Never the Same

Some Psalms of Thanksgiving and Praise as we Depart the Holy Land:
Psalms 118, 111, 100, 93, 148

RisenWhen Jesus ascended to heaven after his resurrection, the disciples were assured that he “will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). While we return to our homeland in the same manner by which we traveled to the Holy Land, we do not return the same. Our lives have been indelibly stamped with a new impression.

Our prayer through all of our preparations for this pilgrimage and through our actual journeys in the land has been that God will use this experience for making us the disciples of Jesus Christ that God has called us to be. By God’s grace and through God’s power, the future our Lord envisions for his people on this earth is a future that includes a complete transformation of society.

The righteousness of God’s people will contribute to the changing of the world. This righteousness comes from Christ (it is his gift by grace through faith), and it will bring about a peace in and for the community of faith that will witness to the world. Isaiah puts it this way (32:17):

“The effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.”

As you have walked where Jesus walked and have experienced places where God has been so powerfully at work in history, Scripture will never read the same again for you. May the riches of its testimony stay forever with you, and may the righteousness that God strengthens in you through it serve him in transforming the world around you.


The Main Thing

Holy SepulchreIsaiah 2:2-5
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Ephesians 2:1-10
1 Corinthians 2:2
Revelation 5:1-14

One of the most interesting things that visitors to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem discover is the proximity of Golgotha to the place that marks the tomb. The current church encloses both the traditional location for the crucifixion and the place of the tomb under one roof.

We often suppose that Jesus’ body was carried some distance to the garden for burial in Joseph of Arimathea’s newly hewn tomb. There is no scriptural reason for this assumption, however. The hill upon which the cross stood and the place where Jesus was laid when he was taken down could easily have been adjacent.

What is remarkable in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre experience is that the single church for both sites offers a potent reminder of the allsignificant connection between the two. Here is the very ground of our Christian faith. As we express it sometimes in our service of Holy Communion, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

This is the main thing. And today you visit where most believe the main thing happened. He died for you. And he is risen. There is nothing he cannot do. Trust and worship him.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise God all creatures here below.
Praise God the source of all our gifts!
Praise Jesus Christ whose power uplifts!
Praise the Spirit, Holy Spirit! Hallelujah!

Choose Your Lamb

Psalm 48

Bethany/Mt. of Olives
Luke 10:38-42; 11:1-13; 19:28-44
John 11:1-44; 12:1-19

Garden of Gethsemane
Luke 22:39-53

House of Caiaphas
Matthew 26:57-68
Luke 22:54-71

Upper Room
uke 22:7-38
John 13–14; 20:19-23

Cross and Tomb
Matthew 27:32–28:10
Mark 15:21–16:8
Luke 23:26–24:12
John 19:17–20:9

LambThe route of our walking tour down the Mount of Olives toward the Old City wall on the east side of Jerusalem is called the “Palm Sunday” road. Jesus walked from Bethany (the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus) into Jerusalem (about three quarters of a mile) by traveling over the central ridge of the Mount of Olives and down to the city.

As we read in Scripture, the crowds hailed him as King David’s successor to the throne of Israel on Palm Sunday. This particular day was especially significant on the Jewish festival calendar. It was the day lambs were being selected for sacrifice on Passover, which would be observed later that week (Exodus 12:3-6).

As you make the Palm Sunday walk today, think about the Lamb of God “without blemish” who was coming voluntarily for sacrifice at Passover. On this day of selection, Jesus was offering himself to the world he loved so much in the city he loved so much. His timing says, “Choose me. Let me be your Lamb of sacrifice for your deliverance.”

But they wanted a King, a powerful military general on a white war horse, not a humble sacrifice on a lowly donkey. They rightly chose him as messianic King on that day, but quickly rejected him when he did not deliver political victory. He had chosen instead first to give the world what it needed most—victory over sin and death, a Savior.

God Has Gone First

Jordan RiverJordan River
Matthew 3:1-17


Joshua 6
Luke 10:30-37; 18:35-43; 19:1-10

Mount of Temptation
Matthew 4:1-15
Luke 4:1-13

Jerusalem (Genesis welcome)
Genesis 14:17-20

JerichoJericho is familiar to Christians from both the Old and New Testaments. From very ancient times, it was a gateway city into the Promised Land from the east. Yahweh directed the Israelites to begin their occupation of Canaan by defeating Jericho first (Joshua 6). Centuries later, Herod the Great had a palace and estate not far from the city mound that Joshua and the Israelites conquered, and according to the Gospels, Jesus traveled to and from Jericho during his ministry.

The miraculous fall of Jericho brought about by the collapse of its defensive walls and the subsequent invasion by the Israelites under Joshua invites us to reflect on a deep truth about our faith. At Jericho in those days, God showed his people that the fulfillment of God’s promises did not rest on them. They did not have to achieve or earn God’s faithfulness. It was a given, and the people of God were called to live in that reality and to trust it.

This is what grace is all about. This has been a pattern of God’s from the beginning. God is faithful, always. God has accomplished deliverance for us by grace. We then live in that grace by faith. We do not have to earn this faithfulness, only trust it.

Every fallen mudbrick from the ancient Canaanite fortifications that we see at Jericho testifies to the walk of faith to which God’s people of every age are called. We walk this walk not in order to coax God’s faithfulness on our behalf, but because it has already been given and guaranteed.

Wine in Time

Luke 1:26-38
Matthew 2:21-23
Luke 4:14-30
Matthew 13:53-58

John 2:1-12; 4:46-54; 21:2

In Nazareth, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce the coming birth of Jesus. In this “annunciation,” Mary is told, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). Indeed he is great, though his first miraculous sign was performed privately in the presence of only a few and had an almost mundane, utilitarian quality to it (John 2:1-11).

The meaning of this seemingly simple sign, however, points to a turning point in God’s salvation plan for humankind—a turning point that hinged on Jesus Christ himself as our divine Savior.

The stone water jars likely held the water used for ritual hand washing. The practice of hand washing, particularly on entering a house or before eating, was a symbolic way of saying, “I am clean” in the ritual/ceremonial sense. Such water was stored in stone jars rather than clay because the former was less porous and thus better able to keep the water pure for its purpose.

Wine, of course, was associated with celebration and feasting. The consummation of the Messiah’s kingdom would be a time of great celebration for God’s people accompanied by wine and feasting. But that time was “not yet” for Jesus at the time of this wedding.

By changing the water to wine, Jesus made a highly significant statement, however. People will no longer try to wash themselves to be spiritually “clean,” nor will they need to declare themselves pure (impossible to do ourselves anyway, in reality). Instead, we celebrate the coming of our Messiah’s kingdom, in which we receive his true cleansing as a gift of grace. This transformation is pictured powerfully and beautifully at this wedding scene in Cana.

From Local to Global

GalileeSea of Galilee
Matthew 12:15-21; 14:22-33; 17:24-27
Mark 1:16-20; 3:13-19; 6:45-52
Luke 5:1-11; 8:22-25
John 21:1-15

Matthew 4:12-17; 8:5-13; 9:23-26
Mark 1:21-38; 2:1-12
Luke 4:38-41; 5:17-26; 7:1-10; 8:40-56

Tabgha (environs)
Matthew 5–7; 14:13-22
Mark 6:30-44
Luke 9:10-17
John 6:1-24; 21

Mount of Beatitudes
Matthew 5:1-12
Luke 6:17-49

Sea of GalileeThe Sea of Galilee and the towns on its shore play such a prominent role in the Gospels. The experience of being at the water’s edge and cruising out onto the lake are highlights of trips to the Holy Land for many folks.

The choice of this area as the home base for Jesus’ ministry, of course, was no accident. The town of Capernaum sat on the major international highway that came up the coast from Egypt, crossed the Jezreel Valley into Galilee, and connected with Damascus and the rest of Mesopotamia to the north and east.

While we often associate the Galilee region with a rural simplicity far removed from the more sophisticated, cosmopolitan urban centers of Jesus’ day, we should not overlook its strategic position. Its location made it a theologically and missionally strategic point for the Gospel.

From the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, God had the “ends of the earth” in mind. When you leave Galilee, take the good news of God’s grace to the world

Let the Living Water Flow

Caesarea TheaterCaesarea Maritima
Acts 8:40; 9:30; 10:1-48; 12:19-23; 21:8-16; 23:22-35; 24:1-27; 25:1-22; 25:23–27:1

Mount Carmel
1 Kings 18
Song of Songs 7:5
Isaiah 35:2

Jezreel Valley
Judges 7
1 Samuel 29; 31:1-10
1 Kings 18:45
2 Kings 10:1-11
Luke 7:11-17 (Nain)

1 Kings 9:15
2 Kings 9:27; 23:29-30

Caesarea aqueductCaesarea Maritima was built by Herod in honor of Caesar Augustus in 22 B.C. and was a luxurious example of a flourishing Greco-Roman city in Judea. One of its many impressive features is its aqueducts, which brought fresh water to the 100,000 inhabitants from miles away.

As prosperous and elegant as Caesarea was in its heyday, it could not sustain its population without bringing in fresh water. Regardless of the economic success of its harbor and trade, the sophistication of its culture, and the political clout of its leaders, without channels of water flowing in, there would be no Caesarea-by-the-Sea.

In John 4, Jesus reminds us that he is our source of “living” water. When we drink of this, life wells up in us like a spring. We have no need to search elsewhere for replenishment. Without it, we go on thirsting. But we must receive it from him. We cannot manufacture it.

Like Caesarea could not flourish without its flow of fresh water, neither can we flourish with spiritual life without the Spirit of Christ. Let it flow into your life and be refreshed, and then let it “well up” in witness to the Source for a thirsty world.

Not So Different

The Town of Bethlehem:
1 Samuel 16:1-13; Ruth 2–4; Micah 5:2/Matthew 2:6

Shepherd’s Field and Cave:
Luke 2:8-18

Christmas Church-BethlehemAs you worship in the Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem today, you will experience a Lutheran liturgy in Arabic (with a few English elements) that will be surprisingly easy to follow. Many of the parts of the worship service are very familiar to us, and participating alongside of the Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem reminds us of all that we have in common as the Church.

This town of Bethlehem draws pilgrims from around the world. In the famed Church of the Nativity that we will visit tomorrow, we will hear the languages of many nations among the tourists as we wait expectantly to descend to the cave. But this town is also home to thousands. In the stories of the Christians with whom we will dine this evening, we will hear about daily struggle, the challenge to forgive, and the pursuit of peace. And in Christ, we are all one—sisters and brothers (Galatians 3:28-29).

Prince of PeaceCenturies before Jesus’ birth, Micah the prophet spoke of the Messiah who would come out of Bethlehem. This Messiah would be the great shepherd of God’s people and would himself be peace—our peace (5:2-5). Our shalom. Micah’s contemporary, Isaiah, reminds us that one of the Son’s titles is Prince of Peace (9:6). Wherever we come from, wherever our home is, wherever we venture in our lives, we are a people of peace. We are to live and to offer the peace that is found in the love and grace of Jesus. And we are to remember that as diverse as we are in this world, there is One Peace who is truly able “to reach to the ends of the earth” (Micah 5:4).

O “Little” Town of Bethlehem

Augustus CaesarIn those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7, NIV)

Bethlehem is a city of kings—two kings of Israel. It was the original City of David because it was David’s birthplace. The Book of Luke reminds us also that it was still known as the “town of David” in Jesus’ time. For this reason, as descendants of the royal house, Joseph and Mary made the journey there to register in Caesar Augustus’ Roman census.

Bethlehem Bible College ArtWhen they arrived, they found it so crowded that accommodations were scarce. Today, tourists now fill the town and crowd the church built over the cave believed to be the one place the holy family was able to find lodging. As we prepare to experience Bethlehem, consider both the obscurity of Jesus’ arrival into a chaotic and displaced situation, and the perfection of his arrival in the “fullness” of time (Galatians 4:4).

Things are not always as they seem. Often God appears to us to get it wrong, acting inexplicably in our world when, in fact, his divine precision has prevailed with amazing power and grace.

Trusting God’s timing is a challenge, but remember that blessing the world on time has always been God’s plan (Ephesians 1:3-10)!

In the Beginning . . .

EarthIn the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge. (Psalm 19:1-2)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

Today we leave one land and travel to another. In the land we travel from, we tend to measure the “ancient” in hundreds of years, while the land we travel to measures the ancient in thousands of years.

As we leave the ground to fly east, let the changing perspective that we experience from the air remind you that our Lord is God of the Ages, the same yesterday, today, and forever. God is the God of our seconds, minutes, hours, days, years, centuries, and millennia.

We can trust God with our time. With the Lord, there is no beginning and no end. As our journey to the Holy Land continues to unfold, remember that God has a plan to bless you in these moments. Begin to look for those blessings, and let God begin to direct your gaze not only to the landscape and its amazing history, but upward to him and the promise-filled future in God’s faithfulness to which the past acts as such a solid witness.

Let the land testify to the power and trustworthiness of our God!