February 18: Today was all about the Temple Mount. We went on top, we went around, and we explored a variety of recently excavated tunnels underneath the Western Wall.
First we went on the Temple Mount. It was hard not to have mixed emotions while we were up there. The Mount is controlled by Jordan, and the Muslim religion dominates every aspect of the Mount with the Dome of the Rock sitting right on top of where the Temple once stood. There are 11 gates, 10 which are accessible by Muslims, and one to be used by everyone else. There are Israeli soldiers standing guard at every gate, and in other locations on the Mount. (After the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel handed administration of the site back to the Waqf under Jordanian authority.) In order to try to maintain peace, the Israeli government has banned prayer on the Temple Mount by non-Muslims.
So, we prayed silently to ourselves. We walked around and imagined the place where the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob once dwelt in the Temple to be closer to His chosen people. We touched the stones that were still standing from the Herodian Temple Period, and imagined what this place once looked like. It was a time of quiet reverence, and expectation knowing that one day Christ will return to this place and things will be set right.
We left the Mount and explored the Southern gate, where we knew Jesus had entered, and where John and Peter walked in together after Pentecost. Where Peter gave his sermon and 3000 new believers were baptized. We saw the dozens of mikvahs that had been unearthed and preserved by archaeologists. When travelers would come to Jerusalem to worship on the Temple Mount, they would have to ritually bathe by completely submerging themselves in living water outside the gate. So there were dozens of places to do this. We looked in many and thought…did Jesus bathe in that one? What about that one? Did he touch this stone? Did he walk right here as he entered Jerusalem? Were the new believers baptized in these mikvahs? It was a moment of wonder. We read through Acts 2 and 3 together on the steps as a group.
Then we made our way around the border to pray at the Western Wall. Everyone is welcome to pray at the wall, no matter your religious affiliation. One thing that stands out when you visit Israel – the Israeli government has gone to great lengths to embrace those of other faiths into common life here. There are crusader church ruins by the Western Wall, in prime real estate area, that go untouched out of respect for Christian history. When Israeli soldiers reclaimed Jerusalem in 1967, they didn’t go around destroying every place of worship that wasn’t Jewish, they preserved these sites and gave them back to whomever owned them. Mosques stand in the same place as they did prior to the 1967 reclaiming of Jerusalem. Including the al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount. In contrast, the entire Jewish quarter of Jerusalem and all their synagogues were completely razed when Jordan took over the city 19 years earlier.
Praying at the wall was a powerful experience. It’s the closest that Jews and Christians can openly pray to where God once resided in the Holiest of Holies. And there are some serious prayer warriors up against that wall! Twenty four hours a day, men and women are there praising and petitioning God. Some people openly weep, others have their hand up against the wall as they rock back and forth in complete submission to God. It feels like a sanctuary, even though it’s outside. Many of us stayed along the wall for quite some time as we prayed for our churches and families back home, for our leaders, for the sick, and so on. Some of us put written petitions in the wall, as is the custom here.
It was a full day. At the end of each day, we meet as a group to discuss our personal highlights. It’s fun to hear where God has met each of us individually and how that person heard God’s voice. Sometimes we share moments in common, but often times it’s very different for each of us. One thing is for sure – He seeks after us constantly. If we don’t hear his voice, it’s often because we’re not listening. But Jerusalem is the kind of place that makes it easy to hear from him, and easy to let him in…