Archive for the ‘Holy Land’ Category

Golgotha - The Place of the Skull - Location of Jesus' Crucifixion

Golgotha – The Place of the Skull – The Location of Jesus’ Crucifixion

 

The Entrance to the Garden Tomb

The Entrance to the Garden Tomb

As Good Friday and Easter approaches, I have been swept back to Israel and the trip of a lifetime I was blessed to take in September of 2014. My heart races as I look at these pictures and recall the memories gained while in the Holy Land!  Once again, today, the pictures above has been heavy on my heart, not because of the finality typically associated with a burial place, but because of the hope permeating from and around the empty tomb.

Matthew 27:57-61 – When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

Most people at the time of Jesus’ burial thought it was the end of the potential new kingdom as they believed Jesus was to become the earthly King of Israel, ushering in peace to a land of turmoil.  The peace they were seeking was a fleeting peace; one that ends with our time on earth. However, He had a much bigger audience in mind!  This kingdom Jesus spoke of is one in which He would become the ultimate King – the King of Heaven and Earth!  The Kingdom in which He spoke of pointed to eternity…His heavenly Kingdom which is available to anyone who believes in Jesus and that He is who He said He was!

Matthew 28: 1-7 – Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”

Can you picture the Mary’s faces upon hearing this news and seeing that He was gone?  Can you imagine the emotional responses of the disciples when they first heard the girl’s story?  Maybe a bit of disbelief, but I bet they all had a hope inside of them wanting to believe it with every fiber of their bodies.  And then that moment when they saw the risen Jesus…that had to be the most amazing moment of their lives!  I can envision His inner circle going through a series of Aha moments recalling the many times Jesus spoke about His death and resurrection and they simply did not get what He was saying!  I can envision the disciples walking by the empty tomb for years after this; they had to be shaking their heads with a smile saying, “Jesus, that was awesome!  You got me!  Thanks for including me on this amazing journey!  I have to go and tell everyone about this!”

The empty tomb and the resurrected Christ, as witnessed by so many people and recorded for all of us to read, is screaming to a lost and dying world – death has been beaten, Jesus is risen, and you can rise too!

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As Resurrection Day approaches, I pray we will all reflect on the moment when we died to our own selfish desires and became alive in Christ.  As you do, share your story with others along this journey as you never know if you could be the beginning of someone else’s resurrection story!

If you don’t have a relationship with Jesus yet, you can take care of that right now.  There is no magical prayer or even anything specific you need to recite.  You simply need to believe that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived a perfect life, took the sin of the world upon His shoulders to the grave and left it there as He rose back to life!  This is His amazing gift of grace that He offers to us so that we can spend eternity with Him – we just have to believe!  His gift of grace is really that simple and available to anyone who believes!

John 11:25 – Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying

I will close with this beautiful song by Casting Crowns…I love this song as it tells His story:

“Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me)”

One day when Heaven was filled with His praises
One day when sin was as black as could be
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin
Dwelt among men, my example is He
Word became flesh and the light shined among us
His glory revealed

[Chorus:]
Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified freely forever
One day He’s coming
Oh glorious day, oh glorious day

One day they led Him up Calvary’s mountain
One day they nailed Him to die on a tree
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is He
Hands that healed nations, stretched out on a tree
And took the nails for me

[Chorus]

One day the grave could conceal Him no longer
One day the stone rolled away from the door
Then He arose, over death He had conquered
Now He’s ascended, my Lord evermore
Death could not hold Him, the grave could not keep Him
From rising again

[Chorus]

One day the trumpet will sound for His coming
One day the skies with His glories will shine
Wonderful day, my Beloved One, bringing
My Savior, Jesus, is mine

[Chorus]

Glorious day, Oh, Glorious day

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The Great Commission – The Church’s marching orders from Jesus!  These are Jesus’ words engrained upon my heart and calling, driving much of what I feel led to do and write as I press deeply into the call that God has placed over my life!

Matthew 28:18-20 – And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Yet, with these verses on the tip of my tongue, God has taught me another lesson from this passage that resonates with me deeply.  As with all of scripture, reading verses in context makes all the difference in the world!  And the previous two verses (16 and 17), often ignored or read over completely in the Great Commission, do just that:

Matthew 28:16-17 – Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 

The Sea of Galilee is the Most Serene Place to Visit!  No Wonder Jesus Spent so Much Time Here!

The Sea of Galilee is the Most Serene Place to Visit! No Wonder Jesus Spent so Much Time Here!

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You can envision the disciples overlooking the Sea of Galilee from the mountain as Jesus arrived and began the Great Commission!

There are four distinct stages documented here as to first steps the disciples took in fulfilling the Great Commission that are often overlooked as we enthusiastically dive into making disciples – and all four are personal steps disciples will go through at various times in their life and ministry.

  • Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee… – Galilee was (and still is) one of the most serene areas in all of Israel – it was also the place where Jesus and the disciples spent a lot of their time during Jesus’ three years of ministry. Jesus knew the disciples needed to get away for renewal, refreshment and regrouping before they began the quest Jesus’ was calling them to pursue.  We are no different!  In seasons of life and calling, as we embark on new endeavors, new challenges or even new career and/or ministry paths, we are wise to get away, alone with God, and focus on the next step in front of us.  This allows us uninterrupted connection to the Father in prayer and His Word, clarifying His direction He has planned for our lives.  Distraction-free environments help us see the next step God is asking us to take as well as discern how that step lines up with the direction God is calling us go.  So where is your Galilee and have you scheduled a time to go there soon?  Now may be the time to make those plans!
  • to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.Jesus made His appearance to the disciples after the resurrection and told them to go to the mountain of Galilee He directed. In obedience to Jesus, they went…and the rest is history!  Obedience to Jesus is necessary because if we are not in the will of God, our best laid plans will fail.  If we hear in our heart the still small voice of God prompting us to take a step of faith, have a conversation with a person, make a career move, stand up for what we believe, etc., our response is to be obedient to God and take that step.  But how do we know it is God’s voice prompting us?  If what we are “hearing” lines up with the character and nature of God, it is likely the Holy Spirit calling us out!  The bottom line for the disciple is this – if God asks you to go to the mountain, go!  When He leads, and we follow, He will use us to change the world for His Kingdom sake!
  • And when they saw him they worshiped him.The disciples went to the mountain in Galilee, and when they saw Jesus approaching them they went into full worship mode! When the risen Savior approached, how else could they react?  In our journey as we get away and alone with God, listening for His guiding voice that will direct our path as called by Him, our response is always to worship Him!  Not because He needs it, but because we need it!  He loves our worship, and when we show our love for Him through worship, we are reciprocating a love that is pure and honorable and lovely – which fills us with joy, peace, goodness, etc!  The only way we can truly honor God’s amazing gift of grace is full on worship!  He deserves no less!
  • but some doubted.– As Jesus approached the disciples, some still doubted He was who He said He was.  Some doubted that they would be able to fulfill the things Jesus was calling them to do – change the world!  Don’t we do this all the time as well?  When we feel a tug at our heart to, say, end global hunger…it seems overwhelming to think we could have any part of something so huge, doesn’t it?  Or we feel the nudge to talk to someone about Jesus who has been hostile to anything they deem “religious”.  Every time God calls us to one of His “missions”, we may have a bit of doubt that we will have to work through.  I thank God this verse was included in the Great Commission showing that the guys who formed The Church had doubts even though Jesus was right in front of them!  It also makes perfect sense why we would have some doubt about our calling since we can’t see Jesus in His earthly form.  Doubt is at the very essence of our calling from God because doubt drives us to dig in and discover why God is calling us and how it all relates to His character and our destiny.  Faith is not the absence of doubt…it is the choice to believe in Jesus, trusting He knows what He is calling us to be part of and knowing He can accomplish anything through us if we will simply trust and believe!

Broken down, here are the four ways to connect with God in the midst of His call as modeled by the disciples during their commissioning from Jesus:

  • Get alone with God, away from distractions that hinder hearing His voice through prayer and His Word.
  • Obey what He says; discerning what is right and from God. If what you are “hearing” lines up with God, trust it and obey!
  • Worship Him through music, nature, poetry, reading His scriptures, etc.
  • Understand that doubt is not the enemy; it can strengthen the understanding of the call and drives us to dig deep!

These four steps can and will help you discern the call God is placing in your life!  Simple guidelines as to how Jesus led the disciples as He commissioned them, and us, to change the world!  Now it’s your turn!  Discern the call God has for you, and change the world for Christ!  This world will never be the same!

Even though this will be my final post in this series describing my pilgrimage to The Holy Land, the land of Israel and it’s people have forever been etched into my heart and will, I am sure, come up from time to time in future writings!

Our next stop is Megiddon (greek for Armageddon).  Megiddon is located approximately 30 miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee in the northern quarter of Israel.  Some info from the Jewish Antiquities informs us that Archaeologists working in Megiddo have unearthed an incredible 25 layers of settlement built on top of each other that cover a period of 35 centuries.

The city of Megiddo dates back roughly 8,000 years. The city ceased to exist after the Persian invasion of Palestine some 2,300 years ago and, today, nothing is left but the ruins of what once was a regional administrative and military center during the reign of King Solomon.

Megiddo’s long history is related to its strategic position overlooking the Via Maris, one of the main routes used for travel between Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia. The city is referred to in the New Testament as Armageddon, a name St. John derived from the Hebrew for Mount Megiddo, Har Megiddo. According to the book of Revelation, this is the place where the last great battle will be fought when the forces of good will triumph over evil.

The first people to inhabit Megiddo arrived during the Neolithic period. A watershed period occurred in the 20th century BC when it became a fortified city-state. Egypt later dominated the area then known as Canaan and massive walls were built around the city, which indicate Megiddo had become wealthy and required protection.

The first written reference to Megiddo, in fact the first recorded battle in history, is a detailed account of the 1479 BC invasion of the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III. The city subsequently became a center of culture and politics.

Megiddo is first mentioned in the Bible in Joshua 12:21. At that time, the city was inhabited by Canaanites. The city later came under the control of King Solomon, though there is some controversy as to how much of a connection he had to the remains that have been discovered. The Israelite connection to the city ended around 732 BC when the Assyrians conquered Palestine. Though the city was destroyed and rebuilt several more times, it gradually declined in significance. Most recently, Megiddo was the place where British General Edmund Allenby launched his attack against the Turks in 1917. It also served as a base for Israeli forces in the 1948 War.

One of the interesting parts of the excavation is the chariot stables, called Solomon’s Stables even though we now know they were built by King Ahab during the 9th century BC. The only parts that remain are the posts where the horses were apparently tied and troughs. A grain silo dates from the reign of King Jeroboam in the 8th century BC.

Today, water is considered vital to the security and survival of Israel. This has been true since ancient times, and is evident in many archaeological sites throughout the country, including Megiddo. Here, an ingenious system was devised so the townspeople would not have to leave the safety of the city walls to collect water. A vertical shaft was dug within the city to the depth of the nearby spring and then a tunnel was built connecting to the water source. We walked down 183 steps into the shaft, which is 120 feet deep, and then along the tunnel, which stretches another 215 feet before exiting at a lower point on the hill.

Excavations have Uncovered Multiple Civilizations at Megiddo

Excavations have Uncovered Multiple Civilizations at Megiddo

Megiddo strategically sits on a large mound overlooking the Jezreel Valley (the Valley of Armageddon).  Megiddo has historic and future significance as it is mentioned several times in the bible (one reference below) and will be the location of the final battle at the end of days!

2 Kings 23:29 – In his days Pharaoh Necho, king of Egypt, went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and king Josiah went against him; and he slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him. 

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The top picture is a panoramic view of the entire Valley of Armageddon, 75 miles in length by 25 miles in width (not the best picture though).  At the far northern end (if my directions were correct) stands an Israeli military base that has been there preparing for the final battle for a long time!

The pictures above show some small mounds across the valley that have historic significance as well.  Many of the famous battles in Israel took place on these mounds, one of which is the battle of Deborah.   Deborah and Barak headed one of the greatest last battles of the Israelites over the northern Canaanite armies. The battle is known as the “battle of Deborah”,  and was fought during the late 12th Century BC. It brought an end to the mighty Canaanite city of Hazor, and completed the conquest of Canaan, several dozen years after Joshua first entered Canaan and conquered most of the land.

Judges 5:1-2 – Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day:“ That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord!”

It is amazing to know that this location will be the final battle that will usher us all into eternity with Jesus!

Revelation 16:16 – And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

Our next stop was the port city of Ceasarea Martima, approximately 15 miles west from Megiddo, north of Tel Aviv by about 30 miles.  The ancient port city was constructed by Herod the Great about 25-13 BC and is the current site of one of the most amazing excavations of our time.  Israel has made this site a National Park due to the incredible discoveries!  Caesarea Maritima was named in honor of Augustus Ceasar. The city was described in detail by the 1st-century Roman Jewish historian Josephus. The city became the seat of the Roman prefect soon after its foundation. Caesarea was the “administrative capital” beginning in 6 AD. This city is the location of the 1961 discovery of the Pilate Stone (see below), the only archaeological item that mentions the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, by whose order Jesus was crucified.

As you can see from the pictures below, this site was Roman in every archeological sense!  It was likely built as a port to bring in wealth so that Herod could build his palaces stretching all the way to Jerusalem and beyond to the Dead Sea (Masada).

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Pilate Stone

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Standing on the Edge of the Roman Coliseum

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Typical Roman Archway

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Port

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More Romanesque Columns

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The Amphitheater was amazing and is still used to this day!  A concert was being set up while we toured:

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Our final stop before our flight back to the USA was Tel Aviv.  Tel Aviv is a hopping city where the average age is in the early 30’s and is a technical hotspot for young people making their mark in the technological world!  Before visiting Israel, we saw an interview and tour of the Holy Land in which the guide said that Tel Aviv looks pretty boring and lacks a lot of the social scene until about 9pm…then everyone comes out to play!  We witnessed that full force as we spent some down time on the Mediterranean beach and walking along the shops on the boardwalk.  It truly is a beautiful city!

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Israeli Flag on the Breaker

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View from our Hotel Room

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One Final Shot of My Beautiful Bride and Me on the Boardwalk in Tel Aviv

Thank you for taking a tour of my journey to the Holy Land!  I pray that you have been blessed in some way by my ramblings and my curious nature.  Often times when people return from Israel they say that once you’ve been there your bible reading goes from black and white into full color…I can say that is 100% true!  Every time I read my bible now, I am looking for locations as in most passages of scripture site references are made.  I am now able to look at a map and see how the scriptures and journeys in the bible come to life and can even visualize the places where our amazing Savior lived and ministered to the people.  I am truly amazed that in this little strip of land called Israel, the history and future of the world revolves around what started here and will ultimately end here!  Even so, come Lord Jesus!!!  Shalom!

Our next stop will take us to the furthest most point in northern Israel overlooking a valley where Syria and Israel meet.  An interesting fact along the way was that the road we were traveling on was in fact the Damascus Road, the very road (unpaved of course) where Saul, being on his way to Damascus to hunt down “Christians” (located in modern day Syria), heard from Jesus and would later became Paul – from a Pharisee hunting down followers of Jesus and killing them, to writer of over 30% of the New Testament!  When you encounter Jesus, you really are radically changed!

Acts 9:1-19 – But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision,“Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.
The Damascus Road

The Damascus Road

We first visited the Nature Park at Tel Dan.  This site is the location of the springs where the Jordan River begins.  At this Nature Preserve, we had the opportunity to hike a trail along the Jordan River to see the springs where it begins.  The first picture below is one of the springs that feeds the rivers beginning, and just a few yards down stream you can see the river is already flowing with rapids!

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The Jordan River Just a Few Yards from the Springs

The Jordan River Just a Few Yards from the Springs

Just up the trail from the springs was the ancient temple of Augustus where worship of the pagan god Pan occurred.  This incredibly sick pagan worship involved sacrificing children to Pan in the carved out cavern in the following picture.

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Along the way there were still signs of war as random tanks were left after one of the conflicts between Israel, Jordan and Syria.  This site was just a few short miles from the border of Syria, a border where much conflict still occurs almost weekly!

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Our final stop this day was a dormant volcanic park overlooking the UN Facility at the Syrian border.  This is the site where ISIS had come in and kidnapped UN Peacekeepers from this site…however, Israel sent in forces to retrieve the captives and shortly after they shut down this facility.  This is also the site where earlier in the week a Syrian jet was shot down as it was heading toward Israel in the buffer zone where no aircraft are allowed.

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To the Left is the UN Facility, the Hills are in Syria, and in Between is the Buffer Zone

This was a very surreal area as it really brought to life how close all these warring nations really are.  The Middle East is a hotbed of conflict and it all stems around the Jews and the Arabs dating back to Abraham’s two sons – Isaac and Ishmael.  Isaac was the promised son in whom the nation of Israel would be born.  He was the son in whom the inheritance of this entire region was promised.  However, Abraham and Sarah were very old and impatient.  Sarah gave one of her maids to Abraham to bear a child, in which Ishmael was born.  Abraham was promised that Ishmael would also be a great nation and would be at war with Isaac.  Ishmael, as you have guessed, is the father of the Arab nation, and that conflict continues to this day!

Genesis 15 records the promise from God that He would provide Abraham and Sarah a son.  Genesis 16 records their impatience where Sarah gives her maid Hagar to Abraham and Hagar bears Abraham a son, and he named him Ishmael.  Genesis 21 tells of Isaac’s birth and God gives Hagar the promise that Ishmael will not be forgotten.  Isaac and Ishmael are both promised many descendents by God.  Because of Abraham and Sarah’s unbelief that God would provide a child through Sarah even in their old age, and their disobedient act of thwarting that promise, the Middle East is at war to this very day!

Next week, we will discuss the culmination of the ongoing wars in the Middle East as we visit Megiddo (the Valley of Armageddon) and also our final day in Israel at Caesarea and Tel Aviv!  Until then, Shallom!

 

On the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee lies a triangle of small towns of great significance in the life of Jesus. Capernaum is located right on the northern shore, while Chorazin sits between 2 and 3 miles northwest of Chorazin, and Bethsaida stands 3 miles east along the shoreline of Galilee.

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As recorded in the gospels, most of Jesus’ earthly ministry occurred on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  It was here where over half of Jesus’ parables were taught and most of the recorded miracles as well.  Capernaum became Jesus’ hometown throughout His ministry, possibly due to His own town of Nazareth rejecting Him and even trying to throw Him off a cliff (Read Matthew 13:53-58 and Luke 4:16-30).  Capernaum was a fishing town, making up most of the residents vocations.  It was on this northern shore where Jesus chose the disciples who would take His message of Grace to the world!

Capernaum was the home of Jesus’ chosen disciples James, John and Matthew.  Mathew, as you may remember, was the tax collector of the town of Capernaum:

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. – Mathew 9:9

Three of His disciples hailed from a nearby town called Bethsaida – Peter, Andrew and Philip:

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael, and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” – John 1:43-45

Among the many miracles described in the gospels from this area, I will mention two of the most recognizable:

After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. – Luke 7:1-10

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The Synagogue Built by the Centurion Mentioned in Above Verse.

And:

And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,“Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” – Mark 2:1-12

As we walked through Capernaum, we saw the synagogue where Jesus would have taught many days (same one the Centurion build from Luke 7 above).

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Closeup Showing the Size of the Columns in the Synagogue.

A little further down the the road we saw Peter’s mother-in-laws house where Jesus and His disciples stayed on many occasions while in Capernaum.  This site is covered by a Catholic Church, but at least it is still able to be seen underneath:

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The Metal at the Top is the Bottom of the Catholic Church.

I can see why this would have been a location Jesus spent much of His time as the beauty of this place on the Sea of Galilee is breathtaking – I can truly see why our guide, Mickey, has a strong desire to retire somewhere along these shores of the freshwater lake where the presence of Jesus can be felt in such a strong and serene way to this very day!

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View from Capernaum Overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

Statue of Peter - Peter was a prominent member of this community!

Statue of Peter – Peter was a prominent member of this community!  “Upon this rock I will build my Church” – Jesus

A couple miles northwest of Capernaum are the ruins of the ancient town of Chorazin.  The most prominent feature of this site is the ancient synagogue that is the center of the community.  Many artifacts and structures have been uncovered here.  Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida are mentioned in this famous passage spoken by Jesus where He condemns these cities for their unrepentant hearts in the full site of most of Jesus’ miracles while He walked the earth:

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you,Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” – Matthew 11:20-24

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The Seat for the Reader of the Scrolls in the Synagogue

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Ornate Archway

As seen in the following picture, the stone in which our guide is standing and teaching is called the Bema stone.  This would be where the reader of the scrolls, the teacher, would have stood while teaching in the synagogue:

Mickey Teaching us from the Bema Stone

Mickey Teaching us from the Bema Stone

Chorazin was a great place to see some incredible artifacts and also see how a small town would have functioned.  We then took a trip up the road to Bethsaida.  There is not much left at this location other that a small monument and an area to teach.  This place made a special connection for me because it is likely the place where Jesus fed the 5,000.  You can see in the picture below how this could be the place as the hill drops into the valley and at the time of Christ the Sea of Galilee would have come up into that valley and easily would have been a shoreline where Jesus could have stepped out of the boat (or back into the boat) for some teaching.

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In the Distance is the Sea of Galilee. Before Water was being Pumped out of the Sea, the Shoreline would have come up to the Treeline.

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Well Marked Bike Path

There was a great bike trail through this site, but you wouldn’t want to get off the path…there are still landmines that have not been detonated from the Syrian wartime all around this area – Syria is only a few short miles from this location.  We will discuss that more at our next stop, The Golan Heights and Dan.  Until then, Shalom!

 

Matthew 3:13-17Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.  And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

The Jordan River flows from the northern border of Jordan (southern border of Syria) along the eastern border of Israel (western border of Jordan) and ends as it enters the Dead Sea.  The Jordan River at the northern most point in Israel flows a couple miles south of the Sea of Galilee.  So when Jesus traveled from the region of Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized, it was a semi-short distance from where He was at the time (probably no more than 12-15 miles depending on how far south John was baptizing!  I love the idea of this prophet of God, John the Baptist, baptizing people in the Jordan for each person’s public repentance of their sins, and yet Jesus, the only sinless person to ever live, made His public appearance to be baptized by John to begin His ministry!  It was truly an honor to be baptized in that same river while we visited Israel!  Kind of surreal knowing that our Savior, the Son of God, Jesus Christ was baptized in the same river 2,000 years ago!

Going Under at The Jordan River!

Going Under at The Jordan River!

Celebration!

Celebration!

On our way to Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, we stopped at a place called Bet She’an, an archeological site approximately 15 miles south of the Sea of Galilee.  This site is the location of some amazing discoveries including a 7,000 seat Theatre, a Roman temple, bathhouse, and a column lined street that is a common site in many Roman archeological digs.

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Main Street through Bet Sha’en – Column Lined Roman City Street

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Theatre at Bet She’an

This is also the city mentioned in 1 Samuel where Saul and his sons bodies were found after their deaths:

1 Samuel 31:8-13 – The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. So they cut off his head and stripped off his armor and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people. They put his armor in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan (Bet Sha’en). But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and went all night and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted seven days.

We then boarded our chariot (actually, a Mercedes bus driven by our amazing bus driver Udi) and headed down to our hotel in the city of Tiberias.  Upon arrival and check-in, we headed down to board a tour boat to take a peaceful boat ride around the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Lake of Genneseret).  The Sea is actually a small lake approximately 13 miles long and 8 miles wide and around 141 feet deep.  It is the largest fresh water lake in Israel.  This body of water is also the lowest fresh water lake on Earth at levels nearly 700 feet below sea level.

Ready to Board our Boat

Ready to Board our Boat

The Sea of Galilee is the Most Serene Place to Visit!  No Wonder Jesus Spent so Much Time Here!

The Sea of Galilee is the Most Serene Place to Visit! No Wonder Jesus Spent so Much Time Here!

As we sailed across this amazing body of water, I thought back to the many stories throughout Jesus life that took place all around this lake.  In the next post I will discuss our visit to the northern shore and surrounding areas of Capernaum where many amazing things occurred and are documented in the scriptures.  However, this day, I was drawn to the following scripture when out on the water:

Matthew 14:22-33 – Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.  And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

It was amazing actually being on the same water where Jesus and His disciples often crossed, fished and even this fateful day recorded in history when Jesus walked on the water and Peter went out to Him.  Often times we look at Peter’s story and say how small his faith must have been in many situations, but how many times have we actually made an attempt to fully trust Jesus at His word and step out in faith to follow Him?  Yes Peter eventually sank, but for that brief moment in history, Peter too was a water walker like Jesus!  There is a simple yet powerful point here…when we keep our eyes firmly set on Jesus, we seldom sink!  It’s when our eyes fall from the Savior and distractions take over that our greatest trials occur!  So where in your life have your eyes wandered away from Jesus, and how will you get that focus back?  Trials and struggles will occur, but when our eyes are focused on Jesus, we grow from those trials and they no longer become the driving forces in our daily lives.  I know living that way is sometimes easier said than done when in the middle of the struggle, but remember these words form Jesus:

John 16:33 – “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation (trouble). But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The peace of Jesus comes with or without the storms in our lives as long as our eyes are focused on Him, after all, as Jesus says, we will have trouble in this world, this life, but He has overcome the world!  And as followers of His, so have we!  Embrace Him now and choose peace within the storm!

Next stop we will visit Capernaum and the sites around the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee!  Many miracles and events occurred to the north and I cannot wait to share those with you next time!  Once again, until then, Shalom (Peace be with you)!

Luke 2:1-20 – In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Bethlehem is the birth place of Jesus, yet the Christian community today in the city of Bethlehem is almost non-existent.  Bethlehem now has a Muslim majority (over 80%), and is governed by the Palestinian National Authority.  Nazareth is similar in that a very small group of people are Christian, and the only site preserved in Nazareth is a small plot of land where a farm is kept that mimics Jesus’ time.  Due to this fact, most of the biblical artifacts have been destroyed or covered up.  Sad how this group of people are going around destroying evidence of the Savior, when accepting Him is the only salvation they (and we) truly need!

Olive Harvesting at the Farm

Olive Harvesting at the Farm in Nazareth

Geographically, Bethlehem sits just 6 miles south of Jerusalem, and approximately 60-70 miles south of Nazareth – Nazareth is located in the region of Galilee (west of the Sea of Galilee).  So that journey for Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem was quite a hike, especially with Mary being pregnant.  Yet, with how small Israel as a whole is, it is quite feasible to understand how the journeys throughout the scriptures occurred!   I think we read where people traveled from one region to another and believe it must have taken months, but in all reality, days for many of the journeys from far north or far south to Jerusalem and surrounding areas!

On our visit to Bethlehem, we first stopped at the Bethlehem Olive Wood Factory where local artists carve many biblical scenes such as the one below that I really like, a scene where the disciples are casting their nets and taking the challenge to follow Jesus and become fishers of men!  This factory employs the very few Christians in Bethlehem today!

Artists at the Bethlehem Olive Wood Factory

Artists at the Bethlehem Olive Wood Factory

Olive Wood from Bethlehem Drying for Carving

Olive Wood from Bethlehem Drying for Carving

My Favorite Olive Wood Carving - "I Will Make You Fishers of Men"

My Favorite Olive Wood Carving – “I Will Make You Fishers of Men”

We then took a short walk to the Church of the Nativity, just a few short blocks away.  We were immediately met by a couple local Palestinian merchants who starting following us, trying to sell us several small items.  I made a poor choice along the way of buying a package of 20 post cards from a local kid for $1…because after I handed him the dollar several others followed us all the way to the bus trying to force themselves on the women to buy their items.  I really had a vision of why Jesus turned over the tables at the temple where all the merchants were selling items and stealing from the buyers.  The birthplace of our Savior has become a den of robbers!

Church of the Nativity

Church of the Nativity

As we arrive at the Church of the Nativity, our guide shared with us again that this is the traditional site of Jesus birth, which simply means that the Catholic Church placed a huge church over the site and gave limited access to what was inside.  The picture below shows a small glass “hole” to view where they believe Jesus was born.  It really is hard to know if this is the exact place of His birth, but what I left with was more of a feeling of angst over how ritualistic this place has become.  There were many ancient relics here including some amazing mosaics.  But I still left with a sadness over those who visit because they feel the only way to know Jesus is to pray at these Catholic churches in a ritualistic manner, often touching stones and praying that His power would pass through these items into them.  My Savior lives in me and I can talk with Him whenever and wherever I choose…it is so much more of a relationship instead of a religion!

Me and my Lovely wife at the Traditional Spot of Jesus Birth

Me and my Lovely wife at the Traditional Spot of Jesus Birth

Overall, I was highly disappointed in both Nazareth and Bethlehem.  Both areas have a corrupt influence in the religious and the governing bodies.  But one thing holds true here as well as many other places we visited – the reason the Muslims are ravaging these sites is because they fear the fact that Jesus is real and is coming back one day…and unfortunately, they follow a “religion” that will be on the losing side of eternity unless they accept Jesus as their true Savior and Lord!  It is easy to walk away from these areas discouraged and disappointed, and maybe even a little angry.  Yet, we are called as believers in Jesus Christ to love and pray for these people as much as our unbelieving neighbor.  My prayers have changed since leaving Israel…I pray a lot for the Peace of Israel, and I pray for those who are fighting against Christ to see Him for who He truly is – the One True Messiah who will return very soon!

As we celebrate our amazing Saviors birth this Christmas, remember to pray for those who are fighting hard to believe Jesus is not real.  I can understand how unbelievable this story of Christmas and the entire life of Jesus can be, yet I know there is a longing in every person’s heart for relationship with Jesus, who is in fact the only One who can fill the void this world has created in so many people.  Riches, possessions, careers, and even relationships with others cannot replace the desperate need that our spirit has to be united with God forever.  Without Jesus, we will always be left wanting more!  If you are a believer, intercede in prayer for those who are investigating Jesus…that they will come to know Him deeply during this Christmas season.  Pray also for those who are in complete denial of His existence, and feel that science, evolution or other religions explain away a Creator…remember, God created science as well and evidence always points to an intelligent designer!  Pray for those allowing personal sin to keep them from seeking out a relationship with Jesus.  If we had to clean ourselves up before coming into relationship with Jesus, He would have no followers!  We are all in the same sin sick boat, drowning without a Savior!

God has placed you in relationship with those around you for a reason!  He wants to utilize your relationship as you walk along side those in whom He is drawing into relationship with Him.  When Jesus said to love God and each other, He knew that this would revolutionize the world if only people would focus on those two commands.  So, how are you loving God and those around you?

Mark 12:30-31 – And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Thank you for continuing to read my blog!  I pray it has been a blessing to you and maybe even made you think, seek out Truth in the scriptures and/or drew you closer to Jesus in some way!  The next stop along this Holy Land journey will be The Sea of Galilee as we move north along the Jordan River.  Until then, Shalom, and Merry Christmas!

The Garden Tomb is the traditional site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection.  The Garden is now owned and maintained by The Garden Tomb Association, a non-denominational Christian group ensuring that the site stay intact and a destination for many believers while in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.  The Garden Tomb is an alternate site from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where the Catholic Church has built a massive church over a site they believe to be the location the crucifixion took place.  However, the Garden Tomb site meets the criteria surrounding the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus in all four gospels.  There is no way to be sure, but the location along with proximity of the crucifixion site and tomb seem to match this site better than any other!

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View of a small portion of the garden

The first thing you see upon entering the gate is the beautiful garden full of vegetation and paths to take in the beauty all around.  This site is very serene and allows for each person to reflect and worship in a peaceful and powerful way.

Golgotha - The Place of the Skull

Golgotha – The Place of the Skull

As we make our way through the garden, we arrive at an overlook where we see Golgotha – the place of the skull – where Jesus was crucified.  Just below the “skull” (not shown in the picture) is a bus station placed there by local Muslims.  This is something you see all over Israel, the Muslims destroying places of biblical significance to try and cover-up the truth in the Scriptures.  Thank God that The Garden Tomb Association was able to purchase this site and gate it before any more damage could have been done to this historic site.

Luke 19:17 – Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).

We then make our way toward the Garden Tomb, no more than 30-40 yards from Golgotha as I recall.  Again, with the proximity of the tomb to the place where Jesus was on the cross, this site has all the makings of the actual place where our Savior died, was buried and then rose again!

The Entrance to the Garden Tomb

The Entrance to the Garden Tomb

Matthew 27:57-61 – When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

It is a very surreal experience seeing the tomb and then entering it to find this sign, driving home the point:

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He is most certainly not in there, and the words that Mary Magdalene heard from the angel of the Lord rang in my ears as I came out of the tomb:

Matthew 28: 1-7 – Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”

We ended our visit to this amazing site with communion while we sang some well known hymns.  I sobbed as our group served one-another communion at the location where my Savior, Jesus Christ, was raised to life, knowing one day soon He will return to take those of us who call Him Lord and have accepted His gift of grace home to spend eternity with the Father!  I long for that day more now than ever before…and as He has said at the end of the book of Revelation; “I am coming soon”…even so, come Lord Jesus!  I pray you have accepted that gift of grace as well, and I look forward to spending eternity with you and with Jesus!

The next post on this journey will be centered upon the birth of Jesus as we celebrate this season of Christmas!  Until then, Shalom!

 

 

One of the most emotional stops along this entire journey for me was The Mount of Olives.  This site has so much biblical, historical and present day significance, some of which I hope to present to you here.  The Mount of Olives is located east of the Temple, just across the Kidron Valley.  The Garden of Gethsemane is directly across the valley from the Golden Gate (Eastern Gate) of the Temple.  The actual distance from the Eastern Gate to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives is less than 3 football fields as the crow flies – approximately 300 yards.  That alone gives great perspective as to how short a distance it was for Jesus to go outside of the city walls and pray in the garden.  Down and then back up the Kidron Valley is a bit longer (obviously), but still a very short distance to walk.  Interestingly, the Jewish people are not allowed to “work” on the Sabbath, so they continually create “laws” to govern what is considered work.  For example, when walking on Shabbat (Sabbath), they are only allowed to walk approximately ½ mile, so a Sabbath days journey would be possible from Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives or vice versa!

Acts 1: 12 – Then they [His disciples] returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet [Mount of Olives], which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.

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Our visit began as we drove from the eastern side of the Mount of Olives and as we crested the hill the view of the city of Jerusalem was breathtaking!  It is at this point where Jesus wept over the city as He arrived from Bethany (just east of the Mount of Olives).

jerusalem from mt olives

Luke 19:41-44 – And when he [Jesus] drew near and saw the city [Jerusalem], he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

We arrived at our stop and walked down a steep road toward the Garden of Gethsemane.  Along the way, we passed thousands of concrete coffins where many Jewish people have been buried over 3 millennia.  When one visits a gravesite at the Mount of Olives, the tradition is to leave a small stone on the coffin to signify that someone visited.  As you can see, some sites were covered with stones, while others have none.

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As we entered the Garden of Gethsemane, I was awestruck by the ancient olive trees present in the garden.  Although it is unlikely that these trees were present when Jesus prayed here, the root system is still intact from that time.  You see, in 70 AD the Roman Army destroyed everything in their path.  The trees were all cut down and the wood used by the soldiers.  But, the root system stayed intact and over the next 2,000 years some of these large trees remain and are protected.  These olive trees are among the oldest in existence today!

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I spent much time in reflection at this place taking in the beauty of these ancient trees, knowing that Jesus spent a lot of time here in prayer and reflection.  It was here where we discovered that the word Nazarene comes from the outer layers of the olive tree.  As you can see from the picture, the olive tree is hollow on the inside, being held up and strengthened by the outer wood of the tree – the Nazarene!  Jesus is known as the Nazarene – the One who strengthens us and sustains us while holding us up against the storms of life.  What a great metaphor!

As we pressed on through the olive grove, another breathtaking site was before us.  Looking West from the garden, across the Kidron Valley, stands the eastern wall of the Temple, and the Eastern Gate is directly across from us, seemingly a stone’s throw away.

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As you can see, the Eastern Gate has been sealed up!  Here was a great faith builder for me… the Ottoman Turks (a Muslim empire) sealed up the gate in 1530 AD to keep Jesus out when He returns!  Isn’t it amazing that even the Muslims know He is coming back (and God used them to fulfill prophecy by sealing the gate), and they believe He will descend from the Mount of Olives and enter the Eastern Gate just as the scriptures say:

Ezekiel 44:1-3 – Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east. And it was shut. And the Lord said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it. Therefore it shall remain shut. Only the prince may sit in it to eat bread before the Lord. He shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and shall go out by the same way.”

Zechariah 14:4 – On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward.

Here’s another interesting tidbit…of the over 150,000 Jewish graves upon the Mount of Olives, many famous people have been buried there and their coffins have been identified in many cases – one of which is Zechariah, the one God used to prophecy Jesus’ return to this very site!

Something else you may be able to see in the pictures are the graves in front of the Eastern Gate…these are Muslim graves placed there in hopes of keeping Jesus out once again.  Tradition says that a Jewish person cannot walk over a grave, so apparently the Muslims feel that Jesus will be more about the traditions kept by man than the redemption of His people and His Kingdom…I’m thinking these graves will not be the only man-made tradition or ritual that Jesus will trample when He returns!

We then visited the Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony) located on the Mount of Olives.  This is a church at Gethsemane, built over the rock on which Jesus is believed to have prayed in agony the night before he was crucified.  It’s amazing now to understand that while Jesus prayed from this spot, He would have been able to see the crowd of people coming across the Kidron Valley to arrest Him…and yet He continued to pray for God’s will to be done, all the while knowing He was going to die for the sins of mankind!

Luke 22: 39-53 – And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?”And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

I was emotionally spent after this visit knowing that Jesus, my Savior, spent a lot of time here and ultimately was taken from here to begin His sacrificial journey to the cross.  He prayed and sought out God’s best plan of saving each and every one of us, and followed through with His sacrifice on behalf of those of us who will follow Him!  Will you follow Him too?  It really is that easy – you must believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins, was laid in a tomb for 3 days and then was resurrected back to life to usher a way for your salvation! Our only response to that amazing grace once we truly believe is to accept His free gift of grace and to love Him with all our hearts and seek to live the ways that honor Him – by loving others the way He first loved us!  If you have ever accepted that gift of grace (or if you just did) the Mount of Olives will be a significant place for you as well because someday soon Jesus will return to that spot in all His glory!  Are you ready for that day?

 Luke 12:40 – “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Matthew 24:30-31 – “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

I truly pray that you have accepted the amazing gift of grace that only Jesus offers.  If you have any questions or would like to take that first step of faith, please contact me or someone in your area that can help answer any questions you may have about this man Jesus and the incredible gift of grace He offers us!  You can email me above under Contact Rob.  We are all sinners, and His grace is enough to cover every one our sins – regardless of how bad you may think they are!  He is big enough to handle it!  Trust Him!

Next stop we will visit the traditional site of the Garden Tomb and Golgotha!  Until then, Shalom!

Via Dolorosa – The way of suffering.  This is the traditional path that Jesus walked as He carried the cross that He would die upon for our sins.  This post will make for a great Bible study as there are many scriptural references here referring to the stations along the Via Dolorosa.  So, grab your bibles and let’s walk along the way of suffering.

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This first map is an overview of Jerusalem.  As you can see, the Via Dolorosa begins at the Lions Gate (in the current Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem) and winds its way into the Christian Quarter.  The path covers approximately 550 yards, and along the path are 14 stations noted with biblical references (as they apply) as to the possible location of where these historical events took place.

City Overview

Below is a map of the Via Dolorosa noting each station by number.  I have included scripture below as a means to study the significance of this path for our daily redemptive lives.

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Station 1 – Jesus Condemned to DieMatthew 27:22-23

Station 2 – Jesus Takes Up His CrossJohn 19: 15b- 17

Station 3 – Jesus Falls For the First Time
This is a traditional site. There are not any scriptures that reference Jesus falling a certain number of times. However, we can imagine that He might have done so. Therefore, let us remember the totality of what He suffered on this day.

Station 4 – Jesus Meets His MotherLuke 2:21, 22, 25, 34, 35

Station  5 – Simon of Cyrene Takes Up the CrossMark 15:21

Station  6 – Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
Traditionally, a woman named Veronica removes her veil and wipes the blood and sweat stained face of Jesus. When she later looks at the veil, she sees that the imprint of His face remains on the cloth used to cover hers.
Station 7 – Jesus Falls the Second Time
The intention of remembrance of this traditional site is that as Jesus endured the painful way.

Station  8 – Jesus Meets the Holy Women of JerusalemLuke 23:28

Station  9 – Jesus Fall the Third Time
The intention of this site-this Ninth Station of the Cross-is to remind us to preserve even within our own faults.

Station 10 – Jesus is Stripped of His GarmentsJohn 19: 23

Station 11 – Jesus Nailed to the Cross
It was the third hour when they crucified him. ~ Mark 15:25

Station 12 – Jesus Dies on the Cross Luke 23:44-46

Station 13 – Jesus Taken Down from the Cross &

Station 14 – Jesus is Placed in the Tomb ~ Mark 15: 43, 46

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One of the Stations along the Via Dolorosa – Station 5

 

I realize this post is more of a study than a guide as to what we witnessed.  The reason I have chosen this path is because while we traveled the path, we did not have a lot of time to contemplate the suffering or even stop at each station for reflection.  This path is a very busy road winding through the city with bustling traffic and loud shops all along the way!  Going back through these verses has given me a greater understanding and heart for the way of suffering!

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The busy street along the Via Dolorosa

 

I pray as you study these few scriptures along the way that you will connect deeper to the One who was willing to take this suffering for you because of the deep love that He has for you!  I pray you get to know Jesus deeper through His suffering!

The next post we will discover the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane!  Until then, shalom, and Happy Thanksgiving!

The Pool of Bethesda

In the late 19th century, and then confirmed later during repairs in 1988 near St. Anne’s Church and The Sheep Gate, located in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City Jerusalem, an amazing discovery was made.  Until this discovery, the validity of this pool described in John 5 was in question, causing many to doubt whether the writer had even been to Jerusalem or if he was simply telling a story much later than the times of Jesus.  The historic archeological discovery confirmed the existence of the Pool of Bethesda and supports the miracle biblical account in the Gospel of John:

John 5:1-9 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.  Now that day was the Sabbath.

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Excavation of The Pool of Bethesda

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At the bottom of the large pool at Bethesda

Biblical Model of Pool of Bethesda in Jesus Time

Biblical Model of Pool of Bethesda in Jesus Time

In the text above, John describes the pool as having 5 roofed colonnades which was not a normal pool design.  Many pools were rectangular, but something was special about this one located near the Sheep Gate.  Archeological evidence shows that the pool in fact was rectangular at the base but separated into two basins by a wall, thus creating a 5 sided pool, each having a portico (porch roof).  The excavating revealed that the southern basin had broad steps with landings, indicating that it was actually a mikveh (ritual bath).  The northern basin provided a reservoir to continually replenish and purify the mikveh with fresh, flowing water through the dam between them.  Jerusalem’s pilgrims would flock to the Bethesda Pool to purify themselves and, at times, would also seek healing!

Jesus miracle at this site has many significant aspects.  One that is called out in the scripture above is that the healing he provided was on the Sabbath.  This was a common problem for the religious leaders of Jesus day and they often called Jesus out for healing on the Sabbath.  You see, even to this day, Jews in Jerusalem (and many orthodox Jews around the world) are constantly rewriting the “rule book” on what God designed the Sabbath for in the first place.  The Sabbath was given by God for us to have rest and to refresh us.  It was never designed for man to be subject to the Sabbath…the Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath!

As we arrived in Israel, we arrived on the Sabbath, so this religious tradition was ever present when we arrived at our hotel the first night.  We were somewhat prepared for the Sabbath, but not fully prepared for what we would witness.  We knew the Jews treated the Sabbath very differently than we do in America, but I think we were still a bit surprised at the ritualistic nature of the Sabbath by the local Jews.  For example, only one elevator functions on the Sabbath…the Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) elevator.  It continually runs up and down and stops at every floor.  If a Jew is on the elevator, non-Jews are not to enter the elevator…some in our group were shooed away for trying!  The elevator stops at each floor because it has been deemed that pushing an elevator button is work, and no work can be done on the Sabbath in Jewish traditions.  Something that must get exhausting is that the rules must always be changing as technology changes – is pressing a touch screen phone considered work?  There is debate over the use of touch screens, but the consensus of articles I have read say that it is not permissible to use a touch screen on the Sabbath!  Unfortunately, ritualistic behaviors in Jewish traditions, as well as in American denominations, have taken away from the focus of the Gospel – it is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ that we are saved, not by works or traditions…and our response to this amazing gift of grace? We love God and love others!  It is not so surprising then to read about the Pharisees constant battle with Jesus over the Sabbath since this Sabbath battle is still happening to this day!

The Upper Room

We then visited a traditional spot representing what the Upper Room may have looked like where Jesus and the disciples met for the Passover meal:

Luke 22:7-13  Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover

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The Acoustics in the Upper Room were Amazing!

It is impossible to know the exact location of the upper room described here, so this traditional site was just a glimpse into what that room may have looked like.  We also saw that there were upper rooms all over Jerusalem, many of which may have been used!

An interesting thing happened while we were in this upper room.  Because it is a traditional holy site, many people visit here, so there is an armed guard – a secular guard at that.  The acoustics were amazing in that room, so we began singing a hymn that resonated through the room and out the doors.  Shortly after the first verse of the song, the guard came running in and told us we must stop, that if we wanted to sing we could go find a church!  So we stopped, and left the upper room.  We were thinking along the way, we just had church, with The Church Jesus commissioned to go into the entire world and declare His name.  Differing opinions I guess!

It was a beautiful walk along the street with a statue of King David and his harp and the Zion Gate to the city.

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Statue of King David and his harp

Zion Gate

Zion Gate

In the next post, we will take a trip along the Via Dolorosa (The Way of Suffering – the steps Jesus took to the cross) as we visit the Old City Jerusalem!  Once again, until then, Shalom!

The Western Wall
If you’ve ever seen images of Jerusalem, the next picture will likely be familiar to you. The Western Wall (or the Wailing Wall) is the only fragment of the Great Temple to survive Roman destruction, and the Jewish people hold fast to the belief that God’s Divine Presence has never departed from the Western Wall. For this reason, Jewish people spend time here in prayer and meditation, often times memorizing the scriptures as they pray them at the wall.

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Western (Wailing) Wall

The Western Wall Plaza is the cleared area in front of the exposed portion of the Western Wall. It allows for approaching the wall in a dignified manner and provides a setting for national events such as Jerusalem Day ceremonies, Chanukah candle-lighting and Sukkot. It also provides a place for personal ceremonies such as bar and bat mitzvahs for 13 year old Jewish youngsters of Israel and abroad.

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Bar Mitzvah Celebration

Until some 700 years ago, the entire length of the Western Wall was accessible, but gradually the Muslim population built houses and buildings up against the wall of the Temple leaving only what we see today as completely exposed. Jews who continued to pray at the Wall began winding their way through narrow alleys under the structures to reach it until Jordan occupied Jerusalem’s Old City in 1948. At that time, Jews were denied access to the Wall. But, with Jerusalem reunified in 1967 and the Wall joyously restored to Jewish people, the plaza in front of the Wall was cleared, allowing all comers to approach the Wall. The Wall has become a unique place of prayer and a symbol of Jewish national unity.

The Temple Tunnels

We had an amazing opportunity to go down into the Rabbinical Tunnels that lead to and along the Western Wall of the Temple to the same level of streets at the time of Jesus. The street we walked on was the very same street where Jesus walked as He approached the Temple!

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The Stone that Defeated the Romans!

The picture above is a section of the wall with a huge stone that has major significance. This stone is the stone that defeated the Roman army from destroying anything further when they conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. This stone was laid by King Herod and was the outer stone of the Temple wall along the road where Jesus walked, and as we walked along the tunnel and reached our hands out to run along the stone, we could only imagine how many times Jesus and His followers would have done the same thing!

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Praying at the Western Wall (in the Tunnels) at the Closest Accessible Location to the Holy of Holies

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Outer View of the Same Area

These two pictures above show a section of the Western Wall that is closest to the location of the Holy of Holies inside the Temple. The Holy of Holies (or The Most Holy Place) was the place in the Temple where the veil would have been hung to hide from view the Presence of God. This veil is the veil that is torn from top to bottom by God when Jesus dies on the cross…thank God it didn’t end there as we will continue to see in later posts!

Matthew 27:50-51 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.  And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.

Many come to this inner section of the Wall as well to offer up prayers because they feel they are closer to the Presence of the Lord at this location than any other – approx. 90 meters. However, as believers and followers of Jesus Christ, we can come to prayer with full confidence of His Holy Presence right inside of us regardless of where we are in location!

1 Corinthians 3:16 – Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

One interesting side story of our trip: One evening, we walked from our hotel to the Western Wall at night – absolutely beautiful at night, but due to the holiday and the tensions no photos were allowed to be taken. It was the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah, and there was a tinge of unsettledness in the air (maybe a bit more than a tinge). As we passed an opening in the street (actually, many these streets are through tunnels under the Muslim structures above) a group of Palestinians were protesting (which they do often, especially around Holy days) and a riot was breaking out. Our band of Americans was ushered through the street quickly by the military and the police to ensure our safety. I was at the end of the group and noticed that the military was not allowing anyone (including Orthodox Jews) to return the way we came! After an amazing visit to the Wall and the tunnels at the edge of the wall, we were set to return when I remembered the military not allowing people to go the way we came. One of our men in the group spoke to an officer that told us it would be a good idea for us to go another route back to the hotel because it would be very likely that our group would be stoned by the Palestinian uprising! Yikes! Thank God for discerning hearts and the Israeli Military! It brings back many thoughts of scripture where people picked up stones to kill (or at the very least harm) anyone with differing beliefs than those carrying the stones. It’s still happening today!

We are just getting started on this journey in Israel, and many of the places coming up continue to be eye-opening and life-changing for me in so many ways! I can’t wait to share more as we make our next visit to the historical and biblical site of the Pool of Bethesda and the Upper Room. Until then, Shalom!

We now move north along the western edge of the Dead Sea to a place called Qumran, located on the western edge of the northern third of the Dead Sea.  This is the place where an amazing discovery occurred in 1947 by a young Bedouin (or Nomad) shepherd.  Several stories have floated around of the circumstances of the find – from three kids throwing stones in caves to the young shepherd chasing after a goat in his care.  Regardless of the details, they all agree that a young shepherd boy made one of the most incredible discoveries of biblical proportions…see what I did there?

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Over the years of 1947 to 1956 approximately 100,000 fragments and full parchments were discovered confirming the accuracy of translation of the scriptures we read to this day!  Several more have been found during the past decade, but the majority were found between those dates.  The only scroll of the Old Testament not yet found has been Esther, yet many other unknown compositions were found among the jars giving historical and cultural significance to the region as well as this unique group of scribes.  Often times when we think of scribes we think of an older person sitting in dim candle light writing all day long…when in fact, the average life span of this group of scribes was only 34 years of age!

It appears that this group of scribes hid the writings of most importance to them (and it would seem to us as well) either shortly before or during the Great Jewish Revolt against the Romans around 66 to 70 AD, preserving them in the desert heat, seemingly for us to discover in order to keep the sanctity and validity of the scriptures intact forever! (Picture below is of jars housing the scrolls when found in the caves)

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Now get this…these scrolls comprise the oldest copies of books from the Bible in existence, some written as far back as 250 BC, while others around 65 AD.  At some of the other locations, like Masada, scrolls were found from around 135 AD.  To put this into perspective, before this discovery the oldest manuscripts that had been located were written around 800-1000 AD!  1,000 plus years between the manuscripts and yet they match in context and clearly confirm the validity and accuracy of the text we read today!  Kinda throws the theory that states the bible is not accurate to the original texts right out the window, don’t you think?

Dead-Sea-Scrolls

Our local guide and scholar also shared that this was likely a place where John the Baptist would have been due to his personal cultural differences (read into this the camel hair clothing and diet of locusts and honey as well as his nomadic tendencies) being much the same as this community of scribes.  If not, this group of people would have lived in very much the same way as described of John.

Later in our trip, we were able to visit the Jerusalem Museum where many of these scrolls are on display (unfortunately, no photos can be taken of the scrolls at the museum).  My wife Lisa and I were astonished by the fact that the languages written on these scrolls is very similar to these languages today (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) and that even Israeli children could read these scrolls and see how the scriptures we read today do not vary from those written even before the time of Jesus!   2,200 year old scrolls displayed on the walls of the museum with children able to walk right up and read the same scriptures they can read at home!  It was a great site seeing young people reading the scrolls in the museum as someone older explains the reality of the text to them…relational discipleship in action!

Our next stop will be The Temple where we experienced the Western (Wailing) Wall and the Rabbinical Tunnels along the Western Wall that are still under excavation!  Until next week, Shalom!

Ein Gedi (Oasis in the Desert) sits less than a mile west of the Dead Sea at the southernmost third of the sea.  It is mentioned several times in the bible (Joshua 15:62, 1 Samuel 24:1, 2 Chronicles 20:2 and Song of Solomon 1:14) because the area, having a spring, offered up many amenities the surrounding desert wilderness did not offer – such as fresh, flowing water, vegetation, and fragrances used for expensive perfume as described in Song of Solomon 1:14 – My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Engedi.

To us though, it was still the desert with a spring for a quick refresher, yet the story of this spot was brought to life as we saw history come alive all around us!

1 Samuel 24:1 When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi (Ein Gedi).” 

In this passage of scripture, Saul is trying to find David to kill him because Saul doesn’t want David to take his throne.  David retreats to the wilderness, and within this desert wilderness, the spring of Ein Gedi provided an oasis for survival and the caves above provided relief from the heat of the day and the cool of the night as well as refuge from his oppressors.  It is in the wilderness where David composes some of the Psalms that are recorded in scripture.  One of these Psalms came to life for me as we approached the spring flowing down the rocks into a waterfall.

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As we refreshed ourselves in the cool water of the spring, a majestic Nubian Ibex made his way down from above to get a drink at the spring above the waterfall.  He then walked to our left to rest in the shade as we marveled at the timing of this magnificent sight.  We discovered that our pastor had been praying all morning for this to happen to solidify the moment and etch it into our memories forever.  As I snapped this picture below, I had made my way up toward where he was standing.  He was not amused and begun to snort and stomp (caught his aggravation in the second picture), which was my cue to go no further, take the shot and head back down!

Here he is as if posing for the shot!

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Then, we get to see the angry Ibex letting me know, that’s close enough!

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The Psalm that flooded my thoughts was this:

Psalm 42:1 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.

The caves below were likely among the caves where David spent time in hiding from Saul.  Can you imagine Saul (the King), needing to relieve himself (read 1 Samuel 24:3), and choosing to climb these cliffs to do so, only to stumble into the actual cave where David and his men were hiding?  Incredible!

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I could envision David sitting at the edge of the spring or even from one of these cave entrances above as a majestic Ibex descended to the spring for a refreshing drink of cool water.  The sight was so very inspiring to me, as I am sure it was for David as he sought refuge at this oasis in the desert wilderness.

With each stop my heart and mind grows with understanding and amazement…what we read about in the bible is so very real and being proven every day in Israel.  The more they unearth the more they discover the accuracy of the scriptures!  Thank you for taking this journey with me as I begin to pen words to what I witnessed and discovered while visiting this amazing place!  My life and ministry will forever be changed as the reality of the scriptures is living deep within me and my memories!

In the next post, that reality comes full circle as we visit Qumran, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered!  Until then, Shalom!