As the season of Lent approaches, I have been thinking back to my trip to Israel last summer.
One cannot visit the Holy Land without feeling a tremendous sense of awe. Everywhere you look, there is Biblical history coming to life right before your eyes. Archaeologists are digging all over the region. They are unearthing amazing treasures and civilizations that have buried beneath centuries of sand and silt. It is fascinating!
One of my favorite places in Israel was a relatively new archaeological site on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. During a construction project in 2009, a 1st century synagogue was discovered in Magdala — the hometown of Mary Magdalene.
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. — Matthew 4:23
Inside the synagogue archaeologists also found what some say is the most significant discovery in 50 years. The Magdala Stone is the earliest known artistic depiction of the Second Temple, which also bears the oldest carved image of the seven-branched menorah. There are additional carvings on this stone that may help archaeologists learn more about the Second Temple period.
Although the mid-morning temperature was approaching 90 degrees, I was covered in goosebumps. I thought to myself, “Jesus once stood in this very synagogue!” My dust-covered sneakers were standing on holy ground.
I would have lingered there all day if I could, but there were many more sights to see. But this was the first of many places in Israel where I felt the presence of my Savior.
On our second full day in Israel, we took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.
I cannot explain how that felt as I thought . . .
Jesus walked on this water.
He calmed its raging waves.
He walked along its shoreline.
As I touched the Western Wall, I felt his presence again. And again when standing on the Mount of Olives. And in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Now I am thousands of miles away from those beautiful places, but I feel Jesus’ presence more often. I’m sure he has always been by my side, but now I feel it deeply.
A New Theme
In my post-Israel life, I just completed my PraiseMoves re-certification. I’ll be leading a 6-week Lenten series that begins tomorrow. I’ve decided to focus on John 3:16-17. There is no other scripture or theme that captures the Easter story, or sums up Jesus’ mission on earth.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. – John 3:16-17
We don’t need to visit the Holy Land or stand in the Magdala synagogue to know how Jesus lived.
We need only to read his words, share his stories, and live out his teachings to feel his presence each day.