It was a moment I will never forget.
Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and standing on a row of bleachers at Roman theater at Caesarea Maritiama, I was able to deliver a devotion for our tour group. The passage was from Acts 10 where Peter goes to Caesarea to meet with Cornelius and recognizes that God shows no partiality in regards to expressing love. I talked about how we are called to welcome all people and to make room for the people in a world that seeks to keep people out who are different than we are.
It was easily one of the high holy moments of my ministry. I would rank it up there with being commissioned, all the baptisms I’ve been able to participate in, and preaching at my hometown church.
It still boggles my mind that I was able to lead the group in this way. When I accepted my call to ministry, I never imagined I would visit Israel. That being the case giving a message here was unthinkable to me. Yet, here I am in Israel and here I have delivered a message near where many of the apostles have also spoke about God’s love.
I’ll never forget that moment.
Nor will I forget the views from Nazareth earlier in the day. We walked through a town that is nowhere near what it was in Jesus’ time. Then Nazareth was a hole-in-the-wall town with only a few hundred people. Now it is a major city with more than 100,000 people.
Our journey in Nazareth took us to three churches. The first with a Greek Orthodox Church that has a well inside. The well is known as Mary’s Well and the Greeks believe that this is where Mary received the message that she would give birth to Jesus. The second was a Roman Catholic basilica that featured some of the caves and homes that were prominent in First Century Nazareth. Among the caves was one that it is believed was Mary’s home and another potential place where she received the message that would change the world. We do not know for sure which site is the correct site, but we do know that both are important to Nazareth and our faith. The third church was the Synagogue Church which had flooring that dates to Jesus’ time.
Another interesting aspect of touring through Nazareth was the market areas. We traversed through a maze of small markets up and down the tiny streets. It was just as you would imagine. Tiny stores each with their merchandise out for all to see and purchase. The one thing we did buy was some bread, which may just be the best bread I’ve ever had.
We also went to the Mount of Precipice. This is the place in Nazareth where Jesus was nearly killed by his hometown community. It was a hike up to the top, which provided a view of Mount Carmel and the Valley of Armageddon. One thing that stood out to me was the rocky terrain near the summit. I couldn’t help but wonder if the stones served as an impediment to keep people from reaching Jesus or if it helped Jesus to get away.
Since I mentioned the Valley of Armageddon it is worth reflecting on its importance. The area is in Megiddo and is located in the Jezreel Valley. Revelation lists this area as where Armageddon will take place. Its significance connects to the geo-political realities. Israel is located as a crossroads between three continents – Africa, Asia, and Europe. The valley, itself, sits in the middle of Israel near the Mediterranean Sea. This gives it an ideal location for conquering nations to maintain, as was often the case during ancient times. The nature of battles that have taken place here raised the significance for John in his vision.
Tonight, though, we have transferred from the Galilean region to Jerusalem. The remainder of our trip will be spent in this city that is of immense important for three religions and serves as a major political city in the world. As we are here, I cannot wait to gain a first-hand perspective on the settlement question, the two-state solution, and the relationships between the three major Abrahamic faiths in Jerusalem.