Because He Lives

Writer’s block. Symptoms include sweaty palms, churning stomachs, mental congestion and, worst of all, an empty page. Causes for this dreaded disease can vary, but the result is the same: the inability to express one’s thoughts and emotions—not just ineffectively, but not at all.

Fortunately, I’ve only suffered from writer’s block a few times in my life, and it’s been easily circumvented by a change of location, a jog around the neighborhood, or a random outburst of gibberish. Sometimes, though, on very rare occasions, I can’t break free. Right now is one of those occasions. When I don’t just stub my toe or bark my shin, but slam my whole body into that treacherous, unexpected and wholly uninvited writer’s block. Ouch.

Earlier today, a friend/fellow wordsmith and I were discussing this common conundrum. To our dismay, we came to this conclusion. The more important the topic is to you, the more difficult it is to write about. Her suggestion was simple: write from the heart; write for yourself. The audience will appreciate it.

So now as I sit to write about my trip to Israel, I will do my best to follow her advice. Here are my thoughts and impressions; here is a glimpse into my heart—and the land where my Savior captured it again. Bear with me. I can’t promise it will be perfect, but I sincerely believe (and earnestly pray) it will be worth it.

My journey to Israel began back in October during a conversation with my father. Habitually frugal (and borderline stingy), I’d already made up my mind not to go to Israel. But when I called my parents for their affirmation in this decision, I found exactly the opposite. Much to my surprise, my dad suggested, even insisted, that I go, saying that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and that I should definitely take it. So, slightly bewildered but inwardly excited, I wrote a check for my deposit and made a copy of my passport. I would be going to Israel.

Fast forward a few months. We started having meetings about the trip. In the midst of learning what to pack, what NOT to say at an airport, and how to discreetly make your lunch using the breakfast buffet and some cleverly concealed Ziploc baggies, we also received a list of Scripture passages to read and things to pray for. The preparation had officially begun. But little did I know what God was preparing to do in my heart.

Then Friday February 24th finally arrived. All at once (i.e. after a five-hour bus ride to St. Louis, a three-hour flight to Philadelphia, and an eleven-hour haul to Tel Aviv), we were in the Holy Land. Where Jesus lived. Where Jesus walked. Where the most important event in history happened. We were really there. Wow.

I repeat. Wow.

For the next eight days, our group of 56 students and adults followed our wonderful guide Herzl, a Messianic Jew (he believes Yeshua is the Messiah!), on an unforgettable journey through Israel. We floated in the Dead Sea. We rode camels and stayed the night in Bedouin tents. We honored the victims of the Holocaust at the Yad Vashem museum. In a word, it was awesome.

But we didn’t just follow Herzl; no, we also followed our Savior and walked in His footsteps. Into the wilderness where Satan tempted Him. Into the water of the Jordan River where He was baptized by His cousin John From the synagogue to Peter’s house in Capernaum where He healed his mother-in-law. To the edge of the cliff where the people of Nazareth tried to stone Him. Down the street of Bethsaida where the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years touched his cloak and was instantly healed. Onto the hill where He preached the Sermon on the Mount. To the Pool of Bethesda where, because of Him, a crippled man leapt for joy for the first time in 38 years.. Onto a boat in the Sea of Galilee where He calmed the storm with the words, “Be still.”

To Jerusalem. Up the road where the crowds waved palm branches and shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Up the southern steps of the Temple to Solomon’s portico, where He turned over the tables of the money changers. To the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane where He sweated the first drops of His precious blood during His agonized prayer, “Not My will, but Yours be done.” To the house of Caiaphas the high priest, where He was questioned and flogged. To the Antonia Fortress, where Pontius Pilate washed his hands and gave Him over to be crucified. And to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, where this Jesus—this precious, sinless, perfect Jesus—willingly sacrificed Himself for humanity. And as He was dying, the very people He came to save mocked Him, saying, “Save yourself, Savior!” We saw where He breathed His last as the Temple curtain was torn and the ground broke open. Against all hope, the Author of Life had died. Crushed by the weight of this cruel reality, this unbelievable injustice, we followed Him across the way to a tomb in the garden. But when we went inside, we discovered what we already knew: He wasn’t inside! Why? Because He is risen, just as He said!

Even now, almost a week later, I’m still elated by all I saw and experienced. And as I attempt to sift through the gold mine of experiences (and my 1,917 photos), I’m drawn again and again to this simple truth: My Jesus is real.

He’s not simply a storybook character or a Jewish version of Ghandi. He wasn’t just a good man who said some nice things. He wasn’t forgettable, and He can’t be ignored. No, quite the contrary. He is the very real, wholly unforgettable, impossible-to-ignore risen and reigning Son of God. He really lived; He really died, and He really rose again. And He’s living now—inside of me and all who trust Him as Savior.

And here’s something even crazier: You don’t have to go to the Holy Land to find Him. No special, epic pilgrimage is needed. This very real Savior is here in this moment waiting to meet you wherever you are. He asks you the same question from He gave His disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Either He is who He says He is—the one and only Savior of the world—or He’s not. You’re free to answer however you please, but, choose wisely, because your answer changes everything. There’s no room for fence-riding; indifference isn’t an option. You must choose, but the choice is ultimately yours.

Maybe you already know Him and are pursuing a relationship with Him. If so, great! Be encouraged and keep it up! Or maybe this “Jesus stuff” is as foreign to you as falafels. If you claim the latter, don’t worry. You see, following Jesus is the biggest, most life-altering decision you could make; it’s not to be taken lightly. So my challenge to you is this: Take some time and get to know Him. Start now; don’t wait. Read the Gospel of John; see how He lived. Take His invitation to come and see Who He is, and then decide your answer. Maybe you’ll conclude that this Jesus thing isn’t for you. That’s fine; you can choose as you please. But maybe, just maybe, you’ll see Him for who He is, your Savior. Maybe you’ll follow to that empty tomb and realize, like me, that there’s no turning back. And, like me, you’ll want the whole world to know your Jesus too. Not just because He really lived.

But because He really lives.

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