Days 13 & 14--Friday/April 7 - Saturday/April 8
Well our trip is coming to a close now. Kind of bittersweet. We are all really enjoying being here and I for one would love to keep going (after a good night's sleep!), but reality is calling and it is time to wake up for the journey home.
Our final day in Jerusalem began with the Israel Museum. Staged outside is a huge model rendering of old Jerusalem, an amazing tool indeed! It is a 50:50 scale model of Jerusalem in 66 AD looking from the perspective of the Mount of Olives from 2x the actual height and took 3 years to build.
This physical model of the city allowed us to begin connecting the many dots represented through our daily expeditions into a whole, sewing together a visual picture of the interesting places we have explored.
For example, I now have a great understanding of why Jesus rattled the religious leaders now that I can see how the Roman Antonia Fortress loomed large over the temple mount, an ever-seeing eye intended to maintain the Pax Romana form of peace. With the Roman officials watching, the religious leaders were looking for a way to get the Romans to take care of their rogue rabbi. Or another example is to see visually how the 1st temple walls (Solomon) and 2nd temple walls (Herod) really do lie in different places. In 66 AD the temple site was quite large at 445 acres, but today after the reconstruction by the Muslim conqueror Suleiman the Great it is about half that size. This matters because certain historical records may not be understood accurately depending on which temple wall is in view. To learn more about the Israel Museum, go to http://www.english.imjnet.org.il/page_1382.
From there we ventured inside an exhibit called the Shrine of the Book, a beautiful presentation of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Why are these scrolls so important? Primarily, the Dead Sea Scrolls silenced the liberal critics of the Bible, those who argued that most of it was made up hundreds of years after the fact and had no historical factuality. When two shepherd boys stumbled upon the first cave in 1947, little did the world know how these 850 manuscript fragments would forever alter our view of the Bible. Perhaps the most important find was the entire Isaiah scroll, now displayed in the exhibit in a large, backlit display. In fact, the entire exhibit build is designed as a large jar containing a huge scroll. Quite a feast for the eyes. What a fascinating experience of epic significance! To learn more about the Shrine of the Book specifically, go to http://www.english.imjnet.org.il/page_1348.
The Israel Museum is vast, incorporating many buildings and exhibits which contain some of the most important archeological collections of ancient civilizations. We absolutely had too little time to really explore everything, but we left satisfied and grateful to have seen this with our own eyes. Again, to learn more about the Israel Museum, go to http://www.imj.org.il/en/.
We left the museum and headed to the old city where most of us took several hours to do some more shopping and to grab some lunch in the incredible shop-lined streets of the Christian, Muslim, Armenian and Jewish quarters.
At 2:30 we gathered in the hotel lobby to walk to our final site together, the Garden Tomb near a rock formation that has all the markings of Golgotha, the place of the skull as described by the gospel writers. Our guide Omer shared the history and significance of the site located near the Damascus gate and just 1200 feet from the Temple Mount. Our picture of Golgotha is pretty romantic, imagining a grassy hill with three solitary crosses standing serenely in place. In reality, this rocky place adjacent to a roadway is more likely how it actually was and reveals the intimate and grotesque impact of Roman crucifixion. Matthew describes, for example, how passers by were mocking Jesus who would be hanging naked and in pain right where people would pass.
And the tomb nearby would certainly have been the property of someone with financial means such as Joseph of Arimathea as described in the gospel accounts, a rich man who had at least one vineyard because underneath our feet was a huge water cistern that still waters the garden today. By the way, the custom in near-east cultures is to place the body in a tomb for one year, allowing the body to decompose, then to remove the bones and place them in an ossuary, a box for bones. While Joseph offered his tomb for a year, it turns out he would only need to loan it out for the weekend!
We were reminded that those first to the tomb believed when seeing what had been promised--Mary, John and Peter. As the risen Jesus instructed them to "go back to Galilee and report what you have seen," we now have the opportunity to do the same in our own 'Galilee'.
After hearing some of the history of the site, and enjoying our guide's simple explanation of the good news of Jesus, we each personally entered the hewn rock tomb, followed by a sweet time of remembrance together in communion with our Savior. We shared the ways we have been drawn near to Christ while on this trip, a truly memorable moment shared together as brothers and sisters in Christ. To learn more, go to http://www.gardentomb.com/.
At this point some of us decided to venture back into the old city to pass through Herod's gate. We wandered through less traveled streets deep in the Muslim quarter where growing up is a very different experience than in the States. We made our way through the winding streets to the Via Dolorosa and followed it down to the Jewish Quarter, through security again, and then finally back to the Western Wall for one final visit.
Several of us were able to have visited and passed through all the gates of the old city of Jerusalem: Jaffa gate, Zion gate, Dung gate, Lions gate, Herod's gate, Damascus gate, and New gate. And, of course, the Eastern gate known as the 'Golden Gate' remains sealed by Suleiman. But perhaps nor for long. To learn more, go to http://www.templemount.org/jerusalem-gates/gates.html.
We returned to the hotel for dinner and then prepared for the flight home. As we anticipate landing on the west coast on Saturday, our bodies remind us that this has been a very long day. In Pacific Standard Time, our final day in Israel began Thursday evening and culminated when we arrived home late Saturday. There was a glitch: some of us didn't get our luggage as hoped. At least one person in Los Angeles landed without her luggage and all of the Yakima group waited until the next day for luggage to arrive from Seattle. But, you know what? It's alright. We have all received many blessings along the way.
WHAT DID OUR FATHER TEACH ME TODAY?
Sadly our group was divided when moving to connecting flights in Frankfurt and so we were not able to say goodbye. Tom, buddy, I had a big hug waiting for you!
We may never meet like this again. My grandfather was transformed by Christ and devoted the rest of his life to serving the homeless in Jesus' name. But Cliff Phillips loved his family deeply and showed us all what faith really looks like. At any family gathering, as we were preparing to leave he would have us grab hands around the circle, and he would say, "We may never meet like this again." And he was right.
Those of us on this trip may not know each other well, but we are family. Jesus has given us a new name. We are His kids, and as our gathering has come to an end, the truth of that statement remains true: we may never meet like this again. Not for now.
As I moved in and out of sleep in flight, I again treasured the joy of praying for each person on the trip. In conversation during the trip I tried to learn how I could be an encouragement and lift each person in prayer. Each person's needs are different, but it is my privilege to remember each one as a fellow disciple, a brother or sister with me on this journey of faith.
Also, for me personally, this trip has been another opportunity to sit under my brother Kurt's teaching and leadership. Well done, Kurt. Love you, bro.
The Yakima group flew off to Seattle, and the Victorville and Portland groups took off for Los Angeles. Even so, we each take with us the memories of a shared season in Christ's presence, and it is just the beginning of things to come.
"When I saw him I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said, "Do not be afraid..." Revelation 1:17a
PS--I took a few pictures and will be posting and sharing as the week unfolds. Feel free to share this blog as you like.