May 1998 – If I could grant wishes to my fellow Christians, for every one who wanted to go, I would pay for a trip to Israel – the Holy Land. But because I’m doing good to make my own house and car payments, unfortunately I will not be able to grant that wish.
In March, 38 other Americans – all supporters of American Family Association – and I made the 11-day pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Although this was my fourth trip to Israel, still, I get chills when I stand on the sight thought to be the place where Jesus delivered the Beatitudes along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world to me. Serene. Quite. Peaceful. To both the soul and the eye.
Now, I get as much satisfaction from seeing the reaction of pilgrims experiencing such sights as the Jordan River, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Garden Tomb (thought to be the actual burial place of Christ) for the first time, as I do for myself. These are places we have read about and been told stories about our whole lives. To be able to touch, smell, see and feel these places is almost indescribable. Many times during our tour I heard folks say things like, “I can’t believe I’m actually here.” Most of the time with tears or a good deal of emotion in their voices.
I mentioned the GardenTomb. This is a beautiful place in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem. It is maintained by a group of British Christians. There you can view the hillside which may in fact be Calvary – the place of the skull. One can see what looks like a human skull indented in the side of the hill. And then visitors can walk down a few yards and see the tomb where it is believed Jesus was laid to rest after His crucifixion. And the place where He rose from the dead. As I walked down toward the tomb there was a group of brothers and sisters from Japan holding a Communion service. They were singing “Because He Lives” in Japanese. I can’t speak their language, but I knew the tune. Not too far from them was another group of mostly African-Americans. One of the leaders – no doubt a pastor – was delivering a message in the way that only a black brother can. I had noticed other groups from Poland, South Africa, Australia, and Canada also having the Lord’s Supper in the garden. What a glorious sight to behold, I thought. The singing. The praying. The happiness. The love. The devotion to the One who had made it possible for man to commune with Almighty God. Here I listened to people from around the world who have little or nothing in common but the fact that they believe the gospel message. They were worshiping my Jesus. How awesome the thought that the same Jesus who lives in the heart of this Mississippian, also sets free the captive who lives somewhere in Japan.
We also visited what is almost certain to be the place of the birth of Christ in the town of Bethlehem, just a few miles south of Jerusalem. As many of you know, our home offices are located in Tupelo, Mississippi, birthplace of Elvis Presley, the King of Rock & Roll. Thousands of people from around the world come here each year, most having already visited Graceland in Memphis, to see the tiny house where Elvis was born. Some of them cry upon arrival. Maybe it takes them back to a time and place in their lives they want to relive. I don’t rightly understand Elvis worship. To some people, sadly, Tupelo is like Bethlehem. Whatever you think of Elvis, the fact is he is a dead man. But Jesus Christ is alive! He lives! And because He lives, you and I can live forever, with Him, in heaven when we die. And like Elvis, we too will die someday.
Well, after many biblical sights and emotional moments, we Americans headed home. I must tell you, we had one doozie of a time getting home, and, if you are a regular reader of this column, you know I am not the kind of man who throws the word “doozie” around lightly. (I’ll save our trip home for another story. Let’s just say it started with a freak Jerusalem snowstorm and got more “interesting” from there.)
But we are here to tell you, brothers and sisters, that Nazareth is a real place. Fishermen still take their boats out on the Sea of Galilee. You can still be baptized in the Jordan River. Jericho’s walls really did fall down. The marketplace still thrives in Old Jerusalem. Young shepherd boys still roam the fields keeping watch of their sheep, and the best news of all is the tomb – well – it’s still empty.
I could go on and on and on. As could anyone who’s had the great privilege of visiting the land that Jesus walked and made his earthly home. But let me just end with this: Jesus lives, the Bible’s true and God still loves you.
Editors note: Tim will be leading another group to the Holy Land in March of 1999. If you would like to receive information about the trip please write him at P.O. Drawer 2440, Tupelo, MS 38803 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org