My Yom Kippur Conversation about the Messiah

The annual holiday Yom Kippur begins always reminds me of a surprising conversation I had in Jerusalem at the Western Wall. A Jewish woman approached me and engaged me in a talk.

She somehow knew my affiliation with a radio ministry and told me we needed to broadcast to the nations God’s way to be saved. I told her that was, in fact, our passion.

She smiled and shook her head no.

Western Wall Plaza

(Photo: Western Wall Plaza. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Then she shared with me a list of things all Gentiles need to do in order for God to accept them. I recognized some of the standards as being from the Ten Commandments, and I told her so. Again, she smiled and shook her head.

Those commandments are for the Jews,” she said.

“Do you keep them?” I asked.

The Western Wall Tunnel—An Underground Journey to Century-One Jerusalem

Question: What major site in Jerusalem can a visitor see after the sun goes down that still requires men to wear a hat? (Okay, so you could wear a yarmulke instead of a hat. Most men remove the hat anyway.)

Answer: The Western Wall Tunnel.

Men's prayer area under Wilson's Arch

(Photo: Inside the Western Wall Tunnel. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

When you say the words “The Western Wall,” most folks think of the Western Wall plaza:

  • It’s the place where bar- and bat-mitzvahs regularly occur and where soldiers are inducted.
  • It’s the spot where ultra- and orthodox Jews come to pray—as well as many tourists—and the place of national prayer gatherings.
  • It’s Judaism’s most sacred site.

But like the tip of an iceberg, the Western Wall plaza represents only a small part of the whole. There’s much more of the wall to see.

Most of the Western Wall lies buried beneath the rubble of time and hasn’t seen the light of day for centuries.

But a tunnel lets you see the entire length of the wall today.

Traditions, Truth, and Praying with Your Eyes Open

Most Americans find it difficult to identify with the Jews who rock before the Western Wall in Jerusalem. I know I did at first.

It seemed, well, just . . . odd.

Then I thought about my traditions. Are they any less bizarre?

Traditions, Truth, and Praying with Your Eyes Open

(Photo: men praying at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Oddness just comes in different flavors. They’re called “traditions.”

  • Jews pray with their heads covered; we take our hats off.
  • Their prayers are public and loud and showy; ours are private and quiet and restrained.
  • They rock back and forth and mumble from a book; we bow our heads, close our eyes and utter unrehearsed words.

It’s easy in the familiarity of our own traditions to shake our fingers at the oddities of others. Jews pray while rocking, Muslims kneel with their bottoms in the air, and Christians bow our heads and close our eyes.

Blend any tradition—bowing, standing, prostrating, rocking, kneeling or jumping—with no personal relationship with the true God, and it’s totally pointless.

Maybe we Christians should open our eyes during prayer for a change.

The Temple Mount—An Ordinary Hill Made Holy

Abraham saw the acreage. David bought the lot. Solomon built the house.

Nebuchadnezzar tore it town. Zerubbabel rebuilt it. Herod the Great expanded it. Titus flattened it. Before these temples stood on Mount Moriah, it was nothing but a hill used for threshing wheat.

Hardly worth noticing.

The Temple Mount—An Ordinary Hill Made Holy

(Photo: the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, courtesy of Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

But today, the Temple Mount remains the most precious piece of real estate in the world. And the golden shrine that graces its crest has become the icon for the Holy City of Jerusalem itself.

How did this ordinary hill become holy? Not through battles or land bartering or by popular vote.

God chose it.

Obama’s Prayer . . . and Mine

I remember in the 2008 election when Barack Obama conducted his world tour as part of his presidential campaign, he visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

You may remember that he inserted a prayer in the wall. The Jews consider this a sacred act—even if the individual represents another faith.

Obama's prayer

(Photo: Paul J. Richards / AFP – Getty Images)

After Obama left the Western Wall Plaza, someone scrabbled out the prayer—written on King David Hotel stationary—and took a picture of it.

Here’s what Obama’s prayer said:

The Walls of Jerusalem through the Centuries—a Timeline

I’ve heard it said, “If you want to understand the history of Israel, then learn the history of Jerusalem.”

Many books depict the expansion and contraction of the walls of Jerusalem, but I thought a timeline might illustrate it well.

Israel Tour Day 5—The Southern Steps and Western Wall of the Temple Mount

We arrived in the holy city last evening to the strains of “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your gates and sing!” blasting through our bus’ loudspeakers.

Coming through the tunnel and seeing the Temple Mount for the first time causes various reactions from those on the bus.

Tears. Cameras clicking. Eyes fixed. Jaws agape. Sniffles. Shouts. And smiles.

I enjoy watching people’s responses. They are always moved at the first sight of Jerusalem . . . yet in so many different ways.

Chuck gave a stirring message this morning on the Southern Steps of the Temple. What could be better than a Sunday morning worship service on the steps of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem? (Except for the Rapture, not much!)

The steps were a place where Jesus would have taught the crowds. Here Gamaliel trained a young Saul, later to become the apostle Paul (see Acts 22:3). Here Peter preached to the crowds on the Day of Pentecost, baptizing thousands in the ritual baths, or mikvot, which still sat next to the steps (see Acts 2:41).

On these steps, we sat in one of the few places where we can say with absolute certainty, “Jesus walked here.”

We also saw the Western Wall—the remaining stones of the retaining wall that surrounded the temple of Christ’s day. The wall—called Kotel in Hebrew—towers 50 feet above the people below and shaded the busy goings-on from the morning sun.

Branches of wild caper and hyssop grow out of the cracks in the wall, bespeaking the fill dirt behind it that Herod the Great brought in to expand the Temple Mount above. The stones pinch in their gaps countless scraps of paper on which people have scrawled their prayers. (Prayers are removed once a year.)

It’s easy in the familiarity of our own traditions to shake our fingers at the oddities of others. Jews pray while rocking, Muslims kneel with their bottoms in the air, and we Christians bow our heads and close our eyes.

But without the heart engaged, our worship becomes as phony as those who don’t know the true God. Blend any tradition—bowing, standing, prostrating, rocking, kneeling or jumping—with no personal relationship with God through Christ, and it’s totally pointless.

God cares far less about our traditions than He cares about His Word in our hearts and lived out in authenticity.

Tomorrow . . . walking the Passion Week of Jesus!

(A neat extra for today: check out the 360-degree views of the Western Wall.) 
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