Holy Lands

For those who didn’t know Nikki and I are both Christians. Being Christians traveling through the holy land we made it a point to visit some of the holiest sites for our faith. We didn’t have enough time to visit every little site but we were able to go to the biggies.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan – The Baptism Site – Jordan

“These things were done in Bethany beyond the Jordan where John was baptizing” John 1:28

We stayed in the city of Amman in Jordan for 5 nights. We mentioned to our hotel reception that we would like to visit the Baptism Site and they helped us book a driver. It is very easy all you have to do is ask. The cost was 35 dinars for the driver and then 12 dinars per person entry fee. About two hours later we were standing where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Not just at the river Jordan but the actual spot recognized by all major Christian churches. Interestingly the site is not in the river Jordan anymore, overtime the course of the river has shifted a bit. But the remnants of ancient churches still stand as well as a pool which is the baptism site.

The Church of the Nativity – Bethlehem – Palestine

and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them” Luke 2:7

Perhaps one of the most famous of all the stories of Jesus is that he was born in a manger in Bethlehem. A lot of people don’t go to Bethlehem because it is in Palestine and there is significant strife between Israel and Palestine, and it was a very volatile area in the early 2000s. However, the journey is quite simple and there is actually little to fear for foreigners at this point in time. Hopefully it will remain that way. We caught bus number 231 from Bethlehem at the station across from the Damascus gate in Jerusalem. The fare is less then 7 shekels each and the ride is about one hour. The bus doesn’t take you directly to the Church of the Nativity but rather stops near the intersection of Hebron ( also Yasser Arafat St) and Pope Paul VI St. Simply walk up hill along Pope Paul VI St. and you will get to the church after about 1km. Like many places in the holy land, the ancient site is no longer intact but there instead a church, it is the same here. The church was free to enter and as far as churches go not really anything special except for the room in the basement which is recognized as the spot Jesus was born. His ‘birthspot’ is commemorated with a star set in the flooring. There was a large Russian (I think) tour group in front of us and they began singing the Russian version of “Silent Night” while we were all down in the manger room. Not ashamed to admit I choked up a little bit.

Garden of Gethsemane – Mountain of Olives, Jerusalem – Israel

 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.…And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’” Matthew 26:36 and 39

Just east of the Old City Jerusalem outside the Lion’s Gate is the Mount of Olives. This mountain (really more of a hill) holds numerous holy sites worth visiting, but the Garden of Gethsemane was what drew us. Plus, you don’t have to walk up the hill since it is at the base. In ancient days Jesus would come to this spot often to pray. We always liked how human Jesus seemed before his arrest. He came to the garden and prayed to God asking to not have to go through what He knew was about to happen. For us this is Jesus at his most relatable, but also perhaps His most marvelous for He still followed God’s will even knowing the suffering to come. Also there is the whole sweating blood thing, that’s pretty marvelous too.

Via Dolorosa & The Church of the Holy Sepulchre – Jerusalem Old City – Israel

“17.They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. 18.There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between.” John 19:17-18

We had the amazing opportunity to walk the Via Dolorosa among the procession of the Franciscan Monks walking the stations of the cross. Via Dolorosa means the ‘way of misery’ and is the path that Jesus carried his own cross to be crucified. Along the way he was humiliated and beaten, but there was kindness too. At one point a random onlooker (Simon) helped Jesus carry the cross for a bit and at another a lady (Veronica) wipes clean Jesus’ face. At the end of the road in ancient days was a hill, Golgotha, on which Jesus was crucified. Nowadays there stands a beautiful church owned in part by basically each of the largest sects of Christianity. Oddly enough because of this joint ownership nothing gets repaired here because all the owners can never agree on the details. The floor is cracked and crooked. Light fixtures don’t work. So be careful and respectful. Inside the church are stations 10-14 which briefly are as follows: Jesus is stripped and soldiers gamble over his clothes, Jesus is nailed to the cross, Jesus dies on the cross, Jesus is taken down from the cross, and Jesus is laid in a tomb. For those interested in visiting the tomb get ready for a line. But also understand that the cave no longer exists. Long ago pilgrims picked it apart. In its stead is a building inside the church on the spot where the cave was.

Simply being in this area has been an incredible experience. It is exciting just to be able to say, “That city over there is Jericho,” or, “That is the mountain from which Moses saw the Promised Land before he died.” At times it seems like you can’t throw a stone without hitting something that relates back to the bible somehow. For example, we went to see the Dead Sea at En Gedi. That also happens to be where David fled to when he was hiding from King Saul. For anyone interested in biblical history, a trip to Jordan and Israel is a must. What’s top of your list for holy sites?

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