How Going to Israel Strengthened My Faith
For many Christians, touring and studying in the land of Israel is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For me, it became a calling that began with an invitation to study in the Jewish state in 2001. The invitation changed my life, my ministry, and my understanding of Scripture.
That first trip to Israel came after many years of formal theological training and time spent as a pastor, preacher, and teacher. I always knew Israel was important for biblical and historical reasons. But I didn’t understand how visiting the land would strengthen my faith, deepen my confidence in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and transform the pages of the Bible from black and white to living color.
During the trip, I took a bus from Jerusalem to the desert oasis of En Gedi, where David hid from a crazed King Saul, cutting off the corner of Saul’s robe and then regretting it, “seeing he is the anointed of the LORD” (1 Sam. 24:1–7).
As we made our way across the Judean desert, someone suddenly yelled, “Driver, stop the bus!” The driver pulled over and we all piled out. At first, I didn’t realize why we had stopped. Then it hit me. The entire desert hillside was lushly carpeted with a variety of beautiful, fragrant wildflowers that covered the barren landscape like a magnificent, royal robe. With Bible in hand, our guide read aloud Isaiah 35:1: “The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.”
God had spoken, and what He said was coming to pass before my eyes. Truly, it was a moment of faith-building awe that God always keeps His promises.
After returning to Jerusalem, we made our way north of the Old City to Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb. For many Christians, this site is the highlight of the tour. As we entered the Garden Tomb, a hushed quiet came over all of us. We could sense the sacredness associated with our Lord’s crucifixion; and a reverent, calming peace filled us.
The guide reminded us that no one really knows the exact place where Jesus’ body had lain lifeless for three days, but we do know this place represents the fact that the tomb where He was laid is empty. Jesus is not there. He has risen from the dead!
The moment I entered the empty tomb, the words of the apostle Paul washed over me: “I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, . . . that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1, 4). At that moment, I knew my faith was anchored on a historical reality; and that affirmation by sight solidified what I already believed by faith.
Since that first trip so many years ago, I have returned to Israel many times to lead tours, teach, study, and pray. Going to Israel is like going home. Soon the day will come when Jesus returns; and those of us who know Him shall all make it to the Holy Land as we join Him there, to rule and reign with Him forever.