Friday, January 22, 2016

What the Holy Land Reminded me

Our recent trip to Israel was memorable for reasons you might expect, but it was also bittersweet in some ways I was not anticipating. The reminders I received from the Holy Land are oddly elementary, and yet I was struck by these truths in a new way. It’s like the first time you visit the home of a childhood friend and perhaps spend the night – they are still the same person, and your relationship continues as normal, yet you can’t help but see them in a new light. The trinkets in their room, the mannerisms of their parents…seeing such tangible, intertwined characteristics of their home and personality bring greater understanding to your friendship. Below, I will attempt to describe some of the ways my faith was deepened.

1) Jesus was an Israelite, and I am a Gentile.

In Christian circles today, we roll our eyes and shake our heads at the blonde-hair, blue-eyed Jesus often portrayed in art. However, touring Israel really opened my eyes to that very significant aspect of Jesus’ humanness: his nationality and ethnicity. The Son of God did not come to earth as a Chinese man or a Native American; he was an Israelite! As I saw Israeli people, listened to them speak, tasted their food and walked down their streets, I felt like I was getting a more intimate look into Jesus’ earthly life – but I also became keenly aware that I was a foreigner. I walked where my Savior walked, but I was so different from the people of his nation! This rekindled thankfulness in me that, although Israel has a special place in God’s plans, Christ’s saving love has been extended to all the world – even to a 21st century American girl like me!  

So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him"...And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 

2) The gospel of Christ is needed, praiseworthy, comforting news!

We visited the Western Wall, also known as the “Wailing Wall.” It is a remnant of the wall that surrounded the Temple Mount, where God met with his people before sending Christ and the Holy Spirit. Jewish men and women come here daily to pray, believing God’s presence is still connected with the wall (they cannot go to the actual mount as it’s now covered by a Muslim place of worship, the Dome of the Rock). To see their fervent praying, rocking back and forth with their hands on the wall, surrounding it from the outside and even underground…and to know they are praying for the Messiah to come, and for a restoration of the Temple – it was a bit confusing and heartbreaking. The Messiah has come, and sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within each believer; we no longer need the temple as Jesus has bridged the gap between God and man. To walk beside people who are begging God to send the Savior, when I know he has already come, I’m not sure how to describe the feeling. May we not take the good news of Christ for granted, and may we share it boldly! [Luke 19:41-441 Corinthians 6:19-20, John 1Matthew 16:15-17]

3) The life of Christ is infinitely more important than the ground he walked.

I reminded myself of this before the trip, not wanting to get carried away in all the excitement and subconsciously believe I was closer to God while on Israel’s soil. However, like all the other points I’ve made, this truth became more fully realized once there. Josh and I were discussing one night our surprise at not having more emotional reactions at certain cites. Don’t get me wrong, we felt many emotions – but shed few tears. Why did we not break down crying at such historically and spiritually significant sites? The freezing rain and jet-lag didn’t help, but really it comes down to this reminder. I can sum it up best via Josh’s written reflection: “We remember what Jesus has done, and we worship him for those gifts, but salvation is not tied to the road he walked or the stone he was prepared upon. Justification is not tied to the cave he was born in, or the tomb where he was buried…we worship Jesus Christ for his work done for us; we don’t worship the places these events took place. There is no power in these artifacts; the power is in his blood. We worship a risen Savior!”

4) Our greatest war is against the real enemy: Satan.

Our visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust history museum, was devastating beyond all measure. Room after room, we read newspaper articles, letters and journal entries. We watched videos of Nazi propaganda and survivor testimonies. We saw photos of families torn apart, and a memorial to all the children killed – with an audio of their individual names, ages and cities that plays 24/7. An atrocity recognized by all, and astonishingly close to us in time. Some of the things I read even reminded me of things going on today. I could go on for too long, so I will just say that this verse was ringing in my head and heart that day: 
“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” 
Ephesians 6:11-12