In March 2015, I went to Israel with World Vision Australia. There were two objectives in going there. Firstly to experience the sights, sounds and spirituality of walking in biblical lands and secondly to see the work of World Vision. I will blog about the second objective and what I saw and how it changed me at a later date. This blog is about sharing some photos, videos and stories of walking where Jesus walked.
I am writing this on Good Friday. So let’s begin this blog in the Garden of Gethsemane. This photo is of the Garden of Gethsemane just outside the Old City of Jerusalem. Even today and even with lots of tourists around, there was a deep peace that resided over the site. I stood for several minutes and contemplated the anguish of Christ as His divinity and His humanity wrestled with the purpose of His life and His death. Matthew 26:39 And going a little farther, He threw Himself upon the ground on His face and prayed saying, My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from Me;
Charlie, our guide, a Christian Palestinian, whose passion for Christ and his word was so evident and moving, explained about the Olive Trees in the Garden saying that Olive Trees can live to several thousand years as they continually regenerate..leading to the thought that these trees may have been in the Garden when Jesus was there.
Beside the Garden is a Catholic Church. It is called The Basilica of Jesus’ Agony. A grand church. Outside the church there were a group of American tourists who started singing. It kind of fitted the Garden, the surrounds, the busyness of bustling tourists, so I recorded a minute of it.
This photo is of inside the church.
The Garden of Gethsemane is located toward the bottom of the Mount of Olives. All over the side of the Mount of Olives, the side facing Jerusalem, are the graves of Jews. Jewish people want to be buried as close to Jerusalem as possible so they will be the first to rise when Jesus returns. This was evident as far back as Acts 6. In this chapter there is a division in the early church between the Jews and the Hellenists. The Hellenists were rich Greek speaking Jews who were retired and who had moved back to Jerusalem to ultimately be buried in that city. The division occurred because everything was owned in common, the Hellenists putting in a larger proportion as they were rich, also having the greater need as they were older, yet were missing out as the leadership of the church was Jewish……thus they put in Stephen and others as Business Managers. Now rich Jews from America predominately, are paying huge money to be buried in Jerusalem.
From the Garden of Gethsemane, I travelled in a tour bus across a valley that was the site of the victory that Jehoshaphat divinely had in 2 Chronicles 20. The trip from the Garden to the Lions Gate entry into the old city was no more than ten minutes so the valley is not particularly huge. Speaking of gates, I think from memory there are 11 gates into the Old City and only seven of them are open. The gate in the photo below is called the Golden Gate and it is believed that when Jesus returns he will enter Jerusalem through these gates.
Once inside the city, there was a section of pavement that was fenced off and the history of it told on a sign. It was from 1000 BC so possibly Jesus walked by on these stones. Love that thought.
Once inside the Old City we walked a short distance to the Pool of Bethesda. This is where the waters would be stirred by an Angel and people would be healed, and then Jesus healed a long term sick man. While we were there Jono Fletcher from World Vision NZ read out the story from the bible. I videoed it.
Here is a photo of the Pool of Bethesda.
Beside the Pool of Bethesda is a church. Its known for being a church built by the Crusaders when they defeated the Muslims and claimed Jerusalem. I wrote a paper when I was studying titled An Examination of the Biblical Theology Behind the First Crusade. Click here if you want to read that paper. Anyway back to the church…When Saladin retook Jerusalem for the Ottoman Empire in 1187, he ordered all churches be destroyed and they all were except for three. The one beside the Pool of Bethesda wasn’t destroyed due to it’s amazing acoustics. So while we were in the church, Charlie, our guide was given permission to sing. So I whipped out my iPhone to record it. It doesn’t really do it justice but here is the link.
From there we walked through the Old City to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Here are some photos from that walk.
On the way to the church we passed a large round white cylinder. I had seen them before (like next door to our motel) but didn’t know what they were:- Charlie explained that they were bomb catchers. If the police find a bomb they can put them in the device for it to explode safer than if left out in the open to explode…..a little disconcerting seeing there was one beside my motel. Here is a photo of the one beside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Just in case you don’t know, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a church that is built around one of two possible crucifixion sites of Jesus. Charlie believes this site is the actual one. Not going to give you a whole stack of photos from this church but I will show you two photos. The first one is from the outside and shows the entry into the church. The second one is of one storey down, directly below the spot they say Jesus died. The photo is taken looking through a window showing a crack in the earth. In Matthew 27:51 it says Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split. Apparently the rocks are split from the top of the earth through several storeys down. I found this intriguing. Was this evidence that this was the actual spot? It was kind of cool to see. What if this was the crack in the ground that came from Matthew 27:51? What an amazing thing to see.
From here, the group and I had some lunch where World Vision CEO Tim Costello joined us. Yeah shameless name dropping: so let’s lift this up a notch and stick in a pic.
Ok enough self promotion. We then went to the Western Wall which is commonly known as the Wailing Wall. It’s known as the Wailing Wall as the Jews praying here are often so passionate that it seems that they are wailing. Its the Western Wall of the old temple and it’s the last remaining section of the Temple Wall. When the Temple was functioning, this wall was close to the Holy of Holies and so this is why the Jews still pray here as they don’t believe in Jesus, and so this wall represents the closest thing they have on earth to the presence of God (being close to the old Holy of Holies). I went down to the wall and indeed returned a few days later. Now I know that there is no more of the presence of God at the wall than there is in my motel room, but it was a great connection point for me to have a focussed time of spirituality. I also a shot video to just show the atmosphere at the wall. For me this was a real moment of spiritual connection with God….praying at the wall.
The next day we went to church in Bethlehem…The whole concept of going to church in Bethlehem was just a really cool thought. It wasn’t a particularly large church and the World Vision Group of 13 kind of doubled the congregation. But it was a great experience to meet the Pastor, worship in Arabic (see photo of the song book), and sense God in the town where Jesus was born.
First photo is of the Pastor.
From here the group and I went to the Church of the Nativity. This was interesting although very touristy and crowded. Just in case you want to see what Bethlehem looks like the next two photos are from the door of the Church of the Nativity, looking West and then looking North. This church and birth place of Jesus was good to see but wasn’t as special for me as I expected it to be.
I wasn’t going to put in photos of the actual birth place but thought you may want to see it.
This is the place where it is believed Mary actually gave birth to Christ.
This is the “manger” where baby Jesus was laid.
This photo shows you the crowds. This is in front of the photo above where Jesus was actually born. Not a place to be if you don’t like crowds are are claustrophobic.
Next day we travelled to Hebron. This is the place, amongst other things, where David was first crowned King and ruled over Judah. This is what Hebron looks like now.
During my visit to Hebron we went to a Mosque. The mosque is built around the graves of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives. Normally women are not allowed into a Mosque but in this Mosque the ladies in the World Vision group were allowed in. Inside the Mosque are shrines that are built to the Patriarchs and their wives. These shrines are not the actual graves but are markers for where the graves are, several storeys below. The shrines in the photo below marks the graves of Isaac and Rebecca.
This photo is outside the mosque and our guide was telling us that these foundation stones were laid by King Herod.
In 1994 a Jewish man walked into the Mosque and opened fire on Muslims praying, killing 29 people. This significantly increased tensions between the Jews and the Palestinians. This photo is of a poster that is up around the city of Hebron.
On the day the group and I headed to Nazareth, we stopped half way through the journey for coffee and restroom break. As I walked into the guy’s restroom, I was confronted with this sight so I just had to take a pic. Thankfully my phone was on silent and so the camera made no noise.
As part of the journey to Nazareth and ultimately the Sea of Galilee, we passed a few biblically significant spots.
This photo is taken on the road to Jericho, where the story of the Good Samaritan happened.
The mountains in the background of the photo below, are the mountains that Jesus was tempted by the devil on. Luke 3.
This is the Valley that King Saul committed suicide in once he had been defeated by the Amalekites. 1 Samuel 31.
This is the Mount of Transfiguration, where Jesus was transfigured and met with Moses and Elijah. This was pretty cool to see. Matthew 17.
Once I arrived in Nazareth I went to the Church of the Annunciation, which is a church erected to celebrated the place where the Angel Gabrielle told Mary she was pregnant. I think it’s not the actual spot but more just to mark the occasion. On the same site is the cave they say Jesus was raised in. Remember Jesus grew up in Nazareth which led to Philip making the comment, can anything good come out of Nazareth. (John 1:46). From my research earlier in my life I think Nazareth was a town of about 400 people in Jesus time.
These two photos are the Church of the Annunciation.
This is the cave they say Jesus was raised in.
From Nazareth the World Vision Team and I went to the Sea of Galilee and went on a boat. This was an amazing experience and made all the more cool by the fact that we had to hurry as they were predicting a storm….remember that was the issue when Peter walked on water. I told everyone that I will only walk on water if Jesus bids me come.
Here are some photos from the Sea of Galilee. For the record its not a sea but rather just a big lake.
Charlie with the Sea of Galilee in the background.
This is looking toward the Mount of the Beatitudes. This is where Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5 and also toward the bottom of the Mount, this is where Jesus fed the 5000 in Matthew 14.
This is a photo of John Lammerton on the boat trip on the Sea of Galilee. John co-ordinated the trip from the World Vision end of things and he did an amazing job. A good man all round. Really appreciate all that he did to make the trip a success and give me and the rest of the guys a life changing experience. Thanks Mate.
From the Sea of Galilee, I went to the Mount of the Beatitudes. I took a video of the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of the Beatitudes.
I was amazed that on the top of the Mount of the Beatitudes were Australian Gum Trees. (See pic below). I love that. I love that on the spot where Jesus delivered one of the most life changing sermons in the history of mankind, are Aussie Gum Trees. Go Australia. I am not sure of the story about how they came to be there but it warmed this Aussie’s heart when he was thousands of kilometres away from the land he loves.
Sea of Galilee from the Mount of the Beatitudes.
2 Shekels for a pee on the Mount of the Beatitudes. WWJD lol. Maybe I should have gone fishing and then taken the coin in the fish’s mouth to pay the restroom tax.
I will end this blog with a trip that the World Vision group and I actually made at the very start of the trip and that is to the Mount of Olives. Often in scripture Jesus went up to the Mount of Olives to Pray. The last verse in John 7 says and everyone went to their own house. The first verse of John 8 says…But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
This photo is of the view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Love it. What a great view. Still can’t believe I have actually been to Jerusalem.
Jesus also ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives. While we were there, Charlie read the story from the bible.
Couple of other photos you may be interested in seeing.
These two photos are of the Dead Sea.
West Bank landscape
The West Bank Wall….lets talk more about this is the next blog.
The Damascus Gate to the Old City which was about 300 metres from where I stayed at the St George Guest House, which was excellent accommodation.
Couple of T-shirts.
Some of the people I photographed.
I only spent 7 days in Israel but they were 7 of the most life changing days ever. The Mayor of the Shoalhaven, Jo Gash used to say to me fairly regularly, Peter you need to go to the Holy Land, it’s life changing. Well Jo you were right. And now I would say to the readers of this blog, if you ever get the opportunity to go to Israel make sure you seize the opportunity. Reality is that this trip was the worse timing (as I was finishing up as Senior Pastor of Nowra City Church) but the opportunity was too good to miss. Thanks goes to World Vision, Tim Costello, John Lammerton and Jono Fletcher.
Pray for the peace of Israel and the West Bank