Friday, April 13, 2018 – Day Three
We opened the morning on the bus with a devotional which I led based on Genesis 12:1-2 which relates the story of God calling Abram to leave his homeland to go to a land that God will show him, Canaan, what we today call Israel or the Holy Land, the Land of Promise. God made a covenant with Abram to bless him and to bless all the families of the earth through him. The Land was a key component of this plan. As we travel this land, we’re reminded of the physicality of God’s blessing. God is Creator and he sends himself on a mission to undo the curse of the Fall which has corrupted his good creation. The blessing of Abram and his wife, Sarai in this particular land is the means by which he will carry out this mission. As we spend time here, we see pilgrims from all over the world, speaking many different languages. Indeed, all the families of the earth are being blessed. We want to be a part of blessing others.
Beit She’an, the only one of the ten cities of the Decapolis located on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Huge archaeological site and National Park that helps us understand the urban life of the Roman culture. Because it was destroyed by an earthquake and subsequently abandoned, the ruins, which have been partially restored by archaeologists, give insight into daily life in a city. There’s a huge theatre, colonnaded streets, bath houses, and amazing mosaics. The site is significant from a Biblical standpoint because it is the place that King Saul’s body was displayed, along with the body of his son, Jonathan, following their defeat to the Philistines.
Megiddo is a large tel. A tel is a hill that’s been built up over centuries, even millennia, of city after city being built and destroyed, built and destroyed, again and again. The remains of the past city become the new ground upon which the new city is built. This city was important because it overlooks a strategic choke point on the Via Maris, the connecting road between Africa and Asia Minor. Because of it’s key location, battles have been fought repeatedly by successive world powers to ensure control of this important trade route. A place that has witnessed many bloody battles makes a great background for a writer of an apocalyptic account of the Final Battle that will be the battle to end all battles and usher in God’s ultimate reign. You’ve heard of this place before. Har Megiddo is Hebrew for Mount of Megiddo. When transliterated into Greek, it becomes Armageddon. Megiddo is a rich archaeological site with a commanding view of the Jezreel Valley and Mount Tabor.
Today, Megiddo is an Israeli national park and we enjoyed a lunch of falafel pita bread sandwiches with various Mediterranean salads before heading to Nazareth.
In Nazareth, the village where Jesus grew up, we first stopped at the Mount of Precipice, where the events of Luke 4 took place after Jesus read from the Isaiah Scroll in the synagogue and claimed that the prophecy was being fulfilled in his ministry. The people thought Jesus was getting too big for his britches and tried to throw him off this precipice. He slipped through the crowd and headed off to Capernaum, by the Sea of Galilee, never to return to his hometown.
Saturday, April 14, 2018 – Day Four
Beginning the day with a wonderful breakfast at the Royal Plaza Hotel in Tiberias, we then departed the Galilee region and rode to the Judean Wilderness. Pastor Bob Kaylor led us in a devotional and we traveled to a spot very near the Dead Sea, to visit a site that wasn’t discovered until 1947. Qumran is the settlement scholars believe was inhabited by a Jewish sect named the Essenes before and during Jesus’ time on earth. They are important for a couple of reasons. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in eleven different caves in the immediate vicinity of the settlement ruins. These scrolls contain Old Testament texts, commentaries on the Old Testament, and various theological and practical documents dealing with the community’s life and hopes. It is a critical site for the study of the Old Testament because the texts found there dating back to the second century B.C. confirm the accuracy of the previously oldest manuscripts available to us that dated to the eighth century A.D. The sectarian documents also shed light on how Jewish sects operated and understood themselves at the time of Jesus.
After Qumran, we visited Jericho, one of the oldest cities in the world, dating to 9,000 B.C. It was the first Canaanite city to be conquered by the Israelites after they crossed the Jordan to enter the Promised Land. There’s not a ton to see, as the Tel, or hill, that is the ancient part of the city looks to the untrained eye like a big pile of dirt and rocks. So, we enjoyed a very pleasant lunch of chicken and lamb with various Mediterranean salads and shopped at a nice shop where I picked up a package of dates. Yum!
Then it was up and out of the Judean wilderness (otherwise known as desert) to climb out of the valley and up to Jerusalem, the eternal city.
Our first stop was the Mount of Olives. This is the place Jesus began his triumphal entry into the city on Palm Sunday. At the base of the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane. We took our group photo from the top of the Mount because it offers a commanding view of the city. The Garden of Gethsemane is home to the Roman Catholic Church of All Nations, which we visited. We also spent time in a private courtyard of the monastery for a time of worship and reflection led by Pastor Bob Kaylor.
After boarding the bus, Hana, our guide, asked if we wanted to head to the hotel or were ready for another stop. We opted for the latter and visited the traditional site of the Upper Room, which is just outside the Old City. In Jesus’ day, the Upper Room was inside the city walls, but the current city walls were built in the 16th century and don’t perfectly trace the walls as they existed in the first century. At the Upper Room we witnessed one of the amazing things about this land and that is the presence of pilgrims from all over the world. There was an Orthodox group from Eastern Europe, us, and a group from Asia. The command of Jesus to make disciples of all nations is being fulfilled.
After a long day we traveled the short distance to the Olive Tree Hotel, our home in Jerusalem for the next several days.