Day 08 - A Holy City : Temple Mount, Western Wall, Rabbinic Tunnels, Herodium, Shepherds Field, Bethlehem, Johnny's (shopping)
Shalom from our first day in Jerusalem! We began our day ascending the Temple Mount. The Temple Mount is where the Temple once stood until it was destroyed in 70 AD. Today, the Temple Mount is controlled by the Jordanians and the Dome of the Rock – a Muslim holy site – stands where the Temple likely once stood.
Dan, our guide, took us around and explained the history of the site. He showed us the corner of the Mount where, possibly, Satan brought Jesus during His temptation in the wilderness.
Though the Temple is gone and the presence of God no longer resides there as it once did, it was still incredible to stand there and think about how important this place is to our spiritual history.
As we walked through the complex, I was reflecting on the Temple and just how amazing it is that His presence was up on the Temple Mount today.
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5, NIV)
We – those who follow Jesus and have been given the Holy Spirit – are “like living stones” and are “being built into a spiritual house.” We are the Temple of God’s presence.
Isn’t that astounding? That should change everything.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrew 4:15-16, NIV)
The death and resurrection of Jesus has granted us unhindered access to the presence of God. That should change us.
But it should also change our relationship with other believers. Every time you come into the presence of another believer, you’re coming into the presence of God. It is holy ground. What if we treated our brothers and sister in Christ that way? What if we allowed the Holy Spirit, which unites us in relationship with God, to also unite us in relationship with others? It would change the way we speak to one another, serve one another, and extend grace to one another. It would change how we love one another, I think.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35, NIV)
We descended the Temple Mount and made a brief stop at the Western Wall.
The Western Wall is one of the holiest places in Judaism because it is as close to where the Holy of Holies once stood (and the presence of God once resided) as they’re able to get. The wall was not actually a part of the Temple, but a part of the retaining wall built by Herod the Great as a foundation for the Temple complex above.
Praying at the Western Wall is always a special experience. To know that we’re standing where millions of Jews and Christians have come to read the Scriptures and pray is indescribable. A couple of us wrote our prayers on small pieces of paper and stuck them in a crevice in the wall.
Twice a year, all of the notes are collected from the Western Wall and buried on the Mount of Olives out of reverence and respect for the prayers offered. I think we all could have stayed much longer.
We wrapped up our morning in Jerusalem with a tour through the rabbinic tunnels. The rabbinic tunnels drop below the modern-day road and follow the western side of the wall to its northernmost point. It is, essentially, an underground archaeological dig.
After our tour, we made our way to Bethlehem where we ate lunch and went to a souvenir shop run by a Palestinian Christian man named Johnny. Johnny and his family specialize in olive wood carving and their craftsmanship is just unbelievable.
Our last stop of the day was the Herodian – another one of Herod the Great’s fortress-palaces. This one, though, was special because, in 2007, archaeologists found what they believe to be Herod’s tomb. The site itself is remarkable, though, because it sits atop an essentially man-made mountain.
See, Herod wanted his palace to look out at the city of Jerusalem, but the hill he’d chose for his palace sat too low. His advisors suggested he consider a different location or let go of his hopes of a Jerusalem view. Herod, however, simply said, “Make the mountain bigger.”
So, they did. They essentially cut another nearby hill in half and moved the dirt and the rock to the place Herod had specified. In the end, they had doubled the height of the hill.
In addition to overlooking Jerusalem, the Herodian also overlooks Bethlehem.
Is it possible that it was here Herod encountered three wise men from the east, seeking out the newborn king of the Jews? That Herod anxiously awaited to hear what they would find in their search? That Herod sent out his royal guard with instructions to slaughter all of the baby boys in Bethlehem two years and younger?
We, of course, know that the king of the Jews was born in Bethlehem, but that His parents smuggled Him to Egypt to avoid Herod’s murderous tirade. That king was and is, of course, Jesus.
As I stood at the top of the Herodian, I thought about how Herod spent his life building his kingdom – a kingdom, though, that wouldn’t last.
Jesus, however, came proclaiming the arrival of the kingdom of God. He didn’t leave a single building behind. As far as we know, He never wrote any books. His ministry was funded by the generosity of others and He had no home of His own. He simply chose twelve men and said:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV)
Today, the citizens of that kingdom were standing on the ruins of Herod’s kingdom.
His kingdom has, does, and will endure forever. Amen.
We’re looking forward to a good night of needed rest and then we have a full day ahead of us in Jerusalem tomorrow!