Cokato pastor goes on a journey through Israel
By Kristen Miller
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - Just weeks before Christians celebrate their risen Lord, a local pastor stepped foot in the very place where Jesus was said to have been crucified, buried, and rose from the dead.
Pastor Dan Swanson of First Baptist Church of Cokato, along with his wife, Cindy, recently returned from a two-week tour through Israel.
“It was amazing to me how much the archaeological digging shows the Bible to be true,” Swanson said.
The tour March 4-17, was through the Village Schools of the Bible, which was originally in Dassel before moving to Minnetonka.
This was Swanson’s first trip to Jerusalem and for him, seeing the very place where Jesus was crucified was difficult to describe.
It was a “wow” moment for Swanson after having studied the Bible since he was just a kid in Sunday school and pastoring for 34 years, 19 of which were in Cokato.
Because of his studies, Swanson knew many of the locations in the Bible.
“I have always loved maps, but seeing it is whole lot different,” he said.
A powerful moment for Swanson was coming into Jerusalem.
On the tour bus, the song “Jerusalem, open up your gates” began playing as they came closer to the city.
“All of a sudden, there it was. I just started crying,” Swanson said.
“It was an unforgettable moment,” he said.
The Garden Tomb, which is believed to be the tomb Jesus was buried in, fits the actual Biblical description, Swanson said.
For example, there is a trench in front of the tomb where a rock would’ve closed the entrance of the tomb, he explained.
Not only does this tomb fit the description, but it is only about 40 yards from The Place of the Skull, also known as Golgotha (John 19:17 NIV), just outside the Damascus Gate going into old Jerusalem.
This is said to be the place where Jesus was crucified, according to the Bible.
The tomb was in close proximity to the place of crucifixion, Swanson explained.
“They needed to get him buried before the Sabbath,” he said, explaining no work could be done on the Sabbath.
According to the New International Version of the Bible John 19:38-42 states, “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night . . .
“At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”
They also visited the Mount of Olives, where Jesus went to pray the night Judas betrayed him.
What made it an amazing experience was that there were people everywhere and the noise level was high, but when they stepped behind the garden wall, it was quiet as could be.
“There was an unbelievable sense of peacefulness,” he said.
Another powerful moment for Swanson was in the town of Bethsaida, a fishing village where Jesus visited often because it was the hometown to three of his disciples, he explained.
This city is only recently becoming unearthed by archaeologists, Swanson said.
As they walked along a pebble path of Bethsaida, they came across larger rocks.
The tour guide stopped the group and told them, “You are now standing on the original rocks of main street. We are 99 percent sure Jesus would have walked on these rocks.”
During that time, large rocks were laid out to make roads smooth, Swanson said, adding there are rocks everywhere.
“Many places we went [in Israel], we sensed it was possible that Jesus had been there,” Swanson said.
This trip wasn’t something he and Cindy planned. The people of First Baptist were raising funds for them to go.
Then he heard about Village Schools Tour. After signing up to go, he discovered there was an anonymous donor had given money for five pastors to go. Swanson was one of those five.
“I’m very thankful,” Swanson said, adding they should’ve gone to Israel years ago.
“We both had a trip of a lifetime,” he added.
Now, when he reads the Bible, Swanson recognizes many of the towns because he has been there.
“[The Bible] comes to life,” he said.