How can I describe the whirlwind we just experienced in this day? I’ll just start with a narrative of how it all happened.
We wanted to get a head start on all the crowds. Of all the trips I’ve taken here with groups this by far has been the busiest. Tons of tour buses everywhere. People of all shapes, colors and languages. Jerusalem really is the most popular city in the world. It draws in every faith because it is a city that is holy. The most popular faiths that honor this sight are Christians, Muslims and people of the Jewish faith. There are two key parts to Jerusalem. You have the Old City of Jerusalem and you have the new city. The closer you live to the Old City the more expensive it is. Its pretty amazing to think that in the Jewish faith, when you are buried you are buried in nearly a sitting position and you are always facing the city of Jerusalem and more specifically the Temple or in this case where the Temple should be rebuilt.
So we got up early and were on the bus by 7:30AM after a great buffet breakfast. We took off to the Old City of Jerusalem where we were going to walk the Via Dolorosa. Via means in Latin, “The Way” and Dolorosa means, “suffering.” The Way of Suffering. It is the path that Jesus took as he carried his own cross to Golgotha to be crucified. It is just under one mile and mostly uphill with many stairs. It has what tradition calls 12 stations. I can’t remember them all right now but some of them are where you pause to commemorate where he was judged by Pontius Pilate. Three of the stations are where Jesus fell while carrying the cross. One is where Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the cross for Jesus…this station made sense as Simon of Cyrene was asked to carry it just before a long and steep incline. After Jesus’ extreme whipping and beating there is no way he could have carried his cross on his own strength. We were tired just walking up it ourselves. The last three stations are where they strip him, nail him to the cross and then where they buried Him. It is a powerful experience.
A quick note on the cross. It is not likely that Jesus or any criminal to be crucified actually carried the entire cross. They would have just carried the upper “cross” beam. The beam would have been tied and nailed to a tree trunk and Jesus would have only been a few feet off the ground. Contrary to popular opinion and songs…Jesus would not have been crucified, “ON A HILL Far Away.” He would have been hung on a cross just on the roadside…much like a ditch in today’s time. This was so passers by would be warned not to break the law…or else!
One more note about the crucifixion area including what is called Golgotha or Skull hill. Tradition has it in the location we visited today where The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built. There is also a possibility it is in another location that we will visit tomorrow. I like to think its in the location we visit tomorrow. But tradition in Jerusalem is pretty accurate. So…who knows…the exact location doesn’t really matter and the fact that we visit both takes away all doubt. We definitely will have stood on the ground where Jesus was crucified. Pretty Amazing. I didn’t have any pictures of this walk but you can check out facebook, I’m sure many of the others took some photos. The picture I have here is of George, our tour guide sharing with us some great facts about the Via Dolorosa.
After the Via Dolorosa we took a break on a roof top café and had some coffee or other drinks. It was in the shade and it was overlooking much of the old city. Very nice half hour break just relaxing, laughing and enjoying the company of each other. I love our church in that it is full of people who enjoy getting know each other. I pray we never lose that focus and desire.
We then took off towards Israel’s Holocaust Museum. Words can’t describe as we worked our way through 9 phases of the horrific things that Nazi Germany did to groups of people. Most people think that Hitler was just after the Jewish people. 6 Million Jews were murdered by Hitler and Germany but an additional 6 Million people from other nations were also killed. Some of these people groups were from Romania, Soviets, Polish, also homosexuals, Jehovah’s witnesses and other political or religious opponents. The total number of people murdered by Hitler’s Leadership could be up to 17 Million people. I wonder what Hitler thinks now as he sits in Hell? I’ll bet he wishes he would have lived very differently! The Holocaust museum tells the story of how it all happened in a breath taking way. It started by showing the good life of the Jewish people and then it transitioned to how Hitler began to win the favor of the people . When Hitler came into power…the people of Germany Voted him in by an overwhelming popular vote. People crowded and cheered for him. He was an incredible communicator and a great vision caster and then it all turned ugly. Hitler slowly trained Germans and others to believe that Jews were actually the embodiment of the devil. He taught them that Jews where not even true human and that their very existence will ruin all of mankind. Over one million children were shot, gassed and starved to death. Mother’s were ripped away from their sons and daughters. Humiliation, annihilation and sheer atrocity were performed. I wonder why it took America so long to respond and stand up to such a cruel thing? I hope someday you can spend some time in a Holocaust museum. It all happened not that long ago. There are still survivors alive today. In fact…a Parkway member has a grandmother I met recently who is a survivor of the Holocaust. I spoke with her about a year ago about her experience. It was an honor to speak with her.
After the Holocaust Museum we ate lunch and then took off for The pools of Bethesda. This is the place inside the Old City of Jerusalem where Jesus healed a man who had been crippled for 38 years. The pool area doesn’t have any water in it anymore but it is most definitely the location. You can read about this story in John 5:1 and following. When done with that we visited a little ancient church that has amazing acoustics because of its concrete domes and walls and we sang a couple of songs just to hear the cool bouncing of our voices. It was fun and actually a spiritual experience.
Next we headed off to the Garden of Gethsemane. This is the place where Jesus went up the Mountain of Olives and into the Olive Tree Gardens and asked his Apostles to pray for him as he withdrew about a stones throw away to pray. This is the location where Jesus asked His Father to “take this cup of suffering away, but not my will be done.” This is the location where Jesus was so stressed he sweated drops of blood. This is the place where Judas betrayed him. We took a group photo at this sight. I took a picture of one of the Olive Trees in the garden. These trees were carbon dated and they are around 2000 years old! If those trees could speak…what would they tell us about their experience with Jesus in the Garden. Gethsemane means, “Olive Press.” The intense pressure they used to crush olives and squeeze their oil for our consumption is a fitting depiction of what kind of crushing Jesus would receive on our behalf. Here is a picture of one of the great olive trees in the area.
After this we headed off to the area where Jesus went into the upper room and ate his Last Supper with his apostles. It isn’t the exact room but it is a room preserved and it gave us a great image and understanding of what the room would have been like. It is a popular place and the crowds were immense on our way there…see the picture to see the crowds.
Next we went to one of my favorite places on the trip. We visited what is biblically known as Caiaphas’ house. Caiaphas was the High Priest who most likely organized the capture and killing of Jesus. The house of Caiaphas is the place where the Jewish authorities held prisoners. I took a picture of our group in front of the church that is built on top of Caiaphas’ house.
The prison in Caiaphas’ house has a special pit in it that has only one entrance. A carved hole in the top where they tied a rope around the prisoner and lowered him into the pit. There would be no way out except when the guards lowered a rope again and then hoisted you out by it. There is no doubt in my mind that this very pit is where Jesus was kept. Imagine a square pit that is about 20 feet deep and 15 feet wide of pure darkness, cold limestone and Jesus sitting in it all by himself for one night before he was crucified. It would be a dark, lonely and scary night. You can read the prophecy in Psalm 88…it’s a prayer that Jesus would have experienced in this pit. The pictures I took, may be tough to understand but I hope they help you envision it.
After this sight we walked up on a high point that overlooked what is called the Potter’s field. It is the place where Judas committed suicide after he was overcome by guilt for betraying Jesus. Its amazing to see all the growth in the City of Jerusalem. The economy is good here. But…nobody will build on the Potter’s field. It is a cursed place. So it is in nearly original condition and you can imagine Judas hanging himself and the Bible says his bowels ripped open and they came out.
And our final group stop was just outside Caiaphas’ house where there is a small set of Limestone steps called the Steps to Zion. These ancient steps are no doubt the very steps that Jesus was forced to climb as he was betrayed, captured, and then pushed off to be put in the pit I talked about earlier. See Pic.
And to the end night…the rest of the group hung out around the hotel, had a great dinner, some when out and walked around Jerusalem on this Sabbath night and I went and played basketball with our tour guide and some of his freinds. I had to wear my running shoes because I didn’t bring my basketball shoes or ankle braces. I did sprain my ankle very lightly but its okay. Just a little sore. It was fun to play hoops with a group of guys who I couldn’t understand one word they were yelling. There is no doubt that Israeli’s argue calls more than Americans. After every play they argued. I just watched and laughed. I played well and represented America and Parkway well! That a nice way of saying…I kicked butt! It was fun.
Tomorrow is another amazing day. Stay tuned. Our trip is almost over.
Wish you were here!