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In the Footsteps of Jesus

November 18, 2011 by Chelsea Slone

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Throughout my life I have created a bucket list of places to visit and as I got older some of those places changed in order and few were checked off the list, but there was one place which remained unchanged and at the top, that place was Israel.

I could write forever about my visit to Israel, how much I learned, the way it made me feel, and what I took away from it, but the truth is I’m still learning from it and taking away something new from there in my thoughts everyday. Growing up in a Christian School and being apart of a Church I had heard and read all the stories from the Bible more times than I can count and I found it to be the one part of history I truly had a passion for studying. But as I stood on the Mount of Olives looking over the city of Jerusalem and thought back to all I had learned up to that point in my life, an indescribable feeling came over me and in one surreal moment I realized I was standing not only in the country, but in the place where those stories, where history had taken place. I was for the first time in my life literally walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

As we walked down the Mount of Olives, we stopped and referred back to several verses where it was mentioned in the Bible and reflected back on its significance to Christ. This was a place where Jesus spent much of his time in his finals days and it also tells us in Acts 1:1-12 that after the Resurrection Jesus appeared on the Mount of Olives before his disciples and he ascended into Heaven from there. We continued down Mount of Olives and into the Gardens of Gethsemane, where Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested. Next to the gardens is the Church of All Nations built to celebrate and represent these gardens.

We then continued down and into the Old City walls of Jerusalem to visit the Wailing Wall and the Temple Mount. The Wailing Wall is the section of the Western supporting wall of the Temple Mount which has remained intact since the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple (70 C.E.) and it is a very important place for the Jewish people as it is believed that the holy presence never left here. Many people come to this wall to pray, weep, and even write their prayers to place on the wall.

Behind and above the Wailing Wall is the Temple Mount, a site mentioned numerous times in the Bible. Due to the current state of the site today, being a Muslim Mosque, many Christians would not consider it to be a Holy site. However, the history that took place here is undeniable. With it being the location of Mount Moriah, this is the place where Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice. The life of David and his purchase of the threshing floor there 1000 years later as well as the history of the kings and the two temples is of great importance to Christians as well. In the New Testament there are several recordings of Jesus in the Second Temple In Luke 2, John 2:14, Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15-19, and Luke 19:45-48. The problem is that every trace of historic occupation of the Temple Mount by either Jews or Christians has been eradicated by the Muslims-consistent with their theology that Islam has replaced both Judaism and Christianity as a later and more perfect revelation from God. We visited the Temple Mount, as we wanted to stand and walk around where these stories in the Bible had taken place, but the tension of the different religions together in the one place was undeniable.

We left the Temple Mount to follow the path of Jesus through his last steps or The Way of the Cross. We walked the path where it is believed that in these different places Jesus was condemned to death, denied by Peter, crowned with thorns, takes up His cross, helped by Simon to carry His cross, where Jesus met with the women of Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified and promised His kingdom to repent the thief, where Jesus died on the cross, and laid in the tomb. While there are marks of Jesus’ handprint on a wall corner and a hole where the cross was said to have been driven into the ground I do still realize many Biblical scholars have different opinions on the exact location where these events took place. But after walking throughout the entire city and standing in the center of Jerusalem all that truly maters is that it did happen here, not the exact spot on the ground where it took place.

As the day was coming to an end we made one more stop before heading back, and that was to visit Mount Zion. This is the place where King David’s tomb is held and also the location of the Last Supper. It was truly a surreal day, to walk where Jesus walked and pray where he prayed and just to be in the place where He spent his final days on earth fills you with emotions. It was truly one of the most memorable days of my life.

Day two began with some footsteps through the life of John the Baptist. We visited the place he was born and where his family lived in the summers.

We also took a trip to the Holocaust Museum, which had a beautiful memorial in memory of all the people who tragically lost their lives in such a horrible event in our history. The museum itself was heartbreaking, but very informative and detailed with testimonies and articles of the how these horrible events in history took place.

After taking a short visit to see the Israeli parliment we went to the Israel Museum. The museum had an amazing model of the Old City during the Second Temple period. Also in the museum is the Shrine of the Book, which holds some of the most important orginal Bibical documents of all time, the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls, one of the book of Isaiah, were found in caves near the Dead Sea between the years 1947 and 1956.

On our third day in Israel we drove down to the Dead Sea to visit a couple sites and then of course spend some time floating in the Dead Sea. Our first stop was at Masada. Masada is a fortress-palace that was built by a Judean king in the late second century BC. In the first century BC it was embellished by King Herod, and then during the Roman siege of AD 66-74, the site was defended to the death by Jewish rebels. After leaving Masada we visited a little oasis in the middle of the desert called En Gedi. The little hike up the cliff is filled with beautiful little waterfalls and is said to be a natural spa with it’s hot springs and mineral waters.

After a little hike up to this beautiful area we finally made our way to the Dead Sea to see if all the rumors of not being able to sink were true. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth and it isn’t actually a sea, it’s a saltwater lake. It is true, you can’t sink! The water is so salty it makes you buoyant and also prevents the Sea from having any living marine life. The Dead Sea is filled with minerals and is said to treat a number of skin problems as well as other health problems. The mud from the Dead Sea is said to be very good for your skin and so along with everyone else we tested out this mineral filled mud and floated along the Dead Sea for a while!

After exploring much of Jerusalem and it’s surroundings we made our way up to the Sea of Galilee, stopping to visit Caesarea on the way. The city of Caesarea built on the coastline as apart of Herod the Great’s ambitious plan to Hellenise the Holy Land. This well known historical site is mentioned in the Bible in the book of Acts chapter ten and twenty-three.

Visiting the Sea of Galilee was one of my favorite parts of our trip to Israel for several reasons. This beautiful area is where Jesus preformed many of his miracles and met his first disciples Simon Peter, James, and John. I could have spent weeks walking around the Sea of Galilee and sitting by the beautiful waters to read about the miracles Jesus preformed here. It truly was a peaceful spiritual place you didn’t want to leave. As the Bible tells us this is where Jesus calmed the waters from the storm, He walked on water to his disciples, He preached the Sermon of the Mount, and where He fed the 5,000 men women and children with five loaves of bread and two fish. Off the shores of the Sea of Galilee we visited the little town of Capernaum, which is said to be a place that played a big role in Jesus’ ministry. Today it is considered “The Town of Jesus” and is the location of Peter’s house. We ended our day in the city of Cana where it is said in John 2:1-11 Jesus preformed his first miracle by turning water into wine at a wedding ceremony.

The next day we drove along the Jordan Valley to visit Mount Tabor. This magnificent view from the mountain made it a holy place since early Biblical times. This is said to be the place where the miracle of the Transfiguration took place, and today there is a church built here to commerate it. We then made our way to the city of Nazareth, where Jesus was from. In the tiny orginal city walls the Basilica of the Annunciation was built according to the most modern representation of the Catholic Chuch. The Basilica houses dozens of specially designed icons of Mary, representing Catholic communities from all over the world.

It was now time to cross the boarder over to Jordan, and I don’t think any of us were ready to leave but we knew Jordan would have some amazing things in store for us as well. Our first stop in Jordan was at the ancient and well preserved Greco-Roman city of Jerash. These ruins were spectular, and as we learned the most well preserved Roman ruins outside of Italy.

Our next stop was in a little town called Madaba, where we were able to see a very special mosaic map on floors of the Greek- Orthodox Church. This famous 6th century mosaic floor map shows the Holy Land just as it was more than 15 centuries ago. It is the oldest map of the Holy Land existing today. From this church we drove up to Mount Nebo. This is the place where it is believed Moses saw the Promised Land for the first time but was never allowed to enter. It is also believe this is the place Moses died and was buried. On a clear day at Mount Nebo you can see all the way across the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea to the rooftops of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Our last stop in Jordan was at the Ancient City of Petra, our 6th wonder of the world to see this year! Petra, the fabled “rose red city, half as old as time”, is a well known ancient Nabataean city in the South of Jordan. It was the impressive capital of the Nabataean kingdom from around the 6th century BC. The kingdom was absorbed into the Roman Empire in AD 106 and the Romans continued to expand the city. An important center for trade and commerce, Petra continued to flourish until a catastrophic earthquake destroyed buildings and crippled vital water management systems around AD 663. After Saladin’s conquest of the Middle East in 1189, Petra was abandoned and the memory of it was lost to the West. The ruins remained hidden to most of the world until the Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, disguised as an Arab scholar, infiltrated the Bedouin-occupied city in 1812. Burckhardt’s accounts of his travels inspired other Western explorers and historians to discover the ancient city further. The first real excavations of the site were in 1929 after the forming of Trans-Jordan. Since that time, Petra has become by far Jordan’s most popular attraction, partially due to the exposure by the Steven Spielberg movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in 1989. Due to the fantastic engineering accomplishments and well-preserved dimension of Petra, the archaeological site was chosen in July 2007 as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

After spending a day exploring this incredible archaeological site we were on our way back to Israel. Our journey through Jordan had taken us from the top of the country all the way to the bottom, making us cross back over into Israel in the city of Eilat. We spent the next couple of days in Eilat relaxing in the Red Sea, safariing through the desert, and reflecting back on everything we had seen. Our two weeks in Israel and Jordan flew by faster than I could have ever imagined, but I can truly say without a doubt it was one of my favorite places to ever visit and one of the most incredible spiritual experiences I’ve ever had.

T+C

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