Throughout our wonderful Holy Land journeys this year, we have been blessed to have our blog posts illustrated with great photos. All of these images were taken and uploaded by our fabulous group leader, Tina.
In so many ways because of her ministry, our group has been led toward the cross, deepened in our faith and fellowship, and awakened to the richness of the Scriptures.
Thanks so much to Tina for the beautiful (and fun) photos, and for the daily effort of making them available to us here on the blog!
Some Psalms of Thanksgiving and Praise as we Depart the Holy Land:
Psalms 118, 111, 100, 93, 148
When Jesus ascended to heaven after his resurrection, the disciples were assured that he “will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). While we return to our homeland in the same manner by which we traveled to the Holy Land, we do not return the same. Our lives have been indelibly stamped with a new impression.
Our prayer through all of our preparations for this pilgrimage and through our actual journeys in the land has been that God will use this experience for making us the disciples of Jesus Christ that God has called us to be. By God’s grace and through God’s power, the future our Lord envisions for his people on this earth is a future that includes a complete transformation of society.
The righteousness of God’s people will contribute to the changing of the world. This righteousness comes from Christ (it is his gift by grace through faith), and it will bring about a peace in and for the community of faith that will witness to the world. Isaiah puts it this way (32:17):
“The effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.”
As you have walked where Jesus walked and have experienced places where God has been so powerfully at work in history, Scripture will never read the same again for you. May the riches of its testimony stay forever with you, and may the righteousness that God strengthens in you through it serve him in transforming the world around you.
We began our last day with a peaceful visit to the Garden Tomb, a popular site especially for Protestants. While not a good candidate for the authentic place of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the garden is a good place to get an idea of the setting for the cross and tomb because it has been preserved as a garden. It was a relatively quiet place to reflect on what Jesus did for us and on its implications for us. We finished our visit with a service of Holy Communion together.
We traveled next to the Old City to see the Pools of Bethesda and St. Anne’s Church. The church has great acoustics, and was good to us as we sang Amazing Grace.
Our morning walk from there was the famed Via Dolorosa. We followed the stations of the cross, read Scripture along the way, and ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This church houses the traditional locations of the place of crucifixion (Golgotha) and Jesus’ tomb of resurrection under one roof.
The Church is like no other, with so many religious denominations, mainly Orthodox and Catholic. This is the holiest site in the Christian world. Pilgrims from everywhere file through the church, though in a somewhat chaotic fashion. Processions of singing priests make rounds while performing their liturgies. The lighting is dim, with candles and lanterns burning around the church, and the fragrance of incense generously fills the place. It certainly captured some of the mystery of our faith for us, and we encountered a global symphony of liturgical worship as we made our way around.
After dinner in Jerusalem at Pasha (a Middle Eastern restaurant), we headed for the airport, where we are sitting now awaiting our flight back home. God has given an amazing gift of grace and blessing. This group has been an incredible fellowship of pilgrimage. Thank you, Lord!
1 Corinthians 2:2
One of the most interesting things that visitors to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem discover is the proximity of Golgotha to the place that marks the tomb. The current church encloses both the traditional location for the crucifixion and the place of the tomb under one roof.
We often suppose that Jesus’ body was carried some distance to the garden for burial in Joseph of Arimathea’s newly hewn tomb. There is no scriptural reason for this assumption, however. The hill upon which the cross stood and the place where Jesus was laid when he was taken down could easily have been adjacent.
What is remarkable in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre experience is that the single church for both sites offers a potent reminder of the allsignificant connection between the two. Here is the very ground of our Christian faith. As we express it sometimes in our service of Holy Communion, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”
This is the main thing. And today you visit where most believe the main thing happened. He died for you. And he is risen. There is nothing he cannot do. Trust and worship him.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise God all creatures here below.
Praise God the source of all our gifts!
Praise Jesus Christ whose power uplifts!
Praise the Spirit, Holy Spirit! Hallelujah!
USA dome at the Church of all Nations.
Alabaster windows at the Church of all Nations.
Garden of Gethsemane.
Cross in the ceiling (dome) of the church of Peter in Galicantu.
Mosaics at Peter in Galicantu.
Studying for tomorrow. The Via Dolorosa.
Our day was focused on Jesus’ last week, beginning at the top of the Mount of Olives at the Pater Noster Church. This is the place overlooking Jerusalem where Jesus taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer. There are 166 ceramic tile plaques around the church and grounds with the text of the Lord’s Prayer, each in a different language of the world. Impressive, and a very powerful visual statement.
The trip down the Mount of Olives was moving, accented by bright sunshine and incredible views of Jerusalem. We came to the Dominus Flevit Church that commemorates Jesus’ weeping over the city, then to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations. We saw several young people reading and studying their Bibles quietly at Gethsemane. There was a special quality to the spirit of that place that we won’t soon forget.
The bus carried us next to Mt. Zion. We saw the Hagia Sion Church and Dormitian Abbey, and we visited the “Upper Room.” This is the traditional place believed to be where the house stood in which Jesus and the disciples shared the last supper. The structure now there was built by the Crusaders, then converted into a mosque. It was still meaningful to gather in reflection on what that evening Passover meal must have been like.
Our last stop before a late lunch and a little shopping was Caiaphas’ house and the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. We saw the area where the high priest had his home, and the “dungeon” where Jesus may have been held during the night. All of this brought the Passion story from Scripture very much to life. It also showed us how many Jewish laws were broken in order to condemn the Jewish Messiah as well as how willing Jesus must have been to suffer as he did for us.
Tomorrow is our last day in the Holy Land. In addition to some more touring in Jerusalem, we’ll also celebrate communion in the garden tomb and walk the Via Dolorosa.
Bethany/Mt. of Olives
Luke 10:38-42; 11:1-13; 19:28-44
John 11:1-44; 12:1-19
Garden of Gethsemane
House of Caiaphas
John 13–14; 20:19-23
Cross and Tomb
The route of our walking tour down the Mount of Olives toward the Old City wall on the east side of Jerusalem is called the “Palm Sunday” road. Jesus walked from Bethany (the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus) into Jerusalem (about three quarters of a mile) by traveling over the central ridge of the Mount of Olives and down to the city.
As we read in Scripture, the crowds hailed him as King David’s successor to the throne of Israel on Palm Sunday. This particular day was especially significant on the Jewish festival calendar. It was the day lambs were being selected for sacrifice on Passover, which would be observed later that week (Exodus 12:3-6).
As you make the Palm Sunday walk today, think about the Lamb of God “without blemish” who was coming voluntarily for sacrifice at Passover. On this day of selection, Jesus was offering himself to the world he loved so much in the city he loved so much. His timing says, “Choose me. Let me be your Lamb of sacrifice for your deliverance.”
But they wanted a King, a powerful military general on a white war horse, not a humble sacrifice on a lowly donkey. They rightly chose him as messianic King on that day, but quickly rejected him when he did not deliver political victory. He had chosen instead first to give the world what it needed most—victory over sin and death, a Savior.
The camel smiles when you ask him to “smile for the camera.”
Oldest city in the world.
Walking up the Jericho tel.
Still walking up the tel.
On the tel.
Down, down, down to more than 1,200 feet below sea level! The landscape around the Dead Sea is fittingly stark, rocky, and desert-like. We drove along the flat land between the cliffs and the sea, seeing how low the water level is at present (and falling at a rate of 8 cm/year).
Our first stop was the plateau fortress of Masada, buzzing with school children, hikers, and tourists from all over. This is one if the best archaeological sites to visit, and we enjoyed learning about it, along with the fascinating story of the Jewish rebels’ last stand there in AD 72. Herod had a palace whose improvised Roman features show how committed he was to preserving his Roman luxuries wherever he was.
Qumran was our next stop, the site that housed the community believed to be responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls. Qumran has been well preserved and well studied, though clear evidence confirming exactly who its occupants were and how many of them there were still eludes us. Some of the caves where scrolls were found are visible from the main site.
We spent the middle part of the afternoon at the beach. Right on the shore of the Dead Sea. We all experienced the waters and the mineral mud of the Dead Sea to some degree, and some got in all the way to float. That water is unlike any on earth, and the experience of floating in it is completely unique. The weather was warm and the water only a little cool, but not at all cold. Perfect!
We’re cleaned up from our beach trip, and staying in Jerusalem tonight. We’ll be in the Holy City for the remainder of the journey. Tomorrow we will make the Palm Sunday walk and visit sites on Mt. Zion.
Luke 10:30-37; 18:35-43; 19:1-10
Mount of Temptation
Jerusalem (Genesis welcome)
Jericho is familiar to Christians from both the Old and New Testaments. From very ancient times, it was a gateway city into the Promised Land from the east. Yahweh directed the Israelites to begin their occupation of Canaan by defeating Jericho first (Joshua 6). Centuries later, Herod the Great had a palace and estate not far from the city mound that Joshua and the Israelites conquered, and according to the Gospels, Jesus traveled to and from Jericho during his ministry.
The miraculous fall of Jericho brought about by the collapse of its defensive walls and the subsequent invasion by the Israelites under Joshua invites us to reflect on a deep truth about our faith. At Jericho in those days, God showed his people that the fulfillment of God’s promises did not rest on them. They did not have to achieve or earn God’s faithfulness. It was a given, and the people of God were called to live in that reality and to trust it.
This is what grace is all about. This has been a pattern of God’s from the beginning. God is faithful, always. God has accomplished deliverance for us by grace. We then live in that grace by faith. We do not have to earn this faithfulness, only trust it.
Every fallen mudbrick from the ancient Canaanite fortifications that we see at Jericho testifies to the walk of faith to which God’s people of every age are called. We walk this walk not in order to coax God’s faithfulness on our behalf, but because it has already been given and guaranteed.