After spending some time early this morning reading some relevant Scriptures, reflecting, and praying, we headed out for our first full day of following in Jesus' footsteps. We started by visiting the massive Temple Mount which Herod built in an effort to understand the world into which Jesus came. We focused on both the Sadducees and the Pharisees who so often came into conflict with Jesus in this place. Getting through the tight security to gain access to the top of the Temple Mount is always a challenge because this is such hotly contested real estate, but this year was worse than ever. They wouldn't even let us carry Bibles in our packs and when I was trying to give some historical background, we were asked to close our trip notebooks. Sort of made me want to turn over some tables, but that has already been done!
We continued down through the Kidron Valley and up the Mount of Olives for a breathtaking panorama of the city. We made it to the Dominus Flevit Church just in the nick of time to convince (with a small donation) the groundskeeper to allow us to stay after the lunch closing time. There, in a small grove of cedar trees overlooking Mount Moriah (also called Mount Zion) we reflected on Abraham's journey 3,000 years ago to this very mountain at God's direction to sacrifice his long-awaited only son Isaac. What a test of Abraham's faith for him to lay on his son's back the wood of the sacrifice and be willing to take it all the way to the point of wielding the knife! Because he was in Covenant with God, Abraham knew the Lord's intent for him was always good no matter how crazy it seemed ... It was powerful to see the hill of Golgotha just beyond and remember how another Father led his Son up that mountain carrying the wood for his sacrifice and, by establishing a New Covenant, became the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
We made our way back into the Old City and had a refreshing falafel lunch at Basti's Pizza, complete with their signature fresh lemon and mint ice drinks! Those who still had some energy went to the Jerusalem Museum in the Tower of David to get a better sense of the different chapters in the history of this most amazing of places. After dinner we took a fascinating tour of the tunnel which stretches north of the Western Wall plaza further along the retaining wall of the Temple Mount. We saw stones measuring 9 feet by 15 feet by 45 feet long, weighing nearly 600 tons (the weight of two fully load jumbo jets!). It's hard to imagine the engineering and determination it took to build such a massive monument and to see how it has endured for 2,000 years!
Tomorrow we head out into the desert to visit Qumran and Masada while we reflect on the Essenes and the Zealots who made up part of the complex fabric of Jesus' World ....