Surprises in Jerusalem

There’s no replacement for actually going to a place and not just depending upon others’ pictures of it. Books can convey concepts, but they can’t capture smells, sounds, and just the raw scope of a thing. (As a resident of Colorado and so close to the incredible Rocky Mountains, we long ago learned how weak an understanding of these mountains a picture serves to reveal the magnitude and majesty of the Rockies with an iPhone—or even the best camera known to Man for that matter.)

An artistic rendering
of the ancient City of David.

The academics about Jerusalem pale in comparison to the actualities of Jerusalem. Yes, anyone on the internet can find an overhead map of the Old City and its ancient dimensions, for instance. But, you can’t capture the alleyways they call streets and their incredible bustle and color and spicy scents. Yes, you can draw a map of the walls of the original city of Jebus from 3800 years ago—the place the Jews now call the City of David—that would form the starting point of Jerusalem. But you can’t truly express how steep the walk up and down to the Kidron Valley is. Or the irony of the sounds of Islam echoing off of the hills from the chants coming from the al-Fakhariyya Minaret—one of four minarets on the Temple Mount alone. There’s no way to fully capture with picture or video how—down the Kidron Valley that so intimately borders the City of David on the east—ironic the sounds of the frequent chants of the Islamic azaan by the muezzin seem to the larger Jewish setting. This first chant from the high minaret precipitates other muezzin in a chain of minarets down the valley which fill the chants in the air—all while the Faithful of Judaism and Christianity traipse the immediate area admiring the ancient site of the City of David. You can’t possibly appreciate with pictures how the City of David—the place this whole thing called Jerusalem began from—is, in all actuality, an essential third-world experience . . . both around it and in it. It’s both stunning and devastating to think that every square inch is under dispute in this powder keg in the center of the home to the world’s three major religions.

The religious/cultural cauldron that is the City of David and the Muslim community immediately adjacent.

Jerusalem is a surprise to this guy—even a guy who’s spent the better part of his 47 years studying every word I could wrap my brain around about Her. My thoughts, my sermons, my writings . . . all have tried to paint a picture, but the Original makes everything else I’ve understood so much clearer now. So much richer.

Drawing of the Herod’s Temple—destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans. (Please note the small discoloration on the nearest wall. That shading constitutes what people see today as the Western Wall, but only represents 10% of what the wall once was.)

Now, just a 1/3 of a mile above the City of David, up Mount Moriah, sits the Western Wall of the Temple Mount (well, the stones that remain standing of the Western Wall, that is). In point of fact, only 10% of the old Western Wall of the Temple Mount (what people now refer to the Western Wall)—where 3.6 million come to pray each year. But, taking a deeper tour of the excavations of the old wall, you would see amazing and unanswerable things. In 70 A.D., along with killing thousands of Jews, the Roman Empire’s Titus desired to break the spirit of the Jewish People by tearing down the stones of their Temple. You will find many of these toppled stones stacked upon one another along where the Western Wall once stood, but one stone broke the breakers. Measuring 45′ (L) x 8′ (D) and 9′ (H), the Western Stone weighs nearly 600 tons. When Titus’ soldiers tried to the point of failing to push it from its perch, they just knew it wouldn’t happen and thus quit. This monolithic blocks sits there to this very day as testament to the power and humor of God.

The Western Stone of the Temple Mount. One of the largest building stones in human history.

The Western Stone surprised me—as did the incredible run below the city where these tunnels revealed 50 feet of depth below the place you see on the right. Herod’s Second Temple is still extraordinary to this day . . . and many would consider most of it lies in “ruins.”

Fallen stones on the southwestern-most portion of the Western Wall.

What’s the moral of this story? For many Christians, we have too thin and too thinning an experience of Scripture. And we should do something about that as our heritage is at risk when we treat it as if it’s unvital when it is so alive. Now, no, not everyone can enjoy the rich blessing I am able to—by traveling to the city where among all the things I’ve just shared, more importantly, our Savior would give his life on the Cross to reveal the love of the Father . . . not far from this place. But, our Total Story runs even deeper and more beautiful than we know.

Lastly, there are some who have made their mind up about the Christian Faith. Perhaps this is you. All I will say is, Christianity—for all its critics—is built on an incredible foundation. And it’s more than indisputable—much to its critics’ chagrin. It’s the richest story known to Human history and it launched from a place that was already mind-blowing and continues to be. Friend, God wants to make a Temple out of you and me . . . out of our fallenness and ruins. This story is more amazing than we know. But it’s just below the dirt, if we’ll let our dirt get turned up just enough to reveal it.

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