Beside a busy street and noisy bus station in Jerusalem, a tall rock wall encircles a garden. An oasis of sanctity and cessation in a city that feeds on frenzied tourists.
(Photo: The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem)
After entering, I felt the tension of my hurried pace leave me. I traded the noisy city and dirty streets for flowers, butterflies, gravel pathways, and stone steps. Everything lovely about a garden filled my view.
It’s no wonder many believe the Garden Tomb to be the tomb of Jesus. Like the tomb described in the gospel accounts, the Garden Tomb lay outside the city walls and along a road. It is hewn out of the stone and has a rolling stone entrance. A garden surrounds it.
Based on its tranquil setting, it has a lot going for it. But then there are the rest of the facts.
I hate drive-through windows. There’s just something so incongruent with “fast-food” that’s not fast. Once with my family in the car, I got so frustrated with the individual behind the unintelligible speaker who couldn’t understand me when I ordered, “pickles and cheese.”
So I repeated it with passion: “I want chickles and peas!”
After I realized what I said, I turned to my wife and daughters. They burst in laughter. For them, it was better than the meal.
I’m not sure what “chickles” are, but I ordered some, and the cashier gave me a price.
Since that day a question has nagged me: Why do we treat God like the cashier at the drive-through window?
Everybody faces temptation. And on some level, everybody has fallen to it. Everybody but Jesus. I have walked in the wilderness where Satan tempted Jesus.
Good grief, what a place. As far as my eye could see, it was empty, dry, and depressing. I tried to imagine the solitude and struggle Jesus would have endured for over a month. But I could not.
How did Jesus resist temptation here?
Think about one person who has inspired you, encouraged you, or helped you. Got that person in your mind? Now, let me ask you a question: Have you ever sent a thank-you note to that person?
(Photo: Monkey Business Images, via Vivozoom)
Not long ago a client sent a thank-you note to the editors in our department, expressing appreciation for their excellent work. The client told me of the editors’ surprising reply: “No one has ever thanked us before.”
That tragic statement got me thinking.
We had no idea what following Jesus would demand when we started out. We thought we knew.
We thought the Christian life meant that once we believed in Jesus, if we walked obediently, God would bless us, protect us, put us at ease—basically dote on us as His children. To some extent, we still expect that.
But God wants to give us something greater than those things.
One of King David’s most poignant prayers came after one of his greatest mistakes.
“Do not cast me away from Your presence,” he prayed, “and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11).
Pieces of Hebrew and Christian scripture come together in an ancient building on Jerusalem’s Western Hill. In this one small structure, events of history and tradition combine to offer the ultimate answer to David’s prayer.
In fact, the place offers hope for all of us.
Why can’t I just pray to God without Jesus in the middle?” asked a Jewish friend of mine in Israel. The lady to whom he spoke answered, “Why don’t you just pray that God will reveal to you who Jesus is all about?”
(Photo: My friend Amir at Masada, Israel)
So for the first time, Amir sat down, wrote out a prayer, stuck it on the wall where he could see it—and prayed. “And I made sure I said every word,” he said.
The next day changed his life.
Every year we have Ascension Day. The day commemorates the Ascension of Jesus into heaven 40 days after His resurrection (Acts 1:3-9).
Okay, so this may sound like a dumb question, but here goes. So what?
Why in the world did Christ ascend to heaven? What difference does the Ascension of Jesus have for us as Christians today?
In a word: plenty.
I had lunch with a young man not long ago who nursed serious doubts about the claims of Jesus. Back and forth we talked. He raised objections. I offered answers.
After each exchange, he would smile and shake his head and say, “I just can’t believe that’s true.”
“What if I answered all of your questions to your satisfaction?” I asked. “Would you believe in Jesus then?” His answer surprised me.