When I walk through the biblical sites of Jerusalem, I often think of the story told of Neal Armstrong when he toured Israel. The story is told by Meir Ben Dov, excavator of the Temple Mount and southern walls in Jerusalem.
“While standing on the stairs before the Hulda gates, the ancient gates to the temple, Mr. Armstrong asked me if there was a site where Jesus walked upon 2,000 years ago, without doubt," Ben Dov said. "I answered that these steps are, for sure, where Jesus had stepped up to the temple. Mr. Armstrong was so excited he then told me that his excitement to stand where Jesus had stood was more than he experienced while walking on the moon."
That story echoes my feelings. To walk where Jesus walked more than two millennial ago excites and inspires me with a silent, reverential awe.
How are we able today to know where he actually walked? It can be determined through several methods — primarily scriptural accounts, geography, historical traditions and statements by prophets.
The Apostle John describes the location of the Garden Tomb in these words: “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus. …” (John 19:41-42).
Behind the hill Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified, identified by the skull-like appearance of the face of the hill, there is a beautiful area covered with trees and vegetation, nourished by subterranean springs. There in the midst of this garden is a tomb dating back to the first century A.D.
Many Christians believe it was here the Savior’s body was laid based on the methods mentioned. The clincher for me, though, is what prophets have said.
President Harold B. Lee, commenting on his visit to the Garden Tomb, said, “My wife and I were in the Holy Land. We have spent some glorious days visiting those places. … But a strange thing happened after we had gone to the Garden Tomb. ... There we felt it was definitely the place. It was in the hill, it was a garden, and there was the tomb. … But the strange thing was … it seemed as though we had seen all this before. We had seen it before somewhere” ("Qualities of Leadership," page 7).
President Spencer W. Kimball said of his visit there, “We accept this as the burial place of the Savior. We realize people have different ideas about these places, but this seems to be the logical place. I feel quite sure that this is the place where his body was laid. It gives me such a sacred feeling just to be here” (Deseret News, November 1979).
By the testimony of a prophet, we can actually know we are standing where Jesus died and was resurrected.
As I stood at the entrance to the tomb looking in, I thought of my father, a brother, a grandson and my son who have left this mortal world. As I pondered on the resurrection of Jesus, I knew through the Father and the Son’s tender mercies I would someday see and embrace my loved ones again. The gratitude I felt was more than I thought I could express in words. I sat down, bowed my head and tried.
At the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site of the birth of Jesus, President Lee said, “We were as it seemed with the shepherds at the mouth of the cave hewn out of the rock now to be found in the basement of the Church of the Nativity. There seemed to be in this place a kind of spiritual assurance that this was indeed a hallowed spot. … It seemed to us to mark a sacred place” (LDSSA fireside address, Oct. 10, 1971).
While on the ground floor of the Antonia Fortress, President Lee asked a group of loud and boisterous French tourists to be quiet, for “you are standing where the Roman soldiers mocked Jesus and placed a thorny crown atop his head” ("The Most Influential Man in Modern Mormon History," John Lund).
Israel truly is “the Holy Land.” It’s holy because of sacred and holy events that happened there many years ago. It’s also holy because of the transforming feelings it creates within a person. I never leave that land without thinking to myself, “I have walked where Jesus walked; now how would Jesus have me walk?"
Jack Marshall, has worked with the Church Educational System for 36 years. He and his wife, Liz, live in Bountiful, Utah, and are the parents of five children. He also teaches on and directs tours for Fun For Less Tours, located in Draper, Utah.