Day 5: Jordan River, Jericho, Mt. of Temptation, Qumran Caves, Dead Sea, Jerusalem Tunnels

Day 5 of the Ecclesia Houston holy land tour with Breaking Bread Journeys started departing Tiberias at the Sea of Galilee shortly after sunrise as we made our way to the Jordan River, the river in which Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Many pilgrims among our group commemorated their baptisms in the Jordan.

I will say that this day of the itinerary is usually the most intense, as we cover so much ground in one day. It’s like packing three days into one. By the time we reached Jerusalem, many of the group remarked something to the effect of, “Wait, we were just at the Jordan baptismal site this morning?”

As you will see in the photos that follow, after our visit to the Jordan River, we made our way to a vista point allowing us a look at the Mount of Temptation where many from the group were able to experience a camel ride. It was a very fun break along the way.

Our tour guide Bassam pointed out that according to Luke’s Gospel 19:1-10, Jesus came through Jericho and met Zacchaeus the tax collector who had climbed a Sycamore tree to get a better look at Jesus.

Some very interesting facts about Jericho. Jericho is the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the world. It sits at the edge of the Dead Sea valley, 846 feet below sea-level, which also makes it the lowest inhabited city on earth. It is, literally, an oasis in the desert — a large spring there has fed that part of the valley for thousands of years and is the only way people have survived there.

We then made our way up to the Mount of Temptation and the Monastery of the Temptation, a Greek Orthodox monastery. The earliest monastery located on the site was constructed by the Byzantines in the 6th century above the cave traditionally said to be that where Jesus spent forty days and forty nights fasting and meditating during the temptation of Satan. The monastery receives its name from the mountain which the early Christians referred to as the “Mount of the Temptation.” The Mount of Temptation was identified by Augusta Helena of Constantinople as one of the “holy sites” in her pilgrimage in 326 AD.

When the Crusaders conquered the area in 1099, they built two churches on the site: one in a cave halfway up the cliff and a second on the summit. They referred to the site as “Mons Quarantana” (from Quaranta meaning forty in Italian, the number of days in the Gospel account of Jesus’s fast). Thus the Arabic name of the mountain is Mount Qarantal.

Later in the post, you will see that our journey took us to the archaeological site of the Qumran Caves where the famous Dead Sea Scrolls discoveries were made by a shepherd boy, then to the Dead Sea where the group took a float in the extremely buoyant waters, and ultimately on up into the holy city of Jerusalem where we arrived in time to take the tunnel tour under the old city along the Western Wall of the Temple Mount.

Some personal thoughts inspired by this journey:

I have often reflected on the power of a photograph to freeze time and capture a fleeting moment, and for this single moment, at least a thousand words could be written to describe what was felt and experienced within that frame. Then you stop to think of all the countless trillions of images like this which are accessible to God at any given time, and that he knows each one, feels each one, and has books written in his heart for each of us, lovingly journaling all that we have seen, felt, celebrated, and suffered. God sees all and knows all. Just a few pages ago, Jesus was being baptized by John, and in just a few page-turns in our story, we will be in the glory of heaven with God. “You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here. So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on.” (Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, 4:17-18).

As it is recorded in John’s gospel, Jesus assures us, “My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you. If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that. I am going to make arrangements for your arrival. I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together. You know where I am going and how to get there.” (John 14:2-4). This idea of pilgrimage extends not only to a visit of the holy land but of our entire lives.

We are on a journey, and God, in his ultimate love for us, has shown us the way to live it and promises that he prepares a final home for us at the end of this long journey. What is beautiful is that, while the journey is often full of sorrows and intensity, he has given us fellow sojourners to share the burdens along the way.

We have experienced that on this journey here in the holy land. Just a few days ago we were a group of strangers. Now, already, especially after a day like today, we are already starting to feel like family. We have access to so much in the Body of Christ if we only choose to open our arms and receive the love and life-giving support that is available. While my life has seen its share of hard times, I am grateful for all the ways I have found strength through God’s promises and all of my brothers and sisters whom God has gathered around me on this pilgrimage; both this week and in the grander pilgrimage of life.

Pastor Chris leading us in reflection and prayer at the Jordan River:

Onward to Jericho:

Taking the cable cars up to the Mount of Temptation:

This is the view of the monastery embedded into the cliff wall:

Pastor Chris reading and reflecting on the passage from Matthew’s Gospel describing the Temptation of Christ and his 40-day fast at this spot:

On up to the monastery:

Images from the Qumran Caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered: 

And on to our Dead Sea float at the lowest point on earth!

Next, we made our way into Jerusalem, and the group went on the Jerusalem tunnel tour. I went ahead to prepare our group dinner arrangements at Jacob’s Pizza (by far the best pizza inside the old city walls) but here are some images from my previous visits to the tunnels: