Would you dare to venture on a tour of Israel in the middle of reported political unrest and religious enmity? I did! On February 18, 2001, a tour group of an estimated 33 people from various states and denominations journeyed to the Holy Land. Ministers, missionaries, others in ministry and laypersons joined together with one common bond: believing Jesus destined this tour for them.
Many people are fearful of traveling in Israel. But our group came to pray for this land, for the people at war and for peace in Jerusalem.
One Jewish man, an integration engineer in the army reserves, explained to us that the whole country is not at war, only specified "hot spots." Jew and Arab alike constantly reiterated that the news media exaggerate the violence in Israel because it sells.
Touching "the land." On the tour bus, promises of great change such as "Your life will never be the same" were announced with great expectation and energy. And it was true; it was as though the Holy Spirit led us through a passage into another time period.
Here Jesus walked. Entering His tomb where He was resurrected, I felt spiritually enlivened. In the very land where Jesus' covenant blood penetrated the earth, where time actually stood still, where Elisha's bones raised a dead man, where David conquered Goliath, where wondrous signs and miracles occurred, where multitudes were healed and set free--your faith multiplies.
Walking where our spiritual ancestors walked. Our group visited Genesis Land, which is approximately 20 minutes away from Jerusalem in the core of an extraordinary desert where Abraham would have sojourned. Here an actor dressed in authentic biblical costume, playing Abraham's servant, Eliezer, welcomed the group and provided a caravan of camels to lead us to his master's tent. Our hands and feet were washed, preparing us for a feast with Abraham. The view was extraordinary: As far as the eye could see, mountains overlaid mountains as Abraham demonstrated and taught ancient Hebrew hospitality and customs.
Gazing into the distance in this desert, I thirsted to know Jesus, longing for an oasis of truth. Almost all of the earliest Christians were Jews. To understand Jesus' sayings and actions fully, I needed to understand the thinking of the era of Jesus. This inspired me to study more.
Unearthing the times of Jesus. At the time of Jesus, an estimated 6,000 Pharisees, 4,000 Essenes and not many Sadducees existed. Although the great majority of Jews were located outside the sects, they could not escape their influence. For the most part, the majority belonged to the common people, lukewarm in comparison to the organized sects. Only the Samaritans were at this time clearly distinct from the Jewish community.
Marked in the days of reconstructing the temple, Ezra and Nehemiah insisted on strict separation from the Samaritans and resisted their offers of cooperation and of opposition. This separation appeared final when, many years later, the Samaritans refused to admit the temple in Jerusalem was authentic and built a rival temple on Mount Gerizim.
Followed by disrespectful statements and distortion of the text of the Pentateuch, Samaritans formed the Samaritan Pentateuch and declared it alone to be the inspired scripture. This is the environment Jesus was born into: some 400 years of constant hostility between the Jews and Samaritans.
Jesus communicated the love that would accept someone outside the Jewish sect as a neighbor and the true actions of loving your neighbor. If the lawyer in the New Testament account would have received this, his heart would have been able to discern this pure love before him and follow the path to eternal life.
Jesus always seemed to correct the commandments of men, their interpretations of doctrine and then reveal the heart of the matter. He stayed true to His purpose, not being influenced by this spirit of err; rather, He corrected, taught, rebuked and demonstrated righteous judgment and love. Jesus was a symbol of love in its highest and purest state.
Experiencing the upper room. In Jerusalem, our group visited an upper room similar to the one Jesus used in order to acquaint us with the last Passover He shared with His disciples. Here Jesus knew His hour was coming and that He would soon leave this world. He had so longed to share with His disciples.
As they broke bread together and drank wine symbolizing Jesus' crucifixion and the blood of the new covenant shed for all mankind, Jesus spilled His heart before them. He foretold of His betrayal and encouraged them to be strong and not to be offended. He warned Peter of his denial and gave the encouraging word of the "rock."
He taught them that the greatest among them would be the least in the kingdom of God and that the least would be the greatest. Then He demonstrated servitude by washing their feet. He loved them to the end. After an evening of deep communion, they sang a hymn and went to Gethsemane, located on the Mount of Olives.
On the Mount of Olives, our group viewed olive trees, some of which date back to the time of Jesus. The ground is holy, for Christ certainly walked there. We visited the Garden of Gethsemane and viewed paintings of the disciples falling asleep in the garden, the betrayal, the men falling back when Jesus said, "I am." There laid a stone depicting the great agony Jesus suffered praying to the Father. After an afternoon of deep communion with Jesus, we worshiped Him in song and went to the garden tomb.
Visiting Israel resurrected deeper spiritual desires within me. It was a time of renewal and deep communion with Jesus. I have always loved studying God's Word in-depth, but when I toured Israel, the Word came alive, and my ability to dig deeper and understand with such clarity unfolded line upon line, precept upon precept.
I know the first line of defense as a Christian is to continually educate myself by learning and understanding the truth--and to have the ability to understand when God reveals truth--so I will be able to take a stand in the continual battle between good and evil, and the truth and lies of man-made tradition, prejudice, custom, culture and denominationalism.
The depth to which divine redemption penetrates human lives ultimately depends on the faith and expectation of its fighters. Jesus stepped out against erroneous views and endured hardship, persecution and criticism. I choose to step out and follow Him, wherever He leads me. *
Tina Keefauver is a missionary in Malaysia. She traveled to Israel courtesy of Bell Wholesale Travel, Inc., in Northbrook, Illinois.