His power is made perfect in weakness
We began our day on our hotel balcony of Jerusalem, listening to a devotion from Terry. Most of us have never been to Israel, and as we look out upon the city, it is exciting to think about all of the sights we will see in this ancient place over the next few days.
Terry reminded us that in Biblical times, the Jewish people would make the journey to Jerusalem for three major festivals a year. For example, the reason so many Jewish people were in Jerusalem for the crucifixion of Christ was because it corresponded to the Passover Festival (the perfect lamb). In the book of Psalms, the Psalms from number 120 to 134 are called "The Songs of Assent". These were songs that the Jewish people would sing as they made their long journey to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Psalm 121 says this:
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
These were songs of the journey the people were making, but they also spoke to a deeper meaning of the journey the people made to grow closer to god.
Terry emphasized the last verse of the Psalm. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. God is with us on every step of our journey.
We then made a quick stop to look at the Israeli Parliament building. We complain about the party dynamics in the United States, but it sounds like it is worse in Israel. They had over 40 parties engaged in the last Parliamentary elections, which can make it pretty difficult to piece together an effective governing coalition.
It was a quick trip over to the Israel Museum where we got to see a number of the original Dead Sea Scrolls. As you may recall, on Day 3, we got to see the place where the scrolls were discovered, it was great to see the actual artifacts today. We also spent a lot of time walking around a massive scale model of the city of Jerusalem based on what the city is believed to have looked like in 70 AD.
This may not sound like fun, but it was incredibly helpful. We grow up hearing stories about the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, the city gates, Mount of Olives, etc. But without seeing it, we have no idea how everything fits together. I didn't know that the Mount of Olives was directly to the east of the city of Jerusalem. And the Temple Mount is on the far east side of Jerusalem. Which means that when Jesus is up on the Mount of Olives, he is looking directly down on the Temple. It makes this passage in Luke mean so much more when you can see the geography played out in front of you:
And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
We will put our understanding of the layout of the Old City of Jerusalem to the test tomorrow as we hit some of the major sights.
We then drove outside of the city to a place called Herodium. Herodium is a mountain fortress that was built by Herod the Great. We all continue to be more and more impressed with the engineering genius of Herod the Great. This fortress wasn't just built on a mountain, he pretty much created a new mountain and built a fortress into it. In ancient times, to destroy a wall of an enemy, you would remove some of the stones from the bottom, then light a fire underneath the wall. This would help to destabilize and collapse the wall eventually. Herod was paranoid, he wanted to have a fortress nearby Jerusalem that he and his family could escape to, and he didn't want the walls to be able to be breached. So he built huge walls, and then brought soil in all around the walls to make the mountain into a cone shape around them.
Herodium is 3 miles southeast of Bethlehem and 8 miles south of Jerusalem. Its summit is 2,460 feet above sea level.
Herod built or re-built eleven fortresses. This one he constructed on the location of his victory over Antigonus in 40 BC.
Terry taught us a lesson to wrap up what we had learned this week about Herod. Herod was rich, powerful, egotistic, and really thought that he could control nature. We saw this clearly with his constructions at Masada and Caesarea. He also thought that all of his power and control could allow him to avoid the fate of death, at least a premature death. Terry made a good comment that we should keep in mind, he said, "Herod the Great was called The Great because of what he built, not because he was good to his people." Herod is the power structure of the day in the world that Jesus is born into.
This is where the geography is powerful yet again. When the sun is right, the mountain fortress called Herodium, casts a physical shadow out into the valley below. Below, in this shadow, stands a little Jewish village known as Bethlehem. Jesus was born into the actual shadow of the biggest symbol of worldly corruption and power that the Jewish people could ever imagine.
This brought Terry to the next portion of his lesson. The Jewish people had read the Old Testament and believed that God was foretelling about a Messiah who would come. The Old Testament refers to the coming Messiah as a conquering king, someone who would restore the glory of David and Solomon. But the Old Testament also refers to the Messiah as a suffering servant. In Isaiah chapter 53, we see these words:
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
We have learned on this trip that Jesus Christ was both the conquering King and the suffering servant. In Jesus' first coming, we see him completely identify with the suffering servant, dying on the cross for our sins in a way that was shown would occur in the book of Isaiah. And if you think back to our trip yesterday to Megiddo, the battle place of Armageddon, we see the book of Revelation describe Jesus as a conquering king in His second coming.
Many Jewish people rejected Jesus as the Messiah because they wanted the conquering king to come and raise the people up militarily to overthrow the Romans. But as Terry said, "God arrives as the most defenseless thing you can imagine."
God arrived not as a military King but as an infant. An infant who was almost killed by Herod until the angel instructed Joseph to take Mary and Jesus and flee. And Jesus arrived not in a house of royalty, but in the shadow of the great mountain fortress of Herod.
In weakness, God reveals His glory. The apostle Paul says this in 2 Corinthians chapter 12:
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
As Terry keeps making sure we understand throughout all of these places and lessons, Jesus takes the world and flips it upside down. What the world views as control is an allusion. Control isn't power, only surrendering to God yields any true power. His power is made perfect in weakness, because it is through weakness that he can reveal His glory. Jesus was born as a humble, vulnerable child in the shadow of Herod the Great, the man that could control nature itself! But alas, the one who was "Great" by the world's standards could not escape the consequence of death, whereas the suffering servant defeated death itself.
We ended our day by driving over to Bethlehem and walking around the church that is built on the location where it is believed Jesus was born. It was also in this church that Jerome translated the Latin Vulgate during the 4th century. This was revolutionary as it allowed the Bible to be translated from its original languages to Latin, which could then make the Bible much more widely consumed.
As an aside, Bethlehem is a city under Palestinian control. Israelis are not allowed to cross over into this area in the West Bank, mostly because neither the Palestinians or Israelis want to take any chance of having something go wrong. The city was in pretty rough shape and you can tell that the tourism dollars from people like us visiting them is a major driver in the struggling economy. There is also growing religious conflict and it is causing many of the Palestinian Christians to leave the city. Bethlehem was once a 90% Christian population, it is now around 12%.
But as we have seen over and over on this trip, we should not despair. The Bible is very clear that faithfulness is what overcomes, it always overcomes. His power is made perfect in weakness. We must simply trust in Him, surrender to Him, and allow our faithfulness to truly overcome.