Grand Court Hotel, Jerusalem
We spent the entire day in the walled city of Old Jerusalem. Abed had us on the bus at 7:30 AM so we could be at the Rabbi's Tunnel by 8 AM. You have to make reservations six months in advance to make sure of having a place so he didn't want to be late. We all noticed the high security as we entered the Wailing Wall area. The women and men had to pass through separate metal detectors. We saw quite a few armed Israeli soldiers and many police cars. No special problems, just the normal precautions at one of the world’s most sacred and contested sites. After making our way along the very narrow tunnel that parallels the western wall of Herod"s Temple, we began walking the Via Dolorosa, the traditional "way of sorrows" that includes the fourteen Stations of the Cross according to the Catholic Church. Today the crowds were moderate, and the weather was sunny and slightly cool, making our visit an enjoyable experience. In very quick succession we visited the pool of Bethesda and St. Anne"s Church where we sang "Alleluia" and heard the words vibrate off the hard stone surfaces long after we stopped singing. Then it was on to the Church of the Flagellation and the Church of the Condemnation, both of them built over or nearby the actual sites where our Lord suffered so greatly while Pilate tried to wash his hands of his own guilt (Matthew 27:24). Then we descended a stairway to view the stone pavement called the Lithostrotos, also called Gabbatha in John 19:13. Here we saw the games soldiers scratched into the pavement to keep them occupied when they were bored. Those scratchings are 2000 years old. Later we stopped for lunch at a pizzeria in the Arab Quarter. Abed has known the owner (and his father) for many years. Several of the women slipped away to do some shopping down the narrow street after we finished eating. Then it was on to the Temple Institute where we learned about the efforts of a Jewish group to prepare the necessary implements for the future Third Temple.
Just as I wrote that, I realized that I left out two very important items. After our visit to the Rabbi's Tunnel, we spent some time at the Wailing Wall, which consists of huge foundation stones, the only thing remaining after the Romans destroyed Herod’s Temple in A.D. 70. By custom, the men and women are separated at the wall. And for many years those coming to the wall have written their prayers on little pieces of paper and stuck them into cracks in the Wailing Wall. I put a prayer in the wall in 1994 and God answered it--not because I put it in the wall but because it pleased the Lord to answer that particular prayer. I wrote out two prayers and put them in the wall this morning. We will see what the Lord wants to do about those prayers--and the thousands of others placed there every day.
Then we passed through security again--this time to enter the Temple Mount, the 35-acre space where Herod's Temple once stood (and Solomon's Temple before it). Today the Muslims control the Temple Mount and the golden-plated Dome of the Rock dominates the Temple Mount. Three times I have gone inside, but not today. The Dome of the Rock has been closed to visitors for several years. Abed thinks it will open to visitors again soon. In previous visits I have noticed a sense of tension, but today things seemed very relaxed, possibly because there were very few people on the Temple Mount this morning.
Since the Temple Mount is sacred to Jews and Muslims especially, it is hard to see exactly how the Third Temple will be built without ushering in a world war, but believing as I do that such a temple must someday be built, I leave the how and when in the hands of God.
We wrapped up our day by visiting the ruins of the destroyed temple that were discovered and uncovered in the last twelve years. When we first visited in 1986, the area was mostly rubble. Today it has been excavated, revealing some of the boulders from Herod's Temple that fell to the ground in A.D. 70, fulfilling Jesus' prophecy that not one stone would be left upon another (Mark 13:1-2). Our own Paul Boesche spent a few weeks digging in this very area several years ago.
Abed kept us moving very fast so that we were all pooped by the end of the day. But a week from now, those who came will be glad for all they saw in the Holy Land. Tomorrow will be our final day before returning home. Tonight someone said that their head is so crammed full that it can't hold any more information, which is a sign of a successful visit to the Holy Land. On our last day we will visit Gethsemane, the Church of All Nations on the Mount of Olives, then back to the Old City to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and on to the Israel Museum where we will view the Dead Sea Scrolls. Our final stop will be the Garden Tomb where we will celebrate communion and remember our Lord's death and resurrection.
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