Monthly Archives: April 2012

Destination Israel: The Witness of the Jordan (Part 15)

The Jordan River

The Jordan River is one of those legendary places that any kid who’s ever spent any time in a Sunday School class dreams of seeing. It would rank right up there with the Nile, the Amazon, and theMississippi. Our imagination have been stamped by the events that occurred in or around it, as we learned songs with lyrics that describe it with mythical terms as being “deep and wide” with “stormy banks.”  Reality and imagination don’t always match up so seamlessly, but nevertheless I was not disappointed—just forced to adjust my expectations. A trip to theHoly Landwill do that in a lot ways.

The Jordan River begins at the Springs of Banias near Caesarea Phillipi at the northern most tip ofIsrael. Here, the crystal clear water of the melted snow from Mt.Hermonbegins its descent of almost 10,000 feet in the distance of 156 miles, culminating as it empties into the Dead Sea. Along the way, this river feeds theSea of Galilee (LakeTiberius) and provides the main source of water for Israel and some of neighboring Jordan. Today both countries draw out the life-giving water of the Jordan and use it to irrigate their crops of date palms, bananas, eggplants, peppers, and grapes. By the time theJordan Riverreaches the mouth of the Dead Sea, it is but a trickle, due to irrigation’s high demand. The result is an ever shrinking Dead Sea.

As you travel down the highway beside the Jordan the scenery must be described in a twofold manner. On the side of where the Jordan flows, the flora of the landscape is lush and rich. But if you cross over the narrow width of the asphalt highway, it is dry and desolate—a wilderness of light brown soil littered with rocks. Rocks may be the only thing in theHoly Landthat will never require conservation—they are everywhere—in great abundance. Yet if water touches this rich, but arid soil, it blossoms with life seemingly overnight.

The Jordan has witnessed numerous historical events that are so rich in biblical meaning. It was through this dry riverbed that Joshua and the children of Israel marched, as God miraculously held back the spring flow of the Jordan upon entering Canaan. The old prophet Elijah and his protégé Elisha also crossed miraculously as Elijah struck the waters with his mantle and a dry pathway emerged. Naaman was healed of leprosy after finally obeying Elisha’s command and dipping himself seven times in its muddy waters. Here the miracle of the floating axe-head occurred. Ultimately, this river witnessed the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, where the Holy Spirit descended on Him in the form of a dove and His ministry was inaugurated.

One of the highlights for many pilgrims visiting Israelis the opportunity be

One of Jordan River Baptism Site

baptized in the Jordan River. There are several places that specifically cater to this desire by providing easy accessibility to the water, facilities for dressing, robes, and certificates of baptism for a small fee. They also provide small bottles for collecting and transporting a few ounces of this liquid memory back home. In fact, a whole industry has sprung up over the years to service this once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage moment.

Deep and wide? No, not really if by that you mean it in a physical or geographical sense. Yes! Beyond description if by that you mean it in spiritual sense. It just depends on which witness you choose to view it from.

Destination Israel: The Panorama of Mt. Carmel (Part 14)

Mt.Carmel towers 1,724 feet above the lush Valleyof Jezreelto its northeast. This mountain hosts a panoramic viewpoint to peruse events of both the prophetic past and the soon coming future. Mt.Carmel, or Har ha Karmell as it is called in Hebrew, means God’s Vineyard. Today the slopes of this mountain are still home to luxuriant vineyards and plush olive groves. Most tour groups will find their way to the top of Mt.Carmeldue to its rich history and breath-taking views of the Israeli landscape. Here at the Carmelite Monastery, a Catholic order founded here by monks in the 12th century, you can imagine what it must have been like in the days of Elijah, the prophet. A cave exists here in the grotto of the monastery that the Carmelites claim is the cave of Elijah.

Mt.Carmel has been a “high place”—a place of worship and sacrifice—since ancient times. The Tel of Meggido is not far from this location, and there one can view a pagan Canaanite altar. Thutmose III of Egypt mentions Mt. Carmel in the 15th century BC as a holy site. We also know from the narratives of 1 Kings 18, that an altar to Jehovah God was located here, but had fallen into ruin during the reign of King Ahab, who ruled over the ten northern tribes of Israel in Samaria.

Elijah's Statue

It was here on this same high place that the prophet Elijah challenged the 450 prophets of Baal to a contest by fire (1 Kings 18:20-40). The winner would be decided by whose sacrifice was consumed by heavenly fire. “Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, He is God (1 Kings 18:24a). Elijah allowed the worshippers of Baal to go first and they spent the day working themselves into a frenzy—even to the point of cutting themselves with lances and swords (the purpose was to excite the passions of their god with spilled blood)—but to no avail. No fire fell! Then Elijah repaired and rebuilt the LORD’s altar with twelve stones. He prepared the burnt offering by placing the wood on it and slaying the ox, cutting it up, and arranging the pieces on the wood. A trench was dug around the altar and everything was soaked three times with four pitchers of water. Elijah prayed a short prayer and God answered by fire. The divine flame fell from heaven and consumed stones, wood, ox, water, and even the dust surrounding the altar. The prophets of Baal were rounded up and Elijah executed them at the base of Mt. Carmel at the brook Kishon. Today a statue of Elijah slaying a priest of Baal stands across the courtyard from the Carmelite Monastery.

As you look out from the observation deck on the roof of the monastery,

Valley of Jezreel

you are viewing a battlefield of antiquity and the future site of the greatest battle that will be fought here on planet earth—Har Meggido or the Battle of Armageddon—there in the Jezreel Valley. God created this natural battlefield at the dawn of creation in anticipation of the events that would transpire here. General Patton once remarked that this plain was the greatest battlefield he had ever seen. Here the forces of the antichrist will meet their destruction at the hands of the One who will return on a white horse, whose name is Faithful and True. With one word He will destroy the innumerable armies of the enemy who has gathered to destroyIsrael. He will tread the grapes of God’s wrath in the shadows of Har ha Karmell—the Vineyard of God. That King is Jesus Christ—the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Valley of Jezreel

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine yourself standing on Mt. Carmel somewhere between Elijah’s victory and the soon coming King who will stand victorious at Armageddon and you will understand the panorama of Mt. Carmel.

Destination Israel: The Assurance of the Empty Tomb (Part 13)

I had hoped to post this blog on Easter Sunday, but God had other plans. Perhaps it would have been too seamless in its timing (I thought it couldn’t be any more perfect) or it might have been too easily forgotten due to all the activity of the day. After all, Easter Sunday is a huge day when we (as the church) pull out all the stops—unleash all the bells and whistles—because we know we have an opportunity to share the gospel with people who may not return to our churches again until next Easter. In retrospect, I think God wants to remind all of us that Easter is not a day we celebrate once a year, but a quality of life we are to experience every day for the rest of eternity as believers.

The greatest event of human history took place in a tomb in Jerusalem in those moments where darkness gave way to light and another day dawned. Except on this day—something occurred that had never happened before—God raised His beloved Son Jesus (who had been crucified three days earlier) from death by the power of the Holy Spirit. That one act changed everything. Death and the grave were defeated and Satan’s back was broken as Jesus stepped forth from the tomb—alive! That resurrection, that transforming act of God’s power, declared that the full payment of sin’s debt offered by Jesus was sufficient and accepted by God the Father. O, what must it have been like to be the first to look inside and hear those amazing words: “Why do you look for the Living One among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!

The Empty Tomb

Every pilgrim who travels to Israel longs for that moment when they will see the empty tomb. It is the highlight of not just the trip but a lifetime. Faith becomes sight and praise erupts from deep within your spirit and soul. But…there is one tiny problem. No one is 100% sure where the tomb is exactly located. In fact there are four or five locations that claim to be the one and only true site. Just a note here, no matter which location is the true one—the reality is they are all empty. Jesus is not there; He has risen!

It is my own personal belief that the tomb is probably located in the Church

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher

of the Holy Sepulcher, a site venerated since the 4th century. This is the same church I mentioned in an earlier blog about the site of Golgotha or Calvary. Eusebius, an early church father, claimed this spot had been a place of veneration since the first century, but that Emperor Hadrian covered the site with earth and desecrated it in the 2nd century by building a temple to the goddess Aphrodite. Emperor Constantine later ordered the temple

The Tomb inside the Church

demolished, the soil removed and a church constructed which connected the sites of the crucifixion and the resurrection. Tradition says that much of the rock face surrounding the tomb was removed, and today within the church is a marble rotunda (a small building) which supposedly encloses the tomb. Currently the veracity of that claim cannot be verified due to the site being covered in marble. Though this is probably the true site, it is impossible to visualize what it looked like that first Resurrection morning.

The Garden Tomb

Anglicans and a few Protestant groups claim the Garden Tomb (another site) as the place of the Resurrection, but this site has no historical patina before 1883—no tradition to back up the claim. But if you want to see what an actual first century tomb looked like, this one fits the biblical description, and here you can celebrate a memorable communion. It is a wonderful place to contemplate, pray and travel with your imagination back in time 2,000 years to that fateful moment when Christ arose.

Gordon's Calvary

In the end it’s not the site that proves the event. We don’t worship sites—we worship the Risen Lord Jesus! That assurance of the Resurrection is voiced throughout the whole realm of Christendom, whether Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox, in these simple words—“Jesus is not here. He has risen!”

Destination Israel: The Invitation of the Eastern Gate (Part 11)

The Eastern Gate

The Eastern Gate of Jerusalem stands like a bloodied, yet tenacious soldier refusing to surrender his ground as he eagerly awaits reinforcements. Each day, as the sun rises over the Mount of Olives, the Eastern Gate greets those shimmering shafts of light with a settled assurance that this could be the day…Could be the day for what?

The Eastern Gate, or the Golden or Beautiful Gate as it is also known, was one of eleven entrance gates into the walled city of Jerusalem. This was the main gate that welcomed most of the pilgrims going up to the Jewish temple, who then entered the area known as Solomon’s Poarch in preparation for offering their sacrifices. This was the gate where Peter and John healed the lame man in Acts 3. Jesus would have often used this gate as well.

The original gate was destroyed in 70 AD as the Roman legions led by Titus sacked and destroyed both Jerusalem and its temple. It lay in ruins for almost 1500 years until Suleiman the Magnificent, the leader of the Muslim Ottoman Turks, captured Jerusalem and began the rebuilding of her walls. A wave of excitement and anticipation swept through the conquered Jews because of an ancient tradition that promised their Messiah’s return and that He would enter the temple through the Eastern Gate from the Mount of Olives. In their minds Suleiman was just a tool in hastening  the Messiah’s return.

Suleiman soon heard about the rumors sweeping through his conquered

View of from the Mount of Olives (Jewish Cementary)

foes and put a stop to by walling up the Eastern Gate and creating a Muslim cemetery down the hillside in front of it, believing no holy man would set foot, much less walk across a cemetery to get to the gate. And for the last 500 years the Eastern Gate has waited.

Muslim Cementary in front of the Eastern GateGod gave Ezekiel a prophetic word as He spoke of the new temple that would one day be rebuilt: And the Lord said to me, “This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the Lord God of Israel has entered it; therefore it shall be shut” (Ezek. 44:3). This prophecy was given a thousand years before Suleiman walled up the gate.

So, when did the Lord God of Israel enter it? On Palm Sunday, Jesus (God the Son) rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey’s colt (the traditional Jewish transportation for a king) as He was proclaimed the King—the Son of David—the Messiah by His disciples (Luke 19:28-48). Just a few days later Jesus would be rejected by the nation as a whole, condemned as a traitor and blasphemer, and then crucified.

Today, the Eastern Gate is still walled up. It awaits the return of the King. For any believer who understands the prophecy of the Second Coming a view of this Beautiful Gate makes the hair on your neck stand up and chill bumps erupt on your body. As you stare at this gate you are looking at the very place where Jesus will return in glory and power. Zechariah tells us that on that day the Jews will look on the One whom they pierced and they will mourn in repentance (12:10), as their King—Messiah Jesus—touches down on the Mount of Olives and prepares to enter His temple (14:3-4). This is awesome, but what gives me chills and goose-bumps is the understanding that we as believers will accompany the Lord at His return
according to Revelation 19:11-16. You may not ever visit Jerusalem as a tourist, but somewhere in your future you have an appointment—a destination Israel—and you will personally see the Eastern Gate as it opens to receive the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

Those limestone blocks and hundreds of Muslim tombs will not stop the return of Jesus. He is coming! Mark it down and whatever you do prepare for it—He is coming!

Lift up your heads, O gates, and be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in! Who is the King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O gates, and lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory many come in! Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory (Psalm
24:7-10).

Destination Israel: The Experience of Calvary (Part 11)

The exact location of Calvary is hotly debated. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one of the oldest churches in the world, sits over the location of what many believe the actual site of both Calvary and the Garden Tomb. Today both are covered with the marble inlay of centuries of man’s attempt to protect, while at the same time, providing the average pilgrim the opportunity to visit both. Others point to the Gordon’s Calvary as the location of the original crucifixion site due to its resemblance to a human skull (the meaning of Golgotha).

            I lean toward the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as the probable location. It was here in 330 A.D. that Helena the mother of Emperor Constantine of Rome. One of the earlier predecessors of the Emperor, Hadrian, had built a pagan temple over the site due to his hate for Christianity. As the site was being cleared and the soil removed that provided the flat surface for the temple, Helena allegedly found the true cross and the tomb.

            In 1997, on my first visit to the Holy Land, I was privileged to visit this holy site. Our guide, a former soldier in the Israeli army was not interested in going upstairs to Golgotha (the church is built with two levels—the upstairs is Calvary and the downstairs houses the possible tomb of Jesus) due to the crushing crowd of hundreds of pilgrims from around the world waiting in line and the time it would take to get all of us through. I was dumbstruck. I had waited all my life for this moment—to see the place where my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ had given His life for mine. I was not going to be denied this opportunity so I told them I would take a taxi back to the hotel if necessary, but I was going to experience Calvary if at all possible.

            So I got in line, and eventually I found myself near the altar area. As Helena had carefully excavated this site she found a stone hilltop with three holes that corresponded to the description of the Gospels’ historic execution of Jesus. An altar was then built over the center hole and a small opening left for worshippers to touch the site. To even see the hole you must get on your knees and crawl under the altar.

            My time finally came and I knelt and crawled on my hands and knees back into the dim light under the altar. Time seemed to stand still, and it felt as though I was moving in slow motion. I reached out a trembling hand and placed it in the hole where my Savior’s cross had stood. As I touched the sides of the hole rubbed smooth by the millions of fingertips that had come before me, I was overcome with emotions from deep within my spirit and I began to weep uncontrollably. This is where “my sin” was paid for—this is where “my healing” had been purchased—this is where “my deliverance was secured—and it was just too much. And then it happened…God took hold of my hand with His. I could feel a sense of peace sweep over me and an assurance that His grace was enough. In that holy moment, faith became sight and the salvation purchased by Jesus Christ became a tangible reality.

            You will see no pictures of this moment—no posing like a tourist at a historic site or on a holiday trip. No, that moment is so personal and private that it is hidden only in the memory of my heart and my mind. I cannot even describe what took place under that altar, but when I emerged everything was different—that’s what kneeling at the foot of the cross will do.

            You may never travel to Jerusalem or have the privilege of kneeling under the altar at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but you can kneel at the foot of the cross right where you are and Jesus will touch you, and you can experience the reality of Calvary. Rest assured—whatever God touches is changed forever.

Destination Israel. The Power of Gethsemane (Part 10)

Garden of Gethsemane Olive Treee

The Garden of Gethsemane is one of the highlights and one of the holiest sites for any pilgrim visiting Israel. This ancient olive grove is located at the foot of the Mount of Olives on eastern slope above the Kidron Valley within the walled grounds of the Church of All Nations. It was here in this garden that Jesus prayed while His disciples slept (a situation too often repeated) in those fateful moments just before He was arrested and later crucified.

            This was a favorite spot for Jesus and His disciples when they attended the Jewish feasts and festivals in Jerusalem. They would often spend the nights here—tucked securely away from the crowds seeking miracles and the religious leaders seething with murder. As the sun would set, Jesus would retreat down the eastern slopes of Jerusalem along the winding trail from the Eastern Gate through the valley and into the garden. In the silence of these cool nights, they would talk of that day’s ministry and message, and pray together in preparation for the next. This was the spot were tired bodies found a respite and tired spirits were revived by the Holy Spirit.

            This was the place where Jesus led His intimate band of followers immediately after their historic supper where the last Passover Meal was celebrated and the first Lord’s Supper was instituted. Among these olive trees Jesus left the larger group and took Peter, James, and John with Him a little deeper into the grove to pray. It is likely that some of these very trees (some over 2,000 years old) witnessed the great cosmic battle that transpired as God’s will became the only will worth dying for.

The Rock of Agony

  As you step into the Church of All Nations (also known as the Church of the Agony) the focal point of the church is a huge flat stone that rests inside a short wrought iron fence in front of the altar. It was here that Jesus prayed alone as His three close friends were overcome with sleep. This stone soaked up every droplet of blood that fell from Jesus’ forehead as He prayed and wrestled with the direction of His destiny.  On this rock, the Rock of ages was chiseled into the cornerstone of a new house that Father God was building for His own personal residence.

            In this garden, the second Adam did not succumb like the first to the ancient serpent’s tempting words, “Has God really said…?  And with the victory secured, Jesus watched the torches of the temple guards led by Judas snake their way back and forth down the crooked path from the Temple and awaited the traitor’s kiss that would seal the fate of sin’s deadly dominion once and for all. This secluded garden had just witnessed a prelude in the darkness of what would transpire in the light over the next three days. The Son would rise and the light would overwhelm the darkness.

            The power of Gethsemane is not the ancient trees Jesus knelt under or the stone Jesus prostrated himself on. No—the power of Gethsemane was that simple prayer that shattered the power of hell. A prayer so powerful it echoed back through the portals of time to another garden where one act of self will had set in motion this amazing act of selfless will. The power rests in these simple words uttered by our Lord—“Not my will but Thy will be done!” In that surrender the victory came.

            That power is available for any situation or circumstance you face, but you must surrender and allow the Father to squeeze or press (Gethsemane means oil press) you until like Jesus you confess, “Not my will but Thy will be done!” In that surrender victory will come.

Lost in the Internet: Just a Note of Explanation

Two weeks ago, we switched web hosts and the switch that was to be seamless and easy turned into a nightmare. Since that moment we have been searching for 40-50 blogs that were archieved and available for our readers. When the switch took place everything written since December 2011 vanished.

After a great deal of prayer and expert attention, my blogs seemed to have simply vanished into the nether world of the internet. The experts seem to have no explanation and some pretty lame excuses. The result is they seem to be gone.

Therefore I will start posting again and keep praying that one day these blogs will find their way home again just as mysteriously as they vanished. I apologize to those of you who read my writtings on a regular basis. I will pick back up with the Destination Israel blogs and move on.

Sometimes life is like that. Something happens and there seems to be no explanation or plausible excuse for it. You have a choice to make when that happens. You can get mad and throw a fit and act like an all-around idiot, or you can learn from it and move on. I have chosen to move on, although deep down inside there is a part of me that would like to throw a tantrum and say some stupid things. But, alas. neither of those expressions of frustration would serve a positive purpose for anyone except the devil. So, I will just keep writing what God gives me and continue to pray for my little lost blogs as they wander aimlessly around the deep dark forest of the Internet.