Monday, June 11th -
My 29th birthday and the height of my pilgrimage journey


June 11, 2001 has been a day I have been waiting for and planning for a long time. When the opportunity to spend time in the Holy Land presented itself, I made certain to plan my trip specifically around this one day. I wanted my 29th birthday to be the first day that I visited Jerusalem. I wrote about it in my journal.

Journal Excerpt:
It seems so long I've been thinking about today and having hoped I would make it this far. Today has been calling me my entire life . . . today has been waiting. The fact that it happens to be my birthday, while planned, is still nearly mere happenstance. The City of David has been sitting for centuries and I eagerly long to enter its gates.

Before this special day was over, I would experience all of the following:

  • I woke up in the city of Christ's birth (Bethlehem) and traveled to the city of Christ's death (Jerusalem)
  • I visited the Western Wall of the Temple (Wailing Wall) and placed a special prayer request in the wall that I had written and been praying over for several months.
  • I visited Gethsemane
  • I slowly walked up the Mount of Olives, touching the mountain where Christ will one day triumphantly return to earth.
  • I fasted throughout the day.

The only portion of the day that I was not able to complete was my desire to walk from Bethlehem to Jerusalem (a distance of about 6 kilometers.) Christian pilgrims have been walking this route for centuries and I too wanted to follow in this tradition. It takes about 2 to 2 1/2 hours to complete the walk. Gil encouraged me not to do the pilgrim's walk due to the intense heat, my recent fatigue and illnesses, and above all, the unsafe political conditions of the Palestinian Intifada. After all, there is a war going on. I decided to heed this advice.

Instead of walking, I was given a lift from Bethlehem into Jerusalem by some of the Friars, who were running an errand in the city. Gil and Yosef accompanied me on my tour, acting as tour guides, protectors, and friends. I was pleased to have the company. We were left off in the early morning at the Damascus Gate and preceded into the Old City. It was just after 8AM when we arrived and the city had an interesting posture. The crowds that were imminent had not yet arrived and the bustling markets were still rubbing their eyes from the healthy night slumber.

Journal Excerpt:
Walking through the Old City at this hour is quite surreal. On cobblestone streets and slated walkways my friends and I silently creep deeper into the city. Silence pervades my mood. There is such an eerie feeling here. The giant flagstones of Biblical times mix with the countless and confusing mazed corridors and passageways to create a feeling that one is inside a living organism. Spooky, almost threatening is my every step, despite the knowledge that my friends are nearby. My anxiety is pretty intense right now. I feel like at any moment a band of Roman soldiers, dressed in full military gear and armaments, could walk around the next corner on patrols. And if that happened, I don't think I would bat an eyelash . . . it would just seem to fit.

Along our path, we casually pass Station V on the Via Delarosa, where tradition states that Simon was forced to carry Christ's cross (Matt 27:32.) Then I was reminded that it was through this very city that Christ was marched to His death . . . in order to save my life.


ancient passageways


walking through the Old City


Yosef and Gilbert

After passing through an intense police checkpoint, my friends and I walked into the Jewish Quarter and arrived shortly thereafter at the Wailing Wall (also known as the Western Wall.) The Western Wall of the Temple is the only remaining portion of the Second Jewish Temple built by Herod over a near-ninety year period from 19BC-66AD. Herod's temple is actually the third temple if you count the short-lived "second" temple constructed by Zerubbabel. However, Jewish tradition counts only the temples of Solomon and Herod.

Since the city of Jerusalem was destroyed completely in 70AD and was rebuilt later on top of the old city ruins, the current city is now some 20 feet higher than the ancient city. Therefore, much of the ancient city ruins are found by digging down beneath "modern" Jerusalem. This can be demonstrated with respect to the Western Wall. The portions of the Western Wall that can be approached today are only the top portions. Recent controversial excavations have revealed that the Western Wall actually extends many feet below the ground level and even incorporate portions of territory claimed by the Muslims. These excavations further fan the flames of discord.

To approach the wall, one must wear a head covering out of respect. There are a small number of head coverings provided by the entrance.


The Wall of prayers


Morning at the Wall


Jews gather to pray


you can't hide from me. . . I see you!


showing my respects


standing since the time of Christ

The Western Wall is such a neat place for many reasons. Christ must have gazed upon this very wall many times. And yet the mournful spirit of Lamentations is here as well, "Lam 1:7-9 - In the days of her affliction and wandering Jerusalem remembers all the treasures that were hers in days of old. When her people fell into enemy hands, there was no one to help her. Her enemies looked at her and laughed at her destruction . . . Her fall was astounding; there was none to comfort her. "Look, O LORD, on my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed.""

For some reason, I was not nearly as emotional when I was there as I had anticipated. It is, afterall, just a wall. However, I was greatly affected by the rigorous and fervent prayers of the Jews who were there. Even at 8:30 in the morning, they were crying out to God in their traditional rocking fashion. The Wall is primarily a place of prayer and I myself added to those prayers. It is customary for visitors to the wall to place prayer requests in the cracks of the wall. I had prepared a very, very special prayer request that I had been praying over and editing for some time. I walked up to the wall, paused for a moment in deep prayer and reflection, and then carefully placed the request within the wall (note: I did this with faith in God, not faith in the Wall.) My prayer is still that God will grant me my request as He desires and has secured for me many good things. Here I feel more than any other place the tension of the Arab-Israeli conflict; tension and turmoil about to come to a head.

After leaving the Temple Mount area, I walked slowly around the outer portion of the Old City Temple through the Dung Gate. The lower portion of the Temple Mount slopes down to the Kidron Valley. It is also during this stretch of my pilgrimage that I can see the Mount of Olives for the first time. Both the Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives hold extremely great Biblical and Eschatological significance.


my first view of the Mount of Olives

The Kidron Valley is mentioned eleven times in scripture, but is most noted for several specific events:

  • King David fled from his son through the Kidron Valley carrying the Ark of the Covenant - 2 Sam 15:14-23 "Then David said to all his officials who were with him in Jerusalem, "Come! We must flee, or none of us will escape from Absalom. We must leave immediately, or he will move quickly to overtake us and bring ruin upon us and put the city to the sword. . . The whole countryside wept aloud as all the people passed by. The king also crossed the Kidron Valley, and all the people moved on toward the desert."
  • Christ crossed the Kidron Valley after the last supper and after he was betrayed by Judas - John 18:1 "When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove (Gethsemane), and he and his disciples went into it."
  • The Kidron Valley is a continuation of the Valley of Jehoshaphat, which is where God's Final Judgment will occur - Joel 3:1 In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgment against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel, for they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land."

The tomb of Absalom in the Kidron Valley

Journal Excerpt -
"I have heard much of the Kidron Valley and feel a great privilege to see it for myself. At the base of the Kidron valley lays the Tombs of Absalom and Zechariah. At one time, religious Jews used to throw stones at Absalom's Tomb in disgust for his rebellion against his father. This section of Jerusalem is one of the few that still exists unchanged from the times of Christ. It is amazing to consider that Christ walked through these same hills and even through this same valley, as the passion was about to commence. Truly amazing! And David, who fled in tears from his own son through this valley, covering his head and walking barefoot. I pause here to consider the depth of sadness that the eyes of this valley have witnessed. Yet, take heart, for those same eyes will one day gaze upon the most triumphant site in history; the return of the risen Savior, Christ Jesus unto the Mount of Olives."

I continued along the Kidron Valley and made my way to Gethsemane. Perhaps no location on earth more clearly displays the love of Christ than that of the Garden of Gethsemane. For it was at Gethsemane that Christ displayed his complete humanity and in final resolution accepted the will of the Father.

  • Matt 26:39-43 - "Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane . . . and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."

 


Gethsemane


Church of All Nations


Fresco at Gethsemane

The Franciscan Church of All Nations, named because the money needed to build the church was donated from all parts of the world, marks the present-day location of Gethsemane. The church is built over the area where it is believed Christ fell on his face and wept. Of course, this is completely unconfirmed and there is no way to know for sure where the exact location of Gethsemane would have been. This lack of historical certainty did not diminish my emotional reaction to this place.

I arrived in the mid-morning. As I crept through the massive doors, I found only two nuns praying and a Franciscan guarding watch. The large chapel was quiet, peaceful, and reverent. The church was focused around a large rock in the middle of the alter that is said to be the exact spot where Christ fell and wept. Arriving with Gil and Yosef, the Franciscan guardian was very eager to greet me. He spoke perfect English and encouraged me to go up and touch the rock (Access is apparently restricted and not just anyone is allowed to do so.) I wasn't really interested in doing that, which seemed to amaze my friends who responded, "You don't want to touch the rock where Christ fell and wept?" I know, I know, what is the matter with me right?

Gil and Yosef had an errand to run within the chapel and I was eager to pray and reflect. They went off into the church and I stayed behind in the chapel. The nuns departed and left me sitting in an immense, yet mostly empty edifice. My thoughts turned totally to Christ.

Journal Excerpt-
"I feel so close to Christ here, it's unbelievable. This is where it all took place. Maybe not here on this rock, maybe not here in this church, but it can't be very far from here. This is the base of the Mount of Olives and the Bible says Gethsemane was here, somewhere and I know I'm not far from it. Here, the Savior cried out to God in anguish to the point where God sent an angel to strengthen him. His tears were as blood and his intensity was great. Even now, I will never comprehend his love for me on this side of paradise. "

Hungry and mournful, I cried out to God, who has given me life and tried to no avail to understand a small piece of the Savior's grief. It wasn't difficult to be emotional. He felt so near there at Gethsemane. It is an amazing place.

After a couple hours at Gethsemane, I started my accent of the Mount of Olives. It was a fairly steep walk and one that was both tiring and emotional.


The Golden Gate from the Mount of Olives


Jewish cemetery facing Jerusalem

Journal Excerpt -
"I can't stop thinking that Christ was also here. The fabled Mount of Olives that has seen so much, how can I comprehend it all? Jesus not only came here on occasion, he frequented this hillside. The scriptures talk of the Mount of Olives in a way that leads us to believe that Christ liked this place. It was a place he went to hang out. With Bethany just on the other side of the Mount, Christ certainly walked these very paths. As I have read, the palms for Jesus' triumphant entrance into Jerusalem probably came form here as well as the location of the Fig tree, which Jesus cursed. What can I say here? I feel so inadequate, God seems so large, I feel so small. As I look towards the summit, I realize that one day Christ himself will return to earth on this very mountain. I imagine now what will one day be. How I wish it were this moment. It's gunna be awesome!!"

  • Zec 14:4-7 - "On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south. . .Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. On that day there will be no light, no cold or frost. It will be a unique day, without daytime or nighttime--a day known to the LORD. When evening comes, there will be light."

Halfway up the slope, one comes upon one of the world's largest Jewish cemeteries. Stretching as far as one can see around the mountain, countless graves adorn the hillside. It is worth noting that every grave on the mountain lies with its feet facing the Old City of Jerusalem. This is because it is believed that the Messiah will return on the Mount of Olives, and the dead shall rise, and walk with the Christ into the New Jerusalem. Jews are buried feet-first in faith so that the next thing they see will be their Savior leading them into Jerusalem.

Further up the Mount of Olives, lies Dominus Flevit, which means, "Jesus Wept." This small chapel run by the Franciscans marks the spot where it is believed that Jesus wept for Jerusalem (Luke 19:41.) Luke 19:41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.

The location is sketchy at best, but to me it made a lot of sense. Grabbing a private moment for myself, I myself wept; just as Jesus did. I think that to a certain degree, I felt what he must have felt. There in front of me was all of Jerusalem and one could sense Christ's love and passion for his own people. And what Christ said in the Temple, just before departing for the Mount of Olives seemed all too true, "Mat 23:37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing."

That is what I felt. It was the love of Christ for this one city of Jerusalem . . . and I too wept as I felt Christ's love for these people.

Christ's apocalyptic prophesy of the "Last Days" most likely was inspired by a view similar to this one.

  • Mat 24:3 - "As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. "Tell us," they said, "when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?". . .For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ, ' and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed . . .Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places . . . Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me . . .At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come . . . For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now--and never to be equaled again . . .If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened . . .Immediately after the distress of those days "'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. . .At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory . . .And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other . . .Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

 


The Temple Mount that inspired Christ


The Dome of the Highrock. . . er. . Rock

It was late in the day by the time I had finished my tour and I was very hungry, as I had not been eating. Having seen and experienced several significant sites, I was ready to return to Bethlehem. Gil, Yosef, and I caught a sharut back to Bethlehem and then caught a taxi from the checkpoint to the monastery. It was about 5PM when we got back and I spent the next three hours before dinner praying, weeping, reading scripture, and writing in my journal. God has been so gracious to me.

You may download my Israel 2001 screensavers at Webshots

 


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