Sunday, March 8, 2009

Final Day – Lion’s Gate, Arab & Jewish Quarter, St. Anne’s Church, Pool of Bethesda, Antonia Fortress, Burnt House, Golgotha and the Garden Tomb

Our final day of touring started on the East side of Jerusalem at what is called the Lion’s Gate. It is one gate to the North of the Eastern Gate (the gate which has been sealed up by the Muslims). On this day were standing just opposite of where our tour had begun just three days earlier when we were standing on the Mount of Olives. Now we were at the wall, looking back onto the Mount of Olives.

There are a number of things that were significant about this gate. In more recent times, it was the gate that the Israeli paratroopers came through, off of the Mount of Olives when Israel reclaimed Jerusalem in 1967. In ancient times, it would have been the gate where they took Stephen (the first Christian martyr) through when taking him outside of the city to stone him, Acts 7:58. One of the toughest things about understanding biblical Jerusalem with the old city of Jerusalem today is keeping track of all of the gates. Jerusalem and been destroyed and rebuilt 17 times, so the original city is many feet below the city that now exists. All of the gates in the city today, are not the same as the ones in Scripture.

Upon entering through the Lion’s Gate, we found ourselves in the heart of the Arab Quarter. Jerusalem is divided into four quarters, Arab (Muslim), Jewish, Armenian and Christian. If there ever was a contrast between good and evil, light and darkness, it is what you find in the difference between the Arab and Jewish Quarters (see photos on left). It is a sober reminder of the battle between good and evil that continues to this present day.

As we worked our way to the Jewish Quarter, along the way, we stopped at St. Anne’s church which is right next the Pools of Bethesda. It was a hot and beautiful morning to be touring Jerusalem and the Pools of Bethesda, with the five porches, was a great place for a bible study. Pastor Jason taught from John 5, the story of the man who had been lame for 38 years, daily waiting for the stirring of the water, hoping that someone would take him to the water. When no one would take him, Jesus came, asked him if he wanted to be healed, and healed him.

This of course stirred up the Jews, as it was the Sabbath when Jesus healed him.

When we were finished with the study, we went into St. Anne’s church. The Catholics claim that she was the mother of Mary. For centuries they have built shrines and monuments wherever they believe something biblically significant has taken place. Sadly, this has caused some tension in Israel, with some international implications at times. While St. Anne’s was built much later, in the days of the crusades, one of the highlights of visiting it is singing, acappella, in the church. The acoustics are unbelievable. We sat in the church and sang a few songs, then a group from Germany sang a beautiful hymn, and then we sang Amazing Grace, with some of them joining us. It was a very tender moment.

It was from the Arab Quarter that we entered into the area of Antonia’s Fortress, which is currently a Catholic convent. Antonia’s Fortress was the Roman military presence in Jerusalem. If you have ever seen a model or picture of Jerusalem in days of Christ, Antonia’s Fortress would be the four towered structure that stood in the NE corner of the temple mount. It is from here that the Roman guard would stand watch over the activity that was going on in the temple area. Should any sort of insurrection begin, they would be able to disperse the necessary troops to get it dealt with.

Before entering into the area where there are some original floor tiles from the days of Christ, our tour guide, gave us a sobering, graphic and thought provoking explanation of death by crucifixion in Jesus’ day. When we were finished, we walked onto the tiles, where Jesus would have most likely walked and perhaps was mocked and scourged. You could still see the tiles that were etched with board types of games, which the Romans soldiers would play to pass their time. It is likely that Antonio’s Fortress, is the place where the dialogue between Pontius Pilate and Jesus took place.

When we arrived in the Jewish Quarter, we went to a place they refer to as ‘The Burnt House’. This is a house that existed 2,000 years ago and was, in the last century, uncovered by a group of archeologists. What makes this particular house significant, is that they found enough artifacts in the dig, to be able to identify the family by name, social and economic status. They also know that it was burned, most likely during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. They found the severed arm of a woman, holding a Roman spear, among the rubble. We watched a great video presentation, a dramatic reenactment of what would have taken place when the temple was destroyed.

After lunch and a few of the other sites, to include viewing part of the wall that King Hezekiah built (spoken of in Nehemiah 3:8), we headed to Golgotha, the place of the skull, where it is believed Jesus may have been crucified. The area is right outside the Arab Quarter, in the Arab neighborhood. You actually view the skull formation in the rock (see photo on left) from a platform in what is called the Garden Tomb area. The ‘Garden Tomb’ is run by a Christian ministry and provides a place to view Golgotha, and then walk through the garden area and view the tomb, where it is believed that Jesus would have been laid.

Before viewing the ‘empty’ tomb, we had a communion service with a time of worship and a teaching. It got a little crazy during the teaching, as we were smack dab in the middle of two groups from Africa, one of which were extremely Pentecostal. I must say, it was a bit of a challenge trying to teach the solemnity of the cross with all of the ‘whoopin’ and hollerin’ that was going on.

Ronnie Cohen, our tour guide, shared his testimony with us at the end of our time. It truly was one of the most powerful testimonies I have ever heard. It was very moving and a great way to get to know him a little better and say our goodbyes. Lord willing, we will one day be able to bring him to the states and have him share about Israel at the church. He does a fair amount of this for various churches throughout the US, as well as Moody Bible Institute.

After one more Mediterranean dinner, we headed to the airport where, without incident we got through security, and began the 24 hour trip home. Even now, I am typing this final blog somewhere over Canada. We are about 3 ½ hours from Atlanta, at which time I will try and post the last two days of touring.

Once again, thank you all for your prayers and support during our trip and for letting me share some of our adventures with you. I do pray that the day will come when you can join us, or another group on a tour to visit Israel. Truly it will dramatically impact your life.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Check out this video!

As is a video of our bus driver, Avi Maletzky, playing the accordian while waiting for the boatride on the Sea of Galilee. He is a believing Jewish brother whose parents are holocaust survivors and met at Auschwitz. What a blessing he is...I cannot imagine a tour of Israel without him. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Day 8 – Western Wall Tunnel, Western Wall, Temple Mount, Southern Steps and Yad Vashem (Holocaust Museum)

Our second to the last day of touring began earlier than all the others. We had to be on the bus at 6:30 AM, rather than 8:00 AM, because of an early appointment to tour what they call the Rabbi’s Tunnel. It is actually a tour that takes us along the foundational wall of the original retaining wall that Herod built for the Temple Mount. It really is quite an amazing thing to consider the stones that Herod used in building the foundational wall. One of the stones of the wall is estimated to weigh in the neighborhood of 610 tons. How he was able to maneuver such large stones is hard to fathom. They fit so tightly together that you could not even slide a business card in between them...crazy!

Both the entrance and the exit of the tunnel are at the western wall, also known as the ‘wailing wall’. This is the holiest of sites to the Jews as it is as close to the temple as they are able to get. Even though the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, they still regard this spot as holy and spend much time there, praying and lamenting over the destruction of the temple. The wall is divided into two sections, one side for the men to pray and the other for the women to pray. One Jewish man with prayer shawl, phylacteries and all was happy as could be, in a corner all by himself prayers and dancing around.

Additionally, we (the men) were able to go into the synagogue which is just to the left of the wall. One of the most startling things in watching the emptiness of their worship, knowing that they have denied Christ as the Messiah, is that they are worshipping the same God as we worship. How tragic it is, knowing that in all of their zeal for religious things they fall short of the kingdom, because of the failure to acknowledge Jesus Christ as God incarnate.

As you can see by the photo on the left, security is extremely tight. This is the Israeli Swat Team and Police, ready to get the job done in whatever manner needed to stop any violence in the area. Our guide told us that they can take those motorcycles up and down the steps of Jerusalem at a moment’s notice. One of the Marysville team had a pocket knife which he put on the table before going through the metal detector. Apparently they didn’t like the idea of any knives going onto the Western Wall area. Our guide had to go and talk them into letting him go, they were wanting to take him in for questioning. It seems that it is not unusual for people, even children, to enter the area with knives as there have been a number of stabbings in the past. It is times like that, that you realize that you are in an area of tremendous conflict.

When we were finished at the Western Wall, we headed up to the Temple Mount. What a contrast, going from the holiest of Jewish sites to one of the holiest of Muslim sites, the Dome of the Rock. This is the gold domed building that has become a symbol of the Old City of Jerusalem (see photo at left). While it technically still belongs to the Jews, they have allowed the Muslims to retain the rights to use it as their holy sight. Our guide told us that they do this in respect to another faith’s religious site. It seems odd when you consider all of the tension that exists between the two. There is a Muslim presence on the mount, as caretakers of the property, but there is also the armed presence of the Israeli police as well. We were not allowed to take our bibles up there.

One of my favorite spots on the Temple Mount is what the Muslims refer to as the Dome of the Spirits. This is the one place, on the whole Temple Mount, where it is believed that part of the original floor of the temple exists (see photo on left). You can tell that it is different, because the stones are distinctly different than any place else on the Temple Mount. The Muslims obviously know something about it, hence the special acknowledgement as ‘The Dome of the Spirits’, but they are not about to say anything more about it. It is believed that this will be the location that the Antichrist will allow the temple to be rebuilt in the first part of the Great Tribulation period. It is located in such a manner that both the Dome of the Rock and the New Temple would be able to co-exist on the same site. This of course would make sense, given the ‘pseudo’ sense of peace that the Antichrist will usher in.

We concluded out time in Old Jerusalem with a tour of the Southern Steps. Truly this was the nicest weather we had had since our arrival and it was a great day to visit the Southern Steps, also known as the ‘teaching steps’. These are the steps that Jesus would have used to enter the temple mount when the temple was still standing. Our guide refers to them as the ‘teaching steps’ because Jesus, along with other Rabbis, would have done much of their teaching from there. I had the blessed opportunity to teach a study on Matthew 22. What a glorious feeling, teaching on the very steps that our Savior would have taught some 2,000 years ago.

After the study, we had the opportunity to walk around the area and see the area where the Romans had pushed over the temple wall when they destroyed the Temple. As you can see by the photo on the left, these stones were so big that they shattered the streets of Jerusalem below them. Needless to say, it was pretty impressive to see the pile of rubble, that has been there for close to 2,000 years.

Our last stop of the day was clearly the most somber of the trip up to this point. We visited the Yad Vashem, Holocaust Museum. Words cannot express the different displays and that were there. It is absolutely shocking and hard to believe, that so many millions of innocent people could have been brutally and senselessly murdered. Clearly it was a diabolical plan of Satan himself. Hitler was a possessed human being that epitomized the depravity and wickedness of man’s heart. It was heartbreaking to hear the testimonies of the few survivors. How anyone could ever even think that such an event did not take place, is beyond comprehension. One cannot come away from time at the museum, without a greater love and compassion for the Jewish people. I am so thankful that, at least to this date, we live in a country that supports Israel. May God help us to continue in such a manner of support.

Well, one more day of touring, ending with communion at the Garden Tomb. I will be writing the last of the blog entries on the plane and posting it when we are back in the United States.

Thank you so much for your prayers during our trip. I pray that each of you will be able to join us on our next journey. We are anxious to be with you all again...see you soon!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Day 7 – Mount of Olives, Palm Sunday Path, Garden of Gethsemane, City of David, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, Pool of Siloam and Model of Jerusalem

We had a full day of touring in our first day in Jerusalem. It began, early in the morning, with a trip to the Mount of Olives. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t very cooperative and once again it was cold and rainy, but we were very glad to be there. Truly it is one of my favorite spots. Standing on the Mount of Olives, looking upon the Temple Mount, observing the Eastern Gate which the Arabs have sealed up. They understand that the Scriptures indicate that the Messiah will come into Jerusalem through the East Gate (as if a sealed gate is going to stop Him). The photo on the left is the vantage point from where we were standing. Sorry for the blurred photo, the rain made it somewhat hazy.

I had the opportunity to teach on the Mount of Olives. It is such a glorious place to be, realizing that it is not only the place where Jesus taught but also where he wept over Jerusalem, was betrayed and arrested, ascended into heaven after His death and resurrection and will rise again, in the same manner as He ascended (Acts 1:9-11).

Immediately following our teaching on the Mount of Olives, we walked down the Palm Sunday Path, or what it called the Hosanna Road. This is the path that Jesus would have taken on His triumphant entry into Jerusalem. There were Arabs along the way who were more than eager to sell us umbrellas, 2 for $10.00, which we were more than eager to buy.

Our next stop at the bottom of the road was the Garden of Gethsemane (see photo on left). We had a teaching there and spent some individual time with the Lord. There is no way to know for sure where the garden was, but that it was in the general area. Some of the olive trees in Gethsemane were 2,000 years old. It was amazing to see trees that were that old.

Avi, our bus driver, met us in the bus at the bottom of the hill and we were off to the City of David. Originally, the City of David lay within the walls of Jerusalem. However today, the city is outside of the walls.

There is not much to see as far as a city is concerned other than knowing the location. We did walk through some of the ruins to get to Hezekiah’s tunnel. This is the tunnel that King Hezekiah dug, through solid rock, to get fresh water into the city. Once we climbed down a number of stairs to get to the tunnel, seven of us crawled through the narrow dark tunnel with running water under out feet. At times the water came up to our pockets.

It was the first time I had gone through the tunnel and must say it was quite adventurous. Somehow, I ended up being the lead (I think because I had a miner’s type of head lamp). I was a little apprehensive at first, but it didn’t take long to enjoy the whole journey. I definitely would do it again!

When we came out, it was only a short distance to the Pool of Siloam (see group photo at left) where Jesus healed the man born blind from birth, John 9. I had the opportunity to teach there and it was a very sweet time of fellowship. Thanks be to God, the Sun had come out and we wouldn’t see any more rain for the rest of the day.

After lunch, which was at the only ‘kibbutz’ in Jerusalem, we found a great vantage point of the city of Bethlehem. There is really nothing to see there, apart from knowing that it is the birthplace of Jesus. We opted not to visit for good reason. It is 100% Palestinian occupied. Ronnie and Avi are not allowed to go into the city, at the risk of peril, and can take no responsibility for anything that might happen to us while we were there. Good enough reason for me not to go! Ronnie warned us that the cab drivers would offer to take us there for shopping, etc. Sure enough, PJ and April took a cab to Jerusalem this morning...and the cab driver offered to take them to Bethlehem. PJ told him they would pass.

Our final tour site of the day was the Israel Museum where we got to see a miniature, built to scale, replica of the City of Jerusalem as it was in the days of Christ. Truly this is an incredible teaching tool. We missed this on our first trip to Israel and I so wish we hadn’t. One of the most confusing parts about Israel is making sense of the existing walls as they relate to the walls and arrangement of the city in the days of Jesus. This model really helps to clear things up. Ronnie, our tour guide did an excellent job of explaining things. It was especially nice, because we visited it in the first day of touring Jerusalem. It helped to put things into perspective from the very beginning.

Our last stop, before heading back to the hotel, was the Olive Wood Store. If you like olive wood carvings, this is the place to come. George, the owner, is Aramaic and a Christian and one of the treats of visiting the store is when he recites the Lord’s prayer in Jesus’ native language of Aramaic. It is really beautiful in that language. Ronnie says that George looks like a mixture of Don Ho and Anthony Quinn. I say Anthony Quinn, what do you think?

Tomorrow, we will visit the Western Wall, the Southern Steps and the Holocaust Museum. So, until then...Shalom!