Category Archives: Musings

Fresh and seasoned thoughts about the practice of Sabbath.

The Inexplicable Word From God

JEREMIAD a long, mournful complaint or lamentation; a list of woes.

The painting of Jeremiah in the Sistine Chapel is a self portrait of Michelangelo. The elements of the painting all point to a tortured soul.

The word JEREMIAD comes from the name of our prophet Jeremiah. He is the most melancholy of all of the prophets of the Old Testament.

I always picture Jeremiah as the prophet that has the perpetual dark cloud over his head, even when all around him is sunny and bright.

He spoke God’s word, and God’s word usually went against the grain of what God’s people wanted to hear.

Perhaps Jeremiah is a prophet for our day. Our culture is heading down a path that is contrary to the way of God. We expect to blessed, and to continue doing what we want. That’s the kind of culture Jeremiah spoke to.

And the people hated him!

God’s word for us doesn’t have to make sense to us.

The word that came to Jeremiah wasn’t always terrible. Very often the message he delivered had a silver lining. God was not going to give up on his people. God wasn’t about to abandon them. God was going to discipline them, but not abandon them.

One of the most interesting words God spoke to Jeremiah came at one of the low points in Jeremiah’s life….

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. The army of the king of Babylon was then besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was confined in the courtyard of the guard in the royal palace of Judah.
NIV Jeremiah 32:1-2

Jerusalem was in shambles when God spoke to Jeremiah. The Babylonian army was knocking at the gates. The king of Judah was tired of Jeremiah’s mournful preaching so he had Jeremiah thrown into prison. The food supply was running out. Tensions were high and prospects for peace were low.

This is the message Jeremiah received:

Jeremiah said, “The word of the LORD came to me: Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.’
“Then, just as the LORD had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.'”
I knew that this was the word of the LORD.
NIV Jeremiah 32:6-8

Buy Land?

God had to be kidding, right?

Who buys land when the Babylonian army is about to pour into Jerusalem and burn down the city?

Who buys land when they know they are about to be deported?

Who buys land with money that could be used to purchase the precious little bread that was floating around Jerusalem?

It doesn’t make sense.

But Jeremiah buys the fields and files the official documents away so that future generations would know that he purchased a field from his uncle.

Jeremiah questions God, but maintains his confidence in God

From his prison cell, Jeremiah prays:

“See how the siege ramps are built up to take the city. Because of the sword, famine and plague, the city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians who are attacking it. What you said has happened, as you now see. And though the city will be given into the hands of the Babylonians, you, Sovereign LORD, say to me, ‘Buy the field with silver and have the transaction witnessed. ‘”
NIV Jeremiah 32:24-25

Jeremiah’s lack of understanding was not a lack of faith. He followed through, though he could see the end result.

God responds with a question of his own:

I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?
NIV Jeremiah 32:27

When God speaks a difficult word into our lives, he is looking for us to trust him. God is looking to see if we will have faith enough to follow him, even when the way forward is no clearly spelled out for us.

God wasn’t just speaking to his prophet in this case. He was speaking through his prophet.

Everyone who witnessed Jeremiah’s purchase of the field would have seen the optimism in his action. The terror that was around them was only temporary. God’s ultimate message through his most depressing prophet was a message of restoration. After a time of discipline there would be a time of blessing. After a time of mourning there would be the sound of rejoicing.

Jeremiah’s messages were only half jeremiad. The other half was hopeful.

“This is what the LORD says: As I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity I have promised them. Once more fields will be bought in this land of which you say, ‘It is a desolate waste, without people or animals, for it has been given into the hands of the Babylonians.’ Fields will be bought for silver, and deeds will be signed, sealed and witnessed in the territory of Benjamin, in the villages around Jerusalem, in the towns of Judah and in the towns of the hill country, of the western foothills and of the Negev, because I will restore their fortunes, declares the LORD.”
NIV Jeremiah 32:42-44

Practicing Confidence in the Midst of Confusion

Jeremiah practiced an uncommon level of confidence in God, even when that confidence was not reasonably warranted.

The kind of confidence Jeremiah displayed was a product of his unshakable faith.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
NIV Hebrews 11:1

When we read the Bible, or hear from God in a moment of prayer, his instructions for us might not match up with our expectations. That doesn’t mean the instructions we’ve been given are invalid. It means we need to dig deeper. Maybe God is calling us out of our comfort zone and into the crucible. It’s in the crucible that steel is made hard and metals are refined. As we practice confidence in God, he is preparing us for the promises he makes to us, even in the midst of life’s confusion.


A Fragile Spirituality: The Story of Elijah

Elijah as an Old Testament Hero


We recently visited a few places in the Holy Land that are mentioned in the life of Elijah. When you read about Elijah in the New Testament, you get a picture of a powerful man, placed high on a pedestal. The book of James paints Elijah as a powerful man of prayer:

Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. James 5:17-18

When Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John, it was Moses and Elijah who appeared with him and spoke with him. Moses represented the Law and Elijah represented the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament. God gave the Law through Moses and he called the people to faithfulness to the Law through Elijah and all of the prophets.

Elijah’s Context

The story of Elijah begins as the connection between the people and God reaches a low point. The Davidic Kingdom has been divided. The northern kingdom, called Israel, has forsaken the worship of God and has been won over to the worship of Baal and Asherah. The kings of Israel are getting further and further away from their spiritual roots. Elijah begins his ministry during the reign of the worst king in Israel’s history.

In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years. Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to arouse the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him. 1 Kings 16:29-33

Elijah’s Prophecy

Elijah’s first sermon as a prophet is short and terrible. NO RAIN!

Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” 1 Kings 17:1

Not even dew. He’s a herald of the Bad News. Without rain, the country would be without crops.

There is something happening behind the scene here. God is sending a message to his people, not only through punishment. The god Baal, the one they are being led to worship by Ahab and his wife Jezebel, is also known as the Storm God. The people believe Baal holds the keys to the skies and at his command the heavens produce rain. Yahweh, Elijah’s God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has commanded the rain to stop in order to convince the people that he alone is God.

Elijah’s Boldness

Elijah doesn’t stick around after he delivers his message of bad news to king Ahab. God instructs him to flee Israel altogether. He stays first at a brook east of the Jordan river, until the brook dries up. After that, he heads north to Sidon.

After 3 ½ years of hiding Elijah comes back to Israel. Ahab has continually searched for him, but has had no luck in finding him. The king wanted to kill him for troubling Israel. When they meet, Elijah requests a contest.

Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” 1 Kings 18:19

We stood on Mount Carmel and looked out along the Jezreel Valley. Somewhere on this hill, Elijah’s contest took place.

From Mount Carmel you can see the Jezreel Valley. This is the area the book of Revelation refers to as Armageddon.

The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East…. Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in
Hebrew is called Armageddon
. Revelation 16:12-16


 

Elijah’s Prayer and God’s Response

1 Kings 18 tells the story leading up to Elijah’s victory on Mount Carmel. You can read about it HERE but we’ll skip down to the heart of Elijah’s prayer and God’s response.

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD–he is God! The LORD–he is God!” 1 Kings 18:36-39

What a demonstration of power! It’s hard to imagine what this must have done to the crowd that had been bored to tears waiting to see if Baal would show up.

There is a small Carmelite monastery on Mount Carmel today. Religious people throughout the centuries, inspired by the story of Elijah, and have sought out this mountain to live simple lives of prayer and worship. We were inspired, but we decided not to stay.


 

The Drought Ends

Immediately after the contest was won, and God proved himself to the people as powerful, Elijah began to pray again. We do not have the words he spoke, just the image and the results.

And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked. “There is nothing there,” he said. Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.” The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.'” Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the LORD came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel. (1Ki 18:41-46 NIV)

God was not through working with Elijah yet. While Ahab is hitching up his chariot, Elijah is sprinting ahead to Jezreel. Elijah’s sprint was as much of a miracle as anything else that happened on this day. The prophet outpaces the king’s horses over the stretch of about 20 miles!

 

From High Highs to Low Lows

I don’t know how long Elijah stayed in Jezreel, but it probably wasn’t a terribly long time. Perhaps it was just long enough to pack a few things and then leave the country again, because as soon as Ahab gets home and tells his wife about what happened, Elijah is put at the top of the Most Wanted list.

It’s here in Elijah’s story that we begin to realize how fragile he is spiritually. This is the point in the story where Elijah should be gloating. He should feel invincible after calling down the fire of God, the rain of heaven, and then outrunning the king’s horses. He should be on top of the world, but he feels crushed by his fear of queen Jezebel. He runs for his life and ends up about 100 miles away.

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 1 Kings 19:3-4

 

God Calls Elijah to Another Journey: To the Desert.

Elijah must go further. God needs to get him all by himself to build Elijah back up.

Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 1 Kings 19:5-8

The desert is where the people of Israel, fresh out of Egypt, became familiar with God. Horeb was the place God gave them the Law. Horeb was the place they entered into a covenant with God. Horeb was the place they became a nation.

God calls Elijah to go back to that place where God spoke to Moses. God was about to reveal himself again, but this time it wouldn’t be through the thunder, or the fire or the storm or the earthquake.

God Speaks to Elijah in the Solitude of the Mountain

There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1Ki 19:9-14 NIV)

Sometimes we miss the voice of God because we are paying attention to the wrong things. We want the storm or the earthquake or the fire because they are plain and powerful and unmistakable. You don’t have to listen hard to hear them. It’s the whisper of God that causes us to strain. It’s the silence and the stillness of God that we can’t get comfortable with.

Elijah hears from God and he doesn’t appear to be changed. His answer to God’s question, “What are you doing here?” is the same both times God asked. It’s an awkward conversation to say the least. But God accomplished what he wants to accomplish. There is more planned for Elijah. God’s plan for him didn’t terminate in the Carmel victory.

Go Back, I’m not Through with You!

God worked through Elijah on Mount Carmel to win a battle for allegiance. Now, Elijah was being sent back to lay the foundation progress.

The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel–all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (1Ki 19:15-18 NIV)

God made Elijah the king maker. Elijah announced who the next king in Israel would be, Jehu (though he did not have the opportunity to anoint him personally). And God displayed his authority over all the nations by announcing who the king of Aram would be, Hazael. And God maintained the prophetic ministry by sending Elijah to Elisha. Elisha would receive a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, and prove to be just powerful as his predecessor.

The Cycle of Elijah’s Life:

Powerful – Fearful – Pitiful – Restored – Powerful

We are not always powerful. Very often we locate ourselves somewhere on the spiritual spectrum somewhere between powerful and pitiful.

Elijah was powerful on Mount Carmel. But as soon as Jezebel came after him, he became fearful. After weeks of running, when he had come to the end of himself, there at the Mountain of God, Horeb, we see how pitiful even a prophet can be. “I’m the only one!” he tells God twice.

We feel alone when we are pitiful. We feel abandoned and abused and neglected. Even on the Mountain of God, with the memory of God’s power fresh on our mind, we can become as pitiful as Elijah.

But God doesn’t give up on us. He speaks to us as he did Elijah: “Go Back!” It’s a command. At God’s command, Elijah is restored. He doesn’t whine. He doesn’t complain any more. He leaves the cave and he returns, in spite of the arrest warrants out for him.

The last picture we see of Elijah is a return to the power he experienced on Mount Carmel.

As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 2 Kings 2:11

We cannot always be as powerful as we want to be. Nor will we always be as pitiful as we think we sometimes are. We live most of our lives somewhere between these two extremes: either fearful or restored.

When we are fearful, we learn to trust God.

When we are being restored, we learn to thank God.

We are fragile in body, in mind and in soul, just like Elijah was. But God uses us all the same.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail;
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.


From Bema to Bema, and all of the Bemas In-Between

The Strategy of Paul’s Evangelism

Stone with 2 Corinthians 4:17 inscribed on it that sits atop the bema in the Corinthian agora.

Whenever the Apostle Paul entered into a new community, the first place he sought out was the place where Jews were praying and studying the Torah. Paul’s custom was to engage with people at synagogues.

Paul’s strategy for evangelism is stated here by Luke in the book of Acts as he records Paul’s travels to Thessalonica:

As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. NIV Acts 17:2-3

The third town Paul stopped at after Thessalonica was Corinth, where Paul stayed for 18 months, preaching the Gospel and making tents.

In Corinth, Paul met a married couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who were believers from Rome. They were expelled from Rome by Claudius in a persecution of the Jews. Aquila and Priscilla were tentmakers as Paul was. He began working with them and continued his trade until Silas and Timothy joined them in Corinth. From that point on, Paul focused exclusively on preaching the Gospel.

In Corinth, Paul makes a major shift in his evangelism strategy. The Jews in Corinth were agitated by Paul’s preaching. They became abusive toward him. Luke tells us that:

…they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” NIV Acts 18:6

This change in strategy wasn’t permanent. As Paul leaves from Corinth to travel to Ephesus we find him, again, going into the synagogue to reason with the Jews from the scriptures about Jesus being the Messiah.

Paul in the Agora

So where did Paul take his preaching and teaching? The marketplace.

Each town in ancient Greece had an agora. An agora is a market, or center for commerce. Corinth, in the first century, was a thriving town and would have had an active market. This was probably where Paul’s companions, Aquila and Priscilla had a tent shop.

A view of what remains of the Corinthian agora.

Other important civil functions took place at the agora. This would have been the area where the Romans held court. There were also temples and cultic places of worship in and around the agora.

Paul’s ministry in Corinth was extremely fruitful. Luke mentions a man named Titius Justus, who showed Paul hospitality. It is thought that Titius was a prominent person who was wealthy enough to be able to entertain the new church in Corinth at his house.

Another notable person mentioned by Luke is Crispus, the leader of the synagogue. He, and his entire household, believed Paul’s message and were baptized. This must have been a great encouragement to Paul since many of the Jews were hostile to his ministry.

As encouraging as the conversion of Crispus must have been, it did not change the attitude of the Jews in Corinth about Paul. Even as he preached in the marketplace, they continued to harass and attack him.

Paul at the Bema

The Jewish prosecution of Paul came to a head as they seized him and brought him to the Roman authority, a man named Gallio.

The place where they brought Paul was part of the marketplace. It was called the Bema. Bema is translated in Scripture as either Judgment Place or Judgment Seat. It was a raised area where a crowd could gather to hear speeches, and in the case of Paul, to hear the accusations and the verdict against him.


Paul would have been presented to the Roman authorities on top of this raised ledge to be tried as a lawbreaker.

This is a view from on top of the bema, the place where Paul stood accused.

Unfortunately, for the mob that brought Paul to the bema, the verdict was not what they wanted. The accusation was:

“This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.” NIV Acts 18:13

Gallio was unimpressed by the charges. As a rule, the Romans tried to stay out of religious disputes. They were glad to assert themselves when Roman control was at stake, but in matters of piety, they couldn’t care less.

When Paul tried to give a defense of his preaching, Gallio cut him off. Gallio said to the Jews:

“If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law–settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” NIV Acts 18:14-15

Gallio showed a great contempt for the Jews in Corinth. Upon hearing the verdict their anger flared and they turned on their own synagogue leader, a man named Sosthenes. Perhaps it was Sosthenes’ idea to bring Paul to the bema. Maybe Sosthenes thought they could get rid of Paul by making a nuisance of him before the Roman authority. Luke doesn’t give us any other insight into why the crowd turned on Sosthenes, but he does tell us that Gallio looked on while the mob beat him and showed no concern for him.

Paul was able to remain in Corinth for some time after this event. It’s amazing that the sequence of events in Paul’s ministry that took place in Corinth were very similar to events that occurred in most of the places Paul preached. Even more extraordinary than the recurrence of events in Paul’s ministry is that he maintained his ministry at all. How many lesser men have given up their task due to lighter difficulties?

Paul’s Persistence in Preaching

Paul’s confidence in the Gospel message is shown through his perseverance in preaching the message about Jesus, especially in unfriendly territory. Because of past experience, he knew his message would bring about attacks and reprisals, but for the sake of the Gospel, Paul continued preaching.

Where did he find the strength? How did he maintain his resolve? What kept him going?

I think Paul touches on this himself in the second letter to the Corinthians. Since they knew about his struggles while he was with them, he could pour out his heart to them. He writes to them and says:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. NIV 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Paul was not concerned with the bemas he faced in this life. His ministry was lived out between two other bemas, or Judgment Seats.

The Bema Jesus Faced

The first was the Judgment of Christ.

While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” NIV Matthew 27:19

Here we find a Judgment Seat far removed from the one Paul was brought to in Corinth. It wat not Paul who was on trial but Jesus. Pilate was the Roman governor in Jerusalem in the time of Jesus and Jesus’ life was held in the balance of his decision. Pilate was against killing Jesus but the crowd was so fervent in demanding his death that he consented rather than spark an uprising.

There were two men named Jesus present at the Judgment Seat, or bema, of Pilate that day. One was Jesus of Nazareth and the other was named Jesus Barabbas.

Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” NIV Matthew 27:15-17

The crowd, stirred up by the chief priest and the elders, called for the release of Barabbas, a criminal charged with insurrection and murder. When Pilate asked what should be done with Jesus of Nazareth, the crowd shouted, “Crucify!”

In front of everyone, from the bema, Pilate washed his hands and said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your responsibility.”

To that the crowd replied, “His blood is on us and on our Children.”

We know the rest of the story. We remember that on the third day Jesus rose from the grave. He told us this would happen. It’s was God’s plan that he face the Judgment Seat in our place. For our salvation, he was condemned for us and he died for us. And to our great delight, the grave where they placed his body is still empty to this day as a reminder that the grave holds no consequence for us.

The Future Bema of Jesus

But there was another Judgment Seat that inspired Paul and kept him preaching with power. It was a future Bema, and Christ would be there as well. Instead of Pilate or Gallio holding court, it would be Jesus presiding.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. NIV 2 Corinthians 5:10

The destiny of every believer involves this Judgment Seat. Warren Wiersbe says that this Judgment Seat made Paul “ambitious for the Lord because he wanted to meet him with confidence and not shame.”

Paul pursued Christ with reckless abandon. He threw comfort and safety and security to the wind in order to be found faithful to his calling.

At the Judgment Seat of Christ Paul fully expected to receive a great reward.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. NIV 2 Timothy 4:7-8

Paul directs us with his words and with his example in the way we should live our lives in Christ.

So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.
2 Corinthians 5:9

The Location Most Central to Our Story

The Garden Tomb Area

We saved the best for last. 

All of Christianity starts right here, at the Garden Tomb. 

   
The history of the world hinged on this acre of land. 

The Gardem Tomb area contains two significant places: the tomb of Jesus and the hill called Golgotha. 

Here is a picture of Golgotha, the place Jesus and two others were crucified. 

 
You can make out the features that gave it the name “the place of the skull.” 

The tour guide brought out pictures taken of this location 105 years ago. It looked more like a skull then, but it still lends itself to a skull like figure. 

Someone built a bus depot over the mouth of the skull and the Muslims built a cemetery on top of it (their graves are still full).  

 
Unlike the popular images we often see of the cross, planted high on a hill, the cross of Christ would have been in a very public area. The Romans used crosses like we use road signs. The area of Golgotha is at the fork of two major ancient roads. It was a perfect location for the Romans to remind everyone who was in charge. 

The Tomb

After Jesus died, his body was taken off the cross and placed in a nearby tomb. 

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. (‭John‬ ‭19‬:‭41-42‬ NIV)

The tomb has not been altered much in 2,000 years. It’s just there. No decorations. No adornments. 

It invites you to come and see. It draws you in. It begs you to look inside. 

 
The original stone has long been gone. Here is a replica, but a good replica. 

   
The inside of the tomb barren, just as it ought to be. 

The place to the left is where they would have placed Jesus’ body. 

 
We stood in this tomb for a long while. We took our pictures, and then experienced a little resurrection of our own as we exited the door we came in. 

   

A Memorial Meal

To finish off our tour, we celebrated with the Lord’s Supper. 

Using matzah bread and olive wood communion cups, we prayed our prayers, recieved the elements, and sang a parting hymn. 

 
Being in the Garden Tomb brings the broken body and shed blood of Christ into a new light. 

Strange Signs

I posted this pictures on Instagram and Facebook earlier. I think the first one is a warning about Resurrection and the other warns about Worship. Worship is a natural reaction to the encounter of resurrection. 

 

Warning: Resurrection Happens Here

  

Warning: Resurrection Encounters Lead To Worship

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” 

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (‭Mark‬ ‭16‬:‭1-8‬ NIV)

There is more to come…

Catch up from previous post:
 
Different Hats and Funny Dresses

Baptism in the Jordan River

Jerusalem

Greece 

Following Peter and Paul Through Rome. 

Standing on Hallowed Ground 

I Found the Darkest Place in Jerusalem

As for the other events of Hezekiah’s reign, all his achievements and how he made the pool and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah? (‭2 Kings‬ ‭20‬:‭20‬ NIV)

When I get to this passage in the future, I can say “Been There, Done That.” 

If they would have sold T-Shirts at the end of it, I would have bought one. 

  
This tunnel that was dug during the reign of King Hezekiah is an engineering marvel. Hezekiah ordered the construction of this tunnel in order to fight off the siege of the Assyrians. A guide told me that the construction of the tunnel took only 18 months. Unbelievable!

This tunnel was hand chiseled through limestone. Most of it is high enough for a tall Texan to stand in but long stretches are just 4 feet. If it were any narrower I would have had to go on a severe diet in order to make it all the way through. 

  
Hayden, Clay Pope, and myself made the 1700 foot long journey in about 20 minutes. 

   
 
A few times, while traveling through the tunnel, we turned our flashlights off. It was eerie in the blackness , hearing nothing but our own breathing and the dripping of water from the ceiling.

Previous Post from this Trip:

Different Hats and Funny Dresses

Baptism in the Jordan River

Jerusalem

Greece 

Following Peter and Paul Through Rome. 

Standing on Hallowed Ground 

IMG_7516-3.jpg

Different Hats and Funny Dresses

 We have traveled through a menagerie of faiths and traditions on our tour of the Holy Land. Every now and then we have to attire ourselves to fit the tradition of a specific holy site. 

Nabi Samuel and the first Yamaka

Our first stop this morning was at a synogouge commemorating the Prophet Samuel. 

   
As we entered the synogogue the men recieved a yamaka. It was a one size fits all kind of thing, and we got to take it with us after we were through. 

 
We climbed to the top of the synogogue through this ancient staircase. 

   
When the crusaders arrived on this hill in 1099, they called it Mons Gaudi, or in English, Mountian of Joy. It was given this name becaus this was the first hill from which they could see Jerusalem. It does make for an impressive view in the morning. 


The Tomb of the Patriarchs and the Funny Robes

When we went to the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, it was the ladies who had to don the extra clothes. The mosque sits atop a hill which contains the traditional site of the Cave of Machpelah. Abraham bought the cave and the field associated with it from a Hittite in order the bury Sarah. 

The ladies in our group were give robes to cover their heads, their arms, and their legs to their ankles. I thought they looked like Kids dressed up for Halloween, but there was no candy to be found here. 

  

This is the marker for Abraham’s tomb. There is also a marker for Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah.  Jacob’s wife Rachel was buried somewhere near Bethlehem. 

These are Jacob’s last instructions to his sons: 

Then he gave them these instructions: “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites. ” When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people. (‭Genesis‬ ‭49‬:‭29-33‬ NIV)

  

Hayden even had to get in on the action at the Hebron site. Any male not wearing pants had to put on a covering down to their ankles as well. 

Did I mention we had to take off our shoes?
 

My Favorites

The memory of the Jordan River baptism will be a treasure for the rest of my life. They gave us baptismal robes on our way down to the water. We are bringing them home with us later this week.    
We stopped in Jericho just for a bit. A man came and put this on my head and befor so could say, “Get away from me creep” he dropped his price for this nice headgear to a very good deal. Just before our bus drove off, he offered all the rest of his head scarfs to everyone else on the bus for an even better deal. I was only a little singed. But I did feel like a good Samaratain. 

The backdrop for the picture below is a monastery on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, the same path the Good Samaratain would have taken. It’s also the road King David would have refered to when writing about the “Valley of the Shadow of Death.”

  
My Standby

When I get back home, I think I’ll stick with the baseball hat. I think Sam Houston State Universiry, the school my son and my money will be going to in the Fall, should offer my some advertising money for representing the SHSU brand all over the world. A free hat from time to time would be nice. 

   

Catching Up

Here are the other posts from this trip:

 
Fish For Breakfast?

Baptism in the Jordan River

Jerusalem

Greece 

Following Peter and Paul Through Rome. 

Standing on Hallowed Ground 

Fish for Breakfast? Really?

I’ve always been curious about one story in the Bible. Do you remember when the disciples went fishing together a few days after the resurrection? They were on the Sea of Galilee when the Lord called out to them. When they came to Jesus, with a miraculous catch of fish, he prepared them a breakfast of fish and bread. 

Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. (‭John‬ ‭21‬:‭10-14‬ NIV)

Guess what I’ve been eating for breakfast. 

  
Yeah, that’s 4 different kinds of fish there. Whole sardines that taste like sardines. Two different kinds of sardine like filets. And the fish steaks on the top of the plate are smoked (these were my favorite). 

I always assumed that Jesus prepared fish for breakfast because that was the food they had on hand. It turns out that they eat a lot of fish around here. I haven’t seen bacon in days.  

Capernaun is the place Jesus would have called his hometown as an adult. There are many structures still there from the first century. 

  
Much of the action of the Gospels takes place along the banks of the Sea of Galilee. 

 

It’s actually not a “Sea” but don’t tell the people around here that. It seems to make them upset. It’s the size of a modest sized lake in Texas and full of fresh water. 

 This boat sunk in the Sea of Galilee sometime around the first century.   During a drought the level of the water went down enough to reveal this boat. Most of it was buried beneath mud. It’s about 30 feet long. We can imagine Peter and James and John fishing from a boat just like this one before Jesus called to them to join him for breakfast. 
When we get back to the States I’ll go back to having bacon and eggs for breakfast. But for now, I’ll stick to the fish. 

  
Posts from Previous Days

Baptism in the Jordan River

Jerusalem

Greece 

Following Peter and Paul Through Rome. 

Standing on Hallowed Ground 

On Jordan’s Stormy Banks I Stand…

Here are a few highlights from our day in Israel.  

Masada 

This morning we started out in Masada. The best way I can describe Masada is to call it the Alamo of Ancient Israel. Here, around 960 Jewish rebels held their ground against an overwhelming Roman force for months. When the Romans finally broke through the defensive walls, the Jews chose to kill themselves rather than suffer Roman death, imprisonment, humiliation, or slavery. 

   

This is scaled model of what Masada looks like. We looked down on a coup of planes flying by.

  

The little brown square is the remains if a Roman camp.

  

THE LONG RIDGE LEADING UP TO THE PLATUE IS A MAN MADE SEIGE RAMP. THE ROMANS USED PRISONERS OF WAR TO CONSTRUCT THIS RAMP THAT WENT UP 1,300 FEET.

 

The En Gedi

 
  
 
We are standing in a desert, 1,200 feet below sea level while at En Gedi. The earth opens up here and flows with water. King David used this location a number of times because of the natural caves in the cliffs. There are wild goats here called ibex. 

I wonder if a place like this helped inspire David to write:

As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God. (‭Psalms‬ ‭42‬:‭1‬ NASB)

  

Qumran

   
 
In the time of Jesus, there was a community of people called the Essenes. They were men who chose to separate themselves from the wickedness of the world and prepared themselves for the kingdom of God. They practiced baptism (twice a day for every member of the community).  They also copied scripture onto papyrus scrolls. Some of the oldest copies of the Old Teatament were discovered in at Qumran. The Essenes left a number of scrolls in caves inside earthen vessels. A shepherd boy found them accidentally in the cave above. 

The Dead Sea

   
 
The Dead Sea was a once in a lifetime kind of experience. I don’t know if Jesus would have been caught here, covering himself with mud, but then again, he could make his own healing mud (John 9:6). 

They say the minerals in the mud of the Dead Sea is great for your skin. If that’s true, we should be good for the rest of our lives. 

The floating is hard to describe. If it wasn’t for the 107 degree heat, or the sting of the salt, I could have taken a great nap there. 

The Jordan River

This was the highlight of the day, if not the entire trip. 

   

      
   
The Jordan reminds me of the Bosque River back home. I love that we were able to experience this together. Hayden has gained a lot of experience baptizing with me in the prison ministry. This was our experience of worship on the Lord’s Day.

I’m looking forward to the baptisms we have at home over the next couple of weeks. I’ll add some water from the Jordan to the water we normally pour up to remind everyone about the connection between Jesus’ baptism and our own baptism. 

The Shadow of the Valley of Death 
    
The conclusion of our day was the best time to take in the section of road that lies between Jerusalem and Jericho. There is a stretch of this path where Jesus would have been talking about in the story of the Good Samratian. Also, David mentions this path when he talks about the “Shadow of the Velly of Death.”  As the sun sets in the west, long dark shadows overtake the little valleys between the hills. These dark places would have been perfect for raiders and robbers to hide. 

 
I met a new friend while we were visiting Jericho today. He told me that a person as important as I am should wear a scarf fit for a king. I could not disagree with such an honorable fellow. So for the price of a healthy small camel, I recieved a very nice new headdress. I took it off in order to pass back through Israeli security checkpoints. 
 

Maybe it’s best to end with a Psalm:

 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (‭Psalms‬ ‭23‬:‭1-6‬ NASB)

Posts from Previous Days

Jerusalem

Greece 

Following Peter and Paul Through Rome. 

Standing on Hallowed Ground 

Jerusalem is Nothing Like I Thought it would Be

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Lift up your gates and sing; Hosanna in the highest, Hosanna to your King.”

Jerusalem is not what I pictured in my mind. 

Jerusalem is not just a “city on a hill,” it is a city of hills. 

You can see in the first picture below the steep grade we traveled as we went down toward the Garden of Gesthemane.  The path we walked is the path Jesus would have taken as he approached the city of Jerusalem prior to his triumphant entry into the city. It wasn’t as crowded today as it was when Jesus walked here before the week he was crucified.    
On this spot Jesus would have been able to look over most of Jerusalem. There is a Muslim population of about 300,000 in this city today, along with about 500,000 Jews. As we walked down this path the Muslim call to prayer was sounding all over the city. We read Jesus’ words about how his heart broke for the city he loved: 

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ” (‭Matthew‬ ‭23‬:‭37-39‬ NIV)

 
On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus brought his disciples here, the Garden of Gesthemane, for prayer. 

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing. (‭Matthew‬ ‭26‬:‭36-44‬ NIV)

   
The tree Hayden is looking at has been dated to be roughly 2,300 years old. It’s narly branches tell a story all of their own. 

 
It feels strange taking a selfie here, but while here, you feel drawn to this place. I’m proud to be here with those I love. 

   
    
This is a picture from inside a church beside the Garden. The centerpiece is a bit of the bedrock that belonged to the Garden of Gesthemane. Was it the place where Christ prayed? Probably not, but it’s a lot closer to it than we are in Nederland. Just being near this stone that was near Jesus inspires awe. 

 
Jerusalem is not what I expected. It’s better. It’s richer with story than I imagined. It invites you to participate in sacred history. You can feel close to God anywhere, but you feel closer to His story when you stand in the place the story was lived.