Saturday, October 16, 2010

Suffering, Compassion and Triumph...

Today we began our tour at the Lion's Gate in the Muslim section of the Old City. We took the Via Delarosa or, the "Way of Suffering," which Christ would have followed through the Holy City as He was tried, beaten, forced to carry His Cross, and then crucified. Some of the stops are extra-Biblical, being of Catholic tradition; but we all agree that Christ took our payment of sin on Himself, becoming sin for us, as He was tortured and crucified. God the Father could not look at the sin, so Jesus died alone, and was buried. But we know that that is not the end of the story...there is more to come!
Since the city in Herod's time was many meters below the present day street, we did not actually plant our feet where He walked on His journey to the cross, but we did visit locations that commemorated it. In two places, we walked below the surface on the original stones laid before Jesus' time in Jerusalem.
The original Upper Room (pictured at left) was still there as in Jesus' day, and was the place where the disciples and Mary met after the crucifixion (according to tradition) Later, the Holy Spirit came with tongues of fire on those gathered so that the Gospel could be preached in every language. Believers would then have the wisdom of God in their hearts as the Holy Spirit taught them.
The pool of Bethesda, which means, "House of Mercy/Compassion," was next. Here Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, which caused a tremendous uproar with the Pharisees. We found quite a bit of the pool and its stone structure still standing. We were told in some places, the water would have been 40 feet or more. A beautiful herb garden was at one end. I'd like to imagine that while people were waiting for the stirring of the waters so they could be healed, many took advantage of these health giving herbs. Rosemary, thyme, sage and lavender were growing, including a small fig tree, and of course, an olive tree. Just as maple and oak trees grow in Chicago, olive trees are abundant. On many occasions, we saw women picking the olives and placing them in a large plastic sheet to be transported to market.
When we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Jesus was thought to be buried, I was disappointed. I remember seeing Golgotha, or the place of the Skull, and the tomb together outside the city. But, I was overjoyed, when, after visiting the Wailing Wall one last time, we took off for that very site. One Pastor on our bus offered to do a short Breaking of Bread service after we toured the Garden Tomb. This was the second highlight of the afternoon!
The Garden Tomb is cared for and run by a group from the UK, and our guide at the site was very definitely a born again Christian. Many times he said, "But we know of course, that He is in the grave no longer...amen? We have that hope!". He was a testimony to every group that came through...
We saw the hill called Gologtha, which looked like a skull carved from its face. Since most crucified bodies were left on the cross to rot, many skulls have been found near the top during excavations. Another reason that makes this site probable, is its location outside the city wall. It is also near a gate (Damascus), and also close to a crossroad which was called "the Jericho Road." These three points are mentioned in Scripture.
The tomb was just below the hill, and was in a beautiful garden...even more beautiful than Gethsemane. There was a small cave hewn in the rock, and inside were four small carved sections in the floor enough for three bodies, which makes it a family tomb. Scripture points out that Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, had it prepared for his family, but was unused at the time of Jesus' death, and so offered to bury there. Above, and to the right of the door, on the face of the tomb, was a tiny opening for light. I just had to ask our guide which direction was east. Sure enough, on that very early Easter morning, when the two Marys visited the tomb, the sun's rays would have shone directly through that window, and onto the empty grave clothes, proving that Christ was no longer in the tomb. He is risen!

We enjoyed a sumptuous farewell dinner, after sharing our thoughts about the trip. Mine centered on the observation that God is protecting and blessing Israel with safety and an abundance of children...they are everywhere. And of course, we all mentioned how the Bible will now come alive as never before.

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Journey into the Promised Land

Journey into the Promised Land
From Egypt to Israel