At the end of my first year of University this past May, I was given the opportunity to go on a 10-day trip to Israel with my school through a company called Passages. This company takes Christian University leaders to Israel and shows them the origin of our Faith.
I got to experience so much and become family with my fellow students and I am so blessed to be able to go. In this blog post, I am going to share what I learned about the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and myself.
Before the trip began I set some expectations for what I would experience. I was excited to see 3,000-year-old ruins and I was excited to see places I had only read about in the Bible. But the biggest expectation that I set for this trip was that I would feel God’s presence in a way that I have never felt before. I had expected to walk into the holy sights and tangibly feel the presence of God.
I mean, why wouldn’t I?!
I was about to experience the Upper Room, the place of the last supper and the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. I was about to stand on the Mount of Olives, the place where Jesus ascended into Heaven.
I was about to walk in the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus prayed before he was taken away to be crucified.
I was about to walk around the Temple Mount and feel the almost 2500-year-old foundations of the Temple. The temple which for hundreds of years, was the sole place of dwelling of the Lord’s presence.
I was about to visit all the sights Jesus performed miracles around Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee. The same Sea of Galilee that he and Peter walked on, the same Sea of Galilee where he calmed the storm.
I was going to the land where Jesus lived, walked, breathed, died, and then rose again. I guess I could justify having such high expectations going into this trip. I was getting antsy with anticipation of the thick and overwhelming presence of the Lord.
However, it became obvious by the second day that what I was going to experience on this trip was much different than what I had been hoping for.
My second full day in Israel was incredible! On this day we followed the exact same journey that Jesus took toward the cross! We began the day by standing on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the old city of Jerusalem, We walked through the Garden of Gethsemane. Afterward, we walk through the Lions Gate, referred to in the Bible as the sheep’s gate. This is the same gate Jesus walked through on a donkey on Palm Sunday.
We then walked through the Pools of Bethesda, where Jesus healed a man who had been lame for 38 years.
We then walked the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus took while the cross before finally being crucified. We visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the church that is in the place traditionally held as the location of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Our day ended with us partaking in communion while overlooking the old city of Jerusalem. Now, how ridiculous is that?! It still feels so surreal saying it today.
I am going to be very honest with you right now… while it was ridiculously cool to walk through all these amazing and important locations, by the end of the second day… I was disappointed. Disappointed that while I was in such “holy places” and such important landmarks of Christianity and of the Gospel message, I didn’t walk into a thick and viscous atmosphere of holiness.
Disappointed that I didn’t feel an immense wave of goosebumps the moment I entered these amazing Biblical sights. Disappointed that every site was crowded with tourists. Disappointed it didn’t look like how I thought it would. Now to be fair… by the third day, I had a revelation that the Biblical places that I was visiting may look slightly different today than they would have 2,000 and 3,000 years ago… that was a slight oversight on my part.
What is my point?!
I would encourage every Christian to visit Israel at least once in their life. Am I saying that you will not experience God while in The Holy Land? Absolutely not! My problem was that I put God in a box. I basically said, “Okay Holy Spirit, I am in a Holy site, speak to me now.” I set an expectation that I would feel and hear God in one way, through these holy sites. I limited the ways that I would hear the Holy Spirit to the physical sights that I was visiting.
The thing is… God’s presence is not restricted to temples and places built by us, nor is it restricted to bodies of water He walked on, or even to the 2,000-year-old rocks that point towards His existence. Because of Christ Jesus, His Spirit resides in the hearts and minds of every single one of us.
I have to give credit to one of my trip leaders for putting this thought together for me. But come on how true is this!
Acts 17:24, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.”
Before this trip even began I unintentionally put the Holy Spirit in a box and was disappointed that I didn’t experience His presence in the way I wanted!
How naive could I have been?! But what a minute… Don’t I put a tiny little box around God all the time?
The sole way I expected God to speak to me negatively affected how I approached and experienced the Biblical locations the first couple of days.
Now fast forward to Day seven of the trip and to the place where we spent three nights on the Sea of Galilee. One of my friends and I were sitting on the shore talking about our experience thus far and what was going through our heads the past couple of days. I am so grateful for this time because it helped me realize that I wasn’t the only one who set expectations that were let down during our time in Jerusalem. After talking we prayed that God would speak to us in His way and His timing. Two days later, Acts 17:24 and everything I had been thinking about and praying for came into fruition.
Day nine was my favourite because on that day we toured around the sea of Galilee, stopping at places where Jesus performed some of His many miracles. We began the day in Capernaum, Peter’s home city and the city where Jesus said “Come, follow me and I shall make you fishers of people.”
We then traveled to the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus probably delivered his famous, “Sermon on the Mount.”
Afterwards we stopped on the shores of Tabgha which is the beach that Jesus appeared to His disciples on after his resurrection. The beach where Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him three times.
After Tabgha we took a boat across the Sea to Tiberias and then to the Jordan river where four students were baptized. Afterward, we drove to our last stop of the day, the city of Magdala, the city where Mary Magdalene was from.
The ruins of the ancient city were cool and all… but it wasn’t until we walked into the church and began singing that I realized what it was that God was trying to teach me…
God’s presence is not restricted to temples and places built by us, nor is it restricted to bodies of water He walked on, or even to the 2000-year-old rocks that point towards His existence. Because of Christ Jesus, His Spirit resides in the hearts and minds of every single one of us.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.”
2 Corinthians 6:16, “For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.'”
We, the children of the Creator of the Heavens and the earth, are the temple, in which His Spirit dwells. We don’t need the temple to speak to God or to hear from God, we have direct access through Jesus.
This brings me to one of my favourite moments on the trip. On our first day in Jerusalem, we explored the Jewish section of the Old City, After walking through the Tunnels of Hezekiah, we followed an old sewer tunnel from the Pools of Siloam right up to the Temple Mount, and we exited right into a marketplace outside the temple.
Our tour guide said that this was probably the marketplace where Jesus flipped the merchant’s tables!
Mark 11: 15-17, “Upon reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’?But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”
Now whether or not this was the exact place that Jesus flipped tables, does not matter. Because what this story represents to me is so much greater than the actual act and location of flipping the tables.
Jesus flipped a lot of things on its head during his ministry. He took 613 mosaic laws and completed them with two commandments, love the Lord your God and love your neighbour as yourself. He extended His family from a select few to everyone who calls Him their Saviour. He taught me that If I want to be a great leader I must first be a servant of all. He taught me that I need to love everyone because we are all equally created as the children of God.
Going to the temple mount and the western wall reminded me that Jesus offers each and every one of us a relationship and not a religion. His love for me and you is not dependent on how good or bad we are but solely on his unending grace and mercy. With his death and resurrection, he brought forth a new covenant which says that we can come to him as we are, broken, bruised, dirty and that he has made us new again. We, the children of God, are the temple in which His Spirit dwells.
Romans 8:11, “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”
To recap what my trip to Israel taught me about the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and myself…
- I learned that I cannot put the Spirit of God in a box and expect him to move in my life.
- I need to trust in His plan and trust that He knows and provides exactly what I need at exactly the right time.
- I learned that I need to flip some tables, and shift my life as a Child of the living God from fulfilling a checklist of do’s and don’ts to a continual act of love towards God and towards His children.
- I learned that because of Jesus, I am made new, and made clean and that the same spirit that rose Jesus from the grave lives inside of me
- And I learned that Spirit is not restricted to temples and places built by us, nor is it restricted to bodies of water He walked on, or even to the 2,000-year-old rocks that point towards His existence. Because of Christ Jesus, His Spirit resides in the hearts and minds of each of us.
Thank you Passages Israel and Trinity Western University for such an amazing trip for our son to experience. Quinton is returning to TWU this fall to continue his 2nd year in their Political Science program. Over the summer he’s the Special Needs Director at InterVarsity Pioneer Camp Ontario near Huntsville.