Francis Chan has shared how his recent trip to the Holy Land made the Bible “come alive” because the religious tension currently present in Israel mirrors that which took place during Jesus’ ministry.
In a January 18 interview with Relevant podcast, the pastor described the “volatile situation” he witnessed during a recent trip to Israel: “You’ve got machine guns everywhere, you’ve got ... war going on incessantly,” he said. “It’s right in your face.”
But the experience made the Bible “come alive,” Chan said, explaining that it’s hard to imagine what Jesus experienced “when you’re sitting in an air-conditioned building.”
“You realize, ‘Wow the same conflicts are still going on in this very city right here; I can see it, I can feel the tension, and it’s really not that different,’” he said. “Very religious people there, all dressed up in their religious garb ... and you can just picture Jesus there, like what He would do in that type of setting.”
Chan explained that in America, it’s rare to see a physical idol like the ones described throughout the Bible, while in India, statues of false gods are littered everywhere.
“You realize some of those passages are coming alive,” he said. “I feel like the same thing happened for me in Israel, where there’s just something about seeing the conflict right in your face and you say, ‘Okay, I see what Jesus was dealing with, what the believers were dealing with,’ to a lesser degree, but still a part of it.’”
Chan, former pastor of Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, California, recently released an 11-part series on the Gospel of Mark, filmed on location in Israel. He told Relevant that tracing the steps of Jesus and the His disciples through Israel and exploring the themes of Mark made him rethink the way America does church.
“You start to think, ‘What would Francis Chan have done at that moment?’” he said. “‘Would I have followed Him to the cross? Or would I have backed off? This is real Christianity; this is as real as it gets.”
He asked: “What kind of message have we been preaching here in America? Has it been the true Gospel? Is my mind warped just because of the world that I live in? How can I escape from it?”
A major theme of Mark is holiness, Chan said, adding that Christians need to have a proper understanding of God’s holiness because it is the “crux of Scripture.”
“We have a God who is like no other,” he emphasized. “We have to stop putting things even close to where He is. That’s the whole idea of ‘holy, holy holy.’ He is set apart, He is sacred.”
Chan lamented that we live in a “very man-centered world where we think our feelings and opinions should matter.”
“But God alone matters,” the Letters to the Church author charged. “He’s on another level ... He is not like us. Our Creator is so far beyond us. Yes, we're made in His image, but the whole point of life is, man, I am inferior to Him, and I should gladly come under His leadership.”
“The whole original sin is man [saying], ‘I want to eat that the tree of good or evil, I want to know what’s right or wrong, I don't want God to tell me what’s right or wrong,’” Chan continued. “It’s all about understanding that our God is to be far, far above us.”
“That theme is not just the book of Mark,” he concluded, “it’s Scripture — it’s the whole of Scripture.”