So said Jesus in Matthew 23:37-39 in the days just before his crucifixion. it was the center of Israel in the days when He was on earth as it had been for many hundreds of years before. Located about 40 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea, it has often been described as the center of the world. Today, there are about 800,000 inhabitants or about 10% of Israel’s population.
Those are some facts about the city. But, there seems to be much more to disagree about than to agree with when it comes to a city considered holy by so many. Jewish people claim it as their own, some dating their claim to the Biblical patriarch, Abraham. In 1967, after 20 years of division, Israeli military forces reunited the city, tearing down many physical boundaries. Today, over 40 years later, the furor has really not subsided. What to do about Jerusalem seems to lie dead center in any ” peace” negotiations between Arab and Jew. It’s mine, no mine and on it goes.
American presidents from Eisenhower on to Obama have had to focus on Israel and Jerusalem in varying degrees in an attempt to be a mediator. Now Mr Obama has his opportunity to reverse what many(particularly Arabs) seem as a blatant United States bias towards Israel. Some Palestinian leaders even say that the President has promised a new Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Further , a senior adviser ( Nimer Hamad)to the Palestinian president says that the Obama administration says that this is in the American national and security interest. To add fuel to the debate, if such were necessary, Mr Obama is due to make a major speech aimed at the Arab world on June 4. It will given at Cairo University amid speculation as to what he will or will not say and what are the implications of his speech, its locale etc. Many will applaud the effort and say it is high time reverse the excessively pro-Israel tilt under Bush. Geo politically, they are probably correct. But if Joel Rosenberg is correct( and he has been numerous times before ) the coming train wreck of United States-Israeli relations will resound far beyond the political.
The peace of Jerusalem- Psalms 122:6
As Holy Week draws to a climax, today is the day the day that we call good. In reality, some 1950+ years ago in Jerusalem, unspeakably bad things took place.As I was reading about the Last Supper last night, the thought struck me about how long the original Good Friday was and all that took place. So much of the gospel narrative takes place during Holy Week and particularly on Friday. Beginning with Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane all the way through the crucifixion and burial, its far more involved and agonizing than an episode of 24 could aspire to be.
All four New Testament gospels do a great job of putting us right in the middle of the chaotic and brutal events that took place. I’m partial to Luke”s account, although I don’t really know why.
The scriptures do not mince words in their treatment of Jesus’ scourging and crucifixion yet in some ways the account is almost matter of fact with no attempt to sensationalize as would be the case in our day. Several things jump out to me as I’m sure they wold to anyone who reads the account with an open mind. I will mention just a few that are quite meaningful to me.
For the first one, I go back to the Old Testament; Isaiah 52:14b
” So his appearance was marred more than than any man”
What a striking statement to describe just the outward effects of Jesus” suffering.
Secondly, I look to Matthew 27:12-15 when Jesus was questioned by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. I can scarcely imagine the confusion and chaos and the violently raucous atmosphere that must have been present during this event. But yet under intense questioning by a very powerful political leader, he answered not a word as had been predicted many years previously. John19:11 amplifies this conversation so beautifully,when Jesus said ” You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above”. Perhaps the most poignant and certainly the most difficult for me to even begin to fathom when at 3:00 PM in the midst of crushing darkness, just before the end, scripture tells us that Jesus said these words.
“My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me?’ It is said to be the time when the inexplicable relationship between God the Father and Jesus was broken as Jesus took on our sin. No, I cannot fathom it , nor come close to explaining it. Those much better versed theologically should make those efforts. I will borrow a line from a Darlene Zschech song that says:
‘” I ‘ll never know just what it cost to see my sin upon that cross”
And so Good Friday it was and is, not for Him, but for us.
It is a
Sometimes there can be a real dearth of things that either I feel a need to write about or just want to for the fun of it. Today seems to be the polar opposite with an embarrassment of good stuff. So, I will save a few things for later and write about an ancient city that is coming back to life.Seen above is a Reuters photo from January 13, showing a a replica of the Ishtar gate of Ancient Babylon.
The rebuilding project was begun by our old nemesis, Saddam Hussein and has obviously been on hold for a while. But not anymore.There was a project launched recently called “The Future of Babylon” to develop a plan for the conversation, study and development of tourism in this ancient city.Says Marion Omran Musa, head of a government inspection team;”it depends on funds .I hope that Babylon can be reborn in a better image.”
Old Testament scripture in Isaiah,Jeremiah and Ezekiel as well as Revelation in the New Testament indicate that the city would be rebuilt and become the most powerful city in the world. Obviously, few have believed this or given much credence to it. But, lo and behold, it is coming. The United States has even kicked in $700,ooo for these studies referred to above.
The city, some 85 miles south of Baghdad has been fertile ground for looters for centuries and has suffered much damage since the US led invasion in 2003.But things are changing. Our “prophetic” friend, author Joel Rosenberg, wrote of this possible rebuilding in fictional terms and then from a non-fiction perspective in Epicenter 2.0 in 2006.
Truth once again is proving stranger than fact thus confirming one again proving the exquisite accuracy of Scripture. So, keep watching.
I will never ever cease to be amazed at the levels of meaning in the the Scriptures . One can read a passage dozens of times and then all of a sudden ” see ” something that is new to you . Of that I will never tire . The latest example of that phenomenon happened to me just a day or so ago . The New Testament book of Romans is packed with lots of heavy theological concepts but also with practical teachings that can apply to many areas of our lives . Romans 12:9-21 encompasses by my count some 29 examples of those practical dos and donts . My focus for this post is the latter part of verse 19 ; Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord , which is a partial quotation from Deuteronomy 32:35. Not that I am in a vengeful mood or out to get even with anyone mind you but this is what hit me from this verse . God says that vengeance is His and if it is His , it cannot be ours and we neednt worry about the old bugaboo of getting even . I know that is such a simple concept but this time it sank in as never before . So , as I am going to endeavor to do, lock in this truth so that when the time comes for it to be apropos and come it surely will you and I will be prepared.
I wanted to make a final ( for now ) visit to Psalm 23 . This is doubtless a rich portion of scripture whose truths are not only timeless but perhaps cannot be explored to their fullest depths . The more time one spends with Mr Keller’s little book the more alive the Psalm becomes . One sidenote, we must remember the cultures in which Scripture was written and although its truths are timeless , the imagery is somewhat foreign to us , along with the languages of Hebrew and Greek ( for most of us ) . Good study tools including concordances, atlases etc can greatly enhance our study and appreciation of God’s word . I had a Bible study leader who likened insights to gems discovered by a diligent miner and I have always liked that . Anyway, back to the Psalm . A quote or two from Keller :
” It is no accident that God has chosen to call us sheep…. Our mass mind ( or mob instincts ) , our fears, our stubborness and stupidity,our perverse habits are all parallels of profound importance. Yet, despite these adverse characteristics Christ chooses us, buys us , calls us by name, makes us His own and delights in caring for us . ”
That is such cool stuff to keep in mind and meditate on . There are so many lesson to draw, I suppose I could post far longer and more often than necessary . Anyway, the chapters of the book are organized by phrases of the psalm, the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want ( that may be the one we need the most ) etc . I shall close with a middle phrase in the psalm; He restoreth my soul. This seemed to speak as much to me as any other. Keller writes of the cast down sheep which is an old English shepherding term for, yes, a sheep that for various reasons , virtually all of its own making, has fallen and cannot get up . For the shepherd, there is alas, no humor since a cast down sheep will die without the shepherd’s assistance. Furthermore, even the strongest and healthiest sheep are subject to this problem, perhaps even more so . The comparisons to us are painfully but delightfully close. As we think about the Good Shepherd’s care for us it is just so wonderful . Again, one last lesson for our Western mindsets , ” Material success is no measure of spiritual health ” . Verses to reflect upon, I Corinthians 10:12-13 .
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want . Most everyone with even a cursory knowledge of the Bible has heard these words multiple times . I would venture that this passage is the most frequently cited at funerals . But what do they mean ? Few of us are shepherds or even know any shepherds and have little if any contact with sheep . In both Old and New Testament times , the very opposite was the case. Society was generally agrarian and so the imagery and language of Scripture was quite familiar to those living then . What Keller has done in his book that I referenced yesterday is to bring that imagery home to us in a masterful way . I have begun rereading his book as I work on these posts and have realized that a series is in the making if I am to do this topic justice . For today , couple of salient points . Mr. Keller wrote his book in 1970 , even earlier than I remembered . He wrote from a background of having been , among other things; a shepherd and sheep rancher for some eight years and as the lay pastor of a community church . I wont attempt to regurgitate his book but I will urge you to read or reread it as the case may be . For today , I will let the Psalm speak to us .
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me bedside the still waters
He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake
Yea. though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me
Thou dost prepare a table before me for in the presence of mine enemies,
Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
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