Wandering through the city, after our shopping spree along the Byzantine Cardo Maximus and observing some children playing on a local neighborhood playground, we explored some of the original ruins of the city from the second temple period. First, we saw part of the city wall that Nehemiah rebuilt in the 5th century BC, as recorded in the book of … let me think … Nehemiah. 😉 Ezra and Nehemiah (one book in the Hebrew Bible) completed the 2nd temple in about 500 BC. Fifty years later, they rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem. We didn’t get to walk on it or touch it, but it was pretty amazing to see a piece of Biblical history come alive in such an up close and obvious way. To think that 2500 years ago, this man of God heeded a call in his heart to build something for God. It makes me think about what I’m building for God. What call am I heeding in my spirit?
So a quick tangent on that…
I used to think that God expected these great dreams from me … from us. You wouldn’t believe the things I imagined I would someday do “for God” when I was (not that much) younger. I even judged others for not having dreams as grand as mine.
But with every passing year, I feel like I understand more deeply that God isn’t after our worldly success in His Name. God is after us. Our hearts. There are men (and women) who will build whole cities “for God”, to whom He will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:23) And there are other men, whose names nobody will ever know and no history book will ever record, to whom God will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21) Our culture, our consumerism, and our human hearts have so screwed up our perceptions of “success” that most of us (myself included) have totally failed to have God’s heart and His “dreams” for our lives.
Don’t worry about creating a megachurch. Get up early, study Scripture, and pray every day.
Don’t worry about making billions to resource the Kingdom. Walk with God in the garden in the cool of the day.
Don’t worry about building an international coalition to feed the hungry. Buy a homeless guy a sandwich, even though he’s most likely scamming you.
Don’t worry about starting orphanages in a third world country. Take a kid with no dad to McDonald’s.
Don’t worry about making great sacrifices for God. Just obey Him in your every day – not perfectly (impossible), but increasingly.
Don’t worry about ministering to thousands. Read the Bible to and pray with your kids.
If God wants to turn your life’s fruits into a megachurch or an international coalition of whatever or a huge foundation or a giant corporation, that’s His business … and His problem. Don’t pursue it. Let go of the television-marketing-consumerism-driven view of success that goes with being American. Walk with God. Learn about what success means in the Kingdom of Heaven. We aren’t going to be Americans for long, but we’ll be in heaven forever. And if God gives you success the world understands ON TOP OF success He values, then accept it from Him cautiously and with great humility, even fear. Because God has chosen to do something through you that you have absolutely no power to do on your own. And keep in mind that He doesn’t need you to build a church or an orphanage. He’s on it. You and your house, serve the Lord! Today. In little things. The rest is His responsibility.
And in case you’re wondering… More than to anyone else, I’m preaching to myself. If overhearing God’s words in my heart and mind serves you, then rock on!
Okay, back to Jerusalem…
After seeing the remnants of Nehemiah’s wall, we went outside the modern day city walls to a museum-ish area where they are excavating a bunch of other stuff from the second temple period. Here, we saw the ritual baths where pilgrims heading to the temple to worship would become ceremonially clean prior to approaching God’s house. Once “clean”, they would ascend the steps on the southern end of the temple mount, rising up though the royal colonnade onto the esplanade. Jews made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, into those baths, and up those steps at least three times a year. We paused to imagine how it must have felt the first time — mounting the steps, and laying eyes on the temple of God. It was magnificent by ancient human standards, not to mention that God Himself dwelt there (at least until the cross). We’d probably consider it pretty sweet today too, actually.
But even more significant than all that was the reality that Jesus Himself would probably have walked on these steps. It is likely that He was sitting on these very steps chatting with the Pharisees and Sadducees when He was left behind by His family at age 12, as recorded in Luke 2. Here’s a picture of me on these very steps…
After that, we rounded a corner and saw another Cardo Maximus (remember that we had walked on the main drag in Jerusalem in the Byzantine era earlier that day), this time from the second temple era over 1,000 years earlier. There were three things about this experience that fascinated me.
First, I was amazed at how well the street was preserved. Of course, it had been unburied (since Israel had become a state in 1948). But even given that, it was just cool. The Romans really knew what they were doing. I wish they built roads like that in Chicago!
Second was the remnants of Robinson’s arch. Named after for the American scholar Edward Robinson who contributed heavily to our understanding of the second temple period through his journeys to the Holy Land in the 1930’s, Robinson’s arch was a magnificent (again by ancient standards) stone arch and staircase that descended from the southwest corner of the temple mount esplanade to the Cardo Maximus (running north-south along the western retaining wall of the temple mount – now the Wailing Wall) below. I thought that was absolutely sweet. Here is an artist’s depiction of the arch, and a picture I took…
Lastly, and most importantly, was that we witnessed first hand Jesus prophecy (Mark 13, Matthew 24) that “not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.” When Roman soldiers razed Jerusalem in 70 AD to quell yet another Jewish rebellion, they were given strict orders NOT to destroy the temple. The Roman leadership had a penchant for unique architecture, and they didn’t want to lose this building. But the soldiers had heard one too many rumors that the Jews had hidden gold inside the walls of the temple. So, they burned it. The gold lining the walls inside melted into the stones, so the soldiers used (essentially) crowbars to pry the stones of the temple apart to get at the gold. They threw them everywhere, including right off the temple mount. Look at the stones in the back of this picture … not one stone is left on another. Amazing.