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.


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