February 21: Our last day in Israel mirrored Christ’s last days before he was sentenced to death by crucifixion.
We started at the top of the Mount of Olives, and followed the path our Messiah took as he walked his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem in the days before the Last Supper. The Mount of Olives is a fascinating place for a number of reasons. First of all, it provides a beautiful view of the city of Jerusalem, and we all got a chance to survey the various places we visited in the week prior as we stood atop the mount. It’s also full of biblical references, both in the Old and New Testaments. We were focused on Luke 19:28-44 and read that passage from the top of the mount before we began our walk down towards the very steep slope towards the Kidron Valley and the Garden of Gethsemane. But the Mount isn’t just the place that Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time.
In fact, the mount isn’t filled with olive trees, the entire slope is practically concrete as thousands of tombs fill the entire ridge. It’s where Jesus announced himself to Israel as the Messiah (on the very day prophecy predicted) when He rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (Ps. 118:22, 25-26; Dan. 9:25; Zech. 9:9, 16; Matt. 21). And then four days later, where Judas betrayed him in the Garden and his disciples abandoned him. (Ps. 41:9; Zech. 13:7; Matt. 26:31; John 17:12). The list goes on and on, and we haven’t even begun to discuss what is prophesied to occur here when Jesus returns in glory. For the sake of brevity, suffice to say that our minds and hearts were filled with the importance of this place as we navigated the steep slope and entered the Garden of Gethsemane.
February 20: We went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem today. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, and it’s hard to express in words what we experienced. The enormity of the genocide – the insidiously deceptive way that it was carried out – the numbers of children that were exterminated…it’s just unbelievable what humans are capable of doing to each other. It was a reminder for us all how important the grace of forgiveness is.
It can be so easy to fan the flame of hate in our hearts, against a ‘group’ that we often have very little contact with and/or understanding of. We thought of how polarizing things can be at home with religion, and politics, and racial disparities. Jerusalem, for all of its multi-nation synergy, sometimes feels like a kettle ready to boil over with religious tension. The amount of armed policeman and gate scanners can be a reminder of that. But we’re all God’s children (Genesis 9:6). He’s made us all, and he loves us all – whatever our religious faith may be. We pray that the Holocaust never ever happens again.
We also had a chance to visit the Israel Museum’s “Shrine of the Book” to see the Dead Sea Scrolls up close and personal. A few days ago, we got to visit Qumran where they were discovered, and now got to look at the scrolls in person. One thing that was striking – the penmanship. Impeccable. Right to left with nary an ink stain. The full scroll of Isaiah laid out prophesying the suffering servant Messiah who was to come…
February 19: Today our band of merry adventurers went to Bethlehem to get glimpse at Jesus’s birthplace. We went first to the Shepherd’s fields outside the city limits. On the night of Jesus’s birth, Angels appeared to the Shepherds announcing that a child was born. They revealed, “this shall be a sign to you. You will see a baby lying in a manger wrapped in ‘swaddling clothes.’” (Luke 2:12)
These shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem weren’t your normal shepherds. They didn’t wander all over the countryside with a flock of sheep that could fall off a cliff or injure themselves going down a hillside. They had been chosen and trained to breed the sheep that were to be used as sacrificial lambs in the Temple. Sacrificial lambs had to be “spotless and without blemish.” They required special treatment and tender loving care. When the mother ewe was preparing to give birth, she was taken to a special birth place in a manger or cave. The newborn lamb was immediately wrapped in clean swaddling cloths to protect them and keep them from defiling themselves in any way.
When the declaration was made to these Levitical Shepherds that a savior had been born, wrapped in swaddling clothes, they immediately went to the city to ‘see this thing that has come to pass.’ And these special Shepherds came immediately to a manger very similar to where their own sacrificial sheep would have been wrapped in the same swaddling clothes. Would they have known the verses in Isaiah 53:7? “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter…” or in Genesis 22:7 when Abraham said to Isaac, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering…”