20 June, 2024

Reflections on Israel

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by | 21 August, 2005 | 0 comments

By Ken Read

I recently had the privilege of visiting Palestine on a study/tour with Dr. Mark Ziese of Cincinnati Christian University. The experience was life-changing. My mental images of biblical accounts have been reshaped. Here are some reflections on what I experienced.

Reflections on Nazareth

Nazareth was an unimpressive little place””an unwalled village of maybe 200 people””but it was a great location for growing up. Jesus and his family lived there for at least 25 years, so pretty much the whole town knew Mary”s young son, Yeshua. They were his teachers, his mentors, his family, his friends, and peers.

The location couldn”t be beat. At the edge of town is a cliff overlooking the Jezreel Valley. I imagine that young Jesus was taken there often by his Sabbath school teacher. On this ridge, we are facing south. Off to the left is the Jordan River, and to the right is the Mediterranean Sea. You can practically see both bodies of water from here. The whole land is so compact and rich with the history of God”s people. Behind us is Cana, and then the rest of Galilee, where Jesus would spend much of his ministry. Ahead and over the mountain range is Jerusalem, where he would finish it all.

The valley silently tells the stories of the saints and the sinners of Israel”s history and its future. Nearby, to the left, rises Mount Tabor. There Deborah rallied the people of Israel to great victory, and there Jesus would later be transfigured.

Across the plain is Mount Gilboah. At its foot Gideon had the men drink from the stream, and from its slopes God delivered Israel with only 300 brave men. There also the Israelites were defeated and Saul and Jonathan were killed. To its right is Jezreel, where wicked Jezebel died, and further to the right is Mount Carmel, where Elijah bravely and miraculously withstood her false prophets.

Between those mountains is Nain, where Jesus would bring a young man back to life. Just behind it over the hill, Elijah had also brought a young man back to life.

And there is Megiddo, always a crucial city, constantly fought over. Armageddon will be the scene of a final showdown between the nations and the Lord, and the armies will fill this huge valley. The Lord Almighty will win.

Oh, and this cliff? In Luke 4, we are told that when Jesus began his public ministry all the people of Nazareth spoke well of him. He had just turned 30, and I imagine that the leaders of the hometown synagogue invited him to bring his first sermon to the home folk. The entire town was there, smiling and proud of their miraculous (if a bit peculiar) “homey.” Every eye is on him. He reads from Isaiah and says that it is fulfilled this day! Such gracious words!

Then the message of Jesus takes a turn, as he quotes two Old Testament stories of how God chose to bless Gentiles. There was the widow in Elijah”s time, and Naaman the leper. Was Jesus saying that God chooses Gentiles, that he is going to the Gentiles? They are suddenly infuriated. He is no longer our little boy-turned-prophet, but a terrible heretic, worthy of death. As one, they grab Jesus and rush him to, you guessed it, the cliff.

There, they surround the young man Jesus. His back is to the edge of the cliff as he gazes at his mentors, teachers, family, and friends. They look at him, and then beyond him to the valley of history. In my mind”s eye, the crowd is awed to silence by this scene. Somehow, they cannot move to act on murdering this One who quotes the stories they themselves had told him, even though they don”t understand. While there is not repentance or resolution, at least there is a stalemate. Jesus slips through the crowd and leaves them.

Nazareth had been a great place to grow up. But the Prophet must eventually move on to Jerusalem to die.

Reflections on Jerusalem

Jerusalem is a microcosm of the ironic world that Jesus came to save.

Jesus came to save worldly hawkers in a dirty, narrow city, selling baubles and trinkets to spiritual pilgrims-turned-souvenir shoppers, all hardened to the historical holiness of their surroundings.

Jesus came to save people with a prevailing spirit of religion (however well-intentioned) that all but cancels out the simple grace of God by its elaborate embellishments to straightforward truths. In an effort to make a holy spot seem somehow more profound, it becomes obscured under layers of ritual, tradition, and decoration.

But here is truth: This is the very world that Jesus entered, knowing full well what damage they would do to him and to his message. And he came anyway.

He came to an elaborate temple, with decorations, drama, and festooning that had nearly obscured the sacrifice that rolled back sin.

He came to the religious leaders, who loved their dress and their positions, proud of all they had done for God, of their religious spirit, and of themselves (not necessarily in that order).

He came to those selling their wares and making their money in that Temple of the Lord, blind to their own hypocrisy and greed.

There I was, kneeling in the midst of the organized rubble, and I kept asking, “What have we done to you, Jesus? Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do.”

And yet, with all of the speculating and profit-taking, the truth remains that Jesus really was here. Right here. Born, lived, suffered, died, rose, and ascended, right here in these streets. It”s a powerful experience I want my postmodern friends to have””Jesus is not just a good story, but God in the flesh””Emmanuel, God with us.

And He still is today.

Reflections on Bethlehem

Jesus, you chose to come to earth. Such a planet of unworthy idolators! Why us?

Jesus, you chose to come as a Jew. None of them were, or are, saints, you know. Why them?

Jesus, you chose to come to Bethlehem. Not a prominent town by any stretch. Why there?

Jesus, you chose to come in the fullness of time. Greeks, then Romans, united the world; stars and planets aligned to provide a sign; the Temple, the priesthood, the forerunner John, the census, the slaughter, the king, the empire, the Law, the language””it all aligned in the perfect time and place.

I don”t know why you have chosen this planet, these people, this land, at this time. But in the fullness of my own time, I have also been born and was introduced to you. We were meant for each other, you and I, but I”ll never know why.

Such a small place. Such an unimpressive entrance.

But then again, that”s how you entered me, too. Thank you that you came at just the right time.

Reflections on Bethesda

“Do you want to get well?” he asks. “If so, then be well. Act on it. Take up that pallet and go home.”

Peter sees Jesus from the boat. “Come,” the Lord invites. “Step out and walk.”

Jesus takes two loaves and five fish. He sees 5,000 men. And in faith, our Lord gives thanks and begins to distribute the food.

The principle is ripe for the plucking:

No, you don”t know how to.

No, you never have before.

Yes, it makes no sense. But God has whispered something to you, hasn”t he? Act on it.

I”m not describing a mail-order, name-it-and-claim-it religion. But I”m describing what Jesus did.

Some call it faith.


Ken Read is professor of music and worship at Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University.

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