“Closer to Him,” New Era, Apr. 1994, 28
A few years ago, my family traveled with me to Israel when I was on a photographic assignment from an Israeli tour agency. Our three children, Deborah, Don, and Mary, discovered feelings for the Savior that changed our lives. We saw the places where Jesus lived and taught. We sat on the rocky hillsides where his disciples listened to him. And we experienced the parables in the settings where they were given. But most of all, we realized that it isn’t where you are, but how you feel, that brings the Savior into your heart.
We took a shortcut down the steep hill to get to the fields below Bethlehem. We sat and watched in the fields where the shepherds watched their flocks and angels sang hosannas. Deborah shook her head in wonder. “I wish I could have been there that night.” We talked about the possibility that we all may have been there with the heavenly hosts that sang to the shepherds. Then Deborah said, “I wish I could remember that night.”
This small clay lamp is the type referred to in the story of the ten virgins (see Matt. 25:3–13). The reservoir holds enough oil to last only a few hours. To burn their lamps all night, the women would have to take extra oil. To be ready to meet the Lord, we need to always have a reserve of faith and testimony to last us through the dark times of our lives.
As Jesus watched rich men giving a lot of money, often called talents, in donation to the church, he noticed a poor widow who gave just two small coins. He told the disciples that she had given more than all the rich men. They had given of their abundance, and she had given all she had (see Mark 12:41–44). Jesus wasn’t talking only of money. He is pleased when we give of our time and energy wholeheartedly.
We stepped down the stone staircase to the Pool of Siloam. There was an odor of old stone and cement. Jesus came here often, and there are accounts of healings that took place here. “It’s hard to imagine,” Don said, “that Jesus could have stood here and healed someone. Right here—right where I’m standing. I wonder what they felt like when they were healed?” asking the question almost to himself.
“Come out, Lazarus!” our tour guide called. The tour guide thought that this reenactment of the Bible story of the Savior raising Lazarus would make a visit to the tomb more dramatic and memorable. He had asked Mary to play the part of Lazarus. Wrapped in a white sheet, Mary crouched low and stepped out of the tomb.
Mary remembers her thoughts as she waited in the dark of the tomb. “I touched the walls and wondered what it would be like to be dead and hear the Savior call your name and to be alive again. But that’s what will happen to all of us someday, isn’t it?”
Sheep and shepherds have been associated with the Savior from Old Testament times. And we saw sheep everywhere in Israel, in the fields, in the marketplace, and being driven or led down the roads and highways. It wasn’t unusual that the sight of sheep would trigger a conversation about Jesus. The Savior said that a shepherd doesn’t want even one of his sheep to be lost.
The miracle of the loaves and fishes didn’t stop when 5,000 people had eaten. More than their bodies were fed. They had a spiritual feast while being taught by the Savior. Jesus said if we come unto him we will never hunger or thirst (see John 6:9–14, 35).
The Garden of Gethsemane, where Christ suffered so greatly, was a grove of olive trees. Christ’s atonement was made for the whole world, including those in the New World who are compared to scattered olive branches broken from the main tree (see 1 Ne. 10:12).
The wrought-iron fence kept us from getting close to the huge, old olive trees, but we could feel their age. It is said that these trees grew from the roots of those that stood here at the time of the Savior.
“It’s hard to imagine something still alive that was alive when Jesus was here,” Don said. We talked about the suffering the Savior experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane and how we are all blessed because of the love Christ had for us in this place.
Deborah asked, “Why did his friends run away from him?” We couldn’t answer, but suddenly, standing in the garden, we didn’t ever want to do anything that would separate us from our Savior.
The light streamed in through an opening in the hand-hewn rock of the Garden Tomb and dazzled our eyes. The Garden Tomb is surrounded by high walls in the center of a large protected area near the outer wall of the old city of Jerusalem. It is one of the few quiet places we visited. We stood reverently and didn’t speak for a few minutes. “It seemed like the air was very still there,” Mary remembers. “It’s strange to think that Jesus, who was really the King of Kings, was buried in someone else’s tomb.”
The rocky face of the hill Golgotha overlooks a busy bus station outside the walls of old Jerusalem. It is a noisy place, and there is always a bustle of people hurrying to catch the constant flow of buses. It is not a place for quiet reflection, but the stark rocks made us imagine the Savior’s crucifixion. It was difficult to speak over the clamor of the station, but the looks on our children’s faces told us much more than any words they might have said. We all felt the tragedy and triumph of the cross for a moment. Then we turned away and walked back through the noise and commotion to the city street.
Jesus taught the Samaritan woman at the well about living water. The message he could give would eternally satisfy those who were thirsting after understanding (see John 4:14).