I was so excited for our first stop today. It was one of the places I had been looking forward to since the trip was planned. The Southern Steps of the Temple Mount! These are sometimes referred to as the Teaching Steps. These are the actual steps Jesus would use to enter the temple or to teach from. Some of the steps have been repaired or replaced due to prior damage or destruction of the temple, but many of the steps are original and you can tell which is which – this means Jesus walked and sat on these exact steps. Many of the places we see today have been preserved by placing a church on top of the locations or over the actual spots, but the Southern Steps look and feel just like it would have when Jesus was there. You could see in your mind and imagine yourself sitting there listening to Jesus! I took my shoe off and placed my bare foot on the steps. Such a spiritual connection to Jesus. We read from Matthew 21-22 some of the teaching Jesus may have taught in that exact space. We had a bit of time alone to walk around or sit and read or pray. I found a space and prayed and was just overcome by the closeness I felt to my Teacher – To my Lord – To my Jesus! Although there were lots of great and wonderful sites we visited, this might be the number one spot for me, followed closely by the Garden of Gethsemane.
We make our way through St. Stephen’s Gate to visit St. Anne’s Church and the Pool of Bethesda. I didn’t know who St. Anne’s Church was for, but it is 1 of only 2 churches that are fully intact from the Crusader time frame. St. Anne was the Virgin Mary’s mother. She was Jesus’ grandmother. Have you ever thought about Jesus having grandparents? He was just a regular normal kid, just like we used to be – except he was God – but God in human form with all the ordinary relationships we had as children! It was a moment where I could identify with Jesus as a human being! Deuteronomy 6:7 even talks about how Mary’s mother was impressing the faith on her child – Mary – the future mother of Jesus. Kind of mind-blowing to think about Mary growing up and how God was surely preparing an unknowing Mary. The Pools of Bethesda were right next door and the pools were used for religious purposes and many people believed the water held special powers. In John 5, Jesus encountered a man who had been waiting for many years to be healed by the pool. Jesus showed that he had the power to heal and the right to do it even on the Sabbath.
We walked through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem. It is a distinct area and neat to see the shops and life here. Very crowded with lots of vendors and bargaining for wares going on. We got to the point in the Muslim quarter where the Via Dolorosa started. This is the stations of the cross and is the traditional route Jesus followed bearing his cross from Pilate’s Judgement Hall in the Antonia to Calvary (Golgotha), the site of the crucifixion. This is a traditional route which means it is the route we use to represent the path Jesus took and what happened along that way. This was the most likely path that would have been taken but could be a little varied today due to changes in the buildings or streets in the area. I have pictures of all the station and will be posting those and eventually tagging the locations or captioning them. Although most of the path is in the current Muslim section of Jerusalem it does cross over to the Christian section and ends in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the sites of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. An interesting fact is that a Muslim has been assigned control of the keys to the church in order to prevent violent disputes between the various Christian sects who guard their portions of the site with utmost jealously. The church of the Holy Sepulchre was a popular place today so we had to wait in line for a while but it only took about an hour which was less time than we expected. Like I said before, many of the holy sites are inside or underneath current day churches so these sites were marked and preserved. You may have seen in the news late last month about the repairs they were doing on the tomb site. They were going to close the site because it had become unstable and unsafe. Just last week they had only 60 hours to make those repairs and thankfully we were able to see today this space. The first thing we saw was the tombs of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. They are thought to be the actual tombs but this is not a 100% positive fact. Further down the line we were able to go into the actual tomb where Christ’s body was laid and resurrected from. You see the slab of marble which marks the area above the tomb. The fascinating part is what they discovered when they removed that marble slab to make repairs. There was another marble slab over the actual cave of the tomb. This area had not been disturbed in more than a thousand years! I’m sure as time passes more information will come available as to the findings. It just goes to confirm that this was the actual spot of burial and resurrection. We then climbed the stairs to Golgatha, the place of the crucifixion. Again, this is hard to picture in your mind since you are in a church and this area is marked and represented inside, not in a location to easily visualize what happened there. Also in the Church of the Sepulchre is the Chapel of Adam. This is a traditional spot and has not been confirmed but is recognized as the place of Adam’s burial and when Jesus died there was an earthquake and it is said a drop of blood from Jesus fell on the tomb of Adam. There is an area that you can see behind glass that shows the evidence of the earthquake. In the main area of the church is a marble slab which is said to be the slab on which Jesus’ body was prepared for burial. We also went into an area where it is said the actual cross Jesus was crucified on was found. This is a traditional belief and hard to determine its accuracy, but still all these things are in the same area and in close proximity to where all these events would have taken place. More important than the exact spots is the facts of what Jesus did for us in these general areas!
Next we went to the Room of the Last Supper. This is also a traditional site where the last supper is remember, but may not be the actual spot. It is a Crusader period building. The bible only mentions an upper room two times, once when there was no space in the upper room for Mary to give birth and then that the last supper was in an upper room. We all picture the famous representation painting of the last supper, but the table would have been a tri-calyniam table (3 sided) or floor mats on a mosaic floor. Traditionally the host sat closest to the door for protection of his guests, followed by the guest of honor and then the next important on down as determined by the guest of honor. John is assumed to be the host, with Jesus sitting next to him. Judas was next to Jesus as chosen by Jesus. An interesting choice since Judas would be the one to betray him just hours later, but Jesus was giving him a chance to repent. The rest was seated according to how Jesus determined, but the last or least important was Peter. Remember, Peter was soon to deny Jesus three times. The person who was last was who was supposed to wash everyone’s feet. With the thought in mind that Peter would deny Jesus, it is showing us that to be first you must be last to become first.
We end the day at the Garden Tomb. This is not the actual tomb of Jesus but was once thought that it could have been. It does sit in garden with a tomb and is a nice place to mediate on the events that lead up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Thinking about what Jesus faced during his crucifixion – He carried my burdens and sins and when he said it is finished, my sins were forgiven and I was given eternal life – there was and is nothing more to do. Finished means Paid in Full in Greek. When something is paid in full, you are released from all debt and payment for the debt. That is what Jesus did for us. We had communion as a group which was so special. Definitely a highlight after spending the day following the events of Christ.
Tomorrow we have a full day, but will board a plane to head home just before midnight. It has been a whirlwind, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss seeing anything we did.