A new insight from my latest trip to Israel

Leading study tours to Israel is one of the great privileges of my life.

I made my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1995 and have loved the nation and its people ever since. Being on a boat on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus walked on the water—standing in front of the “gates of hell” at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus founded the church—praying in the Garden of Gethsemane where our Savior chose to die that we might live eternally—sharing the Lord’s Supper at the Garden Tomb as we celebrate his resurrection—I have traveled to Israel more than thirty times, but each time feels like the first time.

And each time I travel to Israel, I learn something new.

Why many Jews reject Jesus as their Messiah

This time, my new insight came in a rather innocuous way. Our group had gathered at Capernaum, the town on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus based his public ministry. After we studied Scripture and prayed, someone in the group asked me why the Jewish people do not accept Jesus as their Messiah.

I explained that there are two messianic streams in the Hebrew Bible: the Suffering Servant (cf. Isaiah 53) and the conquering hero (cf. Isaiah 9). Jesus fulfilled the first when he came the first time to die for our sins; he will fulfill the second when he returns as King of kings and Lord of lords (cf. Revelation 19:16).

However, many Jews believe that the Jewish nation is the “suffering servant” by virtue of the persecutions they have endured through the centuries. As a result, in Jesus’ day and today, they are awaiting their conquering hero. Even the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Because Jesus did not defeat the Roman Empire and reestablish the Jewish nation, many of the Jewish people rejected him as their Messiah. Many reject him today for the same reason.

After I finished this explanation, Dr. Mike Fanning responded. Dr. Fanning organizes all our study tours. He has a PhD in Old Testament and archaeology, lived in Israel for two years, has led hundreds of trips to the Holy Land, and knows the Jewish land and people intimately.

When I said that the Jewish people wanted Jesus to be their conquering hero rather than their suffering servant, Mike said, “Many Christians do as well.”

He is exactly right.

“Aim at heaven, and you get earth ‘thrown in’

Christianity is a transformational relationship with a personal redeemer and Lord, but we are tempted daily to make it a transactional religion and a means to our ends.

We are tempted to worship God on Sunday so he will bless us on Monday, to give him money so he will give us money, to serve him so he will serve us. Rather than responding to his suffering service with our own grateful service, we want him to conquer our enemies and establish our personal “kingdom.”

The irony is, the more we seek and serve God not so he will bless us but because he has blessed us, the more we experience his best for us. This is because his greatest gift is personal intimacy with himself. Our greatest joy is living in the joyous presence of our Father. Our greatest peace comes when we are at peace with him.

C. S. Lewis put it this way: “Aim at heaven, and you get earth ‘thrown in.’ Aim at earth, and you get neither.” This is just as true with religion as with any other dimension of our lives.

Who is ruling on the throne of your heart today—you or Jesus?

Whose kingdom are you serving today—yours or his?