Final Day in Israel–Part 1

November 15

Great day today… for us at least. While missiles were landing miles away in the Gaza strip, we were enjoying an absolutely beautiful day in Jerusalem. We had a later start so I got to have a wonderful time with the Lord on the mezzanine of our hotel, which offers an incredible view of Jerusalem.

Then we were off to the Old City. We started at the location of the Pool of Bethesda. Very cool site. It is the spot where in John 5 Jesus heals a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. As I mentioned earlier, there are very few places in Jerusalem where you can see or stand on the actual spot something happened in Jesus’ day, simply because the city has been overthrown so many times. Usually, the conquering army would either level it or fill it in a  built over it. As you can see in this photo, what was once the pool of Bethesda is several feet below us. You can see the actual stairs used at that time.

Pool of Bethesda

There is a church right in this same area—the church of Saint Catherine. Before it was built, there was a synagogue here. During the Crusades, certain “Christian” crusaders came to this synagogue, forced the Jews to get inside it, and then they set it on fire—all the while singing “Christ, we adore you.” No wonder there has been so much animosity between Christians and the Jewish people. It didn’t help that during World War 2, many of the Germans who committed such atrocities against the Jewish people were “Christians” and would go to worship right next to the concentration camps.

Ironically, the name “Bethesda” means “House of Grace” in Hebrew. It’s taken from the word “hesed”, which means lovingkindness. It is a mark of God’s dealing with His people and is to be a mark of our dealing with others. How could so called “Christians” so miss the heart of God’s hesed toward us and toward others?

Day 9 Hezekiah’s Wall

This picture is of Hezekiah’s Wall—actually known as the Broad Wall.

Hezekiah's Wall

This section has recently been excavated in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is tough finding sections in Jerusalem that actually go back to Jesus’ day and before because the city has been leveled dozens of times over the centuries, including AD 70 when, as Jesus predicted, the temple would be destroyed. So it’s very cool when an actual section from the Old or New Testament is in plain view.

The really cool thing about this wall is the story behind it. Hezekiah was one of only 8 good kings in Judah. He lived 2600 years ago. We read in 2 Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 37 how the king of Assyria had invaded Judah and planned to attack Jerusalem.  In his arrogance, King Sennacherib sent messengers to taunt the Israelites, boasting about his exploits and telling the people of Judah their God can’t deliver them.

So we read that Hezekiah repaired the walls around Jerusalem and also built another wall. In addition, Isaiah tells us that he took the taunting letter sent to him by Sennacherib and “spread it out before the Lord.” What a powerful picture of humility and dependence. Because of that prayer and humility, God chose to deliver Jerusalem in dramatic fashion. That evening, God sent His angel of death to their camp and 185,000 of them were killed. Sennacherib fled to Nineveh. One day while he was worshipping his god, Sennacherib was assassinated.

Hezekiah’s wall—a reminder that in the midst of our battles, we are certainly to do what we can, (ie strengthening the walls)  but ultimately we are to spread it out before the Lord, asking Him to intervene.

One of the highlights of the past two days was hearing two cool stories of the power of the gospel. One was from a man here in Israel, who had been a Muslim. Some of his family members were actually involved in some terrorist activities against Israelis. A few months ago, this man began exploring other perspectives on the Palestinian/ Israeli conflict. In the process, he heard about Jesus and gave his life to Him. He is now living for a different master.

The other story was told to me today over lunch in the old city—pizza and iced coffee—LOVE their iced coffee…but I digress. Jason Elam began sharing a really cool story of how a few years ago God moved in the heart of one of the Bronco players who was a self proclaimed atheist—someone who for years had demonstrated absolutely no spiritual interest. In the midst of a personal crisis, this player went to Jason to seek counsel. Jason gave him a book by Andy Stanley, and suddenly the gospel light bulb went on. This guy’s life dramatically changed. His wife soon became a Christian as well.  He is now pursuing pastoral ministry.

It doesn’t matter where in the world we happen to be—the gospel is still true and is still changing lives.

The Garden of Gethsemane Day 9

 

Today we visited the Garden of Gethsemane.

Garden of Gethsemane

Beautiful setting, and yet the place our Savior experienced incredible anguish. I didn’t realize that the word “Gethsemane” literally means olive press. (In fact, an olive press was found on this site). Why would that be significant? A few days ago in Capernaum, we saw an actual olive press.

Olive Press As you can see, the olive press is a very large stone which is placed upon the olives so that they are crushed under the weight…and oil flows out.

Our Savior voluntarily gave up His life for us. Isaiah would describe it this way: “He was… crushed for our iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:5) Interesting choice of words. Crushed.  Jesus bore the weight of the world’s sin upon Himself. He experienced the absolute horror of His Father turning His face away in wrath—all for us. The result of His crushing was that “oil” flowed out—the oil of healing, forgiveness and life. What an amazing God we have. “Though He was rich, He became poor for our sakes, so that we through His poverty might become rich… Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”  2 Corinthians 8:9, 9:15

 

In The Old City–Day 8 in Israel

Day 8  11-13-12

We got up early to get to the Temple Mount in the Old City. They only open the gates for a few hours so we were fortunate to get in. Even though technically the site the temple is on is in the possession of  the Israelis, after the 6 day war, the Israeli Prime Minister gave Muslims custodianship of it. So on this site is a Muslim mosque known as the Dome of the Rock.

Dome of the Rock

A few interesting items about this area:

The weird—Check out this photo of marble on the side of the mosque.

Weird image on the side of Dome of the Rock

Apparently the marble didn’t initially look like this but in the past few decades, it has revealed this image. Creepy, huh?

The intriguing–As excavations have been done in the old city of Jerusalem, they have discovered the eastern gate. According to Scripture, the actual Temple (which over the years has been leveled more than once) perfectly aligned with the eastern gate. What’s fascinating is that the current site of the Dome of the Rock does not align with the gate. Which apparently means it is not on the actual site of the temple. So where is that site?

Well, about 50 yards north of the Dome, there is a rock slab. I’m standing on it in the picture below. Many believe this is the actual stone upon which the Holy of Holies stood. Pretty cool.

Site of the Holy of Holies?

The vivid—In Matthew 24, Jesus predicts that because of the Jews unwillingness to believe in Him, God’s judgment is coming—a judgment that will include a complete demolishing of the temple. Not one stone will be left upon another. And that’s exactly what happened in 70 AD. The temple was totally torn down by the Romans. Here’s a photo of those actual stones that were initially part of the temple structure.

Actual stones of the Temple

The powerful—One of the coolest spots we visited today was right here:

Southern Steps to the TempleThese are the southern steps to the temple. While the temple was demolished and then built upon, these steps are still in tact—steps upon which Jesus walked. Neal Armstrong once said that these steps are more significant than his steps on the moon.

As we gathered there, our guide told us that this spot is most likely where in Acts 2 the Holy Spirit filled believers gathered and Peter preached to the crowd, with 3000 responding. There are places nearby for lots of people to get baptized. I was in awe to be standing in the very spot where the Holy Spirit was dramatically giving birth to and empowering the church. Awesome! Here’s a video clip I took on that spot:

 

The moving—Here is a photo of Stephen’s gate, called that because it was where in Acts 7 Stephen was testifying to Jesus, and because his proclamation offended the religious leaders, they took him outside the city and stoned him to death.

Stephen's Gate

Our guide pointed out that as Stephen looked up to heaven, he saw Jesus “standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55) What’s Jesus normally doing at the Father’s right hand? Sitting. The work is done. In the temple, there were no chairs because the priests never sat down to rest. But when Jesus finished the work, He SAT at the Father’s right hand. So why is He standing in this vision Stephen sees? Perhaps to honor Stephen for his faithfulness, even to the point of death. Jesus is standing to embrace this faithful martyr. What an incredible welcome.

En Gedi and the Dead Sea (Day 7)

Day 6—It rained all day so we had a limited schedule. Saw part of the Isaiah parchment from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Also a model of the entire city of Jerusalem. Tried to view the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives. Rainy and windy. Then went to City of David—saw a movie on how Jerusalem began. I think it was interesting…but I kept falling asleep. Still not adjusting to the time change.

Day 7

We headed south of Jerusalem to Masada, a natural mesa near the Dead Sea. It was a fortress held by some Jewish zealots from 70 to 73 AD. Fascinating story and incredible views. The word ‘masada’ means the stronghold. David may have camped here with his 400 men while on the run. Some of us hiked to the top of the mesa. Here’s a photo of the view from on top.

View from Masada

And here’s a photo of a view from the bottom:

McDonalds at Masada

A welcomed sight. I’d missed my Big Mac!

We then drove north to a place called En Gedi, where David hid in the cave while Saul was pursuing him. En Gedi

This place held a particular fascination for me, given that two of my favorite passages of Scripture make reference to En Gedi. The first is in 2 Chronicles 20, where Jehoshaphat  hears that an army was amassing and coming over the En Gedi pass to attack Israel. This was not good news. Jehoshaphat responded in an awesome way. First, he called the people to fast. Then he stood before them and prayed, finishing his prayer with these very honest words: “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

We are told that all of the people stood there before the Lord, and the Spirit came upon someone who gave an incredible word of prophecy, which included these words—“Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours but God’s.” And then he gave some instructions that included not having to fight the battle but to watch the Lord work. Jehoshaphat was encouraged and the next day, sent worshippers out at the head of his army. As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes and the opponents began killing each other. Battle over.

How do we respond in our battles? Do we ever fast to the Lord? Do we tune our hearts to God’s voice? Do we actively engage in praise and worship? Seems like Jehoshaphat’s strategy might be one worth emulating.

The other favorite passage that references En Gedi is in Ezekiel 47, which is an incredible description of the river of God flowing from His throne. This spiritual river brings life and healing to whatever it touches. It’s fascinating how this river’s activity is described. We are told that “when it empties into the [Dead] Sea, the salty water becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there are makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Fishermen will stand along the shore from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets.”

This passage has been significant for me as I think about the life giving power flowing from the presence of God—but because of today, it has even more of an impact. The reason? We spent some time swimming in the Dead Sea today. It’s given that name for a reason. There is no life in it. The salt content is so strong that you can float in the water without effort.

Swimming in the Dead Sea It was so wild being in this water that just held your body up. Not only that, it’s basically poison. We were strongly warned to not drink the water because it would kill us. (I know, it seems very strange having a beach on a sea that is poisonous, but it’s there and people are there swimming in it—like me.) There are no fish in this body of water.

Back to Ezekiel 47–What a dramatic picture of the life that God brings into the things that are absolutely devoid of life, places where death reigns. Ezekiel tells us that fishermen will stand on the shore at En Gedi and fish from water that was previously fishless and lifeless.

In what dead areas in our lives are we needing some of this water? Jesus invites us (in my all time favorite passage) in John 7, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.” In other words, if there are places of need in our souls, places where the enemy has robbed us of life, Jesus invites us to come to Him, and let His grace, mercy and love bring life.