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Destination Spotlight: Caesarea Philippi, a favorite place

by | Oct 26, 2021 | Destination spotlight

My first trip to the Holyland was forty-five years ago. I was 22 years old and working for Wholesale Tours International (WTI), one of the first American companies that focused on faith-based travel to Israel. I was asked to escort Colonel Sanders with his church group of 82 passengers on a tour that would include the Soviet Union, Egypt, and Israel. The Colonel accepted Jesus Christ as his savior late in his life, so he was overjoyed to visit many of the places where Jesus taught and walked.

The members of the group were rightly impressed with the onion domed churches of Moscow and the Pyramids of Giza, but for everyone, Israel was the highlight of the tour. On our final night in Jerusalem, everyone gave testimony on the impact of the tour. Of course, most of them stated that it was the highlight of their lives.

Sunset in Jerusalem
Our guide, Theo, asked each of us to name our favorite place which had included the boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of the Beatitudes, Capernaum, Mt. Carmel, Megiddo, Bethlehem, Mount of Olives, the Old City, Via Dolorosa, the Garden Tomb, the Holy Sepulcher, and the Upper Room. Some people, like me, could not pin point a specific site, yet everyone was moved and said that their lives would never be the same. I knew that my career path was set, and that I would return to Israel again and again.
During the 45 years that I traveled to the Holyland, archaeologists have discovered and developed many new biblical sites, but I still cannot name a favorite place. Each place has special memories for me. However, many pastors and parishioners have sent us wonderful letters telling us of their favorite places. Recently I asked the same question to Harry Welton, our representative in the Midwest and his response was Caesarea Philippi.
Caesarea Philippi
Harry said that Caesarea Philippi is one of the northernmost site Christians visit. This remarkable location is where we read in Matthew 16:13-16 Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
This is familiar scripture to all Christians but do you know how significant this site was where Jesus chose to ask his disciples this most important question? This was a site that was littered with as many as 14 temples of idol worship built over centuries of time under numerous empires. The respected Bible commentator William Barclay writes:

“Here indeed is a dramatic picture. Here is a homeless, penniless Galilean carpenter, with twelve very ordinary men around him. At the moment the orthodox are actually plotting and planning to destroy him as a dangerous heretic.

He stands in an area littered with the temples of the Syrian gods; in a place where the ancient Greek gods looked down; in a place where the history of Israel crowded in upon the minds of men; where the white marble splendor of the home of Caesar–worship dominated the landscape and compelled the eye.

And there–of all places–this amazing carpenter stands and asks men who they believe him to be, and expects the answer, The Son of God. It is as if Jesus deliberately set himself against the background of the world’s religions in all their history and their splendor, and demanded to be compared with them and to have the verdict given in his favor. There are few scenes where Jesus’ consciousness of his own divinity shines out with a more dazzling light.”

Being there and seeing but a few of the remains of those temples and realizing this is where Jesus asked that question is powerful beyond words. This is just an example of how being in the very places where Jesus walked draws us into those very moments of his ministry in a new and powerful way. We say it brings the Bible from black and white to color and 3 dimensional.

Harry’s story explains but one experience of how throughout Israel we draw upon scriptures to add meaning to each site we visit. Not only does that occur in a powerful way at the moment of visiting those sites but also it will occur for the rest of our lives. Every time we study scripture at home; hear sermons; or reflect on our faith we will think back to the experience of visiting the Holyland.

Of course, our feelings about a place have a lot to do with our experiences there and how we connect. For some, it comes from a boat trip on the Sea of Galilee or baptism in the Jordan River. Others connect with Cana, the site of Jesus’ first miracle. Jerusalem is certainly moving for all who pass through its gates. Many walk the Via Dolorosa, visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, pray in the Garden Tomb. In all of these places, the Bible comes alive to us.

Not all we encounter is thousands of years old. Israel is one of the most modern and progressive countries in the world. This tiny country is a leader in the world in medical science. They have transformed deserts into farms, vineyards, and citrus groves, growing organic fruits and vegetables to a point where Israel is a major exporter of food. You can stay in modern hotels and travel on modern highways and railway systems. It is certainly a land of contrasts: ancient and modern.

A land of contrasts
Maybe when you visit Israel, you will find your special place, the place that will become your favorite. Or perhaps, like me, you will not be able select just one site over the others. Whether you can name one place or not, one thing is for sure – your visit will be life-changing.
-Nick Mancino, President of Journeys Unlimited

Nicholas Mancino has been serving the church through travel for over 50 years, having begun his ministry in travel in the 1960s. He is the cofounder and president of Journeys Unlimited, where he’s helped thousands of fellow Christians encounter the Spirit and bask in Christian fellowship while traveling to the Holy Land and beyond. You can reach Nick with your inquiries by email at nmancino@groupist.com or at 800-486-8359

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