James 2:13 (ESV) Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Day 7 Notes:
Mount of Olives:
We head first to a place frequented by Christ and overlook the city. Many Christians believe Jesus will return and descend this mountain, enter the Temple through the Eastern Gate and rule and reign upon the Earth. Our guide points out the Muslims closed the gate and then put a cemetery in front of it so Jews would never step there in an attempt to reopen it. We have a moment of levity as we remember, the only Jew that’s able to open that gate will not be hindered by the graves He has to open first to get there.
If there’s a place you must visit other than the Christian holy sites, this is it. The last remaining wall from Herod’s temple. A place of prayer and hope for generations of Jews who long for the restoration of the Temple. On this day the sun shines brightly over a very cheerful and vibrant space. I observe the countless pieces of paper with prayers written on them from around the world shoved in between the stones, a practice for generations. Many Orthodox Jewish men have phylacteries on their heads and arms (little black boxes holding parts of Torah) as well as prayer shawls with Tzitzit at the corners. They rock back and forth meditating upon scripture humbling seeking restoration.
As I stop to pray at the wall I feel a real sense of God’s presence.
At one of our evening meetings, a Messianic Jewish lawyer explains that when his father moved here in the 1980s to plant a Messianic congregation there were about 9 Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus in Hebrew). Today there are 23,000. God is stirring His people unto salvation in this Nation albeit slowly. We must pray it continues and hastens (2 Peter 3:12).
I walk away from the wall and a class of Jewish boys is marching toward it led by their rabbi singing the most cheerful songs in Hebrew. Their faces are radiant in the sun and their song fills the atmosphere with peace. I thank God for this scene as it serves a reminder of the peace Jesus will soon bring to the entire world when our final enemy is forever defeated.
The mood at Caiaphas’ house is a 180-degree experience from that of the Western Wall. Caiaphas was the high priest at the time of Christ’s death and resurrection. This is fairly certain to be the place where Jesus was illegally tried by a corrupt leadership and then imprisoned as they manipulated the path to His execution. We see the stone floor where He most likely stood as they pronounced judgment.
We then descend a flight of stairs into the holding cell very much believed to be the exact location where Jesus was imprisoned. This moment is enormously meditative. The guide leads us to a 12′ by 12′ foot area with a hole in the ceiling. The entrance steps we take to get in are a modern addition for tourists. Jesus would have been let down into this pit by a rope through the 4′ hole in the top. We have modern lighting for our convenience, He would have seen total darkness.
At this time, one of the lead Pastors of the tour reads Psalm 88. The mood in the room becomes pregnant with awesome gratitude as we consider our Savior alone in the dark in this room 2000 years ago.
Psalm 88:1–5 (ESV) O LORD, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before You. 2 Let my prayer come before You; incline Your ear to my cry! 3 For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. 4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, 5 like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom You remember no more, for they are cut off from Your hand.
At this moment the reality of the Gospel hits home. The Gospel is cosmic exchange. Jesus was arrested so that we could be freed. He was tried and convicted so we could be acquitted. He was cast down into darkness so we could be lifted up and walk in the light. He was put to death so that we could attain life everlasting. There is no questioning the love of God in this location.
Outside the house, we are shown steps that are probably from the first century or earlier. Most of them are fenced off but a small area is available for picture taking. I take a moment to touch the steps my Savior may have walked for my sins.
The Place of the Skull:
In scripture, we read that Jesus was led to the place of the skull to be crucified. There is a common belief that an outcropping of rock (still there today) somewhat resembles a skull marking the location. A local guide here takes us through an explanation as to why this must be the place of His death. Ironically there is a bus station where the three crosses may have stood.
We take a walk through this now pristine garden and circle to the place where an empty tomb sits built into the wall. The moment is important but we are reminded (rightly so) that this is ONE of the supposed locations of Jesus’ tomb. I did get a chance to visit the place considered by most Catholic scholars to be the location (Church of the Holy Sepulchre). However, it was Ash Wednesday of all days and a line circled the entire facility promising a two-hour wait. I’m thankful at this moment for my Protestant heritage as we are in and out of the Garden Tomb in moments (just a bit shorter than Jesus would have been there).
Inside the tomb is a stone table layout where bodies would have laid. On the wall is a Christian symbol marking this location. Outside the tomb is this very appropriate sign:
Our group loves this location even though we all know it is a supposed site of History’s greatest moment. The setting ultimately cannot do justice to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. I suppose there’s no place on Earth that can. The Son of God is alive forevermore and now sits at the right-hand side of God, our Father interceding for us!
The whirlwind tour is over. We head back to the hotel to pack for an 11 pm flight to Newark, NJ. In full disclosure, I would like to tell you this. I went to the Holy Land expecting to feel the presence of God as I never have before. I had a few conversations with fellow travelers who had been there who told me you “feel the presence of God so much in the city of Jerusalem.” Now I certainly did and I will forever be changed in my approach to scripture and more grateful to the nation of Israel. But I also feel God’s presence just as much when I’m witnessing a baptism at my home church or sharing the Gospel or chatting with close Christian brothers and sisters here in the United States. This was perhaps the most surprising gift the Holy Land gave to me. It was in the back of my head the entire time and I can only now fully express it: The work Jesus accomplished “over there” means just as much for us over here. We are the TEMPLE of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). We are the spiritual house He is building today (1 Peter 2:5).
Read the New Testament and you will see the Gospel mission did not last very long in Jerusalem. History tells us 40 years after Jesus, the Romans destroyed the city and the Temple. But the Gospel message can never be destroyed. No matter what dictator, legislator, senator or principle of whatever Earthly power attempts, the Gospel’s power to bring people back to God will NOT be stopped. I’m so grateful to be part of this movement. It’s not just a historical reality, it is the human heart’s truest adventure.
I hope that you can one day visit this wonderful land. It will change you, most likely in a very different way than it did me. But isn’t that the beauty of our God? He doesn’t cookie cutter us into a one-size-fits-all experience. He’s personal, He’s real, He’s alive.
That’s all that really matters.