By Paulette Richardson
Ever since I became a Christian, it has always been a dream of mine to visit Jerusalem and see for myself where my faith was born and my salvation won. My dream became a reality this year when I joined a group of fellow pilgrims who, like myself, longed to walk where Jesus walked.
Let me say right up front that safety was not an issue. I felt safer in Israel than I had when I walked the streets of some of our own major cities. Yes, we did see the Israeli army, the Palestinian army and the Jordanian army, but in no way were they threatening. Most of the time they were stationed at border crossings, not unlike our own borders. So, with that said, let me share some of my dream come true.
We were in Israel for 8 days, and truly I cannot begin to relate the whole experience. Each day we visited multiple places that, until we were standing there, had only been names in the Bible. I was prepared to be overwhelmed when we gained entrance to the Temple Mount, for this was the place God had chosen to call home. Here was the place Abraham brought Isaac to be sacrificed. Here was the place where so many animals had been sacrificed to cover sin. And here was where Jesus had overturned the tables and declared this to be his Father’s house and not a den of thieves. Truly, this was holy ground.
Yet it was on the steps leading into the temple area that I was touched the most. These were the steps that Jesus and the disciples would have climbed to enter the Temple Mount. On these very steps, Jesus had taught. Jesus had boldly declared his message for all to hear about his Father’s kingdom. As I sat on these steps, I could not help but pray that God would strengthen me as a teacher of his word, to boldly declare his truth to those he places in my path.
We walked the Via Delarosa through the Old City of Jerusalem, envisioning Jesus carrying his cross to Golgatha, where he would be crucified for all our sins. It was not hard to imagine the people lining the streets to see this “King of the Jews” – all wanting to see what the Romans were going to do to him. I could not help but wonder if I would have been there watching had I lived during that time.
We spent three days around the Sea of Galilee. Most of Jesus’ ministry occurred in that area. It was not difficult to picture Jesus walking the shores of this great lake, going from town to town gathering his disciples. Nor was it difficult to imagine Jesus feeding the 5,000 or retreating to the hills for a time of solitude and prayer. We sailed the Sea of Galilee from the eastern shore to the western shore knowing that Jesus and the disciples had done this often. The following day, the winds coming off the surrounding hills prevented others from crossing, not unlike times the disciples struggled to cross this lake.
On our way south to Jericho, we came to the wilderness where John the Baptist would have baptized many in preparation for the coming Messiah. The Jordan River, though smaller than I imagined, flowed swiftly between Israel and Jordan. We renewed our Baptismal vows, remembering only too clearly that John baptized Jesus here, and from here Jesus would ascend to the mountains surrounding Jericho and be tempted by Satan for 40 days in the wilderness.
The Judean wilderness is quite magnificent, not unlike our own Grand Canyon. The ruggedness of the area brings to life how difficult a journey it would have been to traverse these mountains in order to worship in the holy city of Jerusalem. High atop the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the words of Psalm 23 came to life for us all.
Further south along the Dead Sea we came to Masada, a fortress built by Herod high above the sea itself. Riding up the cable car to the top of the mount, we walked to where Herod resided – the same place where some of the Jewish survivors of the Destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. escaped to, holding off the Romans troops for three years. It was here that the 960 zealots chose to end their own lives rather than become slaves of the Romans once again.
Contrary to the desolation and heat of Masada, Caesarea Maritime on the Mediterranean Sea offered us cool sea breezes and the remains of a city that was once the capital of this land. It was here that Pontius Pilate would oversee the land for the Roman government when he was not in Jerusalem itself. This was a very active seaport, connecting this land to Rome. It was here that Paul was imprisoned for two years until his voyage to be tried in Rome. A Roman coliseum and theater along with the governing palace can still be clearly seen.
I have shared with you just a few of the places we were able to visit during our time in Israel. As I think back on this trip, I realize that my words do not begin to express the impact this pilgrimage has had on my life. I believe all who visit this holy land will be touched in one way or another. It is my desire to revisit this land next February and bring others with me. This is too special not to share. If you would like more information about this trip, please call me at Fairfield Glade United Methodist Church, 484-3473.