May 2018 Extensive Israel Tour Summary – Day 10


(Theme of the Day: Jesus and His redemptive plan) 

Today is an historic day here in Jerusalem. It is special to be here the day that the US Embassy officially moves to Jerusalem. It would be another sunny day, with highs in the 70s.

Mt. of Olives


Jerusalem from the Mt. of Olives

Leaving the hotel around 7:30, we drove around the Old City to the Mt. of Olives. Here we enjoyed a panoramic view of the City of David (to the south), the Temple Mount, and entire Old City below. We read from Luke 19 (Palm Sunday), and Zechariah 14 (Christ’s Second Coming). We celebrated Christ as King!

Garden of Gethsemane

We walked down this western slope of the Mt. of Olives to an area designated as the Garden of Gethsemane. In full view of the Eastern Gate (Ezekiel 44), we pondered the words of Jesus, “not my will but yours be done…” from Luke 22. These were words that displayed Jesus’ willingness to endure the cross. 

Old City: Pools of Bethesda & St. Anne’s Church, and Holy Sepulcher Church

Bethesda Pool

The Pool of Bethesda

Walking down to the Kidron Valley and then back up to the St. Stephen’s (also called Lion’s and Jericho Gate), we entered the Old City. Our first stop was the St. Anne’s Church. It was a Crusader Church with wonderful acoustics (an 8 second echo). We sang a few songs, with Ruth sharing a special song as well. On the same grounds are the archaeological ruins of the Pools of Bethesda. This is where the paralyzed man was healed by Jesus (John 5). Built over these ruins were Late Roman and Crusader churches. 

Walking the Via Dolorosa (the “way of the cross,” even though Jesus carried the cross from the opposite direction), we arrived at the Holy Sepulcher Church. It was built in the 4th century AD. This location serves as one of two suggested sites for the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Inside the Edicule is the suggested actual tomb of Jesus. Close by in the Christian Quarter we ate lunch.




Walking out of the Jaffa Gate, we met our bus and drove to Herodium. This is an archaeological site excavated for over 35 years. It was a palace-fortress of Herod the Great. While this Judean king died in Jericho in 4 BC, he was buried here. We climbed to the top of the site where we had a wonderful view of the area. To the north we could see Jerusalem; to the east the Judean Desert and the Dead Sea; to the south the village of Tekoa; and to the west Bethlehem. Among the ruins we saw were the towers, the synagogue, the bathhouse, and the cistern system. 

Shepherds’ Fields

Driving to Beat Sahour, we visited the Shepherds’ Fields. Gathering in a cave, we considered the role of the shepherd in biblical days. We read from Micah 5 and Luke 2 about the birth narrative of Jesus. Also before leaving we enjoyed singing a few carols in the Chapel of the Shepherds. We sounded angelic!



Shepherd and angel relief (chapel of the Shepherds)

We ended the day in Bethlehem at an olive wood shop and store. The store is owned by Palestinian Christians. Bethlehem is known for its olive wood carvings. We enjoyed some shopping here.

We returned back to tour hotel. We passed close to where the new Embassy is now located.  Following dinner, we went to Ben Yehuda Street for a little taste of modern Israeli culture, shopping, and ice cream. We walked back to the hotel.


(Theme of the day: Facing the “walls” of life)

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmailby feather

March 2018 Israel-Jordan Tour Update – Day 10


Today was our first day in Jerusalem, and it was a great one! The weather was perfect, with full sun and temps in the low 70s.

Mt. of Olives

Mt. of Olives

The Old City and Temple Mount from the Mt. of Olives

Leaving the hotel about 7:30 after breakfast, we drove around the Old City of Jerusalem to the Mt. of Olives. Here we enjoyed a panoramic view of the entire Old City, the Temple Mount, the the City of David to the south. Walking down to the chapel called Dominus Flavet, we read from Luke 19 and Zechariah 14. From here we continued our walk to the Garden of Gethsemane. Brother Diego greeted us here. We also enjoyed a quite reflective time here, considering the passion of Jesus (Luke 22).

Old City

Garden of Gethsemane

Garden of Gethsemane

We walked to the Old City from here through St. Stephen’s Gate (also called the Lion’s and Jericho gate). At the Pools of Bethesda we read from John 5 about the healing that took place here. We also sounded angelic as we sang a few songs in St. Anne’s Church (Crusader, with an eight-second echo!). We continued our walk to the Holy Sepulcher Church in the heart of the Christian Quarter. This is one of two possible places for the crucifixion and burial tomb of Jesus. We explored the church on our own. It dates to 325 AD. We also ate lunch nearby.



Herodium – where Herod the Great was buried

We walked out of the Old City through the Jaffa Gate and boarded our bus. We drove southeast to Herodium. This was where Herod the Great was buried in 4 BC. We climbed this partially artificial hill to the top, offering us a good view of Jerusalem to the north, the Judean Desert to the east, Bethlehem to the west, and Tekoa to the south. We even saw some migrating storks fly overhead. We descended down through the cistern system of the site.

Shepherd’s Fields/Bethlehem

small lamb

A small lamb at the Shepherds’ Fields

Nearby in Beit Sahour, we made a brief stop at the Shepherds’ Fields. Descending into a cave at the Shepherds’ Fields, we read from Micah 5 and Luke 2, in celebration of Christ’s birth that came “just at the right time (Galatians 4:4).” We also sang a few carols in the cave as well as in the chapel. To end the day, we visited an olive wood shop and store owned by Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem. The olive wood pieces are amazing!

We drove back to the hotel for dinner and an optional walk to Ben Yehuda Street for some shopping and a taste of more modern Israeli life.


Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmailby feather

Day 11 Trip Summary – January 2018 14 Day Israel Tour


Today was our first full day here in Jerusalem! It would be a colder day, with highs in the upper 40s/low 50s, but we didn’t get the rain that was forecasted. What a blessing!

Mt. of Olives

Mt. of Olives

Jerusalem from the Mt. of Olives

Leaving the hotel at about 7:30, we read from Psalm 122 and 125. Driving around the northern side of the Old City, we made it to the top of the Mt. of OlivesWhat a view of the Temple Mount and Old City from here! Walking down the slope of the Mt. of Olives, we stopped briefly at Dominos Flavet, a chapel traditionally connected to Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. We read from Luke 19 and Zechariah 14.

Garden of Gethsemane

Walking all the way down the Mt. of Olives brought us to an area known as the Garden of Gethsemane. While we can’t specifically pinpoint where this was other than on the western slope of the mountain, this is where Jesus displayed His passion (“Not my will but yours be done“) and was betrayed by Judas. We read from Luke 22 and considered the passion and obedience of Christ even unto death.

Old City – Eastern Gate, Pools of Bethesda, Holy Sepulcher Church

Eastern Gate Jerusalem

Eastern Gate Jerusalem

Next, we walked to the base of the Eastern Gate. It is a massive gate that was closed in 810 AD. Ezekiel 44 mentions that when the Messiah comes, it will be opened. From here we entered the Old City through the St. Stephen’s (or Lion’s) Gate. Our first stop inside the Old City was the Pools of Bethesda. We read from John 5 here. Close by is the start of the Via Dolorosa. We walked to the Church of the Holy SepulcherThis is one of two locations for the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. We had lunch here in the Christian Quarter.


Walking out of the Old City through the Jaffa Gate, we drove southeast about 12 miles to HerodiumThis was where Herod the Great was buried (he reigned from 37-4 BC). We climbed this “artificial mound” to the top. While the view wasn’t great to the east, we could see back to Jerusalem from here to the north, the Judean Desert to the east, Tekoa to the south, and Bethlehem to the west. We walked down through the elaborate cistern system here.

Shepherds’ Fields / Bethlehem


Herodium – a palace-fortress of Herod the Great

Driving to the Shepherds’ Fields (in Beit Sahour), we enjoyed descending down into a cave. Here we considered Jesus being born perhaps in a cave like this. We read from Micah 2, 5, and Luke 2. We also sang a few Christmas carols. Before leaving the site, we entered the small chapel and enjoyed the acoustics there too! We sounded like heavenly angels! We ended the day by driving into Bethlehem to an olive wood shop and store.

We returned to the hotel for dinner and a free night.


Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmailby feather

The Key to the Holy Sepulcher Church

key to the church of the holy sepulcher

The actual key to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem (Credit: Sara Toth Stub)

When I pastored local churches (two of them over the course of 26 years), it goes without saying that I had a key to the church building. So did others, including most of the church leaders, the organist, the secretary, and our Preschool teachers. Once in a while when a church member who did not have a key to the church, they would knock on our front door asking to borrow the key. It was no problem to do so since we lived close to the church (only two houses down the street for the church in Evansville, MN). Having a key to the church was important!

There is a church in Jerusalem where having the key to the church is actually a big deal as well. In fact, for nearly 1,000 years, the precious key to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (built in 325 AD), belonged to a Muslim family. The reason may blow your mind!  Could we say that the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is priceless?


The Domes of the Holy Sepulcher Church (Credit: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

Todd Bolen (of Bible Places) just shared an intriguing article about the history of this brass key. I’ve known about this “key” issue for some time now, but the article offers peculiar details. In light of the current uncovering of the supposed tomb of Christ this last month (click HERE for the National Geographic article), the story of the key becomes even more interesting.

According to a 53 year-old Arab man named Adeeb Jawad Joudeh Al Husseini, the key to the church was given to his family by Saladin, the Arab invader of the Holy Land during the time of the Crusades. It was the year 1187. At the Horns of Hattim in the Galilee, Saladin offered a crushing blow to the Crusaders on July 4 of that year. Following this victory the Arab invaders advanced to Jerusalem. They would conquer Jerusalem too! According to how the “story” goes, Saladin wanted to make sure that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was not damaged in any way (unlike what happened in 1009 when the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim ordered churches in Israel to be burned. So according to Al Husseini, “Saladin gave our family the key to protect the church. For our family, this is an honour. And it’s not an honour just for our family, but it’s an honour for all Muslims in the world.”  So ever since 1187, the key has been in the possession of this Muslim family as well as another Muslim family, the Nuseibehs.  You can see them sitting outside the church almost every day!

Syrian monk in Holy Sepulcher Church

A Syrian Orthodox Archbishop, representing one of the sects that uses the church, prays over the Stone of Unction (Credit: Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

The key is about 8 inches long. The two massive wooden doors of the church are about 10 inches thick.

One of the reasons why these two families control the entrance into the church is because of the potential fractions that take place on a regular basis among the six different denominations who use various sections of the church – Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox.

According to the article,

Throughout history, relations have been fraught between the religious communities in this complex, sometimes leading to violence over which church controls which parts of the building. To this day, a 19th-century Ottoman decree attempts to keep these tensions in check by declaring that each church is limited to using the spaces in the building that they controlled back in 1853 when the decree was issued.”

The article shares even more detail about his the church is opened and closed:
“Every morning when the church’s doors open at 4 am, members of the two families – or a representative appointed by them – is present for what has emerged as a ceremonial act of cooperation. The Muslim representative unlocks the latch and pushes open one door, then a clergyman from the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox or Armenian Orthodox church – who take turns on a rotating basis – pull open the other door from inside, while clergy from the other denominations supervise. The same happens in reverse when the church closes at 7 pm.”
Al Husseini in Church of holy sepulcher

Al Husseini & Wajeeh Nuseibeh (credit: Sarah Toth Stub)

While Al Husseini’s family holds the key, the Nuseibeh family is charged with the physical work of opening and closing the church’s door, a duty they trace back to 637 when the caliph Omar first brought Islam to Jerusalem. Wajeeh Nuseibeh, 67, explained, “Our family first arrived to Jerusalem with Omar, and since then has been entrusted to protect the church from vandals.” However, Âl Huesseini contends that this is not true. He states, “This is not true what [Nuseibeh] says,” adding that shortly after his family received the keys from Saladin in 1187, they asked the Nuseibeh family to open and close the door, which involves climbing a ladder to reach the lock, while Al Husseini’s family remained the holder of the key. So there seems to be two different stories about the key!

The article continues about the historic disagreements and feuding that has taken place within the church among the denominations:

“Occasionally, these disagreements even threatened to spark conflict between world powers. In 1853, Russia threatened to invade Turkey if its Ottoman government, which also controlled Jerusalem, granted France’s request to give part of the Greek Orthodox area of the church to the Roman Catholics. This caused the Ottoman sultan Abdulmecid I to issue the decree saying that there would be no more transferring of property and rights inside the church. In addition to surviving the whims of Jerusalem’s governing powers, including hundreds of years when the caliphate charged pilgrims large sums of money to enter, the church has also been torn by inner conflict. Throughout history there have been clashes – sometimes violent – between various denominations over control of certain areas of the church, and the local powers, especially during Ottoman times, were often involved in redistributing rights and territories inside the building.”

tomb of Christ inside holy sepulcher church

The tomb of Christ within the church

A most recent brawl took place in 2008 between the Greek Orthodox and Armenian clergy over the route of the procession. For this reason, Al Husseini says, It’s no simple task to keep the peace.”

For the full BBC article, go HERE.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmailby feather

The Newly Exposed Tomb of Jesus!

holy sepulcher church tomb of Jesus

The traditional tomb of Jesus within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem (photo credit: Obed Balilty, AP for the National Geographic)

The central belief of Christianity is the death and resurrection of Jesus as the Savior of the world!

In this blog, I simply want to report to you an exciting update on the renovation of the suggested tomb of Christ within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Located within the heart of the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem, this church was originally built in 325 AD. Given the archaeological “evidence” of numerous other “2nd Temple tombs” in and around/below the church (which tell us that this was a burial place and this was outside the city walls of Jerusalem at the time of Christ), this most likely was at least the area where Jesus was buried following His death and crucifixion.

I say “at least the area” of Jesus’ tomb. But I also personally lean on suggesting that there is a medium to high probability that this is the actual tomb of Christ, given the historical records following the 1st century AD. But please know that I am not one who “worships the place,” as I like to say, but I rather “worship the Person,” namely, Jesus! So know that I am not one who gets hung up on the place.

But with this aside, in a recent exclusive article by National Geographic called “Christ’s Burial Place Exposed for First Time in Centuries” (for the full National Geographic article, go HERE), the original stone slab suggested to be where Christ’s body was laid in the tomb following his crucifixion has been once again revealed. I find this fascinating, actually. For the first time in centuries, the actual stone tomb has been covered by marble since at least 1555 A.D. has been uncovered.

The tomb of Christ

Removing the marble Edicule from the stone bench of the tomb (photo credit: Obed Balilty, AP for the National Geographic)

About the tomb itself, Fredrik Hiebert, archaeologists-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, said, “The marble covering of the tomb has been pulled back, and we were surprised by the amount of fill material beneath it. It will be a long scientific analysis, but we will finally be able to see the original rock surface on which, according to tradition, the body of Christ was laid.

According to the article, “This burial shelf is now enclosed by a small structure known as the Edicule (from the Latin aedicule, or “little house”), which was last reconstructed in 1808-1810 after being destroyed in a fire. The exposure of the burial bed is giving researchers an unprecedented opportunity to study the original surface of what is considered the most sacred site in Christianity. An analysis of the original rock may enable them to better understand not only the original form of the tomb chamber, but also how it evolved as the focal point of veneration since it was first identified by Helena, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine, in A.D. 326.” It was this edicule that was damaged in an earthquake in 1927.

Holy sepulcher tomb of Jesus

A nun kneeling at the traditional tomb of Christ (photo credit: Obed Balilty, AP for the National Geographic)

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is currently under the supervision of six Christian sects. Three major groups – the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Armenian Orthodox Church – maintain control of the church. Yet the three lesser-known groups – the Coptic, Ethiopian Orthodox, and Syriac communities – also have a presence there. Each group has their “designated” area over which they control. However, there are parts of the church that are considered “common areas” of worship for all of the groups. This includes the tomb area. However, because tensions can arise within these sects, a Muslim family, believe it or not for many centuries now, has the key to the church.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmailby feather