Tag Archives: Jerusalem

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – VENGEANCE DAY

VENGEANCE DAY

“‘When you see soldiers camped all around Jerusalem, then you’ll know that she is about to be devastated. If you’re living in Judea at the time, run for the hills. If you’re in the city, get out quickly. If you’re in the fields, don’t go home to get your coat. This is Vengeance Day – everything written about it will come to a head. Pregnant and nursing mothers will have it especially hard. Incredible misery! Torrential rage! People dropping like flies; people dragged off to prisons; Jerusalem under the boot of barbarians until the nations finish what was given them to do.'” Luke 21:20-24.

Why is it that this one city should have experienced more war and destruction than any other city in the world? What does Jerusalem have that makes it the focus of so much conflict? It has no strategic geographical significance, no major economic or industrial function, some historical and archaeological interest, perhaps, but not enough for nations to have fought over it for more than three thousand years.

Once again the issue is a spiritual one. Three major faiths claim Jerusalem as their own. Judaism claims it because Jerusalem was the City of David, their greatest king. It was the capital of their Promised Land and the Temple the symbol of God’s presence among them. Islam claims Abraham as the ancestor of their race; their great Mosque of Omar occupies the place where he offered his son and where the Temple once stood. Christians love Jerusalem because it was the city where Jesus was crucified and rose again.

Jesus’ answer to His disciples’ question, ‘Teacher, when is this going to happen?’ takes in two major events, the destruction of Jerusalem under the Roman general, Titus, in 70 AD and the tumultuous events preceding His return. It is not easy to separate these two happenings because, in His predictions, they seem almost to run together. Perhaps He did this on purpose to prevent people from assigning dates to the ‘end of the world’.

When we read about the fall of Jerusalem, it fills us with horror because God appears to be cruel and heartless, subjecting people to terrible suffering out of revenge for not taking Him seriously. But that is not God’s way. From the beginning of their history He made it clear that their protection lay in their trust in Him and obedience to His word. He showed His love for them by rescuing them from slavery and by giving them a good land but they chose to reject Him and worship the worthless idols of the surrounding nations.

It was their choice, not God’s, that brought destruction on them. “Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the Lord your God when He led you in the way?” Jeremiah 2:17 (NIV).

The Jews sealed their fate by thoughtlessly calling God’s judgment upon them at Jesus’ trial. “When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood.’ he said, ‘It is your responsibility!’ All the people answered, ‘Let His blood be on us and on our children.'” Matthew 27:24-25 (NIV).

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to claim His rightful kingship of His people, the sight of the city reduced Him to tears because He saw the outcome of their rejection of Him.

“‘The days will come when your enemies will build an embankment against you and will encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognise the time of God’s coming to you.'” Luke 19:43-44 (NIV).

God’s word makes it clear that whatever fate we suffer is the end result of our own choices. He has given us the option to receive the mercy He offers us because Jesus died in our place. He honours our freedom to choose right up to the choice of our own destiny. For those who honour Him, there is mercy, forgiveness and a new life which never ends; for those who reject His offer, the eternal rubbish heap of wasted opportunity.

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE – ON A STEADY COURSE TOWARDS JERUSALEM

ON A STEADY COURSE TOWARDS JERUSALEM

“He went on teaching from town to village, from village to town but keeping on a steady course towards Jerusalem.” Luke 13:22.

Jerusalem, the Holy City of God, ancient citadel of David, Israel’s model king and revered leader. Jerusalem, seat of religious government and site of their most holy shrine – the great temple of God, place of God’s presence and the rallying point of His people. The temple was their security and their expression of unity. Every year they gathered in their thousands to celebrate their feasts at the temple in Jerusalem.

Jesus loved Jerusalem; He loved the temple. His first experience at the age of twelve captured His heart. He tarried in Jerusalem while His parents set off for home, not knowing that He was still in His Father’s house, about His Father’s business. Every time He returned to Jerusalem at feast times, He taught in the temple. His passion for His Father’s house drew forth white-hot anger when greedy merchants turned it into a market place. Why would He not move with eager steps towards Jerusalem?

Jesus was fully aware of the sinister side of Jerusalem. Its beauty and fascination eclipsed its history. It was also the place where its own people had murdered its own prophets. Jerusalem was a place of religious intolerance and a rigid and ruthless priesthood. Anyone who threatened their position and power was dispensed with. Both political and religious threats were quickly judged and exterminated to keep the peace with Rome and to maintain the status quo.

Jesus fell into the category of a religious embarrassment. His popularity temporarily bordered on fanaticism because He was everything the people longed for. He was there for them in their physical crises; He miraculously fed them from meagre resources; He was kind and compassionate; He was the friend of sinners; He forgave their sin and restored peace in their hearts and, best of all, they fervently believed He would rescue them from their Roman oppressors.

Jesus knew that Jerusalem was the place of His final showdown with His opponents. To move steadily towards Jerusalem, knowing that they held the power to destroy Him, was to commit suicide, and yet He was unflinching in His purpose. Worse still, He not only put Himself in the place of personal danger, He deliberately provoked His enemies into a frenzy of murderous hate by His exposure of their hypocrisy, His insistence on His identity as the Son of God and His unflinching adherence to the truth.

Jesus was not afraid of Jerusalem. It was the place where the climax of history would be played out with Himself the focal point. He had come to die in Jerusalem. Luke captures this in His attitude in this moment in this one significant phrase, “…on a steady course towards Jerusalem.” Unlike us who are swept along by our circumstances, Jesus moved purposefully into His because He knew who He was and why He had come.

What an inspiration this is for those of us who have chosen to believe what He said and to entrust our lives and our destiny to Him! We are secure in the truth that His death on the cross was neither a coincidence nor the victory of devil-inspired religious despots but the pre-determined plan of a loving and compassionate heavenly Father who sent His Son into a dangerous world to rescue us from the clutches of the devil.

Jesus was fully aware of what lay ahead of Him and moved into it with steadfast purpose because He knew the outcome and obeyed the Father in order to carry out His rescue plan. He absorbed the very worst that human beings could do to Him, He died as a silent and unprotesting sacrificial lamb although He was innocent, and triumphantly rose from the dead to prove it.

THE BOOK OF ACTS – NO WAY, FESTUS!

NO WAY, FESTUS!

“About eight or ten days later, Festus returned to Caesarea. The next morning he took his place in the courtroom and had Paul brought in. The minute he walked in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem were all over him, hurling the most extreme accusations, none of which they could prove.

“Then Paul took the stand and said simply, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong against the Jewish religion, or the Temple, or Caesar. Period!’

“Festus, though, wanted to get on the good side of the Jews and so said, ‘How would you like to go up to Jerusalem, and let me conduct your trial there?'” Acts 25:6-9 (The Message).

Oh no! Not another crowd-pleaser! Paul might have had high hopes that Festus would give him justice, but he was turning out no better than Felix.

What was it with these Roman governors? Was it their fear of the volatile Jews who could stir up a riot in a flash that kept them from doing the right thing? Was there anything in it for them other than their maintaining their position by keeping the peace in Israel? They all seem to have been tarred with the same brush.

Festus was giving him the option of being tried in Jerusalem instead of in Caesarea when, a few days before he had insisted that Paul remain in Caesarea where he, Festus had jurisdiction over Paul. Jerusalem was the turf of the Jewish hierarchy where they had power and influence. Paul knew that at all costs he must stay away from Jerusalem.

He had been whisked out of Jerusalem in the dead of night because his life was in danger there, and now Festus wanted to send him back into enemy territory? Paul was well aware of Festus’ strategy. Sacrifice Paul for peace so that Festus could look like a good governor in the eyes of Rome. As long as there was no trouble in this little colony, internal issues did not matter, especially petty religious ones!

“Paul answered, ‘I’m standing at this moment before Caesar’s bar of justice, where I have a perfect right to stand. And I’m going to keep standing here. I’ve done nothing wrong to the Jews, and you know it as well as I do. If I’ve committed a crime and deserve death, name the day. I can face it. But if there’s nothing to their accusations — and you know there isn’t — nobody can force me to go along with their nonsense. We’ve fooled around long enough. I appeal to Caesar.’

“Festus huddled with his advisors briefly and then gave his verdict: ‘You’ve appealed to Caesar; you’ll go to Caesar!” Acts 25:10-12 (The Message).

Paul held the trump card. As a Roman citizen he had the right to a fair trial before Caesar. If Festus did not have the guts to do the right thing, he was certainly not going to subject himself to any more abuse from the Jews. It was with an air of contempt that he made his decision. Festus was too lily-livered to stand up to the Jews. He, Paul, was not going to be a pawn to be pushed around on their little chessboard. Caesar was his only option to get out of checkmate.

That pulled the rug from under Festus’ feet! He was obligated to grant Paul his request. This was a legally binding appeal and once granted, like the law of the Medes and Persians, it could not be changed. Paul was actively co-operating with God’s plan to move him to Rome. Did the penny drop for him at that moment? Did he have a flash of understanding, remembering the assurance from the Lord Himself that he was on his way to Rome in spite of all the carry-on in Jerusalem?

Slowly but surely God’s plan was coming together. Throughout all the seemingly impossible circumstances, and the long drawn-out process, Paul was exactly where and when God wanted him, putting all the structures in place to plant His son right in the palace of Caesar himself. There’s no getting away from it — God is smart.

THE BOOK OF ACTS – ONE

ONE

“We saw that we weren’t making even a dent in his resolve, and gave up. ’It’s in God’s hands now,’ we said. ‘Master, you handle it.’

“It wasn’t long before we had our luggage together and were on our way to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us and took us to the home of Mnason, who received us warmly as his guests. A native of Cyprus, he had been among the earliest disciples.

“In Jerusalem, our friends, glad to see us, received us with open arms. The first thing next morning, we took Paul to see James. All the church leaders were there. After a time of greeting and small talk, Paul told the story, detail by detail, of what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. They listened with delight and gave God the glory.” Acts 21:14-19 (The Message).

Jesus’ first words to would-be disciples on the brink of His public ministry were, ‘Follow me,’ and His final instruction to them on His return to the Father was, ‘Go, and make disciples.’ In the intervening years, the apostles carried out His mandate faithfully. Now, as they met together in Jerusalem many years after that day, they were sharing the stories of their obedience.

Not only were there pockets of disciples in many cities and towns across the Roman Empire, but they were also all disciples — followers of Jesus. The apostles were careful to attach people to Jesus and not to themselves, and they also ensured that God’s Word was their source book, not human reason or personal interpretation or experience.

The result was that the church was one body made up of cells all over the empire. There is no evidence of conflicting denominations or fragmentations based on human leaders pulling people away from Jesus. The potential was there; the writers of the New Testament letters were careful and diligent to put out the fires of division and conflict that were constantly being lit by unscrupulous counterfeit disciples.

But among the true believers and the church leaders there was unity based on their loyalty to and love of one Master. When Paul told his story to the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, they could celebrate and rejoice with him because they shared the joy of what God had done through him. It was not Paul’s work. It was God’s work and Paul happened to be one of the vessels God had used.

But Paul was only one among many who were sowing the seeds of God’s Word wherever they went. He blazed the trail for others to follow. He wrote letters to churches that other faithful evangelists had founded and he was not slow to acknowledge their ministry. This was not a competition but a partnership because the kingdom they represented was not theirs but God’s and their mandate was not to build the church — Jesus said He would do that — but to make disciples, and that’s what they were bent on doing.

There is a feeling of camaraderie and oneness among these people as we read the account of Paul’s reunion with the church in Jerusalem. They were all in it together and Paul’s success was their success.

What went wrong that the church is so fragmented and that there are so many different streams of thought and practice in the church today? Jesus made it very simple:

  1. He said, ‘Follow me; learn of me; obey me.’ His intention was that we be bound to Him as our model and our mentor, not any human being who thinks he can be a substitute for the Master. We are heading off in the wrong direction if we let go of Jesus.
  1. He gave us His written word as our source book. We have access to everything about Him in His Word. When we choose to ignore His Word and substitute human words for His Word, we are on the wrong track.
  1. He gave us His Spirit as His indwelling representative — another just like Himself — whose role is to teach us about Him and make Him real to us so that we can follow Him.

When we ignore the Holy Spirit or try to squeeze Him into who we think He is or what we think He ought to do, we lose the one person who can make unity possible.

Jesus’ impassioned plea to the Father was “That they may be one, Father, just as we are one.” That can never happen until we return to the simple basics of following Jesus, listening to the Holy Spirit and sticking to His Word.

THE BOOK OF ACTS – SMOOTH SAILING

SMOOTH SAILING                                                                                       

“In the meantime, the rest of us had gone on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos where we planned to pick up Paul. Paul wanted to walk there and so had made these arrangements earlier. Things went according to plan. We met him at Assos, took him on board, and sailed to Mitylene. The next day we put in opposite Chios, Samos a day later, and then Miletus. Paul had decided to bypass Ephesus so that he wouldn’t be held up in Asia province. He was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem in time for the Feast of Pentecost, if at all possible.” Acts 20:13-16 (The Message).

For once things were going according to plan for Paul. He had set his sights on Jerusalem in time for Pentecost and he was well on his way to getting there on time. The weather favoured the sailors; he was accompanied by his dear friends and behind him was the result of his faithful labour for Jesus.

He was still a Jew at heart, with the memory of Jewish festivals deeply ingrained in him. He had spent the most part of his life among pagans, gathering in the harvest of souls for the kingdom of God from city to city with toil, hardship and suffering — imprisonment, beatings, stoning, walking thousands of miles, experiencing the rigors of heat, cold, hunger and loneliness, but he was not daunted because he was gathering experience no one could take from him.

Jerusalem was his goal, the centre of the Jewish world and the capital city of his own people. Like Jesus, Paul was on a determined course for Jerusalem but, unlike Jesus, he did not yet know what awaited him there. He had been the butt of Jewish hostility throughout his travels. Many times he had been forced to turn his back on them and give his attention to the Gentiles because they had rejected him and threatened his life. He had been hounded from one city to the next and often had to change plans to escape their murderous plots but he still loved them and longed for their favourable response to the good news.

“‘I speak the truth in Christ — I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit — I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” Romans 9:1-4a (NIV).

How could Paul say a thing like that when his own people had treated him so badly? Surely he must have held a grudge against them for the scars on his body and on his soul? Not at all! Paul, how could you be so forgiving and so caring in the face of all you have suffered at their hands?

Jesus uttered words on the cross that, if we would really take them to heart, would take the sting out of the things we suffer at the hands of others. “‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.'” Luke 23:34 (NIV).

Like his Master, Paul realised that the way they treated him was just like the way he treated the believers before he met Jesus on the Damascus road, because he didn’t know what he was doing. Isn’t that true? Ignorance is not an excuse but often a reason for our foolish behaviour. If we really knew what the consequences of our words and actions would be, would we treat others the way we do?

One of the reasons why we withhold forgiveness from another is that we think we are better than he. What he has done to us we would never do to him. Really? We feel so outraged. How could he, she? But we forget that we are just as guilty because we are just as ignorant of the consequences.

Only a compassionate heart that really cared about the lives of those who hated him could cause Paul to say, “‘I have great sorrow…'”