24 HOURS-Week 4: Pictures

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 8:35 PM

In this post I'm sharing some present-day photos of historic sites of Jesus' last hours here on earth. Below is a portion of the Via Dolorosa (The Way of Suffering). This is believed to be a portion of the path Jesus walked from his time of torture with the Roman soldiers to Golgotha, where he was crucified. It was along this path that he carried his cross, and when he could do it no more, was aided by Simon of Cyrene.

Following his own conversion, Roman Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire in 313 AD, in effect making it the religion of the realm. In the 330s he had a church built on the site that was believed to be where Jesus was crucified and buried. The church has undergone numerous construction projects, expansions, and even experienced destruction during the time of the Crusades. However, today the Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands on this site. The picture below shows the area inside the church where it was believed Jesus was crucified.

Below is an outcropping of rock outside the old city of Jerusalem. In the 1880s a British general by the name of Charles Gordon discovered this formation and believed it had the appearance of a skull. Soon after, he discovered nearby an ancient garden tomb (see below). He therefore believed that this was the actual site of Jesus' crucifixion and burial. He believed Jesus was crucified on the hill overlooking this face of a skull (Golgotha in Aramaic or Calvary in Latin). This site is today called Gordon's Calvary.

For some fairly technical reasons, many, and maybe most, scholars do not believe this site is where Jesus was crucified and buried. The site located at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre seems to be the more likely spot to many scholars, yet Gordon's Calvary leaves you with a much stronger sense of actually "being there."

What I find very interesting is that today this rock outcropping actually sits above a bus barn in Jerusalem. My wife Susan and I visited the Holy Land and Jerusalem on a tour in 1990. As we walked up to this site, at first it seemed such a shame that this possibly significant Christian site stood near a noisy, smelly, highly trafficked area. But, as our guide pointed out to us, in many ways the original Golgotha, whether at this site or under the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, would have been a noisy, smelly, highly trafficked area. It would have been near the city on a main road. It would have been a spot where many people had been crucified, and most likely there would be bones and perhaps even the smell of decaying flesh. It would not have been a pretty site. So, we realized that in many ways this "Golgotha" was a modern-day equivalent of the original site.

Pictured below is the entrance to the tomb located near the rock outcropping immediately above. Notice in the lower left-hand corner of the picture there is a channel. This would have been the "track" in which the large stone used to cover the tomb would sit.

Below is the stone that rode in the "track" seen above.

Stepping back from the tomb entrance, you can now see why Gordon's Calvary became such a popular site for pilgrims. The tomb Jesus was buried in was in or near a garden, and the tomb found in the 1880s was located in a garden, which has been kept serene and beautiful. I found I could stand in this place and really imagine in the cool of the morning the actual events of Easter.

24 HOURS-Week 4: God is No Longer Behind the Curtain

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , | Posted On at 7:57 PM

"…Jesus said, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." (John 19:30 NLT2)

In that moment, as Jesus died, he had accomplished what he came to do – his death paid the price for our sins. His mission was finished – freedom and forgiveness had been won for everyone for all time who puts their trust in Jesus. (see previous post)

But one of the most curious statements about this incredible moment is often lost on us until we understand what's really being revealed:

"And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom." (Mark 15:38 NLT2)

1/50th Scale Model of Jewish Temple in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus

I remember the first time someone explained to me the significance of this statement – it was huge to me. What I learned was that the Temple was believed by the Jews to be the place here on earth where God specially resided with His people. Yet, not in the entire Temple but in a special portion of it called the Holy of Holies. Behind a curtain sat the Ark of the Covenant, which the Israelites had carried with them for centuries, since the time God instructed Moses to build it and place the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments in it. This site, behind the curtain in the Temple, was the holiest site in all Judaism.

Drawing of the Ark of the Covenant

Temple Lay-out

It was here that the high priest entered only once a year, after an elaborate cleansing ritual, to offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people. No one else had direct access to God – they had to go through the priest. Yet, this sacrifice had to be repeated each year.

But, when Jesus died, this curtain, that separated us from God, was torn by God – from the top down, from God to us. We no longer had to go through intermediaries to talk to God. Jesus became our great High Priest, who offered himself as the one full, perfect, complete sacrifice for all people, for all time, as the Lamb of God. Now sitting at the right hand of God the Father, Jesus intercedes for us on our behalf. You and I don’t need any other human being to do that for us again.

"So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant." (Hebrews 9:11-15 NLT2)

"So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most." (Hebrews 4:14-16 (NLT2)

Through Christ, God is no longer hidden behind a human curtain of empty rituals and sacrifices. Jesus is our full access, back-stage pass to God, and he intercedes for us as our High Priest forever so that we can receive God's mercy and grace.

24 HOURS-Week 4: Jesus Took Our Place, and Now We Take His

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On at 7:19 PM

As Jesus hung on the cross, darkness covered the land for three hours. And then, just before he died, he cried out, "...'It is finished.'..." (John 19:30 NLT2)

What did he mean? Was his life really finished? Did he mean he was a failure? John tells us he died after saying these words, but is that what Jesus meant? Fortunately, the Christian faith teaches us he was declaring something much more significant. In that moment, he had taken on the sins of the world.

"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV)

The NLT2 translation puts it this way: "For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ." In that moment Jesus took our place, becoming our sin or the offering for our sin, the Bible tells us. He took our place, experiencing the effect of sin and its separation from God. He died our death so we wouldn't have to. As the prophet Isaiah predicted seven hundred years earlier, Jesus became our Suffering Servant, who took on our sins and paid the price for our sins, even though he had never sinned himself, so that we could be forgiven and freed from the power of sin.

"Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed." (Isaiah 53:4-5 NLT2)

He did it all for us – for you, for me, so we could be healed of the sin that ravages us, that ravages our world. He did it not just for those of us who typically read these words but also for those folks who aren’t in church, who don’t even believe in God, who even wage war against God. It was the ultimate sacrifice for us all, and that news is so good, so amazing, so incredible, that we when we understand the depth of Jesus' sacrifice we are driven to share it and help others experience it, too.

"God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you." (2 Corinthians 5:19-20 Message)

Jesus took our place on the cross, but at the time no one understood that. Today many still don't understand, but for those of us who do, God tells us we are Christ's representatives, given the task of "telling everyone what he is doing." We are called to speak for Christ, to be his voice, his hands, his feet.

I feel inadequate to even begin this task, but the Good News is that Christ has not left me by myself to accomplish the mission he has given us. When we place our faith in him, his Spirit comes to live in us, empowering us, transforming us, enabling us to be and do what we otherwise could not do. In every step of this journey of faith we are completely and totally dependent on God, but He is able to do far more than we can even imagine...when I'm submitted to Him.

As Jesus died, he finished his work here on earth, but the mission was only beginning. Greater things were still to be done, by the power of his Spirit living in his followers to do his work. And we are called to continue his mission until either Jesus returns or we leave this earth and meet him face to face. Jesus took our place so that we could all take his place and fulfill his mission to seek and save all people.

24 HOURS-Week 4: Psalm 22 & Encouragement

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , | Posted On at 6:06 PM

“Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’” (Mark 15:34 (NLT2)

I have to confess that the first time I read these words from Jesus, I was disappointed. I could not imagine God abandoning His Son, yet Jesus cried these words out. At first I thought this was evidence God and Jesus and the Bible weren't all they were cracked up to be. My faith was young and I did not know my Bible well. But words that at first caused me to experience doubt about either the Bible or the nature of God have now become words of great insight and comfort to me.

The first time someone explained to me that these were the first words of Psalm 22, written by King David some one thousand years earlier, I decided I needed to find Psalm 22 and read it. In case you haven't read it, I've included it below:

"My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.

"Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Our ancestors trusted in you, and you rescued them. They cried out to you and were saved. They trusted in you and were never disgraced.

"But I am a worm and not a man. I am scorned and despised by all! Everyone who sees me mocks me. They sneer and shake their heads, saying, 'Is this the one who relies on the LORD? Then let the LORD save him! If the LORD loves him so much, let the LORD rescue him!'

"Yet you brought me safely from my mother’s womb and led me to trust you at my mother’s breast. I was thrust into your arms at my birth. You have been my God from the moment I was born.

"Do not stay so far from me, for trouble is near, and no one else can help me. My enemies surround me like a herd of bulls; fierce bulls of Bashan have hemmed me in! Like lions they open their jaws against me, roaring and tearing into their prey. My life is poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, melting within me. My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead. My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and feet. I can count all my bones. My enemies stare at me and gloat. They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing.

"O LORD, do not stay far away! You are my strength; come quickly to my aid! Save me from the sword; spare my precious life from these dogs. Snatch me from the lion’s jaws and from the horns of these wild oxen.

"I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people. Praise the LORD, all you who fear him! Honor him, all you descendants of Jacob! Show him reverence, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy. He has not turned his back on them, but has listened to their cries for help.

"I will praise you in the great assembly. I will fulfill my vows in the presence of those who worship you. The poor will eat and be satisfied. All who seek the LORD will praise him. Their hearts will rejoice with everlasting joy. The whole earth will acknowledge the LORD and return to him. All the families of the nations will bow down before him. For royal power belongs to the LORD. He rules all the nations.

"Let the rich of the earth feast and worship. Bow before him, all who are mortal, all whose lives will end as dust. Our children will also serve him. Future generations will hear about the wonders of the Lord. His righteous acts will be told to those not yet born. They will hear about everything he has done." (Psalm 22 NLT2)

I was struck the first time I read this Psalm how descriptive it was of Jesus' last few hours here on earth. And as I dug deeper, the truth of this prophecy was astounding to me.

But, not only is it prophetic, Psalm 22 is rich in faith in God. In spite of all these circumstances, David writes about his faith. This Psalm reminds me of how there are times when I feel I'm just being overwhelmed, that I can't keep going. It's obvious that as David wrote this Psalm, he, too, seemed to feel that way. Yet, he held on to his faith.

I've always remembered something Mother Teresa said: "I know God will never give me more than I can handle, but I wish He didn't trust me so much." It feels that way sometimes. It must have felt that way to Jesus as he hung on the cross, but he did not let his feelings dictate his faith. He held on to his Heavenly Father, and that was enough!

I could say a lot more about this Psalm, but something else struck me about Psalm 22. It certainly could not be a coincidence that this difficult, gut-wrenching Psalm of faith is followed by Psalm 23. It almost seems like God used David to write an exclamation point to the faith of Jesus.

"The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever." (Psalm 23 NLT2)

24 HOURS-Week 4: The Sons of Simon from Cyrene

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , | Posted On at 5:50 PM

“A passerby named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the countryside just then, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.)” (Mark 15:21 NLT2)

Simon of Cyrene was almost definitely a Jew who had made a pilgrimage, maybe his first ever, to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. Cyrene was located in what is today northern Libya in North Africa, so he had come a long ways, most likely on foot.

There has been conjecture over the years as to whether Simon was a black African, based on some possible allusions in Acts, but it’s fairly vague. The truth is, we really don’t know - he certainly could have been - but what’s even more intriguing is the comment in parentheses that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.

Mark would not have included seemingly random information unless it conveyed something significant, so scholars have tried to figure out why he did this. We do know that Mark wrote his Gospel primarily for Gentiles – non-Jews – in the mid-60s AD, and it was very likely first intended for Christ followers in Rome.

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, probably written a decade earlier, is a very interesting note: “I send greetings to Rufus, that outstanding worker in the Lord’s service, and to his mother, who has always treated me like a son.” (Romans 16:3 TEV)

Is it a coincidence that one of the most revered members of the church at Rome was named Rufus, which also just happened to be the name of the one of the sons of Simon of Cyrene? Is it a coincidence that a document written a decade later, most likely to the Christians in Rome, specifically mentions an outstanding worker named Rufus?

Of course, we don’t really know, but many scholars believe these were the same individuals, and that somehow Simon’s experience carrying Jesus’ cross had had a big impact on him. Jesus had called upon his followers to take up their crosses and follow him – perhaps Simon had done that literally. Perhaps he later married another follower of Jesus, and they moved as missionaries to Rome, where their sons Rufus and Alexander were raised as Christ followers.

There is no absolute proof of this connection, but it certainly explains a great deal about why Mark would specifically mention Simon’s sons. It's something to think about, because it shows us that Jesus can use what seem to be random or even terrible experiences for his good purposes.

24 HOURS-Week 3: Pictures

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Saturday, March 20, 2010 at 7:05 PM

In Week 3 of our series, "24 HOURS That Changed the World," the settings and key players (besides Jesus) are the home of the high priest, Caiaphas, the Fortress of Antonia and Pilate, the Roman governor, and Herod and his palace. All these locations are in Jerusalem. My first post from Week 1 of this series includes a map of this area, with these locations marked.

We have no pictures of Caiaphas' house, but we know it had to be large to provide a meeting place for all seventy-one members of the Sanhedrin on the night Jesus was tried. Most likely, it was an opulent place befitting the high priest of the Jewish faith. We do, however, have a couple of pictures of a cell that Jesus was probably kept in at times during the night and his trial.

It is also believed that there was no opening at the floor level of this cell, so Jesus was lowered through a hole in the ceiling, as seen below.

After spending most of the night in the home and prison cell of Caiaphas, Jesus was taken to Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate usually lived in Caesarea, a Roman-built city on the Mediterranean coast. However, for special religious feasts, such as the Feast of the Passover, Pilate would often come to Jerusalem, usually staying at the Fortress of Antonia, built on the southwest corner of the Temple Mount. (The fortress, built by Herod the Great, served as the base for a legion of Roman troops.) The Feast of the Passover, in particular, stirred up feelings of Jewish nationalism as this feast remembered God leading the Israelites out of Egypt to freedom. It was also a time when as many as two-three million Jews were in the immediate area of Jerusalem for this feast, raising tensions even more. Below is a 1/50th scale model of what the fortress was believed to have looked like in the time of Jesus.

The Gospel of Luke tells us that Pilate, on discovering Jesus was from the region of Galilee, sent Jesus to Herod Antipas, who maintained a palace in Jerusalem, just northwest of the Temple Mount. Herod had been hoping to meet Jesus and see him perform a miracle. When Jesus refused to cooperate or respond, Herod and his court ridiculed Jesus and then sent him back to Pilate. Pictured below is a 1/50th scale model of what Herod's palace was believed to look like at the time he met Jesus.

24 HOURS-Week 3: Jesus the Suffering Servant

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , | Posted On at 6:56 PM

“Pilate asked Jesus, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ Jesus replied, ‘You have said it.’” (Mark 15:2 NLT2)
Jesus’ response here is simply a restating of what Pilate has said. He’s not denying, but he’s not vigorously affirming it, leaving Pilate with little to go on, so the religious leaders pile on more claims.

“Then the leading priests kept accusing him of many crimes, and Pilate asked him, ‘Aren’t you going to answer them? What about all these charges they are bringing against you?’ But Jesus said nothing, much to Pilate’s surprise.” (Mark 15:3-5 NLT2)

You get the sense that Pilate really doesn’t buy what the religious authorities are selling, but Jesus isn’t helping him out. In fact, Jesus knows this is now all part of God’s plan, and though he had prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane asking God to free him from this path, he knows this is why he is here and he is ready to fulfill God’s plan.

He very likely was living out the biblical role of Suffering Servant that Isaiah prophesied about seven hundred years earlier. The Suffering Servant songs of Isaiah spoke of one who through their suffering would bring liberation and freedom.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:6-7 NLT2)

Jesus would not defend himself. He was silent before his accusers. Jesus knew his mission – to be the Lamb of God, the sacrificial lamb that takes away the sins of the world. Christ followers believe Jesus’ death on the cross redeems us from sin. He wasn’t simply a great teacher or a good man – he was the Savior of the world.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5 NLT2)

Not all of those things have occurred yet in these last 24 hours of Jesus’ life, but they will...

24 HOURS-Week 3: The Sanhedrin

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , | Posted On at 5:38 PM

“They took Jesus to the high priest’s home where the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law had gathered.” (Mark 14:53 NLT2)

Matthew tells us the high priest was Caiaphas, and his home was probably near the Upper Room. It must have been a large house befitting the high priest of the Jews.

This gathering of the Jewish high council of priests, elders and teachers was called the Sanhedrin. More precisely, it was composed of Sadducees, Elders and Pharisees.

The Sadducees made up the priestly class of the Sanhedrin. All high priests came from this group. They were the favored party to the Romans, highly political, and since they were satisfied with the way things were, did not look ahead to a future messianic age. They held strictly to the written law and rejected the traditions of the Pharisees. They did not believe in the resurrection of the body or any real kind of afterlife. They denied the existence of angels and demons. They were not particularly popular with the people and, strangely enough, were somewhat indifferent to religion.

The second group of the Sanhedrin was the Elders. The elders were the tribal and family heads of the people and the priesthood, mostly the secular nobility of Jerusalem.

The third and final group making up the Sanhedrin was the Pharisees. They were by far the most influential and popular of the three groups. They were highly legalistic and religious. They, along with the Scribes, protected and interpreted the Jewish Law and were the Jewish religious leaders. In fact, their interpretations of the Law took on equal or greater weight than the Law itself. They were sticklers for living out even the smallest details of the Law and traditions. They believed in the eternal soul and a spirit life. They looked forward to the coming of the Messiah and were the opposites in many ways to beliefs to the Sadducees. Jesus often opposed the Pharisees because of their legalistic emphasis on good works, their hypocrisies and their general lack of love.

The Sanhedrin evolved into existence in the years after the Jews returned from the Exile in Babylonia. They came into their own as the ruling body perhaps a century or more before the time of Jesus. The idea of the council is based on an event in the time of Moses, when he complained to God that he could not carry the full load of leading the Israelites in the wilderness.

Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Gather before me seventy men who are recognized as elders and leaders of Israel. Bring them to the Tabernacle to stand there with you. I will come down and talk to you there. I will take some of the Spirit that is upon you, and I will put the Spirit upon them also. They will bear the burden of the people along with you, so you will not have to carry it alone.’” (Numbers 11:16-17 NLT2)

The seventy-one members of the Sanhedrin represented the seventy elders plus Moses.

By the First Century these men had little authority over civil matters, since that was left largely to the Romans, but they completely ruled over the religious matters for the Jews. They controlled the Temple and surrounding areas and had some power to police religious affairs. They certainly did not have the authority to impose the death penalty on their own – they would need the Romans to do that.

The Sanhedrin could only meet during the day in the Temple courts, and never during religious feasts, and no decisions reached by this body outside their designated meeting place was considered valid. Evidence was taken from separate witnesses individually, and all testimony had to agree on every detail. Each member of the Sanhedrin was required to give their verdict separately, beginning with the youngest and proceeding to the oldest.

Yet, for the trial of Jesus, they were gathering not at the Temple but in Caiaphas’ home sometime after midnight on the Day of the Passover Feast. Clearly, the Sanhedrin was breaking several of their own rules in order to railroad Jesus, now that they had him in their hands, in the middle of the night, in secret, away from crowds who might oppose their arrest of him. Now, all they had to do was come up with evidence that Jesus was guilty of a crime that would bring from the Romans the death sentence. Yet even that was a challenge, until the high priest asked the crucial question...

…Then the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ Jesus said, ‘I AM. And you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” (Mark 14:61-62 NLT2)

24 HOURS-Week 2: Pictures

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , | Posted On at 4:40 PM

I've been on Spring Break and didn't get a chance to post some pictures I wanted to make available that went along with my Week 2 message. You can view a map outlining Jerusalem in the time of Jesus in my first Week 1 post in this series. By the way, you can listen to the messages of this series online at this web address: www.gateway-community.org/live.html

Above is a modern-day view of the site where the holiest of all Jewish sites, the Temple, was located. The whole elevated area, enclosed now by walls, is called the Temple Mount. The gold dome you see there is not a Jewish structure but a Muslim structure called The Dome of the Rock. The second Temple (finished in 516 BC) was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD (The first Temple, built by Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC). In 637 AD Jerusalem was conquered by the Rashidun Caliphate army. A few decades later the Dome of the Rock was built, in the late Seventh Century, and is considered the third holiest site in Islam because it is believed to be the site where Muhammad ascended to heaven. To the right of the Dome of the Rock, barely visible in this picture, is also the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

In the center of the picture, below a stand of trees just to the lower right of the Dome of the Rock is what is today called the Western or Wailing Wall (see below). It is believed this is the only site remaining in which some of the ancient wall surrounding the second Temple is still evident. It has become a very holy site and a place of pilgrimage for Jews. When we understand the religious significance to both Jews and Muslims, as well as Christians, we begin to understand why there is so much tension and war in and around Israel and Jerusalem.

Below is a modern-day picture of the Kidron Valley which runs between the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives. The top wall visible in this picture is not from the original Temple but was built by Crusaders. However, behind this wall, and somewhat to the right, is the original site of the Temple and the present-day site of the Dome of the Rock (see above). Jesus and his followers would have crossed this valley to reach the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane, where he went to pray on his last night before his crucifixion. In this picture below are olive trees across the floor of the Kidron Valley.

Below is a series of steps that are from the time of Jesus and were very likely used by him and his disciples as they descended into the Kidron Valley heading toward the Garden of Gethsemane.

Finally, below is a modern-day picture of the Temple Mount, as seen from the Mount of Olives. Visible in the center of the picture, behind the wall, is the Dome of the Rock (see above).

24 HOURS-Week 2: What Happened to Judas?

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , , | Posted On Saturday, March 13, 2010 at 7:58 PM

One of the key characters in the last 24 hours of Jesus' life is the disciple Judas. There were actually two disciples named Judas, but the Gospel writers always distinguish the one who betrayed Jesus as Judas Iscariot (with Iscariot probably meaning, "a man of Keiroth," a small town in the south of Judah).

Matthew, Mark and Luke all list Judas among Jesus' twelve disciples, but he is listed last in each list with a comment indicating he later betrayed Jesus (John has no list). John tells us Judas' heart is clearly not in the right place. When Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, poured expensive perfume on Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair, Judas objected. "That perfume was worth a year's wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor." (John 12:5 NLT2) But his motivation wasn't the poor, as John tells us: "Not that he cared for the poor - he was a thief, and...he often stole some for himself." (John 12:6 NLT2)

We know that at the Last Supper, after Jesus prophesied that one of his disciples would betray him, Judas quietly left the meal. John tells us the other disciples just assumed he was going out to pay for their meal or give money to the poor. But both Luke and John indicate that Satan prompts Judas to betray Jesus. However, the fact that Satan could enter into Judas indicated at that time he really wasn't a true follower of Christ. Had he been in the beginning? None of the Gospels tell us.

So, why did Judas betray Jesus? This is a question people have wrestled with down through the centuries. Was it for the 30 coins of silver? Possibly, since we know he was a thief and very interested in money. Matthew tells us Judas went to the authorities and asked how much they were willing to pay to have Jesus betrayed into their hands (Matthew 26:14-16). But could there be another reason?

Some have suggested Judas was driven by ambition. Judas was almost certainly an extreme Jewish nationalist or zealot. In Jesus he believed he had found the Messiah, the anointed one of God, who would liberate his people. Perhaps Judas was looking forward to the day when Jesus would be crowned king and lead the Jews to victory over the Romans. Then Judas would take his place alongside Jesus in his new kingdom, with more power and wealth than he could even dream of.

As Jesus entered Jerusalem that last week, on Sunday, to the crowds waving palm branches and shouting out "Hosanna," Judas thought the time had finally come. What better time to announce he was the Messiah than at the Feast of the Passover, when Jerusalem would be crowded with 2-3 million Jews and national fervor was already running high (remembering when God had liberated Israel from the Egyptians). The Roman garrison in Jerusalem would be no match for them, and with the Messiah leading the way, they would quickly expel the Romans from their borders and set up a new Israel, with God's own power protecting them through the Messiah Jesus.

But, as the week went on and Judas realized Jesus wasn't going to confront the Romans, wasn't going to declare himself king, wasn't going to raise up an army to expel the Romans, he became disillusioned with Jesus. Perhaps he felt he had been a fool for thinking this Jesus would really be the Messiah, and now he was angry and bitter. But he would show Jesus. He would betray him and at least get some silver out of the deal.

A somewhat different version of the above scenario starts out the same, with Judas believing in the cause for Israel and believing Jesus was the Messiah. Again, as they entered Jerusalem, it appeared the time had come. But instead of rallying the Jews, Jesus was simply antagonizing the religious authorities more and more. Perhaps Judas saw an inevitable conflict looming between Jesus and the authorities that would leave the Jews divided rather than united. So, some have suggested, Judas betrayed Jesus in order to force his hand, to make him proclaim that he was the Messiah and take his rightful place in leadership of the Jewish people. Perhaps he believed Jesus, as he was delivered to the authorities, would be compelled to act in order to save himself. And thus, the campaign would begin.

Something interesting happens in Judas' very act of betrayal of Jesus. In the dark at the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas would greet Jesus with a kiss, a customary greeting of a Jewish rabbi. It was a sign of respect and affection. Then the arresting mob would know for sure which one to grab. The Greek word used for this "kiss" sign was philein, which is the typical word for this act. However, when it comes time for Judas to actually kiss Jesus, Mark uses the word kataphilein, which carries a much more intense sense of deep affection and love (Mark 14:44-45).

We don't see this significant difference in the English, but it's there in the Greek. Why does Mark use the different, more intense word? Could it be that Judas has begun to reflect on what he's done, that he's starting to feel remorse or regret or even guilt? Of course, we don't actually know, but the choice of these two words by Mark might indicate there was more turmoil going on within Judas than is obvious.

Mark doesn't tell us what happens to Judas, but Matthew and Luke give us the tragic ending. Matthew tells us, in Matthew 27:3-5, that when it became obvious to Judas that Jesus was going to die, he really was filled with remorse. Early on that Friday morning he takes the money back to the religious authorities and says, "'I have sinned, for I have betrayed an innocent man.'" (vs. 4 NLT2) But the religious authorities have Jesus now, and they could care less if Judas has developed a conscience. So, Judas threw the money down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself.

Luke tells us in Acts 1:18 that Judas bought a field with the money. Though Luke isn't clear, most scholars think Judas still hung himself, but either the tree limb or rope broke, and his already dead body fell and "spilt open." Either way, in Matthew or Luke, Judas' life comes to a sad and tragic ending.

William Barclay puts it this way:
"Both Luke and John say simply that the devil entered into Judas. In the last analysis that is what happened. Judas wanted Jesus to be what he wanted him to be and not what Jesus wanted to be. In reality Judas attached himself to Jesus, not so much to become a follower as to use Jesus to work out the plans and desires of his own ambitious heart. So far from surrendering to Jesus, he wanted Jesus to surrender to him..." (p. 330)

Perhaps the message and caution for all of us is that there is some of Judas in each one of us. We're all capable of self-serving sin to get our own way, to even use Jesus for our purposes instead of being used by Jesus for his. I know I have to often check my intentions to see if I'm serving Jesus or trying to get him to serve me. In the end, it's my prayer that I am serving Jesus.

24 HOURS-Week 1: Passover, Jerusalem and Messianic Hopes

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , , , , , | Posted On Saturday, March 6, 2010 at 7:13 PM

The Feast of the Passover was the single biggest and most important of the Jewish feasts. The Passover event is found in Exodus 12 and the celebration to remember this event was declared by God in Exodus 12:14 (NLT2): "This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the LORD. This is a law for all time." God confirms this in Leviticus 23:4-8.

The Passover was one of Judaism's three major feasts. All Jewish adult males living within 15 miles of Jerusalem were required to attend yearly. Those who lived further away tried to attend if at all possible. It was the desire of every Jew to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem at least once in their lifetime. So, the days leading up to the Passover saw Jews arriving from across the known western world. Jerusalem was packed.

An account by the Jewish historian Josephus gives us some insight into the number of Jews who were in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. In 65 A.D. the Jewish High Priest took a census of the number of lambs slain that year at the request of the Roman governor of Palestine. According to Josephus, the number was 256,000. The law said each lamb had to be used by a minimum of ten people, meaning there must have been between 2.5 and 3 million Jews in Jerusalem for Passover that year.

From the picture below of a 1/50th scale model of Jerusalem from the First Century, you can see the city and the whole neighboring countryside had to be packed.

Passover also created political problems for the Romans. Since the very event recalled Israel's deliverance from Egypt, Jewish nationalism ran high during this Feast. Jews continued to long for the restoration of their Jewish nation of Israel by the Messiah (Christ in Greek), which means anointed one or king.

As Jesus entered Jerusalem a few days before the Feast of the Passover ( on what we call Palm Sunday), he was greeted by crowds.

"Many in the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others spread leafy branches they had cut in the fields. Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting, 'Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD! Blessings on the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David! Praise God in highest heaven!'" (Mark 11:8-10 NLT2)

It would have been clear to any Jew observing this procession that the crowd was proclaiming Jesus the coming Messiah. He entered into a city packed with people whose nationalistic hopes were running high. It was a powder keg waiting to explode.

The religious leaders were often more pragmatic than spiritual, and they believed they had to try to keep a lid on things if they wanted to keep the Romans from exerting their military might. As Jesus entered Jerusalem and taught daily at the Temple, the crowds and his presence and teachings increasingly frustrated these Jewish religious leaders.

Jesus was the Messiah, but it was also obvious that no one understood just what kind of Messiah he would be. However, within the week everything would change...
(Some of this information from William Barclay's The Gospel of Mark commentary)

24 HOURS-Week 1: Jerusalem Area Map and Upper Room

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , | Posted On at 6:33 PM

Above is a map of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus' ministry, and in particular, the last 24 hours of his life (slightly modified from 24 Hours That Changed the World by Adam Hamilton, page 14). The events of Week 1 of this message primarily take place in the site marked as "Upper Room?" and the Temple (see model below).

The question mark in "Upper Room?" is there because scholars believe this is the correct location, but they are not absolutely certain. The structure on that site was destroyed and rebuilt several times through the centuries, but the present building and Upper Room dates to the 12th - 14th Centuries and was probably built by the Crusaders to commemorate this site. Below is a picture of that structure today.

Below is 1/50th scale model of what the Temple and its courts looked like at the time of Jesus. (Photo taken from Accordance PhotoGuide)

24 HOURS That Changed the World

Posted by Randy | Labels: , , , , | Posted On at 6:07 PM

Jesus died at the age of 33. However, of those 33 years, the Gospel writers devoted over 95% of their writings to his last three years, and nearly 30% to the last week. But nearly 15% of the four Gospels is centered on the last 24 hours of his life – clearly Matthew, Mark, Luke and John believed something extraordinary happened in those 24 hours.

The writers focused on the period beginning with sunset on Thursday, which for the Jews marked the beginning of a new day, through his Last Supper with his disciples, his time of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, his arrest and trial before the religious and Roman authorities, his torture by the Romans and march to the cross, culminating in his crucifixion, death and burial.

The four Gospel writers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, believed that everything that had happened in Jesus’ life drove to these crucial 24 hours that changed the world. In fact, the Apostle Paul some 25 years later summed up the Gospel to the church at Corinth in Greece, writing: “…I made up my mind to forget everything except Jesus Christ and especially his death on the cross.” (1 Corinthians 2:2 TEV)

To help us understand what happened and why it's still important to us today, during the month of March we'll be focusing on Jesus' last 24 hours here on earth. I'll be working primarily from the Gospel of Mark, but I'll be drawing on information from all four Gospels as well as the rest of the Bible. I'll be using various commentaries, photos, maps, and in particular, a book by Adam Hamilton entitled, 24 Hours That Changed the World. (I'm grateful to Adam's book for some ideas and the title, but this series itself is my work.)

As I began preparing for this series, I realized there was no way I could share in a Sunday morning message everything I was learning. So, for those who want to dig deeper and learn more, I'll be adding extra posts tied to each week's message. I'll be including the week number for each of these posts so you'll know where these additional posts fit in our 24 hour journey.

I'm excited about what I believe God is going to do through this series, and I hope and pray you will, too. And pray for me, so that I can communicate clearly the events and significance for us today of these 24 HOURS that Changed the World!