Friday, April 6, 2012

Worship Jesus: Remembering the Mount of Olives and the Garden Tomb

Isn't it amazing how a certain physical location can affect you spiritually, even years later? While traveling through Israel in 2008 I had not one, but two, such experiences. This weekend we celebrate Passover and Jesus' resurrection; and the holidays remind me once again of that trip. 

I remember standing on the Mount of Olives and becoming too emotional to continue singing praise songs with our group.

Notice my clenched lips (trying not to cry)
and the Temple Mount in the background.
Throughout our trip, we visited many locations which were probably where a biblical event happened. "We think this is where the angel visited Mary.” Or, "This might be where Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount."

However, when we stood on the Mount of Olives, I had no doubt in my mind that Jesus had spent some of the last hours of His life in that location. Jesus spent the night before His crucifixion eating the Passover meal with His disciples. Scripture tells us that after the meal was finished, "When they had sung a hymn they went out to the Mount of Olives" (Matthew 26:30). It was there that He said, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" (Matthew 26:38). In those hours He prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39). It was on that ground that He knelt "and being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Luke 22:44).

On that mount, He fought and won the spiritual battle to bring salvation to mankind. From this point forward, Jesus fought the physical battle - His death on the cross - with resolve and focus. 

Standing in the location of those moments should have been enough to bring me to tears. Indeed, recognizing my own sinful state before Holy God and the gravity of His sacrifice has brought me to tears many times. However, on that chilly, windy day, my reflection on the history of that location didn't bring me to tears. It was the location's future. "On that day [the day of the Lord], his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south" (Zechariah 14:4).

I was standing in a spot where Jesus fulfilled prophecy; even more, He is going to do it again in that same spot. For me, I became part of the plan in a very real way. I was standing between two defining moments of history.

I saw that I have a part to play in the here and now, in the gap between His sacrifice two thousand years ago and His return sometime yet future.

The second physical location of spiritual impact was the Garden Tomb. I've had four years to mentally process that moment and, even as a writer, I have yet to think of words to describe it. I walked through the stone opening with a high level of cynicism. Cynicism grown from the high number of religious sites we had visited thus far. As I entered the natural sanctuary, though, my heart was hushed and my spirit humbled. Someday, perhaps God will grant me words to describe it but for now it was a holy moment between him and me.

Despite their differences, these two locations had a common outcome. God never called me to worship the places; He used them to draw me closer to Him. They became a pathway to worship, not the object of worship. They were a sign of our relationship; not a source of relationship.

I'm sharing them with you today because both places are part of the reason we celebrate this weekend. Jesus spent the hours before His crucifixion on the Mount of Olives and the days between His crucifixion and resurrection in the tomb. Not just history but all of eternity changed in those days. God had denied us access to heaven from the time Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. Jesus’ death restored access. The vile and wicked can be pure and righteous. The condemned were set free. Life conquered death.

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