Psalm 122; A Song of Ascents
I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Our feet are standing
Within your gates, O Jerusalem,
Jerusalem, that is built
As a city that is compact together;
To which the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord—
An ordinance for Israel—
To give thanks to the name of the Lord.
For there thrones were set for judgment,
The thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
“May peace be within your walls,
And prosperity within your palaces.”
For the sake of my brothers and my friends,
I will now say, “May peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.
Coming home from Israel has been like taking the time to slowly unscrew the bottles of water I gathered from the Word of God while I was there and slowly sip and drink, continuing to take it all in, while allowing it to refresh my spirit. For those of you who journeyed along with our family while we were there, thank you. And for those of you who missed our journey, you can still follow along and read about the places we visited here in order to whet your own appetite to go too.
Israel is truly a special and unique place for obvious reasons – three major world religions consider the ground of an area roughly the size of the state of New Jersey as holy ground. Every step one takes is fraught with meaning and mystery.
But it is also special for reasons not as obvious. For a place that is so different in every sense of the word – different languages, different cultures, different coffee (black as night Arabic coffee flavored with cardamom, a spice I just could not seem to get used to), different wars waged over different battle grounds – it is also a place that feels like home.
I have thought a lot about this feeling of being at home in Israel. I remember my first visit to Nazareth almost six years ago. I was sitting in a cafe in a nondescript coffee shop, waiting for our group to get back on the bus, and all of a sudden, I was overcome with an emotion I couldn’t explain. I had to use a napkin to wipe away sudden tears streaming down my face. Nazareth isn’t a beautiful place, and there is certainly nothing extraordinary about it. It is simply a small, nondescript town nestled in the hills near Galilee. Its ground is rocky and the grass is short and scrubby. So my tears were not about anything beautiful in the scenery.
My emotion came from the fact that I was sitting in a place where the person I loved most in the world had walked. It wasn’t that I had ever doubted if His existence was real; it was just that I had never seen the land where Jesus was from. And as much as the stories about His life were not myth to me, as I sat in that cafe in Nazareth, Jesus’ life stepped out of the realm of myth and mystery and became real.
It felt as if my father had died before I ever had memory of him, and all I had grown up with were scrapbooked stories and pictures of his life. And suddenly, for the first time, I was able to visit his homeland and see what he saw, step where he stepped, and touch what he touched.
And that’s why I felt at home. I was home. I was home because I was in the place where my Jesus lived life.
And that is why so many cultures from all over the face of the earth flock to Israel. That is why standing on the Mount of Olives or sitting on the quiet benches in the garden of the Garden Tomb, you hear accents and see faces around you from Malaysia, China, Germany, America, the Middle East, and Africa. Every culture feels at home in the place where One Man died for all cultures, to set us all free. And that is the beauty of Israel.
One of my favorite moments on this trip was on the elevator in Nazareth (there must be something special about Nazareth). I stepped onto the elevator at the same time as a man with dark skin and dark brown eyes. We began to talk small elevator talk, and I learned he was from Nigeria, there in Israel to do training for Bible translation work for his people. His eyes glowed with kindness and his presence emanated joy. There was immediate connection between the two of us because we both felt like we were…home. Part of the very same family.
I have been asked several times if I thought the ages of my girls were good ages to take children to the Holy Land. Yes and no. Yes, in that they were such good travelers. They acted as though jet lag was a myth and were such troopers about long bus rides, listening to our tour guide, and eating hummus for every meal. I know they absorbed as much information and as many sights and sounds as their little hearts and minds were capable of absorbing. Selfishly, it was pure joy for Jason and I to have them there with us.
But as much as I loved having them there, I think one loves Israel as much as one loves the God who dwelled there. And the older one grows, the more history one has with the God one worships, the more steps one has taken with the One who stepped on the very streets beneath one’s feet, the more one loves Israel.
I don’t have any regrets about taking my girls, but I pray they are able to go back one day when they have walked more steps with Jesus. Because that is when going to Israel will feel like going…home.
I want to leave you with a link to a video teaching by our Israeli tour guide, Hanna Ben Haim. Hanna was amazing. She was as fiesty and as spirited a tour guide as I have ever seen, but when she spoke, I listened. I have never met anyone who knows the Word of God more than Hanna or who is bolder about speaking the truth. If I ever go back to Israel, I hope to back with Hanna. So I wanted to give you a small taste of one of the many teachings we heard her share with us.
We heard Hanna speak about olive trees and the meaning of the shoots that grow off of olive trees while standing in the Garden of Gethsemane, but here she gives it in a grove of olive trees somewhere near the coast in Israel. Be blessed as you listen and learn about where the word “Christian” comes from and how it is linked to the olive tree.
Click here to see her website and watch her five minute teaching.
And my prayer for you is that you get to go to Israel too. It will change your perspective of the One you love the most, and it will be, I promise, a small taste of what it feels like to go…home.
One last thing: would you please pray for us this week? Next Monday, February 20th, packers show up at our house at 8am to pack and move us to temporary housing for the next 8-12 months while we remodel our house. While I am looking forward to the end results, the realities of packing and moving everything to either temporary housing or storage for six people in the midst of homeschooling three children is a bit daunting to say the least. Thankfully, we are surrounded by amazing family and community who offers to help in ways I didn’t even know I would need, and I know that God will go before us and make provision for our every need. BUT prayers for peace, a smooth moving experience, trust for every detail, and a calm heart in the midst of many moving details would be much appreciated.
Thank you for the privilege you each give me of processing life alongside of you.
The last two days of the our trip have been action-packed, so much so that my first time to really be back in my room last night was at 11:00pm, so I wasn’t able to post anything yesterday.
But when we leave Israel tomorrow, the four of us will leave with full hearts.
Before we leave, though, I wanted to leave you with a few images from the past two days that have moved me the most.
Yesterday, and then again today, we visited Gallicantu, otherwise known as Caiphas’ House. It was here where Jesus was drug up stone steps after crossing the Kidron Valley, given a mock trial, beaten, abused, and mocked. And it was here where He would have spent the night, waiting for the early morning hours to be taken to Pontius Pilate who would condemn Him not just to death but to death on a cross.
Since holding cells did not exist in the time of Jesus and Caiphas, prisoners would have been lowered down into an abandoned cistern to spend time in the dank, dark, sludge-filled floor below. Since pottery was used to draw water from cisterns, broken shards of pottery would have laid in broken bits on the floor of the pit as well, creating as uncomfortable, dark, and depressing of an environment as one can imagine.
To add insult to injury, Gallicantu was also the place where Peter denied Christ three times in the courtyard of Caiphas, the high priest, while Jesus was on trial inside. When Jesus walked out, He looked straight at Peter as the rooster crowed, and Peter fled the scene of his betrayal and wept.
So not only was Jesus suffering physically in the dark, cold pit, He was suffering emotionally as well. He was, in every sense of the word, alone. Even His closest friends had fled, and one had even gone so far to deny Him.
Two thousand years later, there is a hush in the stone pit walls of Gallicantu that still contains holiness. It is traditional to read Psalm 88 surrounded by the stone walls, and a podium holds up the words of the Psalm for all pilgrims and passerbys to read in at least ten different languages.
“Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.
I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.
You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.”
Our group’s response to the quiet, dark, holy suffering, was to read God’s Word and then to sing. The words of the hymn “It is Well with My Soul” rolled up out of our hearts and over our tongues and never seemed more tangible, power, or real than in those moments:
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin – oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! –
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
After the journey to pit, we made our way to the pools of Bethesda written about in John 5. It is here that Jesus heals a lame man, telling him to “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” (John 5:8). After feeling and acknowledging the weight and consequences of our sin in Gallicantu, it was refreshing to stand by the ruins of the ancient pool and remember why Jesus came – to heal our bodies and our souls. To reverse the curse. To make all that is wrong, right.
And that’s what He did there in Bethesda. Our guide reminded us that when David conquered the city of Jerusalem and took it from the Jebusites, he cursed the lame and the blind in the city saying that they should not be able to enter (II Samuel 8:5).
But Jesus thinks differently. Instead of cursing the blind and the lame, He heals them. In fact, the two specific people He heals in the Gospels within the city limits of Jerusalem are…you guessed it…the blind man and the lame man.
Does our God miss anything? Do any details ever escape His notice? No. Not one. He didn’t come just to reverse the curse generally. He came to reverse it specifically. For all those who cannot see and cannot walk and have lived life on a rotting mat by a stagnant pool, He comes.
Sometimes, I forget that. Sometimes in the rut of human life and every day life, I forget the sweeping story I am in, the part that Jesus played, and the part that He asks me to play. I forget where we are in church history and in world history. I forget how privileged we are to stand on this side of the cross and see things the patriarchs longed to see. I forget that for over a thousand years, the church used the Temple Mount as dumping grounds for their garbage and forgot that God’s promises to Israel were still standing. I forget what a miracle and mystery it is that Israel became a state again in 1948 for the first time in 2000 years and prophecies in the Bible are being fulfilled at a rapid rate. I forget that while the Gospel, the rule and the reign of Christ, is for all peoples, the pace of taking of that Gospel to all peoples has been measured in inches for hundreds of years, but in the last fifty years, the measurement has started to take place in miles. I forget that by the year 2025, every last remaining people group on the face of the earth will have some portion of the Bible begun in their language. In other words, the Gospel will have been preached to all peoples. And I forget that that means…then the end can come (Matthew 24:14).
We are not living in just any generation. We are living in a breath-taking, end-of-the-race running, big picture perspective sweeping kind of a generation. And while I’m not saying that I know the end is near or that you should quit your day job and wait for the rapture, what I am saying is that I don’t want to forget be amazed and look up from my every day duties of home school and hair brushing and house cleaning and carpool and making pbjs and remember: we know the end of the story. We have a God who came – He really came – and He is coming again. And all peoples on the face of the earth are getting closer and closer to waiting and longing for His appearing.
My prayer is that I can remember. My prayer is that I can remember not what the world says the story line is but what God’s Word says the story line is. And then no matter what happens, personally, politically, nationally, culturally, or globally, I will remember the humble King who came and who is coming again to take us all home.
Today was another day of visiting incredible places, first on the list being the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Children under 10 are not allowed in the exhibit, so while Lillian and I walked through together, our tour guide sat outside with Lizzie and treated her to ice cream. As I walked through the entrance, I thought of the irony that my eight-year-old was not allowed in to see an exhibit on the Holocaust while so many eight-year-olds endured and died in the Holocaust. After seeing what I saw today, my prayer is that we learn from history and and the horrors that occurred and that the church learns to love our Jewish friends and neighbors well, using the cross as the ultimate way we choose to love and not as a weapon we choose to wield.
After the Museum, I had several significant moments of the day, one of them standing on top of Haas Promenade, providing a beautiful and sweeping view of the city of Jerusalem. It was from this vantage point that Abraham would have seen Mount Moriah in the distance as he approached the appointed place of obedience and sacrifice with his son, Isaac.
But my favorite moment of the day came while standing inside the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem. And as much as I hate to disappoint, Bethlehem is a disappointment. Through the last 1500 years that a church has stood on top of the site that Jesus supposedly was born, the place of His birth has become a shrine to relics instead of an experience with a holy God. In fact, the overwhelming emotion one feels is sorrow that the birth place of Christ seems to mean more than the actual One who was given. But, as we made our way out of the church and out into the courtyard, we came face-to-face with a statute of Jerome. Born in the 4th century A.D., Jerome was a priest, historian, theologian and translator. In his 60’s, he moved to Bethlehem and took up residence in the cave where it is believed that Christ was born. He spent the last part of his life translating the Scriptures from the Greek and Aramaic languages into Latin, the people’s language of the day. He was the first translator, so to speak, who gave the Bible to God’s people in their heart language, a language they could hear, digest, and understand.
But here’s what I really love about Jerome. On his desk, he kept a human skull. Gross, I know. But he did it to remind himself of death. He did it to remind himself that his days were short, his work of translation must continue quickly, and that his time must be used wisely.
I could use a reminder like that on my desk. Perhaps not a skull. But maybe, like my friend Roy Peterson, an hour glass, a symbol to remind me that my days are short and the time I have been given to love God, love people, and seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness are short.
I want it to be said of me like it was said of David, another resident of Bethlehem, that “when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors” (Acts 13:36). And when the sands of the hourglass run out and it is my time to fall asleep, like David, and seemingly, like Jerome, I want to have served God’s purpose in my own generation, remembering that my time is short and the moments that I have must be moments that are lived for Him.
My favorite moment of the trip occurred this morning standing on the Mount of Olives, looking out over the city of our great King, singing praise and worship to His Name. Brandon Heath led us in worship as we lifted our voices to heaven singing Before the Throne, Come Thou Fount and Be Thou My Vision.
The words from Before the Throne have never meant as much to me as they did this morning as we sang and looked down upon the place where Jesus died and gave His life for you and me:
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God the Just is satisfied,
To look on Him and pardon me,
To look on Him and pardon me.
Looking down from the Mount of Olives, we could see the Kidron Valley below, a place also known as the Valley of Kings or the Valley of Jehosophat, meaning God Judges. Never before has the reality of my need for a Savior and the reality of the payment He made for me been made more real than in those moments on top of the Mount of Olives. I deserved a Judge’s sentence and the penalty of death, but because of Christ, I received life.
We looked down upon a city who still needs to know and turn towards the grace of the Savior who died, and who still cries out for the Prince of Peace to make His way through her streets, offering atonement and restitution for all those who draw near.
As we looked out over the city, worshipping the God we love, asking Him to draw near, I pondered what our guide shared with us concerning the meaning of the word Zion. In the Hebrew, Zion means something small, green, and insignificant growing up out of the ground, coming up at the edge of the desert. And that’s a perfect description of the city of God. There is nothing special or magnificent in and of itself about Zion. No towering, sun-soaked mountains towering high above her. No magnificent water source rushing below her. Nothing stately or special to mark her or set her apart. God chose this place precisely because it had nothing to offer Him. Just like you. And just like me. Jerusalem is set apart because God Himself has set His Name upon her. And because there was nothing Jerusalem did to deserve God’s presence, there is nothing she can do to un-earn His presence. Just like you. And just like me. We are kept as the people of God, like the city of God, because of God, not because of us.
From the top of the Mount of Olives, you can also see the Eastern Gate, also known as the Golden Gate or Beautiful Gate, one of the eight gates that surround Jerusalem. What’s notable and interesting about the Eastern Gate is that it is completely sealed shut.
In the words of one commentator, “[This] is the gate that gives the most direct access to the temple mount—if a person could pass through the arches of the Eastern Gate, he would be very close to where the Jewish temple used to stand. When Jesus entered Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives in Matthew 21, He used a gate in the same location as the current Eastern or Golden Gate.
The Eastern Gate was sealed shut in AD 1540–41 by order of Suleiman the Magnificent, a sultan of the Ottoman Empire. It’s believed that the reason for the closing of the Eastern Gate was to prevent the Jewish Messiah from gaining entrance to Jerusalem. Jewish tradition states that the Messiah will pass through the Eastern Gate when He comes to rule. The Muslim Suleiman was attempting to thwart the Messiah’s plans with sixteen feet of cement. The Eastern Gate has remained sealed for nearly the past 500 years.”
According to the words of Zechariah 14:4, when the Messiah comes again, His feet will touch the Mount of Olives, the ground will split underneath His feet, and the Mount will be divided into two. And then, according to Ezekiel 46, the Messiah will enter Jerusalem from the East, taking His rightful place as King.
Because of the surety we have that He came once to give His life for us, we stand in the surety that He will come again, and no gate, no matter how tightly sealed shut it is or how locked it looks from the outside from a physical or political stance, can keep Him out. The grave could not hold Him…
…and neither can a Suleiman-sealed, 500-year-old cemented-crusted gate. Resurrection life in the presence of Jesus will burst through all closed doors in Jerusalem once again.
Another striking feature looking down from the Mount of Olives are the 100,000 Jewish graves that descend down the hillside like a stark white stone avalanche. Every grave stands there as a bold prophetic act, a-fly-in-your-face testimony of believing that when the Messiah comes and His feet touch the Mount of Olives, their bones will rise to meet Him, and resurrection will occur, no matter how long those bones have been there.
I asked Jason if there was any way we could be buried on the Mount of Olives. And while I’m pretty sure there is a pretty slim chance of that ever happening, I am certain of one thing:
Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea;
a great High Priest, whose name is Love,
who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on his hands,
my name is written on his heart;
I know that while in heaven he stands
no tongue can bid me thence depart,
no tongue can bid me thence depart.
And when He returns, when His feet touch the place where our feet were standing today, I will rise to meet Him and see the nations of the earth take their place under His feet, under His loving rule and reign.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.
We started our day in Migdal synagogue in Galilee, a synagogue that was recently discovered and opened to the public just a few years ago. This would definitely have been a place Jesus where would have taught.
Then we sat on the slopes where He fed the 5000 and preached the Sermon on the Mount…
And enjoyed a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.
All in all, it what a beautiful day…even the gas station camel rides on our way up to Jerusalem.
This morning, Jason, Lillian, Lizzie and I landed in Tel Aviv, Israel. We will be here for the next seven days, soaking in sights that make the pages of our Bible come alive.
In order to show you a snap shot of what we are seeing, I am going to post a picture each day so that we can “see” Israel together.
Today our bus climbed its way to the top of Mt. Carmel, the same mountain where Elijah called down fire from heaven to consume his altar and sacrifice and to defeat the prophets of Baal. We stood on top of the mountain as the late afternoon sun pierced through the clouds in the sky and glistened off the shores of the Mediterranean.
It is the same spot where Elijah bowed his head between his knees seven times and told his servant to look for rain after three long years of drought…and on the seventh try, he saw a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, come up from the sea and make its way toward the mountain.
It’s the same mountain where Elijah ran twenty-six miles in front of the chariot of King Ahab, all the way to Mt. Gilboa, across the Jezreel Valley, otherwise known as the Valley of Armageddon.
In the picture, from the vantage point of standing on top of Mt. Carmel, you can see the Armageddon Valley spread out in front of you, you can see Mt. Gilboa in the distance and the town of Nazareth to the left. In the middle of the Valley runs a major highway that used to be a road running straight from Nazareth to Jerusalem, a road that men and women for centuries walked, including Jesus.
This Valley holds history from the stories of Gideon, Saul, and the witch of Endor, David, Jacob, Abraham, Jesus, and Elijah. It is a place where the past runs rich with the fertile soil of men and women whose roots are in the Bible, and it designates the future battle with the kings of the earth that John foresaw in the last chapters of Revelation.
Linger with me for a few moments and let your eyes look over the Valley of Armageddon, a place where we not only have a past, but as the people of God, we have a future.