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.