Reflections on Israel: Then and Now

by | May 21, 2024

Church Doctor Report

May/June 2024

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The country of Israel is front and center in the news regularly. As it is the “land of Jesus,” most of us are familiar with the context and the birthplace of the Savior.

The thoughts and reflections in this Church Doctor Report are not politically motivated or directed. Rather, with Israel in the news on a daily basis, it is a reminder that even our Savior, sinless Jesus, was birthed into a time and place where many of the religious leaders were drifting from their sacred heritage. It reflects the reality of tension and struggles this side of eternity.

A Surprise Invitation

Most of my international travels came as invitations to teach effective mission principles to pastors and church leaders. I never pursued opportunities to teach internationally. The invitations primarily came from articles I wrote for international magazines focused on effective outreach to unbelievers and the opportunity to share Christ. This material led to numerous large conferences in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Brazil, India, Belize, and the former Soviet Union. For each trip, I invited American pastors and church leaders to come along for the experience.

It was quite different when the invitation came to visit Israel. It was not to teach a conference. This invitation came from a church leader in a Lutheran megachurch in Phoenix. He explained that we would join two United States rabbis (one traditional and the other reformed). The trip was requested, and entirely funded, by the government of Israel.

Upon our arrival in Israel, we began meetings with various cabinet members of the government as well as Ehud Olmert, Israel’s prime minister at that time. We also visited with some of the military leaders and had the opportunity to see some of the biblical sites. We attended the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, and the two United States rabbis explained what was taking place.

Several years later, my friend, Dr. Bob Shriner, encouraged me to lead a group to Israel. We advertised the trip to some of the donors who support Church Doctor Ministries. I was able to take my wife, Janet. Also, since the trip was right after Christmas, our son, Jon, was able to go during his Christmas break from college.

Since this was a “tourist” trip, we were able to visit many of the sites throughout Israel as we were led by a professional guide. At the Garden Tomb, a possible location for Christ’s burial and resurrection, we celebrated communion. At one point, in the path around the garden, you can see the tall hill on which many believe the crucifixion took place. On the side of that hill is a rock structure that looks very much like the face of a skull.

We sailed on the Sea of Galilee. In the north, we visited Capernaum and the excavated remains of what very well may be the house of Peter. It includes a guest room where Jesus would have slept. Nearby is the hill where it is believed Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. We traveled south to the Dead Sea where our son, Jon, and I went for a very salty swim. We also went to the museum to look at the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. Then we went to the top of the mountain, called Masada, where some of the Jews made their last stand against the Romans. When the Romans finally made it to the top of the mountain, they discovered that all the inhabitants had committed suicide.

At the Jordan River, Pastor Bob and I wandered into the cold, January water and offered to reenact the baptism of anyone from our group. It was a special moment for me to “baptize” our son, Jon, and for him to reenact my baptism.

Beyond Israel and the Politics

At the time when Jesus walked this earth, the Romans occupied the land of Israel. Long before that, the Jews were exiled in Egypt. In more modern times, Israel settled for a “two-state solution” between the Jews and the Palestinians. Have you ever wondered: Why has the Holy Land been such a “mess”—for centuries? Perhaps it is a statement of the fall of humanity, beginning with disobedient Adam and Eve. The history of humanity is messy. We can dwell on that entirely and become greatly discouraged. Or we can focus on Jesus and His sacrificial love—which changes our lives for now and eternity.

Or you can fixate on what’s wrong with others and dig yourself into a hole of discouragement—and then look into the mirror and be reminded that no one is perfect. At that point, it is revolutionary, but appropriate, to remember: “God loved the world so much, He gave His only Son, and whoever believes in Him will not die, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). 

The Role of the Church

Your church is not a trophy of saints, but a collection of forgiven sinners, thanks to Jesus. Jesus is the Savior of people, and His Church—with all its warts and blemishes—is His army for forgiveness and new life.

After decades of helping hundreds of churches—and thousands of people—to effectively reach unbelievers for Jesus, we at Church Doctor Ministries have learned this: Your church can change this world, one person at a time, by God’s power.

Ironically, many churches are aging and declining. It doesn’t have to be that way. Church leaders can be trained to become missionaries without leaving home. Congregations can experience new life. They can grow. If your church is declining, look around. Likely, within 20 miles of your location, there is a church that is growing. New life is possible once you believe that and get help. Move beyond “doing church” as normal and “do mission” effectively.

With all the turmoil in our world—in Israel and in many other countries, including your own—unchurched people are hungry for hope, healing, and peace. Become proficient in pointing them to Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Train your church people, your family, and yourself to become peacemakers in this troubled world.

Think about it: Why did God send Jesus when the Holy Land was under the rule of the hated and feared Romans? It was because in all the fear and uncertainty, all the disruption, all the turmoil, people were hungry for hope. They had a deep-seated passion for peace. In Christ, we have the peace that passes all understanding.

Turn your church into a mission. How do you do that? Train some of your people to be missionaries. Help them to see their own personal mission fields: their unchurched friends, relatives, neighbors, and those at work or at school. Help church members to share their “God stories” by sharing what God has done in their lives. Pray for unbelievers. When your friends show anxiety or discouragement about the state of our world, they are signaling that they are receptive—and likely open—to hear you share the Good News about God’s love in Jesus.

You are likely not “thrilled” by much of what you see in our disturbed world right now. That is understandable. However, do you see your opportunity to share the love of Jesus with those who do not yet know Him?

Kent R. Hunter has served as a pastor, blogger, podcast teacher, international conference leader, author, radio commentator, church consultant, and conference speaker. As founder of Church Doctor Ministries, Kent’s passion is helping the local church become more effective for making disciples of Jesus Christ.

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