“Who do you say that I am?”, The Rabbi asked Peter this question in Matthew 16 and continues asking us today. Some simply called him ‘Teacher’ or Rabbi because He clearly positioned himself at the beginning of His ministry time as a Jewish rabbi. He had a following of young students, taught in open forums and synagogues as His ministry began. From His first teaching around the Galilee region, to His final questioning before the Sanhedrin leadership council, they asked the same question of Him – “what kindof Rabbi are you?” As a Rabbi, he was confusing to people, and it’s easy to see why many didn’t understand. His teachings were new, they added to The Law, they explained The Law, and His teachings completed The Law.
The first time I visited Israel I was filming for a teaching series on the life of Christ from the angle of what people of Christ’s day really knew about the greatest Rabbi ever, as He stood before them and taught.
Once a person learns about the death and ultimate resurrection of Christ, it gets hard to rewind the tape and listen to the words of Jesus apart from that knowledge. I was on a journey to try and hear His teaching like the first audience. Like you perhaps, I have read and heard the Bible my whole life, and I was really ready for a physical journey to a special place, the Holy Land, where the Rabbi walked. People are still on journeys today to seek the Rabbi and sit under His teaching. This is some reminiscing and teaching from one of my adventures to this land. I invite you to join Jen and me as we prepare for another trip to Israel from November 10-19, 2019.
We had a small, agile crew, with a tight schedule darting between the tourist buses and regular citizen transports. We had an ambitious filming schedule, and I was self-producing the trip, so my binder was full of specialized filming permits that required us to adhere to prompt regulations.
The first few days played out about the same at every stop. We would arrive at a traditional, historical site. I would long for each one to be just like it was when Jesus walked there but, naturally, 2000 years later these sites are now beautifully manicured, and somewhat commercialized. Regardless, that didn’t deter our anticipation of discovery.
Don’t worry; the gritty version is there. You just have to beat the streets and look a few layers deeper. We were on a quest for the most bonafide experience. Everyone wants to experience the most authentic journey possible when walking in the Promise Land. The more reliable the facts are surrounding a specific site, the more popular it becomes. This is because everyone is naturally drawn to the most genuine Jesus experience. I don’t want to see jet skis on the sea of Galilee! I’m squinting, trying to block out anything that might not fit in my perception of what a day in the life of Jesus was like. We didn’t want to re-create our own mind’s version of what the most original landscape was. Our film team would leave the classic site and find an offbeat location to get a shot that pulled us back into the time that Jesus walked the earth.
The tourist industry in Israel is organized and managed strictly by the government in a way that my American experience wouldn’t understand until I saw the beauty of it in action. Our top-notch and credentialed guide explained that not just anyone can walk people around and explain the sacred history. He was most proud of the National Tree Planting Movement. Israel is crazy about planting trees everywhere and all the time.
We were driving down from Mount Carmel where Elijah fought the prophets of Baal. There were so many new trees planted in the last 15 years I felt like I was in the foothills of Colorado with evergreens outlining the hills. The landscape is changing in the country. You could feel the optimism and sheer determination of these people to reshape their land.
I sank deep down in my seat and thought about the terrain of the valley from the Galilee in the north to the Dead Sea 65 miles to the south. I remembered the time before Sodom was destroyed and Abraham let Lot choose the region that is now most like the Dead Sea. “How many days it would take me to hike from Galilee to the same hill that Lot looked out over as he chose this better land, I thought. I pictured a landscape full of furry animals and freshwater sources more fruitful than any untapped paradise I could imagine. We coasted down Mt Carmel. The van shifted its weight back and forth over the mountain’s descending switchbacks. Thought about how the land would look again as those trees continued to grow. The sunset over the trees. Most of them had been planted since the formation of modern-day Israel in post-World War 2 days.
There are people from all around the world coming to the most incredible piece of real estate in the world. The Brazilian groups seemed to be the only people smart enough to have their leader carry a flag so everyone in the group could easily re-assemble after bathroom and gift shop breaks. It sounds so normal; gift shops, bathroom breaks, and then you realize you are standing next to the most interesting archaeological sites in the world.
This is the place that God promised to the sons of Abraham. This is the most strategically placed country, not only in the days of the Old Testament; but the same is true even to this day. Israel is a land bridge between three continents: Africa, Asia, and Europe. Every empire eventually had to fight and win this connecting stretch of land between cultures and people. Rome conquered and held it during the time of Christ. The Ottoman Empire fought and won it for a season. Even Napoleon would march through on his way to Egypt. All of this history buzzed by right outside our windows as the van sped in and around traffic. Every dinner conversation we looked for new words to express our discovery that: “Truly, this is the center of our entire physical, literary and artistic world.” Watching out the window the irony set in. We were searching for links to an ancient world that rejected the Son of God, and all of our world’s advancement in technology, understanding, and knowledge would come to this place and wonder what a single day was like when the Rabbi came to town.
The favorite treat stop by far is a coffee bar called Aroma. Aroma is a chain of coffee shops found all over Israel. They have a coffee flavored slushy-shake like drink that is on the ‘must have’ list. Three cups a day was the average in our van!
This chain of coffee shops, which has branched out to the US now, is plentiful in Israel and perfect to cool off after a hike back to the transport bus. After one Aroma stop our group was waiting for the last people to climb in and I thought out loud for all of us, “The world that Christ walked was just right here, not the asphalt at this specific Aroma coffee shop & gas station, it looks circa 1982, but perhaps over that hill on the other side of the road. Perhaps they walked that way one day to cut through to a village, and nobody else has since then. It makes so much sense that God would send His son to this place in the center of His world . . . the Rabbi came here.” Like an unspoken but mutually understood rule was agreed to, we spent lots of time quietly looking out the window between shoots daydreaming about what history we walked upon at every spot we stopped to film. It wasn’t the history we were told about that had us peering through the windows, but the endless possibly stories we didn’t know about but trekked right on top of. John 21 reminds us that, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”
I found myself re-playing a song by the late great Rich Mullins called ‘Boy like you Man like me.’ One line says, “I grew up around Indiana, He grew up in the Galilee.” They regularly talk about how you have to dig down in many places to get to the part of the earth that was actually there 2,000 years ago. One can’t help but wonder if a single grain of sand or water drop hadn’t circulated through the clouds and storms from the shores of the Galilee to Lake Monroe, Indiana.
You lose track of days when you fly halfway around the world. We rented a boat, rented a camel, rented a garden (THE GARDEN – as in Elvis ‘I come to garden alone’ kind of Garden at Gethsemane” and had permits to shoot in the most important sites in Israel.
It was hectic. Every day feels like the best VBS you could ever imagine. As we lost track of the days, Sunday came as a surprise! Of course, we should go to church while in the Promise Land! We found a Jewish Messianic church through some local friends and made plans to attend. This worship experience caught me by surprise. I was ready for a special moment walking around the Galilee or when we first entered the gates of Jerusalem. Getting ready for church that day almost felt like a pause on the adventure part of the trip. We go to church all the time. It felt more normal than anything we had done in the past six days. The moment prepared for me wasn’t one I had anticipated. Worship began, and a picture of the larger single church was overwhelming due to the number of projectors it took to put four different languages on multiple screens. We had Hebrew, Russian, English, and Aramaic. There was a nineteen-year-old boy in the band dressed in military dress. All Israeli citizens are required to serve. They have requirements for uniforms and keeping their weapon readily accessible. Needless to say, we were not in Kansas anymore.
A fleeting memory came back to me of another specific culture shock moment. I hadn’t thought about my boyhood move to Colorado in quite some time. We moved from a predominantly urban mixed culture of black and white middle-class families to a much larger Latino populated city. I remember the first time I saw a boy’s name in my grade spelled out Jesús. Again, I hadn’t grown up around Latino culture or language very much. I was struck at the normalcy of how many young boys had a derivative of the name of what I thought was Jesus. The name Josh wasn’t weird in my 8-year-old experience. The name Jesus, for a young boy my age, was new to me, however. I was used to friends having the names of popular Bible people but never Jesus. It struck me as odd for a brief moment, and I never thought of it again. I had forgotten about this momentarily, to me, curious abnormality. The peculiar-ness of names and the identity we tie them to was for a small second representative of a larger idea I wasn’t ready for. Like my 8-year-old friends, Jesus at one time had been eight years old too. His name was a neighborhood kid name of a real person at one specific point in time. That boyhood of memory mine came rushing back to me in an instant looking at the screens. All the languages. All the names of Jesus. Everyone crying out in their own heart language to the name of Jesus.
Now at the age of eight, I wasn’t aware of the linguistic derivative of the name Joshua coming from the Hebrew Yeshua. Nor was I aware that Joshua translated from Hebrew into Greek, in which the New Testament was written, the name Yeshua becomes Iēsous. The English spelling for Iēsous is “Jesus.” This means Joshua and Jesus are the same names. One name is translated from Hebrew into English, the other from Greek into English.
In an instant, a fuller realization of the humanity that Christ ‘put on’ came upon me. Hebrews 2:14-18 explains, “He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason, he had to be made like them,fully human in every way, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”
We all have a name in our native tongue that we attribute to the Son of God. What was more impactful in that room of worshipers was the thought of what my personal Jesus was called by those who followed him, for those who sat as He taught on those very hills our van drove on, that exact name Yeshua. The idea that Yeshua is what his dearest friends may have called him made my awareness of His human experience in some way more stirring in that moment. Singing a song to Yeshua in the land that He lived in turned into a very poignant experience.
Every song that talked about the power or value of His name was instantly lovelier. Every song or scripture that flooded into my memory about His obedience to take on my form was more effectual. Snapshots of Jesus crying over His dead friend Lazarus, begging Peter to stay awake and pray with Him in the garden, asking the disciples if they too would leave Him ran like a new movie that I was familiar with, but all of a sudden was watching again for the first time with more profound understanding.
You don’t have to fly to Israel to have an epic adventure seeking the Rabbi. GCC experiences life with the Rabbi in our fellowship, breaking of bread and devotion to the scriptures through all of our activities. You are invited to join us! The Rabbi was way more than just a teacher. He is the ultimate master teacher. He is not evasive. The Rabbi can’t be found under a rock in the country of Israel.
I did learn more about Him and understood many things on a deeper level from my visits to Israel. I do love to take people there to experience the very pulpit that Jesus himself taught from in the new Magdala dig. Jesus said somewhere around 2,000 words in the New Testament revealing Himself perfectly to us. If you want to really know the Rabbi, He isn’t hiding! If you would like to get your boots dirty and join Jen & I on an epic adventure, then we invite you to sign up for our November 10-19, 2019 Israel Trip. We will be seeking the most authentic experience possible . . . and Aroma coffee stops!