The Entrance to the Garden Tomb

The Entrance to the Garden Tomb

As Good Friday and Easter approaches, I have been swept back to Israel and the trip of a lifetime I was blessed to take last September.  My heart races as I look at those pictures and recall the memories gained while in the Holy Land!  Today, the picture above has been heavy on my heart, not because of the finality typically associated with a burial place, but because of the hope permeating from and around the empty tomb.

Matthew 27:57-61 – When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

Most people at the time of Jesus’ burial thought it was the end of the potential new kingdom as they believed Jesus was to become the earthly King of Israel, ushering in peace to a land of turmoil.  The peace they were seeking was a fleeting peace; one that ends with our time on earth. However, He had a much bigger audience in mind!  This kingdom Jesus spoke of is one in which He would become the ultimate King – the King of Heaven and Earth!  The Kingdom in which He spoke of regarding to eternity…His heavenly Kingdom which is available to anyone who believes in Jesus and that He is who He said He was!

Matthew 28: 1-7 – Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”

Can you picture the Mary’s faces upon hearing this news and seeing that He was gone?  Can you imagine the emotional responses of the disciples when they first heard the girl’s story?  Maybe a bit of disbelief, but I bet they all had a hope inside of them wanting to believe it with every fiber of their bodies.  And then that moment when they saw the risen Jesus…that had to be the most amazing moment of their lives!  I can envision the inner 12 going through a series of Aha moments recalling the many times Jesus spoke about His death and resurrection and they simply did not get what He was saying!  I can envision the disciples walking by the empty tomb for years after this; they had to be shaking their heads with a smile saying, “Jesus, that was awesome!  You got me!  Thanks for including me on this amazing journey!  I have to go and tell everyone about this!”

The empty tomb and the resurrected Christ, as witnessed by so many people and recorded for all of us to read, is screaming to a lost and dying world – death has been beaten, Jesus is risen, and you can rise too!

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As Resurrection Day approaches, I pray we will all reflect on the moment when we died to our own selfish desires and became alive in Christ.  As you do, share your story with others along this journey as you never know if you could be the beginning of someone elses resurrection story!

If you don’t have a relationship with Jesus yet, you can take care of that right now.  There is no magical prayer or even anything specific you need to recite.  You simply need to believe that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived a perfect life, took the sin of the world upon His shoulders to the grave and left it there as He rose back to life!  This is His amazing gift of grace that He offers to us so that we can spend eternity with Him – we just have to believe!  His gift of grace is really that simple and available to anyone who believes!

John 11:25 – Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying

I will close with this beautiful song by Casting Crowns…I love this song as it tells His story:

“Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me)”

One day when Heaven was filled with His praises
One day when sin was as black as could be
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin
Dwelt among men, my example is He
Word became flesh and the light shined among us
His glory revealed

[Chorus:]
Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified freely forever
One day He’s coming
Oh glorious day, oh glorious day

One day they led Him up Calvary’s mountain
One day they nailed Him to die on a tree
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is He
Hands that healed nations, stretched out on a tree
And took the nails for me

[Chorus]

One day the grave could conceal Him no longer
One day the stone rolled away from the door
Then He arose, over death He had conquered
Now He’s ascended, my Lord evermore
Death could not hold Him, the grave could not keep Him
From rising again

[Chorus]

One day the trumpet will sound for His coming
One day the skies with His glories will shine
Wonderful day, my Beloved One, bringing
My Savior, Jesus, is mine

[Chorus]

Glorious day, Oh, Glorious day

love

Recently, my wife Lisa and I were able to take a short retreat to Cincinnati to focus completely on our marriage as we attended a Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference.  Going into the weekend, we both would have said the weekend was really just a chance to get away and rest, and maybe takeaway some refresher tips for our marriage.  After all, we’ve been married for 23 ½ years and have seemingly gone through every struggle imaginable over those years and persevered, and eventually thrived, through those struggles…focusing on God really makes all the difference in the world!  However, we learned quickly that in every marriage, and likely every healthy relationship, when not being 100% intentional, we tend to take each other for granted and slip up in areas of connection and conversation.  I am so thankful that we were able to attend and invest in our marriage to ensure many fruitful years to come!  I highly recommend a yearly marriage retreat or conference for every married couple (and every engaged couple)…your marriage is worth the yearly investment!

As I began thinking more about some of the discussions during the weekend, as well as witnessing so many young couples struggling in the areas of love and communication, I was reminded of some very wise counsel we had received a few years into our marriage that really helped us gain a better understanding of how marriage works and thrives.  The area of challenge is love – is it a feeling or a choice?

Let me ask you this: If someone were to come up to you and demand for you to “Love Me!” what are the odds that you will fall deeply in love with that person at that moment?  Demanding love never works, and is likely to repel the other person, not attract them.  Yet, when we show someone we love them, making choices to love them by having conversations with them, doing things for them, placing their needs and desires above your own, not only will your love for that person grow, odds are they will reciprocate that love.  You see, people respond with love when you love them in practical ways.  That giddy “in love” feeling can be deceiving because when that feeling, or emotion, fades we have a choice – we either choose to love or we choose to run.  True love always chooses to love, even when the feeling of being “in love” wanes a bit.  Mature love is active!

Some will say the “in love” feeling will never fade; “I love him/her too much!”  However, ask any woman with kids who are nurturing and caring for them, taking care of them when sick, running them around to all their destinations, all while working and trying to maintain the family unit…that “in love” feeling either turns to resentment or she chooses to love her husband in the midst of the trials and child-rearing.

In our marriage, that “in love” feeling faded pretty quickly as we had been married for 6 months when we got pregnant with our first child.  How I wish we would have understood that love is a choice as opposed to a feeling early in our marriage…I believe it would have saved us a lot of heartache and pain.  Once we understood that love is an action, not an emotion, we were able to begin healing and start loving each other again because we wanted to…not because of a feeling, but because of a choice.  Like any stage of life, love grows and matures as it becomes part of who we are.  Once discovered, I can honestly say that I love my wife Lisa more now than I ever have!

I can say without any hesitation that any marriage can be healed, regardless of how deep the hurt and betrayal may be.  I have witnessed in many marriages, as well as ours, miraculous healing that can only be credited to God and two people choosing to not give up on the godly institution of marriage.  You want to know something key…your spouse doesn’t deserve your love!  And you don’t deserve their love either!  We are all broken and fallible individuals seeking love and acceptance.  The key to a thriving marriage is placing God first in everything you do!   When we keep God first, loving our spouses becomes an act of love toward God as well as our spouse.  Our spouse may not deserve our love at times, but God always does, and He says that we love because He first loved us:

1 John 4:19 – We love each other because he loved us first.

So remember these key tips on growing a healthy marriage:

1 – Love God first and above all else.

2 – Love your spouse because God loves you – you reciprocate His love by loving your spouse.

3 – Remember, mature love is a choice, not a feeling.

Every healthy and mature marriage requires these three steps, and every unhealthy, failing marriage can be healed by two people taking these three steps.

I can say with all the boldness I can muster that because God loves me, I love Him more than anyone else!  Because I love Him so much, I choose to love Lisa with all my heart and in my daily choices.  Choosing to love her because God loves me doesn’t cheapen my love for her…it actually deepens that love because our marriage now is firmly planted on the foundation of God’s love!  And no other love can be as solid as God’s love for us…after all; He sacrificed His Son Jesus because He loves us that much!

In the past few weeks I have had the incredible opportunity to visit two newly planted churches – Church of The Hills in Nashville, TN and The Cathedral in Flint, MI.  Along with other members of itown church, we set out to encourage and support these two new congregations as they get their feet firmly planted within their communities to reach as many people as possible for Jesus Christ…doing anything short of sin to reach people for Christ!  We fell in love with the hearts and sacrifice of these amazing people as they fulfill the call God has placed in them to be a local outpost in their communities loving God and loving those around them!  We’ve made some life-long friends as well, all while cheering one-another on from afar serving our local communities and introducing people to Jesus!

Supporting the local church is an awesome responsibility for us all because in every community the local church truly is the hope for that community as well as the hope of the entire world!  With so many individual churches in our communities, The Global Church (everyone who follows Jesus) must support one-another and understand that church is not (and should never be) a competition.  The Church is a living entity of individual gatherings of people who need to be working together to reach the world for Christ; putting aside differing styles and rituals that are simply preferences, not doctrine!

church-competing

Unfortunately the picture above kinda hits a sore spot, doesn’t it?  Far too many local gatherings have chosen to not read (or at least understand) the memo from Paul where he calls us to band together as The Church body to reach as many people as possible for the sake of Jesus Christ!  Instead, many local churches have placed themselves in the headship of The Church as the only means in the community to have a relationships with Jesus – yet Jesus said we, as His followers, are ALL in this together as The Church with many different members of the body who must work together for the good of every person who is far from God in our communities…and Jesus is the only head of The Church!

Romans 12:3-8 – For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

I recall a story Andy Stanley, Lead Pastor at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA, shared regarding a gay-pride parade set to pass in front of their rather large church building on a given Sunday morning.  Andy and his staff tried to think it through to try to have as many congregants and volunteers as possible already in the building before the parade was set to pass.  They discussed how to keep the congregation inside the building a little longer than usual as to not “expose” the members to what they deemed a moral concern, possible protest or at the least an ugly exchange.  They were more focused on hiding their “righteous” eyes than reaching a community of people who need Jesus as much as we do.

As the morning began brewing, Andy was feeling a bit convicted and torn – from what I recall in his story, he and some others went outside to see how things were shaping up.  His conviction was set in stone when he saw the small church congregation across the street lining the road and handing out glasses of water to all the participants in the gay-pride parade – smiles on their faces as they opened their hearts to those walking along!  Conversations were happening and a bridge to an unreached group of people was being built right across the street!  Wow!  This congregation understood what it means to serve the community, offer grace to all, and love our neighbors with the love of Christ!  The lesson Andy learned that morning has shaped the ministry of North Point to this day as they seek to extend grace and love to the very people most congregations won’t engage – people far from God!  How different might this story have been if the churches were on the same page instead of working it from their own angle?  Odd isn’t it…what is the purpose of the local church if not to love God and love others?  Those far from God are exactly who Jesus said He came to save, and when we follow Him, we should be no different:

Luke 5:32 – I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.

Now, something amazing happens when you break that down…Jesus came to save sinners who are lost without a Savior.  Every person on this planet has at least one thing in common – we are all sinners!  The difference between being lost and found is a simple act of faith – believing in Jesus Christ!  How pious we become when we somehow think we are better than someone else because we are in relationship with Jesus!  The fact that we are in relationship with Jesus ought to embolden us to engage the community around us and share the good news of Jesus’ amazing love and grace!  How do we do this?  We build relationships with people who God has placed in our path (co-workers, fellow students, gas station attendant, Taco Bell employee, Starbuck’s server, etc.).  As we genuinely love those around us, opportunities will arise where we can share our testimony, our story, of how Jesus has changed our lives.  It is through relationship that God created man; it is through relationship that God sent His Son Jesus to save this world; it is through relationship that Jesus died for you and me; it is through relationship where Jesus came into your life and changed you; and it will be through relationship where each lost soul on earth will have an opportunity to begin a faith relationship with Jesus to change their eternal path.

Jesus has one plan for the salvation of this world – The Church (ALL followers of Jesus).  Jesus poured into 12 men…upon His resurrection and ascension to heaven He set them loose with one goal in mind – get into relationship with people in your path, share the good news of Jesus’ incredible gift of grace, and help others on the path do the same!  Here is Jesus’ commission to His disciples, and in turn His commission for us as The Church:

Matthew 28:18-20 – And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Go – our commission to get into people’s lives and build relationships…you can’t build a relationship unless you are willing to go.

Baptize – as relationships are built we share our story of how Jesus changed our lives.  This is where people have an opportunity to hear the Good News of Jesus’ gift of grace and respond to that Good News by accepting that gift and beginning a relationship with Jesus.  When the topic of baptism is brought up we must also understand that water baptism is simply a public profession of one’s new relationship with Jesus – one next step in our faith journey proclaiming we belong to Jesus!  Though it is important to make that public proclamation, water baptism in and of itself is not a requirement of salvation.

Teach – we walk alongside those new in relationship with Jesus, helping them understand grace and showing them how to go into the world and begin making disciples through relationships.

“Go, Baptize and Teach” is the method Jesus commissioned us to make disciples who will learn to make disciples – this is how the world can be changed by a group of 12 men who passed it on to us!

Local churches and fellow believers; it’s far past time for The Church to come together and love one-another as we love those far from God.  When those far from God see how ridiculous individual church congregations treat one-another, they see the hypocrisy and want nothing to do with us!  When people see how critical “religious” people are in their comments or posts on social media as well in their arguments in the public square, why would we expect them to want join our mission let alone follow the One we say we follow?  God doesn’t want us to argue with people who think differently than we do.  No-one has been argued into the Kingdom!  Jesus wants us to love people who don’t know Him and get into relationship with people far from Him!  Only then will we have an opportunity to share the things that truly matter in this life!  People will want to know the One we follow when we actually reflect the One we follow!  So go out and show His love and grace to those around you – just as Jesus has extended His love and grace to you!  And cheer on the local congregations of people in your community who are reaching people for Jesus…the heavens explode with a party every time one sinner accepts salvation through Jesus.  Let’s join in that cheering and reach everyone together!

 

Who-is-Jesus

Over the past few months I have had several conversations with people who are genuinely seeking a relationship with Jesus; however, they struggle with believing the supernatural to be true.  I think if we are all honest with ourselves, we would admit that we have had similar feelings in our own journeys of faith.  Just as it is impossible to disprove God’s existence, it is equally impossible to prove His existence if you are trying to discredit Him from the start!

You see, when we have a bent toward non-belief, something has to happen in our mind and heart in order to accept and believe God is real!  Some will say they have a hard time believing because they are educated, yet some of the most brilliant people I know have deduced that God is real and He is the only explanation for such an intricate and creative universe in which we live.  In fact, I think believing everything came from nothing takes so much more “faith” than believing in a Creator.

One of the most amazing scientific observations for me is that there has been no evidence that has proven the Bible to not be true.  Instead, archeology has proven over and over the accuracy of the Bible and the existence of those recorded in the Bible.  After visiting Israel in 2014, I have a new understanding of how many archeological digs are going on now, and discoveries confirming the accuracy of the Bible are happening almost every day!  Scholars from the time of Jesus have confirmed Jesus existence as well as many other people recorded in the Bible.

Yet, discovering these site locations and seeing many with my owns eyes only increased my faith because I started with a belief that God exists and Jesus came to earth, died for my sin and was resurrected to live eternally with all of those who believe in Him.  The big question here is this…how do you shift from non-belief to belief?  I believe the answer in part lies in the following verse where Paul is addressing the people of Corinth:

2 Corinthians 3:14 –  But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ.

While living in this world, focusing on money and things instead of relationships and eternity, it is easy to think that God does not exist and we only live this life and then we die.  This world can be a dark place where it is difficult believing God exists, but in all reality (at least for those of us who do believe) it’s impossible for me to believe that God is not real when I see the amazing transformation in people who have been touched by God’s healing hand!  People cured from cancer; marriages restored after infidelity; drug addicts instantly sober and clean for years now; prisoners set free!

Many have said they don’t believe in miracles or don’t believe in the stories in the Old Testament, which alone I would agree are pretty hard to believe!  But, I truly believe Satan is simply clouding people’s minds with the unbelief of these things so that they will not be awed by who Jesus truly is!  If Satan can keep the veil over our eyes by focusing us on the little things, he doesn’t have to compete with Jesus on the most important thing – His love and Grace!  Again, when our focus is on anything other than Jesus our minds can be swayed to believe that everything came out of nothing, and the intricate balance of the cosmos just happened.

The key comes back to that verse in 2 Corinthians…the veil can only be removed by believing in Christ!  I doubt anyone would read the teachings of Jesus Christ regarding loving God and each other and say that is a load baloney!  I bet no-one would say that Jesus was wrong when He told the religious people of His day (those more focused on keeping the law instead of loving one-another) that they were all hypocrites and did not even know His Father.  The question, however, comes down to this…what will YOU do with Jesus? That’s the only question that really matters!  Let’s think it through a bit!

Starting with unbelief, or more specifically that everything we know of now started from nothing at the big bang.  Believing this means that you do not believe a Creator was involved in the creation of the universe and everything that makes up all matter.  Not even digging deep into the intricacies of life, just looking at that beginning moment, where did that bang originate?  And, what about before that?  You see, everything has to start from something.   Regardless of those beliefs, if you do not believe there is a God, a Creator, then why in the world would you even consider anything in the Bible to be true, especially the supernatural stuff?  When we start with a bias, in this case that there is no God, you can dismiss pretty much anything that you cannot explain and feel pretty good about your stance – except, it leads to nothing.  It’s hard to believe a man could turn water into wine or make a sick man well, let alone that everything was created in seven days.  You get the point!

However, say you start with a belief in Jesus – that He is who He said He is or at the very least that He may be who He said He is – and you seek to investigate His life with a true unbiased opinion.  You research and find that the earliest historians from Biblical times (Josephus and Eusebius to name two) record Jesus as being a real person who did some amazing things, along with the testimonies in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) from eyewitnesses in His life, is it easy to believe the man Jesus existed and that He was a great man.  Believing that He is the Messiah, our Savior, comes as we get to know this man and understand the life He lived on earth as well as the sacrifice He made on our behalf could only have come from a God who loves each and every one of the people in His creation.  Since the penalty for sin is death (sin always leads to death – death of relationships as well as physical death), either we pay with our life and spend eternity away from God, or we accept that Jesus did in fact walk this earth preaching the Good News (this is not disputed) and loved us enough to pay the penalty of death on our behalf…but (and it’s a huge but) He didn’t stop there!  He rose back to life so that we would have someone alive to follow as well as spend eternity!   Belief in Jesus is the catalyst in our life that will catapult our faith into depths of understanding and knowledge that can only come from God – removing the veil that Satan wants to keep over our eyes!  And belief in Jesus is the only way to spend eternity with God!  See how Jesus explains this to His disciples:

John 14:1-7“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”

“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”

If you can grasp Jesus as your Savior, do the miracles recorded in the Bible really seem like that big of a deal for a Savior like Jesus and a God big enough to create everything?  My earnest prayer for you is that you would seek Jesus with your heart and investigate His love and Grace.  I pray you discover the joy and peace that only comes from a relationship with Jesus!  When you accept His Grace and mercy, His love will be poured out on you and the veil will be lifted!  Again, all of life boils down to this one simple question: What will you do with Jesus?  Everything in all of eternity hinges on that single question!

Hello, let me introduce myself: I am just a guy…a guy on Valentine’s Day playing back the years of my marriage and realizing how blessed I am to be married to Lisa Marie Boyland.  So I thought I’d take an opportunity to brag on her a little!

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My lovely bride and I in Israel on our 23rd Anniversary this past year, September 28th, 2014

My wife’s heart is amazing!  The way she feels and shows compassion, seeking to help people take their next steps in relationship to Jesus, is inspirational to say the least!  Most every week she shares with me how she has had an encounter with someone God has placed in her path – someone hurting or angry, someone emotional or even possibly experiencing their last days on earth.  This side of my wife is the most attractive quality I see in her, and hearing her heart in these moments makes me realize how incredible she is and how much my love grows for her through these moments she shares with me!  Though I know she is beautiful on the outside, her inside is even more beautiful to me (and I am sure to those around her too)!

As I began to write a note in Lisa’s journal for Valentine’s Day (a journal in which only I get to write notes to her), a few verses from Proverbs 31, specifically the ones I list below, really jumped out at me as I look to the beauty, inside and out, of my incredible bride of over 23 years!

Proverbs 31:10-12, 26-30

10 An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.

11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.

12 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.

26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

27 She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

28 Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:

29 “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Over the past 23 plus years of marriage, we would both say that we struggled a lot in our marriage, especially the first 8 years!  As it is in any relationship, when selfishness takes over our flesh, nothing good can come of it!  I was (and sometimes still am) pretty selfish!  However, once we gave complete control of our marriage to God (a choice we must make daily), He has led us to an amazing reconciliation and I can with complete honesty say that I love my wife more now than ever since I met her some 24 years ago!  Just to be clear, I am not talking about that giddy feeling that we get when first dating or when we are early in our relationships.  The love I speak of is a choice!  I choose to love her every day because God has revealed more to me through our relationship than in any other area of my life!  As He guides her, I fall even more deeply in love with her because God is at the heart of it all…and I can see God in the decisions she makes and the words that she says!

Over the past couple years God has been pulling me out of my comfort zone and calling me to step into something bigger than myself.  As I continue to discover what He has planned for me and my family, I continue to see how He is guiding Lisa in the plans He not only has for her, but also the plans He has for us as a family!  I am seeing more clearly now than ever how Lisa has sacrificed and loved me and our family in ways that can only be summed up as miraculous!  Her faith in God’s plan for our lives has become an active, daily journey where she trusts God fully, listens to His guiding voice, and simply responds by doing what He says!  We can all learn a little bit about obedience and love from this amazing woman of God!

As God continues to guide our family, and specifically our marriage, I just wanted to publically say how incredibly blessed I am to be loved and married to Lisa!  Next to God, there is no-one I would rather navigate life with than her, and I cannot wait to see how He plays this life of ours out as we press on toward the finish line!

Happy Valentine’s Day to a true Proverbs 31 wife!  Lisa, thank you for being an amazing wife and for loving me in ways that are becoming more unbelievable than ever before!  I love you more now than at any point in our marriage, and the best is yet to come!

I’ve often heard people say something along the lines of this:  “God just wants me to be happy”, usually followed by a description of destructive behaviors and possibly life altering choices.  Like the twisted deception that Satan gave to Eve in the garden – “Did God really say….” – this lie is still one of Satan’s favorite tools to deceive believers in this more recent culture of the selfie.  Unfortunately, God’s desire for joy in our lives has been misinterpreted into thinking that He wants us to enjoy the worldly desires that can only give us a brief and false sense of happiness which is fleeting on this earth.  However, God’s true desire for us to enjoy this life has nothing to do with us being happy!  No, His desire for our joy in this life comes from our holiness – something we cannot attain on our own!

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So, can we obtain true happiness (or pure joy) from worldly desires?  I don’t believe we can…yet, this is one of the ways Satan tries to trip up believers – if he can’t take away our eternal security, he darn sure will try to make us turn our backs on the true joy that we can only obtain through God’s character and His purpose for our lives.  Finding ourselves within His will is how we obtain the joy we read about in the Scriptures.  The feeling of happiness that Satan tries to make people believe is good is what Paul calls the worldly desires, or works of the flesh, that completely contradict God’s joy that we deep down desire more than anything!

Galatians 5:16-25 – But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

The litmus test is really pretty simple, but when we are lost in the moment we must step back and evaluate our thoughts and behaviors to see if they line up with the “works of the flesh” (which are from Satan) or the “fruit of the Spirit” (which comes from God).

To follow Jesus, and to obtain True Joy while we are here on earth, we must take every thought and behavior to task and see where it falls:

  • Thought or behavior from Satan – The works of the flesh – sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. (You’ve seen people living in this mindset, and true happiness can never be found here…only destruction and pain)
  • Thought or behavior from God – The fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (When you see someone with this fruit on them, it is a beautiful thing to see and to feel…unless Satan is feeding your mind with envy or jealousy – you know, those fleshly thoughts)

It may be hard to see in the moment, but as we step back and review our current life situations we will discover (if we are being honest with ourselves) either Satan has complete control of our lives or we have allowed God to lead our lives.  If we choose Satan (and it is a choice), our relationships and lives will end in a miserable death – after all, Satan is the father of lies and his lies always lead to death:

John 8:44 – You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

But, when we choose God, our relationships, choices, desires, and path will be led with an exceedingly abundant joy that can only  come from our Father in Heaven.  That kind of joy can only be known when we have accepted Jesus as our Savior and Lord and choose to repent of the desires of our flesh (sin) while standing firm on the belief that God has a plan for our lives, and that plan will always reflect God’s good and perfect character.  He desires that we live a life that reflects the nature of His Son, Jesus, and anything less is simply our flesh giving in to Satan.

Romans 14:17 – For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking [fleshly desires] but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

God does not want us to be happy; He wants us to be Holy!  No, we cannot be perfect, but we can choose a Holy joy-filled life that only God can lead us to…a life and joy that reflects the One who gave His life for us!  And the immense joy that follows our desires for holiness can only be described as Miraculous!

 

Even though this will be my final post in this series describing my pilgrimage to The Holy Land, the land of Israel and it’s people have forever been etched into my heart and will, I am sure, come up from time to time in future writings!

Our next stop is Megiddon (greek for Armageddon).  Megiddon is located approximately 30 miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee in the northern quarter of Israel.  Some info from the Jewish Antiquities informs us that Archaeologists working in Megiddo have unearthed an incredible 25 layers of settlement built on top of each other that cover a period of 35 centuries.

The city of Megiddo dates back roughly 8,000 years. The city ceased to exist after the Persian invasion of Palestine some 2,300 years ago and, today, nothing is left but the ruins of what once was a regional administrative and military center during the reign of King Solomon.

Megiddo’s long history is related to its strategic position overlooking the Via Maris, one of the main routes used for travel between Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia. The city is referred to in the New Testament as Armageddon, a name St. John derived from the Hebrew for Mount Megiddo, Har Megiddo. According to the book of Revelation, this is the place where the last great battle will be fought when the forces of good will triumph over evil.

The first people to inhabit Megiddo arrived during the Neolithic period. A watershed period occurred in the 20th century BC when it became a fortified city-state. Egypt later dominated the area then known as Canaan and massive walls were built around the city, which indicate Megiddo had become wealthy and required protection.

The first written reference to Megiddo, in fact the first recorded battle in history, is a detailed account of the 1479 BC invasion of the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III. The city subsequently became a center of culture and politics.

Megiddo is first mentioned in the Bible in Joshua 12:21. At that time, the city was inhabited by Canaanites. The city later came under the control of King Solomon, though there is some controversy as to how much of a connection he had to the remains that have been discovered. The Israelite connection to the city ended around 732 BC when the Assyrians conquered Palestine. Though the city was destroyed and rebuilt several more times, it gradually declined in significance. Most recently, Megiddo was the place where British General Edmund Allenby launched his attack against the Turks in 1917. It also served as a base for Israeli forces in the 1948 War.

One of the interesting parts of the excavation is the chariot stables, called Solomon’s Stables even though we now know they were built by King Ahab during the 9th century BC. The only parts that remain are the posts where the horses were apparently tied and troughs. A grain silo dates from the reign of King Jeroboam in the 8th century BC.

Today, water is considered vital to the security and survival of Israel. This has been true since ancient times, and is evident in many archaeological sites throughout the country, including Megiddo. Here, an ingenious system was devised so the townspeople would not have to leave the safety of the city walls to collect water. A vertical shaft was dug within the city to the depth of the nearby spring and then a tunnel was built connecting to the water source. We walked down 183 steps into the shaft, which is 120 feet deep, and then along the tunnel, which stretches another 215 feet before exiting at a lower point on the hill.

Excavations have Uncovered Multiple Civilizations at Megiddo

Excavations have Uncovered Multiple Civilizations at Megiddo

Megiddo strategically sits on a large mound overlooking the Jezreel Valley (the Valley of Armageddon).  Megiddo has historic and future significance as it is mentioned several times in the bible (one reference below) and will be the location of the final battle at the end of days!

2 Kings 23:29 – In his days Pharaoh Necho, king of Egypt, went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and king Josiah went against him; and he slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him. 

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The top picture is a panoramic view of the entire Valley of Armageddon, 75 miles in length by 25 miles in width (not the best picture though).  At the far northern end (if my directions were correct) stands an Israeli military base that has been there preparing for the final battle for a long time!

The pictures above show some small mounds across the valley that have historic significance as well.  Many of the famous battles in Israel took place on these mounds, one of which is the battle of Deborah.   Deborah and Barak headed one of the greatest last battles of the Israelites over the northern Canaanite armies. The battle is known as the “battle of Deborah”,  and was fought during the late 12th Century BC. It brought an end to the mighty Canaanite city of Hazor, and completed the conquest of Canaan, several dozen years after Joshua first entered Canaan and conquered most of the land.

Judges 5:1-2 – Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day:“ That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord!”

It is amazing to know that this location will be the final battle that will usher us all into eternity with Jesus!

Revelation 16:16 – And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.

Our next stop was the port city of Ceasarea Martima, approximately 15 miles west from Megiddo, north of Tel Aviv by about 30 miles.  The ancient port city was constructed by Herod the Great about 25-13 BC and is the current site of one of the most amazing excavations of our time.  Israel has made this site a National Park due to the incredible discoveries!  Caesarea Maritima was named in honor of Augustus Ceasar. The city was described in detail by the 1st-century Roman Jewish historian Josephus. The city became the seat of the Roman prefect soon after its foundation. Caesarea was the “administrative capital” beginning in 6 AD. This city is the location of the 1961 discovery of the Pilate Stone (see below), the only archaeological item that mentions the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, by whose order Jesus was crucified.

As you can see from the pictures below, this site was Roman in every archeological sense!  It was likely built as a port to bring in wealth so that Herod could build his palaces stretching all the way to Jerusalem and beyond to the Dead Sea (Masada).

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Pilate Stone

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Standing on the Edge of the Roman Coliseum

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Typical Roman Archway

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Port

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More Romanesque Columns

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The Amphitheater was amazing and is still used to this day!  A concert was being set up while we toured:

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Our final stop before our flight back to the USA was Tel Aviv.  Tel Aviv is a hopping city where the average age is in the early 30’s and is a technical hotspot for young people making their mark in the technological world!  Before visiting Israel, we saw an interview and tour of the Holy Land in which the guide said that Tel Aviv looks pretty boring and lacks a lot of the social scene until about 9pm…then everyone comes out to play!  We witnessed that full force as we spent some down time on the Mediterranean beach and walking along the shops on the boardwalk.  It truly is a beautiful city!

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Israeli Flag on the Breaker

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View from our Hotel Room

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One Final Shot of My Beautiful Bride and Me on the Boardwalk in Tel Aviv

Thank you for taking a tour of my journey to the Holy Land!  I pray that you have been blessed in some way by my ramblings and my curious nature.  Often times when people return from Israel they say that once you’ve been there your bible reading goes from black and white into full color…I can say that is 100% true!  Every time I read my bible now, I am looking for locations as in most passages of scripture site references are made.  I am now able to look at a map and see how the scriptures and journeys in the bible come to life and can even visualize the places where our amazing Savior lived and ministered to the people.  I am truly amazed that in this little strip of land called Israel, the history and future of the world revolves around what started here and will ultimately end here!  Even so, come Lord Jesus!!!  Shalom!

Our next stop will take us to the furthest most point in northern Israel overlooking a valley where Syria and Israel meet.  An interesting fact along the way was that the road we were traveling on was in fact the Damascus Road, the very road (unpaved of course) where Saul, being on his way to Damascus to hunt down “Christians” (located in modern day Syria), heard from Jesus and would later became Paul – from a Pharisee hunting down followers of Jesus and killing them, to writer of over 30% of the New Testament!  When you encounter Jesus, you really are radically changed!

Acts 9:1-19 – But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision,“Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.
The Damascus Road

The Damascus Road

We first visited the Nature Park at Tel Dan.  This site is the location of the springs where the Jordan River begins.  At this Nature Preserve, we had the opportunity to hike a trail along the Jordan River to see the springs where it begins.  The first picture below is one of the springs that feeds the rivers beginning, and just a few yards down stream you can see the river is already flowing with rapids!

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The Jordan River Just a Few Yards from the Springs

The Jordan River Just a Few Yards from the Springs

Just up the trail from the springs was the ancient temple of Augustus where worship of the pagan god Pan occurred.  This incredibly sick pagan worship involved sacrificing children to Pan in the carved out cavern in the following picture.

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Along the way there were still signs of war as random tanks were left after one of the conflicts between Israel, Jordan and Syria.  This site was just a few short miles from the border of Syria, a border where much conflict still occurs almost weekly!

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Our final stop this day was a dormant volcanic park overlooking the UN Facility at the Syrian border.  This is the site where ISIS had come in and kidnapped UN Peacekeepers from this site…however, Israel sent in forces to retrieve the captives and shortly after they shut down this facility.  This is also the site where earlier in the week a Syrian jet was shot down as it was heading toward Israel in the buffer zone where no aircraft are allowed.

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To the Left is the UN Facility, the Hills are in Syria, and in Between is the Buffer Zone

This was a very surreal area as it really brought to life how close all these warring nations really are.  The Middle East is a hotbed of conflict and it all stems around the Jews and the Arabs dating back to Abraham’s two sons – Isaac and Ishmael.  Isaac was the promised son in whom the nation of Israel would be born.  He was the son in whom the inheritance of this entire region was promised.  However, Abraham and Sarah were very old and impatient.  Sarah gave one of her maids to Abraham to bear a child, in which Ishmael was born.  Abraham was promised that Ishmael would also be a great nation and would be at war with Isaac.  Ishmael, as you have guessed, is the father of the Arab nation, and that conflict continues to this day!

Genesis 15 records the promise from God that He would provide Abraham and Sarah a son.  Genesis 16 records their impatience where Sarah gives her maid Hagar to Abraham and Hagar bears Abraham a son, and he named him Ishmael.  Genesis 21 tells of Isaac’s birth and God gives Hagar the promise that Ishmael will not be forgotten.  Isaac and Ishmael are both promised many descendents by God.  Because of Abraham and Sarah’s unbelief that God would provide a child through Sarah even in their old age, and their disobedient act of thwarting that promise, the Middle East is at war to this very day!

Next week, we will discuss the culmination of the ongoing wars in the Middle East as we visit Megiddo (the Valley of Armageddon) and also our final day in Israel at Caesarea and Tel Aviv!  Until then, Shallom!

 

On the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee lies a triangle of small towns of great significance in the life of Jesus. Capernaum is located right on the northern shore, while Chorazin sits between 2 and 3 miles northwest of Chorazin, and Bethsaida stands 3 miles east along the shoreline of Galilee.

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As recorded in the gospels, most of Jesus’ earthly ministry occurred on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  It was here where over half of Jesus’ parables were taught and most of the recorded miracles as well.  Capernaum became Jesus’ hometown throughout His ministry, possibly due to His own town of Nazareth rejecting Him and even trying to throw Him off a cliff (Read Matthew 13:53-58 and Luke 4:16-30).  Capernaum was a fishing town, making up most of the residents vocations.  It was on this northern shore where Jesus chose the disciples who would take His message of Grace to the world!

Capernaum was the home of Jesus’ chosen disciples James, John and Matthew.  Mathew, as you may remember, was the tax collector of the town of Capernaum:

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. – Mathew 9:9

Three of His disciples hailed from a nearby town called Bethsaida – Peter, Andrew and Philip:

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael, and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” – John 1:43-45

Among the many miracles described in the gospels from this area, I will mention two of the most recognizable:

After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well. – Luke 7:1-10

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The Synagogue Built by the Centurion Mentioned in Above Verse.

And:

And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,“Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” – Mark 2:1-12

As we walked through Capernaum, we saw the synagogue where Jesus would have taught many days (same one the Centurion build from Luke 7 above).

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Closeup Showing the Size of the Columns in the Synagogue.

A little further down the the road we saw Peter’s mother-in-laws house where Jesus and His disciples stayed on many occasions while in Capernaum.  This site is covered by a Catholic Church, but at least it is still able to be seen underneath:

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The Metal at the Top is the Bottom of the Catholic Church.

I can see why this would have been a location Jesus spent much of His time as the beauty of this place on the Sea of Galilee is breathtaking – I can truly see why our guide, Mickey, has a strong desire to retire somewhere along these shores of the freshwater lake where the presence of Jesus can be felt in such a strong and serene way to this very day!

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View from Capernaum Overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

Statue of Peter - Peter was a prominent member of this community!

Statue of Peter – Peter was a prominent member of this community!  “Upon this rock I will build my Church” – Jesus

A couple miles northwest of Capernaum are the ruins of the ancient town of Chorazin.  The most prominent feature of this site is the ancient synagogue that is the center of the community.  Many artifacts and structures have been uncovered here.  Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida are mentioned in this famous passage spoken by Jesus where He condemns these cities for their unrepentant hearts in the full site of most of Jesus’ miracles while He walked the earth:

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you,Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” – Matthew 11:20-24

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The Seat for the Reader of the Scrolls in the Synagogue

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Ornate Archway

As seen in the following picture, the stone in which our guide is standing and teaching is called the Bema stone.  This would be where the reader of the scrolls, the teacher, would have stood while teaching in the synagogue:

Mickey Teaching us from the Bema Stone

Mickey Teaching us from the Bema Stone

Chorazin was a great place to see some incredible artifacts and also see how a small town would have functioned.  We then took a trip up the road to Bethsaida.  There is not much left at this location other that a small monument and an area to teach.  This place made a special connection for me because it is likely the place where Jesus fed the 5,000.  You can see in the picture below how this could be the place as the hill drops into the valley and at the time of Christ the Sea of Galilee would have come up into that valley and easily would have been a shoreline where Jesus could have stepped out of the boat (or back into the boat) for some teaching.

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In the Distance is the Sea of Galilee. Before Water was being Pumped out of the Sea, the Shoreline would have come up to the Treeline.

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Well Marked Bike Path

There was a great bike trail through this site, but you wouldn’t want to get off the path…there are still landmines that have not been detonated from the Syrian wartime all around this area – Syria is only a few short miles from this location.  We will discuss that more at our next stop, The Golan Heights and Dan.  Until then, Shalom!

 

Matthew 3:13-17Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.  And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

The Jordan River flows from the northern border of Jordan (southern border of Syria) along the eastern border of Israel (western border of Jordan) and ends as it enters the Dead Sea.  The Jordan River at the northern most point in Israel flows a couple miles south of the Sea of Galilee.  So when Jesus traveled from the region of Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized, it was a semi-short distance from where He was at the time (probably no more than 12-15 miles depending on how far south John was baptizing!  I love the idea of this prophet of God, John the Baptist, baptizing people in the Jordan for each person’s public repentance of their sins, and yet Jesus, the only sinless person to ever live, made His public appearance to be baptized by John to begin His ministry!  It was truly an honor to be baptized in that same river while we visited Israel!  Kind of surreal knowing that our Savior, the Son of God, Jesus Christ was baptized in the same river 2,000 years ago!

Going Under at The Jordan River!

Going Under at The Jordan River!

Celebration!

Celebration!

On our way to Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, we stopped at a place called Bet She’an, an archeological site approximately 15 miles south of the Sea of Galilee.  This site is the location of some amazing discoveries including a 7,000 seat Theatre, a Roman temple, bathhouse, and a column lined street that is a common site in many Roman archeological digs.

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Main Street through Bet Sha’en – Column Lined Roman City Street

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Theatre at Bet She’an

This is also the city mentioned in 1 Samuel where Saul and his sons bodies were found after their deaths:

1 Samuel 31:8-13 – The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. So they cut off his head and stripped off his armor and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines, to carry the good news to the house of their idols and to the people. They put his armor in the temple of Ashtaroth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan (Bet Sha’en). But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and went all night and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted seven days.

We then boarded our chariot (actually, a Mercedes bus driven by our amazing bus driver Udi) and headed down to our hotel in the city of Tiberias.  Upon arrival and check-in, we headed down to board a tour boat to take a peaceful boat ride around the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Lake of Genneseret).  The Sea is actually a small lake approximately 13 miles long and 8 miles wide and around 141 feet deep.  It is the largest fresh water lake in Israel.  This body of water is also the lowest fresh water lake on Earth at levels nearly 700 feet below sea level.

Ready to Board our Boat

Ready to Board our Boat

The Sea of Galilee is the Most Serene Place to Visit!  No Wonder Jesus Spent so Much Time Here!

The Sea of Galilee is the Most Serene Place to Visit! No Wonder Jesus Spent so Much Time Here!

As we sailed across this amazing body of water, I thought back to the many stories throughout Jesus life that took place all around this lake.  In the next post I will discuss our visit to the northern shore and surrounding areas of Capernaum where many amazing things occurred and are documented in the scriptures.  However, this day, I was drawn to the following scripture when out on the water:

Matthew 14:22-33 – Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.  And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

It was amazing actually being on the same water where Jesus and His disciples often crossed, fished and even this fateful day recorded in history when Jesus walked on the water and Peter went out to Him.  Often times we look at Peter’s story and say how small his faith must have been in many situations, but how many times have we actually made an attempt to fully trust Jesus at His word and step out in faith to follow Him?  Yes Peter eventually sank, but for that brief moment in history, Peter too was a water walker like Jesus!  There is a simple yet powerful point here…when we keep our eyes firmly set on Jesus, we seldom sink!  It’s when our eyes fall from the Savior and distractions take over that our greatest trials occur!  So where in your life have your eyes wandered away from Jesus, and how will you get that focus back?  Trials and struggles will occur, but when our eyes are focused on Jesus, we grow from those trials and they no longer become the driving forces in our daily lives.  I know living that way is sometimes easier said than done when in the middle of the struggle, but remember these words form Jesus:

John 16:33 – “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation (trouble). But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The peace of Jesus comes with or without the storms in our lives as long as our eyes are focused on Him, after all, as Jesus says, we will have trouble in this world, this life, but He has overcome the world!  And as followers of His, so have we!  Embrace Him now and choose peace within the storm!

Next stop we will visit Capernaum and the sites around the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee!  Many miracles and events occurred to the north and I cannot wait to share those with you next time!  Once again, until then, Shalom (Peace be with you)!

Today as I was studying the Scriptures, a passage that is all too familiar struck a new chord with me.  Over the past couple years God has been pressing deeply within my heart an understanding of Grace, deeper than I have ever understood Grace at any point of my life!  I have been amazed at how many times throughout the Scriptures where Grace is extended through faith and faith alone.  You see, many teach that in order to be saved you must repent of all sin and turn from it, which sounds awesome but is completely unattainable in this life!  If it were possible, there would be no need of a Savior in the first place!  Jesus became sin and killed sin’s power in our lives when He died upon that cross.  Do we still sin?  Absolutely!  There is not a single person that has ever lived that has conquered sin’s grip and completely stopped sinning.  Not a single person except Jesus!  Yet, being perfect, He took all the sin of the world onto His shoulders and killed it’s control once and for all.  The only way we can defeat sin in our life is to accept in faith what Jesus did and know that He was raised from the dead, leaving sin in the grave, so that those of us who believe in Him can live eternally with Him.  Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?  How do you think this guy felt:

Luke 23:40-43 – But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him,“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

A criminal whose sin ran so deep it led to him being sentenced to death, yet in one magnificent moment he realized who Jesus really was (believed in Him), admitted that he deserved the punishment being giving for his own sin, and simply asked Jesus to remember him in paradise…to which Jesus remarkably tells this criminal he will be with Jesus upon death in paradise!  Grace given with no strings attached!  Each of us must simply admit we are sinful and lost without a Savior, believe in Jesus, that He is who He said He was, and we will be saved!  Our obedience to His will and plan for our lives can only come after we believe in Him.  There is no amount of cleaning up that we can ever do to be worthy of this free gift of salvation.  It is free for anyone who believes!

So I ask you, what do you believe?  Or better yet, in who are you placing your eternal destiny?  You may not understand or even believe some of the stories you have read about or heard from the Old Testament, and you may have some legitimate questions that you want answered, but Jesus said it best here:

John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

I know that many people try to offer up formulas or ways to be good enough, but Jesus made it so very simple that many will miss it looking for a deeper way, a harder way to live in peace forever with the Savior.  But it really is that easy!  Now, there will still be turmoil in our lives once we accept Jesus as our Savior.  Jesus addresses this as well:

John 16:33 -I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

You see, this time we have on earth is fleeting, a blip on the radar of eternity!  We will have tribulation (trouble or turmoil) while we are in this world, yet that trouble should never define us, it strengthens us as we realize that Jesus has overcome this world of sin and corruption, and we are continually growing in our reliance upon Him as His peace surpasses all understanding in the midst of the trial:

Philippians 4:7 -And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

It is hard to comprehend, but the peace Paul writes about in Philippians 4:7 and Jesus speaks of in John 16:33 and also extends to the criminal next to Him in Luke 23:43 is available to us as well if we will simply believe in Jesus!  So, what is your next step?  If your next step is to believe, I pray you will simply pray to Jesus something like this:

“Jesus, I know I am a sinner in need of your grace and peace.  I believe that you came to earth from heaven and died for my sin and was raised to life so that we could live eternally with you in heaven, and have peace here on earth as we become your follower.  Thank you for you amazing love for me, in Jesus name, Amen!”

If you just said that simple prayer or something like it, and believe it in your heart, then welcome to the amazing life filled with grace and peace!  Please reach out to me or a local community of believers and let someone know of your decision!  We are not meant to navigate this faith life alone…we need to be in relationship with God and with others!  If you need help with next steps, or just want to share your incredible transformation story with me, click “Contact Rob” at the top of the page and lets start a conversation!  If you know someone who needs to hear this message of grace, please share!  You never know how God will use a few words to alter the course of someone’s life!

I am believing that God is going to do some amazing things in 2015 and God wants you to be part of His family changing the world through grace and peace!  Happy New Year!!!

Luke 2:1-20 – In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Bethlehem is the birth place of Jesus, yet the Christian community today in the city of Bethlehem is almost non-existent.  Bethlehem now has a Muslim majority (over 80%), and is governed by the Palestinian National Authority.  Nazareth is similar in that a very small group of people are Christian, and the only site preserved in Nazareth is a small plot of land where a farm is kept that mimics Jesus’ time.  Due to this fact, most of the biblical artifacts have been destroyed or covered up.  Sad how this group of people are going around destroying evidence of the Savior, when accepting Him is the only salvation they (and we) truly need!

Olive Harvesting at the Farm

Olive Harvesting at the Farm in Nazareth

Geographically, Bethlehem sits just 6 miles south of Jerusalem, and approximately 60-70 miles south of Nazareth – Nazareth is located in the region of Galilee (west of the Sea of Galilee).  So that journey for Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem was quite a hike, especially with Mary being pregnant.  Yet, with how small Israel as a whole is, it is quite feasible to understand how the journeys throughout the scriptures occurred!   I think we read where people traveled from one region to another and believe it must have taken months, but in all reality, days for many of the journeys from far north or far south to Jerusalem and surrounding areas!

On our visit to Bethlehem, we first stopped at the Bethlehem Olive Wood Factory where local artists carve many biblical scenes such as the one below that I really like, a scene where the disciples are casting their nets and taking the challenge to follow Jesus and become fishers of men!  This factory employs the very few Christians in Bethlehem today!

Artists at the Bethlehem Olive Wood Factory

Artists at the Bethlehem Olive Wood Factory

Olive Wood from Bethlehem Drying for Carving

Olive Wood from Bethlehem Drying for Carving

My Favorite Olive Wood Carving - "I Will Make You Fishers of Men"

My Favorite Olive Wood Carving – “I Will Make You Fishers of Men”

We then took a short walk to the Church of the Nativity, just a few short blocks away.  We were immediately met by a couple local Palestinian merchants who starting following us, trying to sell us several small items.  I made a poor choice along the way of buying a package of 20 post cards from a local kid for $1…because after I handed him the dollar several others followed us all the way to the bus trying to force themselves on the women to buy their items.  I really had a vision of why Jesus turned over the tables at the temple where all the merchants were selling items and stealing from the buyers.  The birthplace of our Savior has become a den of robbers!

Church of the Nativity

Church of the Nativity

As we arrive at the Church of the Nativity, our guide shared with us again that this is the traditional site of Jesus birth, which simply means that the Catholic Church placed a huge church over the site and gave limited access to what was inside.  The picture below shows a small glass “hole” to view where they believe Jesus was born.  It really is hard to know if this is the exact place of His birth, but what I left with was more of a feeling of angst over how ritualistic this place has become.  There were many ancient relics here including some amazing mosaics.  But I still left with a sadness over those who visit because they feel the only way to know Jesus is to pray at these Catholic churches in a ritualistic manner, often touching stones and praying that His power would pass through these items into them.  My Savior lives in me and I can talk with Him whenever and wherever I choose…it is so much more of a relationship instead of a religion!

Me and my Lovely wife at the Traditional Spot of Jesus Birth

Me and my Lovely wife at the Traditional Spot of Jesus Birth

Overall, I was highly disappointed in both Nazareth and Bethlehem.  Both areas have a corrupt influence in the religious and the governing bodies.  But one thing holds true here as well as many other places we visited – the reason the Muslims are ravaging these sites is because they fear the fact that Jesus is real and is coming back one day…and unfortunately, they follow a “religion” that will be on the losing side of eternity unless they accept Jesus as their true Savior and Lord!  It is easy to walk away from these areas discouraged and disappointed, and maybe even a little angry.  Yet, we are called as believers in Jesus Christ to love and pray for these people as much as our unbelieving neighbor.  My prayers have changed since leaving Israel…I pray a lot for the Peace of Israel, and I pray for those who are fighting against Christ to see Him for who He truly is – the One True Messiah who will return very soon!

As we celebrate our amazing Saviors birth this Christmas, remember to pray for those who are fighting hard to believe Jesus is not real.  I can understand how unbelievable this story of Christmas and the entire life of Jesus can be, yet I know there is a longing in every person’s heart for relationship with Jesus, who is in fact the only One who can fill the void this world has created in so many people.  Riches, possessions, careers, and even relationships with others cannot replace the desperate need that our spirit has to be united with God forever.  Without Jesus, we will always be left wanting more!  If you are a believer, intercede in prayer for those who are investigating Jesus…that they will come to know Him deeply during this Christmas season.  Pray also for those who are in complete denial of His existence, and feel that science, evolution or other religions explain away a Creator…remember, God created science as well and evidence always points to an intelligent designer!  Pray for those allowing personal sin to keep them from seeking out a relationship with Jesus.  If we had to clean ourselves up before coming into relationship with Jesus, He would have no followers!  We are all in the same sin sick boat, drowning without a Savior!

God has placed you in relationship with those around you for a reason!  He wants to utilize your relationship as you walk along side those in whom He is drawing into relationship with Him.  When Jesus said to love God and each other, He knew that this would revolutionize the world if only people would focus on those two commands.  So, how are you loving God and those around you?

Mark 12:30-31 – And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Thank you for continuing to read my blog!  I pray it has been a blessing to you and maybe even made you think, seek out Truth in the scriptures and/or drew you closer to Jesus in some way!  The next stop along this Holy Land journey will be The Sea of Galilee as we move north along the Jordan River.  Until then, Shalom, and Merry Christmas!

The Garden Tomb is the traditional site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection.  The Garden is now owned and maintained by The Garden Tomb Association, a non-denominational Christian group ensuring that the site stay intact and a destination for many believers while in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.  The Garden Tomb is an alternate site from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where the Catholic Church has built a massive church over a site they believe to be the location the crucifixion took place.  However, the Garden Tomb site meets the criteria surrounding the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus in all four gospels.  There is no way to be sure, but the location along with proximity of the crucifixion site and tomb seem to match this site better than any other!

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View of a small portion of the garden

The first thing you see upon entering the gate is the beautiful garden full of vegetation and paths to take in the beauty all around.  This site is very serene and allows for each person to reflect and worship in a peaceful and powerful way.

Golgotha - The Place of the Skull

Golgotha – The Place of the Skull

As we make our way through the garden, we arrive at an overlook where we see Golgotha – the place of the skull – where Jesus was crucified.  Just below the “skull” (not shown in the picture) is a bus station placed there by local Muslims.  This is something you see all over Israel, the Muslims destroying places of biblical significance to try and cover-up the truth in the Scriptures.  Thank God that The Garden Tomb Association was able to purchase this site and gate it before any more damage could have been done to this historic site.

Luke 19:17 – Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).

We then make our way toward the Garden Tomb, no more than 30-40 yards from Golgotha as I recall.  Again, with the proximity of the tomb to the place where Jesus was on the cross, this site has all the makings of the actual place where our Savior died, was buried and then rose again!

The Entrance to the Garden Tomb

The Entrance to the Garden Tomb

Matthew 27:57-61 – When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

It is a very surreal experience seeing the tomb and then entering it to find this sign, driving home the point:

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He is most certainly not in there, and the words that Mary Magdalene heard from the angel of the Lord rang in my ears as I came out of the tomb:

Matthew 28: 1-7 – Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”

We ended our visit to this amazing site with communion while we sang some well known hymns.  I sobbed as our group served one-another communion at the location where my Savior, Jesus Christ, was raised to life, knowing one day soon He will return to take those of us who call Him Lord and have accepted His gift of grace home to spend eternity with the Father!  I long for that day more now than ever before…and as He has said at the end of the book of Revelation; “I am coming soon”…even so, come Lord Jesus!  I pray you have accepted that gift of grace as well, and I look forward to spending eternity with you and with Jesus!

The next post on this journey will be centered upon the birth of Jesus as we celebrate this season of Christmas!  Until then, Shalom!

 

 

One of the most emotional stops along this entire journey for me was The Mount of Olives.  This site has so much biblical, historical and present day significance, some of which I hope to present to you here.  The Mount of Olives is located east of the Temple, just across the Kidron Valley.  The Garden of Gethsemane is directly across the valley from the Golden Gate (Eastern Gate) of the Temple.  The actual distance from the Eastern Gate to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives is less than 3 football fields as the crow flies – approximately 300 yards.  That alone gives great perspective as to how short a distance it was for Jesus to go outside of the city walls and pray in the garden.  Down and then back up the Kidron Valley is a bit longer (obviously), but still a very short distance to walk.  Interestingly, the Jewish people are not allowed to “work” on the Sabbath, so they continually create “laws” to govern what is considered work.  For example, when walking on Shabbat (Sabbath), they are only allowed to walk approximately ½ mile, so a Sabbath days journey would be possible from Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives or vice versa!

Acts 1: 12 – Then they [His disciples] returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet [Mount of Olives], which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away.

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Our visit began as we drove from the eastern side of the Mount of Olives and as we crested the hill the view of the city of Jerusalem was breathtaking!  It is at this point where Jesus wept over the city as He arrived from Bethany (just east of the Mount of Olives).

jerusalem from mt olives

Luke 19:41-44 – And when he [Jesus] drew near and saw the city [Jerusalem], he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

We arrived at our stop and walked down a steep road toward the Garden of Gethsemane.  Along the way, we passed thousands of concrete coffins where many Jewish people have been buried over 3 millennia.  When one visits a gravesite at the Mount of Olives, the tradition is to leave a small stone on the coffin to signify that someone visited.  As you can see, some sites were covered with stones, while others have none.

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As we entered the Garden of Gethsemane, I was awestruck by the ancient olive trees present in the garden.  Although it is unlikely that these trees were present when Jesus prayed here, the root system is still intact from that time.  You see, in 70 AD the Roman Army destroyed everything in their path.  The trees were all cut down and the wood used by the soldiers.  But, the root system stayed intact and over the next 2,000 years some of these large trees remain and are protected.  These olive trees are among the oldest in existence today!

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I spent much time in reflection at this place taking in the beauty of these ancient trees, knowing that Jesus spent a lot of time here in prayer and reflection.  It was here where we discovered that the word Nazarene comes from the outer layers of the olive tree.  As you can see from the picture, the olive tree is hollow on the inside, being held up and strengthened by the outer wood of the tree – the Nazarene!  Jesus is known as the Nazarene – the One who strengthens us and sustains us while holding us up against the storms of life.  What a great metaphor!

As we pressed on through the olive grove, another breathtaking site was before us.  Looking West from the garden, across the Kidron Valley, stands the eastern wall of the Temple, and the Eastern Gate is directly across from us, seemingly a stone’s throw away.

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As you can see, the Eastern Gate has been sealed up!  Here was a great faith builder for me… the Ottoman Turks (a Muslim empire) sealed up the gate in 1530 AD to keep Jesus out when He returns!  Isn’t it amazing that even the Muslims know He is coming back (and God used them to fulfill prophecy by sealing the gate), and they believe He will descend from the Mount of Olives and enter the Eastern Gate just as the scriptures say:

Ezekiel 44:1-3 – Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east. And it was shut. And the Lord said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it. Therefore it shall remain shut. Only the prince may sit in it to eat bread before the Lord. He shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and shall go out by the same way.”

Zechariah 14:4 – On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward.

Here’s another interesting tidbit…of the over 150,000 Jewish graves upon the Mount of Olives, many famous people have been buried there and their coffins have been identified in many cases – one of which is Zechariah, the one God used to prophecy Jesus’ return to this very site!

Something else you may be able to see in the pictures are the graves in front of the Eastern Gate…these are Muslim graves placed there in hopes of keeping Jesus out once again.  Tradition says that a Jewish person cannot walk over a grave, so apparently the Muslims feel that Jesus will be more about the traditions kept by man than the redemption of His people and His Kingdom…I’m thinking these graves will not be the only man-made tradition or ritual that Jesus will trample when He returns!

We then visited the Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony) located on the Mount of Olives.  This is a church at Gethsemane, built over the rock on which Jesus is believed to have prayed in agony the night before he was crucified.  It’s amazing now to understand that while Jesus prayed from this spot, He would have been able to see the crowd of people coming across the Kidron Valley to arrest Him…and yet He continued to pray for God’s will to be done, all the while knowing He was going to die for the sins of mankind!

Luke 22: 39-53 – And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?”And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

I was emotionally spent after this visit knowing that Jesus, my Savior, spent a lot of time here and ultimately was taken from here to begin His sacrificial journey to the cross.  He prayed and sought out God’s best plan of saving each and every one of us, and followed through with His sacrifice on behalf of those of us who will follow Him!  Will you follow Him too?  It really is that easy – you must believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins, was laid in a tomb for 3 days and then was resurrected back to life to usher a way for your salvation! Our only response to that amazing grace once we truly believe is to accept His free gift of grace and to love Him with all our hearts and seek to live the ways that honor Him – by loving others the way He first loved us!  If you have ever accepted that gift of grace (or if you just did) the Mount of Olives will be a significant place for you as well because someday soon Jesus will return to that spot in all His glory!  Are you ready for that day?

 Luke 12:40 – “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Matthew 24:30-31 – “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.”

I truly pray that you have accepted the amazing gift of grace that only Jesus offers.  If you have any questions or would like to take that first step of faith, please contact me or someone in your area that can help answer any questions you may have about this man Jesus and the incredible gift of grace He offers us!  You can email me above under Contact Rob.  We are all sinners, and His grace is enough to cover every one our sins – regardless of how bad you may think they are!  He is big enough to handle it!  Trust Him!

Next stop we will visit the traditional site of the Garden Tomb and Golgotha!  Until then, Shalom!

Via Dolorosa – The way of suffering.  This is the traditional path that Jesus walked as He carried the cross that He would die upon for our sins.  This post will make for a great Bible study as there are many scriptural references here referring to the stations along the Via Dolorosa.  So, grab your bibles and let’s walk along the way of suffering.

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This first map is an overview of Jerusalem.  As you can see, the Via Dolorosa begins at the Lions Gate (in the current Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem) and winds its way into the Christian Quarter.  The path covers approximately 550 yards, and along the path are 14 stations noted with biblical references (as they apply) as to the possible location of where these historical events took place.

City Overview

Below is a map of the Via Dolorosa noting each station by number.  I have included scripture below as a means to study the significance of this path for our daily redemptive lives.

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Station 1 – Jesus Condemned to DieMatthew 27:22-23

Station 2 – Jesus Takes Up His CrossJohn 19: 15b- 17

Station 3 – Jesus Falls For the First Time
This is a traditional site. There are not any scriptures that reference Jesus falling a certain number of times. However, we can imagine that He might have done so. Therefore, let us remember the totality of what He suffered on this day.

Station 4 – Jesus Meets His MotherLuke 2:21, 22, 25, 34, 35

Station  5 – Simon of Cyrene Takes Up the CrossMark 15:21

Station  6 – Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
Traditionally, a woman named Veronica removes her veil and wipes the blood and sweat stained face of Jesus. When she later looks at the veil, she sees that the imprint of His face remains on the cloth used to cover hers.
Station 7 – Jesus Falls the Second Time
The intention of remembrance of this traditional site is that as Jesus endured the painful way.

Station  8 – Jesus Meets the Holy Women of JerusalemLuke 23:28

Station  9 – Jesus Fall the Third Time
The intention of this site-this Ninth Station of the Cross-is to remind us to preserve even within our own faults.

Station 10 – Jesus is Stripped of His GarmentsJohn 19: 23

Station 11 – Jesus Nailed to the Cross
It was the third hour when they crucified him. ~ Mark 15:25

Station 12 – Jesus Dies on the Cross Luke 23:44-46

Station 13 – Jesus Taken Down from the Cross &

Station 14 – Jesus is Placed in the Tomb ~ Mark 15: 43, 46

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One of the Stations along the Via Dolorosa – Station 5

 

I realize this post is more of a study than a guide as to what we witnessed.  The reason I have chosen this path is because while we traveled the path, we did not have a lot of time to contemplate the suffering or even stop at each station for reflection.  This path is a very busy road winding through the city with bustling traffic and loud shops all along the way!  Going back through these verses has given me a greater understanding and heart for the way of suffering!

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The busy street along the Via Dolorosa

 

I pray as you study these few scriptures along the way that you will connect deeper to the One who was willing to take this suffering for you because of the deep love that He has for you!  I pray you get to know Jesus deeper through His suffering!

The next post we will discover the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane!  Until then, shalom, and Happy Thanksgiving!