The Holy Land – Part 9 – Bethlehem and Nazareth

Posted: December 24, 2014 in Blessing, can you hear him?, Christ, Christmas, Disciple, Discipleship, god is calling, Grace, great commission, Holy Land, Israel, Jesus, peace, Relational

Luke 2:1-20 – In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Bethlehem is the birth place of Jesus, yet the Christian community today in the city of Bethlehem is almost non-existent.  Bethlehem now has a Muslim majority (over 80%), and is governed by the Palestinian National Authority.  Nazareth is similar in that a very small group of people are Christian, and the only site preserved in Nazareth is a small plot of land where a farm is kept that mimics Jesus’ time.  Due to this fact, most of the biblical artifacts have been destroyed or covered up.  Sad how this group of people are going around destroying evidence of the Savior, when accepting Him is the only salvation they (and we) truly need!

Olive Harvesting at the Farm

Olive Harvesting at the Farm in Nazareth

Geographically, Bethlehem sits just 6 miles south of Jerusalem, and approximately 60-70 miles south of Nazareth – Nazareth is located in the region of Galilee (west of the Sea of Galilee).  So that journey for Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem was quite a hike, especially with Mary being pregnant.  Yet, with how small Israel as a whole is, it is quite feasible to understand how the journeys throughout the scriptures occurred!   I think we read where people traveled from one region to another and believe it must have taken months, but in all reality, days for many of the journeys from far north or far south to Jerusalem and surrounding areas!

On our visit to Bethlehem, we first stopped at the Bethlehem Olive Wood Factory where local artists carve many biblical scenes such as the one below that I really like, a scene where the disciples are casting their nets and taking the challenge to follow Jesus and become fishers of men!  This factory employs the very few Christians in Bethlehem today!

Artists at the Bethlehem Olive Wood Factory

Artists at the Bethlehem Olive Wood Factory

Olive Wood from Bethlehem Drying for Carving

Olive Wood from Bethlehem Drying for Carving

My Favorite Olive Wood Carving - "I Will Make You Fishers of Men"

My Favorite Olive Wood Carving – “I Will Make You Fishers of Men”

We then took a short walk to the Church of the Nativity, just a few short blocks away.  We were immediately met by a couple local Palestinian merchants who starting following us, trying to sell us several small items.  I made a poor choice along the way of buying a package of 20 post cards from a local kid for $1…because after I handed him the dollar several others followed us all the way to the bus trying to force themselves on the women to buy their items.  I really had a vision of why Jesus turned over the tables at the temple where all the merchants were selling items and stealing from the buyers.  The birthplace of our Savior has become a den of robbers!

Church of the Nativity

Church of the Nativity

As we arrive at the Church of the Nativity, our guide shared with us again that this is the traditional site of Jesus birth, which simply means that the Catholic Church placed a huge church over the site and gave limited access to what was inside.  The picture below shows a small glass “hole” to view where they believe Jesus was born.  It really is hard to know if this is the exact place of His birth, but what I left with was more of a feeling of angst over how ritualistic this place has become.  There were many ancient relics here including some amazing mosaics.  But I still left with a sadness over those who visit because they feel the only way to know Jesus is to pray at these Catholic churches in a ritualistic manner, often touching stones and praying that His power would pass through these items into them.  My Savior lives in me and I can talk with Him whenever and wherever I choose…it is so much more of a relationship instead of a religion!

Me and my Lovely wife at the Traditional Spot of Jesus Birth

Me and my Lovely wife at the Traditional Spot of Jesus Birth

Overall, I was highly disappointed in both Nazareth and Bethlehem.  Both areas have a corrupt influence in the religious and the governing bodies.  But one thing holds true here as well as many other places we visited – the reason the Muslims are ravaging these sites is because they fear the fact that Jesus is real and is coming back one day…and unfortunately, they follow a “religion” that will be on the losing side of eternity unless they accept Jesus as their true Savior and Lord!  It is easy to walk away from these areas discouraged and disappointed, and maybe even a little angry.  Yet, we are called as believers in Jesus Christ to love and pray for these people as much as our unbelieving neighbor.  My prayers have changed since leaving Israel…I pray a lot for the Peace of Israel, and I pray for those who are fighting against Christ to see Him for who He truly is – the One True Messiah who will return very soon!

As we celebrate our amazing Saviors birth this Christmas, remember to pray for those who are fighting hard to believe Jesus is not real.  I can understand how unbelievable this story of Christmas and the entire life of Jesus can be, yet I know there is a longing in every person’s heart for relationship with Jesus, who is in fact the only One who can fill the void this world has created in so many people.  Riches, possessions, careers, and even relationships with others cannot replace the desperate need that our spirit has to be united with God forever.  Without Jesus, we will always be left wanting more!  If you are a believer, intercede in prayer for those who are investigating Jesus…that they will come to know Him deeply during this Christmas season.  Pray also for those who are in complete denial of His existence, and feel that science, evolution or other religions explain away a Creator…remember, God created science as well and evidence always points to an intelligent designer!  Pray for those allowing personal sin to keep them from seeking out a relationship with Jesus.  If we had to clean ourselves up before coming into relationship with Jesus, He would have no followers!  We are all in the same sin sick boat, drowning without a Savior!

God has placed you in relationship with those around you for a reason!  He wants to utilize your relationship as you walk along side those in whom He is drawing into relationship with Him.  When Jesus said to love God and each other, He knew that this would revolutionize the world if only people would focus on those two commands.  So, how are you loving God and those around you?

Mark 12:30-31 – And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Thank you for continuing to read my blog!  I pray it has been a blessing to you and maybe even made you think, seek out Truth in the scriptures and/or drew you closer to Jesus in some way!  The next stop along this Holy Land journey will be The Sea of Galilee as we move north along the Jordan River.  Until then, Shalom, and Merry Christmas!

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