By Mary Proctor
The land of Israel is a testament to the love and faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God. So I especially looked forward to my first visit there. But when I discovered that the terrain in and around Jerusalem had vastly changed from New Testament times, I was disappointed. Now I couldn’t trod in the same places Jesus did–as if that would have made me feel closer to Him. Duh. It took me a few minutes to regain my perspective that He’d never leave nor forsake me whether I walked in His footsteps are not.
With today’s urban sprawl, at first I also struggled to picture the rural localities that existed in the first century. Though very few sites are touted by all scholars to be the “real thing,” most of the time a strong sense of reverence permeated the atmosphere where we visited. Archeological diggings are ongoing with exciting new discoveries showing up as time goes on. For example, a new Pool of Siloam and a portion of the south wall of the second temple were unearthed last year, places where Jesus would have visited.
As with the older structures, modern buildings in Jerusalem are built with limestone (Jerusalem stone), and at sunset the city takes on a marvelous golden hue, which is breathtaking to behold. And seeing the hills reminded me of Jesus weeping over the city. It rests on Mt. Moriah, and many of the streets were so steep, it was a challenge to walk up them. Not only that, we had to zigzag from one side of the street to the other to come back down those sharp grades. Hurrying down in a straight line would have done bad things to my calf muscles and ankles, since I wasn’t used to those severe angles. People either did the zigzag thing or walked with slow, cautious steps. In the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, I sensed the hovering presence of our loving Father. It was as if His arms embraced the area and the people within, many of whom had dark hair and eyes. I found them very beautiful–a fact Roseanna brings out in her character, Abigail, in A Stray Drop of Blood.
The “holy sites” moved me deeply whether they were authenticated or not. But when I first saw Golgotha, or Calvary, I was stunned. I’d expected a hill in a rustic location where worshippers could come and draw near to the place Jesus gave His life. But it’s not like that at all. Today’s Golgotha is a small, inaccessible hill with a Moslem cemetery on top of it. And it’s flanked on one side by a widely used blacktopped road that leads to Jericho and Damascus. Two thousand years ago, it was an ideal location for the Romans to display those whom they crucified. They purposely used sites near heavily travelled roads so as many people as possible would see their victims–a reminder to the living to obey their conquerors, or else. Most scholars feel certain Jesus trudged on it to Calvary. But now a noisy Arab bus station sits at the base of the hill, which is easily seen from across the street where the Garden Tomb is. Even so, meditating on Jesus’ final hours before His death helped me see with spiritual eyes, and I was able to ignore the secularism and worship Jesus for the sacrifices He made for my eternal salvation.
The Garden Tomb contains an ancient cistern and a network of irrigation channels, is inside the city gates across from Golgotha, and is hewn out of rock with a groove across the front for the large round stone to seal it. For these reasons most scholars feel that it likely is the sepulcher where Jesus’ body lay until God raised Him from the dead. Though there was a crowd each time I visited, I couldn’t linger, but I experienced a sense of awe when I stepped into the tomb and found it empty. Jesus isn’t there. He is risen. Hallelujah!
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