My wife and I traveled to Israel 18 years ago, and during our return visit last year we noticed that much about the Holy Land remains constant (and confusing)—a mix of the sacred and the strange.
In Jerusalem pilgrims rub elbows with pickpockets. Merchants hawk T-shirts outside the entrance to the Wailing Wall. A peaceful breeze blows at the Garden Tomb while trash accumulates behind a chain link fence by the bus station next door. Christians walk the Via Dolorosa past crowded souvenir stands while a Muslim call to prayer echoes loudly through the air. Near the site where Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, gift shops offer bottles of river water for sale. The Sea of Galilee still glimmers in the sun, beckoning visitors to recall how Jesus taught by the shore, but it didn’t quite fit the mood when we saw someone water skiing on the lake.
Centuries ago when King Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, the enormous number of animals sacrificed (22,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep and goats) reinforced the significance of the event and the size of the crowd (2 Chronicles 7:4, 5). Did every individual attending the worship service that day sincerely desire to keep God’s commands, honor his covenant, and observe his decrees and laws (v. 17), or were they mainly there for the show?
Extraordinary Courage and Purpose
The traffic seemed heavier in Jerusalem than we recalled from our previous visit. On a busy Thursday afternoon it seemed like half the population of the Middle East was jam-packed into a few blocks as our bus driver slowly maneuvered through gridlock, winding through the Muslim Quarter into the Old City.
It’s different in Galilee. There, in the less-populated region where Jesus grew up, the cities are smaller and the traffic is lighter. Open roads wind through fertile fields loaded with vineyards, fruit trees, and vegetable gardens. For someone who grew up in a carpenter’s home in Nazareth, it must have been tempting to stay near his boyhood roots and avoid the hassles of the big city. Other than the annual feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, why bother going to Jerusalem at all—especially when the authorities in the crowded city wanted him dead? It required extraordinary courage and a driving sense of purpose for Jesus to “resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). He was determined to navigate through the spiritual traffic and show us the way of salvation.
Arriving in the Holy City, Jesus rode a donkey’s colt down the Mount of Olives while crowds waved palm branches, threw their cloaks on the road, and shouted his praises. Jesus wept over the city, though, because he foresaw its coming destruction at the hands of the Roman army in A.D. 70 and because so many in the fickle crowd failed to receive the peace he came to bring (Luke 19:28-44). Later that same week multitudes would gather again, this time shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
I’m glad we had the opportunity to visit Jerusalem again. Even the heavy traffic was instructive. It reminded us that Jesus didn’t carry out his ministry in a serene, uncluttered place. In a confusing world beset by complicated problems and traffic jams, he died and rose again to forgive our sin and heal our troubled land.
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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