Recently I heard someone sing “The Sparrow” by Charles Billingsley. We often get so caught up in the day-to-day struggles, wondering how we will make it through. But God reminds us that He is caring for us every day:
Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? (Matthew 6:26).
On the first day of our tour in Israel, we were sitting at the (dry) well at Beer Sheba, where Abraham and Isaac both had dug a well. I noticed that there were several small birds, possibly sparrows, flitting about in the branches above us. Here we were in the middle of the desert, with no water around anywhere, and very few plants, yet these little creatures were being cared for by our own Heavenly Father.
“Lord, I place my cares on you this day. Watch over my family, and make us to be more like you. Thank you for your watchcare today–and every day.”
I’ve come to the last day, the last afternoon and evening of my trip to Israel. Every day has been a wonderful blessing and very special time of fellowship with precious believers.
After lunch the group had a session where we just talked about what the trip meant to each one of us. There were as many ideas as people, I believe. Each one of us were specially blessed by the entire trip.
The afternoon was a time of shopping at the Christian Quarter, a small street full of vendors. My sister and I walked around together and enjoyed a relaxing time together. The evening was a time of rest, trying to get some sleep, as we had to leave for Tel Aviv at 11:30 p.m. for a 5:00 a.m. flight. As far as I know, everyone made it home, even if some had delayed flights.
One more picture, that to me epitomizes what this trip is all about: worship.
The last place we visited is perhaps the most important place in all of Israel. The tomb is in the middle of a vineyard, including a large wine press from the first century AD. The tomb has two rooms, with only one place for a body to be laid. It also has no body niches, small pit or hole for the bones. The other room apparently had several benches, which have since been destroyed. There is a track for the stone is there to see, although the stone that was rolled away is gone.
The Garden Tomb
Inside the Garden Tomb
Early Christians (3rd century) left an inscription on the wall, indicating “alpha and omega.” These early Christians believed this to be the place where Jesus was buried. Of course, the most important of all is that Jesus is not here, for He is risen!
Alpha & Omega Inscription
First Century Wine Press
After we had the opportunity to step in the tomb, we had a time of worship and communion in a small chapel. What a precious time to remember the price Jesus paid for my sins, and then to realize He is risen indeed!
One more very precious experience: there were many other groups visiting the tomb, and frequently groups would start singing to the Lord, some in other languages. It’s a thrill to know that we are all worship the same Lord, and will worship Him together in heaven someday.
The Garden Tomb
The last two places we visited are perhaps the most significant, for me, anyway. While the Church of the Holy Sepulchre may be the site of Jesus death, burial and resurrection, this other location seems much more appropriate for various reasons.
Situated just outside the Damascus Gate north of the Old City of Jerusalem, there is a large rocky cliff with several large indentations that appear to look like a skull. Crucifixions were done just below this cliff, next to the road from the Damascus Gate, so that anyone traveling could view the criminals.
Golgotha photo from 1800s
Mount Moriah extends from the Temple site to this particular hill, with the “place of the skull” being a higher elevation. Our guide, a Messianic Jew, mentioned that when Abraham came to Mount Moriah to offer Isaac, he left the servants at one place, and continued up the mountain where he built an altar to sacrifice Isaac. It may be that the very place Jesus was crucified is the site of Abraham’s altar. Our guide also indicated that this area may have been used as a quarry to mine the stones for Solomon’s temple.
Hill of the Skull
The atmosphere here and at the Garden Tomb was one of reverence and worship, much different than the atmosphere at the Church of the Sepulchre. I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit among the many people visiting the site.
Wednesday was the last day of our tour of Israel. As usual, we were up early and ready to see many new sites. Our first visit was to the traditional Upper Room, where Jesus held the Last Supper with his disciples. This may also have been the room where the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, and possible where the first Christian church was located. Of course, this particular building was built much later, probably by the Crusaders in 1000 AD, then later used by the Muslims as a mosque. It is now in the hands of the Jewish people.
The Upper Room
Below the Upper Room is the Jewish holy site of King David’s Tomb. We were not allowed to see the actual tomb, as there were Jewish women there holding a prayer service (on the women’s side). Later archaeological excavations have shown that David was buried in another place, but this has remained a very special place for the Jews.
King David’s Tomb Memorial
We then walked to the Gallicantu (“cock’s crow”) also known as the Church of St. Peter. Here is the traditional site for Caiphas’ palace, where Jesus was tried before the Sanhedran and Peter denied him three times. This particular church is owned by the Assumptionist Fathers, a French Catholic order established in the 1800s.
Church of St. Peter
Our last stops on Tuesday, the 13th, were the Southern Temple Steps and the Wailing Wall. As we walked up to the steps, we were reminded that these were the actual steps that Jesus and His disciples would have walked up, approaching the southern entrance to the Temple. The gates on this side are closed and not accessible to Christians and Jews alike, but under control of the Muslims. Perhaps the Double Gate and the Triple Gate (as known today) were the Beautiful Gate in Jesus’ time.
Southern Steps of the Temple
Just below these steps were a number of mikveh pools, where the Jewish people would wash themselves before entering the Temple. It is conjectured that this is where Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, and thus was able to baptize thousands of converts in one day.
Just around the corner is the Western Wall, where millions today gather to pray and weep for their Messiah. The Western Wall is important to modern Jews for two reasons: This is the closest to the Holy of Holies that they can come, and God and promised to Solomon that His heart and eyes would be on this site forever:
And the LORD said unto him, I have heard thy prayer and thy supplication, that thou hast made before me: I have hallowed this house, which thou hast built, to put my name there for ever; and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually ( I Kings 9:3).
Western Wall, Men’s Side
Western Wall, Women’s Side
It is hard to put into words my thoughts of this particular place in Jerusalem. This may well have been where Jesus was crucified, buried and rose again, but it didn’t seem like it. There were so many thousands of people crammed into this one church, and so much “glitz,” that we were not even able to get to the various “holy sites.” It was difficult to worship there.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Around AD 300 Constantine’s mother, Helena, visited Israel, trying to find out where the various holy sites were. She would build a church wherever she determined something happened in the life of Christ. She actually built two churches here. A thousand years later the Crusaders built a much larger church over the two churches. The building is beautiful and impressive. Four churches vie for control here: the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Armenian Orthodox Church.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
We descended into the lowest level, where Helena would have first built, to see the stone arches that hold up the building and the beautiful mosaics in the flooring. Along the way down, you can see crosses etched into the walls, where pilgrims have left their marks as they worshiped Jesus.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Crosses in the Wall
Once we left the Mount of Olives, we walked up through the Lion’s Gate (also called St. Stephen’s Gate, where some think he was martyred), and traveled the Via Dolorosa. Near the beginning of the way, we stopped at the ruins of the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus healed a paralytic man. Apparently, the Pool of Bethesda consisted of two large pools, and built on top in the middle was a Crusader church.
Pool of Bethesda
Next to this site was the Church of St. Anne, renowned for its acoustic qualities. We entered this quiet church, sat down, and sang “Holy, Holy, Holy,” listening to the echoing through the chamber–very beautiful.
The Via Dolorosa is supposedly the path that Jesus walked while on trial to His crucifixion. This particular “way” is probably not the real path, but has become famous and has been walked by many who want to worship Christ. It ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Bright and early Tuesday morning we set off from our hostel in the Old City. As near as I can tell from the map, we went out of the western Jaffa Gate, around the Old City, and to the eastern side of the Old City to the Mount of Olives. We stopped at a Necropolis, to see how the Jewish people were buried. There are thousands of sarcophagus boxes on the side of the Mount of Olives, as many Jews want to be near where the Messiah returns.
Mount of Olives Sarcophagi
We then traveled down the mountain to the Garden of Gethsemane. This is a beautiful garden of olive trees, planted around 1000 AD by the Crusaders. I am reminded when Jesus agonized over his coming crucifixion in this quiet place.
Garden of Gethsemane
Continuing down the mountain, we could look over the Kidron Valley to the Eastern Gate, through which Christ will enter into the Old City of Jerusalem some day in the future!
Kidron Valley & Eastern Gate
The last 2 days of our trip were spent in Jerusalem. There were so many things we did there that I will probably have to break up my comments into separate posts.
Our accommodations for three nights were in the Old City of Jerusalem, at the Lutheran Guest House. The rooms were small, but adequate. The room I shared with another traveler had no air conditioning, so we slept with the window and door opened every night. Of course, Ramadan was in full swing the entire time we were there, so every evening and morning horns were blasting, and people were celebrating until early morning. The horns started at 2:30 a.m. each morning–you can imagine the amount of sleep we got!
The streets of the Old City are narrow, in some cases much too small for cars, and everywhere were steps up or down.
The guest house had a beautiful plaza in the back, overlooking the city. A number of us would spend the late evening hours outside, enjoying the cool air and scenery. It was a wonderful place for spending time in the Word in the morning.
Dome of the Rock