Following an excellent hotel breakfast in Netanya, Tel Aviv, we struck out toward Caesarea. Along the way, Ori (our Jewish guide) taught us several Hebrew phrases such as please, thank you, and good morning. He also taught us how to count to ten in Hebrew, which was fun to hear recited with Texas accents.
Caesarea is both a nature and archaeological site in Israel. The roads leading toward the remains of Herod’s seaside palace and port were lined with colorful flowers and olive trees. The cool sea breeze felt wonderful as we made our way into the remains of the first century Roman amphitheater, which faces the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
We gathered on the steep stone seats and I read from Acts 10 where Peter shared his first Gospel message here in Caesarea with the Gentiles through Cornelius. “God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” (Acts 10) I love Cornelius’ intentionality to gather his family and friends to hear the Gospel!
Next to the amphitheater are the remains of Herod the Great’s palace, which is slowly being swallowed by the sea. (This Herod was responsible for the slaughter of the innocents as he sought to destroy Jesus as a child.)
We stood in the very spot where Paul made his appeal to Herod to be tried before Caesar in Rome! We walked down the hillside to marvel at Herod’s 20,000 seat Hippodrome that hosted his chariot races. Before leaving Caesarea, we dipped our toes in the Mediterranean surf.
As we left Caesarea, we passed vast banana plantations being cultivated for commercial revenue. It was surprising to see rows and rows of banana trees in the middle of the desert! We stopped to be awed by the architecture of Herod’s famous aqueducts that brought fresh water into Caesarea from 15 miles away.
From Caesarea, we made our way to Mount Carmel. Wayne taught a very thought-provoking message about Elijah and his contest with the prophets of Baal from 1 Kings 18. There is a stunning panoramic view from the top of Mount Carmel across the Jezreel Valley. We enjoyed a hearty lunch with the most incredible array of fresh, colorful vegetables before leaving Mount Carmel for Megiddo.
Megiddo is so much more than simply the future site of the biblical end times battle. Megiddo stands at the most strategic crossroads in all of Israel. Active excavations have uncovered impressive fortifications, including this stone edifice built by none other than Solomon!
As gusty winds and storm clouds gathered around us, I shared portions from the book of Revelation about the epic end times battle as we looked over the very fields where it will begin. Then we made our way down 180 steps into the cool darkness of an ancient water well that was drilled through the heart of Megiddo’s mountain to provide/protect fresh water supplies into the city in times of conflict.
From Megiddo we headed straight to the bustling city of Nazareth (Jesus’ childhood home). The Church of the Annunciation sits where it is believed that the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah. The modern façade holds beautiful carvings of Gabriel and Mary at the top with the four Gospel writers etched below.
The courtyard’s colonnade holds dozens of mosaic artwork pieces donated from various countries which depict the annunciation. The diversity and beauty of each piece took our breath away.
The Church of the Annunciation is a working church, and there was a service being conducted as we entered. Careful to be respectfully silent, we made our way down around the church, marveling at the vast painted ceiling and art pieces lining the walls (once again showing various country’s interpretations of the annunciation). The contribution from the USA here was an incredible three dimensional likeness of Mary.
We descended the steps to view the place believed to be Jesus’ childhood home with Joseph and Mary.
We made our way back to the bus to depart for our hotel on the Sea of Galilee. We passed through Cana as night closed in and saw the church on a hill where Jesus turned water to wine in his very first miracle.
We arrived at our hotel to sit down and enjoy a most scrumptious buffet together as we exchanged impressions about our eventful day. Everyone was dumbfounded at the variety and beauty of this delicious feast.
Walking some of the places today where Jesus walked and spent time as a child reaffirmed the continuity of the past into the present where Jesus still lives inside of every believer. What a beautiful pilgrimage. Thank you, God, for a truly remarkable day!