Today we began on Mount Zion, tracing the last hours of Jesus' life on earth. In the afternoon, we crossed the border into Bethlehem and talked about the beginning of His life on earth.
One side of Mount Zion extends along the Hinnom Valley, also known as Gehenna. Infant sacrifices to Molech were carried out in this valley. The other side of Mount Zion sits on the Cheesemaker or Tyropean Valley. Near the top of the hill is where we find the Upper Room and a traditional burial site for King David. But Scripture says David was buried in the city of David, down in the valley. We talked about the night of Jesus' betrayal and the meal. Another group entered while we were there. The acoustics are amazing in the room so Dan began to lead us in worship singing "Here I am To Worship." Suddenly, another language joined in the same song. It was the other group. Just as the church was born on this hill centuries ago, so the church was demonstrated in this act of worship. It was moving. You can listen here: https://youtu.be/Rgt4DpzLPoY
We walked down the hill a ways and across the street to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest. Following His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was brought here and tried before the Sanhedrin. In the lower level there is an old cistern that was used as a prison. To our amazement, no other group was present here. So we took our time remember what our Lord went through on our behalf. The disciples had scattered at this point. And He was all alone. Pastor Mike read Psalm 88, It reads how all companions have been taken away and now darkness is my closest friend. Here is part of that reading: https://youtu.be/3Ot45WyCewc
We stood outside and saw the ancient road which served as Peter's escape route and Jesus' arrest route. We visually tied together the Upper Room, to Gethsemane, to Caiaphas' House, to the trial before Pilate.
We then spent time in the private garden of Gethsemane, across the Palm Sunday trail from the Church of All Nations. We spent time in John, tracing the events of that evening. We then took time for personal reflection and prayer. It was very meaningful for us all.
A bus challenge was given. A prize was offered to the first person who could name the 8 Gates of Jerusalem in order. But they also must be able to repeat the feat on command afterwards, not just learn them quickly for a "test." Mike Stanton and Dee Folger rose to the occasion and proved their worth while we visited Bethlehem. For their prize, they received an olive wood Jerusalem Cross.
We parted from Nir and David took us a back way into the West Bank and Bethlehem. Several noticed a sign which said that this road led to Area A and that no Israeli citizen was legally allowed to enter here. To understand all this is complicated and we discussed it at length over supper that night.
We began with our guide Johnny at the Shepherds field, looking out over the fields where the shepherds received word of Jesus' birth. The same fields centuries before served as the stage for a refugee girl gleaning in the wheat fields of a man named Boaz, they marry and she becomes the great-grandmother of King David. Her name was Ruth, the Moabitess. We visited a cave similar to the kind some shepherds still live in today and then a little Barlucci chapel that commemorates the night of Jesus' birth.
Following lunch in the Grotto restaurant, we visited the Church of the Nativity. This was one of the only churches in the area not destroyed by the Persians when they conquered it. Why? Because on the facade of the building they saw men who looked liked them. They were the Wise Men, who were Persians. So in their honor, they did not destroy the church. As we stood in line to go down into the area of the cave where tradition holds He was born, we were surrounded by groups from China, Russia and the Ukraine. Again, a reflection of the church universal.
Johnny then explained about the mosaics on the floor and walls and about the extensive renovations taking place. He then told us about Jerome spending 36 years of his life in the caves under the current church translating the Bible from Hebrew and Green into Latin. That translation is called the Vulgate. His statue stands in the courtyard of the catholic church that sits beside the Church of the Nativity.
We took time in one of the Christian shops and ended our time in Bethlehem by visiting with Pastor Naim Khoury, a dear friend, and pastor of the largest evangelical church in Israel or the Territories. His story of salvation and persecution is humbling to us. Sixty- five percent of the people in his congregation have been without work for almost a decade. Yet they faithfully proclaim and live out the Gospel daily. It was a blessing to visit with and pray with and for them.