GREAT TIME IN THE HOLY LAND!!!
Our tour to the Holy Land was fabulous! It was all I had hoped for and more. We left Houston February 18 and returned the 28th. The trip was a joint venture of Sugar Land First United Methodist Church and Merry Ministries. Our group of 36 experienced the pilgrimage of a lifetime as we traveled throughout Israel. Our group was very diverse ranging in age from mid-20s to 80s and we had Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Baptists and non-denominationalists . . . in other words, it was a lot like our Merry Ministries group with some husbands and sons added. ( I was so happy that my husband, Ken, and our son, Russ, were able to go.)
Bev Robb of Omega Travel & Tours beautifully organized all our trip details from takeoff to touchdown. Our Israeli tour guide, Mishi, was wonderful. He explained the historical and archeological background at all our stops. Either Pastor Marty Nicholas (SLFUMC) or I gave a brief Bible lesson at most locations. I have to say that working with someone as knowledgeable as Marty was such a blessing . Our group loved him and his wife, Pat. We asked members of our group to read Scripture or pray at many of the sites so that everyone who wanted had the opportunity to take part in the experience.
We left Houston on Thursday evening and arrived in Tel Aviv, Israel on Friday evening. We spent the first night at the Renaissance Hotel on the Mediterranean Sea. The next morning (Sat.), we loaded onto a nice Mercedes bus that became our main vehicle for the trip. Toby was our very skillful driver and Mishi taught us information even as we traveled the streets and highways.
Saturday, Feb. 20 – We drove through Joppa (Jonah 1; Acts 10) and then on to Caesarea by the Sea (on the Mediterranean). There we saw Roman ruins dating back to King Herod’s time, as well as ruins from the Crusade period. Marty taught from Acts12:19-24 as we sat in the restored ruins of the theater there. The Apostles Peter (Acts 10 & 11) and Paul (Acts 23-26) spent time in this ancient city. Next, we drove to Mt. Carmel where Elijah had his big showdown with 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (1 Kings 18 – I just love it when the good guy wins!). Mt. Carmel overlooks the beautiful Jezreel Valley. We then drove to the other side of the valley to Megiddo. Megiddo and this area have been the site of at least 34 famous conflicts dating back to 1450 B.C. Is it any wonder that the Bible (Revelation 16:16) tells us that the final battle will take place here at Armageddon – which means Mount of Megiddo. I spoke a little about the end times referring to 1 Thess. 4:13-18. Our next stop was Nazareth, where Jesus was raised. We stopped at the Mount of Precipice which overlooks the city (Matthew 2:13-23; Luke 16:16-30). We stopped briefly in Cana, the city where Jesus performed His first miracle (John 2:1-11) We spent the next three nights in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee at the Gai Beach Hotel.
Sunday, Feb. 21 – We began this glorious Sunday by getting on a boat and going out on the Sea of Galilee. So much of our Savior’s life was spent on and around this big lake. Our time of worship led by Marty (Matthew 14:22-33). After our peaceful boat ride, we hopped on the bus and went to Caesarea Philippi in the far northern part of Israel. This is where the Jordan River begins, and it is a historical site that had been a sanctuary of idols to the Greek god Pan and other pagan gods. It was at this place that Jesus had taken his disciples on a retreat (Matthew 16:13-20) and asked them, “Who do you say I am?” Peter was the first to speak up and say that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” – (in other words, the real deal, not a pagan idol.). From there we drove along the Golan Heights and saw the road to Damascus where Paul had his dramatic conversion experience (Acts 9:1-22). After lunch, we went to the Mount of Beatitudes on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and I taught from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 – 7). We were able to walk around the beautiful grounds surrounding the church that has been built there. From there we journeyed to Capernaum where Jesus based His ministry. This was the fishing village where He called James, John, Peter and Andrew to be His disciples, and He would make them fishers of men (Matthew 4:13-22). We saw Peter’s mother-in-law’s house (Matt. 8:5-15) and a fourth century synagogue that was built upon a first century synagogue (Jesus would have taught there). [A few of the other stories that took place in Capernaum can be found in Matt. 9:1-33; Matt. 12:9-13; Mark 2:1-12; and John 6:17-65.] Upon leaving Capernaum, we went to a museum and saw a first century fishing boat known as the “Jesus Boat.” What a GREAT Lord’s Day we had!
Monday, Feb. 22 – We first went to Tabgha, a place that commemorates Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand (Matt. 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14). There is an orthodox church there with an outdoor baptismal pool and Mishi explained the Jewish cleansing for religious purity and how that became the model for Christian baptism. Next, we went to Zippori which is about 4 miles from Nazareth. It was a center for learning and for craftsmen during the time of Jesus. It became a large Roman city during Christ’s life. From there we went to Gideon’s Spring, a beautiful and meaningful place (I taught from Judges 7). Back on the bus, we traveled to Beit Shean (Russ read from 1 Sam. 31:1-13). The ruins from the Roman period are fantastic here. I think they may have better ruins than Rome. After this, we traveled to Yardenit on the Jordan and ended this day with a baptismal service at the Jordan River. Marty spoke about baptism on the bus as we drove there. When we got to our reserved spot, there was a group from Uganda or someplace right next to us. They were singing and baptizing and having the best time. We enjoyed them. Then I spoke briefly about the Israel crossing the Jordan River as they came in to the Promised Land (Joshua 3 & 4) and about Jesus baptism (Matt. 3:13-17). Then Marty baptized. Four from our group were baptized by emersion and most of the rest rededicated their baptism by sprinkling. It was a very meaningful experience.
Tues., Feb. 23 – We left the Tiberias/Sea of Galilee area and headed south to Masada. This is a fortress built by Herod the Great (about 35 BC) high atop a rock cliff that faces the Dead Sea. This is where the Jews made their last stand against the Romans in 66 AD. When the Jews could hold off the Romans no longer, they committed mass suicide deciding that they would rather die free than become Roman slaves. It is quite a magnificent site. Leaving there, we drove back to the north along the Dead Sea past En Gedi (didn’t have time to stop there) and on to Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. We visited the museum and learned about the scrolls and the Essenes who probably copied the scrolls. From there, we continued and then stopped at the northern part of the Dead Sea and many from our group (including Ken and Russ) got in and floated. It is impossible to sink in this body of salt water. I just got in to my knees. The water and mud make your skin so soft. We cleaned up and got back on the bus and headed for Jerusalem for the final half of our tour. We read one of the Psalms of Ascents – Ps. 122 – as we entered the city and then they played the song, “Jerusalem” on the CD player as we got into the city. The sun was setting and it was beautiful. We stayed at the Dan Panorama Hotel near the Old City.
Wed., Feb. 24 We got on the bus and drove to Mt. Scopus for a beautiful view of the city and temple mount area. This is a spectacular city and it means so much to the people of God. Next, we went to the nearby Mount of Olives for another view, group picture and a walk. We saw the Dominus Flevit Church that commemorates Jesus weeping over the city (luke 19:41-44) from the Mt. of Olives. Jesus gave what is known as The Olivet Discourse from this mount (Matt. 24-25; Mark 13; Luke 21). It is from the Mount of Olives that Jesus ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9-12). We walked to the Garden of Gethsemane (means oil press) which is on the Mt. of Olives and saw the ancient olive trees there. They have a spot for groups to sit in the garden with a view of the temple mount area. I gave the lesson from Matthew 26:36-56, adding some from Mark and Luke’s gospels. Then we gave the group some free time to spread out in the Garden and pray. This was one of my favorite places on the trip. Next to the Garden is The Church of All Nations. It is beautiful. The basilica is decorated with mosaics depicting biblical events in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the center, the high altar overlooks a large slab of rock, which is said to be the very rock on which Jesus prayed in agony on the night of his betrayal. After lunch, we drove to the area of King David’s Tomb. This had been a place of gathering a praying after the temple was destroyed until the Western Wall was uncovered, From David’s tomb, we went very close by to an upstairs room – The Upper Room – which commemorates the place of The Last Supper. I very briefly spoke at this location about Passover and the Last Supper (Matt. 26:17 – 30). From there, we walked to Caiaphas’ house. He was the High Priest who had Jesus arrested. We were able to go down into the cistern/dungeon that Jesus was held in. Marty spoke and then had someone read Psalm 80. It was very moving. There is a beautiful church built atop this site. Outside, there is a statue that commemorate the 3 denials of Peter. Marty gave a very moving talk about Peter’s denial around a campfire(Luke 22:54-62) and how Jesus later restored him around a breakfast fire (John 21:15-17) and later how Peter was at Pentecost and tongues of fire appeared and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-5)); Peter preached and many souls were saved.
Thurs., Feb. 25 – We got up very early and went to the Temple Mount area. This is the holiest site to the Jews because this is where the Temple stood for centuries. It is also the mount where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac (Gen. 22) and the threshing floor that David bought to build the temple on (2 Sam. 24:18-25). Today, this is a Muslim controlled area with 2 mosques on it – The Dome of the Rock (the 3rd most holy site to Muslims) and Al Aqsa. Jews and Christians are not even allowed to bring a Bible up there. Mishi gave us a very good history of the area, the temple and the mosques. Then we went back to the hotel for breakfast and a talk by Marty. Next we went to Bethlehem. We had to change buses and guides at a checkpoint because Bethlehem is in the Palestinian controlled area. George was our Christian guide and he took us to the Church of the Nativity which commemorates the birthplace of Jesus (Luke 2). It was very large, crowded and interesting. Bethlehem was also where Ruth met and married Boaz and where David was born (Ruth 1-4). We went to the shepherd’s field where the angels could have appeared to the shepherds announcing the birth of Christ (Luke 2). There is a small chapel to mark the event. We ate lunch in Bethlehem, did some shopping and then went back to the checkpoint and got back with our Jewish guide and bus. We went to the Western Wall, which has become the holiest site to the Jews. It is all that remains of their old temple. The wall has a partition separating where the men pray from the women’s area. (The ladies and I went on the women’s side and the men went on the other side to pray.) Afterwards we went on a tour of the Western Wall Tunnel which was excavated following the 6 day war in 1967. It takes you down to the level of the streets in Herod’s day. From there we walked through the old city by the Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrows). There are 14 stations of the Cross that are commemorated along the way. (We stopped and read Scripture at each station.) The final 5 are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – which houses the traditional places of Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb. The Catholic, Armenian and Greek Orthodox Churches all have partial control of this church. It is very old and large with different chapels in it. We also saw a small, quiet Ethiopian church that was just outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We walked back on the Cardo for some shopping and then to the bus.
Fri., Feb. 26 – We went to the Israeli Museum. One of the big attractions there is a large outdoor model of the old city of Jerusalem during Jesus’ time. We had barely gotten outside to see it when a rain storm hit. We spent most of our time inside the museum seeing more about the Dead Sea Scrolls and some other artifacts. Then we went to the Holocaust Museum. It is very large and sad. It was still raining when we left there. We drove by the Israeli Knesset, seat of the Israeli Parliament and government offices. This was our shortest day and we had no real biblical sites. When we got back to the hotel, we gathered in a meeting room and I did a overview of the Old Testament to hopefully help people put some of what we had seen in perspective.
Sat., Feb. 27 – We went back to the old city and walked along the Eastern Wall and went in the Lion’s Gate (which is also known as St. Stephen’s Gate because it is the traditional place of the stoning of Stephen- Acts 6:8 – 7:60). We went to the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15) and then into St. Anne’s Church. The acoustics in this church are remarkable. We sang a couple of songs and they reverberated throughout the building in a beautiful way. We left and came back through the Dung Gate and walked through the Armenian Quarter to the Jewish Quarter and saw some of the ruins of King Hezekiah’s Wall from about 701 BC. We ate and then went to the sound side of the new city for a panoramic view. From there we went to the Garden Tomb area. This is a site that was discovered by a British General named Charles Gordon in the late 1800s. It was excavated and preserved. A garden area, a cistern and a tomb were found here. Many believe this to be the site of the tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea (John 19:38-42) where Jesus was buried. The area right next to Garden Tomb area appears to have the shape of a skull in the cliffside. [Golgotha (Aramaic) and Calvary (Latin) mean “the place of the skull.”] This tomb would fit with the description of the angel being on the right side (Mark 16:1-5). The Garden Tomb area is very beautiful and peaceful. We were able to have a communion service there. Marty spoke first about the Garden Tomb and how it had been preceded by the events of the Garden of Gethsemane and how that had been preceded by a perfect Garden of Eden created by God. Because of man’s sin, it was necessary for Christ to make a decision in the Garden of Gethsemane to die for our sins. Death could not hold Him however, and the Garden Tomb commemorates the place of His Resurrection. Then I spoke about the Bread. Jesus was born in Bethlehem which means “house of bread.” His biggest miracle, the feeding of the 5,000 was when He multiplied the bread and fish to feed the masses (John 6:1-14). Shortly after that, He gave His, “I am the bread of life” sermon and talked about his body (the bread) and his blood (John 6:22 – 59). Marty prayed and we observed communion with the bread and wine. From there we went back to the hotel to do our final packing and eat dinner. After dinner, we were taken to the airport for our long flight home.
There was much more that took place, but these are the highlights. If you have read all of this, you are amazing. In fact, . . .
You’re the best!!!
Those who went on the tour were:
Robert & Karen Beham
Michael Brockmyre & Mary McCaine
Fred & Jann Curry
Rick & Waynette Fuller
Gene & Kathy Huebner
Marty & Pat Nicholas
Doug & Pam Patton
Terrell, Carol, John & Amy Rainbolt
Lee & Kathi Rich
Kim & Will Shrull
Ken, Mary & Russ Willis
Mike & Bonnie Yentzen
Ed & Kay ZostFollow Merry Ministries online
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