Destination Israel: The Experience of Calvary (Part 11)

The exact location of Calvary is hotly debated. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one of the oldest churches in the world, sits over the location of what many believe the actual site of both Calvary and the Garden Tomb. Today both are covered with the marble inlay of centuries of man’s attempt to protect, while at the same time, providing the average pilgrim the opportunity to visit both. Others point to the Gordon’s Calvary as the location of the original crucifixion site due to its resemblance to a human skull (the meaning of Golgotha).

            I lean toward the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as the probable location. It was here in 330 A.D. that Helena the mother of Emperor Constantine of Rome. One of the earlier predecessors of the Emperor, Hadrian, had built a pagan temple over the site due to his hate for Christianity. As the site was being cleared and the soil removed that provided the flat surface for the temple, Helena allegedly found the true cross and the tomb.

            In 1997, on my first visit to the Holy Land, I was privileged to visit this holy site. Our guide, a former soldier in the Israeli army was not interested in going upstairs to Golgotha (the church is built with two levels—the upstairs is Calvary and the downstairs houses the possible tomb of Jesus) due to the crushing crowd of hundreds of pilgrims from around the world waiting in line and the time it would take to get all of us through. I was dumbstruck. I had waited all my life for this moment—to see the place where my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ had given His life for mine. I was not going to be denied this opportunity so I told them I would take a taxi back to the hotel if necessary, but I was going to experience Calvary if at all possible.

            So I got in line, and eventually I found myself near the altar area. As Helena had carefully excavated this site she found a stone hilltop with three holes that corresponded to the description of the Gospels’ historic execution of Jesus. An altar was then built over the center hole and a small opening left for worshippers to touch the site. To even see the hole you must get on your knees and crawl under the altar.

            My time finally came and I knelt and crawled on my hands and knees back into the dim light under the altar. Time seemed to stand still, and it felt as though I was moving in slow motion. I reached out a trembling hand and placed it in the hole where my Savior’s cross had stood. As I touched the sides of the hole rubbed smooth by the millions of fingertips that had come before me, I was overcome with emotions from deep within my spirit and I began to weep uncontrollably. This is where “my sin” was paid for—this is where “my healing” had been purchased—this is where “my deliverance was secured—and it was just too much. And then it happened…God took hold of my hand with His. I could feel a sense of peace sweep over me and an assurance that His grace was enough. In that holy moment, faith became sight and the salvation purchased by Jesus Christ became a tangible reality.

            You will see no pictures of this moment—no posing like a tourist at a historic site or on a holiday trip. No, that moment is so personal and private that it is hidden only in the memory of my heart and my mind. I cannot even describe what took place under that altar, but when I emerged everything was different—that’s what kneeling at the foot of the cross will do.

            You may never travel to Jerusalem or have the privilege of kneeling under the altar at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but you can kneel at the foot of the cross right where you are and Jesus will touch you, and you can experience the reality of Calvary. Rest assured—whatever God touches is changed forever.