Israel is breathtakingly beautiful. Yesterday, we spent the morning and early afternoon at the Dead Sea and awoke this morning in Tiberias, the beautiful seaport on the Sea of Galilee.
From an aesthetic point of view, Israel is a panoply of beautiful sights. One matches another in brilliance and beauty. And that the Jewish people are living once again in this land and that the ancient language of Hebrew has been revived is simply amazing.
But on another level, all of this is a mere shadow of the Substance which Messiah has brought by his coming. It is easy to get caught up in the earthly beauty of Messiah’s homeland and forget that all of this; the history of the Jewish people and the beauty of this land are just a shadow of the good things to come (Hebrews 9:1). Thank God for the shadow, but we must never become so enamored with the shadow that it obscures the Substance. For the truth is, Messiah is no longer living in an earthly land but has ascended into his glory from which He now governs the universe (Hebrews 1:3).
That explains why, when visiting each of these sites, I am reminded that these are but a shadow of the reality which has come in Messiah. Abraham, the writer of Hebrews reminds us, was not looking for an earthly city. Here is how he puts it:
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
Even while living in the land of Israel, they acknowledged they were strangers and exiles on earth. We are told Abraham was “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (11:10). No earthly land, regardless of its beauty, could suffice. Only a true homeland built by God could satisfy. Earthly beauty pales in significance compared to living in a city which God has built.
Today we will tour the earthly towns of Messiah’s Galilean campaigns; Tiberias, Capernaum, perhaps even Nazareth. I remarked to my friends that it says a lot about our Lord’s soul that he chose Galilee as his headquarters of his earthly ministry rather than the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem. The Sea of Galilee, nestled between those beautiful mountain peaks, gave him ample places to be alone with his Father while enjoying the beauty of his Father’s world. Last time I was here, my friends and I split up, each taking a mountain to spend time alone with the Father. It is not hard to imagine how Messiah prayed on these peaks while limited to his earthly body. I hope to do so again today.
But I am reminded again (perhaps for those who will never make it in this life to visit this wonderful land), that these things are a mere shadow and the Substance of Messiah Himself. Consider the places I have visited over the last six days in the light of this reality (that they were just shadows). We started in Jerusalem and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where many believed Jesus died and was resurrected. But regardless of whether or not this is the real place these events occurred, the truth is, he died for sinners and was raised for our justification. We then went to the City of David which they keep uncovering as they dig lower under the city of Jerusalem. But as glorious as David’s reign was and the victories he won, they pale in significance when compared with the matchless victory that Messiah, the Son of God accomplished.
We went to the Garden tomb and he was not there. He is risen! We went to the Garden of Gethsemane and saw those mighty olive trees, some of which, it is believed date back to our Lord’s time. But his suffering is over, and he no longer is sweating drops of blood. That precious blood prevails to once for all take away sins. We went to the Mount of Olives and saw the Eastern Gate which, according to tradition, is sealed up and can only be opened for the Messiah. And we thought of his powerful words regarding the fall of Jerusalem and his eventual appearing.
And we ended in Tiberias in Galilee (where I am writing this evening) where we started the day with a glorious boat ride across the Sea of Galilee. The boat owner was a Jewish believer, and he began leading us in spontaneous worship. We met some people from Kentucky who loved Him, and we all began spontaneously worshipping and dancing as he (the boat owner) led us. There was even a woman who was a Jewish believer who lives in Tiberias. Then we went to the Jordan River where our Lord was baptized and started his earthly ministry. It was a fitting place to end six days of intensive touring and teaching.
All of these places are wondrous to visit, and I encourage all that can to do so. But even if you can’t, get a good look at Jesus of Nazareth. According to the writer of Hebrews, He is greater than the angels, greater than Moses, greater than the land of Israel, greater than the Sabbath, greater than the Old Testament high priest, greater than the old covenant, greater than the Old Testament sacrifices, greater than the temple and its earthly sanctuary. Indeed, Jesus of Nazareth is so much better!