Up to Jerusalem

It’s hard to believe that it has been four years since I visited Israel. If my memory is correct, then my trip was March 13-23, 2013.  Like anyone else who visits the Holy Land, this was a life-changing and unforgettable experience.  For ten days, I visited places that I had read about hundreds of times in the pages of the Bible.  I rode (and danced!) on a small boat out on the Sea of Galilee.  I
looked out across the same surprisingly small body of water from a place where Jesus may have given his famous Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matthew 5-7).  I walked the streets of the maritime cities of Joppa (you should be thinking of both the Old Testament prophet Jonah and the New Testament apostle Peter) and Caesarea (not Caesarea Philippi where Jesus famously referred to the “Gates of Hell”, cf. Matthew 16:18; rather, the coastal city in northwestern Israel where King Herod built many amazing structures).  I stood on Mount Carmel (think Elijah), walked in the Valley of Elah (think David and Goliath), and floated in the Dead Sea (think, well…think of me bobbing around in an expansive desert oasis).  From the green hills of the Golan Heights (near Syria) to the dusty brown desert of southern Israel (otherwise known as the “Negev”), traveling throughout the land of Israel made my understanding of God’s word burst into color, literally.
But, without a doubt, one of the most emotional and memorable destinations was the Holy City, Jerusalem. In fact, as our tour bus ascended the remarkably steep mountains on the northern outskirts of Jerusalem, one of our group leaders read from Psalm 122.  “Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together, to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD…Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!  May they be secure who love you!  Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!” (Ps. 122:3-7).  Nothing that I had ever read, or heard, or seen had prepared me for the weightiness of looking upon the ancient city.  As the city came into view, my eyes were blurred with tears as I recalled countless scenes and stories of this embattled city—“the city of peace.”  I suppose that you just have to go there, personally, in order to fully understand the emotional magnitude of seeing David’s city.  We spent three days in and around Jerusalem; I could have spent three years and never gotten bored of the place which is called the “apple of God’s eye” (Zechariah 2:8).

In just under four weeks, we Christians will celebrate the holiest of our sacred holidays—Easter. The city of Jerusalem, as you know, is featured quite prominently in the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The Gospel writer Luke stated, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51).  Some 2,000 years ago, Jesus went “up to Jerusalem,” but his was no sightseeing tour.  Rather, his purpose for going up to that holy place around 33 A.D. was to suffer and die for human sin.  History’s crossroads converged on a crude cross just outside the city walls.  And, on that cross, the sinless Son of God was crucified as an atonement for sin. 

There’s an old hymn that we sometimes sing this time of year. It is called “Lead Me to Calvary.”  Here are just some of the soul-stirring lyrics of this beautiful song:

King of my life
I crown Thee now
Thine shall the glory be;
Lest I forget Thy thorn-crowned brow,
Lead me to Calvary.
Lest I forget Gethsemane;
Lest I forget Thine agony;
Lest I forget Thy love for me,
Lead me to Calvary. 

Chances are you, too, have images and sounds stirring in your heart when you think of one of the many great Easter hymns of our faith.  It was Jesus’ unique combination of love and obedience that lead him to Calvary.  And, it is God’s gracious love towards us in salvation that draws us to the foot of the cross, as well.

I doubt I’ll ever approach Easter again without recalling my afternoon just outside the walls of Jerusalem weeping my way through the Garden of Gethsemane. Forever etched in my mind is what appears to be a stony, skull-like rock feature upon which many scholars think Jesus was hung to die between two criminals.  And, I’ll always smile a little bit bigger this time of year when I think about how just a few hundred feet away is an empty tomb visited annually by tens of thousands of believers still to this day.  See, everything changed for good when Jesus went up to Jerusalem for the last time so many years ago.  That’s something I know in my heart to be utterly true.  But, I wonder about you?  Have you been changed through repentance of sin and trust in Jesus Christ?  Has the reality behind what we celebrate at Easter—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—changed your life?  Oh, how I hope and pray that it has! 

And, I hope you’ll join us at Trinity as we think about and celebrate these monumental truths over the coming weeks.

God bless you,

Pastor Dan