Day 5: Bethlehem and the Passion Week

Well the last few days have been crazy and have not included much internet access. We started out our day at a high rise view of the Temple Mount from the top of the Palm Sunday Road. We then worked our way do the Palm Sunday Road until we got to the Garden of Gethsemane. It was a beautiful place filled with olive trees. Our tour guide told us an interesting thing about olive trees. Apparently, they live for about 60 or 80 years then die and lose all their branches and leaves. Yet then after about 50 years new olive branches spring out of the dead trunks. The olive trees resurrect from death. They also found that about six of the trees in the garden presently are more than 2,000 years old which means they were there on that fateful night. Next to the Garden stands the Church of All Nations, which (according to tradition) contains the rock on which Jesus prayed to the Father. It was a very dark church to give the effect of night time.

Some early Messianic (or Christian) coffins were found near the Palm Sunday Road. They were from the 1st or 2nd century A.D. One night a while back a Canadian stole a few of the coffins (they are very small coffins because they only contain certain bones of the people as in Jewish custom). After he got into Canada, he found that one of the coffins was inscribed saying, Ya’aqov bar Yosef akhui Yeshua’ (“James son of Joseph brother of Jesus”). It cannot be tested for sure if it was authentic or not because of tampering done by the thief, yet recently experts believe it is authentic.

Then the group traveled to the House of Caiaphas, the High Priest where Jesus was kept overnight after being arrested. It was marked by the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. Many ruins were found underneath included a cistern in which they believe Jesus may have been kept. It was a solemn moment spent in that cistern imagining what it was like for Christ. We could not go to the Temple Mount because it was a Muslim holiday and so only Muslims were allowed for the day, but it did open up the streets a little because the Muslim Quarters was not as crowded as usual.

We then went through the tradition path of Christ on his way to Golgotha. It started at the uncovered place where Jesus was taken before Pilate. We then walked down the Via Delarosa until we got to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was an experience I will never forget because it was INSANE! The many different groups such as Catholic and Orthodox literally fought over this church so they ended up splitting it up in weird sections. There were so many people but I think the funniest thing is that Church is actually owned by a Muslim, whose family was given the location by Saladin centuries ago.

To finish the day, we got back on the bus and headed into Bethlehem in the West Bank. There we visited the Church of the Nativity which had an interesting door. The door (called the Door of Humility) was made small so that every person has be bow as they enter. Afterwards we went to the Christian store in Bethlehem. There used to be a huge community of Christians in the town but after a huge decrease in tourism from 2000-2008 because of conflict many people had to leave. Now only 20% of Bethlehem is Christian.


Day 4: This is Home

 

     Cana was our first stop which is where Jesus turned water into wine. It was awesome to hear one of the pastors talk about the symbols of wine and water in Jewish thought. Water being related to physical cleansing and wine related to spiritual. Afterwards, we traveled to Nazareth which features little archeology but a beautiful church commemorating the angel coming to Mary. It is crazy how small Nazareth was at the time of Jesus only having about 200 people living in it. It was awesome though when we sat in the 1st century synagogue that they reconstructed and hear Isaiah 61 read.

     Next on the list was Megiddo which was interesting because most of the finding there were related to King Ahab, and it shows a very different side of him. It shows his intelligent building and bright defense strategies.

     Also, I do have to say that my impression of the Israelis has changed a lot on this trip. They really just want peace. It seems we American Christians are the ones who are continually shouting, “Don’t give back any land!” and such.

     We ended the day driving to Israel, but as was custom in Jesus’ time, we stopped outside the city and entered on foot. Once we saw the Temple Mount, we said three blessings to God as we ate a small cracker and a small cup of grape juice. Our tour guide then explained that after these next few days in Jerusalem, we will not leave the same because the city will change us in a way that cannot be explained in terms. It begins to feel like a sort of home. As we entered the city, we were coming to our spiritual home. I can already tell I am not going to be the same after this trip. I think everyone feels the same way.


Day 3: Boats and Beatitudes

A Boat Ride

We started today by seeing what is called “Jesus’ Boat.” It was found on the shores of the Sea of Galilee during a very dry year. It dates back to around 35 AD and is very similar to the type of boat Jesus’ disciples would have used for fishing. Archeologists theorize that the man who owned the boat built it himself and it ended up leaking.

After seeing the boat, we went on a boat ride ourselves on the Sea where we had worship led by an Israeli. It was an amazing experience. Seeing Jesus’ world from the point of view of his disciples as I imagined what it would have been like to look up at the shore line and see a man calling me to follow him.

I do have to say that the Israelis are a people of remarkable faith and blessing. Our tour guide, Ronnie, told us about how the Israelis have been trying to solve their problem of having enough drinking water. He said they finally decided, “Why don’t we just ask the Lord.” So they prayed for rain and he gave them a raining season like no other. Then they prayed to him asking for it to stop because they then had too much and it ended. What a remarkable people of faith and God of blessings!

Church of Beatitudes

We then traveled to the Church of Beatitudes which “marks” the place that the Sermon on the Mount took place. The actual location is a little farther down the hill than the church closer to the sea. It is a gorgeous church and garden. You could hear people of all different languages singing praises and prayers up to the Lord. As one of the pastors said, “It is more than the location, it is about His teachings.” Unlike a lot of other biblical sites where many sects of faith claim different locations, this is one of the very few that everyone agrees is the generally correct location.

Capernaum

This is the very home town of Jesus during his ministry. He grew up in Nazareth but did not remain there for his entire life. Capernaum is the most important site on the Sea of Galilee uncovered so far. Out of the 33 miracles performed by Christ, 10 of them occurred in Capernaum. A church is also build here over the home of Peter. It was awesome because this was not simply the site that tradition believes is Peter’s home. It is confirmed as his home in Capernaum. It was here that Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Then not too far from Peter’s home was the synagogue which was ruined but beautiful. They know it is a synagogue and not a church because every church in Israel faces east while this building faces Jerusalem. The ruined synagogue that stood was not the one of Jesus’ time but a later one which was built most likely to commemorate Christ as a rabbi. The synagogue from Jesus’ time is beneath the present one.

Pastor Paul then read Matthew 11:16-24 while we were in the synagogue.

20Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

Then Ronnie told us that later on after Jesus’ time an major earthquake occurred around the Sea of Galilee, yet every city was rebuilt except Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. When God gives warns, we tend to believe he is talking to everyone else besides us, but He is not playing around when it comes to warnings.

Gideon Springs

I loved this one especially because it was connected to the Old Testament. These springs are the very same place where Gideon tested his soldiers in Judges. They know it is at this spot that he did so because it is the only spring in the area. The springs are near the foot of Mount Gilboa where King Saul and his sons were killed in battle.

Bet She’an

This city was very interesting. It had two parts the first was the tel (or hill) which is where the old Canaanite city stood. It was in this place that King Saul and his sons’ bodies where hung after being killed. At the bottom of the hill, the Roman city was uncovered in remarkable condition. It would take me forever to go through all the sections of the city we saw but it really gave you a view into the Roman society of Jesus’ time.

I do have to say though that my favorite part was the public restrooms cause they were so awkward. I had hoped to put up a last picture here but was not able to because my picture uploader isn’t working.

It was really interesting seeing a shepherd walk through the ruins herding about fifty sheep with two sheep dogs.

 

 


Day 2: Tel Dan, Jordan River, Caesarea Philippi, and Mount Hermon

Today was a very long but amazing day! Most of our day was spent in Golan Heights, which is the area now under dispute over whether the Israelis should return it to Syria or not.

(This is just a VERY general idea of what we did for the day and only a few of the hundreds of pictures.  I’ll show the rest when I return home.)

We started the day driving up to a viewpoint of the Sea of Galilee along the east coast of the sea. It was pretty cold and foggy in the morning as we started our journey around 7am (1am on the US East Coast). The kibbuts (house) where we are staying is on the south side of the Sea right by the island as seen in the following picture.

Across from us on the other side of the Sea was the town of Magdala, most likely the home town of Mary Magdalene. I would show the picture but it was very hazy because of the morning fog.

We were also able to see Mount Tabor in the fog beyond Magdala which is where Deborah led the Israelites into battle and where tradition holds that the Transfiguration of Jesus occurred.

We then traveled to Avital Mount, an abandoned Israeli military base. From it you could see both Syria (even to Damascus) and Lebanon.  You could also view Har Hermon (Mount Hermon), which is the highest point in Israel as well as the farthest northern point of Israel. On it stands both Israeli and Syrian outposts.  It is also another site that some believe may be the location of the Transfiguration.

Tel Dan

Judges 18:29 “And they named the city Dan, after the name of Dan their ancestor, who was born to Israel; but the name of the city was Laish at the first.”

Judges 20:1 “Then all the people of Israel came out, from Dan to Beersheba, including the land of Gilead, and the congregation assembled as one man to the LORD at Mizpah.”

Genesis 14:14 “When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.”

This place was awesome because of its amazing archeological match ups with the Biblical text. As we began the trail along the River Dan up to the city, one of the pastors in our group read Psalm 42, which our guide said some believe may be making references to Dan.

We also saw the Canaanite entrance into the city which Abraham would have entered through on his journey to rescue Lot in Genesis 14 which is why it is referred to as Abraham’s Gate.

We also went to the Israelite gate of the city from the time of Israel’s occupation of the land. This was also where the tablet referring to the House of David, which was the first non-biblical reference to David uncovered, was found.

Caesarea Philippi

This was a city built in the Hellenistic Era. It was here in Matthew 16 that Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” as well as asking, “Who do you say I am?” It was also in this same conversation that Jesus said, “Upon this  rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Interestingly enough, the cave in the city near the Temple of Pan, a Greek god, was called the Gates of Hell. It was here that (long before Jesus’ time) Canaanites would throw their firstborn child into the rocks of the Gates of Hell as a sacrifice to Baal.

Kursi

Then after lunch at a local restaurant, which like all of Israel does not import any of its food, we went to Kursi where the miracle of the swine almost assuredly took place. It is also the location of an old Byzantine monastery, which is not located on the exact spot of the miracle but next to the mountain.

In this next picture is the mountain on which the event took place.

The Jordan River

Then to end the day we ended the day at the Jordan River where ten people in our group got baptized. It was very awesome seeing hundreds of people from many different groups get baptized in the same area as Christ. I can understand to some extent why Naaman did not want to dunk himself in it.


Day 1: Entering the Promised Land

Well after spending more than 12 hours on planes flying from West Palm Beach to Philadelphia and from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv, we finally made it into Israel. We then drove for about an hour or two to our hotel off the Sea of Galilee. I am pretty shocked at how small the Sea is because I expected to be around the same size as Lake Okeechobee. It is funny how you grow up learning about something and imagining what it looks like but then you find out it isn’t like the way you thought at all.

 

This picture is the only one I had time to get today of the Sea of Galilee on our way to the hotel which is in the area seen in the picture. Tomorrow, I will get some better ones.

“Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, [Jesus] saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the seas, for they were fishermen.” Mark 1:16

“Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land.” Mark 4:1

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him….And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” Mark 4:35-36, 39

It is also very interesting to see the language here after starting Hebrew this semester. I understand very little but some does make sense. You would be very proud, Dr. Lane. lol Tomorrow the real fun begins at the Jordan River, Tel Dan, and worship on the Sea of Galilee.


I’m Back!

Shalom and hello to the two people who read this blog. It has been a while since I have written anything on here. The reason being that I spent the summer in Orlando letting God prune my faith and make me more disciplined in it. It was a lot tougher than I expected going into it. When God said he prunes the branches so that they may bear more fruit, he never said it would be painless. I learned many things I need to work on myself and many things I desire to implement in my walk here at home and school. Maybe later on down the road I will share some things I learned but I am still in the growing process at the moment. Well actually I am always in the growing process till death as we all are, but I hope to get back into the routine of writing. Not as much as I once did simply because of work and school, but frequent posts will be made. I’m also hoping to have some fellow friends I admire write a few things on here.


“There’s no one in my church that deals with homosexuality”

I think one of the biggest things the enemy has used to keep the Church from ministry in the area of homosexuality is the lie, “No one in our church deals with it so we don’t need to do that kind of ministry.” In relation when churches say things like the comment above, they are unknowingly saying “and we will make sure no one in our congregation will deal with it.” Research shows that one-third of gays and lesbians regularly attend church, going to churches across a wide spectrum of denominations and backgrounds. This means that it is very likely that there are people in your church who secretly deal with homosexuality along with the multiple people who are affected by it as a family member or loved one of a struggler. Surveys also suggest that between 60 and 70 percent of churchgoers know a loved one who has homosexual attractions. As W.P. Campbell said, “If those who experience same-sex attractions don’t sense compassion within us, why would they choose to risk themselves by opening up to us?” When a church decides not do deal with the issue or thinks that other ministries will take care of it, then they leave people to be washed away by a culture without opening up about their attractions.

Ministry to those with same-sex attractions is one of the weakest sections of church ministry. Many churches who have members with SSA send them outside the church to deal with the issue when in fact outside ministries should be sending them to the church for help. This is an area that cannot be left only to those who have dealt with homosexuality. It needs to be embraced by all of the Church. There are people silently suffering in your church who don’t know who they can turn to about their struggles. They need both the truth and grace of Christ. We need to stop being ignorant and begin acknowledging that people in our churches are greatly affected by the issue of homosexuality, whether as friends, family, or strugglers themselves. Yet it is not enough to simply acknowledge that people like this exist because many people acknowledge it and then try to thrown them into some group to shut them up. Ministry begins when we connect the brokenness in our own hearts with the brokenness in the hearts of others. If we could have a humble heart, acknowledging that we don’t know everything about the issue, and then be willing to come along side people and help them through their struggles, we will shine like stars in a dark world.


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