Israel Trip – 9
For most pilgrims, walking the old city of Jerusalem is the highlight of the trip. Everything leads to Jerusalem. Normally, groups break up the journey in the city into two parts. You descend from the Mount of Olives and down to Gethsemane for half a day. On another day, you walk from Lions’ gate to Zion gate and conclude in the Upper Room. Today we combined the two into one with a twist.
Each one of these locations has been used by pilgrims for centuries. In the Byzantine and Medieval periods, these churches were also hostels for travelers. Each developed customs associated with the site. We began at the Church of the Paternoster, the traditional site where Jesus taught his disciples to pray on the Mount of Olives. We stopped at the Church of Dominus Flevit, where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. We descended to the Garden of Gethsemane and reflected on Jesus’ prayer, Judas’ betrayal, and the soldiers’ arrest.
We walked up the hill to the Lions’ gate and stopped at St. Anne’s Church. This is the site of the pool of Behtesda. After teaching on John 5 and reflecting on the importance of Jesus’ view of the Sabbath, we entered the church. The acoustics in this place are a highlight of the tour. We joined with Korean Christians and sang together, “God is so Good,” and “Jesus Loves Me.”
Next, we traced the “Via Dolorosa,” the way of the cross. This is the journey that Jesus walked through from his Roman trial to his crucifixion. We descended below street level to see ancient markings that are thought to include some of the games the soldiers played while Jesus was tried by Pilate. We walked through the old city to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Controlled by Greek Orthodox, Coptic, Armenian, and Catholic Churches by common agreement, the church houses the site of Golgotha and the tomb. We descended into an ancient crypt to discuss the significance of the crucifixion and Jesus’ last words.
After lunch, we walked through the Jewish quarter and exited through the Lions’ gate. Outside this gate, two worlds collide. This site marks the traditional burial place of King David as well as the upper room where Jesus gathered with his disciples for his last meal. In Acts, this upstairs room is also the place where the apostles gathered after resurrection to replace Judas and to receive the Holy Spirit. Peter’s first sermon even references the place where David is buried (Acts 2:29). I taught on the significance of the events that converge here.
The last stop was the house of Caiaphas the high priest. The Roman soldiers and temple police brought Jesus here for the Sanhedrin trial. Peter denied Jesus, and Judas committed suicide just across the way in the Valley of Gehenna in the Field of Blood called, “Akeldema.” All of these significant events converge here. This is also the place where Peter was held temporarily in Acts 5. We reflected on Peter’s denial and Judas’s treachery and the significance of Peter’s restoration.
The journey made for a remarkable day. We did not exactly retrace the steps of Jesus. But we certainly marked the path and learned much about the sacrifices of our Lord and the struggles of his first followers.
I’m so proud of our group. They’ve been willing to begin early each morning. They’ve maintained great attitudes and engaged in wonderful discussions. I’ve enjoyed teaching and sharing with our guide, Ya’ir. It’s a privilege to pastor our church, and our group is just one example of how much our church has blessed my life. This group has also gotten a little taste of my sermons that are planned for the spring. They’re good guinea pigs.
We’ll spend our last day tomorrow in Jerusalem in the City of David, at the Wailing Wall, and at the Garden Tomb. It promises to be a great conclusion to a wonderful trip. I hope it’s just the beginning of renewal in all our lives. We check in for our flight tomorrow evening around 2:00 p.m. Tallahassee time and will be en route for 24 hours. Thank you for your prayers.