The Garden of Gethsemane November 11, 2009Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Philosophy and Religion, Travel.
Tags: Garden of Gethsemane, Israel, James MacDonald, Jerusalem, Jesus, Lindsay McCaul, Mount of Olives, street vendors, surrender, The Bible
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The Garden of Gethsemane was not at all what I pictured from reading about it in the Bible. I imagined a vast apple orchard, where Jesus was betrayed in the midst of flowering trees and green meadowy grass. Maybe a daisy or two here or there, but certainly a nice flat spacious valley of lush greenery.
We walked from the Necropole down a narrow stone street. A few street vendors called out to us to try to sell us stuff. “Bags 4 for $10!” … “Bookmarks, $2!” … “I’ll give you 2 goats for your used Volkswagen!” That kind of thing.
At one point we walked by a Bedouin-looking guy with a mule that he made smile at us by holding his head and squeezing. He looked the part in every way, and his mule made a fine circus animal. I think he was selling rides, but I’m not sure because I was too busy trying to A) stay with the group so as not to get lost in Jerusalem, and B) fight off the street vendors who insisted that I’d look great in 5 brightly colored scarves for $10.
At another point we saw cars coming within inches of each other and driving through mobs of people with far less regard for their safety than my western sensibilities were comfortable with. Masses of people, narrow winding roads, steep hills, no sidewalks, aggressive drivers, and a total disregard for (perhaps lack of existence of) traffic laws added up to a mildly stressful walking-down-the-street-to-the-garden experience. But we managed.
When we finally got to the garden (only a few minutes walk from the Necropole), it was not at all want I expected (as I said). Instead of a flat lush expanse, it was a fairly steep rocky embankment. There were lots of trees (some of them evidently many hundreds of years old), winding paths up the slopes, and large boulders. There was less grass than there was underbrush, but it was green, and lush, and beautiful in its own way. I think I found it beautiful most because of its Biblical significance and because I was there with dozens of godly Jesus-loving fanatics, like myself. In fact, around these folks I feel the need to step it up a notch.
By the way, just for the record, the Garden of Gethsemane is where Jesus went to pray with Peter, James and John after the last supper on the Thursday night before He was captured and crucified. Judas brought the religious SS out the garden and kissed Jesus to make sure they knew which one He was. Peter cut off the guard’s ear, which Jesus healed. Then they took Him to Caiaphas’ place on the south side of the city to hold Him until He could be tried before Pilot in the morning. The disciples were neither able to pray with Jesus (weak), stop the arresting guards (misguided), or stay with Jesus when He was captured (afraid). And then Peter denied Jesus three times while He waited to stand trial. The more I read about these disciple guys, the more I relate to them. Sigh!
Oh, and check out Matthew 26 to read the story for yourself (which I highly encourage). In the meantime, back to the garden in present times…
After we’d rallied up and selected some nice comfortable stones to sit on, Lindsay McCaul led us in worship (awesome!), and James MacDonald preached on giving hard things to God. As usual, he exposited the Scriptures, rather than just walking through a couple random thoughts supported deductively by Google-located Bible verses. And his delivery brimmed with the expectation that we would actually apply the Word to our lives, not just listen to a message, which I’m all about! James’ main point was that Jesus had to surrender His will to God — to be willing to do something extremely hard that His Father had called Him to do. His question to us was, “What hard thing is God asking you to surrender to Him?” He focused on Jesus’ words in John 18:11, which I absolutely love: “Shall I not drink the cup my Father has given me?”
When he had finished his brief message, James directed us to spread out and get alone with God in the garden. Unlike the message two nights before on the Sea of Galilee or the previous morning on the Mount of Beatitudes, I knew exactly what God was asking me to do and how James’ message applied to my life personally. Although that felt really good, the task at hand feels intimidating. No, of course I’m not going to share in this context what I’m talking about, but I would say this… God calls us to trust Him with our whole hearts, our whole lives. Not only is it foolish and impractical to withhold from God any part of who we are, it keeps us from the life God wants us to have. Fullness of joy only exists in total surrender.
Mount of Olives November 11, 2009Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Philosophy and Religion, Travel.
Tags: Araunah the Jebusite, Bethany, Bible Stories, David, Gary Frazier, Israel, Jerusalem, Jesus, Lazarus, Lindsay McCaul, Mount Moriah, Mount of Olives
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After breakfast, the first place we gathered on our first whole day in Jerusalem, was the Mount of Olives. The temple mount (where Solomon’s temple used to sit and the Dome of the Rock sits now) sits atop Mount Moriah in the south of Israel, above the Negev dessert immediately west of the northernmost tip of the Dead Sea. The Mount of Olives is west of the temple mount, across the Kidron Valley.
The Mount of Olives was one of Jesus’ favorite places. He retreated there often to pray, taught their occasionally, and ascended to heaven from there. It’s believed that just as His feet last touched the earth there, it will be the first place they touch the earth again when He returns. Also, the Garden of Gethsemane – where Jesus was marked by Judas and captured by the Jewish leadership, to ultimately be crucified – is located on the Mount of Olives.
We started our day in one of several mini stone amphitheaters created as teaching / viewing spots on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city. With the exception of some terribly fleeting glimpses of it the evening before entering into the city, this was our first real view of the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock. Gary Frazier, the Director of Discovery Ministries, our tour company, spoke to us about the history of Israel past, present, and future. I won’t go into huge details on Jerusalem from his talk. Maybe I’ll devote an entry to a brief Jerusalem lesson, but there are so many other places far more qualified to give that kind of supporting / contextual / historic information than my blog.
There are a couple highlights from our time together on the Mount of Olives – before we descended down to the Garden of Gethsemane – that I’d like to share though.
First, just behind us (over the Mount of Olives to the west) is the town of Lazeria. In Biblical times, this was Bethany. This is where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, and it was from roughly where we were sitting during Gary’s talk that Jesus looked out over Jerusalem and wept (Matthew 23, Luke 19) because the people had rejected God provoking God’s judgment on Jerusalem and the Israelites. Jesus knew that someday the city would lie in ruins, and of course He was right.
Secondly, Lindsay McCaul led worship, which I always love. I was particularly interested in a new song I haven’t heard before called “Beautiful”. Will have to get that one from iTunes when I get home.
Lastly, a word on the Temple Mount. It is built where it is on Mount Moriah because that’s where David built an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite in 2 Samuel 24. David displayed a sinful independence and a lack of faith in God by conducting a census of his fighting men. As a result, God punished him and Israel with a plaque, But David built an altar to pray to God and beg forgiveness. As a result, God averted the plaque. It was in this process that David – in response to Araunah’s offer to give him the threshing floor for the altar – made his famous statement in verse 24, “I will buy [the threshing floor] from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.”
This all took place on Mount Moriah. So later, when Solomon set out to build a temple for God after David’s death, he chose this sacred place to do so. This is where the Dome of the Rock sits today.
Mount of the Beatitudes November 10, 2009Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Philosophy and Religion, Travel.
Tags: Beatitudes, career, Israel, James MacDonald, Jesus, Lindsay McCaul, Sea of Galilee, Sermon on the Mount, service, The Bible
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After another olive oil soaked breakfast, we made our way to the Mount of the Beatitudes to a spot near where Jesus is believed to have delivered the Sermon on the Mount. There is of course a church built there to commemorate this. It is the shape of an octagon, one side for each of the beatitudes. The grounds around it are beautifully kept. But what bothered me, like many of the commemorative churches, was the overpriced gift shop and refreshment areas, turning what would otherwise be a beautiful monument to Jesus’ great sermon into a place of business.
At any rate, the entire large group gathered in a little amphitheater built for groups like us to gather. Lindsay McCaul led worship. James assembled each of the pastors in our group from around the country and their wives, and each read a part of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7. James then preached on the last few verses in chapter 7 where Jesus talks about the difference between building your house on the sand vs the rock.
I just love James. He walked through the text in his customary expository style, his delivery brimming with the expectation that we would actually apply the Word to our lives, not just listen to a message. And not only that, he managed to take a very familiar passage and introduce me to a new thought in teaching it. His point was that the man who builds his house on the sand looks pretty smart for a while. In fact, if troubles never come, then you’d rather be the sand guy. How much quicker and easier would it be to build on sand!? You’d be grilling burgers on the deck with your friends while the man building on the rock was still digging foundation.
Building your house on the rock only makes sense if troubles are going to come. But that’s the whole point: troubles always come. And even if you live a life of luxury and privilege in this world, the ultimate “trouble” awaits you: How will you answer a holy God who rightly demands that you give an account for your life? In this day of trouble, the sand will not provide adequate foundation to withstand the wind and the rain.
So James asked us (always moving toward application), “What would it look like for you to build your house on the rock?” At first blush, I didn’t know. Lately, I’ve been far too focused on answering questions like this in terms of career or geography or possessions. But man’s life simply doesn’t consist of the abundance of these things.
After James had finished his message, I walked down to the edge of the water — well, as close as I could with a banana plantation in the way that wasn’t there in the 1st century — and asked God to reveal to me the answer to James’ question. What I felt is that the answer isn’t about “what”, it’s about “how”. It’s not about what I do or what my address is or what I own, it’s about how I work and how I live and how I love others. Of course, this stuff requires time and margin and focus and discipline and intentional investment, but millions of people with every job, house, mortgage, car and salary imaginable both do these things well and do them poorly. It’s a matter of the heart, of belief, of a willingness to learn and rely on God’s promises, and on minimizing distraction.
So, I was grateful to God for that word. I’m pretty dense, so I’m still working through all of it. But I get absolutely stoked that God loves me so much, and I’m grateful for the freedom He gives and the way He takes care of me all the time.
Fantastic morning on the seashore.
Caesarea Philippi November 9, 2009Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Military, News, Politics and Culture, Philosophy and Religion, Travel.
Tags: Caesarea Philippi, Capernaum, Herod the Great, Israel, James MacDonald, Jesus, Lindsay McCaul, paganism, Peter, The Bible
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From Tel Dan, we headed east just a few miles to Caesarea Philippi – founded by Philip, one of the three sons of Herod the Great during the time Jesus walked the earth. Since then, it has been renamed Banius (after the Greek god “Pan”, but there was no “P” in the (I think it was) Arabic language, so they changed it to “B”).
Just outside Caesarea Philippi is the site of the second fountainhead of the Jordan river. A large rock face exists halfway up Mount Hermon, in the northern region of the Golan Heights. There, out of a large cave/opening in the rock face, flows a fresh water stream which feeds the Jordan. Beneath this cave is the largest underground fresh water reservoir in all of Israel. Yet again a good reason to not want to surrender this strategic territory.
Philip, being a fan of multitheism and Pan in particular (can’t remember what he’s a god of), also wanted to create a multi-cultural temple of sorts with a place for all manner of foreign gods. So, even today, if you visit the base of the rock face near Caesarea Philippi, you can see indentations in the rock wall. In Jesus’ day, each would have been home to a bust or figurine or other statue representing a false god. At one point during his ministry, Jesus took his disciples on a 30+ mile trip from Capernaum (home base to him for much of his ministry life) to Caesarea Philippi to teach them at the base of this cliff.
You can read about it in Matthew 16. Jesus walked boldly into one of the very centers of paganism at the time, and boldly asked the disciples who they thought He was. Peter answered correctly that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
While we were there, James taught on this passage in a powerful way, calling us to make the decision who Jesus is in our lives and then live like it. It was his first time he was with us as a group, having arrived late the night before from speaking at a marriage conference in California. Lindsay McCaul was also there leading worship, which I greatly enjoyed. I felt like I was one of the few in the audience who was also a musical leader, so I was helping to guide the group from within the audience. Especially since Lindsay didn’t have a mic.
The experience at Caesarea Philippi really was a powerful and interesting one. In fact it was James’ description of this setting and the impact it had on him when he came to Israel the first time last year that first got me thinking about wanting to go to Israel myself. If only Faith were with me.