Tour of Israel #19: The Tomb in Joseph’s Garden

With Tour Group at Empty Tomb

With Tour Group at Empty Tomb

The Gospels record that in the later afternoon of the day when Jesus died, Joseph of Arimathaea requested permission from Pilate to take the corpse of our Lord. Wrapping it in a clean linen clothe, Joseph laid it in his own tomb cut from the rock, and sealed the tomb by rolling a large stone over its door (Matt. 27:57–60; Mark 15:42–46; Luke 23:50–54). The tomb was located in a garden (John 19:41; 20:15). Joseph was helped by Nicodemus, who had once visited Christ by night and heard Him speak of the new birth by the Holy Spirit (John 19:38–42; cf. John 3:1–8). Though it was a terrible risk for them to identify with a man condemned by the Jewish Sanhedrin and killed like a criminal by the Roman governor, they honored Jesus even in His death because their hope was in the kingdom of God (Mark 15:43; Luke 23:51).

On the third day, the kingdom of God came with an earthquake, for the King rose from the dead (Matt. 28:2, 6). Just as Adam fell in a garden, so the last Adam rose up in a garden as the Firstborn of a new creation. His resurrection was no mere resuscitation of a dead body, but God’s decisive victory over death and hell (1 Cor. 15:21–22; Rev. 1:18), the exercise of the exceeding greatness of God’s mighty power for His people (Eph. 1:19–20). When God raised up Jesus Christ, He raised up with Him all of His chosen people from spiritual death to spiritual life, and ultimately to eternal glory (Eph. 2:6–7). No wonder the earth shook!

While we glory in the atoning death of Jesus Christ, we do not serve a dead Savior. The faithful covenant God raised up Jesus and exalted Him to God’s right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance and forgiveness of sins to His people, both Jew and Gentile (Acts 5:30–31; 11:18). Though we cannot see the living Lord, the presence of the Holy Spirit in believers is a living testimony that Christ is risen.

Do you know the power of the empty tomb? Many people believe in Jesus as a past historical figure, a great teacher and perhaps even a Savior who died so that they could go to heaven. But do you know the living Lord Jesus? Is He alive and at work in you by His Spirit? True Christianity is not just a philosophy of life, but union and communion with the risen Lord. May He dwell in all our hearts by faith, and do so more and more until we are filled with all the fullness of God, so that He who works powerfully within His church will be glorified in Christ Jesus through all ages, forever and ever. Amen (Eph. 3:16–21).

Preaching on Christ's Resurrection at the Garden of the Tomb

Preaching on Christ’s Resurrection at the Garden of the Tomb

Tour of Israel #18: Calvary

Possible Location of Christ's Crucifixion

Possible Location of Christ’s Crucifixion

The Gospels tell us that the soldiers crucified Christ on Golgatha, “the place of the skull” (Matt. 27:33; Mark 15:22; John 19:17), or in Latin “Calvaria” (Luke 23:33). Christ died outside the city gate (Heb. 13:12), and yet “nigh to the city” (John 19:20). It was a horrible place and a horrendous atrocity when the wicked rejected the Holy and Righteous One, and “killed the Prince of life” (Acts 3:14–15).

Yet here God did His greatest work. There are different words that the Scriptures use to describe the mighty work of the cross, such as redemption and reconciliation, but perhaps the most significant word is one rarely heard today: propitiation. The apostle John wrote, “he is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2). He also said, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

To propitiate means to appease or atone. If you anger someone, you make propitiation for your offense in one way or another to appease him. You offer a peace offering so that your guilt is atoned and your relationship can be restored.

In our relationship with God, Christ’s propitiation addressed the wrath of God. It quenched the terrible fire of His burning anger against sinners. Jesus Christ is the propitiation that delivered His people from God’s anger against us by taking it on himself. He suffered the wrath and judgment that their sin deserved. Since Christ is God, His propitiation has a value greater than all the sins of the world. He did not merely die for the Jews or a small group of first-century believers, but to redeem a vast number of people from every tribe, language, and nation throughout all the ages.

So at Golgotha, the ugly place of death, we find God’s hatred and God’s love coming together in an astonishing fashion. God hates sin and is so angry with sinners that nothing less than the death of His Son will appease His anger, satisfy His justice, and set them free. Apart from Christ’s blood, God’s wrath will send sinners to hell forever. However, even when God hated sin so much, He loved sinners so much that He willingly sent His Son to suffer that wrath for the very sinners who hated Him. Amazing love! How can it be, that Thou, My God, shouldst die for me?! No condemnation now I dread; Jesus and all in Him is mine. He is the propitiation for our sins, and believers are saved forever. Child of God, let the wonder of Calvary wash over your soul, and never stop praising the Lamb that was slain for you.

Tour of Israel #17, The Dead Sea

Israel, Dead Sea

The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is called the Salt Sea on the Bible (Gen. 14:3; Deut. 3:17). The constant inflow of water from the Jordan River, no outflow, and high rate of evaporation, combined with natural mineral deposits, make this one of the saltiest places on earth. The water of the Dead Sea is almost ten times saltier than the ocean, and so no fish can live in it.

The wilderness around the Dead Sea has long been a place sought for refuge and isolation. David found shelter from Saul at the oasis of Engedi on the western side of the Dead Sea (1 Sam. 23:29). Further south on the same shore is the fortress of Masada where a group of Jews made their last stand against the Roman legions in AD 73.

The region around the southern part of the Dead Sea is most infamous for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19), condemned in Scripture for their pride, failure to care for the poor, and homosexual perversity (Ezek. 16:49; Jude 7). God overthrew these wicked cities with an explosion of fire and brimstone visible from miles away (Gen. 19:24–25, 28). Their destruction became a vivid emblem of God’s anger against sinners (Deut. 29:23; Jude 7).

Therefore, the Dead Sea warns us of the second death, the lake of eternal fire where God’s enemies will suffer forever (Rev. 21:8). It calls us to see all mankind, regardless of their wealth or status in this world, as people headed for one of two eternal destinies, heaven or hell. It exhorts us to flee the wrath to come and embrace the gospel, or we will find on judgment day that is far worse for us than it will be Sodom (Matt. 11:24).

However, the Bible can also use the Dead Sea as a remarkable picture of hope. In Ezekiel’s symbolic visions, the prophet saw waters flowing out of the temple, growing ever deeper, crossing the desert, and healing the sea. The Dead Sea became full of vast numbers of living fish, and on the banks of the river will grow trees full of fruit and leaves for medicine and healing (Ezek. 47:1–12). John’s visions in Revelation pick up this same imagery, and incorporate it into the New Jerusalem (Rev. 22:1–3).

The message of these visions is that God can take the deadest of the dead and bring them to life. God, in His mercy and love, takes people who are dead in their sins and make them alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:4–5). God will one day take this sin-cursed world and regenerate the entire cosmos, and then every dead sea will erupt with life and joy forever.

Tour of Israel #16: The Pool of Bethesda

Ruins of the Pool of Bethesda

Ruins of the Pool of Bethesda

The Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem appears only once in Scripture, in John 5. There we read of a large crowd of sick and disabled people, who gathered in hopes of supernatural healing through the waters of the pool. Our Lord focused His attention on one man who had been crippled for thirty-eight years, and asked him this surprising question, “Wilt thou be made whole?” (Do you choose to become healthy?) The man did not directly answer the question, but instead explained why he could not get into the pool in time to be healed. Christ then simply commanded him, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.” By the mere power of Christ’s word, the crippled man got up and walked away with his bed (John 5:1–9).

O, the power of Jesus Christ! He is God. He shares in the same divine power as the Father, for they do all their works together (John 5:19–20). One day, by the same power He used to raise up this crippled man, Christ will raise the dead to life by the mere authority of His voice (John 5:28–29). All the billions of people who have lived and died on this planet will stand before Christ, and receive His holy judgment, either to life or damnation.

We need to have eternity stamped on our eyes. We must not rest in physical blessings and answered prayers about jobs or health or family. All of Christ’s works point us beyond this age, to consider whether Christ has healed not just our bodies, but our souls with eternal life.

The sad truth of the Pool of Bethesda is that after Jesus healed the crippled man, the Lord met him again and had to warn him, “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” (John 5:14). Despite all that Christ had done for him, the man had not repented of sin. He was in danger of a punishment far worse than a lifetime of disability, the punishment of the fire of hell. And how did the man respond to Christ’s warning? He betrayed Jesus to the Jewish religious leaders, turning Him in as a sabbath-breaker so that they sought to kill Jesus (John 5:15–16). The man Jesus healed, only hated Jesus when confronted with his sin.

Even if Christ has miraculously healed your body, that is no substitute for the miracle of healing your soul. Christ says to your soul, “Wilt thou be made whole?” If we would hope to participate in the resurrection unto life, then we must first be raised from spiritual death. The voice of Jesus is speaking and giving life through His Word today. Christ said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).

Tour of Israel #15: Gethsemane

The Garden of Gethsemane

The Garden of Gethsemane

The Gospels of Matthew and Mark identify the place where Jesus went on the night that He was betrayed as “Gethsemane” (Matt. 26:36; Mark 14:32), which means “olive press.” Jesus often retired to this a garden or orchard of olive trees, located across the Kidron valley from Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, while He was visiting Jerusalem (Luke 22:39; John 18:1). Yet on this night, He knew that He would enter the garden a free man, but leave it as a prisoner. There, in the “olive press,” Jesus began to feel a crushing weight press against His soul, and the pure oil of obedience flowed forth from His holy heart.

Only eleven were allowed to enter the garden with Jesus, and only three formed the inner circle of intimate friendship and support. But even those three could not enter all the way into His sufferings with Him. Moving a stone’s throw away, Jesus fell to the earth and cried to God whether there might be some other way than to drink this “cup,” even as He went forth to trod the winepress alone to be crushed under deep soul-suffering and divine anger. For the cup is a biblical symbol for the wrath of God against sinners (Pss. 11:6; 75:7–8; Isa. 51:17; Jer. 25:15; Rev. 14:10).

There are no words strong enough to express His suffering in this garden. Mark says that He was “sore amazed” (Mark 14:33); Luke reports that He was “in an agony” (Luke 22:44). Matthew tells us that He cried out: “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Matt. 27:38). In a word, Jesus was encompassed, encircled, and overwhelmed with grief.

In addition to His foreknowledge of the cross, a combination of formidable, intense sufferings beat mercilessly upon Him. Satan beset Him with the demons and powers of hell. The abominable nature of sin and the awful curse His Father placed upon it weighed heavily upon Him. His Father’s comforting presence began to withdraw from Him.

If His Godhead had not supported Him, Jesus could not have sustained the horrors of Gethsemane. Three times Jesus had to leave His disciples and cry out as He writhed in pain on the grounds of the garden, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).

What should amaze us most about Gethsemane is not the dread wrath beginning to crush God’s Son, but the holy obedience with which He bore it. Heaven will eternally resound with wonder at those words, “not my will, but thine, be done.” Our last Adam emerged from this garden the Victor, ready to be bruised in order to crush the head of the serpent.

Tour of Israel #14: The Mount of Olives

View of Modern Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

View of Modern Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

The Mount of Olives, or Olivet, is part of an elevated ridge to the east of Jerusalem, known for its groves of olive trees. Sometimes it has been a place of the weeping of kings. David wept upon it as he fled Jerusalem to escape from Absalom (2 Sam. 15:30). Though David was the rightful king of Israel, his sins with Bathsheba had come home to roost, and now he must flee for his life while his own son sought to murder him and take his kingdom.

A thousand years later, the Lord Jesus Christ crossed the Mount of Olives, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt as a visible sign that the promised King had come (Zech. 9:9). Though cheering crowds greeted Him, when He crested the ridge and saw Jerusalem, He “wept over it” (Luke 19:41), for He knew that once again the people would reject their King. Yet Christ did not suffer rejection because of His own sins, as David did, but for the sins of His people (Isa. 53:8). He gave His blood to fulfill the promises of the new covenant and bring sinners into holy relationship with God (Luke 22:20; Jer. 31:33–34). Jesus wept not for Himself, for He knew that His kingdom would come, but for the sinners who rejected Him, blind as they were, because He knew that God’s sword would fall upon Jerusalem and devastate it (Luke 19:42–44).

To stand upon the Mount of Olives today and look towards Jerusalem is to remember the tears of the King for lost sinners. Have His tears touched our eyes? Our heart? Can we say with Paul that we have strong desires, great sorrow, and fervent prayers for the salvation of the Jewish people (Rom. 9:1; 10:1)—and all nations where people still live in spiritual blindness?

However, the Mount of Olives is not always a place of weeping in the Bible. It also is a place of blessing and rejoicing (Luke 24:49–53; Acts 1:8–12). It was here that Christ’s feet last touched the earth. Here Christ promised the empowerment of the Holy Spirit for the worldwide gospel mission, raised His hands to bless His disciples, and was taken up into the clouds to ascend to heaven. The disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy, praising and blessing God.

If we too are disciples of Jesus Christ, then the Mount of Olives reminds us that we too have great cause for joy. Our King is seated at the right hand of God in heaven. He blesses us as our exalted Priest, pouring out all the blessings He won for us when He took the curse for our sins. And He is our living Prophet, proclaiming the Word to Jew and Gentile as His Spirit works through His faithful witnesses. Christ will come back just as He left, and therefore our message to the world is not one of despair, but of hope and joy in a victorious King.

Tour of Israel #13: Bethlehem

Singing God's Praises in a Cave near Bethlehem, Perhaps One Like Where Jesus Was Born

Singing God’s Praises in a Cave near Bethlehem, Perhaps One Like Where Jesus Was Born

In Bethlehem we see how God’s plan of salvation was composed of many links in an unbreakable chain of grace. We see one link in the chain when, more than three thousand years ago, two women came to Bethlehem. One was old, the other young. One was a native of this Jewish town, the other, her daughter-in-law, was a foreigner from Moab. Though an outsider from a pagan land, Ruth not only was accepted by the Jewish community, but she married a Hebrew man named Boaz, for she too had come to trust in the Lord (Ruth 2:12).

Another link in the chain appeared some years later, when the Lord directed the prophet Samuel to go to Bethlehem and speak to the grandson of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 4:21–22; 1 Sam. 16:1). This man had several sons, and God led His prophet to anoint the youngest of them, David. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Ruth’s great-grandson David, and he became the champion of Israel and the father of a dynasty of kings by divine covenant.

It seemed that God’s chain of promise was shattered when, after centuries of disobedience, the royal line of David fell under God’s judgment. However, long before the son of David went into exile in Babylon, the prophet Micah foretold that from Bethlehem would come a “ruler in Israel,” not a mere man, but an eternal Lord whose activities were “from everlasting,” and who would shepherd His people “in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the Lord his God,” and whose kingdom would extend “unto the ends of the earth” (Mic. 5:2, 4).

Stooping to Enter the Church of Nativity

Stooping to Enter the Church of Nativity

Seven centuries after Micah penned those words, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and an angel announced to shepherds nearby, “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). It is amazing that this village even existed after so many years of war and hardship. It is even more amazing to consider that the reason Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem is because of a decree from a pagan emperor, Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1).

When today we are tempted to doubt that God works all things for good, let us remember how precisely He fulfilled His purpose to bring His Son into the world in the little town of Bethlehem. We can wait for the coming of His kingdom with absolute confidence, for God’s plan did not fail in the past, and cannot fail in the future. The child of Bethlehem will reign. And we can be sure that even the seemingly random events of our day are exactly what God has planned to bring Christ’s kingdom to all the nations, and one day with visible glory.

Tour of Israel #12: Herodium

Israel, Herodium

Seven or eight miles south of Jerusalem (ten miles by car), atop a rounded hill stands Herodium (or Herodion), the fortress of King Herod the Great. (Herod the Great is not to be confused with other Herods that appear in the Bible during the ministry of Christ and His apostles.) Herodium was a splendid place, with gardens and a huge pool on the grounds below, and a stately palace enclosed by the fortress above.

Though Herod the Great constructed beautiful buildings, such as the temple and Herodium, he was not a beautiful person. The 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia says, “He was prepared to commit any crime in order to gratify his unbounded ambition.” This included murdering one of his wives, three of his sons, and two rabbis. In his final days, he ordered that when he died a number of prominent Jewish leaders should also be murdered so that there would be national mourning at Herod’s death—but this order was not carried out.

In the Bible, Herod the Great is particularly known for his response to the visit of the wise men from the east (Matt. 2:1–18). The account is a striking contrast between two kings. On the one side is King Herod, an old man living in pomp and power, yet paranoid about his kingdom. He is not of the house of Israel, but a foreigner with no rights to the throne. When the wise men appeared asking about the birth of the promised King of Israel, Herod first responded with trickery to try to locate the boy, and when that failed he murdered all the male children age two and under of the region of Bethlehem—given the size of the town, perhaps twenty or thirty precious children. He was a liar and a murderer, like the devil (John 8:44).

On the other hand is the true King of the Jews. He is the Son of Abraham, the greater Isaac, born miraculously not of an old woman but of a virgin (Matt. 1:1, 18, 20). He is the Son of David, the rightful and promised King (Matt. 1:1). His birth fulfills God’s promises (Matt. 2:6). He is no mere man, but Immanuel, God with us in the flesh (Matt. 1:23). Wise men worship Him and bring Him costly offerings with great joy (Matt. 2:10–11). He is no murderer, but He saves His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). He did not come in pomp and power, but in humility, forced to flee for His life at an early age, and one day was nailed to the cross for our sins. What a King! What a Savior! Yet today He reigns in a palace a million times more beautiful than Herodium ever was, and if we serve Him we shall reign with Him there forever.

Tour of Israel #11: The Pool of Siloam

When King Hezekiah prepared to defend Jerusalem against the invasion of the Assyrians, he set his workers to direct the waters of the Gihon spring into the city, so that Jerusalem and not its enemies might have access to its waters during the siege (2 Kings 18:17; 20:20; 2 Chron. 32:2–4, 30). To accomplish this, Hezekiah’s men cut a tunnel through the rock to carry water to the Pool of Siloam or Shiloach (Neh. 3:15). Its name means “sent” (John 9:7). It was be a major source of what the Hebrews called “living water,” that is, fresh running water as opposed to stagnant water—a picture of God’s life-giving grace (Jer. 2:13).

In the prophecy of Isaiah, the waters of Siloam became a symbol of trusting in God’s covenant with the son of David as the Lord’s appointed king (Isa. 8:6). Because the people of Samaria rejected the God’s chosen king, like the gentle waters of Siloam, and trusted in man and man’s alliances, God would sweep the northern kingdom away with the king of Assyria like a raging, flooded river, but would preserve King Hezekiah and Jerusalem (Isa. 8:4–8).

Dr. Ronning Reading John 9

Dr. Ronning Reading John 9

Seven centuries later, the Lord Jesus Christ was in Jerusalem and saw a man who was blind from birth (John 9). Christ said, “I am the light of the world.” Then Jesus did something very strange. He spat on the ground, made mud, put it on the eyes of the blind man, and told him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” When the blind man did so, he came back able to see! The healing of the blind fulfilled ancient prophecy, confirming that Jesus is the Christ (Isa. 35:5; 42:7; Luke 7:19–23). Ironically, when the news of the healing of the blind man reached the Pharisees, they were the ones who proved to be blind, for they absolutely refused to acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ despite this miracle, for to do so would expose their sin (John 9:39–41). Once again, people chose to trust in man rather than in God’s appointed King.

The pool of Siloam reminds us that despite all the spiritual enemies that may besiege us, there is “a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God,” for “God is in the midst of her” (Ps. 46:4–5). His living waters heal our spiritual blindness, so that we see and trust the Lord Jesus Christ, though seeing Him also exposes our sins. By faith in God’s appointed King, we find victory and life. Like the blind man whom Jesus healed, let us fall down to worship Christ, and say, “Lord, I believe” (John 9:38).

Tour of Israel #10: The Temple in Jerusalem

Hundreds of Orthodox Jews Gathered under Wilson's Arch at the Western Wall

Hundreds of Orthodox Jews Gathered under Wilson’s Arch at the Western Wall

Among all the features of ancient Jerusalem, the temple especially draws our attention for its beauty and spiritual significance. The temple has a complex history. In the covenant with David, the Lord authorized the replacement of the tabernacle-tent with the temple constructed by David’s son Solomon (2 Sam. 7), who began construction in 966 BC (1 Kings 6:1). After Solomon dedicated the temple, the glory of the Lord filled the Holy Place, and it functioned as a center for the people’s prayers and seeking God’s grace in repentance over their sins (1 Kings 8).

Praying at the Western or Wailing Wall

Praying at the Western or Wailing Wall

Solomon’s temple stood until the Lord judged His people for their sins and the Babylonians burned it in 586 BC (2 Kings 25:9). Following the return from exile, Zerubbabel, a descendant of David, led the people to rebuild the temple, completing it in 516 BC. After centuries of use, the new temple was defiled by the idolatrous pagan King Antiochus Epiphanes (167 BC), but was restored after the Maccabean revolt. King Herod the Great began construction of a new, more impressive temple in 20 BC, and construction continued for many decades. Herod’s temple was the location where Christ and His apostles ministered, until it too was destroyed by the Roman legions in AD 70.

Ever since the destruction of the Second Temple, Jews have gathered in pilgrimage and in prayer at the Western Wall, which became known as the Wailing Wall. Its cracks are filled with hastily written prayers for the speedy recovery of the sick, for the peace of Jerusalem, and for the coming of the Messiah. Pray that the scales would fall from their eyes and that they would embrace the Messiah who has come.

We find a fascinating reference to Herod’s temple in John 2. After Christ had driven out the moneychangers and those selling sacrificial animals, His fellow Jews demanded a miracle to prove He had the authority to do this. We read,

Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said. (John 2:19–22)

Here is the good news: we no longer need a physical temple, because we have the risen Lord Jesus Christ. He is our temple, in whom the glory of God dwells (John 1:14). By faith in Christ we can draw near to God, for His sacrificial death on the cross makes believers holy in God’s eyes once and for all (Heb. 10:10, 19–22). The New Jerusalem contains no temple, for “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it” (Rev. 21:22). Jesus Christ is our new temple. As much as we may admire architecture, we need no building to enter God’s holy presence, just Christ and the people in whom His Spirit dwells (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19).