Who doesn’t want to go to Israel? I love the historic significance that many towns and regions hold within this great nation. However, in the last four days, something has been irritating me. A feeling has been lingering pervasively in my heart. There is nothing overwhelmingly spiritual about this land. I know it’s called the “holy land,” but there’s not much that is intrinsically holy about it.
Israel is the geographic shrine not only for ardent Christians but also for Islam, Judaism, Baha’ism, and a few other religions. Yesterday, as I journeyed through the cities of Galilee and saw enormous temple-like churches erected over many archeological sites, I truly sensed no pervading presence of God.
Why do I say this? Because if you come to Israel, with hopes of having your faith inspired or revived, you’ll most likely leave with a little disappointment. What will also happen is that you will probably miss the most beautiful and spiritual significance of this nation. Thousands, possibly millions of Christian tourists will come to Israel and completely miss the one thing that Jesus valued the most about this land- the Arabic and Jewish people. Ironically, here in the birthplace of the Christian faith, over 7.5 million people awake every morning and progress through their schedule without hearing the message of God’s salvation. They work in the coffee shops, the tourist sights, the stores, and buses. They escort millions of Christian tour groups all over their land and then they nightly close their eyes with no viable witness of the gospel presented to them. Jesus was a Jew who came to this land to open the door of relationship to God for these cities and we can do no less.
There are millions of Arabic and Jewish people who are eternally lost in this land. Amidst the whirlwinds of political tensions, they live ignorant of the hope that Jesus came to extend to them. If Israel reclaims the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, does this mean a single person will come to know Jesus? We cannot so easily be deceived. This nation of Israel needs Jesus and we, as the church, should make it a priority to send missionaries here to support and strengthen local churches.
A couple of years ago I was talking with my good friend Dr. Joe Worley. He mentioned the name of a pastor he knew in the city of Haifa: Pastor Yousef Dakwar. This week I had the honor of spending time with Pastor Yousef and his beautiful family. His church is impacting a community for Jesus. Over the past three days his facility has been packed to capacity with Arabic believers who are hungry for a move of God’s Spirit. God has raised up leaders like him and his wife Christine to bring the hope of the gospel to this land. As I listened last night to the stories of their sufferings in building the ministry, I was touched by the joy and hope that they carry.
It is the people of Israel for whom Jesus came. It is those very people, I feel, we greatly neglect if we come to this land and prioritize its history over its great need for the Savior. People are the “pearls of great price” that God so avidly pursues. When we forget this, we can easily idolize temporal things like buildings and relics and lose sight of the eternal souls. Matt 23:44-46