By Amy Lowe
Going to Israel was never on my bucket list. In the summer of 2015, though, I was invited to go to Israel in preparation for a short-term Bible study LifeWay was producing.
It wasn’t my dream, but I can tell you it didn’t take me long to get excited about the opportunity.
For whatever reason, at that time, it felt as if my heart had grown hard. It felt calloused—hard to penetrate.
I don’t know why that was, but it was the condition of my heart as I boarded the plane to the Holy Land.
As we flew over the ocean, I prayed, wondered, and hoped this trip would somehow soften my heart toward God.
The plan was to study the Gospel of John there in Israel with a trusted guide named Arie. Our first stop on the trip was in Jerusalem proper.
The culture was thick. The smells, sights, people, atmosphere—it was all I thought it would be in that biblical city.
We stopped at one of the possible sites for the Pool of Bethesda. Here Scripture came alive to me like never before.
Recall with me John 5:1-3: “After this, a Jewish festival took place, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. By the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there is a pool, called Bethesda in Aramaic, which has five colonnades. Within these lay a large number of the disabled—blind, lame, and paralyzed.”
Before this trip, I hadn’t realized Jesus didn’t spend loads of time in Jerusalem. Rather, like any good Jew, He came into the city from the surrounding towns when it was festival season.
And since festival season was here, He traveled to Jerusalem for this scene at the Pool of Bethesda.
As we stood at the area where many believe the pool would have been during Jesus’ day, we could see the Sheep Gate.
We might miss this reading through that passage, but the Sheep Gate is important. It was the way sacrifices and offerings were brought into the temple. And it was helpful this pool was close by.
The sheep brought in for sacrifices, I discovered, weren’t raised in Jerusalem. They came from the small towns and villages surrounding the city.
Before the animals were sacrificed, one had to be sure they were without blemish. The pool, then, became a handy way to clean the animals after the journey to be sure they were acceptable for sacrificing.
So the Pool of Bethesda was associated not only with healing powers but also with sheep and sacrifices.
We always had a map in our hand during this trip, so Arie had us pull it out as he told us about the surrounding villages that raised sheep. The closest town to Jerusalem that did this, as it turns out, was Bethlehem.
It was the most popular place because it was the closest to Jerusalem. It didn’t take long for the sheep to get to the city, and because of the shorter journey, the sheep were less likely to have blemishes from the walk.
“Bethlehem,” Arie said, “there would be no other place the sheep would come from.” It was then Arie made the turn.
It was no wonder, he said, that Jesus, the perfect spotless lamb, was born in a manger in Bethlehem—a manger made for animals. There would be no other place that Jesus would come from.
Possibly right where I was standing at this healing pool near the Sheep Gate, the sacrificial Lamb of God who brought healing through His sacrifice demonstrated His power over brokenness and His love for the broken.
When Arie made clear the connection, I got chills all over my arms. I knew Jesus was born in Bethlehem. I knew about the miracle at the Pool of Bethesda.
But I didn’t know about the practices of shepherds, sheep, and sacrifice. I didn’t put those particular pieces together until that moment.
A trip to the Holy Land can take the story of the Bible from words on a page that you’ve read dozens of times and add to them real-life sights, smells, and sounds.
I don’t think I have to tell you that God softened my heart during that trip. My heart became tender to Him in a new way while I was there, and that tenderness continues to this day.
Going to the Holy Land was never on my bucket list, but it should have been. And it should be on yours.
Get a good guide who knows Jewish history and loves Jesus, and you’ll see the Bible come alive in living color. When you do, I’d love to hear your story.
AMY LOWE (@AmyALowe) is the manager of Adult Ministry Publishing at LifeWay Christian Resources.