Our trip is finally winding down and I have had a blast; but I must admit I am ready to get back to my family. I miss Hannah, Lydia, Lincoln and Asher very much. This trip has been a life changing experience for me that I have gleaned and learned so much from. It’s a pilgrimage that I plan to take again many times in the future, Lord willing. One trip to see this land and go to the places that mean so much to our faith are sure to enhance our relationship with God and our ministry. Today was the climactic part of our journey. The reason that we travel across the world. The reason that we love this land and pray for it. We traveled the Via Dolorosa. This was the last walk of Christ as He made His ascent to Calvary where He would suffer and die. It took him approximately three hours to travel this road. It took us about an hour and a half. That hour, however, was packed with stop, after stop, and history lesson, father history lesson off the stations that make up Christ last venture before His crucifixion.
Via Dolorosa (The Way of the Cross)
We unloaded off the bus and begin our trip on the exact same route as the Lord’s way of the cross. The first spot was the Roman court, where Jesus was flogged and judges by the Roman commissioning officer by the name of Pilate. This place is also called Gabattha in the Hebrew and serves as the exact spot where Jesus was chained to a whipping post and was beaten severely. Matthew 27 gives the details. From there we moved on to where Jesus picked up the cross. In Jerusalem, there is a place marked as to show where Jesus fell under the weight of the cross the first time. We took a moment overlooking that spot to absorb the agony He must have felt. Just around the corner we find the spot where Jesus meets His mother. What must Mary have felt at that moment? About 200 feet away, is a place that has a marker on the side of a building showing the very spot that Simon of Cyrene picked up the cross and bore it for the Lord. The next stop we cannot prove, but it is believed that at this spot a woman by the name of Veronica handed Jesus a cloth and there He stopped only long enough to wipe the spit, sweat, and blood from His face. Just a few steps later, Jesus under great pain and agony collapses a second time. This time not bearing the cross but still having the great weight of the sins of the world and a human body that had been shredded He falls a second time. Determination was present because He pressed on. The next thing that happens comes from Luke 23:28-29 where Jesus addressed a group of women who had been following Him and they were lamenting. He tells them not to weep for him. Then a third time, Jesus’ fall was at the base of a place called Golgotha. It was at this moment He was humiliated by them stripping Him of His garments. There in open shame they were making a mockery of the very Son of God. We then made our way over to a place that is known by the locals as Moriah. Sound familiar it should! See Genesis 22. Now Jesus has over a period of a couple of days been arrested in Gethsemane which lies to the east and made His way to Calvary which is to the north just outside the city. Having been taken outside of the Damascus Gate, He had reached the place that we have come to know as Calvary. Golgotha. The place of the skull. Jesus was nailed to the cross and then lifted up and suspended between the 2 thieves referenced in the Bible. The opportunity of a lifetime happened today as I stood there. In such a place you’d think to feel sorrow and pain, but the overwhelming emotion that grabbed me was the spirit of gratitude. I was overwhelmed with a deep appreciation as I stood 50 feet from the spot that Jesus took every single sin that I would ever commit, and He died for them that I might be free. Wow! Tears were present but not tears of sorrow, tears of thankfulness for this great gift. The outline of a skull is still present today, not as present as it was years ago, but you can still understand why they called it that. Tradition tells us that Jesus was crucified at the base of the mountain and not the top. It was a surreal moment to stand in the spot that literally changed the course of humanity.
Walls of Jerusalem
Place of the Skull (Golgotha)
From there we moved just a couple of hundred yards to the east, where a tomb was discovered some years later. Archaeological digs prove that it was the tomb of a rich man because it was a burial plot that could have accommodated three people. This tomb was also found in a garden with a cistern that could hold up to 230 thousand gallons of water and a wine press that is still there today. More than likely, Joseph of Arimathea, owned a vineyard which would explain his accumulation of wealth. Of course, it was Joseph who along with Nicodemas who gave proper burial of Jesus in a borrowed tomb. Early on Sunday, these women came to anoint the body of Jesus and to their surprises, the stone had been rolled away and they stepped inside to find angels who gave them the message that Jesus has risen from the dead. John and Peter came and stoop down to look in and they see the same thing and note that the grave clothes are there, but the body of Christ is not, for He had risen. Outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem you’ll find a garden, in that garden there is a tomb, and I can testify to you that having saw this with mine own eyes….HE IS NOT THERE!!! What’s a promise. What a moment for me and I could sense the Spirit of God all over me just confirming what I have always believed by faith that my Savior lives, my Savior reigns, and He is not dead! I will never, for the rest of my life, forget the moment that I experienced today. Before we left, I was given the privilege to bring a devotion on the empty tomb. We gathered together and sang some songs. Let me tell you, we had church! It got thick and I would have given anything for you to have been there.
The empty tomb of Jesus
The Place of Ascension on Mount of Olives
We left the tomb and made one last stop before we conclude this journey. It was at the very top of the Mount of Olives. Nedal (our guide) said we could not miss this one. We went into a little rotunda that is built over top of a rock, and this spot is known as the mount of Ascension. YEP, you guessed it…the very spot that Jesus in (Acts 1) ascended from and angels said, “Ye men of Galilee why stand ye here gazing…this same Jesus which is taken from you will come again in like manor.” I happen to believe that in this very spot He left from, is the very same spot He will set his foot back down on when He comes to establish and set up His millennial kingdom on the earth. We sang with all we had, and together lifted up our voice together. Foreigners and local watched us and even got in on it. I have no idea if they even knew what we were singing, but they sure smiled and acted like they enjoyed it. Our worship went something like this:
“High upon a mountain from where He ascended an angel of the Lord declared that it would be He said, “Don’t stand hear grievin’ for the one that you see leavin’ in like manner He’s coming back for you and me.
And I believe He’s coming back like He said, I believe that a trumpet’s gonna sound so loud one day it’ll wake the dead in the twinkling of an eye, He’ll split the Eastern sky and I believe He’s coming back like He said
I believe the time is nearing; we’ll soon see His appearing this could be the hour, this could be the day when the saints from every nation will lose gravitation in the middle of the air be caught away”
And I believe He’s coming back like He said, I believe that a trumpet’s gonna sound so loud one day it’ll wake the dead in the twinkling of an eye, He’ll split the Eastern sky and I believe He’s coming back like He said.
We lifted up our voice and we sang it! Yes, I said it right we SANG it! It was a great moment. Before we left I knelt down, got a picture, whispered a thank you to the Lord for the opportunity to come here, and told Him I will continue living for Him and loving and serving His people to the best of my ability until He returns!
This trip has been once in a lifetime, and the team I have shared it with will forever be ingrained into my heart. We have laughed, cried, and worshiped together. As greater and educational as it has been, I have to be honest, I’m ready to come home. I love this land and look forward to returning, but I am a Tennessean. I miss the hills of my home place. I miss my wife and my babies. I miss my family and my church. I am ready to preach again. Truthfully, I would not trade the last week and a half for anything in the world, but home is calling and I am ready. I would ask you to do two things: #1: Pray for our travels as we head back to the states. Ask God for mercy and protection. #2: Pray about traveling to the Holy Land with us sometime in the future. You will never regret it. Our guide said it best. He said that Christians for years have read the four gospels and heard the stories but coming to Israel and seeing it is like the fifth gospel. Bring it before the Lord, pray about it, and come with me the next time we return. I can make you a promise that it is the trip of a lifetime; and you’ll never regret it! See you in the next day or so Tennessee, I love and miss you all!
Blessings, Pastor Justin