Holy Land Sites Important to the Christmas Story & Jesus' Early Days
When Christmas rolls around each year, many people feel inclined to read the Christmas story. Whether they are Christians who attend church each Sunday or a family who only cracks open the Bible around Easter and Christmas, everyone finds comfort in reading the story of Jesus’ birth on a holy night 2000 years ago. As wonderful and uplifting as story of the first Christmas is, how amazing is it that we can hop on a plane with relative ease and see the setting of this majestic tale with our own eyes? There are several Holy Land sites important to the Christmas story. Some of these places are wrapped up in the childhood of Jesus, while others play out over the course of His earthly ministry. Here are a few of the Holy Land sites to remember this Christmas season.
One of the more obvious Holy Land sites to keep in mind this Christmas is Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. Long before his coming, Jesus’ arrival was foretold in many different scripture references. One of these is found in Micah 5, where it is said a powerful leader will come forth from Bethlehem and eventually rule in Israel. You may wonder why Jesus was born here rather than his area of upbringing, Nazareth. We are told in Luke 2 of a Roman census being conducted that required everyone to return to his hometown. Since Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, came from the lineage of David, this meant he needed to go to Bethlehem (also known as the City of David). In this small town, the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ occurred.
Today, you can visit Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity, which stands where it is traditionally believed that He would have been born. Since we know the shepherds mentioned in Luke 2 were located in a nearby field, visitors to Bethlehem can also find the place where it is believed that this group encountered the angels proclaiming Christ’s birth.
Nazareth - Holy Land Sites Important to the Christmas Story
Found well north of Bethlehem is the city of Nazareth, where Jesus was raised. Following the Christmas birth, we know Mary and Joseph fled with Jesus down to Egypt when King Herod proved he was willing to kill all of the baby boys in order to eliminate whatever threat he felt Jesus would be to his kingdom (Matthew 2:13-23). After the death of Herod, Jesus and his family come back to their homeland and settled in Nazareth. The town belongs to the region of Galilee, a rural setting full of sloping hills and large fields. We know Nazareth was of little importance to the world since the disciple Nathanael said “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) when he was first told of Jesus’ ministry. Nazareth is found in the lower section of Galilee and it is where Jesus first began his ministry before heading a few miles north and performing his first miracle in Cana. In the modern day, Nazareth is a mostly Arab-populated town featuring the Church of the Annunciation. It is here that the Catholic tradition holds that the angel Gabriel told Mary she was to give birth to Jesus.
Looking over the Holy Land sites important to the Christmas story, it’s impossible to leave out Jerusalem. Not only is this famous city the setting for the last days of Jesus’ life, it is also influential to his early days. Since Jerusalem is only a few miles from Bethlehem, the city was able to play a role in the story of the first Christmas. Jerusalem is where Herod’s palace was located, so when the Magi came to find Jesus, it is here they stopped to ask for his birthplace. Jerusalem is also home to the great Jewish temple. In Luke 2:22-38, we see several important things happen when Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple to be presented. Anna and Simeon are two elderly people who have been waiting on the coming of the Messiah. Simeon was promised by God to not see death until he had looked upon the face of the Messiah. Anna was a prophetess who served in the temple both day and night.
A third reference to Jerusalem found in the early days of Jesus’ life is when his parents take him to the city at twelve years of age (Luke 2:41-50). This is when he wandered off from his family and stayed in the temple, sharing his wisdom with a stunned group of older men. Of course, the city of Jerusalem is where a traveler will find many important sites upon visiting the Holy Land today. These are simply those which have to do with the early life of Christ. Jerusalem is one of the largest cities in the region and well worth a visit, no matter what you’re looking to find.
There is one moment which serves as a launching point from the early life of Jesus to his active ministry as an adult. Since the Bible skips over much of Jesus’ youth, His baptism in the Jordan River is where we see the Savior become known to the world. Before Jesus began His ministry, John the Baptist served as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” and making ready the way of the Lord. The section of the Jordan River where Jesus is believed to have been baptized is near “Bethany beyond the Jordan.” This is where John’s baptismal ministry is said to have occurred in John 1:28. It is the section of the Jordan River just north of the Dead Sea and only a short distance from Jericho.
For many Holy Land visitors, the top of their to-do list is to be baptized here like Jesus was. Thanks to churches and other groups, there are a few different areas where you can do so with relative ease; however, finding the exact spot where Jesus would have been baptized is not an easy task.
When you travel to Israel, these are some of the Holy Land sites you should make an effort to see for yourself. It’s one thing to read the Bible and something entirely different to watch it unfold before your very eyes. At Premier Israel, we want to make your journey to the Holy Land as simple and hassle-free as you can imagine. Whether you’re joining us for a tour with major worship artists or planning an exclusive adventure through your church, we can’t wait to show you all that the Holy Land has to offer. Click on the banner below to find out how you can take part in this spectacular opportunity.