Jordan / Israel Signature Study Tour

September 2-14, 2023

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Day 10 - God’s Plan Revealed: Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, Pool of Bethesda, Saint Anne's, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Southern Steps, Farewell Dinner

Shalom, shalom! We woke up to a bit of an overcast morning in Jerusalem and the coolest day we’ve had since we’ve been here.

 

We arrived, bright and early, on the Mount of Olives. From here, so many of the most pivotal events in our faith unfold before us.

 

To the southwest just a little way is Bethlehem, where our Savior was born. A little further down the hillside is the place where Jesus spent the night praying before His crucifixion and, soon after, was betrayed by a once friend. Just on the other side of the mount is Bethany, from which Jesus ascended into heaven after His resurrection. And, one day, Jesus will return here. To the Mount of Olives.

 

Randy reminded us that this story is why we came to the land. This story – and the God who wrote it – is why we have hope and peace and joy. Our time overlooking the city and reflecting on this story – our story – set up the rest of our day.

 

We ventured further down the Mount of Olives to the traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane. There’s actually no mention of a “garden” of Gethsemane. Rather, the text refers to an olive grove which, frankly, describes most of the first-century Mount of Olives. So, we don’t know precisely where Jesus was praying or where He was betrayed. But it was somewhere near where we were.

 

The word we translate Gethsemane comes from two Hebrew words. Gat (press) and shemen (oil). Gethsemane, then, is not so much a place as it is a thing. A “gethsemane” is an olive oil press. Interesting, isn’t it, that as the cross lay before Him and the weight of His purpose began bearing down upon Him, Jesus would be praying at a place of pressing.

 

We continued onto a more secluded part of the grove. Joey read to us passages from the night before Jesus’ crucifixion. Together we sang “Nothing But the Blood,” and took communion. It was a sweet and holy moment, both somber and joyful.

 

From there, we walked down through the Kidron Valley and into the city.

 

We stopped first at the Pool of Bethesda and backtracked a bit in our story.

 

The Bible tells us that crowds of sick people – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed – would gather at Bethesda. There was one man who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years. Then, he encountered Jesus.

 

Jesus asked this man if he wanted to be healed. The man told Jesus that he had no one to help him into the pool when the water was stirred (there was this belief among many that when the waters were stirred, the first person into the pool would receive healing). Jesus, however, simply said to him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”

 

And so, the man did.

 

Yesterday, we were at the Pool of Siloam – the place where Jesus restored a blind man’s sight. In that instance, Jesus made clear that this man’s blindness was not the result of his sin or that of his parents. This story serves as something of a contrast.

 

But afterward Jesus found him in the Temple and told him, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14, NLT)

 

The implication here is that this man’s paralysis was the result of his sin.

 

There are times when suffering is not the direct result of sin. The man born blind suffered because he was born into a sinful world (indirect), but not because of sinful choices he or his parents made (direct).

 

Other times, however, our suffering is caused by our sinful choices, as appears to be the case with the paralyzed man at Bethesda.

 

There is, I think, both an encouragement and a warning here.

 

The encouragement is that Jesus came not only for the undeserving, but for the ill-deserving. Jesus came not only for those impacted by this fallen world (all of us), but those who contribute to the fallenness of this world (again, all of us). That should be both incredibly humbling and enormously comforting.

 

The warning though is that same one Jesus gave to the paralyzed man. “Stop sinner, or something worse may happen to you.” Or, put positively, live repentantly and obediently.

 

Our sin causes so much suffering, so much pain, so much hurt – to ourselves and to others. Jesus calls us to repentance and obedience not only because it’s the proper response to His grace, but because it’s actually for our good.

 

After Bethesda, so visited the Church of St. Anne’s – a beautiful Crusader-age church that has survived the centuries fully intact and has the most amazing acoustics. We stood together and sang Amazing Grace. As our voices echoed off the stones, it seemed the perfect song for our day.

 

We journeyed on through Jerusalem, following the Via Dolorosa – “the Way of the Cross” or “the Way of Suffering.” It’s the route by which Jesus would have been led from His trial to the place of His crucifixion.

 

The streets of Jerusalem are narrow and crowded, so we didn’t stop at the traditional landmarks along the way. At the end, we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher – the place, or at least near, where Jesus was crucified. There is debate around where He was buried and raised, but there is a first-century tomb inside the church that is certainly a possibility.

 

Regardless of exactly where Jesus was buried and raised, the Holy Sepulcher is a beautiful place to reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice and His victory over sin and death. It’s an awe-inspiring experience which is just how we should experience Jesus – with absolute awe.

 

We wrapped up our day at the Southern Steps.

 

The Southern Steps are the first-century steps that once led up to the Temple Mount. Jesus and His disciples would have ascended these when they visited Jerusalem for the pilgrimage holidays of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. (These were the three times of year that all the Jewish people would come to Jerusalem to celebrate as a nation.)

 

This is also almost certainly where Peter stood up and gave his powerful, evangelistic sermon in Acts 2 and where the Holy Spirit descended upon the crowd at Pentecost.

 

Sitting on the Southern Steps, I was thinking about how incredible it is that the same Holy Spirit that came upon the believers then is the Holy Spirit – the very presence of God – that resides in His people now. I was thinking about how, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we’ve been entrusted with expanding God’s Kingdom. We’ve been invited, commissioned even, to be participants in God’s Kingdom – not merely spectators.

 

Our day ended with a farewell dinner overlooking the city. We ate amazing food, enjoyed good conversation, and shared stories about what God did throughout our time together.

 

We go our separate ways tomorrow. We look forward to returning home, but will miss the friends we’ve made on our journey through the land.

 

To those awaiting your friends and family to return home, thank you for following our journey and for your prayers.

 

To my fellow-companions, it was a joy and an honor to journey alongside you. Thank you for your wisdom, your perseverance, and your friendship.

 

May the Lord bless you
    and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you
    and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor
    and give you his peace. (Numbers 6:24-26, NLT)

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