Written by: Tim Wood
“Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.” (Psalm 71:3 ESV)
One of my favorite places to visit in Jerusalem is Gordon’s Calvary aka The Garden Tomb. The Garden Tomb was discovered by a British Army Officer, Major-General Charles Gordon in 1883. Gordon was looking at a rocky hillside on the northwest part of Jerusalem that resembled a skull. Since the word “Golgotha” can be translated skull, Major Gordon wondered if it might be site of biblical Golgotha. His interest in this spot was heightened when he discovered an ancient cemetery very close to this hillside. In this ancient cemetery they uncovered a tomb that would have been owned by someone very prominent. After further excavation, he discovered that this tomb was in a garden. He wondered, “Could this be the spot of the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ?” Although no one can prove it, much of what he discovered backs up the biblical record of Jesus’ resurrection.
As a result of Major-General Gordon’s discovery, the Garden was cleaned up and opened up to visitors. People have been coming to the Garden tomb from all over the world for more than 130 years. Today, it’s known as Gordon’s Calvary.
Over the years there have been many caretakers of the Garden Tomb. One of those was Solomon Mattar. Solomon Mattar was a Christian of Arab ancestry. He was a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ and a wonderful caretaker of this sacred spot. He passionately believed in the authenticity of the tomb. Christian leaders would visit from all over the world to visit the tomb and Mr. Mattar would give personal tours. Because of this, he became a friend to many of these leaders.
In June of 1967, the Six Day War broke out. Some of the most intense fighting took place all around this quiet garden. Gordon’s Calvary became the last ditch stand for the Jordanian army. Mr. and Mrs. Mattar were trapped in the crossfire. Where could they go for safety? Their house wasn’t safe. Their neighborhood wasn’t safe. They decided to find refuge in the empty tomb. The thick walls provided a safe shelter. As long as they were in the tomb they were safe. Unfortunately, Mr. Mattar left the tomb to go to his house to get some food and water, and he was hit by a bullet and killed. Mrs. Mattar stayed in the tomb and was safe until the firing stopped.
The empty tomb of Jesus became a refuge for Mrs. Mattar. What was true for her is true for us today. The empty tomb of Jesus, His resurrection becomes our place of refuge. Jesus said, “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). Happy Easter!