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Israel Holy Trip tour 2018 Day 4: Feeling small in a big land

October 5, 2018

1This morning I stepped out into the hall of Tay Beh’s Golden Hotel and was greeted with a sweet, deep smell of citrus.  It was a gentle aroma carried along the corridor as I descended the steps into the main lobby and headed toward the breakfast area.  I was greeted by our host Elena and poured myself a small white handle-less porcelain cup of outrageously good Arabic coffee and sat down with another deep breath.

The one great regret that I have is that I cannot bring the aroma of Israel back with me.

The smell of this coffee.

The spices of the market in Jerusalem’s Christian quarter.

The scented candles of the Church of St. Anne’s.

The flower gardens of the Russian Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives.

I am impressed with the aromatic side of worship in the Holy Land.

Smell is a part of the human existence, and as with other our other senses, we can use them in the spiritual walk in our lives. Think of how our senses are incorporated: we hear the songs of praise and the Scripture teaching; we see the Word in front of us and study its message; we taste of the good foods in our celebratory feasts at church and festivals.  Smell is also a very deep part of the Holy Land life, I am discovering more and more each day here.  The whole experience of smells reminds me that the different churches and cultures thank and honor the Lord with more than music, recitation and architecture.  You see in many places the aromatic worship of the Most High within the realm of the congregation’s meeting place.  As I stood next to an elderly Russian hostess at an ornate sanctuary and tried my best to understand her broken English, I took in the scents of the spices and candles and realized that this was part of their joyous celebration of the Lord.

It was just a part of the deepening learning experience of being here on our fourth day of the trip.

Yesterday’s oppressive heat couldn’t dissuade our determination to learn of Jerusalem.  Dr. Hudson gestured towards the massive numbers of Jewish graves facing the Eastern Gate.  “They are positioned to face the Temple Mount – and the coming Messiah.”  He pointed out the curious numbers of rocks placed on top of the stone graves. “These are stones of remembrance,” he said, “of giving honor to those who have passed on.”

The Eastern Gate, also known as the Golden Gate, is shut by a massive stone blockage.  I tried to imagine that this location was the entryway of Jesus – on the back of a simple donkey – in a grand entrance beginning the Passover Week and in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9’s call for the Messiah to enter on a lowly pack animal.   I also did my best to picture the future event that will see this very Gate shatter from the disruption of an earthquake that will throw the grave sites aside and form a new valley that bisects the Kidron Valley we are viewing.  The coming Lord will then answer the Zechariah 14 prophecy of descending onto the Mount of Olives and causing the catastrophic seismic event.  He will walk through the now-crumbled Eastern Gate and answer Ezekiel 44’s prophecy of the “opening” of the gate to welcome in the Prince of Eternity.

Our later visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was a second part of the reflection of this Christ.  Such magnificence in architecture is meant to honor the supreme sacrifice of Jesus for all of mankind, and yet this church should not be seen as the last of people’s pilgrimage; this is the gateway to the road of salvation.   I ascended the steps to the Golgotha scene and knelt under the altar to view a decorated opening over the top of the rock edifice.  I reached into the hole and felt the smooth rock.  Was this the exact place of the cross of Jesus?  We will never know here on earth, but does that really matter?  I enjoyed the sensation of reverence and the intensity of the moment, but touching a rock does not enhance my salvation or my daily walk with Jesus.  Walking into the site of what is purported to be the tomb of Jesus was exciting and fulfilling but I don’t need this as a necessary part of a pilgrimage.

Each evening I have been having live real-time classroom broadcasts (via Facebook Live) to my students back at Grace Christian Academy in Knoxville, Tennessee.  The teens will type in questions about my day’s experience. One question brought up was: What does this trip do for me?

There are so many things I could say.  I floated clumsily in the densely salted Dead Sea.  I felt the cold waters and moved past the reeds of the slow-moving Jordan  River.  I tasted the fresh dates and olives of Tay Beh’s gardens.

But what did this trip do for me?  Oh, that’s an easy answer…

It adds to my understanding.  It adds another dimension to my years of Biblical learning; I feel my grasp of the Scriptures growing in both the abstract and concrete aspects of comprehension.  I mean, I can see Jesus walking around the wilderness hillside we are  visiting.  As we stand next to the ruins I could feel the intensity of the Masada synagogue meeting where they decided to choose suicide rather than slavery to the encroaching Roman army.  I can measure out, actually and physically walk off the size of the huge cistern the held Masada’s water reserve.  I can also march through the secret Akko tunnels and take in the immensity of the work involved.

And most of all today, I can relate to the restlessness that John the Baptist felt when Jesus came to him for baptism.  Jacob, Ethan, Daniel, and Dennis requested that I baptize them in the Jordan River.  I am always stuck with a feeling of deep unworthiness whenever I am called to perform the baptism and today – in the Jordan River, mind you – I am humbled beyond words.

This week has been like that in many ways.

Israel is so intense in numerous aspects, with diverse and engaging peoples and buildings echo history.

I stand in the face of such massive history – just as I stood at the edge of Herod’s terrace and looked out over the vast Judean desert – and I feel now just as I did then.

I feel small.

And that’s a good perspective for me.

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