Well, I was “outed” yesterday. The tour guide was evidently told by someone in the group or the tour agency she represents that I was the only pastor In our group. I am not sure what her faith is yet, but I am assuming she is a Jew, because she said, “Oh, good, because I am not qualified to baptize anyone when we come to the Jordan River.” Like most groups, there are always several who would like to be baptized in the Jordan River when we get there. And, evidently, I have been “appointed” to take care of that. I told Kathy, “What an opportunity! Because I always take the time to instruct people who approach baptism for whatever reason.” This can be an unexpected teaching moment. So, please pray about it.
We were met yesterday by our Israeli guide Ruthie (pronounced Rootie) at the Jordan/Israeli border crossing on the Allenby Bridge at the Jordan River. It was really no big deal, in spite of the bad feelings these two neighbors have had over almost everything in recent years. However, we have yet to detect any bitterness or sarcastic remarks by either Egyptians, Jordanians or Israelis. I am happy about that. The one thing that all three entities agree wholeheartedly about—at least the ones we have met--is their utter disdain for anything that smacks of terrorism or intolerance. So they have all done their respective countries proud. And they have all been very informative and open about addressing any question that comes up from the tour participants, including political ones. These guides are pros when it comes to their own territories. And they are all firm believers in the integrity of Holy Scripture. We have had an Arab Muslim guide in Egypt, an Arab Catholic guide in Jordan, and now a Jewish guide in Israel, and their statements all affirm the truthfulness of Scripture. There may be various ways they will interpret a certain passage but they never question the truthfulness of the passage. In fact, our Jewish guide keeps telling us: “When you confront a Bible passage always question yourself; never question the Bible.” One of the reasons for that is that they all live here and are confronted with Biblical places and events every day. You can’t get away from that experience even if you wanted to.
Yesterday’s itinerary took us from the border crossing into Israel to Tel Aviv. On the way, we passed through Jerusalem (we will come back to Jerusalem later). It is significant to know the elevation that is involved here. Jericho, which is right near the Jordan River, is about 800 ft below sea level. And in 17 miles its road rises to 2600 ft. above sea level at Jerusalem. That is a rise of 3,400 ft. in just 17 miles. We could feel the bus engine straining all the way up that road. Why is this significant? Well, when Jesus told us the story of the Good Samaritan he started by saying, “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho…” He certainly did. 3,400 ft down. Little insights like that just help you to feel the truth of that statement that whoever is speaking in the Bible knows what he is talking about. It always has the ring of truth.
This is a very small country and every time you turn around you are confronting a biblical place. For instance, we were taken up to Mt. Carmel, where the prophet Elijah confronted the false prophets of Baal (450 of them). He challenged them to a contest on the highest point of the mountain. The text indicates just where this contest took place by the little incidental things that are in the story. And while we were up there on the mountain we could see the Kishon River where the prophet Elijah slew the false prophets and had them buried, the location of Har Megiddo (often found as Armaggedon—the place of the last conflict of God’s forces with those who oppose Him), Mt. Tabor the traditional location of the place of Jesus’ transfiguration before His disciples Peter, James and John, and many others. Like I said, how do you doubt the history of this land when every location of Bible events is all around you.
The final event of this eventful day was the trip down the hillside into Tiberius on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. This is always an emotional moment when you first see this beautiful body of fresh water as you reach the crest of the hillside above it. So much happened here during Jesus’ ministry. And just like we said earlier, you can read the gospels and picture all of those events in your mind as you look down on this body of water that has attracted so many pilgrims over the centuries.