In His Steps…
A few years ago Monica and I were invited to go on a last minute vacation that was promised to be a life-changing experience. We both saw it to be perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was so last minute that it was very hard to say yes, and we found every reason to say no, but as untimely for us as it might have been in the moment, we knew we must take this journey. Twelve days later we boarded an aircraft bound for Israel.
Of that trip I can say so much, but I have often found it most difficult to put the experience into words. I did keep a daily diary, and perhaps one day I will share it fully, but for now I would just like to tell you in few and inadequate words how it felt to visit the places where the Savior spent the last hours of His mortal life and the first moments of the resurrection.
We visited Gethsemane, the palace of Caiaphas, parts of the Via Dolorosa, the path that Jesus took through the old city bearing a cross under guard of Roman soldiers on the way to His crucifixion at Calvary or Golgotha, then at last the garden tomb, where He was seen by Mary on the first Easter morn.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, where the atoning sacrifice began, and Jesus Christ took upon Himself the sins, infirmities and pains of all who had or would ever live, I felt overwhelming gratitude. It was a sweet and overcoming feeling as I looked upon olive trees at the foot of the mount of olives, much as it would have looked in His day. I could almost see His pain in the tortured twisting of the olive roots and branches as they spread out through the garden. His agony was so exquisite that His blood sweat from His pores on the ground and nourished the trees that were the ancestors of those olives present today. The name Gethsemane is derived from the Aramaic language meaning “oil press,” and surely He there, and on Calvary, was pressed as an olive until the most prized oil was extracted, and redemption achieved.
Of horror at the palace of Caiaphas I would rather not speak, but above that place are steps that He climbed, even the very steps that He walked. There I felt near to Him. Except for the need of historical preservation, would that I could have taken off my shoes and walked those very steps myself, to walk where He walked. It is overcoming just to think of.
When I saw Calvary with my own eyes, not the tall hill that many depict in art, but a small hill that was at a crossroads just outside the city wall, the world around became silent. Today at the very foot of it is a noisy bus station, but as I could see in the hillside the apparent figure of a human skull, thus achieving its namesake, Golgotha – the place of the skull, I could only see what happened there, the place where He was crucified and gave His life willingly that we might be free and live. I could only stare and feel in abject silence, even in the noise. I suppose that is how His mother, His followers, saw Him hanging there, in the silent noise, the horror of it all, knowing that there was more.
Then finally, a short walk away from Golgotha, stands an empty tomb in a sweet and peaceful garden. When I saw it I knew it, and was overwhelmed with peace, joy and thanksgiving, gratitude for Him. He rose on that third day, spoke to Mary in that place, conquered death forever, and He lives still. We lingered there, for hours I think, even into the dark of night. When the sun arose the following morn it was the first place that Monica and I went, and we lingered again. In my heart and mind I linger still as I think of the peace, the serenity, the still and moving love of that empty garden tomb.
Of that day’s journey I write in verse:
I have walked the paths
Through Jerusalem on that day.
He bore His cross
To Calvary’s hill.
Oh, what a price to pay.
I cannot grasp
The sorrow He felt
From Gethsemane to that Hill.
But in the Garden sweet.
I felt His peace,
There He rose and He lives still.
He died on that tree,
Now He lives, and so shall we.
He showed His love for me,
And now our eyes can truly see.
He has shown His love for all of us,
For He has set us free.
That vacation did not give me my witness that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, for I already knew these things. But to walk in the steps where He trod, to see with my own eyes the gnarled olive trees of Gethsemane and the skull of Golgotha, and then feel the sweet peace of the garden tomb, has given me further witness of the truth that He lives. Life-changing? Perhaps. Testimony enhancing and strengthening? Without a doubt!
It is because He suffered in Gethsemane, and on the cross at Calvary, even unto death, that we may be forgiven, have redemption, and return to the presence of Heavenly Father. As He rose on the third day, conquering death and the grave, so shall we in His infinite atonement rise again in the resurrection. Our bodies will die in mortality and rise in immortality by His power and grace, as did Jesus Christ, and live again. He rose from the tomb in the garden sweet, and so shall we be free of the bondage of sin and sorrow. As we walk in His steps, whether actually or figuratively, repenting of our errors and walking in His light, we will receive His grace, even unto eternal life. Our Redeemer be praised for His infinite atonement that has the awesome power to save us all. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.