Israel Study Tour with Pastor Steve Williams

May 16-26, 2016

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Following Jesus

Today was all about Jesus! (I mean, isn’t every day?) But today we spent the day reliving the last week of Jesus’ life. Our day started on the Mount of Olives, which sits just east of Jerusalem and has a commanding view of the Temple Mount and the city itself. Biblically, the mount has lots of significance -- just ask “Rabbi Google” how many times it appears in the four gospels alone! It’s where Jesus took his disciples many times, where he wept over the city of Jerusalem, where he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he returned with his disciples after his resurrection, and where he ascended into heaven. We took communion individually and had some time to reflect Jesus’ sacrifice for us -- what a powerful moment to have while overlooking the place of Jesus’ death and resurrection! On our way down the mountain (along the same general path Jesus and his disciples would have also taken into the city), we saw the beautiful Garden of Gethsemane and learned that in the Jewish faith, the Mount of Olives is such an esteemed place to be buried that remaining plots sell for over $70,000!

Mount of Olives

Separated from the Eastern Hill (the Temple Mount and the City of David) by the Kidron Valley, the Mt. of Olives has always been an important feature in Jerusalem’s landscape. From the 3rd millennium B.C. until the present, this 2900-foot hill has served as one of the main burial grounds for the city. The two-mile long ridge has three summits each of which has a tower built on it.

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Our next stop was Caiaphas’ home, the High Priest at the time of Jesus’ death. We recounted the denial of Jesus by Peter in that area (Matthew 26), and then made our way down into a holding cell of sorts where Jesus likely was kept until he could stand before Pilate. We read Psalm 88 aloud and reflected on the sorrow of Jesus. I left feeling heavy-hearted, knowing what still lie ahead in our narrative for the day.

And then, it was time to “pick up our cross” and follow Jesus’ steps along the Via Dolorosa (“the way of pain/suffering”). There is fascinating archaeological evidence to be seen along the way from where Pilate sentenced Jesus to death (Matthew 27) to the place where we think he was crucified. The road weaves through the Muslim and Jewish quarters of the city. The bustling marketplace was packed with people of different faiths, cultures, and languages. I found myself lost in thought as I walked: Jesus died for that Jewish shopkeeper… and for that Muslim woman… and for me… The Via Dolorosa ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Again, what an interesting place filled with different cultures, languages, and expressions of worship/religiosity/superstition. It was a little overwhelming and easy to cast a judgmental eye on the expressions I saw, but again I was convicted by the reminder Jesus died for that woman rubbing her face on the rock of preparation… and the line of people waiting to kneel at the altar by the cross… and the fifty people all burning incense in my face… and for you & me… We don’t know exactly where Jesus was crucified or buried, but as Steve likes to say, we were closer than we’ve ever been before!

Our touring for the day ended like the gospels end and Acts begins -- with the resurrection and the call to make disciples (Acts 1)! There’s nothing like sitting on the southern steps of the Temple Mount, looking out at the same Mount of Olives where Jesus ascended into heaven 2,000 years ago and hearing his words anew to go and make disciples!

Lastly, we enjoyed a fun evening of dinner, reflection and laughter(!!) all around. I think we all agreed that we will never look at Scripture the same way again. The text has come alive and been filled in with color like I never could have imagined. What a privilege to travel and experience the Holy Land with this group of men and women! We will undoubtedly continue to unpack the experiences we’ve had here for weeks and months to come…

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Septemer 5-17, 2020

Experience Israel & Jordan for 11 days in the context of biblical history and personal faith.

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