Everybody uses a calendar. Some hang it on the wall with pictures of puppies, landscapes, or old cars. Others use Google Calendar or carry their schedules on their smartphones. Some do all of these.
In fact, most of us operate with several calendar systems at the same time. My calendar year begins in January, but I also march to a fiscal year, a school year, and occasionally, a leap year.
But as God’s people—just like the Hebrews of old—a calendar does much more than keep us on schedule. Especially on a New Year.
The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, begins this evening and reminds us of essentials we mustn’t forget.
Some call it coincidence. Some call it Providence. But according to tradition, both the First and Second Temples (in 586 BC and AD 70) were destroyed on the same date in history. That begins this evening.
Tisha B’Av marks the 9th day of the month of Av—the fifth Jewish month. During the exile, the Jews instituted a fast to commemorate the Temple’s destruction. After they returned to Jerusalem, they asked God a question about Tisha B’Av:
Shall I weep in the fifth month and abstain, as I have done these many years? —Zechariah 7:3
Their question made sense.
They had observed the fast in exile, but should they continue to fast on Tisha B’Av now that they were building the Second Temple? God’s answer to their question reaches beyond them to the heart of why we do what we do.
One question gets to the heart of our heart.
If you think about it, King Solomon never started out to build pagan shrines. It was his failure to deal with the tiny spiritual cracks in his heart that produced a life of compromise and dissatisfaction.
(Photo: Design Pics, via Vivozoom)
The backwash from Solomon’s life reminds us how we only kid ourselves when we think we can have a healthy walk with God and still keep our hidden life of compromise on the side.
The good news? We don’t have to.
One morning when I was in Jerusalem, I chose to have my devotions on the Mount of Olives at sunrise. Making my way through the Old City’s dark and narrow streets, I passed beside the Temple Mount and exited the city on its east side.
(Photo: Overlooking Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Photo: צולם ע, via Wikimedia Commons)
After climbing the steep ascent of the Mount of Olives, I sat near its summit as the sun began to warm my back. Turning to Matthew’s Gospel, I read about Jesus leaving the Temple, predicting its destruction, and sitting on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:1–5).
Looking across the Kidron Valley at the Temple Mount—now crowned with a Muslim shrine—I thought about how Jesus’ prediction proved true. Because Israel rejected Him, they ultimately lost the very objects they hoped to secure through His death—their Temple and their nation (John 11:48).
Suddenly I heard a sound that jerked my mind in another direction.
Today always amazes me. At ten o’clock on this holiday each April, sirens ring loud in Israel. People stop—wherever they are, whatever they are doing—and stand at attention for 120 seconds of silence.
Imagine that for a moment. Two minutes. Silence. Everywhere.
(Photo: Janusz Korczak Memorial at Yad Vashem honors one who sheltered Jewish children during the holocaust)
Then the sirens rang again, and life resumed—full-speed. This annual pause allows the nation to remember the six million Jews who were murdered simply because they were Jews.
Today’s date marks Yom Hashoah, known as Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day, the Jewish holiday that remembers those who perished in the Holocaust.
Many times I have visited Jerusalem’s Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem.
It changes you.
A few weeks ago I received an email from a Jewish man who had hard questions about what Christians believe. His questions were excellent. His inquiries about Christianity boiled down to three questions.
I’ve listed his questions here without changing his wording:
What I can never fathom is how you can honor and accept the ‘teachings’ of one called Paul—an apostate and traitor to his people—to be the truth.
• Is this Paul who wrote 13/27 books of the Greek New Testament any more authoritative than the great Hebrew prophets such as Jeremiah or Amos?
• Are we to assume that G-d changed His Mind regarding His People and the Torah, and simply informed one solitary man about a new dispensation 100 years after the death of the man from Galilee?
• When Hashem [“The Name”] gave us the Torah, there were millions of witnesses to this earth-shaking event. It has become part of our collective spiritual DNA. How can a ‘new revelation’ be given with no witnesses to one individual who wrote in Greek things that are anathema and inimical to Jewish belief?
To me, these questions all boil down to one: Is Jesus the Messiah?
Here is my open-letter answer. Would you have answered differently?
Where there is water in Israel, there is life. And where there isn’t water? The rule in antiquity was simple. Pray for rain and dig a cistern.
God used a simple, physical resource like rain water to teach the spiritual truth that He alone is the true source of life. This truth hasn’t changed for us.
I recently had a man in his 60s tell me, “I have to spend daily time in the Scriptures. I mean every single day. I need it.” His words simply affirmed what the Bible makes clear for all of us.
The need for water illustrates the need for truth—both essential for life.
If you’re feeling dry in your spiritual life, there’s only one way to slake your thirst.
Whenever I visit the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, I’m eager to walk to the southwest corner of the Temple Mount. I’ve never been to this corner on Rosh Hashanah or during the Feast of Trumpets, but I’d love to go there then. Archaeologists have uncovered a large portion of the first-century street that stretched north along the original Western Wall.
One hundred meters north of the corner is the part of the Western Wall where locals and tourists pray. But beneath the ground, Jerusalem’s Central Valley has been filled in with the rubble of the Second Temple’s destruction in A.D. 70. As a result, the beautiful modern plaza stands about 30 feet above the first-century street uncovered at the southwestern corner.
There at the corner lies a reminder of something Jesus predicted 37 years before the temple’s destruction.
And of a promise He made that could be fulfilled at any moment.
In my previous post, I offered some suggestions for how to prepare for a Holy Land Tour. After all, you’re investing a lot of money and significant time for this journey. It makes sense to prepare yourself beforehand so that you get the most from your experience in Israel.
But after you arrive in Israel, there are a number of ways you can ensure you get the most from your Holy Land tour.
The following 8 tips include both practical and spiritual ways to maximize your experience every single day you’re there.
Local schoolchildren ate their lunches across the olive grove from my wife and me.
Like the kids, we came on a field trip to explore ancient Shiloh. Although our lunch was hardly a feast, it reminded me of the reasons the young nation of Israel initially came to this site. They came to worship at the annual feasts before the Tabernacle at Shiloh.
Ask most Americans where Shiloh is, and you’ll likely get a blank stare.
- Historians may point to a Civil War battle in Hardin County, Tennessee.
- Music buffs may start singing the chorus to a Neil Diamond song.
But question someone who knows his or her Bible, and Shiloh means something far more significant.