Tuesday, June 10

The Garden Tomb

I bet you thought that there were no more entries, right? Since Debbie correctly noted that The Tunnels were our last sight, I would have thought the same thing too! But the truth of the matter is that Debbie and I agreed that we would cover the Tunnels and the Tomb and Debbie is, well you know, a bit more focused than I am! Regardless of the order in which the information and photos are posted, the Garden Tomb cannot be omitted from our journal. This place was one of my absolute favorites and I hope to share with you some of the meaningfulness of what we saw and heard that day at the Garden Tomb...

Our bus rolled through the town of Jerusalem. We were not in the Old City, that I knew. We were clearly in an Arab section of town, that too was clear. Where could we possibly be headed? Suddenly, our bus began its parking maneuver along the busy street. We disembarked and walked directly into the entrance to the site referred to as the Garden Tomb. Our guide Amos chatted familiarly in English with the woman at the window as he secured our entry.

As we stepped inside were were immediately transported from the hustle-bustle frenzy on the street to the soothing serenity of the garden. Was this really the very place where Jesus was crucified and buried? We don't know for certain. This is one of two suggested places, the other being the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is within the Old City and is now more of a shrine than anything.

Back to the garden. Each group was assigned to a docent who escorts the group through the site. Ours was a young man who spoke perfect English and did an outstanding job of educating us about the Garden Tomb.

The main reason that this site is considered to be a strong possibility for the crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ is the pattern on the side of a hill which has small "eyes" and the slit of a "mouth" that has the appearance of a skull (the meaning of Golgotha). The skull-looking hill we saw was adjacent to a road which is where the Romans chose to display the crucifixions as a warning and deterrent to potential "offenders". Now the hill overlooks a busy bus stop in an Arab section outside the city walls.

To the right is a shot of the hill which many believe to be Golgotha, or "The Skull".

Only steps from the hill is a tomb hewn from rock which again corresponds to the account of the burial in the Gospel of Matthew.

The Burial of Jesus (Matthew 27:57-61)
As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who was one of Jesus' followers, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him. Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a long linen cloth. He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance as he left. Both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting nearby watching.

This is what the entrance of just such a tomb looks like. You can see the trough at the foot of the door which is where a huge, round rock would be set to close the entry of the tomb.

Below is a closer view of the trough for the stone which is rolled (with great effort) over the opening of the tomb to seal the tomb.

We lined up at the entry of the tomb to see the inside. Our time inside was very brief and we were required to get in and out, but I managed to take one photo of the grave site which is inside this tomb. If this is indeed the tomb used for the burial of Jesus Christ, this spot within the tomb is the place where His body would have been laid. Also, according to Scripture (see passage from Mark below), there was an angel sitting on the right which would have been feasible for this location.

The Empty Tomb Mark 16:2-5
Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. They were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?" Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large. Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed.

As our docent so aptly pointed out, whether or not this is the exact site is not nearly as important as what was accomplished here or a place like this: The tomb was EMPTY! Jesus Christ rose from the dead and has conquered over sin and death. Again, whether it was here at this spot or somewhere nearby, the truth is that Jesus is not here or there...he is ALIVE and reigning from Heaven!

Concluding our visit was the celebration of the Lord's Supper led by our own group leaders. The wine/juice was served in an olive wood cup which we were able to retain as a keepsake. We prayed, sang songs and reflected as we gathered around the table to remember and thank Him for what He did for us.

Monday, June 2

The Western Wall Tunnel

Our last adventure in Jerusalem was at the Tunnel of the Western Wall. All of us have seen pictures of the Western Wall. That’s where Jewish men and women in Jerusalem go to pray and cry out to God to rebuild the temple and to send Messiah. (We have heard it called the Wailing Wall, but the Jewish people do not like it called that, so we are respecting their wishes.) But this area is just a small section of the full wall and much of the wall itself is covered by current buildings or actually hidden below the street level. However, a tunnel has been excavated along the full length of the wall revealing things that were concealed for centuries.

We entered the Western Wall Tunnel near the exposed wall where the Jews pray. It is a high security area because the Muslims are concerned that the tunnel will extend under the Temple Mount and someone could blow it up with a bomb. However, the tunnel just runs the external length of the wall. Years back, an archeologist wanted to know how deep the Western Wall extended underground. He was given permission to dig a good ways away from the wall, but then he tunneled inward until he reached the wall and then went down to the bedrock. The wall is over 100 feet tall from bedrock to the top. Before Herod’s day, the Temple Mount was a smaller area. But Herod wanted to make it larger, so he raised the plateau on the southern side and dug out the bedrock on the northern side to make the Temple Mount flat. After the destruction of the temple in 70 AD and various other conquests of the city, additional arches were built over lower structures and the Muslim section of town was built on top of that. Even the street level at the current wall where the Jews assemble to pray is at least 20 feet higher than at Herod's time. To get to the street level from the time of Jesus Christ, we needed to go northward in the tunnel along the wall until we met the bedrock.

We walked along an underground area, where excavations are still proceeding, and saw the massive stones of the wall. The stones are just fitted one on top of the other with no mortar. Only the sheer weight of the stones holds them in place. The largest known rock of the wall could be seen in this area. This rock was carved out of the existing mountain side and then the wall was built up with smaller stones until it reached the height of this large rock, so that it could merely be slid over on top of the structure. The rock is about forty-four feet long, 10 feet wide and weighs approximately 570 tons. What a marvel it is the think how they moved it into place – by ropes and pulleys we were told.

Along the way, we entered a demonstration room to see a model of Jerusalem at the present day. An automated portion of the model changed it to show Jerusalem at the time of Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. We could see the Robinson’s arch/bridge and the Wilson’s arch/bridge which the priests used to bring the sacrifices into the Temple. Then they highlighted the current visible portion of the Western Wall; it was a tiny, tiny portion (187 feet in length) along this massive structure (1600 feet). The full wall stands 105 tall, but only 62 feet are exposed today. We can only imagine how magnificent the city would have looked when it was in its fullness. At one point the bedrock actually becomes part of the wall and, since stones were not needed to be laid one on top of another, the masons carved the bedrock to look like individual stones, making the wall appear uniform. Roman columns from buildings were also excavated and could be seen in the tunnel as we reached the level from the time of Christ, near the bedrock end.

Huge stones from the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. where the Romans from inside the city pushed the wall stones outward, are left piled up and crushing the streets below as a reminder of the devastation to this place. Jesus told us this would be, "And Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He answered and said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down" (Matthew 24:2). Also as a reminder of this destruction is at every Jewish wedding, when they take a moment from their joy and crush a glass under their feet signifying that joy is not complete because the temple is still destroyed.

But prophetically speaking, God will rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, so the current Muslim mosque will come down when God has readied the world for Jesus’ return. ""Then say to him, 'Thus says the Lord of hosts, "Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the Lord. Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the Lord, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices"' (Zechariah 6:12-13). "But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne" (Matthew 25:31).

Maranatha, Lord Jesus, Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!

Sunday, May 25

Mt. of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane

We started very early, 6:30 on the bus, to the Tear Drop Church location on the Mount of Olives. After departing from the bus, we walked down the Palm Sunday Road, which is a one lane, slick rock road. Annie, a friend on our bus from South Africa, wore the wrong shoes and slipped on the stones and twisted her knee. Cars still travel this road, and like all other places in Jerusalem, cars do not concern themselves with pedestrians. So if we see a car, we jump!

Half way down the road, we stopped in a garden area on the Mount of Olives for a teaching from Kay. The morning was cool and the light soft. We sat high on the hill looking over Jerusalem and the Old City. Like always, Kay oriented us in the location we were at. Over the Kidron Valley we could see the eastern gate. The gate has been bricked up by the Muslims because they know Messiah is coming back through that gate, so they are attempting to prevent His coming. In addition to that, they established a Muslim graveyard just outside the gate. Graveyards are unclean ground, so again this is a maneuver to stop Messiah from returning. We could also see the Dome on the Rock, which does not line up with the eastern gate as they think the Temple originally would have been built (so the Muslims built on the wrong spot?? Poor planning.).

Kay taught on Matthew 24 when Jesus told the disciples about the Temple that the “not one stone will be left here upon another which will not be torn down” (verse 2). He then warned them about false Christs. She also told about the signs of His coming.

After that we walked further down the Palm Sunday Road and entered into the Garden of Gethsemane which is cared for by Franciscan monks. The Garden is well manicured, which certainly isn’t the way it was when Jesus agonized there as He prepared to take our sins upon Himself. Gethsemane was an oil production area. The garden was filled with Olive trees whose stumps could have been there at the time of Christ. When an olive tree is cut when it is old, it has the durability to regenerate and sprouts anew at the base. Some huge stumps were gnarled and twisted, yet they still boasted abundant branches. Marilyn noted that there was the Garden also contained Rosemary and Lavender bushes. In contrast to the chaotic action of the city, we had a time of peacefulness and reflection in this serene shelter.

Saturday, May 24

What the Heck is Going on in Israel?

Why, you might ask, did the band of eight flood the blog with postings this evening? Well, the answer is quite simple. Our beloved guide, Amos lent us his cellular internet connectivity device which provided us with unlimited access to the internet! On other nights (here in Jerusalem) we are charged a fairly high rate per hour to connect and have felt rushed to get on and off of the internet. Having this relaxing evening on-line has been WONDERFUL!! In fact, we've had quite the blogging party in my (and Renie's) room tonight. It's quite the happening place!

However, it's VERY late now (after midnight) and we (as always) will have an early wake up call in the morning.

We still have more posts to come, but this will be it for tonight. THANK YOU AMOS!!!

Random Thoughts from Renie

The first day we head out from the Gai Beach Hotel going to Chorazin and someone on the bus comments "We are driving with our brothers and sisters along the Sea of Galilee." Pinch me. Is this real???

Another day we are sitting on Mt. Carmel listening to David Lawson teach. I look around at the crowd and think "This is what it was like with the crowds following Jesus and sitting on the hillside listening to Him teach." What a thrill!

In the early evening You could walk out behind the hotel and watch the fish jump, the men fish, see the lights all around the sea and see The Golan Heights. One night I could feel the wind getting stronger. Jesus called fishermen to "follow Me" and He walked on this water and calmed the sea!

We stand on the top of Tel Megiddo, and I imagine the sea of soldiers in that valley where the nations will gather to march on Jerusalem.

From the Garden of Gethsemane you see the Eastern gate, and I visualize the new Temple with the Glory of the Lord above it! (You have to block out the Dome.) This is awesome!

Salt Anyone? - By John Scott

The Dead Sea – also known as the Sea of Arabah, Bahr Lut, the Salt Sea, or the Sea of Not-So-Many Living Things Besides Tourists (NSMLTBT). 1292 feet below sea level, this is the lowest point on the earth’s surface. One expects a dead sea to be somewhat, well, dead. You know, dead- bleak, desolate, ugly. The dead sea was anything but ugly – it was in fact bright and beautiful.

Kitty, didn't you know that showing the soles of your feet or the bottoms of your shoes is the height of rudeness in the Arab culture?

If this truly is the place where Sodom and Gomorrah stood, God really cleaned up the place!

Israel apparently bottles 5 trillion dollars worth of products from this chemical wasteland…body creams, salt supplements, abrasive cleansers, even just plain mud. The spa industry is very much alive along the shores of this salty puddle, with these chemical waters being advertised as “healthy.” Healthy! Bah! These waters would just as soon melt your skin off of your bones as clean you!

(Kitty Scott, my dear mother, wants me to add that she felt very relaxed after her dip in this ecological train wreck, of course the scabs upon her legs speak oppositely)

Floating in the water can be very entertaining, granted. That is, until your legs decide that they want to float behind you and you end up face-planting in the water. Important note: DO NOT SHAVE BEFORE ENTERING THE DEAD SEA. REGRET WILL ENSUE!!!

Several of our crew deigned not to enter the water, including Scott and Debbie, Joy, and the Utterbacks. They are the wise among us. Thank God that He will make the Dead Sea will be made fresh again. (Ezekiel 47:8-9)

In all seriousness, the spas were really top notch. It was a great opportunity to visit the Dead Sea in such comfort. It truly was beautiful and refreshing, and I highly recommend a visit.

Masada - A Fortress in the Desert

Originally drafted by Dave Utterback
Color added by John Scott
On Friday, March 23 we took a road trip south of Jerusalem to the Dead Sea and made a stop at Masada. As you might recall, Masada is the mountain top fortress in the Judean desert built by King Herod the Great. It is approximately 1 ½ hours drive from Jerusalem. While Masada is not mentioned in the Bible, it is an important part of Jewish history and is discussed by Josephus in his Wars of the Jews Book 7 chapters 8-11. Masada is a fantastic feat in itself. Some statistics regarding the fortress is as follows: John says “ it was really old, really big, really tall, and really “perty”.” Dave says “ The fortress is constructed on a mountain top in the Judean desert,1,320 feet above the floor of the valley below, has a walled area about ½ mile long and 650 feet wide. Amour, our guide claims the walls were originally built to keep the men who guarded the city at night from falling off the mountain.” Herod the Great, being the paranoid delusional psychopath that he was, felt that an escape route from Jerusalem to Petra would be necessary considering his popularity (or lack there of]. He built Masada as the half way point between these two sites, a nearly impenetrable mountain hide away. And why not escape in the lap of luxury in your own four bedroom two and one half bath air, conditioned palace complete with swimming pool and enough water and food to last three years. Ah, it is the simple things in life. The fortress contained palaces, villas, offices, storage areas, and public baths in the Roman style of architecture. Painted in the baths were frescoes still in excellent condition. The view from the fortress was spectacular. We could easily see for miles in the Judean desert, and had a great view of the Dead Sea. Another feature at the site was Herod’s palace balcony, which overhung the mountain about 100 feet below the summit.

After Herod kicked the 1st-century ceramic bucket, Masada was subsequently abandoned, since Jerusalem leaders at the time were more concerned with murdering messiahs and other various and sundry apostles. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., a group of Jewish zealots fled to Masada, with Rome in hot pursuit. The Romans, who were well known for their uncanny ability to break things, besieged the Masada fortress for over three years. Sporting their very stylish horsehair helmets and 50 pounds of armor, the Roman legions found fighting very difficult scaling a 1300 foot cliff with no water. It took over eight camps worth (10-15 thousand troops) of the greatest fighting force of the greatest empire of the world at the time, but they finally succeeded in penetrating the fortress. They did so by means of a very large pile of dirt, which is still visible today.

In conclusion, Masada is an incredible feat of ancient architecture, and stands as a symbol of Jewish heroism and courage in the face of utter crushing and inevitable defeat.