This will most likely be my last post from Israel. We leave here late tomorrow night (well, technically Saturday morning so whatever we do from here on out, I'll have to wait and tell you about when I get home.
Today is a day of Thanksgiving. I want to start my blog today by saying just how blessed I feel, for a number of reasons. First off, it's our son, Scott's, 23rd birthday. For that, I'm very thankful. In addition to that, I've been able to spend this Thanksgiving visiting the birthplace of Christ, and later the tomb from which He rose. There is nothing in my life for which I'm more thankful than to have Christ's forgiveness and promise of eternal life.
Let me tell you a little about our day. We started off by going to Bethlehem, which is currently under Palestinian control. Our guide isn't allowed to go into Palestine because he is Jewish so we were dropped off at the border where we made our way past concrete walls, barbed wire fences, gates, and a demilitarised zone before we met up with our guide for the morning. It was an odd experience.
From there we made our way to the Church of the Nativity, where again, there was a shrine built over what is believed to be the birth place of Christ. After standing in line for about thirty minutes (which we were told was a short wait) we saw a little tiny alcove where Mary gave birth. I'm not buying it. But, a little later we saw a cave that dates back to 3 B.C. which looked way more like what I picture in my head when I think of the birthplace of Christ. So, since no one really knows, I decided that I'm just going to call this the birthplace of Christ, but shhh...... don't tell anyone or they'll build a shrine over it.
We also saw the Shepherd's field right outside the city similar to the one where the angel of the Lord proclaimed the Savior's birth. There were even sheep there! Today, Bedouin shepherds raise their sheep in this area and our guide told us that they give a name to each sheep and when the shepherd calls that sheep's name, the sheep comes to him. I thought it was an excellent example of the verse in John 10:14 where Jesus says "I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me."
After making our way back into Israel we went to a church built to commemorate the birth place of John the Baptist, and also the place were Mary went to visit Elizabeth when she found out she was pregnant with Jesus.
By far, my favorite part of the day, and really my favorite part of the trip was visiting the Garden Tomb. From here you can see the rock that is referred to as "Skull Rock." It seems much more likely to me, that this is the place where Jesus was crucified. It's easy to see why it's called "Skull Rock" when you look at the two caves near the top that look like eyes separated by the "bridge of the nose" between them. You can see a photo there that shows what used to look like the "mouth" but is now a parking lot."
The nice thing here is that there is NOT a church built over this site. It is actually owned by the British and run by a Christian organization. We had a British guide who boldly proclaimed his faith in Jesus.
As for the tomb itself, there is some fairly strong evidence that this actually was the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea used to bury Christ.
After visiting the tomb our team sat in the garden and shared communion together. What a powerful time to remember that Jesus isn't in Bethlehem, He isn't on the cross, and He isn't in the grave. It is empty, for HE HAS RISEN, and will come back again to reign over this land!
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