I had always thought of the Garden of Gethsemane as some hidden away place. My mind’s eye had pictured the Palm Sunday donkey ride as rather long and stretched out. My picture of the Jordan River was more like the Mississippi River. It’s not that I didn’t understand what the Bible was saying. I had just attached the words of scripture to the pictures my mind developed for them over the years. But then I saw it. And the images that play in my head as I read God’s Word all look a little different now.
Has it ever happened to you? You hear a voice on the radio again and again and a picture starts to develop in your mind. Then you see the person and they look nothing like you imagined. Or you read a book and the main character takes on a visual in your head, but then you see the movie they make about it and the actor looks nothing like what you thought?
That’s what I had done with the Bible. But then I saw it. If you’ve been reading my column for the 10 years I’ve been writing it in one form or another, you might remember. A few years ago, I got the chance to go see the Holy Land — to walk the path of the Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem, and the path to the cross that Good Friday. I was able to take a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and envision the storm whipping through the hills. We sat in the shadow of that giant cliff overlooking the “Gates of Hades” — a cave where pagans offered their children in sacrifice to the god pan. And while we were there, we read the conversation Jesus and his disciples had in that very same spot.
Do you remember that? Peter confessed for the disciples the heart and core of the Gospel message: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16). He summed it all up. “You are the One promised. You are our Savior!” And then Jesus said it, “I tell you that you are Peter (a Greek word meaning “rock” or “stone” – think the kind of thing you can hold in your hand), and on this rock (a Greek word referring to a massive outcropping of rock, a cliff — something that holds you) I will build my church. Jesus told Peter that he would use him and plant the whole church on the rock solid foundation of his confession of who Jesus is.
Now, imagine hearing that story where it happened. You’re sitting among a bunch of rocks, but towering over you is a cliff that has stood there for millennia. And you can almost see Jesus motioning to the solidness of this confession. “And the gates of hades cannot overcome it”. All the false worship in the world can’t affect the truth of what Peter just said and we still believe. All the tragedy that took place on that very site can’t affect the strength of our God to keep his promises. They are rock solid. The gates of Hades can’t defeat them.
And that was just one of the dozens of stops we made at Holy Land sites. It’s hard to put into words what it feels like to be standing on steps of the Temple Mount that Jesus himself would have walked up – the very same stones that have stood since Herod improved that site and prepared it for the King of Glory to walk on. Each day was filled with experiences like that.
I’m not telling you all this just to rub it in that I got to go there and not all of you have been blessed like that. I’m telling you about this because I’m getting ready to go back and would love to take you with me. Nov. 2-11, 2015, I’ll be leading a group on a 10-day tour to “Walk in the Footsteps of Jesus.” If you’re interested, give me a call 770-385-7691 or shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll send you the information. I’d love to be able to get to know some of you that have been reading these articles over the years and this would be a great way to do it – as we’re growing in our knowledge of and understanding of the Bible.
Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying my faith is stronger because I’ve been there or that you don’t have a complete picture if you’ve never seen these things. I’m just saying that I understand some of the stories in the Bible better having seen the places Jesus walked and experienced the culture and the context a little. I’m saying that it’s a perspective-changing experience to experience something like this and I want to invite you to join me for it. We’ll see the sites and consider sections of God’s Word that pertain to many of them. I hope you can make it.
And if not, that’s OK too. We’ll keep walking through the Bible by studying section after section like we’ve been doing for all these years. And God will bless it. He promises to be where his Word is. So this Sunday, find someplace to do that. I’d love it if you’d join me at Abiding Grace, but even if not here — get into God’s Word and start seeing Jesus in that Bible more and more.
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday at 8 & 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.