We took our seats facing west overlooking the Mediterranean. The size of the ancient Roman amphitheater at Caesarea by the Sea was deceptive and our group of over six hundred took up only a small section of the carved stone benches arched around the platform. The ruins of one of Herod’s palaces and an expanse of gray-blue sea that mirrored the filmy afternoon sky made the backdrop upon which we now gawked surreal.
Caesarea today was calm, peaceful, humbling.
We experienced many places that spoke to us in ways that blessed not only our days in Israel, but will resonate in our hearts for the rest of our lives. But this was the first that carried my imagination into the creative arms of my Heavenly Father.
As the worship team sang the words "it’s your breath in our lungs," a gentle breeze swept over us--soft, warm, and smelling of the ocean beyond.
The breath of God. That’s how it felt to me.
A physical touch from God as we worshiped in a place once filled with the darkness of a pagan culture. I doubt Herod the Great could ever have imagined that the magnificent port city he built here would be the launching point from which Christianity would pour forth to the rest of the world. Though known as a brilliant architect, Herod lived his life as the epitome of evil. His rule was ruthless, vicious, and selfish.
And yet God used him.
It was in Caesarea that Pilate lived during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It was in Caesarea that Paul was imprisoned for two years before being taken to Rome.
It was also in Caesarea that a centurion named Cornelius became known as the first non-Jew to become a Christian—the first gentile convert to Christianity.
“There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.” Acts 10:1-2
When we meet Cornelius in Acts, he is already a believer in the God of the Jews. How did this man—a Roman who fought for Rome with enough distinction to be promoted to centurion—first encounter God? The bible doesn’t tell us. We only get to experience his story from the time when the angel came to him in a dream, instructing him to send for Peter so that his faith might be made complete.
I couldn’t help but wonder, though, if perhaps Cornelius had stood in this very place, watching the sun set over the Mediterranean, and knew in his heart there was more. More than the ruthless vanity of Herod and the rulers who followed him. More than the constant striving for earthly things that never seemed to fill the empty places. More than the lightless, dull eyes of the people packed into the seats around who looked without seeing the truth.
Did he feel the breath of God blow over him as he took his seat in this amphitheater facing over the ocean one afternoon and hear hope whispered in his heart?
We don’t know, but maybe he had a moment like this. Seated in a place built on the precepts of darkness, surrounded by the pagan influences of the day, God found him.
And because he listened, now I stood in the very same place, humbled by the intricacy with which the story of creation has been woven into a beautiful tapestry with no thread out of place.
Our guide reminded us often it is always about connecting the dots and we were beginning understand how what a profound truth this would be for the rest of our journey.
There is no place so dark, no person so lost or sinful, that God can’t breathe hope and new life into them. There is no life that can’t be used by God for His glory and purpose.