Opendoor Outreach

Connecting the Church to it's Jewish roots

Israel Tour 2012

It seems hard to put into words what a trip to Israel means, hence the delay in attempting to try! For first time visitors, perhaps the wonderment of walking where Jesus did. For second time visitors, the perhaps opportunity to be re-acquainted with a friend. For repeat visitors, perhaps the desire to share this land with others and lead a tour there! Maybe this is the reason George and Grace did just that, but feel free to ask them at the next meeting in April!

On the one hand, Israel competes as one of many countries you could chose to visit on holiday. And it does offer wonderful glimpses into an ancient past through the skills of archeology. It can offer tasty food and wine and sunshine. But for a believer in the Jewish Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, or Yeshua Hamashiach it offers so much more. Even though many in Israel wouldn’t accept that statement as to the identity of the Jewish Messiah, it remains the country from all the earth, that God named and where He chose to dwell. Miraculously, God has recreated Israel in the same place, with the same ethnic Jewish people taking up residence and using the same language of Hebrew. So this country offers a deep heritage of God’s love and provision. It seems that the believer who comes to visit, watch, learn and pray is rewarded by a real connection with the God we proclaim as the creator of heaven and earth. A God who keeps His covenant promises and for the visitor, offers tangible evidence that their faith is not misplaced. You might even argue because you can see, feel and sense Israel we should say the same of our God. The God of Israel.

On our travels Yehuda taught us a Roman city contained an Amphitheatre; a Temple; Bath houses; a Stadium; a Basilica and had a main road, the Cardo that ran through the centre. One of the reasons we think Herod the Great chose to build up Caesarea, apart from to impress Caesar Augustus, was to provide the means to ship in materials to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem. Yehuda likes to start or end a tour at Caesarea because this is where Jew and Gentile were brought together after Peter visited Cornelius in Acts 10:24. The surviving amphitheatre is just a third of it’s original size. The surviving structure of 24 rows of 83 seats, originally had 73 rows. This was the place where Paul spoke before Governor Festus and King Agrippa in Acts 25:13-26:32.

Meggido the place of the final battle, Armageddon! The name for the battle may originate from a corruption of the Hebrew word for mountain, Har and Meggido. Tel Meggido, that you visit today is the site of many forts, built seemingly on top of one another. The forts were built to defend the Via Maris, the Way of the Sea, which ran from Egypt to Assyria and one was the main trade route. Today a motorway if being built along this route which seems to echo the prophecy in Isaiah 19:23.

Sea of Galilee the second lowest lake in the world at about 700ft below sea level, and the lowest freshwater lake, measure about 13 miles long by 8 miles wide. 25 of the 33 miracles Jesus performed took place in this region.

Capernaum became a base for Jesus after He was chased out of Nazareth. Why did He chose this place? Perhaps because it was on the Via Maris, or the Way of the Sea, passed through an this would have brought many people to Capernaum. The Via Maris was the ancient trade route linking Egypt with Syria, Anatolia and Mesopotamia. It is referenced in Mt 4:15 (quoting Is 9:1,2) “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles...” Jesus also described Himself as the “way”, “I am the way and the truth and the life” Jn 14:6. From Ps 37:23: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and He delights in his way.”

One of our undoubted highlights in the Galilee was worshiping with the congregation at Kehilat Poriya (www.kehilatporiya.org). The service on the Sabbath proved a wonderful moment to worship with some living stones, as part of the body of Messiah outside Israel joined up with a part within. I would have to say many of the tour group commented that they felt the service was a moment the Spirit communed with them in Israel, richly.

We also learnt from Yehuda how Australia contributed to the success of the Six Day War. Eli Cohen, a Jew who rose to prominence within the Syria becoming Chief Adviser to the Minister of Defence. On touring the Golan and feigning sympathy for the exposed positions of the Syrian soldiers he had eucalyptus trees planted to offer shade. However, these also marked out the Syrian forces positions to the Israeli’s who were able to pin-point their attacks. Cohen, who operated under the pseudonym Kamel Amin Thaabet, was publicly hung on 18th May 1965 after being discovered in Damascus.

On the way to Jerusalem from the Galilee we stopped at Yardenit, a baptismal site on the Jordan river. Natalie, George and James stepped into the water to re-affirm their love of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and to dedicate their lives to His service. They took the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the same Jordan river where nearly 2,000 years earlier, at some point on it’s length Jesus did the same.
Mt 3:13-15 “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him.”

We next came to Beit Shean. Beit means house and Shean relates to Sun God. It was the capital of the Decapolis, Mt 4:25 “Great multitudes followed Him- from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and beyond the Jordan.” Decapolis meaning Ten cities. It was re-built by Pompei in 63 BC, after the Romans conquered the region. The site however has evidence of settlement from Egyptian times including Sety I and the perhaps more famous Rameses II (reigned approximately 1290 BC-1224 BC). From a Christian perspective however, it’s the Hippodrome that tells a bloody tale. For here it is believed around 13,000 early believers were fed to the lions.

Bethlehem, the birthplace of Yeshua. 1 Chron 2:51-54 gives us the first reference to this place. “Salma the father of Bethlehem,.......the sons of Salma were Bethlehem, the Netophathites....” The story of Ruth starts here in Bethlehem: “Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges rule, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons.” (Ruth 1:1) We went to visit two places. The House of Hope (http://www.houseofhopemd.org/), a school run for the blind and disabled where we heard the most beautiful rendition of “Light of the world you stepped down into darkness” performed by one of the pupils. I’m sure there were only a few dry eyes afterwards. George and Grace had visited the same place twenty years before. We bought some gifts afterwards made from olive wood. We then went to the Chuch of the Nativity, the oldest church in the Middle-East. The church was protected by the Persians in 640AD after they entered and saw figures dressed like themselves on paintings hanging on the walls. These must have been Magi figures who arrived to herald Yeshua’s birth. We queued up to see the spot that is supposed to represent the birthplace of Jesus. Whether or not it was, it was great to see and to be standing in the city where we learn Jesus was born.

As we travelled by bus, Yehuda mentioned how the Sanhedrin at the time of Jesus was dominated by Sadducees, with Pharisees making up the minority. Yehuda told us there were two Pharisees and seventy Sadducees. Whilst I’ve not been able to find the source for this, we are introduced to two Pharisees belonging to the Sanhedrin by name in the gospels. Nicodemus is mentioned three times in John’s gospel and introduced as a “ruler of the Jews” who “came to Jesus by night” (Jn 3:1,2). He asks some key questions such as “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (Jn 3:4). On quizzing Jesus “How can these things be?” (Jn 3:9) Jesus reveals the prominence Nicodemus held in the nation by replying “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” In this dialogue Jesus foretells of his death and it’s significance for those who believe in Him saying “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” This same Nicodemus spoke in Jesus defence after the rulers said “Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him? (Jn 7:48), saying “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” (Jn 7:51). The other was Joseph of Arimathea, described in Mark 15:43 as “a prominent council member” and as “being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews” (Jn 19:38). Joseph, of course, asked Pilate for Jesus’ body for burial and was joined by Nicodemus. “And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.” (Jn 19:39) It’s perhaps surprising to see these prominent Pharisees, members of the Council, in this more sympathetic light with respect to who they thought Jesus was.

Back in Jerusalem, about eight of us tackled the flooded version of Hezekiah’s tunnel emerging near the pool of Siloam. It was a tight squeeze at times and required a torch but the water wasn’t too deep. Only on one or two occasions did it rise above the knee. Perhaps the most ominous looking section was the way in, which took a couple of casualties from the line of those planning to walk it’s 1,748 feet length. It’s believed that Hezekiah had the tunnel constructed circa 701BC to remove a weak spot in Jerusalem’s defences. Previously, the city’s water supply, the Gihon spring, lay outside the city walls and was thus liable to blocking off by an invading army. It’s construction was believed to be somewhat rushed as
the King of Assyria, Sennacherib (reigned 705-681BC) was thought to be preparing to lay siege to Jerusalem. “And when Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come, and that his purpose was to make war against Jerusalem, he consulted with his leaders and commanders to stop the water from the springs which were outside the city; and they helped him.” (2 Chron 32:2-3).

For Grace, the highlight of a visit to Jerusalem is often the Garden Tomb (http://www.gardentomb.org/). The site is exciting for many believers simply because it could be the garden of Joseph of Arimethea, and therefore if it were, the place where Jesus was burried. Of course, the message the volunteers at the tomb want to give you, is that the tomb is empty because our Lord is alive! The Garden Tomb (Jerusalem) Association owns and preserves the site as Christian holy site, and their charitable trust is based in the UK. After a tour of the garden lead by one of the many talented and passionate volunteers, groups get to enter a genuine tomb. There are certain suggestions that it could be a candidate for the garden of Jesus’ burial, such it’s position near a busy thoroughfare, outside the city walls and near a city gate. The burial chamber is also situated on the right hand side of the entrance. However, the Trust is quick to point out it doesn’t operate a policy of claiming the site to definitively be THE site. But certainly there appears some evidence that offers itself up for consideration. After the tour, the groups can sit and enjoy communion together. Much worship can be heard as other groups praise God, share scripture, experiences of their trip and testimony. Our visit was no different.

Outside Jerusalem, we enjoyed the novel experience of floating in the Dead Sea and saw the site of Masada and Qumran. The drive down to the bottom of the Dead Sea and the site of Masada offers a wonderful first view of the Dead Sea. From the road you can see a white edge to the shoreline, no doubt salt. It’s quite spectacular scenery with step mountain ranges that drop down to the Dead Sea. The landscape could quite accurately be described as wilderness. It is very dry in appearance. The mountain ranges are somewhat disceptive when one remembers sea level must be up amongst them! At 1,388 ft (423m) below sea level the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth and is apparently 1,237 ft (377m) deep. The level of the Dead Sea below sea level sits in contrast to nearby Jerusalem at approximately 2,500ft above sea level. It’s the world’s largest hypersaline lake and it’s salt content is 33.7%, so don’t get any in your eye! It also explains why you can float. At Masada, we learned how the during the siege that formed a later part of the First Jewish-Roman War (66-73 AD), the Jews taking refuge in the ancient fortress decided to commit mass suicide rather than face being taken by the Romans and their 10th Legion. Despite Masada’s advantages of being a raised plateau, with cliffs 1,300ft high on the east and 300ft high on the west and with plenty of dried food provisions it failed to prove impregnable to the Romans. The Romans moved thousands of tonnes of stones and earth and built up an effective ramp to breach the compound. Yehuda says the reason the Jewish population didn’t attack those building this earth/stone ramp was it was believed the Romans recruited surviving Jewish family relatives for the task.

On the return journey we passed En Gedi, where David sought refuge from King Saul (1 Sam 23:29). Next stop was Qumran, and what was believed to have been an Essene community that lived here between 250BC and 68AD. Fragments from 900 different scrolls were discovered in the various caves in the area. The initial discovery had been made by a pair of bedouin tribesman in the winter of 1947. Muhammad Abu-Dieb and his friend were searching for a lost sheep when they threw a stone into the cave where the first discovery was made (picture at the top). They initially thought the leather would be good for making shoes! They took the scrolls to a shoe maker in Bethlehem, who happened to also be an antiques dealer. He however, prevented the scrolls being turned into shoes! The first sale of the scrolls took place between the bedouin and the Syrian Christian church, to which the shoemaker belonged for $100! The Metropolitan, as the Head of this church was called, showed them to scholars who believed them to be ancient. On 29th November 1947, the day the UN voted in favour of a Jewish state, the scholar Prof Sukenik from the Hebrew University In Jerusalem bought two scrolls: the Thanksgiving Psalms and the Book of War.

On the evening of Friday 23rd March, Yehuda lead us in a Shabbat meal. We can all remember singing “Shabbat shalom, shabbat shalom, shabbat, shabbat, shabbat, shabbat shalom”. Yehuda told us how the mothers would light candles in the house at the start of shabbat. You also have two glasses of wine and two shabbat breads. The lights represent the fact that there’s a light (God) and to emphasise the difference between darkness and light. In the Messianic context, the light represents Yeshua who is the light of the world and of our life. “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Svat perhaps?) “Let you light so shine before men, that they may se your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:14 &16) “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” (Jn 12:46). Yehuda told us, as we light the candle we set tonight apart from every other night. We are commanded to be the light of the world. We then read Hebrews 4:6-10:

“Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.”

Yehuda then led us in an explanation of how the wine represents the joy we have in the risen Lord. His prayer for the wine began “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe who creates the fruit of the vine...”
“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (Jn 15:10)

We were then told how there is 1 cup for Shabbat unlike the Passover where there are four cups. The four Passover cups stand for Sanctification; Judgement or Deliverance; Redemption and Praise or Restoration. Yehuda reminds us that when we go up to heaven, we will join in the Lord to celebrate the best supper at the “marriage supper of the lamb” (Rev 19:9).

“Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” (Gen 2:3)

“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: “Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.” (Ex 31:12-14 but section on Sabbath through 18)

Yehuda again pointed out that there were two breads. In John 6, the whole chapter relates to bread, firstly, in Jesus’ provision of it to the 5,000 men, and then we he goes on to declare “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and He who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (Jn 6:35)

The Shabbat celebration ends with the reading of Prov 31:10-31 “Who can find a virtuous wife?” (Prov 31:10) All the children reply “Abba has!” Then the blessing for the children is read and the singing of Shabbat Shalom!

I suppose the last thing I wanted to write about was the Messianic book shop near Jaffa gate. We had a group photo taken there which is shown above. I had the most amazing conversations with the messianic staff working there. I felt in my Spirit that this was a strategic location and a significant ministry. Whilst none of the staff claimed there was a flood of orthodox Jewish people coming to faith in the Jewish messiah, there were many encouraging stories. The personal testimonies of the staff sent tingles in my spirit. Especially how the Lord spoke through the scripture Isaiah 53, with a personal visitation in one case. I was amazed to learn how the Lord provided an opportunity to debate with a Rabbi responsible for counter-evangelism who turned out to hold a very senior position over a large number of Orthodox Jews and even recommended certain books that might set the case for the Messiah out slightly better!

Israel is such a wonderful place. Perhaps so wonderful that you only realise quite how wonderful when you’ve returned home. Shalom.