I am sure that most people have heard about the ‘Hajj,’ an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, a city in Hejaz, in Saudi Arabia. It is a mandatory religious duty for Muslims that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by all adult Muslims who are physically and financially capable of undertaking the journey, and can support their family during their absence. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, alongside Shahadah, Salat, Zakat, and Sawm.
It seems to me that Christianity is in danger of having a ‘Mecca’ all of its own. The ‘Mecca’ I am referring to is none other than visiting the country of Israel. There are more and more tours being organised to visit this country. Christians are encouraged to swim in the Dead Sea; walk the paths Jesus’ walked along; to see where Jesus was born, crucified, buried and visit many other sites, both supposedly of Old and New Testament significance.
Now I don’t wish to discount the importance of the land and nation of Israel. After all, God chose this land and the nation to be the vessel through whom the Saviour of the world was to be born. However, it has never been the ‘land’ or the ‘people’ perse, that was of prime importance. Nor did God choose them because they were so numerous. On the contrary, Israel as a nation were the ‘fewest’ of all peoples and God chose them so that His faithful, covenant love for them could be displayed to the nations (Deut 7:7-8).
Now some of these tours are organized by people who just want to give those interested an opportunity to visit these places with no personal gain attached. I am also sure that for some people being in the places where Jesus lived and ministered for thirty years and where He died and rose from the dead, could be an encouragement for them to be more serious about their faith. No issues.
However, I am becoming increasingly frustrated and offended by those who try to organize these tours by manipulating Christians into thinking that if they go to Israel, their faith will come alive or their Bible will become alive. I have seen Facebook posts by Christians suggesting that “Israel is the ‘light’ of the world.” Really? Do they not realise that the Jews consider Jesus, not just a bad prophet, but the worst of all the prophets?
And what do we say to all the different people involved in bringing God’s word each week? Some have painstakingly laboured over God’s Word for years. Have they wasted their time? Will God’s Word only penetrate hearts and create faith after the hearer has been to the ‘Mecca’ of Christianity? To even suggest it indirectly in a bulletin advert is offensive, not least of all, to the author of Scripture himself.
So from where do these Christian tour organisers get this sort of theology? Probably, from Romans chapter 9-11. Some suggest that these chapters teach that Lord will not return until the nation of Israel is converted and the Jews scattered around the world return to the Promised Land. Hence some churches have an offering for ‘Christian Witness in Israel.’ Others suggest that Jesus will set up his earthly Kingdom in the city of Jerusalem when he returns.
Personally, I am not convinced that this is the teaching of Romans 9-11. It seems to me that the new Israel is the New Testament Church, established by Jesus and sustained by the power of His Word and Holy Spirit. That doesn’t mean I wish ill-will towards Israel as a geographical location or its people. I would love to see the nation of Israel converted and grafted back into the Vine (Rom 11:23). In fact, I would love to see that for Australia and its people and for New Zealand and its citizens and any other nation you would like to mention.
Scripture teaches that God’s Word is active and sharper than any double edged sword (Heb 4:12), even when we don’t go to Israel. Paul told Timothy that “God’s Word is able to make us wise to salvation” (2 Tim 3:15), without even mentioning that they had to go back to Israel. The resurrected Jesus said to doubting Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:29). The writer to Hebrews says that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (11:1). Eph 2:8 reminds us that our faith is a gift. Perhaps even more crucial is what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman in John 4:21-24;
So in light of God’s word, it’s not necessary to go to the ‘Mecca’ of Christianity to make our faith or Scripture come alive. The Holy Spirit ensures that they are, and I for one, am encouraged and very thankful for His work in the lives of God’s elect, wherever they may be. JZ.