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.”
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
Our first stop for this day was outside Bethlehem at a place called the “Shepherds Fields.” If you want a real name, we visited the Franciscan Monastery, where they feature a small cave that was probably used to house sheep at night. Jesus may have been born in a cave like this. All around this area are fields, and we even saw some sheep in the valley below.
We then climbed up to the Herodium, a man-made mountain (by Herod the Great) with a palace on the top close to Jerusalem. In thinking about the places that Jesus was taken during His trial, He would have had to travel quite a bit during that night just to reach these places. as I may have mentioned, everything is up a mountain or down in a valley.
During the afternoon, we visited Tel Maresha, a dig site in the Lower Judean hills. We were privileged to spend some time digging in the dirt, trying to find artifacts. Tel Maresha was originally given to Caleb (Joshua 15:44) and Micah the prophet was from here. It is also the site of a Canaanite village from the Intertestamental period, so everything we found would be dated before Christ (and we did find some items). I think we all enjoyed getting “down and dirty” for a little bit.
Les Bruce at Tel Maresha
Our first stop on Thursday was at Caesaria Maritima, built by Herod the Great (who was not so great, according to our tour guide, or Herod the Terrible, according to Kathy Bruce). The Holy Spirit first came upon the Gentiles at Caesaria when Peter came to meet Cornelius in Acts 10. Paul was in prison here, and appeared before Felix and Agrippa in Acts 25-27.
We next drove up to Mount Carmel, where God sent fire from heaven to consume the altar and sacrifice that Elijah had prepared. Elijah then slew 850 priests of Baal. Mount Carmel provided a wonderful view of the Jezreel Valley, also called the Valley of Megiddo. This is where the Battle of Armageddon will be held.
We also visited Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. Here is where Jesus taught in the synagogue, saying:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord….This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears (Luke 4:18, 21).