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Israel #10: Jerusalem at Night

Last night was our first experience both at night and in Jerusalem.

We walked through the marketplace to the Western Wall. I knew very little about the Western Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall) but after spending a night learning all about it, I was blown away by how significant it is. I’m far from a history buff but this whole trip has sparked a major interest in it, at least the history of Israel, which (according to Romans 11:17) is all Christian’s history as well.

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The Western Wall is the only remaining piece of the Jewish Temple. Originally it was the location of the Jewish Synagogue, until Solomon built the temple on the same spot (which was destroyed by Babylon), followed by Herod the Great (the same Herod who ruled when Jesus was born and tried to have Him killed), building a supersized temple on top of the original in the same spot. After this temple (called “The 2nd Temple”) was destroyed, muslims occupied the area until Israel became an official state in 1948. Then in 1967, the Jewish people made the area we see today, where Jews come from all over the world to see and pray at the Western Wall. The reason being, the Western Wall was a part of the foundation of the platform that the temple was actually built on, and is the only original structure still standing.

It would be the equivalent of archeologists finding a beam of the cross Jesus was killed on that they knew without a shadow of a doubt was authentic. Obviously there’s nothing magical about the wood, but we would absolutely want to go see and touch and be near it as much as possible. We would have an incredible reverence for it and if it was within walking distance from our home or on our way to work (which it is for many Jews here in Jerusalem), we wouldn’t hesitate to make it a regular destination to pray and praise God and get our hearts in a position of worship and gratitude.

Because of the significance of the wall, those of the Jewish and Christian faith flock from around the world to experience such a significant part of our faith history. It was amazing to look at it and think that it stood before and during Jesus time as the place all followers of Jehovah came to worship Him.

As I placed my hands on the wall and prayed, I really sensed God’s presence. Again, there’s nothing magical about the wall, but I was standing in a place where (according to God’s Word) His presence lived, in the capital city of the land He chose and gave to His chosen people. It was a wonderful, powerful time of prayer that I’m so grateful to have experienced it.

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Not only that, but we got to take an underground tour along a much longer portion of the Western Wall. In the ancient world, when a city was destroyed, conquered, or burned down, the conquering nation would simply level the city and build on top of it. Kind of like the layers of a cake. So, as modern archeologists dig into this (called a “tel”) they’re able to travel back in time and determine historical events.

That being said, the original main street for Jerusalem is much lower than the modern one. So as we toured underground through tunnels built by muslims who occupied the area before Israel became a state, we got to experience so much history.

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Part of the base of the Western Wall that’s now underground, featuring a 600 ton (yes that’s correct) stone place there by Herod as he built

One of the most significant places underground is a spot that is the closest possible place to the Holiest Place (Holy of Holies) in the 2nd Temple. It’s underground but around 300 feet from the place that only the high priest was allowed to go and where the curtain was torn the moment of Jesus’ death.

Speaking of which, the Western Wall is only a few football fields away from where Jesus died, which I’m sure we’ll experience in our last two days in Israel.

 

Overall, it was a powerful night and so rich in history and God’s past and current presence.

Today we go to Bethlehem! On to the next!

D

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Israel #9: The Way to Jerusalem

Today we left the northern area of Galilee and headed towards Jerusalem.

Our first stop was a powerful one: The Jordan River.

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Rod (our teacher) stepping in to teach us and my pal Rachel photo bombing

Our group had a baptism experience in the same river where John the Baptist baptised Jesus. Many from our group chose to get baptized, while the rest chose to experience Mikveh. Mikveh is an ancient act of regular, self baptism as a symbolic act of cleansing. There were Mikveh pools outside temples and synagogues that the Jewish people (including Jesus before He would enter a synagogue, not as an act of repentence but as an act of commitment) would wash their feet, hands, head, heart, and sometimes even their eyes or mouth before entering into a time of worshipping God. Some of the more pious Jews even did it multiple times a day, before meals or when they just felt lead to.

It was a powerful experience for me doing Mikveh. Baptism is obviously Biblical, powerful, and something Jesus commands. But Mikveh (at least for me) was a whole new experience. Instead of being baptized by someone else and feeling the power of the moment as a public act of faith, Mikveh was something much more personal between just me a God.

I stood in the mucky waters of the refreshing water of the Jordan and thanked Jesus for His grace and forgiveness. Then I took the cool water and washed myself as I confessed and symbolized a cleansing I know Jesus has already given to me.

Then we all linked arms and crossed the Jordan together, as that’s what God’s people did as they literally and symbolically moved from one life (chaos, sin, desert, wandering, etc.) into a new life (freedom, promised land, hope, salvation, etc.). Needless to say, the day got off to a powerful start.

 

From there we visited the ancient Roman town of Scythopolis. There were no Biblical accounts here, but it continued to give us a flavor of the Roman, Hellenistic world that was in stark contrast to that of the Jewish world. The Romans glorified perfection (body, work, etc.) and comfort over anything else. Sound like any country or churches you know..?

Panoramic view of the city center, houses were on the outskirts
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The “wide road/gate” Jesus was referencing when talking about the need to take His, “narrow” road that leads to life (Matthew 7) IMG_2927IMG_2925
An ancient Roman bathroom. My friends Matt and Debbie considering trying it…IMG_2929

 

After lunch we headed for our last hike of the day, and it was a humdinger. Not only in difficulty but also in significance.

While the bus took us the majority of the way from Galilee to Jerusalem, we did experience the intense walk from the ancient city of Jericho on the narrow, wilderness trail through the mountains. This was the same trail that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus would have taken up to 3 times a year to worship in Jerusalem.

It was also the area Jesus spent 40 days in while fasting in the wilderness. Contrary to what I thought (that Jesus spent these 40 days totally isolated amongst cactus and tumbleweeds), it’s highly likely Jesus interacted with people during this time. The “wilderness” to the Jewish people is where they lived. To us, that’s a place where we avoid, but they’re desert people. So Jesus, most likely, walked the path we walked to day, encountering numerous types of people during His fast and preparation. All while being tempted by the devil.

Not only that, but this was the same trail Jesus walked on His way to, what He knew would be, His death.

Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem… – Luke 9:51
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It was humbling to step on the same path our Savior once walked on, as He willingly walked towards His death and the payment for our sins.

After our hike, we sang songs on the bus as we ascended to “The House” where God’s people have traveled for thousands of years to worship Him.

Jerusalem in Hebrew is pronounced ya-roo-sha-lime. The suffix of “ime” in Hebrew means that there’s two of something. So the Hebrew words for hands, eyes, ears, etc. all end in with an “ime” sound. Jerusalem is the only city that has this suffix (since all other cities are singular) because of the fact that there is a Jerusalem in Heaven and on Earth (Revelation 21).

Tomorrow we explore the city!

D

Our first look at Jerusalem!IMG_2957
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Israel Post #8: Jesus On Tour

 

Today was our final day in and around Galilee (specifically in the north-eastern part Israel around the Golan Heights) and each of our stops was a slice of life for Jesus’ ministry.

Here’s a rapid fire list of our day:

1). Gamla.

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Overlooking the ruins of Gamla

This was a city filled with Zealots, the most radical group of Jews in the ancient world. On a scale of how a Jew felt about the Romans, the Zealots fell on the far side of the pendulum:

LOVES ROME                                                                HATES ROME

I——————————————————————————I

Herodians        Sadducees          Pharisees               Zealots

The Zealots lived with Torah in one hand and a sword in the other. And many of them occupied Gamla. It was near this setting, to mainly this audience, that Jesus delivered His yoke, the longest portion of His recorded words, the most famous sermon, The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). And different than what they believed and hoped Messiah would be (a King who would destroy Rome) Jesus said things like: “Love and pray for your enemy.” “Turn the other cheek.” “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”

Jesus was a revolutionary, but not like the Jewish people might have expected. His revolution was much better, much deeper, much more eternal.

Talk about preaching to the wrong audience! But Jesus’ message was about a different kind of Kingdom and He had the hutzpah to boldly declare it. It’s also believed that it was this kind of audience (or a majority of them) were who Jesus fed 5000 of (Luke 9).

Another thing to think about is that Jesus had a Zealot in his group of disciples (Simon/Peter)! The guy He would say His church would be built on! (Matthew 16:18) Nobody was outside of His Kingdom!

 

2). Dan. No we didn’t go visit a guy named Dan, but instead we went to the furthest northern part of Israel to where the tribe of Dan went to after ditching the land God gave them in Canaan. And after only a few minutes of being there, I could see why.

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Especially coming from the desert, this area was absolutely gorgeous! Green, lush, and cool, with a gushing river (the start of the Jordan River) that came from the snow melt off of Mount Hermon (in fact, modern day Jews snow ski at the top of Mount Hermon in the winter!). It was called “Eden” and for good reason.

While the tribe of Dan might have liked their decision at first, the problem for them was that they were continually conquered by every single nation invading Israel. Because they were right on the northern border and possessed such a coveted land, they were always been killed and destroyed. Oops.

In the city where the Israelites settled, there was a temple that perfectly matched God’s description for His temple except for one small detail: a golden calf (about the side of a loaf of bread) sitting in The Most Holy Place. Ironically, the temple was for God’s people to come worship Yahweh, but through paying tribute to the golden calf as well (1 Kings 12).

Our group had a lot of discussion on our American, Western churches doing the same thing often times. Sometimes we put things like pastors or worship leaders or technology in the front and, while we’re definitely worshipping God, are also filtering that worship through a someone or something first, which isn’t true worship in the first place. It was a powerful moment of thought.

We are all pastors (1 Peter 2:9) and no matter whether we work at a church or a Target or United Airlines, we need to take our call very seriously, but not take ourselves too seriously. Our call: To bless others, so they can bless their neighbors, so they can bless the world with the Gospel message of Jesus.

 

***WARNING: EXPLICIT CONTENT BELOW…THAT POWERFULLY SPEAKS TO THE POWER OF GOD***

3). Caesarea Philippi. This was a Neo Coris city (a city known for the worship of a major god) that was built around worship to the god Pan. No not, Peter Pan, a god who was intensely perverse. The temple to Pan, the god of fertility, was built right by a cave where water flowed out (that was called “Hades”) and worship was done through sexually perverse acts including temple prostitution, outdoor orgies, and bestiality with goats (since Pan had the legs and features of a goat).

These acts of worship often got so out of control that it’s where we get words like “pandemic”, “panic”, and “pandemonium.”

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A look at the outdoor shrine (on right), temple (center), and gate of Hades (left – cave where water came out)

In Matthew 16, we read about Jesus coming to this place. Leaving the triangle (see yesterday’s post) of a safe bubble and coming to a city steeped in paganism and sin. A city Jewish boys and girls were forbidden to come to (keep in mind all the disciples, except peter, are teenagers).

Jesus brings His disciples here to give them a taste of the world He is going to send them out into. A snapshot of the darkness and perversion that is out there, filled with people who were created in God’s image and so desperately need His love. He’s preparing them. He’s teaching them to walk like Him in places like this.

Much like we do every day. Just like Jesus, we disciple people so we can then apostle (“sent-out one”) them.

In Mark 8, Jesus (the text says “loudly”) declares to His followers and anyone else listening that He is true life!

 

4). Susita (Hippos). We finished our day in the ruins of an ancient Roman city, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

It was the place Jesus called “The Other Side” (Mark 5) both symbolically and literally being the opposite of the triangle they spent most of their time in. The disciples would again have been terrified to go there, especially since the first thing that happened when they got across was they were met by a naked, dirty, demon-possessed Roman man who screamed at Jesus. Actually, in reading the text, it becomes clear that the disciples were too afraid to get out of the boat and it was only Jesus was went ashore and encountered the man.

This was an environment saturated with things that were “unclean” to the Jewish people. Gentiles, Rome, tombs, the nudity of the man, and demons. And it was in the face of this that Jesus spoke to the demons (which were in the hundreds, based on their name: “legion”), telling them to get out. The Roman people came to see what had happened: Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. (vs. 15)

Rod pointed out an extremely interesting detail in this verse, which is that the man was dressed. Who dressed him? Well, from what we know, the only person who was with the man was Jesus. Meaning Jesus not only cast demons out of the man, but lovingly helped dress him as well.

But Jesus wasn’t done.

The account continues, saying the man begged to become a follower of Jesus. But He said no for a historic reason.

And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.” And he departed and began to proclaim in Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him; and all marveled. (vs. 18-20)

The reason this is historic is because this man went on to become a significant source for the message of Jesus in the early days of the church. Jesus took an “unclean” man and made him (a gentile) His first missionary, the first apostle. In fact, when walking out of Hippos, we saw a church from around 500 AD that was there because of his direct influence in the area to tell his story and spread the love of Jesus.

A small picture of the big picture that God has been doing since the beginning of time and that Jesus came to demonstrate and die for: Bringing Shalom to chaos; bringing hope to despair; bringing joy to fear; bringing light to darkness, bringing life to death, bringing peace to the world.

 

Oh and we also walked in a place where Abraham walked 3000 years ago and added rocks to a pile of people we’re praying come to know Jesus.

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Ancient (Bronze Age) gate that Abraham walked through
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It was an amazing day and tomorrow we head to our final hotel for the trip as we get to explore in and around the city of Jerusalem for our final 3 days.

Shalom!

D

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Israel Post #7: The Jesus Triangle

One week in! It feels like 10 years since we left but somehow it’s only been 7 days.

And just like the number 7 in Scripture is known as God’s number, today we explored the areas around the Sea of Galilee where Jesus lived and did the vast majority of His ministry.

Along the norther coast of the Sea of Galilee, there are 3 cities that form a triangle. Forgive all the lines in this picture (my note-taking can’t keep up with my brain or our guide!) but see the picture below:

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The cities of Capernaum (Jesus’ hometown during His 3 years of ministry), Chorazin, and Bethsaida were Jesus’ most frequented cities He visited and taught in. Within this triangle, Jesus gave 75% of His teachings and did 90% of His ministry from the time He turned 30 (when Rabbi’s became official) until His crucifixion when He was 33. One of the keys to this is the amount of diversity that was in this triangle. Much like God choosing Israel’s land to be at the epicenter and crossroads of the world to His love could spread, Jesus did most of His ministry in an area that was a melting pot for all people groups.

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This is looking at the synagogue in Capernaum, the largest in the region and the place where Jesus taught in numerous accounts (check out Mark 1)

In exploring Capernaum, we learned that there was a great deal of volcanic rock in the area, which is what ancient carpenters would work with. That’s correct, Jesus did not work with wood! Instead, He was a stone mason! In fact, Joseph (Jesus’ dad) and Jesus quite possibly helped build the great Roman city of Tiberias, which was also on the coast of the Sea of Galilee.

 

Another amazing insight of the day we learned had to do with the Sea of Galilee itself.

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The beach in Capernaum where Jesus chose His disciples (who were fishermen), had breakfast with them after His resurrection (John 21), and very near where the woman with bleeding reaching out and grabbed his “wings”/fringe of His robe and was healed (Mark 5).
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The view from Mount Arbel where Jesus went to pray and sent His disciples across the lake. From here, Jesus watched His disciples battle the storm and prayed for them before walking across the water to them (Matthew 14)

It’s obviously a gorgeous body of water, surrounded by fertile, beautiful farmland, homes, and mountains. Do you notice anything weird though..?

There’s nobody on the water! No boats or jetskis or tubers or water-skiers or hipsters on stand-up paddle boards! What in the world!?

Well, as we’ve been learning all week, our Western mind is much different than that of an Easterner, especially a Jew. And the Jewish people are not water people, they are desert people. They like the desert, they are comfortable in the desert, the thrive in the desert.

One major part of this has to do with the Jewish belief that water represents darkness. It signifies evil and sin and chaos, all the things that God’s Kingdom through Jesus is meant to set right through Shalom. So the Jewish people avoid the water at all costs. Even fisherman would try and fish as near to the shore as possible, either on foot or boats that didn’t go out too far. Jewish people don’t even know how to swim because in their mind, why would they even go near the water?

The only Western equivalent I could think of would be that of a graveyard or abandoned mental hospital at night. Through our culture and media, those kinds of environments just represent darkness and evil and fear to us. We would probably try to avoid them at all costs and certainly wouldn’t go there for recreational purposes.

This truth about the Jewish people’s view of the sea brings so much light to countless Biblical accounts. A few examples:

  • Jesus walking on the water illustreated His authority over evil, sin, and chaos.
  • Peter walking on the water and swimming to Jesus after His resurrection shows Peter’s incredible commitment and bravery for His Messiah.
  • Jesus choosing 5 of His disciples not because they were fishermen, but because they bravely stepped into the chaos and darkness every single day, as they would have to do for God’s Kingdom after Jesus left.

And much more.

 

So much to think about. And I can say with confidence, I’ll have more insights tomorrow!

D

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Israel Post #6: Out of the Desert, Into the Humid

So we left the desert yesterday, which was great, but now we’re in the humidity. It’s not quite as hot but with the humidity, it felt just about as uncomfortable as the desert.

Our first hike of the day was up Mount Carmel, which (turns out) does not have any candy on top. Instead, Mount Carmel is famous for being the spot where Elijah had a showdown with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18.

There were way too many fascinating details that we learned to put into this post (check out my instagram for some amazing insight about olive trees), but one I’ll include is about the name of the city right below Mount Carmel. There was a nearby city that was very coveted since it guarded a main road of the ancient world. Numerous battles took place in the Jezreel Valley right below between the Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, Philistines, Egyptians, and more to try and gain possession of the city. It was a place of constant violence and death. More battles took place in the Jezreel valley than any other location in Israel. It was where two sides threw down for an all-out battle to the death.

The city’s name is Megiddo. In Hebrew, it was called Har-Magiddo, which is translated as “The Hill of Magiddo.” The Greek translation of this is: Ar-mageddon. Or: Armageddon. When Revelation talks about the final showdown at the end of the world between God and Satan, it uses the name of this city that’s famous for intense, obnoxious displays of war and battle. I finally got my mind put back together and then it got blown again!

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Overlooking the Jezreel valley and Megiddo from the top of Mount Carmel

 

And it was on a mountain overlooking Magiddo that Elijah chose to do battle with an idol god that had been taking over the Jewish people’s worship for years.

Long story short (but seriously go read the whole account in 1 Kings 18) God wins and all the people (over 850 in attendance) began chanting “Elijah! Elijah!” which means: “My God is YAHWEH!”

 

From there we went and got to walk through the ancient city of Caesarea. A city built by Herod who, despite being a psychopath, was a brilliant architect, designer, and builder. The city of Caesarea cut deeply into the profits of Alexandria and Rome by giving sailors a middle port to stop by when traveling between both. It made Herod a lot of money.

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The view from Herod’s throne room (looking out over the Mediterranean Sea) toward the left arm of the Caesarean harbor.
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The games arena (bleachers on right, sea on left, turn around spot in the middle) that extended parallel to the Mediterranean between the harbor and Herod’s palace

It brought the Hellenistic, western culture into Israel through four main elements: Sport, Theater, Education, Religion. So Caesarea had a large theater, a temple to worship Caesar, a school (Greek word gymnasium, as all education focused on the body), and a large arena for racing, wrestling, gladiator battles, and the torturous killing of Christians.

It was in Caesarea that Paul was held under house arrest for 2 years and it’s believed he wrote the letter of Philippians there. It was chilling to walk through a place that was once a crowded, bustling, mega city of the ancient world. It felt eerie, like walking through unseen ghosts from the past.

It was also so humbling to be in a place where people like Peter (a disciple of Jesus), Paul (a Jewish former Pharisee), and Cornelius (a gentile, Roman centurion)  were so directly used by God to spread the Gospel to the world.

 

Our final stop of the day was the cliff right outside Nazareth where the people attempted to throw Jesus off after He spoke prophesy from Isaiah 61 and slipped in some other quotes from Isaiah 58 about the purpose of the Messiah.

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A look over the cliff

From there we headed to the place we’ll be staying for the next three night on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. I’ll write more about that tomorrow but for now, here’s the sunset I saw tonight over the water Jesus once walked on.

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