A few weeks ago, I had the experience of a lifetime. Sara (my wife) and I spent a couple of weeks in Israel and it was AMAZING. Even now, weeks after returning, we’re still processing all that we experienced. I’ve only talked the ears off a few people – so far.

One of the most profound experiences for me was the understanding and appreciation that comes with being in the Holy Land. Four over 40 years, I imagined places and scenarios as I read them in the Bible. Obviously, I’ve seen films and pictures of Israel, so my imagination did a pretty good job of processing the text I was reading. However, standing on Mount Tabor and viewing the land from a bird’s eye view – and imagining the history playing out in the fields and hills before me was more powerful than I expected. Standing on the Mount of Olives while our guide pointed out the locations where Jesus was arrested, accused, and tried connected the dots for me. Over and over again, my response was, “really?” or “wow!”

Just yesterday I taught in our student ministry about the feeding of the 5000. I actually resisted my excitement to announce, “Guys, I was there! I saw the mountain Jesus probably retreated to. I put my feet in the Sea of Gallillee. It was so awesome!” I’ve found that people just aren’t as excited about my experience as I would like for them to be. This has been a little disappointing, but understandable. Regardless, I’d encourage anyone to visit Israel if they have the opportunity.

However, I experienced a few things that I’d really like to share about my Holy Land experience. These are things that impacted me significantly. Some experiences complemented my understanding of the Bible. There are things I saw and learned that built a better historical and cultural context for the Biblical accounts. There are so many fun things I learned and experienced that I can’t wait to use in a message or talk when that place or event is referenced. Lastly, there were things that impacted my understanding of what it means to identify as a Christian. I want to share what I’ve experienced because what I learned might be helpful for you as well.

Throughout our time in Israel, guides and locals referred to the 5th gospel. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the only gospels I was familiar with. The 5th gospel they were talking about was the actual land of Israel. Father Bargil Pixner, a Benedictine monk in Jerusalem (both an author and archeologist) said this in his book, “With Jesus Thorugh Galilee: According to the Fifth Gospel.”

Five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books and one you will find in the land they call holy. Read the fifth gosepl and the world of the four will open to you.

So, in the coming days, let me share with you the 5th gospel as I experienced it.