Today we explored Masada and heard the story of the Zealots’ last stand there, we went to Wadi Qelt which overlooks the biblical road from Jericho to Jerusalem (the setting of the parable of the Good Samaritan), we ascended to Jersusalem and wandered the ruins of Herodium, then we ended the day with a visit to Bethlehem to the Church of the Nativity, built on the place where Jesus was born.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans‬ ‭8:38-39‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Today was a roller coaster. We started off with a visit to Masada – always an amazing and inspiring experience. The story of the last stand of the Zealots is a story of a people who refused to be conquered. A people who would freely choose death at their own hands rather than be enslaved to Rome. It is a sad story, but it is so incredibly central to the identity of the Jewish people of Israel.

Our time at Masada included incredible views and the sense of ancient history coming to life and impacting modern people – something I’ve experienced each time I’ve been in Israel. (Jewish boys and girls have their bar and bat mitzvah’s on Masada, and soldiers in the army do an overnight there when beginning their service.)

At Wadi Qelt we saw amazing views again, as we looked from Jericho to Jerusalem and considered the desert wilderness in between. The story of the Good Samaritan comes to life in a new way when one can see the road Jesus was speaking about!

At Herodium, we saw the ruins of Herod’s mausoleum. Our guide, Aharon told us the amazing (true) story of Ehud Netzer – responsible for much of the excavation of Masada and Herodium – who lost his life in an accident at Herodium which saw him falling into the tomb of Herod head first. We also learned that one of the things recovered from the ruins of Herodium was a signet ring that held Pontius Pilate’s name. This is the second piece of archeology that witnesses to Pilate’s existence and his office of influence during Christ’s life (and death).

From there we headed to Bethlehem and experienced some disappointment at the Church is the Nativity. With its recent restoration, the site has become overrun with pilgrim groups. It was difficult to move around inside, there was a fair amount of chaos, and unfortunately we were not able to get down to the grotto of the manger.

One of our leaders, the Rev. Dr. Jeff Loach, who has been providing excellent spiritual guidance commentary for us at the end of each day, made the point that the positive side to that disappointment is that this church is the most ancient still-active Christian Church in the world. Someone had died, so a funeral must be held and the family must be ministered to in their grief. And if it inconvenienced some tourists (even spiritually-minded pilgrims), well – so be it.

God is, after all, close to the broken-hearted, as the Psalms tell us. Whether our hearts break in grief for a loved-one who has died or in disappointment when we see our hopes dashed, either way – God is close to us. Nothing can separate us from His love in Jesus.

Amen.

(Ok, so it has taken me almost 25 minutes to upload about 8 pics. I’m gonna give up for now and try again later!)

From Masada:

From Wadi Qelt:

From Herodium:

From Bethlehem:

The bones of the slaughtered innocents – children killed by Herod as he tried to kill the baby born to be King of the Jews:

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