It has been 5 days since I first blogged for the team, and we have gone through so many experiences it will be hard to summarize them, so I am going to hit only a few of the highlights as I see them.
We spent several days around the Sea of Galilee, and I was surprised to learn that about 70% of Jesus’ teaching happened in this area: Nazareth (his home town), Capernaum (his “headquarters”), the place on the shore where (after His resurrection) he cooked fish for His Apostles. We even had the opportunity to view a semi-restored fishing boat that has been dated back to Jesus’ time. On our last evening in Tiberius (where we were staying), we went out on the lake in a fishing boat that was the same size as they would have used. We had a luxury of power – but they only had ‘arm’ power. Just as we pulled out from the dock, the crew raised the Stars and Stripes and played our National Anthem. The rest of the hour the Star of David and the Stars and Stripes flew together. There is meaning there.
Yesterday we left Tiberius and followed the Jordan River to two amazing places in my opinion. The first was Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. We learned about the Essenes Scribes who had lived there and their meticulous work in copying the Old Testament on the scrolls. Each stroke had to be examined by 7 separate people to ensure everything was accurately copied. They had ritual bathing before and after writing. They worked together — meticulously working on the scrolls. If there was 1 error – the scroll was destroyed and they started from the beginning again. The book of Isaiah took 7 scrolls. In terms of today’s dollars, a scroll would cost about $20,000. But their meticulous work paid off because we have proof that the Old Testament that we use today is the same as it was 1000s of years ago.
The second one was the place on the Jordan River where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. Diane and I were both baptized (again) there, and our emotions were easily seen by all. It was also interesting that at this point in the Jordan River, it is quite narrow and there was a group of people on the Jordan side of the river also being baptized. Sort of interesting what can happen when we get the politics out of the way.
This morning we started in the Garden of Gethsemane. The garden was set aside as a historical area in the 1600s, and there is a small chapel built around the rock on the location where it is believed that Jesus prayed. We spent almost an hour in the garden in personal and individual reflections. Again, emotions right on the surface.
The middle of the day we spent looking at the excavations that have been done around the Eastern side of Jerusalem. They believe that they have found a corner of King Solomon’s palace. We did have a strange occurrence. Our group of 16 ended up getting divided into two sections – quite unintentionally. We were supposedly headed to view the base stones for the wall around Jerusalem that dates back to the time of Christ. We were descending a circular construction staircase while a large group was trying to use the same staircase to go up. Our first 8 people made it down before the group came up. The remainder of our group (with me in the lead) had to wait for a break. The first group turned right—however no one in the second group knew about the turn so we kept going. The tunnel was very narrow, slippery in some areas, poorly lit, and a challenge in nature. About 600 meters later we are at the pool of Siloam. That took us about 45 minutes to negotiate. The first group had arrived at their destination in 5 minutes. As it turns out, we were the first tourists ever to go down that particular tunnel that they are excavating. It was a real adventure to say the least!
We closed the day listening to Pastor Chuck’s teaching as we sat on the very steps that led up to the Temple in Jesus’ time. In fact, he may have stood where I was siting while he was teaching. Talk about a humbling experience!
The last two days have been phenomenal. Yesterday we drove from Tiberius to Qumran where, in the 1950’s, preserved scrolls were found in the mountain caves near the Dead Sea. Excavation near the caves has also uncovered the living area of the Essenes who copied the Old Testament scrolls and put them in pots to be stored and preserved to prove the Bible has not changed since its original writings. God preserved His word as He stated He would.
The next stop was En Gedi which is an oasis area next to the Dead Sea. This area has natural springs in the mountains that create waterfalls and pools. It also has many natural caves. So many, in fact, David and his men hid from King Saul in them. It’s easy to see why David went there to hide and live temporarily.
Lunch and celebrating Missy Robbin’s birthday in Jericho was followed by baptisms in the Jordan river just north of the Dead Sea. This was a wonderful experience. Pastor Chuck baptized my wife Lisa, me and most of the others in our group. We were literally just a few feet from the country of Jordan in the vicinity near where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. We were all blown away by the moving of The Holy Spirit.
Next up was mud bathing in the Dead Sea. So we got covered with mud and then floated around in the water. Our skin was super sausage from the heavy salt content.
Today was just as exciting. We started by going to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus would come to this very area to pray. We also went to the adjacent garden where the Apostles fell asleep instead of praying with Him. We had this garden to ourselves for 45 minutes. Pastor Chuck taught and we spent 30 minutes quietly seeking God in prayer and listening. It was a beautiful time dedicated to God’s glory and Will for our lives.
We then went to the City of David which is buried beneath the current city. Our guide Judah shared his humor and knowledge of what archeologists have found and how it backs up the very Word of God in the Bible. You have to want pretty desperately to be atheist to hear and see this and still not believe in the God of the Bible.
We took a twenty minute walk thru King Hezekiah’s tunnel which brought water from outside the walls of Jerusalem to the people inside. The entire walk was in the water as it still flows today. It was exhilarating. This walk ended at the Pools of Siloam where ritual bathing was done before going to the temple. This is also the place where Jesus healed the blind man on the sabbath.
We then continued underground to the base of the western wall. Well, at least some of us made it there. Others made a wrong turn and ended up at the Pools of Siloam again. I guess they needed extra cleaning of their sin!
We ended the day with more Bible study in the Psalms of the Ascent. They are psalms 120-134. We walked the steps that Jesus walked to enter Jerusalem. He forgave the adulteress woman here also.
Needless to say we are all in awe of what we have learned and how it is changing our lives.