Forgiveness Among The Goats

Some of our band of Holy Land pilgrims will be leaving us today, but others of us will be journeying a bit longer, and one of the places we'll be visiting today is En Gedi National Park.  

En Gedi is a beautiful and historic park with a great hike that leads you to the spring-fed David's Waterfall.  The waterfall is so named because of this story from 1 Samuel chapter 24 where a disturbed King Saul is chasing David into the wilderness near the Dead Sea.  

24 After Saul returned from pursuing the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the Desert of En Gedi.” 2 So Saul took three thousand able young men from all Israel and set out to look for David and his men near the Crags of the Wild Goats.

Can I tell you that the descendants of the wild goats that are mentioned here are still roaming around En Gedi.  You can see them all over the place when you visit.  Let's continue the story, though:  

3 He came to the sheep pens along the way; a cave was there, and Saul went in to relieve…

An Everlasting Name

Today is our last day of pilgrimage in the Holy Land, and no trip to the Holy Land would be complete without a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in the northern suburbs of Israel on Mt. Herschel.  

The meaning of the words Yad Vashem in English is essentially, "everlasting name," and comes from Isaiah 56:5, which reads: "To them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever."

The 2-3 hour tour through Yad Vashem is an incredibly sobering and heart-wrenching experience.  As you walk through the exhibits, you feel as though you are traveling deeper and deeper into darkness.  

I have found myself being brought to tears of repentance as I read the way that Christians all over the world twisted Scripture and did violence to the Gospel in order to justify not only their participation in the Holocaust, but also their indifference to it.  

How that must have…

Before The Rooster Crows

As we're on pilgrimage in Jerusalem today, our Holy Land pilgrimage will take us to the church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, a name derived from the Latin for "cock's crow."  

The church is built on the site where the High Priest, Caiaphas, lived, and where Jesus was brought to be interrogated after he was betrayed. 

Peter followed behind as Jesus was brought to Caiaphas bound and beaten, and he hung around outside in the courtyard of Caiaphas' house.  It was there that he denied Jesus three times, just as Jesus predicted he would--"before the rooster crowed" at the dawn.  

I've always been intrigued by how Peter had to escalate his denials.  Read through the passage and see if you find it interesting: 

69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.

70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

71 Then he went out to the gateway, where …

The Sermon On The Steps

Today our band of Holy Land pilgrims will be visiting the Southern Steps of Herod's Temple.  These were also known as the Teaching Steps, because it was a common sight to see rabbis teaching their disciples upon them.  

You can still stand on a portion of those same steps not long after you walk on the first century streets that led worshippers and visitors to the Temple by a marketplace.  Jesus almost assuredly would have walked those same streets, and he undoubtedly taught on the Southern Steps.  

But the story that we'll be focusing on today is from Acts chapter 2---the Day of Pentecost, which occurred roughly fifty days after Jesus was raised from the dead.  It was the Feast of Shavuot, or the "Feast of Weeks," one of the great feasts in the Jewish tradition.  

The Feast of Shavuot commemorates the moment when God gave the Law to Moses--49 days after the first Passover when the Israelites fled slavery in Egypt.  

In Acts chapter 2, Peter stands on the Southern Steps …

The God of Angel-Armies Is On Your Side

Among the many places we'll be visiting today in our Holy Land pilgrimage, we'll be spending some time at Jericho.  Jericho is now officially under the governance of the Palestinian Authority, so our guide won't be able to guide us in an official capacity.  

When you visit Jericho, you'll get the opportunity to see Elisha's Spring, a spring that once flowed with bitter water, until it was healed by the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 2:21), and you'll probably want to take a photo by the mosaic fountain that is emblazoned with the words, "The Oldest City In The World."  

But it's the "Tel" that will take up most of your visit--a large hill with thousands of years of civilization buried beneath it.  The story that captures our imagination the most, however, is the one we find in the Hebrew Scriptures in Joshua chapters 5 & 6.  

This is of course the story of how Joshua and the Hebrew people conquered the great walled city of Jericho without a si…

On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand

Today our pilgrimage in the Holy Land will take us to the Jordan River and the Yardenit baptismal site.  

The site we'll be visiting is far from the traditional site where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, which is to the south, near Jericho.  This site also happens to be the spot where the Israelites miraculously crossed the Jordan River on their way to enter and take the Promised Land.  

Some scholars also believe that it's also the site where the river miraculously parted when Elijah struck the river with his cloak so that he and his apprentice Elisha could walk over on dry land.  Elisha in turn struck the river with Elisha's cloak when he returned from seeing his master taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire. 

So the baptismal site of Jesus (the traditional one) is pretty important.  

Mark's Gospel notes the baptism of Jesus with these words: 

9 At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up…

Blessed Be

Today our Holy Land pilgrimage will take us to the Mount of Beatitudes, the traditional site where Jesus is believed to have delivered the Sermon on the Mount.  The Beatitudes are found in the first few verses of Matthew chapter 5: 

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for i…