Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Holy Land, Day 3

Greetings from Israel! So we have been on our Holy Land pilgrimage since Saturday, but we just got to a hotel with Internet last night. I am planning to chronicle each day of our trip, but I'm going to start off with today, day 3, since it is fresh on my mind. I will try to hit only the highlights, otherwise this post will be a mile long!

We set out from Jericho this morning, where our hotel is located, and headed towards Jerusalem. In case you did not know, Jericho is in the middle of the desert. It looks like an oasis as you drive towards it-you arent really sure if it's there or not until you drive through the checkpoint. Yes, I said checkpoint. There are guards at the entrance to the city, because due to the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis, no Jews or Israelis are allowed inside the city. Can you imagine?

And, for a shout out to my 3rd oldest niece, Beth-here is a quick shot of her namesake, the town of Bethany. This town is located on the southeastern slope of the Mount of Olives, not far from Jerusalem. It was the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and is the place where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and where Mary poured oil and perfume on Jesus, wiping his feet with her hair. A pretty cool place to be named after, Beth!

And here was our first view of Jerusalem:

Pretty impressive, I thought. The golden dome you see is called the Dome of the Rock. Inside the dome is the rock on which it is believed that Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac before God told him to stop. You can also see in this picture the walls around the city, including the Eastern Gate. The Gate is near the right side of the picture above. This gate is the one through which Jesus came on Palm Sunday, and, according to the book of Revelation, it is also the one through which he will return when he comes back! Here is a closeup below.

Here is a prophecy from the book of Ezekiel:
"After this, the man brought me back around to the east gateway. Suddenly, the glory of the God of Israel appeared from the east. The sound of his coming was like the roar of rushing waters, and the whole landscape shone with His glory. This vision was just like the others I had seen, first by the Kebar River and then when he came to destroy Jerusalem. I fell face down on the ground. And the glory of the Lord came into the Temple through the east gateway.” (43:1-4).... Then the man brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, the one facing east, and it was shut. The Lord said to me, "This gate is to remain shut. It must not be opened; no one may enter through it. It is to remain shut because the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered through it. The prince himself is the only one who may sit inside the gateway to eat in the presence of the Lord. He is to enter by way of the portico of the gateway and go out the same way." (44:1-3).
This prophecy was partially fulfilled in 1541, when the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I sealed the Eastern Gate. Before this it had been open and people passed freely through it. Historians disagree as to why he did this, but many believe that, learning of the prophecies which predicted the Messiah’s entrance through the Eastern Gate, Suleiman tried his best to make sure it wouldn’t happen during his reign.

If you look back up in the panoramic view of the city, you will see that in the bottom part of the picture, there is a cemetery. This is a Jewish cemetery. A Muslim cemetery lies just outside the walls of the city (you can see it in the panoramic picture), across the Kidron Valley. It was placed by sultan Suleiman as well, because he believed it would discourage the Messiah, a Jew, from coming to the gate. A small Christian cemetery is at the base of the valley. The Garden of Gethsemane lies here as well. Talk about conflict and close quarters!

Here is a pic I snapped of some Hasidic Jews visiting a gravesite:

And this is our friend Kojak the camel!!

I did not catch his handler's name, but he was very kind to let us pet Kojak!

Next it was on to the Garden of Gethsemane. We walked down a pretty steep decline into the valley. The path was a stone one, with high stone walls on either side. We passed lots of security cameras, and the tops of the stone walls were embedded with what looked like broken wine bottles. A version of razor wire, I guess. Yikes.

There are 8 olive trees in the garden which date back to the time of Jesus. That seems pretty incredible, but when I looked at their trunks, it just made sense:

You can tell that those things certainly didn't shoot up last spring!

Next we moved into the city through the Lion's Gate, and went to the area of the Pools of Bethesda. There is a church here called the Church of the Echos-aptly named for it's incredible acoustics. When we got there, Lavon asked me to sing the verse of the hymn At the Cross inside the church, with the choir then joining in. It was a pretty awesome experience to sing in there and then to hear all our voices harmonizing together in such a beautiful place. We sang some other hymns and then moved out to see the area of the pools.

One of the interesting things I have learned on this trip is that in Jerusalem and at other ancient
places as well, current buildings or even entire cities are built on top of the old buildings or cities. Excavated sites are everywhere, with areas of the ancient city being exposed. For example, in the picture below, you can tell that I am looking in a downward direction with the camera. What is pictured is the area of the Pools of Bethesda at the time of Jesus.

For some reason the next picture won't upload correctly, so bear with me and tilt your head to the right, because this is pretty dang cool. Archeologists have determined that these steps are exactly as they were at the time of Jesus. They were the only steps around the pool. So these are the exact ones he would have walked on when he came to heal the man here, as we learn about in John 5:1-8.

"Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?" "Sir," the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me." Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk." At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked."

When we left Bethesda, we headed down the Via Dolorosa, which is the road on which Christ walked as he carried the cross.

Next we came to the Wailing Wall, one of the holiest of places for the Jewish faith. Jews believe that the presence of God is in this place above almost all others. They come to the wall to pray, and when they are finished, they back slowly away from the wall and then turn, because they dare not turn their back on the presence of God. People from many faiths all over the world come to pray here, and they cram their prayers written on tiny pieces of paper into the cracks in the wall.

I couldn't resist placing one myself:

Now for a little explanation before the next photos. There are several theories as to the exact crucifixion site and burial site of Jesus. There is a church called the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built on the place that many believe is the very spot where his cross was put into the ground, also known as Golgotha, or the Place of the Skull. There is another place, the Garden Tomb, which is very close by and has a lot of strong believers in it as the site of His burial as well, with the crucifixion at a spot just past a small garden nearby. To me, the exact spot is irrelevant-I just know that he died and rose again! But here are some cool pictures documenting these places. First the church of the Holy Sepulchre:

This is Taylor bending down to touch the spot directly above where many believe he was crucified. There was a very long line of people waiting to do this-we stood in line 30 minutes or so.

As we walked through the city, we passed several times through the souk, or market. I held tightly to my bag, as we had been warned about pickpockets, but I couldn't help slowing and snapping some pictures at a few of the booths. The sights and sounds and especially the smells were so enticing! It was such an interesting fragrance-strong smells of curry, olives, saffron, and candies.

This is called the Damascus Gate. It is the entry (or exit, depending on how you look at it) to the market. At the time of Jesus it marked the end of the road in Jerusalem, and was the place where you would exit when you were headed to Damascus. Paul must have walked through this area before he was converted on the road to Damascus.

Our last visit was to the Garden Tomb. It was a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the city. This is the alternate view of where Christ was buried. As you can see in the photo below, the current level of the city is at the road at the very top of the picture. Way down below, where the little rectangular hole is hewn out of the rock, is the tomb.

Here is a picture of the inside:

Our group took communion at the tomb and sang and prayed together.

It was an amazing day in Jerusalem. I will say this-the tension in that place is palpable. (The Israeli soldiers stationed throughout, with their M16s, could have something to do with that I guess.). I much prefer the area of Galilee, where we have been the last couple of days. I could just see, in my mind's eye, Jesus performing miracles, ministering, and hanging out there with his disciples. However-when it comes to Jerusalem, there's nothing new under the sun, right? Peace has never been a part of the vocabulary there, and I guess it won't be until there is a New Jerusalem.

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