Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. Psalm 84:5 (KJV)
Israel, a beautiful nation belonging geographically to the Asian continent, gallantly stands at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and Africa. The 8 million populated nation is bound in the west by the Mediterranean Sea, in the east by Jordan, in the north by Lebanon and Syria and in the south by the Red Sea. The rest of the nation in the southwest is bound by Egypt.
Between Tel Aviv, a highly modern metropolis and Jerusalem, one of the most ancient and holiest cities in history, Israel is filled with so many differences, all adding to the attraction of the nation bustling with natural beauty, ancient culture, unbeatable history, and amazing people.
For tourists on holiday seeking excitement and relaxation, Israel offers breathtaking views of astonishing stone houses, churches and historical sites. The people are so friendly on both the Israeli and Palestine parts of the country with restaurants competing to spoil you with local foods like falafel or sabich, hummus or shakshuka or the Arabic basbousa. For pilgrims seeking spiritual renewal, the Holy Land, Israel, is a place to experience a personal encounter with God as you walk through biblical places and engage in prayer from historical spots where God had manifested His power and presence in the past.
I will share with you 12 reasons you should embark on a pilgrimage to Israel.
1. Your faith shall be challenged
If you think you stand strong in faith, wait till you experience attack from the people of the Book –the Jews and Moslems who share same origin with Christianity. The population of Christians in Israel is less than 3% of the entire nation. An average Jew believes Jesus Christ was not the Messiah. The Jews think Christians are ignoramus when you claim Jesus Christ was the long awaited Messiah. They are still waiting for Messiahs to come, 2000 years after Jesus came! They think Christians are religious fanatics by believing in Jesus Christ who performed miracles by evil powers. Muslims in the Holy hand think you are nuts when you claim Jesus Christ is the son of God for to them, God never had a son. You need faith more than ever to keep what you believe as Christian before you stepped your feet to the Holy Land. What an irony that a Land that inspires such great faith in pilgrims from all over the world exhibits a great level of unbelief in the same Source of faith. More than ever, you will understand more why religion remains the worse enemy of "faith in God" and why fanatic spiritual authorities could have ganged up against Jesus Christ and crucified Him.
2. Bible shall become alive to you
As you walk the historical cities of Israel, experiencing historical facts that proved the truth and reality of biblical stories, you will begin to experience the pages of the Bible coming alive in you. As you swim or get baptised in River Jordan, eat St. Peter’s fish at the Sea of Galilee , and walk along Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus walked on the day of His crucifixion, your faith suddenly comes fully alive. For me, it just felt like the Lord took me by the hand and walked alongside with me, showing me the paths he trekked to Golgotha to atone with His life for my life. Experiencing His pain and passion while walking among His people on the paths He once walked reassured me of His timeless presence, power and provisions. He was, still is and is to come.
Only in Israel can you stand where Prophet Elijah stood 3000 years ago to slaughter prophets of Baal. Only in Israel can you stand in the same place the angel spoke to Mary about the conception of Jesus Christ, two 2000 year ago. Only in Israel can you baptise and be baptised in River Jordan where John the Baptist and Jesus Christ met for baptism 2000 years ago.
Only in Israel can you still sail the same Sea of Galilee where Jesus Christ and Peter walked on water in faith. Though my group did not walk on water but we danced so excitedly with the heartbeat of faith that embraces the timelessness of God. We even took a cable car to the steeply Mountain of Temptation and looked down the breathtaking valleys where Satan asked Jesus to jump down. As I looked down that steeply valley, I felt my belly wobble and in that moment felt the past and present mixed together causing me to experience the timelessness of Jesus victory over Satan. There and then, time mysteriously loses its impact momentarily as past and present mixed together and Bible stories became a palpable reality.
3. You will see many "fulfilled" biblical prophesies
The pilgrimage to the Holy Places in Israel evokes presence of God. Suddenly, you will get awaken to the fact that you are walking on the Promised Land God gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You will see how the Old Testament kissed the New Testament and how the past embraces the present, preparing a smooth transition into the prophesied future. You can even imagine how it would be when we pass out of the body into the eternity. You suddenly become part of the story as you understand the present from the eyes of history and easily visit the future from the eyes of the present. Since the present confirms the past. It is easier to see how the prophesies that are yet to be fulfilled can easily be fulfilled by the same God in the future.
Israel is a miracle - a small geographical location, flourishing amidst many bigger Islamic nations - a practical demonstration and manifestation of God’s power.
Who could have imagined that possibility? We see that the Jews being gathered from the North, the South, the East and the West; from every nation to which they had been dispersed. First by ship and then by planes; and assisted by the Gentiles; all just as the Bible foretold. Suddenly you see the truth of God’s words in prophesies reigning over fact and logic of the day. What men doubted many years back have been proven to be truth, and confirmed by the Bible.
4. You will see continuity in God’s progressive dealing with mankind
Israel exhibits continuity in God’s relationship with mankind from the time of old till the present day. King David was born in Bethlehem where Jesus was later born, and he established his capital where Jesus was later crucified.
It is the same spot where Hezekiah built a water system in Isaiah’s day that was renamed the pool of Siloam, where Jesus later healed the blind man.
It is the same River Jordan, through which Joshua took the children of Israel from Egypt towards Canaan-the Promised Land that John the Baptist baptised Jesus Christ. It was in the same River Jordan that I, Like John the Baptist, baptised people and like Jesus Christ, was baptised.
Suddenly the walls between Old Testament and New Testament, past and present, Geography and History, collapse and blend together in a timelessness that makes you feel you are caught up with eternity for a moment. Suddenly, nothing else matters. Not who you are or where you come from or what you have accomplished in life. In the dance of oneness between life and the Source of life, histories and personalities melt away and nothing seems to matter more than God and His plan and purpose for mankind as one united entity. You just feel you have always been part of God’s existence and creation, and it this ever evolving story, man documents as history.
5. You will understand God’s faithfulness for a fact
One thing will stand tall in your mind through your journey through the Holy land and that will be the supremacy of God over all His creatures. Holy Land, for me, confirms the past and the present dealing of God with His people.
As you move from one historical site to another, it becomes so real that God is a covenant keeping God and that every word uttered by the Almighty God will surely come to pass. It is just a matter of time. Everything God promised some thousands of years ago has been fulfilled.
It is worthy to take note that most of the facts we see now were doubted by those who heard the prophecies thousand years back then. They thought those were impossible tasks to accomplish.
I personally come to the conclusion that man only doubts God because we often misunderstand His timelessness and eternal nature. We misunderstand His supremacy over time for time delay or inability. God is not under pressure to perform any of His promises or prophesy at any time. He is the all-knowing and all powerful God who makes all things perfect in His own time.
He has no one he is afraid of or that He needs to impress. It is our responsibility and it is in our own interest to be faithful in the pursuits of God and His promises.
6. You will enjoy unique spiritual experience
After the third time of visiting the Holy land, I begin to see many historical sites as clearly unique. At the Mount of Precipice where Jesus fled from the crowd wanting to throw him down for claiming to be anointed by God (Luke 4:16-30), you can gaze down at the amazing areas surrounding Nazareth. At the Church of Annunciation where Angel Gabriel met Virgin Mary (John 1:14; Luke 1:26), you can see straight to the nearby building workshop hosting St. Joseph Church, built on the remains of Joseph's workshop . I stood in St. Joseph Church looking 200 meters away at the house of Mary. Seeing how small the village was, you can understand while Bible translators mistook Joseph’s building construction profession for carpentry. Then builders needed knowledge of carpentry and other household skills to practice their profession.
In Jerusalem, the holiest city in the world for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, you can easily have touch of religion and history mixed together in your experience. As you stand in Mount Olive, looking down at the Temple Mount, you can feel Jesus pain as he predicted the fall of Jerusalem which happened few years after his crucifixion. We went down the road Jesus took to enter the city as a king on Palm Sunday and arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane where He was later arrested. We also visited the chapel of Dominus Flevit, the Chapel of Peter Noster, the church of Agony and the Church of St. Anne. From there we followed the Via Dolorosa path that Jesus took to his crucifixion. That path took us through the spot of Jesus trial, presided over by Pontus Pilate, and to the Golgotha Hill, where he was crucified, buried and resurrected. From there we also visited Mount Zion and the Temple Mount. At the Western Wall (the Wailing Wall), one can feel the awesome presence of God amidst people from all nations praying non-stop to God. It is easier , in that faith charged atmosphere, to have a personal encounter with the Lord. As you follow the footsteps of Jesus on the Journey called Via Dolorosa, you begin to experience His suffering and His pain. Suddenly His words come alive and His pains and passion rang so real. Later that day, at the remnants of the “Pool of Bethesda”, excavated under the remains of two temples built over it, we were reminded of the display of the healing power of Jesus on the same spot 2000 years earlier.
Your Christian experience can never be the same after visiting Israel.
There is only one nation like that in the world with all those sacred places .
7. You will have time for sober reflection and meditation
In your Israel pilgrimage, you will have time to think, reflect and meditate all you have learnt in your walk of faith over the years. You will have more time to reflect on your faith and spiritual path as you read the Bible, meditate, pray and reflect over many issues of faith in particular and life in general. While these exercises can also be conducted in quiet areas around your local community without physically travelling, they become easier and offer more profound impacts as you visit important biblical and historical locations that evokes stronger feeling of beliefs and faith. Like other goals we pursue purposefully, a pilgrimage helps a pilgrim to experience deeper intimacy with God, search out truths on many issues of faith and find meaning of life in general. As my group followed the streets Jesus Christ carried his cross on the day of his crucifixion (along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem), we all had sober reflection of His pain and passion and got enveloped in the deep sufferings that He went through to secure salvation for humans .
8. You will understand the need for forgiveness (to cross from hatred to love)
It is a miracle of the 21st century how Israel and Palestine can co-exist peacefully, remembering that they maintain about 4000 years of enmity that existed between descendants of Ishmael and Jacob, both sons of the patriarch Abraham. The continuous animosity teaches that hatred has no end and that revenging a cause can never give birth to any lasting solution. Only love and forgiveness can bring unity among people and that was the essence of Jesus mission on earth. He came to reconcile man to God and teach love among mankind (John 3.16). The ongoing rancour in the Holy Land is a proof that the spirit of revenge has eaten deep into the hearts of God’s people, like cancer, and only God can bring permanent solution at His own time. The recent history has thought us that no human institution is capable of resolving the crisis. The 50-day war between Israel and her Arab neighbours brought great losses on both sides with more than 4,000 rockets and mortar shells successfully fired inside Israel from Jordan alone.
Over 2,200 Palestinians and 70 Israelis were lost in the Israel-Gaza conflict.
While years of peace have followed since then, it is not yet uhuru. The struggle continues!
Israel still continues to face the threat of Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south.
9. You will understand the Kingdom Principle of "the mustard seed"
Every monstrous edifice or city or thing you see in the Holy Land first started as a mere promise of God to a man called Abram. That man was living frustrated in his father’s house with his wife at the age of seventy-five. His misery became a mysterious supernatural experience that every man on earth begins to covet, when he came in contact with God.
My Pilgrimage to Israel proved more to me that God is in love with process. God of purpose is a God of process and time. He always permits fullness of time to reveal His plans and purpose.
The nation God promised to Abraham was delivered to his descendants over 4000 years ago.
God had truly built a nation out of a man called Abram. One man among them shall be a nation!
During the reigns of David and Solomon, the Israelites possessed the Promised Land as far as the boundaries defined in Genesis 15:18–21 (2 Sam 8:1–14; 1 Kings 4:21; 9:20–21).
Some Theologians have claimed that King Solomon’s reign did not only fulfil the promise of conquest of the Promised Land, but also demonstrated God’s faithfulness to His promise of abundance to Abraham. Under King Solomon, Israel’s life was a utopia of peace, safety, prosperity and joy.
God is never late to perform His promises. He is never in a hurry to break any of his principles. My pilgrimage through Israel merges the Old and New Testament together in my mind as I begin to see so many things happening in the same city through different dispensation of time.
Since history is His stories, you see everything working and blending together to fulfil God’s purpose and pronouncement no matter how long it takes.
You see the journey starting in the Bible progressively extending to reach you and beyond.
10. You shall wax stronger in faith
After an initial attack on your faith at close interaction with the citizens of the Promised Land, Israel, your practical encounter with the Lord in the Holy Land environment shall provoke you to new awareness of life in Christ. God’s faithful fulfilment of His promises in the past will also convince you of His everlasting faithfulness and it will become easier to place your trust in Him.
No matter the level of your faith, you will feel closer to God as you touch sacred objects and walk through biblical cities and historical places like Bethlehem, Gethsemane, Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee, ancient city of Jerusalem etc. You will not only be touching sacred objects but will also be touched by the sacredness of the place.
My pilgrimage experience confirms the reality of the existence of God. As you walk through many fulfilled prophesies that came to pass thousands of years after they were given, your faith in God’s word will become very strong. Every wave of doubt about the historical reality of Jesus existence and God’s promise for Israel will be lifted. The reality of the "confirmed truths" in the sacred places will offers you stronger faith to withstand the stronghold of religion and doubts scattered every here and there across the Holy Land.
11. You will understand the vanity of materialism
Nothing seems permanent in this part of existence. No one is a permanent resident of the earth. We are all foreign aliens going through pilgrimage on earth.
Once very rich temples, monasteries, palace, mansions now laid in waste.
Once great and mighty men laid buried in dust while some of them even have their remnants exposed for public exhibition in containers. Both the kings and their subjects and slaves all lied in death, equal. None of them left this earth with any of the worldly wealth they amassed.
Every one left the world the way he or she came. No matter what you think you have amassed together as wealth, status, fame or positions of power, the same end awaits all mankind- death. As we moved though excavated grave of one great man to another, you see that the end of materialism is vanity. All things held in high and great esteem in this world will all end once in vanity (Psalm 62:9-10; Eccl. 1:1-2; Eccl. 2:1,15,21; Eccl.4:4; Eccl.5:10; Eccl.6:2; Eccl. 11.8-10.) 12. Your life as a pilgrimage will become clear
Every Christian is a spiritual pilgrim on earth.
Just like a normal pilgrim, you do not know the trials and afflictions awaiting you in your journey. You just follow where your Lord leads you by faith.
The Christian Pilgrim is often misunderstood and maltreated in the world. In a sense we are “unknown” in the world. Our citizenship is in Heaven. This is why we feel like a stranger at times. Our interest is over there. We spend this life preparing for another life at home. We live to return home. Just as some people lived before us, we shall also once leave here once. In the present dispensation, no man is meant to be permanent resident of the earth but only resident aliens (James 4:4; John 17:14-16.) As it was before, now it is and so shall be forever.
Life is a pilgrimage. Problem is some live as if they are tourists, busy gathering everything, stopping everywhere to acquire what they will not need in the near future. We all have a way of spending time gathering garbage of life, heaping up extra luggage of nothing at the expense of eternity and everlasting spiritual wealth. Sometimes, it takes a spiritual pilgrimage to transform yourself and your views of life so that you can invest more on what is eternal than what is just temporary. The scripture, “Seek you first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness … (Matt 6:33)” will surely take new shape in your heart as the entire pilgrimage opens you up to new dimensions of revelation that you are just a pilgrim, momentarily passing through this earth.
Your focus should be not to miss your eternal destination when your pilgrimage ends on earth.
Enjoy Your Pilgrimage
Israel was God’s redemptive theatre for human salvation. The Jewish people have carried a calling that no other people on the face of the earth carries; as the vessel of God's redemptive plan. To meet Israelis face to face and speak to them is often the highlight of a Christian's trip to Israel. To thread through the same land Jesus walked and touched what he touched and connect to His purpose and pronouncement through places he was is a great privilege for any Christian alive to experience. The physical pilgrimage is meant to coincide with an inner spiritual journey that reflects the concept of life itself as a pilgrimage towards heaven. A pilgrimage is a sacred journey in which God is encountered through the places, situations and people a pilgrim meets.
Taking part in a pilgrimage offers more than just spiritual benefits. It enriches the mind as well as the soul, by seeing how other people live and appreciating their cultures and history.
Most importantly, the pilgrimage experience can insure your eternity. One day we will all come to the end of our journey, with all of its hardships and sufferings, and walk into eternity.
Those who have chosen to have Jesus Christ with them on this journey with be escorted into a place where there will be no more tears. A place where there will be rest from our journey.
I pray that no amount of joy or sorrow, pains or progress that you enjoy on your earth pilgrimage will deny you the blessing awaiting you in the presence of your Heavenly father.
But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. 1 Cor.2:9 (KJV.)