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Israel Day 8

June 23, 2009

Well, we have finally reached our last day in Jerusalem.  Sad I know!  But it does mean that we are getting closer to the return of our dog and bed!  Today, though, proved to be one of the best from a Christian standpoint.

We started off the morning by heading up to the top of the Mount of Olives.  Just to give you a relative idea of where that is, if you stand on the top and look to the west into Jerusalem, you are looking down the mount covered in one of the most sought after cemeteries (because the Jews believe that the Messiah will go through the gates just on the other side of the valley and they will be the first to rise and follow him in), across the Kidron Valley or Jehosephat Valley (translation means Valley of God’s Judgment), up through an Muslim cemetery (they have buried their dead there in the hopes that if there is a Messiah he would surely not want to defile himself by walking through the graves to get to the Golden Gates and fulfill the prophecy), at the Golden Gates in the Eastern Wall (sealed shut by the Muslims) that the Messiah will one day use to enter the new temple, and across the Temple Mount (Mount Moriah) where the temple and Holy of Holies was and the new temple will be someday.  This is an absolutely incredible site!  I can’t even do it justice in a description.  Hopefully some of the pictures will later.  From here Jesus looked out over Jerusalem and wept for her.  At the base of the Mount of Olives is our next stop.

After taking our time, having some teaching, and a fair number of pictures we made our way down to the Garden of Gethsemane.  There are olive trees here that date back to the time of Jesus.  Wow.  It is amazing to see these trees!  They are just a couple thousand years old.  No big deal.  Here there is a church called The Basilica of the Agony at the Garden of Gethsemane.  The outside of this church has a huge mural of Jesus and the disciples on it and on the inside they have a shrine around a piece of bedrock that they believe is where Jesus prayed alone in the garden before He was betrayed.  Once again, it was amazing to see.  A few things really stood out to me here.  The garden lines up directly with the Golden Gates and the entrance to the temple and ultimately the Holy of Holies.  That can’t be accidental.  Also, it was amazing to realize the distance we are talking about here.  Jesus was in the garden praying.  Judas and the guards came out of the gates that are right across the valley.  When I say valley you can’t think about a massive valley.  It’s basically across a decent sized street.  Not that far!  He easily would have heard them if not seen them coming.  He still prayed “not My will” with that going on.   Wow.

Just a little side note (yes, I know that nothing seems to be a little side note anymore…at least when it comes to Israel) about some symbolism for you.  In those days to ride into a city on a horse meant that you were conquering.  To ride in on a donkey like Jesus did was a sign of humility.  He rode into the city on Lamb Selection Day, which is the day that the high priest would select the lamb that would be sacrificed for their sins.  Then after they had arrested Him, they took Him into the city through Sheep’s Gate.  Just a little bit more for you.  He was praying and arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The literal translation for Gethsemane is (olive) oil press.  They would pierce the olives and then apply pressure.  This would give off the best and most precious oil of all.  The valley between Gethsemane and the gates is translated as the Valley of God’s Judgment.  He crossed this valley three times right before He died.  Not only that, but it was huge to me just to think that He was praying for His people and this city from where He was looking across God’s Judgment.  Hmmm.

Now back to it.  As we continued following the last steps of Jesus before He died, we headed to Caiaphas’ House.  Just before we actually went that way, we briefly stopped at the Golden Gates (which are blocked off and sealed shut and in the middle of the Muslim cemetery).  After a couple quick pictures we were on to Caiaphas’s House.  Here is where Jesus would have been kept over night.  In the excavations here they have uncovered the jail and pit where they may have tortured Him and left Him over night.  There are holes in the rock where they would tie someone up with their arms and legs out to beat them.  Then they would lower them down into this pit and leave them there.  Jesus probably spent His last night there.  Once down in the pit if you look on the wall you can see the outline of what looks to be a crucifix in red.  I don’t know what it is or how it got there, but the symbolism is definitely not lost on me!  Amazing!  Once outside of the house there is a courtyard and city steps.  This courtyard is where Peter denied knowing Christ three times.  If you pay attention you can hear cocks crowing from nearby!  The steps have been excavated outside the house and date back to Jesus’ time so as my mother would say this is one of those places that “you know that you know that you know” Jesus walked and touched.

As we made our way along Jesus’ final journey prior to death, we made a quick stop into the Church of St. Anne and the Pools of Betheseda.  This church is where they believe that Hannah the mother of Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary herself were born.  The acoustics in the place were nuts!  I have never seen anything like this!  It was amazing to hear and to sing in this church.  The Pools of Betheseda are right outside of this church.  They were basically a marketplace for sacrificial animals and the pools were where they would wash the goats and sheep.  Jesus healed a cripple here.  After a little bit more singing and pictures, we headed through Lion’s Gate and to the Chapel of Condemnation and the Chapel of Flagellation.  This is the site where Jesus was condemned and beaten before He was given His cross to carry.  The stones inside this church are those that were there during this time.  There are games that the Roman soldiers played carved into the rocks of the pavement.

Finally we made it to a place called the Garden Tomb.  This is just outside the Gates of Damascus.  It is right next to a hill that is believed to be Golgotha or Skull Hill.  Even through the erosion you can still see that the hill looks like a skull.  The Jews would have used this place for stonings and the Romans would have used it for crucifixions because it was a very public gate.  Lots of people would have walked out of this gate every day and seen what was going on there.  Right next to this hill is a garden that they believe belonged to a very rich person.  There is a tomb here that they claim is the tomb Jesus was buried in.  Whether it is or not, I don’t know, but I do know that it was amazing to see.  You can see where the stone would have been rolled.  Inside the tomb there is evidence that it was only used once but had originally been for two.  Several of us also had the chance to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  The Catholics claim this as the site for the crucifixion, burial and resurrection.  The church was amazing to see.  Extremely gaudy and decorated, but absolutely worth it.  Which place is telling the truth?  I have no idea.  I personally liked the first place more, but I am not a historian per se.

This day was amazing and so much to take in.  I know for sure that I could never do it justice by writing or taking pictures.  You have to walk it.  You have to read it.  You have to sense it.  This all has to happen there!  It was the culmination of our trip and we headed back to the hotel for one more night in Jerusalem and Israel as we headed out to Jordan in the morning.  Enjoy the pictures!

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