Our last day in the Holy Land was a glorious Sunday, and we started the day by going to church together. We worshipped this morning at the East Jerusalem Baptist Church, which is pastored by our friend Alex Awad of Bethlehem Bible College. Alex was away in Jordan today in ministry to refugees there, and the service was led by Pastor Blaine, the music was led by Diane, and Alex’s brother Bishara (president emeritus of Bethlehem Bible College) led us in testimony and prayer.
What a wonderful way to begin our last day in Jerusalem! We were so blessed and enriched by the opportunity to join once again with Christians in the Holy Land for worship. This service was in English, so we were able to follow more easily this week, but we have learned that when we join with our brothers and sisters in Christ to praise God, the matter of language seems to fade to the background.
Following the service, we joined George on the bus and began our day of touring at the Israel Museum in West Jerusalem. This spectacular museum has a scale model (1:50) of first century Jerusalem, just before the time of the Roman destruction of the city in AD 70. George gave us an excellent orientation to Jerusalem’s layout using the model, and his explanation brought a lot of things together for us regarding the location of the city walls, access to the Temple Mount, and the historical development of the city over time until its ruin by the Romans.
The Israel Museum also houses the Shrine of the Book, which is the permanent home of the Dead Sea Scrolls. We toured the current exhibit and enjoyed it even more having already visited Qumran. Last, our group visited the archaeological section of the museum, which takes several days to see completely. We were glad our guide was able to help us make the best use of our limited time by showing us through the museum himself. He showed us the exhibits that were most relevant to what we have been learning this week, and he explained their importance.
We returned to the Old City next, entering by the Lion’s Gate and starting at St. Anne’s Church and the Bethesda Pools. St. Anne was the mother of Mary, and the church marks a traditional location of Mary’s birthplace. The acoustics inside are some of the best in the Holy Land, so we sang a couple of songs to test them out. Even we sounded good in there!
The Bethesda Pools are an example of a complicated site, where the original pools far below us had a large Byzantine basilica built above them, and later a Crusader chapel built in the middle of that. This is a significant place, however, where the power and truth of Christ met the superstitions of the people who lay around the pools, and God’s grace shined through unmistakably (John 5).
We walked the Via Dolorosa next and followed the suffering of Jesus from his appearance before Pilate all the way to the resurrection. The hustle and bustle went on as we walked that road, much like it must have been when Jesus carried the cross through the streets. The stations of the cross are marked along the way, so we stopped at each to hear from our guide, and sometimes to read Scripture or pray. The Via Dolorosa ends in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a magnificent, mysterious, and almost eerie place. The sounds of an organ playing in one place, priests and monks chanting in another, and the din of large crowds coming and going through the church mixed into a kind of chaotic chorus. The dark interior and low light, the smells of the incense, and the deep reverencing of the holy places inside added to the mystique. This is like no other church in the world, and it afforded us an experience completely different from yesterday’s visit to the Garden Tomb.
Our wonderful day ended with a visit to the Western Wall. What a finish to an amazing trip! This was a very meaningful stop for us, as we approached the plaza from above (a great view) and walked down to stand at the place along the first-century section of the wall closest to where the holy of holies in the Temple once stood. Wow! We prayed there, and put our written petitions in the wall. And we lingered to observe the Jewish men and women coming and going, praying and studying, and showing this site the utmost respect while enforcing tradition and protocol with great passion.
We had dinner together in a restaurant in Abu Ghosh (a possible site for the biblical Emmaus), on the way to the airport. In addition to enjoying an excellent meal, we celebrated our driver and our guide with words of gratitude and gifts of love. They have truly been among the greatest blessings of our journey. We know we have a received a great gift from God in these two brothers in Christ who perform at the very top of their professions, and do so with great grace and shepherd’s hearts.
Thanks be to God for a fantastic group of pilgrims, for Tina’s incredible, heart-filled leadership, for safety in our travels, and for the spiritual growth and new perspective on the Scriptures and on the land that we have all received.