Published Oct. 31, 2016 at Northern Seminary’s Blog
In June 2016 I had the pleasure of traveling to Jerusalem University College (JUC) with four students from Northern Seminary. For all of us it was the experience of a lifetime!
Although I have studied the Bible academically for fifteen years, this was my first trip to Israel. It didn’t disappoint! For too many Christians the Bible is simply words on a page and its key people simply characters in a story. While certainly the Bible does present a story with characters, it is easy for Christians to forget that the Bible reflects real people, events, and places. Visiting Israel brings all this to life.
The geographical space of the biblical story is not incidental. The “promised land” is one of the most important themes of the Old Testament. God gave Israel this land for a particular purpose: to establish a people that would be a light to the nations. He revealed himself to Israel and sought to make himself known to other nations through them. For this mission the land was strategically located at the crossroads of the world, situated between continents and the major empires of the ancient world.
God dwelled among his people in this land, first in the tabernacle and later in the Jerusalem Temple. For this reason, Jerusalem—or Zion, Yahweh’s chosen city—is a unique place in the world. It was surreal to spend time in the old city of Jerusalem, particularly the area of the Western Wall and Temple Mount. It is here where Solomon prayed that if a “foreigner … comes from a distant land and prays toward this temple,” God would “hear from heaven … so that all the peoples of the earth may know [his] name and fear [him], as do [his] people Israel” (1 Kings 8:41-43). Not only was Jerusalem the city of David and the later kings of ancient Israel, but this was also where the Messiah Jesus spent the last week of his life. He entered the city lauded as Israel’s king, was crucified and buried outside the city walls, and rose on the third day.
Jerusalem University College couldn’t be better located for visiting the biblical sites. Located right outside the current city walls of Jerusalem (but within the walls during King Hezekiah’s time!) students live a stone’s throw away from Jerusalem’s most historic sites, including the likely location of the Upper Room. Additionally, because Israel is such a small country, our group could get from Jerusalem to most other biblical sites within an hour or two. The highlights for me were Bethlehem, Bethel, Shiloh, Shechem, Jericho, the Dead Sea and the caves of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the area of Galilee including Nazareth.
This is the land from which the knowledge of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ originated and went out to the whole world. So while Christians live in every part of the world, we cannot lose sight of the importance of this land for Christian faith. Visiting these biblical sites has grounded my faith in the concrete realities of God’s mission in the world, and I pray that many Northern Seminary students have the same opportunity in the future.