Recently, while reading from the Gospel of Matthew, I intuitively recalled last year’s journey to Israel. It’s amazing how, more than a year later, the words of Scripture still leap off the page in a new way. As the passage drew me in, I could picture the places and imagine what it was like.
The idea that I walked in the footsteps of Jesus boggles my mind. I am glad I went. Our church is planning another tour of Israel for next year. Although we may not make the trip this time around, I decided to compile a summary post to recap our experience. Follow all of the links to read the full account. Will it inspire you to make the journey of a lifetime to the Holy Land?
On our flight to Tel Aviv, I had no idea what was in store for me or how a few days in Israel would transform my understanding of Scripture.
After landing and settling into our hotel, we waded in the Mediterranean Sea. Later, we met up with our fellow travelers and our tour guide, Mika. Exhausted from jet lag, I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow Sunday night.
As dawn broke over Tel Aviv, we repacked our bags, grabbed breakfast, and boarded our tour bus for the first time. Our first stop? Caesarea Maritima, where we toured the remains of Herod the Great’s palace along the Mediterranean Sea.
Already wiped out from the heat, we gladly boarded the bus for a drive to Mount Carmel. During the era of Israel’s kings, Elijah had met and defeated the prophets of Baal there.
In the afternoon, we drove to Nazareth. Atop Mount Precipice, we could view the countryside and Jesus’ hometown. Then we made the short drive to the Basilica of the Annunciation.
From Nazareth, we traveled east and checked in at a resort along the Sea of Galilee.
Early on Tuesday morning, we deviated from our planned itinerary for a surprise stop at the Golan Heights, which overlooks disputed land between Israel and Syria.
Proceeding north, we journeyed to one of my favorite sites—Caesarea Philippi. There, mere steps away from a pagan center of worship, the Holy Spirit had revealed to Peter that Jesus was the promised Messiah.
Turning south toward the Sea of Galilee, we headed to the Mount of the Beatitudes, the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount.
Our next tour stop—Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes—commemorated the feeding of the five thousand.
It had been a full morning. We were glad to enjoy a hearty lunch of fish at the nearby St Peter’s Restaurant, which was perched on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Our whirlwind day continued in Capernaum, Peter’s hometown. Much of Jesus’ ministry was based at this seaside city.
Stopping at a nearby museum, we learned the story of The Galilee Boat. Archaeologists recovered this authentic first-century boat from the Sea of Galilee in the 1980s.
Throughout the day, I had been eagerly anticipating the day’s final activity—sailing on the Sea of Galilee. It was worth the wait.
Leaving the Galilee area on Wednesday morning, we stopped near the mouth of the Jordan River, so members of our group could be baptized in the famous waters.
Next, we continued south to Beth She’an. This Byzantine-era city has been excavated beneath the shadow of an Old Testament-era tell.
After lunch near the Dead Sea, we turned west and drove to Jerusalem.
Atop the Mount of Olives, we got a birds-eye view of the city. Then we visited the Garden of Gethsemane.
Wednesday’s final stop was the Garden Tomb.
As the sun rose on Thursday morning, the tour bus dropped us off at the famous Western Wall. Bowing my head, I prayed silently for the people of Israel.
Next, we ventured into the Western Wall Tunnel. New discoveries are still being made underground as archaeologists excavate the area.
After exiting the tunnel, we walked a short distance to the Pool of Bethesda. Several of us sang within the adjacent St Anne’s Church. The acoustics were amazing.
Departing from that site, the contingent from our church split off from our tour group to explore the City of David on our own. Inside the city, we traversed an underground tunnel that came out near the Pool of Siloam.
Around noon, we met up with the rest of our tour group for lunch in the Jewish Quarter.
Feeling refreshed, we made our way to the traditional site of the Upper Room and looked in on King David’s Tomb.
As the day became increasingly hot and humid, we proceeded to a church built on the site of Caiaphus’ house.
Weary from our full day on foot, we were glad to relax on the air-conditioned bus and return to our hotel for dinner.
Friday was more relaxing. First, we visited an intricately-carved Giant Menorah, situated across the street from one of Israel’s main government buildings—the Knesset.
A short bus ride later, we arrived at the Israel Museum. On the grounds, we explored a scale model of Jerusalem, and inside we saw ancient Old Testament manuscripts.
At the nearby Yad Vashem Museum, we remembered the Holocaust.
Next, we drove to Bethlehem. Upon arriving, we devoured a delicious lunch then explored the Shepherd’s Field.
Afterward, we drove across town to the Church of the Nativity—the traditional site for Jesus’ birth.
While we were there, we peeked into an underground alcove where Saint Jerome penned the first Latin translation of the Bible.
On Saturday, we explored the area around the Dead Sea. Traveling along the shoreline, we glimpsed the ancient Qumran Caves and stopped briefly at En Gedi, a site where David fled from King Saul.
The morning’s main attraction was Masada, a cliffside palace and fortress that a group of Jews fled to after the fall of Jerusalem.
The Dead Sea was the final stop on our whirlwind tour of Israel. In the mineral-rich water, we were unsinkable.
Traveling to the Holy Land was an extraordinary adventure that I’ll always cherish. Like Mary pondered the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, I often reflect on our journey. I relished many of the experiences. It was fun to try new foods, witness the beautiful landscapes, and float in the Dead Sea. As with any group tour, there were a few places I would have preferred to skip.
By the time I returned home, my mind was bursting with newfound knowledge. The places I walked and my new understanding of Israel’s geography will forever influence my reading of Scripture.
Have you ever been to Israel? It not, explore the possibility of taking this trip of a lifetime. Don’t underestimate the value of seeing ancient biblical sites firsthand. Walking in the footsteps of Jesus will positively affect your faith and add to your understanding of God’s Word.
Which Journey to Israel blog post is your favorite? Please let me know in the comments below.