Capernaum. Bethlehem. Jerusalem.
We know the names of these towns and cities and so many more because of the role they played in the biblical story. As Christians, we are particularly drawn to the places where Jesus and His disciples lived and ministered two millennia ago. We look at the maps and study the background as a way of better understanding the context in which those biblical events took place.
I always have wanted to travel to the Holy Land and see the places about which I had read for so many years; but until I actually made the trip a few weeks ago, I had no idea what a difference it would make in my perspective on Scripture. Things to which I never had given much thought suddenly jumped out and claimed my attention. Relationships between sites that hadn’t stood out now offered additional insight into the events of Jesus’ life. It was as if a picture I’d seen in black and white suddenly appeared in color.
I’m not saying that a trip to Israel is essential to preaching or understanding Scripture. I am saying, however, that being in the places where Scripture came to life will give you a new perspective and new insights. As persons called to proclaim God’s Word, we seek to know all we can about that Word.
How will a trip to Israel enhance your preaching?
It will give you a new sense of the setting of Scripture.
I’m one of those people who believes in the Bible from Genesis to maps! We’ve all spent time looking at those maps in the back of our study Bibles; and when we become preachers, we learn to consult the Bible atlas to get a grasp of the setting of a biblical event. Actually traveling from place to place in the Holy Land, one gains a new perspective of the remarkable places where God established His people and sent His Son.
As Americans, we are used to traveling long distances. The entire nation of Israel, however, is only slightly larger than the state of New Jersey. Driving around the Sea of Galilee, for example, you begin to realize what a small area it was in which the bulk of Jesus’ ministry took place. The fishing villages along the shoreline—home to many of the disciples—were not far apart from one another, and Capernaum was only about 20 miles from Nazareth.
The more we know about the text, the better prepared we are to preach and teach its truths; understanding the setting of the biblical stories is a wonderful way to enhance our knowledge of the rich truths of Scripture.
It will give you new insights into the events of Scripture.
Here’s an example: One of the things that surprised several of the folks in our group was the ubiquity of rocks around Israel. If you weren’t in the desert, then wherever you looked seemed to be covered with rocks. No wonder the people of this land built their houses, roads, fences and everything else with rock. They were readily available!
That also offers a bit of insight as to why rocks and stones were such commonly used metaphors. When Jesus talked about throwing good seed on rocky soil, He likely only had to point to the nearby hill to make His point. When Jesus observed that if His followers failed to praise Him, “the stones will cry out” (
Once you have walked the paths where Jesus walked, your preaching is likely to change.
It will give you a new experience of the truth of Scripture.
For me, it was at the Garden Tomb. We were there in early January. Only days before, I received word that my mother, age 90, had gone to be with the Lord. While that call was not unexpected, it did give the remainder of the trip a different flavor.
We sat at the lovely Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, close to the likely site of Golgotha—just a few feet away from what could have been the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, where they laid Jesus after His crucifixion. There, thinking about the death of my mom, who loved the Lord and taught His Word for many years, I could not help but think about the assurance we have by the death and resurrection of Christ. Because He lives, we need have no fear of death.
Could I have sensed that assurance anywhere else? Of course, but there in the shadow of the cross and the empty tomb, it was a powerful experience and a gift of God’s Holy Spirit to my life.
For others in our group, the experience came at different places; but almost without exception, members of our group—preachers and laypersons—testified to the life-changing experience of being in this place.
I hope you will have the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land to experience the difference it can make in your life and your preaching.