On Sunday I returned home from my first tour of Israel. And today I stumbled across an article from the Christian Science Monitor that was written just a week before we left. The following paragraph is from that story.
Officials in Israel say that out of about 2 million people who will realize their dream of visiting the Holy Land this year, more than half will be Christian. And among those, more than half will be Evangelical. With that in mind, the Israeli ministry of tourism has gone public with a plan to build – in partnership primarily with American Evangelical churches – a sprawling Holy Land Christian Center on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee, home to some of the most notable chapters in Jesus’ ministry. The center, to be built on approximately 125 acres that the Israeli government is offering free of cost, would be a Christian theme park and visitors’ center, one that would be particularly attractive to Evangelicals and other Christians who want to spend more time in the places where Jesus walked. Christian Science Monitor, November 10, 20
I understand the strategy. I suppose it is a good idea from a business and tourism point of view. But something about this concept troubles me. If I go to Orlando I expect theme parks and “attractions”. When I go to Israel I want to see the land of Abraham and David and Jesus and Paul.
I am sure the planners want the park to be tasteful. But the descriptions of potential accoutrement’s include an online broadcast center, which would give religious leaders an opportunity to address their followers back home, live, near the tranquil blue waters of the Sea of Galilee. Here is where my gift of cynicism flares up (I am still trying to find that listed among the spiritual gifts). Can you imagine the potential for over the top pride in this dangerous concept? The idea of clouds of hair spray and caked on makeup to impress the followers back home is a bit unstable to me. And shouldn’t the only reason to go on this journey be as followers of Jesus? I respect many Christian leaders and teachers. I follow Jesus. That was a lesson learned the hard way.
I reflected on just a handful of my experiences in Israel.
- Reliving the incredible story of Masada and realizing that David might have camped in this very place.
- The sobering sight of Megiddo…the Biblical location of Armageddon.
- Riding a boat onto the Sea of Galilee and imagining Jesus calming the waves.
- Standing on the Mount of Beatitudes and hearing the most amazing sermon in history read.
- Walking on pavement that Jesus had very likely walked on Himself.
- Looking at Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives and reading the words of Jesus describing the destruction of the temple.
- Standing at the Pool of Siloam and recalling the man who had been crippled for 38 years being healed by a command from Jesus.
- Marveling at 2000 year old olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane that may have been there when Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss.
- Seeing a young family from our group being baptized in the Jordan River.
- Walking through Caesarea Phillipi and recalling the amazing exchange between Peter and Jesus.
When Jesus arrived in the villages of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “What are people saying about who the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some think he is John the Baptizer, some say Elijah, some Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.” He pressed them, “And how about you? Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter said, “You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16 – The Message
Being in the place where such exchanges took place was overwhelming. I imagined myself being asked that question by Jesus. How have I answered what is perhaps the most important question I will ever be asked?
How have you answered that question?
For years I have believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and the Son of the Living God. But there was something about standing in the spot where Jesus spoke to Peter that made scripture come alive in a way that is indescribable.
Perhaps the Holy Land Christian Center will have an incredible ministry in the lives of those who visit.
But it is hard to imagine that this holy place needs any help.