History records that in 1517, Martin Luther ignited a reformation of the church. One of the basic principles that led his efforts for Christians to rethink things was based on the truth proclaimed by the Prophet Habbakkuk (2:4) and centuries later confirmed by Paul (Rom 1:17) that the just shall live by faith. Paul told the Ephesian believers that grace, through faith, saved us and any efforts to attain salvation by human deed or effort is futile.
I was reminded of this truth today.
We left early this morning to walk through the old city of Jerusalem, which has changed much since the time of Christ due to the various people and nations who have occupied the city over the last 2000 years. Most of the 1st century old city that Christ would have walked in is buried some 20 feet below the 2012 version of the old city, but even still you can get a feel for what it was like and even visit some of the ancient sites that have been preserved through the centuries or excavated by archaeologists. (Excavation is still going on, by the way)
Passing through the sukh (marketplace) we saw a wide variety of merchants lining the narrow streets similar to other cities outside the U.S. I have visited over the years. Unlike Muslim cities such as the ones we just visited in Morocco, here in Jerusalem it’s not uncommon to have a Jewish store next to a Muslim store with an Armenian Christian store just across the way. You have a blending of distinct cultures who have to manage incredible tension in their everyday lives, yet somehow they are able to do it.
As we navigated the sukh we came upon a sign that pointed to the famous Via Dolorosa, known as the way of suffering. It’s the route that Jesus is believed to have carried his cross through the old city after being flogged by the Roman soldiers. We, along with the many tour groups that were here today, walked a majority of the Via Dolorosa, while the scenes of the mob that would have lined the streets as Christ did this passed through my head.
The exact location of Christ’s crucifixion and burial are somewhat disputed but we visited 2 of the possible sites – one of which is the Garden Tomb area – the other (the more likely site) is inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (I will call it CHS from here )
Here is where my reminder of “the just shall live by faith” came in. The CHS was originally built by Constantine in the 4th century in an effort to preserve the site of Golgotha, the hill Jesus was crucified on, and the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea that He was buried in. After being virtually destroyed by the Muslims centuries later it was rebuilt and has been under control of the Catholic church ever since. To be frank, walking in there was more than I bargained for. At the risk of sounding condescending, it has turned into a religious shrine replete with all kinds of religious artifacts. Well meaning people wait through long lines to see and touch the hole in the rock where Christ’s cross is said to have been placed. Many fall to their knees and weep at this location as well as the proposed tomb site several hundred feet away.
I waited in the line just to get an up close view and that’s when “the just shall live by faith” hit me. While it is great to visit historical sites and retrace the footsteps of Christ, the real power of the finished work of Jesus (death, burial and resurrection) is appropriated and realized in our life when we put our faith in what he accomplished and invite Him to live in us and through us. Christ in us is the hope of glory. The same Spirit that raised Him from the dead dwells in us and whether we are in Jerusalem or Phoenix, or wherever, the resurrection power is the same.
As for CHS? Great place to visit. Wouldn’t want to live there. I choose to live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal 2:20)
The rest of the day was full. Too much to give detail about, but I do have to close by saying that it has been great visiting with our friends and co-laborers here in Jerusalem. Trish, Pam and Shmuel have expressed how blessed they have been to have us come and visit them. They are truly in a great place and God is using them mightily. Please continue to keep them in your prayers.
3 more days. I miss all of you at the Fountain but I miss my kids more. Sorry. Just the way it is.