by Pastor Andy Braams
Before we continued along the Via Dolorosa (way of suffering), our group took a detour to see the Western (Wailing) Wall. The wall separates the Jews from the Temple Mount – the location of the two previous temples. The wall itself is over 2,000 years old and is often referred to as the “Wailing Wall” because it is where many Jews have wept because of the destruction of the two temples of the past (one destroyed about 587 B.C. by the Babylonians, and the other by the Romans in 70 A.D.). This site of prayer is the closest that Jews can get to the Temple Mount and thus the site itself is considered holy. Thousands of prayer requests are wedged into any slight crack in the wall. Unfortunately, it appeared that many were praying to the wall itself. This may be a misinterpretation on my part, but many would touch the wall and even kiss it as if the wall itself was the focus.
After leaving the wall, we continued through the various stations of the cross towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (pronounced sep-lek-ure). As I mentioned last week, this church is another presumed site of Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb. Again, the debate is over the exact details of where, but NOT if, Jesus died and rose to life. The important truth that Jesus did die to purchase our pardon, and that He arose to offer us eternal life is not the matter of question among those who debate the place.
The church itself is another ancient site that is owned in part by the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and the Egyptian Coptics. The untrained eye could not tell any real difference in walking throughout the church, but each group had its own portion of the church inside. The setting was quite different from the Garden Tomb where we had been two days prior. Being inside, the walls and ceilings were decorated very ornately. I have no way to reference how old some of the artwork was, but much of it was likely hundreds of years old and was quite exquisite in places.
As for the tomb, the interior had many candles and other items prepared for a continual vigil, while the walls were adorned with various artwork and carvings. The setting was truly reminiscent of the cave we had seen at the Church of the Nativity, though this specific area was much larger than the small portion of the cave where the birth is said to have occurred in Bethlehem.
As we departed Jerusalem for the final time, we left through the Jaffa Gate. The gate itself was built in the 16th Century, but this gate has a mezuzah on it (see picture). Mezuzah is actually the term that is used to describe the parchment that has the writings from two specified passages in Deuteronomy. The first passage is called the Shema which is taken from Deuteronomy 6.4-9 and instructs the Israelites to write the Lord’s commands on the “doorposts of your house and your gates.” The second passage, Deuteronomy 11.13-21 has similar instructions. To protect the parchment, containers, like the one pictured, were made to store the parchment inside. The containers are called a mezuzah as well.
Leaving Jerusalem near the Hinnom Valley provided another lesson that morning. This valley was known as Gehenna in the days of Jesus and was the location where people put their trash for it to be burned. Thus, this term was used by Jesus when He referred to hell. When Judas hung himself after betraying Jesus, the Bible says that his body fell headfirst into Akeldama, which is on the south face of the valley of Hinnom. Therefore, it is not a stretch to say that Judas’ body literally fell toward the place that Jesus used as His reference for hell.
Next week, we will conclude our eighth day with a look at the City of David, the home of Samuel, and also the home of John the baptizer.