Israel Day 9 – April 24, 2018

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.

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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

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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.

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The empty tomb of Jesus

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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:

Verse 1

“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.

Chorus 

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 

Verse 2 

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”

Chorus 

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

 

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Israel Day 8 – April 23, 2018

Let’s get this day rolling. Up and at it around 6am and headed to the Old City. No! Not Knoxville, we are in Jerusalem. Today we are privileged to go by and overlook many sites that we have heard of and preached for years. The first few pictures that you will see are the first place that we visited today. It is known as the Valley of Hinnom or in the Bible is known as the Valley of Gehenna. This valley lies just outside of the wall of Jerusalem on the west side. There was a gate in the wall known as the dung gate. From this gate they would dump human and animal excrement, garbage, and dead bodies that had no proper burial. This was a disgusting place and history says that the odor was unbearable. Amazingly this valley today is a plush, beautiful valley of tress, grass, and flowers. Hard to believe what it is today compared to what it was history. I could not help but wonder if the excrement and burning has not fertilized and been good for this ground. The valley is beautiful! The beauty of it was short lived as we came to the base of the valley. Short lived because it was at the end of the valley that something very tragic happen. A suicide as a matter of fact. After betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and a kiss on the cheek, Judas, took the money there it back to priest and under immense pressure and grief he went into this valley and from a tree he hung himself. The scripture tells us that he hung himself and later says that he burst asunder and his insides came out of him. If you saw the spot (pictured below) it would make sense. Taking what the Bible says (Mathews 27 and Acts 1). The image is that Judas hung himself a atop of the rocks, in a tree, and he fell from the tree and his intestines burst out of him. According to scripture they took the money, which was blood money, and bought the very field that was known as the potter’s field. It became a burial plot for paupers. It was a very sad moment to see that rock and field and know the pain that Judas must have felt.

Valley of Gehenna

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Where Judas hung himself

After leaving Gehenna we swung down by the City of David and we saw the pool of Siloam. It was a tiny little city that had only a population of around a thousand in the time in which he lived there. It lies just outside of the southern wall of the city. We unloaded the bus and began the part of the trip we all have look forward to. Going inside the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. Israeli Defense Forces heavily guarded the entrance and a check point was there that we all had to go through. Obviously, this is a hot bed and can actually be a dangerous place because of the number of nationalities that seek to occupy it. I found out the hard way that Bibles are not allowed inside the city. They confiscated mine from my back pack and kept it until we exited. Don’t ask me why, because I honestly don’t know. Our first stop was the Dome of the Rock. It lies on top of the Temple Mount where the temple would have been. Muslims were everywhere. Not what you would think though. They were courteous and friendly. Western civilization has conditioned our minds to believe a lot about this country that are simply not true. We, nor anyone for that matter, were allowed inside the dome. We were free to take pictures and roam the area as we desired. It was neat to walk what would have been the floor of the Temple in Jesus day. I actually was placing my feet on spots Jesus did! Many pavers have been replaced but they taught us how to identify the ones that were still there from the first century. I snapped some photos of them you can find below. Here is where today got real! Four of us walked down to the Eastern Gate of the wall. This is the gate that scriptures tell us that Jesus, the Messiah, will enter through in the millennial kingdom to establish His earthly throne. Same gate He was led through when He was to be tried before He was executed. One glorious day, His foot will step down on the Mount of Olives, just across the valley, and He will come to occupy Jerusalem from the throne of His Father David and with a scepter He will rule the nations with a rod of iron. Oh, what a day! And to think that I stood only feet away from the very gats He will comes through. Funny thing is that Muslims have sealed the gate closed on the outside, claiming they will never allow the Messiah to come in and rule. Trust me, coming through those gates will be no problem for the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Hallelujah! After coming back up to the Temple Mount, I had one of the most distinct opportunities of my life. To stand at the very spot where the ark of the covenant rested in the Temple. There is a shrine there now to commemorate the spot, but it was surreal to look at the spot where the blood of thousands of lambs where placed on the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. I looked at the ground and there were flys landing, I have to admit, I wondered if they still could sense a stench of blood on that ground from all of those Passover lambs. Maybe not, but I didn’t see any flies anywhere else on that ground. You can tell two things about that spot. First the stone paver is still the original from the first century, and second the presence of God was thick. No, the ark is not there anymore, and no one knows where it is, but it left a trace of the shekinah glory of God and you could sense it. What a moment!

City of David

Entering the Wall a Jerusalem

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Where Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers

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Inside the Eastern Gate

Some of the Rock on Temple Mount

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Old floor of the Temple

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The road Jesus took after leaving Gethsemane and entering Jerusalem through the Eastern Gate

The spot where the Holy of Holies was located

From there we weaved around through a few tunnels leading out of the Temple Mount and we proceeded to the back side of the old Temple known as the Western wall or in Judaism, the Wailing Wall. Hundreds of Jewish men and women already had assembled, separated by a wall between, and were praying to God who they believe lives inside the wall. There they pray daily three things. Peace for Jerusalem, the temple to be rebuilt, and the Messiah to come. If they have pressing needs, they will write them down and stick them inside the wall. I am not Jewish, but I do believe in prayer so I took advantage of the moment. I took a piece of paper and at that wall I prayed for my wife, my kids, my family, and Clear Springs Baptist Church. I stuck it inside the wailing wall. Obviously, I know that God doesn’t dwell in a wall, but in my heart, however I do think it was neat to leave prayer of the things I love the most here in Jerusalem. While at the wall we witnessed some young 13 years old boys having the Bar Mitzvah. At the age of 13 a boy “bar” becomes accountable and responsible “mitzvah” for his actions. He is now responsible to uphold the 613 laws of the Torah in Judaism. Let me tell you it is some celebration too. See my Facebook page to see a recording I got of them coming in. It was really neat. These boys are given special gifts that include the tallit and tefillin. One good looking little kid was celebrating with his family and permitted me to have a photo with him and this very special day in his life. One trip to Israel will certainly increase your burden for the people who live in this part of the world. Such good people. Kind people. Religious people. Here you find there is a ton of religion, but very little relationship. Whether it is the Muslims or the Jews, they have their rites and their exercises, but it is heart breaking to know they are missing who Jesus was in the process. His footsteps and presence are all around and they just simply miss it. One things is for certain, this trip has increased the reality of Psalm 122. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…peace be within thy walls.” These are God’s people and we must pray for them. My heart breaks.

Wailing Wall

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Praying for the things I love the most

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Little boy celebrating his Bar Mitzvah

Today we closed with a trip to the holocaust museum. Words will never describe the oppression that one feels walking through that places knowing and seeing the torment that these people endured under the tyrannical dictatorship of Hitler’s Nazi regime. My eyes welled up with tears at multiple stations as a saw the pictures, watched the videos, and heard the stories. Never had I felt that kind of oppression in my life. It really broke my heart to see how inhumane this wicked movement was. Towards the end a tribute was given to the liberation of the Jews from these death camps and the oppression begin to lift, but it definitely scarred my mind to really see in detail what was happening to these innocent people. Six million people, one and half million being under 18 years old were senselessly killed. As much as it pained me to see all of this, my heart was moved to know that a memorial has been erected in their stead for the awful things they must have suffered. May God bless their memories for all of eternity.

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On the way home, Nedal treated us to a snack from a street vendor. A piece of Israeli bread and falafel. It really is my favorite food of the region. The food here is nothing to write home about but the falafel and hummus is absolutely delicious. As good as they are I must admit I am dreaming of home, I’m hungry! HA! Right now, my dreams consist of a slice or six of pizza or a bologna sandwich. Right now, it’s what is on my mind, but subject to change tomorrow. Any American food sounds good at this point! Tomorrow is the climatic part of our journey. We travel to Calvary where Jesus died, and we make the journey to an empty tomb! I know He is not there, for He is risen, but I’m excited to report to you tomorrow that with my own very eyes that I have looked, and it is certain, He is gone!

Blessings, Pastor Justin

Israel Day 7 – April 22, 2018

A trip to Israel. The question would be: Is it school? Is it work? Is it a vacation? The answer, YES! For a preacher of the gospel, it is like school. My whole life I’ve heard a trip to Israel is the equivalency of a 4-year degree in bible college. Listen to me, I agree and with Nedal (our tour guide) you are getting your masters in the process as well. I honestly don’t know if I have ever met a more knowledgeable person in my life. A Palestinian Christian. A student of the Bible. A master in history. And a college professor turned into a 23-year veteran our guiding tours around this beautiful country. Ask him a theological, geographical, or a historical question and he can give you an answer before he blinks to lubricate his eyes! It’s honestly amazing. He is funny and protective not allowing any street vendors to take advantage of us. We’ve enjoyed him so much, we have already re-enlisted him for our next tour. This guy knows the Bible, he knows history, and he knows Israel. All of the perfect recipes to give you the needed information to blow your mind and answer all of your questions all at the same time. He is so good I have expressed interest in bringing him from Bethlehem to Corryton to do a seminar at our church on the nation of Israel. Ha! He said he would love to. It may just eventually happen. We have all come to love Nedal this week. So yes, for a preacher it is like school. My iPhone has never had more notes in it than this current moment. I am trying to absorb all that I can, with hopes it will only add to my preaching. How about work? If you ever come to Israel and walk these hills, you will find that yes, it is work. Warren Wiersbe called this place, “A land of hills and valleys.” One walk up the Mount of Olives or around Bethlehem will leave your lungs working and your legs burning. It is no joke. It has deepened my appreciation for the physical strength of Jesus, the disciples, the patriarchs, and the tour guides who daily have navigated this part of the country. You think East Tennessee has hills, you have seen nothing until you come to Israel. Trust me! So yes, I would say that it is work. How about vacation? Yes, I would say that too. I am with a group of people that I have meshed with. People from all ages. From a couple who has been married less than a year and in their very early 20’s; to an 87 year old saint that we call Nascar Nana, and then everything in between. To visit these sites and worship with them in some of the most sacred places in the world has a way of uniting your hearts and strengthening your bonds. If for this reason alone, I pray to bring a group next year from the flock that I pastor. I can guarantee it will strengthen our church. No, it only is it like a vacation because you are with people you love, but you get to see cool things and try things you’ve never done. My point in all of this is that a trip to Israel is good for the body, the soul, and the spirit. You learn, you exercise, and you grow!

Today was a therapeutic day for us. I am not a spa kind of guy, most men aren’t, but I took full advantage of a dip into the Dead Sea today. Check that one off the bucket list! It is true … you CANNOT sink! Drown, yes, because we saw an oriental man almost do it today. No joke. Medics got him out and transported him to a treatment facility because of all of the salt intake. Scary moment, but we will move on. The salt and minerals are so rich that it has many medicinal advantages. Today truly was the soften my skin has ever been. For it to even touch your tongue though is enough to make you gag. I’ve never experienced anything like it. You just fall back, and the water catches you and you stay afloat with hardly any effort at all. The only energy you expend is to keep yourself on your back without bobbing over like a fishing float. I will admit that is was refreshing to swim in a sea where you knew there was absolutely NO KIND OF SEA ANIMALS lurking in the waters beneath you. No kind of life lives in this sea, at all. People from all over the world where there at this lowest point in the world, rubbing the Dead Seas black mud literally all over my body. Me, no thank you, just my arms. It was one of the neatest experienced of my life. We swam for about an hour and half, took us a nice break, showered off and headed back to hotel for some rest and relaxation.

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The Dead Sea

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Our group floating in the Dead Sea

I do want to share two quick stops we made before our Dead Sea adventure though. One of them was to the cave of Qumran. If this name does not ring a bell, I will remind you that it was the piece of territory overlooking the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. How neat it was to see the very cave that a shepherd threw a rock in breaking a vessel that contained much of the original scroll containing the book of Isaiah. Thousands of fragments have been found only deepening our conviction that God gave us a Word and it was recorded by Holy men who wrote as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Caves in Qumran containing the Dead Sea Scrolls

My favorite stop today was out in the middle of the Judaean Wilderness. A desert of nothing but hills and valleys. No wildlife, no people, no nothing. A desert that rest anywhere between 90 to 125 degrees. It was hot and dry. It was huge. My iPhone could never have even come close to capturing is vastness. I don’t have the rhetoric to explain it. You ask, “What could be so intriguing about a desert?” All of the biblical significant that happened there. In the picture below, you will see me standing on a revenge that dropped off to a valley below that was at least 200 feet down. Up on the side of the mountain across the valley was an old road you could see winding along the side of the mountain. That little road has been there for thousands of years. It was that road that they would travel from Jericho to Jerusalem. To walk from Jericho to Jerusalem was a 2-day journey (23 miles) and an ascension of 3200 feet. Along this road many times robbers would hide in the desert and mug those who were traveling. When Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan the image he was painting was of one traveling along this road who was mugged and left to die. We know he was on this trail because Luke 10 says that he was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and this was the only road to lead there. It was a very common traveled road. But it was just as common for a person traveling to, “fall among the thieves, be stripped, wounded, and left half dead.” Of course, when the priest and the Levite passed him by, the Good Samaritan came along and helped him. Where we visited today the road come very close alongside of a deep valley in the desert. If you look closely you can see the valley below. Often these savages, after beating and robbing a traveler, would throw them down into the valley where they would either already be dead or die. This valley is referred to in the book of Psalm. David would have traveled this same road many times, and he references it in the most famous Psalm in the Bible. He says in the 23rd Psalm, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …” This valley is none other than that valley. Still today referred to by the local who live here, The Valley of the Shadow of Death. And here I was standing right over the top of it. And to know that David, the king and the shepherd had walked that little tiny road that was nothing more than a path was astounding. Another man walked that road as well. He was the forerunner of Christ. John the Baptist, lived in this wilderness. Having been through this Judaen wilderness and knowing that John the Baptist lived there, tells me that this guy was a man’s man! When the Bible says that he came out of the wilderness, this was the wilderness the Bible speaks of. Mark chapter one says, “Behold I send my messenger (John) before thy face, which shall prepare the way before thee. The voice of one crying IN THE WILDERNESS, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” We decided to test it and we shouted the verse aloud as we could and my, my, you should have heard it echo from those hills. Our guide said on a still day that it’s possible to hear that shout for up to 10 miles away. Imagine John shouting that “Prepare the way…” and all that may have heard that echo into those hills and crevices in that wilderness. It was so neat!

Judaean Wilderness

Valley of the Shadow of Death

Today was a light day but we need your prayers tomorrow. It has finally reached the climax of the trip as we finish these last three days. Over the next couple of days, we will go to the Holocaust museum, Calvary, the garden tomb, and the Mountain of Ascension where Jesus went back to the heavens. Tomorrow for the first time, we go inside the walls, into the old city, known as Jerusalem. So far, other than today, we have logged some miles. Walking anywhere from 12-16 miles a day. Tomorrow we have been warned it will double. We are looking at logging 20-25 miles a day. Pray for us. The positive is that Jerusalem is so high that it is actually very cool. About 45 degrees in the mornings, peaking out at around 75 degrees. So, the temps are great for us Tennesseans. It’s funny to see the Israelis and Palestinians wearing big coats, toboggans and even ear muffs in this 60-70 degree weather. They are freezing, and we are loving it! We do have some older people that are struggling with the trek, so please help us pray that God will give them added strength the next two days and we all will pull together and help them walk the city. It’s tiring and long days, but worth every single step as we continue tracing the steps of our blessed Redeemer.

Blessings, Pastor Justin

Israel Day 6 – April 21, 2018

Today will blow you away! It will be a shorter article because we toured less sights but the sights that we did view are power packed. We had a bright and early morning, 6am to be exact. We don’t mess around. We get up and we get at it. Every step is worth it, trust me! After an Israeli breakfast (chocolate pudding and coffee for me) we boarded our bus and ventured to Jerusalem. Outside the walls of the old city (going there tomorrow) but still Jerusalem. It was very quiet and very serene seeing that it was Saturday in Israel. Also known by the Jews as the Sabbath. It was quite and in the beginning of the day was little, to know people out moving about. By the end of the day Jerusalem was picking up the pace.

Stop number 1: The mount of Olives. A beautiful high mountain just outside of the eastern side of the wall of Jerusalem. A beauty to behold. The mountain contains thousands and thousands of graves that contains millions of deceased Jews, all the way back to the 1st and 2nd century. From the top of the Mount of Olives we could see a beautiful panorama of all of Jerusalem. It was from this spot, in pictures below, that Jesus with a broken heart and tears in His eyes cried, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often would I have gathered they children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not.” (Luke 13:34). Our Lord lamented here over the coming judgment that he knew was coming to the city of Jerusalem. And it did in 70 A.D. Making our way down the mountain we came a small courtyard area. Within the confines of the yard were olive trees that were 2000 plus years old. Only 20 to 25 feet away, with a church built around it, was a huge rock. It was upon that rock that Jesus was deep into prayer, so intense, that his blood became as great drops of blood. I thought about His prayer in John 17 and my heart was moved as He willingly yielded to the will of the Father in accepting His fate on the cross at Calvary. God has blessed me with many great opportunities in my life, but to lay my hand upon the rock that my Savior prayed on, centuries before I was ever born, may be right there at the top. You talk about a surreal moment! Directly, and when I say directly, I means directly, in line with the rock and up the mountain was the Eastern gate. You can see it clearly. It dawned on me and become very real. Judas would betray the son of God with a kiss in the very garden in which I stood, and then they would arrest and take my Lord through that gate to stand trial. I could stand there in that moment and see the torches in my mind as they wind up the hill hacking him through the Eastern gate to stand before the proper authorities. Gethsemane has always been a special place, but to have stood there and actually saw the rock and those 2000 years olive trees has made it even more special. To think that those trees record a silent testimony and stood as saplings in that very garden when our Savior begin his road to Calvary.

Mount of Olives and temple gate

2,000 year old olive trees

The rock where Jesus prayed in great agony

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Mount of Olives

Moving from Gethsemane we went to the house of Caiaphas. Joseph Caiaphas was the Jewish high priest of this day. He was involved in the Sanhedrin trial of Jesus. He was a bitter enemy of Jesus simply because of Jesus claims claim to be the Messiah. In John 11, after the resurrection of Jesus, the Sadducees came to Caiaphas and reported a concern that Jesus’ growing number was inciting problems in the Roman Empire. In verse 50 Caiaphas essentially said, “It would be better for one man to die than for a whole nation to perish.” From that moment he was hell bent on the destruction of Jesus Christ. The call for his death was a calculated move of political action but at the same time God would use this to save both the Jews and anyone else who would believe. (John 11:50-52). After the arrest in the garden they took Jesus to Annas who would send Him to Caiaphas, who as the high priest, would be the one to rule on Jesus fate. Now remember this is where scripture tells us that Peter followed afar off. We will come back to that. Matthew gives records that no substantial charges against Christ would stand. When questioned Jesus held His peace. Finally, out of frustration Caiaphas says, “I adjure the (demand) by the living God, that thou tell us whether though be the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus’ answer, correct! The high priest now had what he was looking for. He tore his clothes, told Jesus He has spoken blasphemy, and pronounced Him worthy of death! It’s was at this moment that they spit in His face, buffeted or beat Him, and open handedly smacked Him in the face. Caiaphas will now send Him to Pilate so that the Romans could give him the cruelest execution possible. But before he hands Jesus over, He will be taken to the dungeon under Caiaphas house where they will tie Jesus up, continue to flog him, and then drop in tied up into a hole where He will be left all night, before handed over to the Romans. It was discovered by archaeologist some years later that this dungeon and pit were actually right under the house of Caiaphas. As we descended down to that basement I stood in the very spot that they beat my Lord and lowered Him into a pit where He hung, beaten and mocked, until the next day. When Jesus prayed in the garden He saw every bit of this coming. Actually Psalm 88 is a prophecy of what would happen in Caiaphas house and was more than likely prayed by Jesus as He hung in the pit. Before we move one tradition of this region tells us that when they found the cave, through an archaeological dig, they found blood splatter inside of the pit. One spot, believed to be exactly where He was let down through a small hole on a rope, is still stained a crimson spot still today. It is the shape of human and after many attempts they could not remove it. Is is the blood stain of the Savior of the world? I don’t know, but either way, to stand there and touch it was overwhelmingly emotional. Five of us stood in the pit and sang a song about the blood and we absorbed the moment. Back to Peter real quick. It was at the house of Caiaphas that Peter denied the Lord on three occasions. As Jesus was being mocked and tried, Peter stood in the vicinity, at least close enough that they could see one another. Lukes gospel says that after the 3rd denial that the “Lord turned and looked upon Peter.” This all happened right here in the vicinity of which I was standing.

Dungeon and prison of Caiaphas where Jesus was beaten and mocked

After leaving such an emotional scene we moved one to one that was much better. It was a home that had within it an upper room. Through the years this building, still on the same foundation, has served as a church, a Muslim mosque, and is now a Jewish synagogue. They have discovered that in the first few centuries before taken over by Muslims that it was a 1st century church just outside the walls of the old city, Jerusalem. In the first centuries churches were found in homes. This home had an upper room and a church that was gathering there. It was in this home/church that the disciples retreated to often. Two specific times this place is mentioned in scripture. Once when Jesus sent his disciples to prepare a supper. He told them to look for a man carrying water. In this generation it would have been a disgrace for a man to carry water. That is why we saw the Samaritan woman in the New Testament with a pot going after water. Jesus told them to go and look for man. This is key for us to know where the upper room was. There was a tiny sect of Jewish men who did not marry. They were very small in number and they were living right on Mount Zion. We know that the last supper had to have been on this very small section of Mount Zion. It was there that we saw the place, thought much different looking now, that Jesus instituted the last Passover meal with his disciples. It was also this room that Jesus appeared to them after the resurrection. He appeared to them and Thomas was not present. I know the room is much different, but it was very neat to stand on the same land where all of these things happened. Just under this they have buried King David. His original burial place was moved, and they brought him to this Jewish synagogue outside of the Southern part of the city walls. You talk about cold chills. To know you are standing beside the tomb of the greatest poet, warrior, and King that Israel ever knew. Because it was in a synagogue, we had to wear kippots, and could not go in with the women. We weren’t supposed to take pictures, because it is Saturday and to push a button is considered work on the Sabbath. I took one anyway secretly, because thank God I am not under the law, but under grace! LOL.

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Upper Room

David’s tomb

It was a great day and the highlight of the trip begins tomorrow as we start inside the city ways and seeing where the Tabernacle used the be, the wailing wall, Calvary and an empty tomb. What a journey as we continue following His steps!

Blessings, Pastor Justin

Israel Day 5 – April 20, 2018

If I have learned anything on this trip to Israel, it is, that nothing is boring in the Holy Land. I mean, c’mon, we are sitting out foot down in the same spots that our Heavenly Father may have actually put His down. For the Bible believer, history lover, and child of God, this place is anything but boring. I say that because if there were to be a day less exciting, it would have been today, but it was unbelievable even with less pomp and circumstance.

As all days here, we got our bright and early start. We have been in Northern Israel until this point but today we head south. After breakfast and hotel check out, we boarded the bus and we headed toward central Israel. First stop, the Jordan River. So much happened on and at the Jordan River there is really no reason for me to attempt to give you stores, because I would not know where to start. Where did we start today? How about with a baptism? YES. Baptism. Today I stepped foot it into the waters that Joshua crossed, and Jesus was baptized in. Let me tell you, there is a reason they call “chilly” Jordan. It was FREEZING! After changing clothes one by one I baptized the members of our group and the feeling of this moment was unexplainable. Some because of where we are, some because of the waters we were in, but mostly because of the remembrance of what God done for us when He redeemed us from our sins. All of the emotions and truth of these great realities came together at this moment and it almost paralyzed you because of the feeling it brought.

Think about what I am saying: I baptized and was baptized in the river of Jordan. The river that runs from Mt. Hermon in Dan, all the way down to the Dead Sea. And today I was immersed in it. I will NEVER forget this day.

Baptism at Jordan River

Upon leaving this particular spot we continued our pilgrimage south. We traveled down the Jordan Rift, alongside of the Jordan river which performs Israel’s west border for some of the country. Just over the river we could see the country known as Jordan. On a hill far away, we could see the Jordanian flag flying on a hill. Israel and Jordan have a good relationship, not common in this area of the world, but they still like their clear dividers. As we progressed a large fence (maybe 15-20 foot tall) became visible with barbed wire wrapped around the top. Behind it about 25ft another one, and between the two a land filled with mines. So even being allies these countries want to clearly establish boundaries. As we travelled the interstate down the Jordan rift for about an hour and a half, two things were noticed. One Israeli flags. This is interesting because we were in the West Bank which is occupied by Palestinians. Israel’s land, but Palestinian occupants. Unlike our news shows us, there is not any sign of hostility. The second thing that I noticed was this. Get the picture. To my right it was nothing but dessert, or, as Israelites call it, the wilderness. If you are thinking, wilderness, where Moses and the Israelites wondered for 40 years? You would be guessing absolutely right! As our bud bounced down that I highway I couldn’t help but let my mind wander off to the stories that happen in those barren mountains. Story after story came to my mind. Too many to go into detail but just to know that Moses, and Joshua and Caleb and over 1 million Jews roamed that dessert was a very overwhelming reality. To the far left on the other side of the fence which was no longer visible because it had moved out in the distance, was the Jordanian mountains. We were traveling in the Jordan Rift which is one of the most fertile parcels of land in the world. The vegetation was unimaginable unless you see it fro yourself. Think about this: to my right dead, wildness mountain desserts with nothing and at the bottom on both side of the high fruits and vegetables of every kind. Bananas, grapes, tomatoes, olives, oranges, date palms, papayas, cantaloupe, and so much more. Little villages intermingles every so often, that looked nothing more than 3rd world countries, and people along the highways working these crops. Every so often we would see a modern-day shepherd along the side of the road attempting to find a parcel of ground he could stop to feed his flock of sheep. This was a bus ride to never forget because this region of the West Bank in the northern central region of Israel is very underdeveloped and has to appear much of what it would have looked like in the Old Testament and in the days of Jesus.

Jordan Rift

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Shepherds

After one and half hours or so of riding we come to the first town on our list, Jericho. You remember Jericho, the town where Joshua marched with Israel and the walls came tumbling down. It is believed and even being researched now that the place where those walls where was in a little village that we could see off in a distance. In Jericho we did explore a piece of land that they have done an archaeological dig on. An English archaeologist dug about 50 or 60 feet and found a tower that contained skulls and some bone fragments. It was discovered that this village, which they do not know who it was, was at least 8,000 years old. This makes whatever this village was the oldest civilization in the entire world that we are aware of. Amazing! Whoever this group of people were, they could not have been far removed from Adam or Noah. Other civilizations were found built on top, one them being the Canaanites, so we know this was very old. You can see the tower in the pictures below. Just above this spot was a very high pinnacle. One that overlooked the Jordan Rift and you could see land from it for miles and miles. It is a very significant spot and a little metal triangle sign pointed upward that read, “Mount of Temptation”. YES, the very spot that Satan came to Jesus and in a short period of time tested our Lord three times. Only reading the Bible you would never see this, but to be here in the land it is nest to see that that place is way up over top of where Jericho was located. It truly was a desert mountain and it changes your perspective when the devil said to Jesus that he could give him the kingdoms of the world. Atop that mountain and am certain he pointed out across the Jordan Rift and offered him all he could see. Of course, Jesus was not taken by him and overcame. Jesus had departed in to this mountain probably found one of the natural caves, still visible today, and spent a time in solitude and prayer there. We left the mountain and went down the road and stopped at a fruit stand. These Palestinians from Jericho mobbed us wanting us to buy their goods. Our guide, Nedal, had told us this was the best fruit in the world and he was not lying. The fruit which had been grown in the Jordan Rift in Jericho was by far the sweetest and juiciest fruit I had ever tasted in my life. Never will I ever have grapes, oranges, and cantaloupe again like I had in Jericho.

Jericho

From Jericho we continued our journey to our next stop, Jerusalem. Have you ever noticed that the Bible always says, “Go up to Jerusalem”? Never down, always up. Today I experienced firsthand, it is always up. No matter what way you come to Jerusalem you have to travel up. A gradual climb to reach the Holy City. On the way, however, we were blessed to make a few very interesting stops on the tour.

We drove through the town of Bethany. Remember Mary, Martha, and Lazarus? This was their hometown. We did not stop however. Today it is very dangerous. It lies in a region in the West Bank that Palestinian police refuse to go into because of the Jews. Israeli police will not go there because of the Palestinians. It is the only place in Israel where there is no municipal. Meaning there is no government, no taxes, and by the looks I would assume no trash pick-up. Bethany is the most perverted city in Israel today. The streets were crowded, and little dirty children ran playing as if there were no school. I am sure there wasn’t. It was a pitiful little town and really broke my heart to see it in such a condition. I would have loved to stop and my tried to see Lazarus grave, but then again, I may have ended up in it with no one to call for help. We moved along!

Next stop. An amazing town we all know as Bethlehem. Lots of things happened in Bethlehem. One of my personal favorite stories and books of the Bible happened in Bethlehem. It’s the story of Ruth, who came out of Moab with Naomi back to this place. Here is something that will give you cold chills. Is stood on the side of a mountain here and looked below to see a flat piece of ground that was known as the Fields of Boaz. not nearly as big as I have always imagined but then it makes sense because how would have he recognized her from the top of the hill if the field was extended average. Only a couple of hundred yards long and maybe 80 to 100 yards wide I stood over the field where Ruth was gleaning when Boaz took note of her. It was a surreal moment to stand there in the cool breeze and relive that moment in my mind while I gazed upon the field. What I never knew until today was this: that the same hillside that lead down to Boaz field was the exact same hillside that shepherds were keeping their flocks when the angel of the lord appeared to them, according to the Bible, in Bethlehem. There the angel came and said to them that on this day in the city of David a Savior would be born. The cave they had their flocks in that night is still there today. As I stood at the door of the cave, where the shepherds would have been laying as a human gate, I imagined what it must have been like to saw and heard the good news that night. We went into that cave and you could only feel the presence of God as you thought about the good news of the birth of Jesus the Messiah. There are some pictures to show you that cave. Inside the church that is built right there at the cave is a 5th century painting depicting what the shepherds heard, what they saw, and what they shared. That’ll preach! A Christmas sermon is already brewing! All of this in Bethlehem.

Boaz Field

Final stop of the day was also in Bethlehem. Malachi had prophesied that the Messiah would be born here and we know from scripture that He was. Scripture tells us He was born here, and history tells us the exact spot. Because of the history and traditions, we do know where the cave that Jesus was born in was. And yes, it was a cave, not a wood barn. Naturals caves are all over Israel. These old Jewish patriarchs utilized them. Bethlehem is a very small city, just as the Bible said it was. The census was happening, so the town was crowded. All they had to offer Jesus was this cave used to house their animals in. So, they gave a makeshift labor and delivery room for Mary to bring the son of God into the world from. The Bible said, “And she brought forth her first born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes…” The line was long and out guide gave us the option to as if we wanted to stay and see the spot or leave. He informed us it would take two hours to get inside and he was right. I bet you could guess, I waited! I am in Israel, I was not forfeiting the opportunity to see the spot that Jesus was born. After a two hour wait we made our descent into a cave partially underground to see the spot. I have to be honest. It was a really good feeling, but the Catholics here have garbed it up with so much that it pulls from the feeling. It was awesome knowing this was the spot, and it truly is, but disappointing how they have put so much around it that it loses that natural feel. I am still glad I waited. In the moment, I paused and prayed a silent prayer thanking God for giving the world this baby so that our sins could be forgiven. It was short lived was the worker was telling me to get the photo and move along.

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Shepherd in Bethlehem

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Entrance into cave where shepherds received word. This mosaic was added in the 5th century

Shepherds cave

Paintings in church at shepherds cave

The place where Jesus was born

This was our day! Tomorrow begins the real part of our journey as we trace the steps of Jesus around Jerusalem. It was from this one site that we see the last week or so of His life. My prayer tonight is that God prepares my heart for all that I am going to see and feel over the next four days. Tonight, I sleep in a Ramada Inn in the heart of Jerusalem. Tomorrow I trace the steps of Jesus that led Him to the cross and an empty tomb. My, how times have changed, but Jesus is still the same today, yesterday, and forever more!

Blessings, Pastor Justin

Israel Day 4 – April 19, 2018

Yawning and wiping sleep from my eyes is how this day started. Literally. We had to wake up at 6am for today’s journey was set to begin at 7am. Our guide (who has to be the best in Israel) was adamant that we had to get an early start to cover the ground we needed to cover. After a quick breakfast, mostly consisting of fruit for me, we were off.

Today’s adventure began with a one-hour bus trip to Israel’s most northern corner. The region known as Dan. This was the border God gave to Abraham when giving him the parameter of the land that Israel was to occupy. You’ll remember that God gave them the land from “…Dan (north) to Beersheba (south)”. When you are in the city of Dan you are literally standing right at the border of Lebanon and Syria. Both countries house Shiite Radical Muslims. Hezbollah in Lebanon and ISIS in Syria. No joke, we could hear them firing weapons off in the distance. Mountains separate you from the countries, however you can hear the guns and mortars ringing out through the hills of northern Israel. I will admit that I though Dan was going to bore me, but not far into our journey I learned it would not at all. The Bible talks about the River Dan. It is really nothing more than a large stream. Very rapid and very cold. The reason is because of its origin. The river begins at the highest point in all of this country, Mount Hermon. A little over 9,000 feet above sea level it is the only part of this country that gets snow. The snow melts and falls into the river known as Dan. Why is this river significant? Because it is this river that feeds JOR-DAN. Jordan River is very notable and of much significance in the Bible. Joshua crossed it and Jesus was baptized in it. But make no mistake, Dan, contributes to these waters. Jordan means to descend, or to come down. If you read the Old Testament Dan and his tribe were given the parcel of land that lay along the coastline. Modern day plain of Sharon but they could not take it for the Philistines. So, he went north and settled in a place called Laish. Today I learned some very significant history regarding this settled area known as Dan. To understand Dan, you have to remember when the nations of Israel was divided. The kingdom was split into 10 tribes to the North and 2 tribes to the south (Judah and Benjamin). In 1 Kings 12 we see Rehoboam and Jeroboam in disagreement that lead to the division of the kingdom. Jeroboam went north bringing great displeasure to God by separating the kingdom. Rehoboam took Benjamin and Judah and gathered a 180,00 army to take back the Northern kingdoms, but God commanded him to not fight with his brethren (I Kings 12:24) and Rehoboam obeyed. Between the chapters of 12 and 14 in 1 Kings we see Jeroboam build a temple in Dan. His fear was that if the people went back to Jerusalem where God dwelled to worship than they would return to Rehoboam. I Kings 12:28 Jeroboam said, “it is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem” and he built a temple in Dan. He made shrines on high places, installed priest who were not Levites, and sacrifices at the altars. Jeroboam chose idolatry and brought the worship of Canaanite practices into Judaism. He was turning people away from God in the northern kingdom. God promised Jeroboams dynasties would not endure, and it proved to be true. After 22 years his son took the throne and was murdered 2 years in to this kingship. Over the years the Babylonians lived in Dan, San then the Persians. There was also a season in which the women of Israel intermingled with non-Jewish men producing the Samaritans who lived in Dan as well. It’s hard to believe that I stood on the steps of the very temple that was built by Jeroboam. You can see the pictures. At the gate of the kingdom of Dan you will find an altar where Jeroboam made his greatest mistake. Pictured below is a square altar where Jeroboam placed 2 stones (one light and one dark) which symbolized him bringing together the God of Israel and the Canaanite god of fertility. His kingdom would eventually fall. It was also at this gate that you will see me sitting on a raised plate form. This was the seat of King Ahab. It was from this dynasty in Dan that Ahab was the king of Israel (a wicked one) and his wife Jezebel. He would sit on this throne every day because it was required that a king be seen sitting on his throne just inside the gate of the city. It was also here at the city gate that decisions would be made, before the king. As in the book of Ruth when Boaz requested that he become the nearer kinsmen to redeem Ruth. Just around the corner we got to see the oldest city gate in the world. It was built 1900 years before Christ and it is known as the gate of Abraham. You talk about a sobering reality! To stand there and look at those stones leading up to this gate and know that father Abraham walked those exact steps, his foot touched there, was almost enough to take your breath away.

The River of Dan

Jeroboams Temple

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Altar built by Jeroboam, mingled with Canaanite gods

Abraham’s Gate

 Gates of Dan, Sitting on Ahabs throne, Rooms of houses in Dan

Moving along we moved just a bit more to the northeast. Our guide informed us of the Hebrew warning signs that read: WARNING! PLEASE WATCH OUT FOR LANDMINES. We were entering Syria. It was a windy area that lead up to a place called Banias in Aramaic. We call it Caesarea-Philippi in the Bible. Right beside of Mt. Hermon is a beautiful place built by the son of Herod the Great. His name was Herod Philip. His mother was Roman, and he came here to establish his own city. He built it and as a pagan he needed to create a god. There he made the god known as Pan. Pan was half goat and half man, and he played a flute. Anyone who heard the flute would follow him and was that he would take them to hell. Pan is actually where we get our English word “panic”. The statue of Pan held a key and it was called the key to the gate of hell. He also built 3 temples. One to Augustus, one to Pan, and one to Zeus. These temples were built on the side of a rock mountain as you can see the remains in the photos. We do know for certain that on one occasion Jesus brought his disciples to this place. Imagine God in flesh standing there and seeing these temples of false gods! This is a changing point in Christian human history. In Matthew 16 Jesus ask the question of who do men say that I am? Their response varies, some think Elijah, others John the Baptist, and one and one. The Jesus ask, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter stands up and says, “thou art the Christ, the son of the living God.” Jesus commends Peter for his spiritual understanding. As I stood in that very spot I wondered: where the boards chirping? Could they heart the trickle of the stream coming down from Hermon? Did they feel the same light breeze i was feeling? This I do know, that God, opened Peters heart and mind that day for him to understand a profound spiritual truth. He perceived who Jesus really was! Jesus says to Peter (who is also know in Aramaic as Cephas meaning rock) and upon you I will build my church. He then would have pointed at the mouth of the cave where Pan stood holding the keys to hell and said and the “gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Jesus had promised to make a temple of living stones, which began with this confession of Peter and continues even today with every believer who confessed Christ as God their Lord and Savior. It was a surreal moment to be there. I got me a rock from this place where these temples were built, not only if i can get it through customs! Lol. It was from here that he took a 6-day journey, the exact amount of time that it takes to go to Mt. Tabor by foot and it was there in the 17th chapter of Matthew that he transfigures on the mountain shewing them who He was in full glory.

Caesarea-Philippi where Jesus brought disciples in Matthew 16

As if the day could not get any better, we then made our journey to the Sea of Galilee. Here we boarded a boat and sailed out on the very lake that Peter walked and fished on, Jesus calmed a storm on, and many of the disciples fished on. It was so neat to be in the middle of the lake and look around its parameter knowing that on one mountain he cast demons from a maniac, on another side he held a fish fry after his resurrection, then yet another ye called Peter and Andrew to be fisher of men. While here we moved north to Capernaum which became the ministerial headquarters of Jesus. He chose this town to work from after his own town of Nazareth wanted to kill Him. Three years he lived and done his work here. From this very town he selected his first disciples. They were from Capernaum, a fishing village. They had a Jewish synagogue (seen in pictures) and had a ruler by the name of Jarius. Remember this name. There was also a tax collector here who collected money from those traveling by the way of the sea. His name: Matthew. One day in Capernaum that every one was gathered around the house of Peters mother-in-law, whom Jesus had healed. The crowd was so great no one could get to Jesus as he taught in her home. In this home a man sick with the palsy was let down from the roof by his friends where Jesus healed him both physically and spiritually. Yes, right there in the home of Peters mother-in-law. You can still see some remnants of the very house under a church that has been built over the top of it. As Jesus is leaving, remember Jarius, he comes running to inform him that his daughter has died. Jesus leaves this home to go to Jarius and as the crown pushes against Him, a sick woman, with an issue of blood pressed through the crowd and touches the hem of His garment. Jesus knows she has done this and he heal her. He then goes on and does the miracle for Jarius. So many miracles happened inside the walls of the city of Capernaum. It was one of my favorite stops of the day. To know I was all over the same ground Jesus was doing such great miracles on. Around the corner still on the shore of Galilee we visited the very exact spot that Jesus, after His resurrection) called for the disciple to come to the shore. Peter had said after the burial, I’m going fishing, and the rest followed. Jesus saw them and called them too come where He had prepared fish for them over charcoal for breakfast. They are 1000% sure this was the exact spot because the steps that lead into shores are still intact as there were 2,000 years ago. It was the only sea port for Caspernaum off of Galilee. A church is built around it. But the big rock you see behind me is the rock that Jesus fed the disciples from after His resurrection. By the way, i got me a rock off that the sea port steps too!

On the Sea of Galilee

Where Jesus fed the disciples after His resurrection

Caparneum synagogue where Jesus taught

Houses in Capernaum

Peter’s Mother-in-laws home where crippled was lowered through the roof

As I try to conclude the last part of our day was by far the best of the trip so far for me. I don’t know what it was but something about it. Maybe because He taught from there, but the presence of God was so real. I am referencing the Mount of Beatitudes. On this one mountain (more like a large ridge) Jesus sailed in to find 5,000 men (not including women and children) who were hungry. It was here that Andrew found a little lad, with a little lunch, and Jesus did the unthinkable. With 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread he fed up to possible 15 to 20 thousand people on this hill. Wow! I could literally almost look down to the waters and envision them sitting there. After filling their stomachs, he filled their hearts as he fraught them the beatitudes from Matthew 5. You have to be here to understand the feeling. Just to see so many tourists sitting on this hillside and looking out towards Galilee where He rowed in at was an amazing feeling within itself. The way the ridge of shaped (by God) created a amphitheater affect and one could stand at the shore line and his words can be heard to the top of the mountain. Amazing I tell you! There is a church built at the top of the hill as a memorial for this holy site. Inside were the most amazing acoustics. I led us in singing “God is So Good” and “Blessed Assurance” and before we were done people from all nations and races were singing praises to the great God who made this mountain and then done a great work on it! What a stop this was. See the pictures below of the valley leading down to where Jesus came into the mountain the feed and teach.

View down the water where Jesus fed 5,000 and taught the Beatitudes

Another day is in the books and it is time to retire and recharge for another 15-20 miles of walking day. Trust me….it’s worth every step! Tomorrow we head toward Jerusalem and begin our tour of the Jordan river, Bethlehem, the Via Dolorosa, Calvary, the empty tomb and more. 5 more days to take in the sights and the sounds of this precious place. I cannot explain it, but I am sure enjoying it. Pray for us as our journey continues!

Blessings, Pastor Justin

Israel Day 3 – April 18, 2018

Today we were hammered with information overload. As I conclude this day, I must admit that my head is throbbing because of my attempt to absorb and remember all that I possibly could. As you would expect much of Israel has been commercialized and modernized. But what is astounding about this country is their tireless efforts to restore as much of their history as they possible can. Some cities like Tiberius even have sections of their fortified walls still standing in the middle of their parks dating back to the 4th century. I also want to note in the beginning, that Israel, truly is, a safe country. Not once has anyone in my group or I felt the least bit uneasy in our travels. The atmosphere to this point is one of just simplicity. The Israelis and the Palestines are not over friendly and their certainly do not go out of their way to greet you, but neither are they rude. It’s almost like they really don’t care who we are or what we are here for.

On this day we really covered some ground. A little over 20,000 steps according to my watch. We left Netanya (in the valley of Sharon) and we went north beginning in a very interesting city called Caesarea. This might have even been my favorite stop of the day. The history of Caesarea was almost breath-taking. The city Caesarea-Maritima is not to be confused with Caesarea-Philippi. We visited the Caesarea by the sea. The Mediterranean Sea that is. The location was hand-picked by Herod the Great because it lies on the coastal line right in the middle of the northern and southern tip of Israel. From here you can sell quickly to England or to Spain. Having visited this place, I can understand why its builder was known as Herod the Great. It is an architecture and engineering masterpiece. Beginning with the 7-mile aqua duct that he built and designed to drop on 1cm every 7 miles, giving Caesarea a steady incoming flow of water to supply the entire city. It is also here that he built his palace, with an indoor fresh water pool, and the remains of its foundation can still be seen today. You can even make out the exquisite mosaic tiles still today. As seen in the picture Herod built a huge hippodrome that could seat 20,000 people and they would hold horse and chariot races here. The sand floor in a circular layout can still be seen today. In addition to this, he built a massive 4,000 seat coliseum for the games. One of the interesting things is that inside this city Peter baptized the first recorded conversion of a gentile. It was a man by the name of Cornelius (see Acts 10). It also served as the headquarters of Pontius Pilate. From here the Roman procurator set out for the Passover festival in Jerusalem and was the hub from which Jesus was sentenced to death. The most moving aspect of this place was that I got to stand in the very place that Paul stood when he was being tried by King Agrippa. He was held in prison for 2 years in Caesarea and then taken to the coliseum to be stand trial before the king. The picture of me sitting is the exact spot on a raised platform that king Agrippa sit. As he looked down to the bottom of those steps he looked into the eyes of the beloved apostle and said, “…almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” (Acts 26:28). I am not sure what was more sobering, to stand in the same spot that the Apostle Paul stood or to know that from that upper part the king known as Agrippa sealed his fate by rejecting the gift of grace and would eventually die and go to hell. You can read more about this theatre and Caesarea in Acts 26 and Acts 27.

Caesarea

From here we continued our journey north to a very familiar place called Mount Carmel. It was a very windy and tight road that our tour bus weaved around as we made our decent to the top. Upon arriving we saw signs that limited thing such as wearing hats, talking on phones, bringing in pets, and more as this according to the signage was a Holy Place. This was the very spot that Elisha climbed up to and ask God to let the fire fall from heaven and consume the prophets of Baal. I Kings 18 and 19 is a detailed record of the great victory that Elijah wrought over Arab and Jezebel that day. There is a huge monument erected there at the spot where Elijah won that battle over these false prophets. There is also a Catholic Church built there now. From the roof of the church you can look down and see the valley of Jezreel. This valley is pictured below and behind me. It is a very significant piece of land for multiple reasons. First, it is the valley that Elijah fled to when he outran the chariots of Arab. Having received word from Jezebel that she was going to kill him (I Kings 19:1-2) he finds a juniper tree in the valley and request that he would die. Of course, an angel comes along and gets him up and strengthens him to continue the journey to Horeb. Let me tell you another reason that this valley is so significant. GET READY FOR THIS! The Valley of Jezreel lies right beside a place known as Megiddo. Megiddo was a fortified city that is essentially 18 different empires built one on top of the other. Two-man thorough fairs (roads) connected in this valley. The roads led from Mesopotamia to Egypt (the two powers of the world). One road called “The Way of the Sea” and another called “The Kings Highway intersected in Megiddo. First fortified by the Canaanites Megiddo was a hot bed for war and battles. It dates back to 5000 years before Christ. A Canaanite alter was unearthed by students from Chicago and can still be seen today. It was round altar with unhewn stones, that is, no tools ever touched them. Joshua tried to take Megiddo but he could not because the Canaanites had chariots. Later David would succeed and take it over, giving it to his son Solomon who would make it an administrative (military city). In the Bible, Solomon is often attributed to have numerous horses and chariots. 450 of them were stationed at Megiddo. The horse stalls and feeding troughs can still be seen carved from stones inside the walls of the city. What I loved about Megiddo and the valley of Jezreel is the prophecies that go with it. Megiddo has seen hundreds and hundreds of wars and battles in its long history, but there is according to the Bible, coming the culmination of wars and one final battle will be fought there. We know it from the book of Revelation as the Battle of Armageddon. With not enough time to get too much into bible prophecy this is a Great War at the end of the tribulation period, in which, the nations of the world will press down on Israel. This will happen right here in Megiddo. The Aramaic word for mountain is Ar. So, the battle known as Armageddon, mentioned in Revelation 19 will happen right here in the place I visited today, Megiddo. As these armies gather to come against Israel, the heavens will open, and riding upon a white horse, Jesus, with eyes as a flame of fire, and on His head many crowns, and a vesture dipped in blood, He will ride into Megiddo and by the word of His mouth will smite the nations. Never firing a shot, never shooting a cannon, no machine guns or fighter jets, Jesus will but speak a word and smite the nations. All of this right from the Bible in Revelation 19:11-16. The blood-shed will be so great that Revelation 14 says that the blood will come up to the horse’s bridle. In the future the entire valley that you see pictured known as Jezreel will be filled with blood up to a horse’s headgear. Megiddo will play host to the final war of humanity that will end all persecution once and for all. As I sit here and write I still cannot believe that I just stood in that place that bears such future significance.

Solomon’s Gate at Megiddo and Canaanite alter at Megiddo

The most touching part of the day came in Nazareth. This is where an angel appeared to Mary to announce that she was with child. So much that I learned from this site. So much that I heard from the guides who have lived here and heard the traditions. And it all made sense. For example, Joseph was a carpenter, but not as we would expect. Nothing was built out of wood in the first century. The word carpenter is used in scripture to describe a stone mason. More than likely Joseph worked with stone. If you ever get the chance to visit Nazareth you will understand why Joseph was there for work. This may also explain why Nathaniel would ask, “Could any good thing come out of Nazareth?” It was and still is the poorest city in all of Israel. Historians believe that Joseph was an older man whose wife had died and he was raising children alone. He was told about a young girl named Mary and they became engaged. Espoused in their culture which was the first part of marriage but they had not yet became married. It is believed that Mary had come to Nazareth with Joseph to care for his children while he worked as a stone mason (carpenter) there. Being from Jerusalem this explains as to why they were in Nazareth. It is believed that they were living in a cave and while in that cave, while Joseph was at work, the angel came to Mary and informed her she would conceive a child and He would be the Messiah. The account is found in Luke 1:25-36. Think about this way and it does make sense. Their marital vows were not complete and because Joseph was a “just man” and Mary was a “virgin” they had not yet consecrated their marriage. They had not come together. When Joseph received word that she was with child he was minded to put her away, but the angel told him of all that happened. Matthew 1. This idea could explain why Joseph was not present later in Jesus life, like at His death, because of his age he has passed on. It also could explain the half-brothers of Jesus as they were by Josephs previous wife that had passed on. The Bible never references that the brothers of Jesus were bore by Mary, but it also never says they were not. Truth is, we have no way of knowing, but we do know she brought forth a virgin born son and named Him Jesus. The Catholics have built a church around the cave now, but it was one of the most moving moments in my life as I gazed into that hole, with steps leading to I’m not sure where, and know that inside that place the angel of God came to her and the Ghost overshadowed her and the life of Jesus in humanity begin in that sacred place. And I was less than 10 feet from it!

Nazareth (where the Angel told Mary she would conceive)

Our last stop was about a 20-minute bus ride away where we went into the place where Jesus performed His first miracle. Cana of Galilee. It was there He attended a wedding with His mother and done the unthinkable: He turned water into wine! A sight it must have been. In their culture they had huge limestone pots they would keep water in. Limestone because it had a purifying effect on the water. You can see one of the actual pots at the bottom. At this wedding, the guest would have brought their own pots as well that would have been smaller and more portable. In order to kill the mosquitos, they would pour one cup of wine in the pot. It would not change anything about the water other than killing the mosquitoes. The way they knew the water was ready for drinking is they would let it run over the brim. This is very instructive as to when David was admitting his readiness to be king he quoted, “My cup runneth over.” His way of saying I am ready to be king. Jesus first miracle was much more that just changing water to wine. He was speaking loud and clear. That huge water pot (you see in photo) would hold 2 or 3 firkins a piece according to John 2. A firkin is 9 gallons, which means, each pot would hold 18 to 27 gallons of water and there were 6 of them. Six of them is not an accident. It is a message. This was a Jewish wedding. The Jews believed then and still today that when god created the heaven and earth He did in six days. They also believe that that God works through 6 ages. Adam being number 1. Then Noah, Abraham, David, Zerubabbel, and the sixth will be the Messiah. In Aramaic the word for “wine” is the exact same word for “age”. By doing this particular miracle with 6 water pots of water into wine, Jesus was speaking very loud to the Jews. He was saying I am the sixth father, I control all of the ages, and I am here, have arrived, and I am ready to do my work. It is no accident that this was the first miracle. He was not attempting to get them drunk, He was sending the loudest message He could that He was the Messiah and He had come. Standing in that home, seeing that one pot they found, and hearing this message gave me chills that I may never get over.

Cana of Galilee (water pot Jesus used to turn water into wine)

This day had a few other quick stops that I will tell you about in conclusion. We swung by 2 mountains that were just one valley away from one another. One was a mountain known as Nain. On this mountain both Elijah and Jesus duplicated similar miracle, but they were centuries apart. Elijah stretched out over the window of Zerapath’s son and revived him from the dead and Jesus does the same in the New Testament in raising the widow of Nain’s son. Just off to the left, big and bold, you could see Mt. Tabor. Not far from Nain, but it was very distinguishable as you can see in the photo. One day on this very mountain (according the very early historians) is where Jesus took Peter, James, and John high into the mountain where He was transfigured in all of his glory. Elijah and Moses showed up and Peter didn’t want to leave. I stood at the base of the mountain and imagined the lighting, the wind and the thunder that was present as this happened. In this same region you have Mt. Carmel, Valley of Jezreel, Zerapath, Kidron Brook, Mt. Tabor. I mean my feet were all over the stomping grounds of Elijah. I found myself praying like Elisha for God to give me a double portion of this mighty man of God. We also saw some 1st century tombs (as Jesus was buried in) and 1st century baptismal pools.

Mount Carmel and the Jezreel Valley behine

I am not sure what all the rest of the week holds, but they say it only gets better. I am writing this from a balcony that is literally overlooking the Sea of Galilee. So much happened there in the Bible my mind is running rampant and imagination is going wild. I’m sorry this was so long but it was way too good not to share. I can’t wait to share more with you as I continue tracing the footsteps of Jesus.

Shalom, Pastor Justin