Israel Trip – Day 09 – November 14 – Monday

We’re beginning to see the end of our trip in sight.  One of the ways of knowing this is to see the diminishing number of clean clothes available to wear.  What seemed like a huge number of shirts to choose from each morning is now getting down to the last couple of shirts.  We’ve got today, tomorrow, and then Wednesday  before we head home late Wednesday night (flying all night and arriving on Thursday).

We got to have a “normal” start day, meaning we had breakfast at 6:30am and
meet on the bus by 8:00.  Our bus driver  Gabby drove us up to the top of the Mount of Olives where we could see the  classic view of Jerusalem.  And there  were a LOT of busses there.  We are  amazed at Gabby’s driving skills.  He is  a man with great skill.  A huge bus  navigating tiny narrow streets with cars and busses who don’t seem intimidated  by the size of our bus.  We all gave  Gabby our thanks as he let us off at the Mount of Olives.

The view of Jerusalem from the Mount
of Olives
is spectacular.  Immediately in front of you are the thousands of Jewish graves, then the  Kidron Valley, and across the small valley is the Temple Mount. From the Mount  of Olives you are standing just about even with the Dome of the Rock.  You can see most of the other major landmarks  in Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives as well – the Church of the Holy  Sepulcher, Caiphas’ House, the ancient city of David, and the Valley of Hinnom (also known as Gehenna).  After taking  our pictures we began our walk down the “Palm Sunday Road”, which is just a narrow alley lined with 12 foot stone  walls on either side.  The road is downhill, and very steep.  There’s a brief stopping point halfway down where there’s a church to commemorate Jesus weeping over the city of Jerusalem.  There is also a small building where you can see some of the ancient ossuaries (“bone boxes”) that date back to the time of Jesus.  At the bottom of the hill is the Garden of Gethsemane.

The Garden of Gethsemane  has some pretty huge and ancient olive trees, still growing, and some perhaps dating back to the time of Jesus.  There’s a famous church at the Garden known as the “Church of the Nations”.  One of my favorite signs is outside that church, “No Explanations Inside the Church”. It’s kind of an odd thing to have on a church.  I think a church ought to be a place where
you find explanations (though to be fair, it’s simply to remind the various tour guides not to go inside the church and talk).  We also went down the street a bit to the Grotto of Gethsemane, where
there are two more churches – one a Catholic church located in a cave, and the
other an ancient Crusader church that’s in another larger cave.

After Gethsemane, we made the hike up the other side of the Kidron Valley to the Lion’s Gate (also known as the “Sheep Gate” and “Stephen’s Gate”) where we entered into the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem, including the various stations of the cross along the Via Dolorosa.
Our first stop was at the Pools of Bethesda where Jesus healed a man who was lame. We know the location of the pools, but they are a pile of ruins from
Byzantine and Crusader times.  Terry gave
a Bible Study at the site, talking about the man who was healed at Bethesda.  His point was that even though the man didn’t receive the healing he longed for in the way he expected, he did meet Jesus and Jesus healed him.  Sometimes we believers think that God can’t work in certain ways, or at certain churches, but we may be surprised to know the Jesus shows up at some of those locations and Jesus meets us there.  After looking at the ruins, we made our way into the Crusader church,  St. Anne’s, and sang some songs.  St. Anne’s is famous for its acoustics that can make any music sound beautiful.  It was here that we caught our first little sprinkles.

We continued along the Via Dolorosa and stopped at the Sisters of Zion convent.  In the basement are some stones that date back to the time of Christ.
When the stones were discovered, it was originally thought that this spot was the same as the Antonio Fortress (or, “Praetorium”).  One of the stones even has etchings in it of a common Roman game that soldiers played.  Kind of like a Monopoly board carved in stone.  We now know that those stones are of the time of Christ, but the spot is actually located just outside of Antonio Fortress.  The Sisters were close, but “missed it by that much”.

We then continued back on the Via
.  We walked through the
various market streets of Jerusalem.  And
boy were those streets crowded!  Shoulder
to shoulder sometimes making our way down the street on our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  This is one of the oldest and most famous churches in Christianity.  The traditional view is that this building houses not only the place where Jesus was crucified, but the tomb as well.  It’s a huge structure and is looked over (or fought over) by six different Christian churches.  One of the things we saw was a little room off to the side where there are other first century tombs that had
been discovered at the same location.

Our next stop was lunch.  We all squeezed into a little restaurant that had been reserved for us.  The choice was chicken shwarma or falafel.  David and I had the shwarma.  Messy but yummy.  Our next adventure was to navigate the shop streets back out the Jaffa Gate to meet the bus.  As we passed through the gate, the heavens
broke loose and the rain began to pour.  Some of us had brought our umbrellas, but even those of who were prepared got a bit wet before we could deploy the umbrellas.  Within two minutes we were on  the bus and drying off.

Our next stop was the Israeli Museum and the Shrine of the Book.  There is a magnificent model of Jerusalem, picturing the city in the year 44AD.  It’s a great tool to get the lay of the land in Jesus’ day.  I often like to show pictures of this very model when I’m teaching about Jesus being in Jerusalem.  It’s almost like getting a helicopter shot of the city.  And it’s pretty big, built to a 1/50 scale.  The
Shrine of the Book is a museum dedicated to the Dead Sea Scrolls.  There is the story of the Qumran community as well as fragments of scrolls, and the entire scroll of the book of Isaiah.  It’s a pretty impressive tribute to the Bible.  Before heading back to the bus, we stumbled on a snack bar and scored some cappuccinos to warm us up.

At dinner we sat with Terry and his son John-Mark.  I’ll let you guess what John-Mark thought of the pink mystery dessert he tried.  We’re now getting ready for bed while the wind is howling outside our 12th story window.  It’s quite a storm brewing up tonight, but supposedly it will stop by
tomorrow.  Tomorrow is our “free day” where we are hoping to walk through the famous “Hezekiah’s Tunnel” and beyond that …  who knows???