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.