This has been a long day, full of walking from the top of the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane, from the Dung Gate and Temple Mount through the Old City to Mount Zion. The sites seen along the way are almost overwhelming in their spiritual power, not to mention the way that they showcase the demonstration of Christians’ devotion to our Lord.
The day started in front the Seven Arches Hotel (where I stayed during my last trip in 1998) which sits on the top of the Mount of Olives. We took a group photo of the 28 people on our bus with the Old City spread out behind us. From there we walked the Palm Sunday road down the mountain, stopping to meditate in the largest Jewish cemetery in the world where over 65,000 Jews from across the centuries and around the world have been buried in the belief that when the Messiah comes and raises the dead, those on Olivet will be the first to rise. Continuing on down we stopped at the Dominus Flevit church, and then the rest of the way down to Gethsemane. As we walked, we could see the walls of the Old City, and the Golden Gate, walled up by Saladin in the belief that doing so would prevent Jesus’ second coming, which tradition says is supposed to involved entering Jerusalem through that gate. (There’s also a Muslim cemetery across the entire hill in front of the gate, beause the thinking is that Jesus would be prohibited from passing through a burial ground.)
Gethsemane, both because of the events that happened there and as one of the indisputably authentic sites of events in Jesus’ life, is an awe-inspiring place. The Romans destroyed much of the olive grove that made up the garden during the Jewish War of 67-70 AD, but left eight trees standing as a reminder of the havoc that they had wrecked and would wreck upon anyone who tried to stand against them. Those eight trees, now over 2200 years old, still live in Gethsemane, testimonies to the Man whose agonized prayer they witnessed so long ago. It is a peaceful place, and yet one whose tenor is conveyed by the Church of All Nations that stands next to it. Also called the Basilica of the Agony, it may be the finest piece of church architecture I’ve ever seen for evoking a particular mood. The stained glass is dark and foreboding, and the shadows and play of what light there is in the nave outside the altar area makes for a powerfully meditative place to contemplate the sins of ours that sent our Savior to the cross.
After Gethsemane we were taken by bus to the Dung Gate and the Davidson Center, which was built in 2002 as a museum of the remarkable excavations that have been done outside and around the Temple Mount. Among the things that have been uncovered are the “teaching steps” leading up into the Temple complex, which may well have been where Jesus was found by His parents at the age of 12; and the Second Temple level of masonry underneath the Al Aqsa mosque, which gives a graphic picture of how much has been built on top of the Temple destroyed by Titus in 70 AD. These excavations and others still on-going have been the subject of much conflict between Israelis and Muslims, who are convinced that the work is part of a plot to sabotage the Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques. I’ve long thought from afar that this was a paranoid fantasy, and nothing I saw today has changed my mind—quite the contrary, they simply reinforce my view that the real reason for Muslim opposition is that they fear anything that will undermine the ridiculous claims some trot out from time to time that Jews have no historic connection to Jerusalem or indeed to any of Israel.
After this it was but a short walk to the Western Wall. I suppose it goes without saying that this is an enormously meaningful place for me as it is for any Jew—it is, for us, at the very heart of our identity as a people. Even as a believer in Yeshua as Israel’s Messiah, the last remnant of our Temple holds a dear place in my heart, and this time it was even more special. Before leaving, I received prayer requests from members of The Cove, each of which I prayed over at the Wall. Then, in accordance with an old Jewish custom, I placed the pieces of paper on which these and my own prayers were written in a crevice in the Wall. The Jewish belief is that since the destruction of the Temple and the Holy of Holies, the Shekinah glory of the Lord that formerly dwelt there has now moved to the Wall, so that prayers offered at the Wall are brought before Him with great urgency. Whether one holds to this belief or not, the privilege that a Jew experiences by praying at the Wall are inexpressible.
There’s more to tell of this day, but it will have to wait a little more. More shortly.