Thursday, April 2, 2015

Come to Him

I got to go to Israel a year ago for the very first time.  In Jerusalem, there are two sites that people believe may be where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.  One is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  This ancient church is over 1500 years old.  Kings have been anointed there.  Don’t think of it as an evangelical church, with pews and a pulpit; it’s more like a shrine.  There is a hole beneath an altar, where tradition says the cross of Christ was anchored.  Not too far away, there’s a small grotto where Jesus was supposedly buried and rose again.  And there is also a smooth slab of rock, known as the anointing stone, where it’s said Jesus’ body was laid while Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea anointed Him for burial.  Pilgrims flock to the church.  Many bring scarves, crosses or pieces of paper and rub them on the anointing stone.  

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditional site of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection

The altar under which the cross supposedly rested.

Pilgrims kneeling at the stone of anointing

The other site is known as the Garden Tomb.  In the 1800s a British army officer named Gordon was visiting Jerusalem and noticed a hill outside the old city that looked like a skull.  Scripture says Jesus was crucified in a place called Golgotha, or Calvary in Latin, which means, “place of the skull.”  Archaeologists working near that skull-shaped hill found an olive press that dated to the first century, and a tomb cut into the nearby limestone.  We know Jesus was buried in this sort of tomb.  You can even see the groove in the rock where the stone that sealed the tomb would have rested.  Our guide at the Garden Tomb was a retired British pastor who grew up in Liverpool.  We asked him if he knew the Beatles.  Yes, he said, in fact he went to school with them.  As a teenager, he played hooky one day to see them play at a local club.  He showed us the hill, the olive press, the tomb.  We had a short communion service there.  He told us, “I don’t know if this is where Jesus died, was buried, and rose again.  The important thing is that it did happen.”  

"On a hill far away..." This is the skull-shaped hill Gordon saw, which led to the discovery of the Garden Tomb.  Note the two "eyes."  The "nose" and "mouth" have since been covered by Palestinian construction.  

The entrance to the Garden Tomb.  
The interior of the Garden Tomb, with three chambers for bodies.  As I stood in this spot, I wondered if Peter had stood there, looking at the discarded graveclothes of Jesus.  

I felt very sure that the Garden Tomb, not the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, was where my salvation was purchased.  I felt sorry for, and a little superior to, those superstitious pilgrims who had traveled untold miles to smell the incense and see the relics and rub stuff on some questionable slab of rock.  And then our guide said something that put me in my place.

He told us that sometimes in the early mornings, he liked to go the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and watch the pilgrims.  Many of these people have come from thousands of miles away, from Eastern Europe, India, or Africa.  Many are very poor; making this trip of a lifetime cost all the money they had.  They probably don’t know as much of the Bible as you and me, he said.  They don’t have the access we do to the Bible and good biblical teaching; they may not even be literate.  So there is much in their theology he would like to correct.  But he said, he thinks about the woman who came and anointed Jesus while the Lord was in the home of the Pharisee.  She didn’t know much about theology, either.  And her lifestyle certainly wasn’t admirable.  But Jesus commended her, and insulted the theologically correct Pharisee.  It seems God loves a heart that is desperate to come to Him.  Those pilgrims may not know much theology. They just know their lives are broken, and only Jesus can fix them.  

So let me ask you: When is the last time you came to Jesus?  I’m not asking when you last came to church, or when you last prayed.  I’m asking when was the last time you said to Jesus, “I am broken, and only you can fix me?”  This Sunday is Easter, and I'll be preaching on John 21:1-19.  I hope it will be a message that inspires people to come to Jesus, as Peter did.  

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