Our first stop today is Caesarea Maritima or Caesarea â€śBy-the-Seaâ€ť. This was the sea port city built by Herod the Great in honor of his friend and benefactor, Augustus Caesar. This was the major port in the time of Jesus and was where the Roman garrison was headquartered in the land of Israel. The restoration here is truly impressive; you can really get a sense of the magnificence of this port city.
Avi, our guide, spent some time detailing the layout of this city. He told us that the construction took about 12 years to complete and included a number of complex structures such as a hippodrome for chariot racing, a great seaport, light house, and the great amphitheater that we had the opportunity to explore.
This was also the site of one of Herodâ€™s palaces.This was indeed a palace by every definition. It even had a large freshwater pool-right on the shore of the Mediterranean- now thatâ€™s luxury!
This cityâ€™s water supply was fed by an aqueduct that carried water from the mountains of Carmel some 9 miles away. We paused in the great amphitheater to learn a bit more about the biblical significance of this place. Pastor Mark shared the story of St. Peterâ€™s encounter with the Roman centurion Cornelius. (Reading from Acts10:34-48)
34 Then Peter began to speak: â€śI now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preachedâ€” 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
Â 39 â€śWe are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosenâ€”by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.â€ť
Â 44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues[b] and praising God.Â Then Peter said, 47 â€śSurely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.â€ť 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
Pastor Mark continued:
Â â€śThis is the place where the racial barriers came down, for those first few years the gospel was proclaimed only to the Jews; now gentiles are officially part of the faith. The two are coming together in the kingdom of God. It is fitting we begin our tour here, because this is where the bible records the baptizing of the first gentile believers, and this is a place of embarkation – from here the gospel would travel out into the world. And today, centuries later in what I believe is the fullness of time, we return in pilgrimage to the land where our faith was born. Today we can see evidence of those missionary journeys as we meet believers from all over the world who are here singing, praising God, and worshiping Jesus in every tongue.â€ť
The other significant biblical reference to this place involves the apostle Paul who was imprisoned here before being sent to Rome. He was brought before Agrippa the Roman prefect at that time. When Paul stood before Agrippa and the people in this amphitheater he simply shared his personal testimony of faith leading Agrippa to say that today he was almost compelled to be a Christian.
This experience reminded us to be willing to stand in defense of the gospel, to share our testimony about God’s faithfulness in our own lives.
After leaving Cesarean “By the Sea” we head up the northern costal plane of Israel also known as the plane of Sharon. We are on our way to the mountains of Carmel. We went to the Carmelite Monastery that marks the spot where Elijah fought the prophets of Baal. The monastery has a rooftop overlook of the Jezreel Valley. As we looked down into this beautiful valley, Pastor Mark shared that we were seeing proof of the truthfulness of Godâ€™s written Word.
â€śThe beautiful valley below is the greatest food-producing real estate, per square foot, in the entire world.Â At about the turn of the century, it was a malaria-infested marshland.Â Now, you can see for yourself what a miracle of restoration has taken place, all in accord with biblical prophecy.Â The prophet Ezekiel said that in the last days people would say that the land of Israel had become like the Garden of Eden and it has indeed.â€ť
â€śThe desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it. (Ezekiel 36: 34)
They will say, “This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited.” (Ezekiel 36: 35)
We move from our rooftop to a small garden where we recount the story of Elijah, which comes from Chapter 1of Kings in the Old Testament. Elijah is perhaps the most venerated of all the prophets. He was called by God to engage Ahab,King of Israel, his wicked wife Jezebel, and the ruling elite of that day, the priests of Baal.
He publicly challenged their power and authority at the risk of his own life.Â It is Elijah who carries out God’s command in what became the most famous contest in history. A contest between the pagan god Baal and that of Yahweh – the true God of Israel.
1 Kings 18:36-39
Elijah stepped forward and prayed: â€śLORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.â€ť
â€śAnswer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.â€ť
Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, â€śThe LORDâ€”he is God! The LORDâ€”he is God!â€ť
Pastor Mark summarized the Biblical story drawing modern day parallels.
â€śAre we not unlike the nation of Israel under King Ahab, is the ruling elite not unlike the prophets of Baal? As a nation are we seeing our founding principles and many of our closely held values being disregarded? As believes do we not find ourselves against the popular culture? So like in the days of Elijah, we too have a decision to make. Follow God or follow the way of the world? You canâ€™t ride in the middle; you can’t remain silent like the people of Israel on this mountain with Elijah. God wants authentic believers who will stand for the truth.â€ť
Jesus expressed it this way: â€śI know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarmâ€”neither hot nor coldâ€”I am about to spit you out of my mouth. Revelation 3:15-16 (NIV)
Joshua said it like this â€“
â€śBut if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.â€ťÂ Â Â Joshua 24:15 (NIV)
From Har Karmel we head down the Jezreel Valley to ancient city of Megiddo.Â This was once a series of fortress cities that were part of an outer defense for Jerusalem.
Megiddo reached its peak under King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. He rebuilt it as a royal city, administering the northern part of the kingdom. In an edict recorded in 1 Kingâ€™s 9:15, Solomon commands that three fortress cities be fortified. They are Megiddo, Hatzor, and Gezer.
Evidence of Solomonâ€™s edict can be found in the gate way to the city of Megiddo.Â A six chambered gate matches the time period of Solomonâ€™s reign and precisely matches the construction of the gates found at Hatzor and Gezer.
This is another example of the accuracy of the written word of scripture. Throughout Israel, the Bible archaeology underscores the veracity of the Bible and the Jewish claim upon the land.
“Now this is the way King Solomon conscripted the Labor Corps to build the house of the Lord, his house, the Millo, the wall of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer”Â 1 Kings 9:15Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
At Megiddo we saw where the stables were and the exercise grounds for the horses of Solomonâ€™s army.
“And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen”.Â 1 Kings 4:26
The Tel of Megiddo overlooks the valley of Jezreel (meaning El sows or God sows). This valley has seen more climatic battles than anywhere else on earth. And according to prophecy it will again sometime in the future.
â€śThey will gather at Megiddo.â€ť
This is an incredible site. Pastor Mark points out that we do not know the time of these future events or how they will play out but we know the place. Today this hill top waits for that final great battle between good and evil. We stop to read the account from John the beloved, the author of the Revelation.
From our hill top we look back and see Mount Carmel, we also see Nazareth â€“ we would never have this perspective unless we came here to see it with our own eyes- this is a place God speaks to our hearts! We read form Revelation 19: 11-16 an image- the scene when Jesus steps out of eternity with the armies of the heaven.
â€śI saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns.Â He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. â€śHe will rule them with an iron scepter.â€ť a He treads the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
King of kings and Lord of lords.”
From Megiddo we head back to our hotel in Tel Aviv. Perhaps for a walk on the beach or a dip in the Mediterranean. Our hotel offers a great view, comfortable accommodations and really, really great food!
Mark reminds us that that food comes from the Jezreel Valley and that we are actually eating the evidence of prophecy fulfilled.