DAY 6--FRIDAY, MARCH 31
Fun Quote: "Getting into Jerusalem is no problem on Friday afternoon because there is no traffic" --our guide Jacov describing what driving on the Sabbath is like
Today we packed up our things and said farewell to lush green Galilee. One comment I have repeatedly heard from my tripmates is that they are surprised by the beautiful, green landscape of Galilee. Our journey today takes us to the center of the Jewish world, the great city of Jerusalem. But the shift from Galilee to Jerusalem is abrupt and jarring.
Today we learned that 62 percent of Israel is desert. So our trip would take us from one extreme to another. You may be interested to know that Israel is about the same size as the state of New Jersey. Putting that into perspective, that means that you can drive north to south in about 5 hours, and east to west in about 45 minutes. I hope I'm being accurate enough here to illustrate the fact that this is a tiny country. So, the desert occupies a large chunk of a tiny space.
Our route today follows the Rift Valley along the Jordan River. On the east side of the river is the border fence that defines the West Bank and the border with Jordan. All day we look across the barbed wire and into the country of Jordan. We arrive at a major site, an ancient city known as Bet She 'an. This site represents 7,000 years of civilization and history, but archaeologists have unearthed and preserved a simply spectacular city from the Roman era. Bet She'an had at the time perhaps 40,000 residents making it the third largest city in ancient Israel. As one of the ten cities known as the Decapolis, Bet She'an represented Rome in every way imaginable. There was a theater, bathhouse, agora, Roman temple, public lavatories, amphitheater, hippodrome and more. It is simply massive in scope. The city was ultimately destroyed by an earthquake, but it has a long and significant biblical history prior to that.
Israel's first king--Saul--suffered for his disobedience to God and was put to death by the Philistines and the bodies of he along with his sons were hung on the walls of this city. Later king David would take the city and it would become an administrative center for king Solomon. But later still during the Roman era it was simply a grand statement of Roman pagan values, standing in contrast to everything Jesus taught. To learn more, go to http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/beit-she-an.
By the time we left Bet She'an the sun was out in full force and things were heating up. Since we were on the road, arrangements had been made in advance to supply everyone with a box lunch, a beach towel, and two hours to enjoy swimming and picnicking at a park nearby that featured a natural lagoon, waterfalls and abundant shade and seating.
After being refreshed we continued our journey southward along the Jordan River until we came to the most likely site at El Yahud for the baptism of Jesus by his second cousin, John the Baptist. The river literally forms the only barrier dividing the territorial rights of Israel and Jordan. Several asked to be baptized as a reaffirmation of their personal faith in Christ and desire to walk with Him in obedience, and one especially was baptized following a process of discovering the Bible's message, placing her faith in Christ, and eventually leaving the LDS church. These decisions don't come quickly or easily and each one affirmed their personal faith in Christ. For the group it was an intimate and meaningful time of bearing witness to their actions and celebrating with them this amazing and gracious gift we have been given in Christ. To learn more, go to https://www.facebook.com/pages/Qasr-el-Yahud/280458021986238.
As we drove our guide Jacov sharpened our Hebrew language skills with a few simple phrases such as "boka tov" (good morning), "leila tov" (good evening), "shalom" (hello, goodbye, peace), "shabbat shalom" (on Sabbath), "slicha" (excuse me), "be vaka sha" (good sabbath weekend), and "toda" (thank you).
We arrived safely in Jerusalem in the late afternoon, arriving from the east, desert side. From the Dead Sea up to the city of Jerusalem is a rise in elevation of about 4,000 feet. Tomorrow: we explore the city itself.
WHAT DID OUR FATHER TEACH ME TODAY?
Compromise leads to catastrophe. As we drove the remaining miles toward Jerusalem we could see the harsh desert landscape that forms what is known as "the wilderness" in the gospel accounts of Jesus' life. This is a barren, forsaken place. Modern war and ethnic strife have left it to be almost frozen in time. Chapter 1 in the book of Judges tells us that Israel did not drive out the Canaanites as God instructed, which at the time seemed perfectly sensible. The only problem is that this decision to operate independently of the Lord led to a failure to completely remove opposing belief systems in the area. Eventually and ultimately, king Saul was hanging on a pagan wall.
I reflected on this simple compromise and how it led to hundreds of years of unnecessary war and strife. At the time, a small compromise seems so innocent and uneventful. But we do so to our detriment because we cannot possibly understand the implications of those errant choices.
It occurred to me today as I gazed on the lifeless wilderness that Jesus made no such compromise. He left His home village of Nazareth, traveled a very long way to find John the Baptist, chose baptism to inaugurate His next steps, and intentionally walked into the barren abyss of the wilderness to be tested for forty days. From there Jesus gathered His followers and began to announce God's kingdom with authoritative teaching and miraculous signs that took everyone by surprise. These are not the actions of someone who is toying with an idea. This is not a casual decision. No, Jesus makes a choice to complete what His heavenly Father sent Him to do, and that meant every step, every word, every compassionate touch was an intentional act of a man on a mission.
It makes me wonder how we as Americans might learn to lean away from comfort and lean into courage. Certainly the cultural landscape is looking more barren, so I wonder how we will declare our intentions to live on purpose?
2 Timothy 2:1-7