Planning next year’s vacation? Are you considering a theme park? An all-inclusive resort? The Alps? Maybe a Caribbean beach?
Certainly not a tiny country in the Middle East; it’s too dangerous, right? My fellow Christians, I urge you to set aside your fears, questions and skiing ambitions as I offer you 18 reasons to choose Israel as your next travel destination.
1: The food
Fresh pitas slathered in amazing hummus or dipped in eggplant topped with succulent beef. Juicy watermelon paired with feta cheese. Fresh figs, dates and pomegranates. Fresh everything.
2: Biblical geography comes alive
After visiting Israel, you can visualize why the Bible talks about going “up” to Jerusalem, even though Jerusalem is in the south. When you read the word “Capernaum,” you can actually picture where it is on a map and what it looks like. David’s description of his soul and body thirsting for God in a “parched” land become suddenly more impressive. Experience all this and more in the Holy Land!
3: Random encounters with Jesus
Of course, Jesus meets us wherever we are in the world. But in Israel – especially Jerusalem – it’s easy to stumble into reminders of him. You turn a corner and run into a sign or building commemorating an aspect of Christ’s life and are suddenly called to a moment of worship. You pass a church, stop in for a look, and are slammed with the fact that this may be the spot where Jesus actually, literally, died for you. Jesus saw these vistas, ate produce of this ground, and got this dust upon his feet. You can walk where incarnate God walked, and he still meets us there today.
4: The beauty
In its own rugged way, this desert country is intensely beautiful. The word that kept coming to my mind as I saw yet another bloom of flowers was “gratuitous.” There is so much unnecessary, grace-bestowed beauty. Like Isaiah says, the desert will bloom like the rose.
5: The army
This might seem like a strange thing to say, but it is rare to visit a state with a very active army presence where the people are still living “normal” lives. It’s a unique and eye-opening experience.
6: The chance to touch the future
Sit on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem and remember that the King is coming back. Israel is not just the site of past Biblical history; it is also the home of the Biblical future.
7: The markets
Experience shopkeepers shouting out their wares in raucous Middle Eastern style, or survive the jostling of a packed throng purchasing last minute items before the Sabbath.
8: Psalm 48:12–14
“Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever.”
9: The Sabbath
Dusk falls on Friday, and stillness comes over Jerusalem. On the track where a train ran just hours before, a dad is throwing a Frisbee with his daughter. In the quiet evening, free from the hum of traffic, snatches of song drift up from family Shabbat dinners. With many shops and restaurants closed, you can be drawn to rest and trust, to be satisfied with the food and clothes you have – perhaps even reliant to some degree on the kindness of strangers. The tangible feel of Shabbat deepens the understanding of entering God’s rest (Heb. 4:10).
10: The spiritual lessons
After hiking up a desert mountain, running out of water, I can sympathize so much more with the Israelites’ panic when they found themselves in the middle of a desert without water. Yet if God rebuked them so roundly for their complaints – and if any concern was legitimate, surely theirs was – then what do we have to complain about?
11: The water
Catch a sunset or the waves in the dazzlingly blue waters of the Mediterranean. Take a dip in the Sea of Galilee (or walk across it with Jesus). Or slather yourself in Dead Sea mud before bobbing on the salt-laden water.
12: The pulse and the people
There is something special about Israel. This nation has existed for fewer than 75 years. To live here takes devotion and stamina. There is a frankness, an “in your face” personality in Israel that I don’t often see at home in Canada, with all of our many layers of politeness. In Israel, you may be offered unsolicited help, invited by strangers to dinner, or have food shared with you by the random person you just met in a park (say yes to the food; it’s delicious).
13: The museums
Wander around Israel observing artifacts from the time of King Hezekiah. Check out a model of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day and get a sense of the prominent place of the Temple. Less pleasant but still important, face the terrible realities of the Holocaust. Israel’s museums are worth the trip.
14: The pizza
I can recall eating Israeli pizza only once, but I still remember that experience. Because kosher dietary laws forbid mixing meat and dairy, Israelis have to get creative. Salmon? Sweet potato?
15: The churches
My personal favorite is Christ Church Jerusalem, where the beautiful art, architecture and liturgy weave together Hebrew and English, Jewish and Christian traditions in a fascinating and enlightening way. But I have also peeped into a Syriac church, sat through an Armenian service, walked through the famous Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and spent time in some of the more charismatic houses of prayer. Exploring so many traditions challenges us to examine our own assumptions, to consider aspects of God’s character that may not be emphasized in our tradition, and to turn our eyes to the heart of Christianity: Christ our Savior.
16: The mental workout
Israeli/Palestinian conflict? In-your-face encounters with Judaism and Islam? It would be hard to travel to Israel and still avoid asking yourself questions about peace, both physical and spiritual. The trips I have taken to the Holy Land have highlighted to me how extremely special and beautiful Christ is.
17: God’s love for this place
Consider Psalm 87. God chose to choose this people and this country as a special people and a special place for his name. He chose to put his dwelling place upon Jerusalem’s holy mountain, and he wept over this Holy City. Doesn’t that make you curious to see this place he loves?
18: Redemption’s story
It was in this place that the Word became flesh, death was defeated, history’s tragedy was turned into a comedy, and our eternal joy and unity with God was purchased. Here in this concrete place, the physical blood of Christ was spilled out to redeem the world.
The Holy Land is a place like no other. In 2018, consider visiting Israel and sharing in the joy of this land!
This article originally appeared on Philos Project, September 13, 2017, and reposted with permission.