadium built for the 1896 Olympic Games.
Our flight to Tel Aviv, Israel took less than two hours but was unfortunately in the middle of the night. We left Athens at 1:30, arriving at 3:15 a.m. Ugh! Our Tour Guide for our time in Israel met us at the airport, making sure everything was in order. We boarded our tour bus and made the short drive to our hotel where we slept for about three hours before beginning our first day in the Holy Land. The more notable places we have visited in the past couple of days have been the top of Mount Carmel, where Elijah the Prophet challenged the prophets of Baal and the Asherah as to which of their Gods was the true God. Awesome story and the view was a panorama of the Valley of Jezreel where the Apocalyptic events of the Battle of Armageddon will be played out just before the Lord Jesus returns to earth, bringing an end to man’s earthly reign.
Later in the day we stopped at the one place on the edge of the Sea of Galilee where it would be possible for the herd of swine to race over a cliff and drown. You could just see Jesus commanding the “Legion” of demons to come out of the man and go into a herd of swine, causing them to go nuts and race off the edge of the short cliff. One of our pilgrims asked why there would be a herd of swine there since this was Israel. Our guide explained that it was not Jewish territory then. It belonged to a people known as the Gerasenes.
We ended our day with a baptismal service at the Jordan River where it was my privilege to baptize fourteen people from our group of twenty-five. The setting is rather commercialized, but it makes it very convenient to get in and out. For a small fee you are provided with a white robe and a towel. There are a number of places for different groups to all be doing baptisms at the same time. Now, the weather has been fabulous, ranging well into the 70s each day. But the water in the Jordan is cold! It is melted snow from Mount Hermon making its way to the Sea of Galilee in the north end, then emerging at the south end where we were. While changing in the dressing room, I met a U. S. Army chaplain who was there to baptize several of his soldiers. He and his unit are currently assigned to serve with combined forces in the Sinai. Having already completed my responsibilities, I stayed to watch as this chaplain baptized these soldiers. It was wonderful! I went to him after he was done and shook his hand. I said, “Normally I would say, ‘Go Navy! Beat Army.’ But this time I want to say, “Go Army!’”
Let me share a thought or two about our guide and our driver. Our guide’s name is George. He is a Jew and lives in Tel Aviv. He has been a tremendous blessing to us. He really knows the territory – literally! Tonight at dinner he shared that his twenty-six year old daughter is just finishing law school, intending to be a judge. He then told us this story: When she was twelve, she was riding the city bus to school. A Muslim suicide bomber got on board and blew up the bus. Of the twenty-two people on board, his daughter was the only one to survive. She didn’t even have a scratch.
Now let me tell you about our driver. His name is Mohammed. He is a Palestinian. The first day he drove us he announced that his wife was about to deliver their fifth child. The next morning he told us she had delivered a son (number four). We all clapped and congratulated him. Since they had not picked a name for the boy yet, I suggested Charles. Well, today he informed us that his little son has been given the name Adam. We took a collection amongst ourselves and presented it to him along with a card as we ended our pilgrimage for the day. It is very interesting to watch these two men who are responsible for our time and safety while in Israel. One a Jew, the other a Muslim are delightful and are obviously very good friends. I only wish you were here with us to experience all of this!
We have another week where much of our time will be spent in and around the Holy City, Jerusalem, and then it’s back home. Soon our yonderings will end. But, Oh, the memories will last a lifetime and beyond!