Is the Holy Land Really Holy?

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Sarah, Kezzie (on my back out of view), myself, and some random guy behind us :). We’re standing in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem (the most likely historical location of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Christ).

This is a question I have pondered for some time now, especially since recently visiting Israel. You would think that all the fighting over the Levant throughout history would make this land pretty unholy. Another way of looking at it is to say the land is fought over so often because too many mutually exclusive groups render the land so holy.

“Holy” means “sacred” or “set apart”, most often referring to the divine. My dilemma as a Christian visiting the “Holy” Land and calling it such is that I wonder if we “over-holy” these geographical locations.

Let me say up front that I do believe that the land we currently call Israel and Palestine will play some sort of special role in the unfolding of last things (eschatology). Just read the beautiful prophecy about the river of life flowing from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea in Ezekiel 47 to see what I mean.

But that does not mean I think the land should be militarily taken in order to help hasten the end times (the Crusaders tried that centuries ago and their campaigns were NOT the Church’s brightest moments in history). On the contrary, I believe that according to Jesus, we live in a time where the locality of God’s divine presence is juxtapositioned differently than the times of the Old Testament.

Here are the words of Jesus himself to the Samaritan woman in John 4:

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24 NIV).

Christians flock to the Holy Land, and have done so for centuries. I believe it is a trip well worth the time and resources. But what I get out of it is not feeling closer to God because I feel like the land gets me closer to Him. God is omnipresent, and His “temple” is no longer a bricks and mortar place on some mountain, but rather the hearts of people around the world – from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

So I do not think the land of Israel/Palestine is any more holy than Fargo, North Dakota. God is holy, and we can worship God and connect with Him anywhere and everywhere, including Israel.

What I do get out of visiting Israel as a Christian is a deeper appreciation for the historical settings of the Bible and Middle Eastern history. That in turn helps me to read the Bible in color rather than just black and white, which in turn does help me connect with God in devotion and relationship. It helps me understand the culture/faith of Judaism, which is the root of Christianity (by the way, Christianity can also be called the Jewish Messianic Movement). And it helps me better understand the various people groups who currently live in the Middle East and how they interrelate with one another.

So I would recommend visiting the land of the Bible. But don’t expect God to pop out of the earth while you’re over there. You don’t have to travel that far to find God in your life. He’s at work in your own city. Visit the land of the Bible and let it deepen your understanding of history and today, thus drawing you closer to God in that particular way.

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Jesse

Jesse Joyner travels nationwide performing a comedy juggling act for family and kids events. He is also working towards his PhD in Educational Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL). He enjoys playing the piano, bird watching, and old houses. He lives in Richmond, VA with his wife, Sarah, and their daughter, Kezzie.

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