We had church this morning on the steps of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. How great is that?
Fewer places give the sense of the time of Jesus like the Southern Steps excavations. In fact, because it is forbidden to dig on the Temple Mount itself, this area immediately south of the mount offers important archaeology to help unpack the history of the Temple Mount during the first century.
We sat on the 200-foot wide flight of stairs that represent both original and restored steps from the Second Temple period. Millions of sandals shuffled up these steps in antiquity, as Jewish pilgrims came from all Israel to worship the Lord for the annual feasts. Three times a year worshipers would enter the Temple from these steps, after a customary cleansing in the nearby ritual baths, or mikvot.
That means Jesus walked these steps. These steps!
These pilgrimages were required by God, as written by the hand of Moses: “Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths, and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed” (Deuteronomy 16:16).
At the top of the Southern Steps, at the far east of the stairway, stands a triple gate—today closed with stones. This gate served as a primary entrance into a subterranean tunnel that ascended into the Temple Courts. At the far west of the broad staircase, a double gate stood—today only a portion of this gate and its lintel can been seen. This gate represented an exit, and the stairway below it—with their alternating wide and narrow steps—offered a place for teaching, for visiting, or for a simple descent.
I like to ponder the psalms that the pilgrims of old would recite from memory. These Psalms of Ascents (Psalms 120-134) stirred up critical reminders of basic themes in a believer’s life. Reminders of faith, forgiveness, family, children, peace, hope, brotherhood, sacrifice, and right attitudes toward God and people. Indeed we need to hear these themes often.
Built into the first-century Jewish culture was the necessity of reminders and repetition—the need of rehearsing truth when the Roman world around them countered God’s Word at every step.
We need those reminders as well.
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