Travel to Israel, crossing the Atlantic and many time zones. 43 people. 30 of which are from St Luke and the others are Brendan Wiechert’s mom, Sandra, and Pr. Jim’s family from Seattle, Kansas City, and Wisconsin.
Arrive in Tel Aviv and meet up with the three groups – 25 on one flight from Spokane, 8 on another from Spokane, and the ten from other cities who met up in JFK to now combine as one.
Some preliminary background information that will be helpful as we see places and talk about their historical and biblical significance. I encourage you to read the biblical references, not just my materials.
Who was Herod? Well, which Herod are we talking about? Herod the Great was the first Herod and was known for expanding the nation of Israel and for his massive building projects: Caesarea Maritima, the Jerusalem Second Temple, Masada, and Herodium. He supposedly ruled from 37BC to 4BCwhen he died. However, Matthew attests that it is Herod the Great that is associated with Jesus’s birth story in Matthew 2:1-21 (and Luke 1:5). It is Herod the Great that is accredited for the massacre of the innocence following the story of his search for the Messiah through the Magi. In Matthew 2:22-23 we hear that Jesus and his parents returned from Egypt (where they fled to escape Herod the Great) only to find Herod’s son, Herod Archelaus ruling (who was even more ruthless than his father), so they went up to Galilee and made their home in Nazareth.
Herod was a vassal King. He had ownership and authority over Israel but was answerable to Caesar and paid taxes to Rome. After Herod died, Rome divided Israel into four sections and appointed four tetrarchs: Herod the Great’s three sons and his sister:
While Herod Antipas of Galilee is the Herod who dominates the NT in Jesus’s adult life, and with regard to the Christian movement in Acts, it is Archelaus who is important to note as well. Archelaus didn’t rule very long because the Jews in Jerusalem and throughout the territory of Judah/Judea were so incited by his ruthlessness that Rome removed him and put in a “prefect” to govern over Judea and to keep the peace. The prefect that was governing over Judea and the capital city Jerusalem during Jesus’ ministry was Pontius Pilate.
Jesus’s life and ministry were spent up north in the region or territory of Galilee. In Luke 3:23 we’re told Jesus was 30 years old when he began his ministry. Nowhere in the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are we told how long his ministry lasted. In the synoptics we’re told that Jesus went “up” to Jerusalem in Judea (which is south of Galilee) the last week of his life for the festival of Passover where he was then betrayed, tried, and crucified. It’s from John’s gospel that we get the notion that Jesus’ ministry lasted 3 years because in John’s gospel Jesus goes to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover three times: John 2:13, 6:4, 11:55 (thus dying at the age of 33 if one accompanies this with Luke 3:23). In Luke 23:7-12, in the exchange between Pilate and Herod, Jesus is being passed between Pilate in Jerusalem of Judea and Herod of Galilee.
Caesarea Marittima: “Caesar’s City by the Sea” – Built by Herod the Great between 22-10BC and dedicated to or in honor of Caesar, the Roman Emperor. Not to be confused with Caesarea Philippi, which we will see tomorrow, and I will write about for Day 4.
During the NT times Caesarea Marittima (normally just referred to as Caesarea) was a Roman settlement where Herod often lived and later Pontius Pilate often lived or stayed, unless he had to go into Jerusalem to keep the peace (especially on high festival celebrations or holy days). You’ll find a stone with an inscription referring to Pontius Pilate here. During the Byzantine era (after 325AD when Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire) Caesarea became a center of Christianity until it was sacked during the Muslim conquest of 640AD and has been unpopulated since. During the Christian Crusades (around 1100AD) it was fortified as a garrison but destroyed in 1265AD by the Mamluk Sultanate. Today it is an Israeli National Park.
The biblical importance of this site can be found in the Book of Acts: 8:40, 9:30, the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts chapters 10 & 11, also 12:19, and then many passages relating to Paul in Acts 18:22, 21:8, 21:16, 23:33, and Paul’s trial before King Agrippa in chapters 25-26. In this last part of Paul’s life, he was imprisoned in Caesarea for two years before being taken away and set sail for Rome to be imprisoned and stand trial before Caesar in Rome. Paul’s long imprisonment in Caesarea is perhaps of mot importance and significance to Christian pilgrims today.
Megiddo: a knoll or “tell” outcropped in the middle of the Jezreel Valley. The ancient fortress built upon this hill served as a forte for Israel throughout their ancient history, and the plain below as a bloody battlefield for many a war. Controlled 26 different times by different empire including Israel, Babylon, Egypt, and Assyria. At the temple of Karnak in Egypt the hieroglyphics tell the story of a great conflict fought here in 1468BC. The Pharoaoh Thutmose III captured 924 chariots. 3500 years ago! Right here! Har is the Hebrew word for mountain. Har Megiddo means “Mount Megiddo.” This is where the term (in Greek) Armageddon in Revelation 16:16 originates – the final battle takes place at this ancient battle site. These are the same stones that King Josiah once walked upon all the way back to Joshua (Joshua 12:21). See also Judges 5:19, II Kings 9:27 & 23:29, II Chronicles 35:22.
Mount Carmel: part of a western mountain range off the Mediterranean Sea in Northern Israel. It hosts Israel’s third largest city, Haifa. David’s wife Abigail is from Carmel (I Sam. 30:5, II Sam. 2:2). Most notably, this is the place where Elijah battled the false prophets of Baal – Elijah vs. King Ahab, Yahweh vs. Baal. Read I Kings 18. There is also reference to Elisha as the “man of God from Mount Carmel” in II Kings 2:25. In a cave on Mt. Carmel archaeologists discovered the remains of a Neanderthal woman (named Jabun I) and evidence of human activity dating back over 600,000 years, making this one of the oldest known inhabited places on earth. At Mount Carmel we will visit Elijah’s cave, as well as see the beautiful Bahai Temple and gardens.
Mount of Beatitudes: Read Matthew chapters 5-7. This is the famous site where Jesus supposedly gave his Sermon on the Mount. I say supposedly because there’s no archeological evidence to prove this. That said, it’s likely. It has been regarded as the traditional site for over 1600 years. Jesus made his home in the fishing town below this hillside in Capernaum. It sounds like large crowds were gathering to listen to Jesus’s teachings. This barren hillside would provide a great place to teach, view the surrounding region of the Sea of Galilee, and see the beautiful lights of Tiberias at night. The Franciscan chapel was built in 1938. I am looking forward to staying here. There is a “Jesus Trail” that connects this mount with other Christian sites (40 miles long). I’m looking forward to some walks in the morning or evening on the Jesus Trail or down the hill to ruins of Capernaum. I’m looking forward to having some time to read my bible and pray in the beautifully manicured grounds, and in the chapel. I’m looking forward to a glass of wine with my brothers and sisters in Christ as we gaze out over the Sea of Galilee.
Nazareth: Jesus’s home town (before moving to Capernaum to start his ministry) – see Matthew 2:23, Mark 1:9, John 1:45, Matthew 4:13, Luke 18:37, John 18:1-5, 19:19, Matthew 26:71. Located in the hill country of Galilee. Nazareth was a Podunk little town in Jesus’s day with a population of about 200-300. It was just outside of the new Roman city being built by Herod (Anitpas) called Sepphoris. Sepphoris is an archeological site today while Nazareth has become one of the largest cities in Israel today with a population of nearly 100,000. Today it is predominantly Arab with about 70% Arab Muslims and 30% Arab Christians. Jesus was known as “the carpenter’s son” (Mathew 13:55, Mark 6:3). We tend to think of a carpenter as one who works with a hammer and wood. However, if you visit the ruins of Sepphoris, which is probably where carpenters from Nazareth were employed, it was made of all stone, like all of the cities of that time. A “carpenter” was more along the lines of a mason in our terms today. A decisive moment in Jesus’ ministry was in Nazareth – see Mark 4:16-30. For Christian pilgrims today Nazareth is visited to see the Church of the Annunciation where Mary was supposedly visited by the Angel Gabriel – see Luke 1:26-38. Also read John 1:35-51 (“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”) for some cultural and historical perspective from Jesus’ day.
One of the highlights for me today was meeting the Arch Bishop of the Ethiopian Eastern Orthodox Church. Even though he’s looking at me like, “Who is the guy? And why is he touching my shoulder?” he was very kind and gracious. Other highlights were going swimming in the Sea of Galilee, seeing Caesarea, Megiddo, and the fellowship. What I have enjoyed most, and am looking forward to most, is experiencing this trip through the eyes of those who are coming here for the first time.