Step out in faith
We arrived in Jerusalem Monday evening after dark and we are now staying at the beautiful Dan Hotel, Jerusalem for the remainder of our trip. It's quite a contrast staying in a large (and very fancy) hotel right in the center of such a bustling metropolis than it was in the quiet kibbutz by the Sea of Galilee. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and Tel Aviv is the center of commerce.
Our day started with devotions in the hotel's lobby area where we sat on plush sofas...another contrast to our standing or sitting in plastic chairs by the Sea of Galilee. Terry read from Psalms 121 and 124, which are both Psalms of the Assent. King David conquered Jerusalem in approximately 950 B.C. and it became a Jewish city. Psalm 124 was written by David and it describes how God made this event happen and how He got Israel through difficult times. Our lesson was short but it centered on how our reach should exceed our grasp. In other words, we should step out in faith, knowing that in our own power we are weak, but with God we are strong and anything is possible.
Our first stop of the day was the Israel Museum. It was overcast and raining lightly, nevertheless we gathered outside around an enormous model of the old city of Jerusalem. Yehuda spent the next hour explaining the city model and changes that have occurred over the last few thousand years. We will see much of what Yehuda explained over the next two days as we explore the old city and see places significant to Jesus' ministry and crucifixion.
The section of the museum inside that was open was devoted to the Dead Sea Scrolls that we learned about on our visit to the Qumran Caves, where they were found. The room that contained some of these scrolls was about four stories high and shaped like the pottery that held the found scrolls. We got to see a small section of the actual scrolls from the book of Isaiah, which in their entirety, measure just over 22 feet long.
Since the rest of the museum would not be open for a few hours, we headed out for a trip behind the security fences into the Palestinian controlled West Bank. In this area we first visited Herodium, which is another town built by Herod the Great on the southeast side of Bethlehem, and then we went to Bethlehem. This whole area is significant because it's the area where the Angels appeared to the shepherds tending their folks to announce the birth of our Savior in Bethlehem.
When we arrived at the Tel of Herodium, we hiked up to the top that Herod built into yet another massive fortress complete with his palace, pool, country club, theater, and his tomb. We could see the hillsides where the shepherds no doubt were when the Angels came and the little town of Bethlehem.
It is also believed that Herod was buried on top of Herodium because he built an enormous monument and tomb at this location. He also built another mighty fortress / towns similar to what he built in Masada (in the desert) and at Caesarea by the Sea. His fortress overlooks Bethlehem and is the highest peak in the Judaean Desert.
Terry's lesson was about how God orchestrates all things and that even Herod served God's purpose (unwittingly). Herod was a paranoid egomaniac. He was the one who ordered all baby boys under the age of 2 be killed when the Magi told him that they had come to see and worship the baby who would be King.
Herod built massive monuments to himself and he ruled this area beginning approximately 37 BC. He was the symbol of power. Jesus, however, was born in Bethlehem in the lowest of circumstances; born in a manager and in stark contrast to Herod; Jesus was a completely defenseless infant.
At the end, however, Herod's fortress was defeated and what is left are simply ruins. The walls, towers, palace, even his tomb and everything he built that were once massive and the epitome of power and might are now mostly crumbled and buried; we see only the excavated remains. Jesus' death, in contrast, conquered all. Pastor Terry talked about 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul prayed that his thorn in his flesh would be taken from him. God said that His grace is enough and so Paul boasted about his weakness and said that when he is weak, he is strong because that is when God moves.
It was now time for lunch and we entered Bethlehem through the Palestinian gate. Bethlehem is now approximately 75% Muslim and 25% Christian. Since our guide and driver are so well respected, they are two of the few Jewish guides allowed in Bethlehem. We ate wonderful pita sandwiches at a Christian owned restaurant. Then the restaurant owner, who is also a Bethlehem guide, gave us the tour of the Church of the Nativity. There is no way to know exactly where Jesus was born, but this church was built over the place that is considered to be the birthplace of Christ and a star marks the place that they use in honor of His birth. No one really knows the exact spot though. Wondering why no one ever marked such important locations, Pastor Terry reminded us that the Christians were persecuted from the time of Jesus' death to the early to mid 300 AD. God is a jealous God and does not want us worshiping any idols, including places, so it seems very much God ordained that actual locations are not specifically identified. The Greek Orthodox, Catholic, and Armenian Masses are held in this church daily.
When we left this church our final stop of the day was Johnny's Souvenirs in Bethlehem, which is considered the best place to purchase olive wood carvings. We were welcomed with a cup of mint tea and an explanation of the process behind carving olive wood. The wood must be dried for 6 to 7 years before it can be properly carved or machine cut and not end up splitting. It was fun to simply shop and see all the beautiful carvings.
The next two days will be long and spent in the old city of Jerusalem (the City of David) and we'll visit the Garden of Gethsemane, the Temple Mount, Wailing Wall, Mount of Olives and more.