“Please wear appropriate clothing and stay on marked paths.” The signs read. “Keep your voice at a low level. This is a Holy place.”
Wednesday night we entered Jerusalem and we have spent the last two days in Bethlehem and Jerusalem visiting holy places. Some sites, like the temple mount and western wall required extra security to pass. These are locations that are holy to Christians, Jews, and Muslims around the world and people flock to visit. Other sites, like the southern steps of the temple, the hills of Bethlehem and the Pools of Siloam and Bethesda, may be the very places where stories we’ve heard and read all our lives actually took place. And then there were the churches of the Via Dolorosa that have less historical significance but are beautiful and holy places of worship that represent events from Jesus’ last day.
Walking in these places and hearing gallons of history has been anything but easy. In fact as I sit here I realize I don’t really have all that much to say. To be honest, I’ve struggled immensely with what we have done here and I’m still wrestling and reconciling with that, so I will leave you with a few details of what we learned at some of these places.
Temple Mount is where both temples once stood. The large gold dome of the rock shelters the place where the holy of holies once sat. Also on the temple mount is the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site for Muslims. Temple Mount is currently under Muslim control and as they keep that site holy for themselves, it sometimes feels repressive to the other visitors. On temple mount we stood at the corner of what would be the pinnacle of the temple where the devil told Jesus to throw himself down. Our guide said this was the first time he was allowed to walk on this part of Temple Mount. I pray that these three groups of people can continue to get along and work together to preserve these places that are holy to all of them.
The Western Wall of the temple is a holy site for Jewish, Muslim, and Christian people to pray. People pray at this wall because it was the closest to the holy of holies which was at the back of the temple when the temple was still standing. It is believed that the spirit of God still dwells in the wall. Our guide shared with us that this is such an important place for Jews to come and pray because they believe that the temple was destroyed because of their sin so they are begging for forgiveness and believe that if they pray enough and in the right way God will give them another temple.
The Southern Steps of the temple would have been the main entrance. A winding staircase surrounded by mikvahs (ritual bathing areas) leads up to the grand staircase and three arches. Here we told the story of Pentecost and entertained the idea of the fire appearing above their heads and the Holy Spirit entering the people as they were ascending the stairs to the temple.
On the shepherds hills of Bethlehem we saw the caves where shepherds lived. We told the Christmas story and learned more about how shepherds cared for their sheep and why they were such important players in that story.
At both the Pool of Siloam and the Pool of Bethesda we read about the miracles that Jesus performed and took in the size of those pools.
One day left here in Jerusalem.