An incredible morning began with a gorgeous sunrise and then we drove from our hotel up to the Mount of Olives as the song about Jerusalem being the Holy City played from the stereo and we sang along with tears in our eyes. How can one not be emotional. :)
I had chosen to wear my dress of many colors again today, not knowing that we would be having our group picture first thing this morning. :) So the ladies will have a wonderful memory of me fully dressed for Israel. :) We do have a lovely group picture though. I love the color! We are standing on the Mount of Olives with Jerusalem Old City, with the Temple Mount and the Eastern Gate behind us.
The Scriptures tell us that when Jesus returns and steps foot on the Mount of Olives, the mountain will split in two and He will enter through the city through this gate. Muslims decided to have a graveyard in front of this gate to stop Jesus from entering there because a priest would become unclean if he walked by the dead. We chuckled because that ain't gonna stop Jesus.
We walked down the Palm Sunday road which Jesus may have taken from the Mount of Olives, down through the Kidron Valley and up into Jerusalem, perhaps sitting on a donkey while the people laid down their palm branches in front of him and singing Hosanna Hosanna Hosanna to the King. Wow, what a view in our minds as we walked down this road and passed through the Garden of Gethsemane.
The old olive trees in there and picturing Jesus standing up there as he wept over the city and for his people. How he wanted his own people to see him for who he really was, the Messiah, their Messiah, sent from God, His Son, to die on the cross for their sins to pay the ultimate sacrifice and rose from the dead and now living in Heaven. Oh how can we not believe....but yet he Scriptures tell us that many will not. Yes, Jesus wept for those who would not believe in Him.
We entered the Old City through St. Stephens Gate, also known as the Lions Gate. We stopped at St. Annes Church and sang a couple songs. Another group of people came, they may have been from Africa, and they sang as well. Oh my! It sounded absolutely heavenly!! Once we return home, I will post a video of it for you. The acoustics in this church are amazing!!
We walked down the Via Dolorosa towards the Church of the Holy Seplucher, but there's much controversy as to if this is the street Jesus was taken as it does not lead out to the city to the Hill of Golgotha. But it was to to walk these old streets anyway. Arie took us down below to show us the real authentic street which dated back to Jesus time. Amazing!
Walking through the Old City and seeing young soldiers was very common. All youth in Israel, once they are completed high school, muct attend military school. Girls attend for a minimum of 2 years and boys a minimum of 3 years. They didn't mind us taking their photos at all.
I must admit that being at the Church of the Holy Seplucher is my lesst favorite place to be. Here, at this one place, they feel Jesus was crucified, laid in a rock to be prepared for burial, and placed in a tomb. The whole place is a shrine, full of idols and incense. Masses of people come through here each year and worship this ground, kiss the rocks and rub their clothes on them. I love my Jesus but I do remember him telling us very clearly in the Scriptures to not make idols of any kind. Here, I feel, the rocks, the tomb, the cross (always pictured with him still in it) is highly worshipped. God is to be our full worship, not any "thing" else, including the places that Jesus walked or was at. So that always does bother me a bit in the Holy Land.
We walked through the open market square and enjoyed fresh large bagels with zatar/hissup spice. yum yum.....and then we were on our way to Bethlehem.
It was great to go to Bethlehem even though we had to have a different driver, bus, and guide. It's so upsetting to have all this unrest between all these people groups in and around Israel. Those living in the West Bank can hardly leave, it's like they're living in prison. We really have no idea what it's like to live somewhere where all your surrounding neighbors want to push you into the sea.
We enjoyed a lunch in Bethlehem and took another group picture by a beautiful painting of the shepherds in the field. After that we went to the Church of the Nativity. Again, this church was too much of a shrine and too much emphasis being put on the spot they say Jesus was born.
But being on Shepherds Field, singing Christmas carols and reading the Christmas story from Luke was wonderful. While we were in the small beautiful church there, a group from Indonesia was singing "Angels we Have Heard on High" in their language. It was beautiful! We joined in on the chorus and sang Gloooooorrr ooooooorrrr oooooorrrr oooooorrrriiiiiaaa in excelsius dao..... and we all sang that part in the same language. And then they prayed in their language yet too. It was quite amazing really! Then we sang Silent Night in English. So so so beautiful and moving.
After the amazing experience on Shepherds Field, we drove through busy, overcrowded Bethlehem and stopped at the Olive Wood Store. This stop for shopping did not fit at all with what we had experienced but it was the only time we would get a chance to go by there. So you switch gears and make the best of it. Their olive wood nativity stuff is absolutely incredible!
The sun was setting as we drove back to the hotel. It was so serene to look out the bus window and see the hillside dotted with homes and rolling fields. Almost feels like a dream being here and its still hard to believe all that we are seeing and experiencing.
At supper to tonight, we had another special guest. Anat came to speak to us about their church and ministry here in Jerusalem. Her husband is the Pastor at the Messianic Congregation. They are a very small minority and are not accepted well by any other Jews. Anat and Menno Kalisher are doing an amazing work and they need our prayers. May God continue to give them boldness and courage to bring the Good News to their fellow Jewish people. It is not easy for them to speak freely about Jesus being the true Messiah, and that He is the Son of God, the chosen One. Please pray for them my friends. It was such an incredible blessing to meet with her tonight. May God bless you!