Conclusion: Making A Chance

Thanks for joining us on this devotional tour of the Holy Land. To see a few highlights of our trip together, take a look at this short video below, as our worship leaders from the trip, Lucas Elder and Gary Marini, lead us in a closing song.  Then read on to hear a touching story of God’s faithfulness to those who put their faith in Him.

I was telling a group one time that they should try to go to Israel if they ever got a chance.  My son Lucas added:  “Don’t just wait till you get a chance.  Make a chance!  Do whatever you can do to get there.  It’s worth it!”  He’s right.

So I’d like to tell you just one more story as we close, a story about “making a chance.”  While I usually try to shorten stories to make them as concise as possible, I think this one is best told with all the details in tact.  I believe God has several things He might want to speak to you through this story, so I pray that you’ll be blessed as you read it.

As we began talking about going on this trip to Israel, a woman from Malawi named Esther had written to me, saying that she wondered if I thought God would ever make a way for her to visit Israel someday.  She said she simply began crying every time she read the word “Israel” in some of the devotionals I had written and shared over the Internet.  Knowing that she lived in Malawi, and knowing the situation for many who live there, I wasn’t sure what to say.  I began to pray about how to respond to her email, thinking that I’d say, “I believe that God can make a way, but I’m sorry I can’t help you myself.”  As soon as I said those words in my mind, however, I felt God say, “Yes, you can help her.”  I said, “No, I can’t.”  He said, “Yes you can.”  I said, “No, I can’t!”

I had been planning this trip to Israel for the past 3 years, and our whole family had been working and saving money so that my wife and I and our four oldest kids could go with us.  We barely had enough money at that time for just one of us to go, let alone six.  So when God said I could help Esther get there, too, I really didn’t know what to do.  So I wrote back to her and said simply that I believed God could make a way, and I’d be praying along with her.

As the summer went on, I kept reading the words of Jesus to His disciples  from Matthew 14:13-21, when 5,000 people were gathered together on a hillside at dinnertime.  Jesus told His disciples: “You give them something to eat.”  I could imagine what the disciples must have felt. They said that not even eight months wages would give everyone even one bite, so how could they feed them?  All they had was five loaves of bread and two fish from a boy’s lunch.

Yet I was puzzled why Jesus would ask them to do something impossible if He didn’t think they could do it. didn’t think they could possibly do. Unless, of course, they could do it, and they just didn’t know how.  I kept asking God, “How?  How did Jesus do it?  And how can we do it when You ask us to do something that seems impossible to us?”

So I studied that passage over and over, trying to see how Jesus did it.  He simply gave thanks to God, broke the bread, and had the disciples start passing it out.  Somehow there was enough food for all 5,000 to eat till they were satisfied and still have twelve baskets full left over.

As I shared this dilemma one week with a youth group, some of them came up to me afterwards and said they’d like to help with Esther’s ticket.  I tried to decline their money, because I didn’t want them to think I was telling them the story in order for them to give money for the trip.  I was just sharing with them the puzzle of how to do what God asks us to do when we think it is impossible. Several of them insisted, however, saying that they felt God really wanted them to give the money to help with Esther’s trip.  By the end of that week, I had received just over $300—enough to make the deposit on the trip for Esther to come with us.  But I still needed more than 10 times that amount to pay for her whole trip, plus I still had to pay for my own family to go.  I didn’t tell Esther about the money yet, nor the deposit.  I just told her that I was still praying for her, and asked if she could get her passport information to me in case God were to make a way for her to come with us.

As the trip got closer, I just couldn’t let go of the idea that God wanted me to help Esther get to Israel, but I still didn’t know how.  So I sent out a note to some others who also read my weekly devotionals on the Internet, letting them know about the situation.  We received about a third of the total needed for her trip from that appeal.  Another man donated about a third of the cost to  cover her airfare from Malawi, and Lana and I put in the final third, as God was also working at the same time to help the six of us going from our family to pay for our trips, too.  I told Esther the good news, that God had made a way for her to join us.  By the time we left, everyone’s ticket was completely paid for! This was astounding!

But then we got to Israel.  We were supposed to meet Esther at the airport, as she was to arrive on a flight about twelve hours earlier.  But when we got there, we couldn’t find her.  We paged her several times over the airport intercom, we checked for phone messages and email messages, looked in all the waiting areas, but couldn’t find anything about where she might be, or if she even made it on her flights.  We finally had to leave the airport, knowing that I had at least sent her the names of the hotels where we’d be staying at before we left, and hoped that she would catch up with us.

But she didn’t. She called us the next day from an airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  Although she had made it all the way to the airport in Israel, they had denied her entry into Israel, saying that it was too questionable about how she came to know us through our Internet ministry, and why the rest of the group wasn’t there to meet her in Israel when she arrived.  Although she tried to explain it to them several times, and she was even still in the airport when our flight finally landed twelve hours later, she wasn’t allowed to call or email or make any contact with us.  (To the credit of the airport security in Israel, they run a very tight ship and for very good reasons.  We appreciate that they take their job so seriously or otherwise no one would be able to travel in and around Israel at all.)  But since Esther did not travel together with us into the country with the group, she was questioned more strictly and finally put on a plane, headed back to her home.

I couldn’t believe it when she told me the story over the phone and I began trying to think of anything else I could do.  We had come too far in getting her to this point that I didn’t want to give up on it, even though she was already headed on her flights back home, now waiting in Ethiopia to change planes back to Malawi.  I called the immigration office at the Addis Ababa airport to ask if she could be put back on the plane to Israel, that we would meet her at the airport when she arrived and try to provide whatever documents they needed to verify that she was on our tour, but they said there was nothing they could do for her.  She had been officially deported, and they were to put her on a flight back to Malawi the next morning.  After several calls to several different people at the immigration office, I couldn’t get any farther.  I went to bed that night wondering why God had brought her so far, only to have her turned back in the end.  It was 4 in the morning by this time, and I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I finally slept.

When I woke up a few hours later, I updated my wife Lana on the situation, and asked if she could think of anything else we could do.  She remembered that a friend of ours had a daughter who had just come home from serving a year in Ethiopia as a missionary, and maybe she would have a contact who could help us out.  I didn’t know what they could even do, but I felt I had to pursue any possible option that was still open to us, as I felt it was the Lord who had put it on my heart to try to get her there in the first place.  So we texted our friend’s daughter back in Chicago, who texted us back with the phone number of a pastor she knew in Addis Ababa.  I was astounded that we knew someone who knew someone who lived in Addis Ababa at all!

And I couldn’t believe it when we called him and he immediately said that he would do whatever we needed him to do, just let him know.  It was such a surprise that my wife and I both cried at the thought that someone would take a call from complete strangers and would be willing to drop everything and go to the airport right away.  He was a busy man with a large congregation and they had just gotten out of some special weekday services they were holding.  It was beyond what we could have imagined someone doing for us in this situation.  It still makes me cry to think of it—a brother in Christ willing to help out another brother, simply because we have the same Father. So he went to the airport that night, along with a pilot friend from his congregation.  Unfortunately they weren’t able to find Esther there.  We were all disappointed, but we didn’t know what else to do.

In the mean time, I had also talked to the tour company who helped us arrange the whole trip, and they said they could try to fax a letter to immigration in Addis Ababa, saying that Esther was indeed part of our tour, and that she was an invited guest as part of our group.  I called the immigration office again, saying that we’d try to get a letter to them if they could just let Esther stay at the airport another 5-6  hours, as it was the middle of the night back in the States, and the tour offices wouldn’t be open yet for another several hours.  They granted our request and didn’t make her get on the next-scheduled flight to Malawi.

So we got their fax number and the tour company tried several times to fax the letter—but the fax wouldn’t go through.  As the day went on, the rest of our group in Israel continued on with our tour, now sitting in a garden in the city of Capernaum, a site where Jesus had done some incredible miracles.  I updated the group on Esther’s situation, and we all prayed that someone would be able to get that letter through to the immigration office.  I didn’t have the heart to call the pastor in Addis Ababa again, but Lana did, so she tried to call him.  None of her calls would go through.  We sat down again and prayed.  Our time was running out.

At the very moment that we sat down to pray, my phone rang.  It was the pastor from Addis Ababa!  He said he had just been to the airport again to try one more time to find Esther, taking some of his church members with him, this time one who worked at the airport.  They had found Esther!  They were calling us to see if there was any possibility we could fax him a letter from the tour company saying that she was with our trip!  It was the very thing we were trying to do, but he didn’t know it, and I didn’t know he had gone back to the airport again! I called the tour company who found a way to finally email to the pastor, who printed it out and took it back to the immigration office at the airport.  I also instructed the tour company that if they needed to buy another ticket for Esther to get back to Israel, to go ahead and buy it and charge it to my account, up to $1,000, withhout having to try to call me.  We didn’t have time to wait for any more calls.  I just wanted the ticket waiting for her at the airport if she needed it.  I didn’t have $1,000 to spend on her ticket, but that’s the number that came into my mind while I was on the phone, and what I felt I should say.

The pastor was able to get the documents to Esther, and the immigration office said she could get on a plane back to Israel.  The tour company agency found the cheapest ticket they could—it was $992, just $8 under the limit I had given them, so they bought it and had it waiting for her at the airline counter.

As I went to bed that night, exhausted not only from the recent days’ activities, but also from the months leading up to this moment, I went to lay down and felt God said, “You passed the test.  Enjoy the rest of the trip.”  I wasn’t sure exactly what test I had passed, but I was thankful that it was all working out.  Even though Esther wasn’t yet back in Israel, I felt like I had done the utmost of what I could possibly do to get her to Israel, as God had called me to do.

The next morning, our first stop on our tour “just happened” to be the site where Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fish to feed the 5,000—the place where Jesus had told the disciples to give the people something to eat, and the passage which had so inspired me all along.  There we were standing on the same hill where that miracle from God took place.  As I was looked up the passage again to read to our group that morning, I saw that it was told in several of the gospels, so I looked at each version to see which one to read.  When I read John’s version of the story, I couldn’t believe it!  In his version, when Jesus asked Philip where they could get food for all these people to eat, John added:

“He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what He was going to do” (John 6:6).

It was a test!  And just as Jesus had tested the disciples by asking them to give the people something to eat,—when it seemed utterly impossible—God had tested me to help someone else in need when it seemed impossible, too.  And God had told me the night before that I had passed the test.  Hallelujah!  And now He had brought me to the hillside where Jesus had given the disciples their test!  God couldn’t have spoken more clearly to me if He had appeared in front of my eyes!

Later that afternoon, Esther arrived again at the airport in Israel, and this time she was allowed to enter the country.  (The security people at the airport had asked her, “Why have you come back again when someone who is deported isn’t allowed to attempt to come back into the country again for five years, and now you’re trying to come back after only three days later!”  Had I known that, I don’t know that I would have even tried to get her back in.  Only God could have opened that door for her to return!)  She met us at the hotel for dinner that night.

Over dinner with our group, Esther and I shared with each other all that God had been doing to make this moment possible.  And that’s when the real clincher came.

Esther told me that from the very first day that I responded to her email, saying that I felt God could make a way for her to visit Israel someday, she said God spoke to her and told her she’d be coming this year, with us.  Even when she was being turned away at the airport, she said she was praising God, that those had been the best few days of her life so far.  Her mom had even called me during all of this to say that she wasn’t discouraged, that they were just going to thank God in all things in order to shame the devil.  Esther said that from the very beginning, when she first started thinking about the trip, she wanted to pray that God would make a way for her to go, but that God had stopped her from praying.  She said that God told her not to pray for the trip, but to simply give thanks for it.  She was puzzled, but did what God said.  In fact, as time went on she was tempted to ask others to start praying for her to be able to go on the trip, too, but that God had stopped her from telling even one person about the trip or to pray for her, but simply to continue to give thanks for it.  She said she didn’t feel she was supposed to tell anyone about the trip until it was set.  When she got my email asking for her passport information, and before I had even told her that people had begun to give money for her to come, she said she knew on that day that everything was set, and she could finally begin telling others about it.

I was stunned by what she said.  Wasn’t that exactly what Jesus did on the hillside when He multiplied the loaves and the fish?  He simply gave thanks to God, broke the bread, and asked the disciples pass it out.  He didn’t plead for it, He just gave thanks for it!  I looked at Esther and thanked her for being obedient to what God had told her to do.  It had spoken volumes to me, answering a question that had been on my heart for months as I studied that passage trying to see what Jesus had done.  I told her what God said to me about passing the test, and that I felt that she had passed her test, too ,because of her obedience.  We both knew that while God would still use the rest of the trip to speak to us in many ways, that He had already done His greatest work in us already, that of increasing our faith in Him.

As if to confirm all that had just happened that day, when I got back to my hotel room that night and having shared all of this with Esther—even the part about authorizing the purchase of her second ticket for anything up to $1,000 when I didn’t know how I’d be able to pay for it—I checked my email before heading for bed.  In my inbox was a note saying that a friend of ours back in the States had unexpectedly made an online donation of $1,000 to our ministry while we were at dinner that night!  It was as if God were putting the icing on the cake, covering even the final detail of her trip.

I still don’t know how to interpret it all.  On the one hand, it seems it wouldn’t have happened had we not prayed fervently and worked feverishly towards the goal, even day and night near the end.  But on the other hand, God wanted to teach us something through what He called Esther to do:  to simply give thanks for what He was going to give her.  Or as my wife said while we were going through the whole ordeal, she felt that we were like the workers who helped to dig Hezekiah’s tunnel to bring water into the City of David.  One team started digging from one side, and the other team started digging from the other side, and miraculously both teams were able to meet in the middle to complete the tunnel!

In any case, I hope that God will speak to you through at least some portion of this story.  And for some reason, I don’t think this is the end of the story.  It could very well be the beginning of some new ones!  Thanks again for joining us on this incredible trip to the Holy Land!

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for all the remarkable things we’ve learned from this trip to the Holy Land, and all the remarkable things you still want us to learn in the future.  Give us the faith to step out and trust you completely for everything in our lives, giving You thanks, even in advance, for Your love and faithfulness to us.  Thank You for sending Your Son to lead us in Your ways, and keep giving us the faith we need to follow Him every day, until one day He leads us on into heaven.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 28: What Happened At The Upper Room?

The Upper Room is perhaps best known as the location of Jesus’ last supper with His disciples.  But something else happened in the Upper Room just fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, something Jesus told them to expect and to wait for.  To find out what happened, take a look at this short video below.  Then read on to find out what God wants you to do with all the things that you’ve learned about Him!

So what happened at the Upper Room?  That’s where the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost.  God’s Spirit flowed into the people gathered there, causing them to praise God in all kinds of languages.  As a result of this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, over 3,000 people put their faith in Christ.

It wasn’t something that Peter and the other disciples could have done on their own, but God used their voices to reach out to people, who came from all over the world at the time, so that they could hear all that Christ had done for them.

After Jesus rose from the dead, He appeared again to the disciples and over five hundred others throughout Jerusalem for a period of forty days.  On one of these occasions, Jesus said:

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift My Father promised, which you have heard Me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. … You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:4-5, 8).

So when Jesus went up into heaven, the disciples went back to the room where they were staying.  Luke called it an “upper room” (Acts 1:13, KJV), just as he had done when describing the place where they had eaten their last supper (see Luke 22:12).  It was here, apparently, that:

“They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:14).

About ten days later, on the fiftieth day since Jesus rose from the dead (and the day of Pentecost, which comes from the Greek word for “fifty”), God sent His Holy Spirit, just as Jesus promised:

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1).

As they spoke, others began to hear them praising God in their own languages, people from all different parts of the world who had come to Jerusalem for the festivals.  Some were amazed, but others thought they had just been drinking too much wine.

Peter, who had denied Jesus just a few weeks earlier, stood up with the other disciples, and spoke to the crowd:

“Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say.  These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!” (Acts 2:14-15).

He went on to say that this was the work of the Holy Spirit, whom the prophet Joel said would be poured out on the people in the last days.

Peter spoke about Jesus and how, even though Jesus had done many signs and wonders and miracles in their presence, they still handed Him over to be crucified.  After telling them at length from the Scriptures who Jesus was and what they had done to Him, they were all cut to the heart.  They cried out to Peter and the other apostles:

“Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day (Acts 2:37-41).

It’s a powerful story on many fronts:

  • What Jesus said would happen did happen,
  • The same Peter who denied Jesus earlier now proclaimed His name to thousands,
  • The Spirit came in a way that was both astounding and perplexing to those who saw it,
  • About 3,000 put their faith in Christ and were baptized in a single day.

And that was just the beginning.  In the days that followed, the disciples continued to do more wonders and miraculous signs:

“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b).

Soon, those who followed Christ were taking the gospel beyond Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth, just as Jesus said they would.

What does this all mean to you?  Well, if you’ve never put your faith in Christ, do it today, just like those who heard the message on the day of Pentecost did!  And if you’ve already put your faith in Christ, tell others about it so they can put their faith in Christ, too!

When we were in Israel, we had a local Israeli guide who took us from place to place and taught us many things about the places that we were seeing.  On the final day, our guide said, “Today, my job is finished.  Tomorrow, yours begins.  Your job is to go back and tell others what you have learned.”

Isn’t that the way God loves to work?  God could, if He wanted to, put some kind of cosmic loud speakers in the sky, telling everyone that He exists, that He loves them, and that He wants them to leave their sins and come back into a relationship with Him.  (And in many ways, He has already done this—see Psalm 19:1-4 or Romans 1:18-20.)

But God’s preferred method is to use the voices of people—yours and mine—to tell others about His love for them, and to share with them everything they have heard and learned and known to be true.

As we near the end of this devotional tour of Israel, I wanted to remind you of why God wanted to teach you all that you’ve learned about Him so far.  First of all, it’s for you, so that You will know Him better and fall in love with Him more deeply.  But secondly, it’s for you to share with others, so they may know Him better and fall in love with Him more deeply, too.

As our Israeli guide said to us, I want to say to you:  “Today, my job ends.  Tomorrow, yours begins!” If you’re not sure how to share what you’ve learned with others, here are a few ideas.

1) Ask God to pour out His Holy Spirit upon you in ways that you may have never known before, so that You can proclaim His name to those around you.  How can this help?  The same way it helped Peter, who went from being afraid to even tell anyone that He knew Christ to being able to proclaim His name before thousands.

2) Study your Bible deeply, every day, so that you may know with confidence the truth of what you believe.  Find a good study Bible, with footnotes and commentary if possible, to help you grow in the knowledge of all that God wants to say to you.  Remember, too, that it’s not just a time to study, but a time to spend with the One who created you, who knows you best, and who loves you more than anyone else in the world.

3) Start sharing what you’ve learned so far about Christ.  Whether it’s sharing a simple comment or two on someone’s Facebook page about God’s love for them, or taking an evangelism class at a local church so that you can sharpen what and how you share with others, look for and take the opportunities God gives you to let others know about your own relationship with Him so that they can grow in their relationship with Him.

4) Share the messages in this book with others!  Point them to our website at, or give them copies of this book!  These resources were created to help bring the Bible to life for as many as people as possible.

While I loved going to Israel so that I could learn more about Christ for myself,   I also loved going to Israel so that I could share more about Christ with others.  My prayer is that you will do the same.

Whether you go to Israel in person, or experience it through the Bible and books like these, I pray that you will be filled with God’s Holy Spirit to the point of overflowing, so that whatever God pours out onto you will be flow out onto to others, bringing joy and life to you, to them, and to the God who created us all.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for pouring out Your Holy Spirit on those who gathered together for prayer in Jerusalem.  We pray that You will pour out Your Holy Spirit on us again today so that we may lead others into a deeper relationship with You as well.  Give us the wisdom to do it, the courage to do it, and the way to do it.  Then help us take the steps of faith we need to take to proclaim Your name throughout the earth.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 27: What Happened At Golgotha?

Golgotha means “the place of the skull.”  It’s not a very happy-sounding name, and what took place here was most likely even more gruesome than the name suggests.  But on the other hand, what took place here at Golgotha is what has made it the holiest site in all of Christendom.  To find out what happened here, and why it matters to so many people, take a look at this short video below. Then read on to find out how God can use the sadness of what happened at Golgotha to bring incredible joy to your life today.

So what happened at Golgotha?  That’s where Jesus died, was buried, and rose again again from the dead.

When Jesus was arrested and sentenced to death, He and those who were to be executed with Him walked through the streets of Jerusalem, carrying their crosses when they could, and having others carry their crosses for them when they couldn’t.  Eventually they came to the execution site.  The Bible says:

They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, He refused to drink it. When they had crucified Him, they divided up His clothes by casting lots.  And sitting down, they kept watch over Him there (Matthew 26:33-36).

Golgotha was undoubtedly a horrific place, just outside the walls of the city at the time of Christ.  It seems to have gotten its name either because of all the crucifixions that took place there, or because the hill itself actually resembled a skull.  Either way, the hill called Golgotha was a picture of death.

But the day that Christ died there, something changed.  When Christ died on the cross, Golgotha became a picture of life, filled with the beauty of sacrificial love.

There’s a song that explains how Golgotha—and the cross of Christ—could come to represent such an unusual mixture of death and life.  George Bennard said it this way in his song, The Old Rugged Cross:

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
the emblem of suffering and shame;

and I love that old cross where the dearest
and best for a world of lost sinners was slain.

In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see,
for ‘twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died, to pardon and sanctify me.

This is why crosses are so prevalent in jewelry, churches, and other holy places.  It’s not because Christians have some perverse fascination with death, like wearing little guillotines around their necks on a chain.  Jesus didn’t express His love to us by dying on a guillotine.  He expressed it by dying on a cross.  And it’s the love that Christ expressed for us when He died on the cross that we celebrate as Christians, and that’s why we make so much of His cross.

It is both an “emblem of suffering and shame,” and also a “wondrous beauty” to behold, all at the same time.

There are two spots in Jerusalem that are considered potential locations of Christ’s crucifixion.  One is the Garden Tomb, which was discovered in 1848 and which I highlighted in the introduction of this book.  The other is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (“sepulchre” means “tomb” in Latin), and has been the traditional site of the crucifixion since the 1st and 2nd century.  Today I’d like to focus on the the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

For those interested, the church itself was first built and dedicated in 335 A.D. by Helena, the mother of Constantine, after she had been shown this site by the believers in Jerusalem at that time.  The church has undergone many changes over the years, but the location has remained the same.

When I walked into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the first time, and up the stairs to the right that led to the top of the small hill called Golgotha over which the church was built, I was overcome with emotion.  It wasn’t because of anything I saw there—for it was filled with candles and tourists and objects that glittered with gold.  I was overcome with emotion because of what had happened there.

I dropped to my knees.  I thanked God for all He had done for me there.  And I cried.

I knew that Jesus wasn’t the One who should have died on the cross that day.  He was totally innocent.  It should have been me.  It was me who had sinned, and it was me who should have had to pay the price for those sins.  But Jesus did it for me, of His own free will, as a demonstration of His love for me.

He could have called twelve legions of angels to rescue Him if He had wanted, as He told Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane (see Matthew 26:53).  But He didn’t.

The fact that Jesus stepped in to pay for my sins with His life has been, and still is, the greatest expression of love I have ever felt in my life.  While others have loved me dearly, like my family and friends, Jesus is the only one who could have stepped in and did for me what He did: fully forgiving me of my sins.

When I got back up from my knees, I walked downstairs again and to the other side of the massive church, to the spot where they believe Jesus was buried in a tomb nearby.  The walls and ceiling of the tomb have been destroyed over the years, as the church has changed hands and been ransacked many times since then.  Only a plain slab of rock remains of the place where they believe He was lain, and that is housed in a small chapel under the great dome of the church.

While there’s little to see there, of course, for neither Christ nor much of the tomb are there, the site is vivid enough in the memories of those who are familiar with the story to recreate in their minds the scene of what happened there.  As it says in the Bible:

“Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19:38-42).

And then, a few days later:

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him.’ Now I have told you” (Matthew 28:1-7).

So you can see why this place has become such a sacred spot to those who claim Jesus as their Lord.  While the ravages of time, battles, earthquakes, and fires have taken their toll on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the events that made this place so holy are no less compelling today than they were when they first took place.

It is not the church itself that has brought millions of people like me here to visit it.  It is the realization that what happened here was real, and that God really did love us so much that He sent His one and only Son to die for us so that we could put our faith in Him and live forever.

As incredible it is to be able to be able to go to Jerusalem and touch the ground where Jesus died and rose again, if there was one thing that I could encourage you to do in your lifetime, it wouldn’t be to go to Jerusalem.  It would be to go to Jesus, to put your faith in Him who died on the cross for your sins, rose again from the dead, and who now calls you to live your life for Him, following Him here on earth and on into heaven.

If there’s sin in your life, drop it now at the foot of His cross.  If you’re involved in lying or stealing, gossiping or cheating, pre-marital or extra-marital or any other kind of sinful sex, turn away from it today and turn back again.  If you’re burying your gifts in the sand, saving them for no one and nothing in particular, dig them out and put them to work for the kingdom of God.  You’ll be blessed when you do and so will those around you.

Most of all, you’ll be able to express your love back to Christ , the One who expressed His love for you—and for all to see—there on the hill called Golgotha.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for sending Jesus to die for our sins, and for giving us the chance to be forgiven when we put our faith in Him.  Thank You for filling us with Your Holy Spirit, to enable us to do the work here on earth that You’ve called us to do.  And thank You for promising to take us to be with You in heaven when our life on earth is over, where we can live with You forever.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 26: What Happened On The Via Dolorosa?

The Via Dolorosa is a path that winds its way through the streets of Jerusalem, and upon which millions have walked over the years.  Why?  Because another Man walked this path one day—the most painful day of His life.  To see what the path looks like today, and find out why it’s called the Via Dolorosa, take a look at this short video below.  Then read on to find out how God can give you the strength to get through the painful days in your life as well.

So what happened on the Via Dolorosa?  That’s the path that Jesus took as He carried His cross to His crucifixion.

The words “via dolorosa” are Latin for “the way of suffering.”  And while the Via Dolorosa is a path that many people have taken over the years, not many people ever really want to take the “way of suffering” in life.  Suffering goes against human nature, and pain is usually a God-given indicator to let you know that something is wrong and needs to be fixed.

But there are times when God may call you to take a path that leads directly into pain—not because He wants you to suffer, but because He has something better in mind for you on the other side of the pain.

Examples abound:

– Like a pregnant woman who has to endure nine months of labor and the pain of childbirth in order to experience the joy of holding her newborn baby in her arms,

– Or like a teenage girl who has to break up with her boyfriend because she wants to remain pure for her future husband,

– Or like a man with a gash in his arm who has to endure the cleansing and stitching of the wound so that his flesh can eventually be healed.

Jesus showed us the key to making it through times of suffering like these:  by keeping your eyes on the prize.  As the Bible says:

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3).

It was for the joy set before Jesus that He was able to endure the cross.  If there was any other way, Jesus would have taken it.  He said as much in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He had to walk down the Via Dolorosa.  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 25:42).

While none of us wants to enter into pain and suffering voluntarily—not even Jesus—He showed us how to do it when the time comes for us to enter into it.

He kept His eyes on the prize.  When the guards came to take Him away, He went.  When they asked Him to carry His cross, He carried it.  And when He could carry it no longer by Himself, God sent someone else to carry it for Him:

“Carrying His own cross, He went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha)”. (John 19:17).  “As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross” (Matthew 27:32).

You can still see the place marked on the Via Dolorosa where Simon of Cyrene may have taken up Jesus’ cross for Him.  It’s one of fourteen “stations of the cross” that are marked out along the path, stations that are replicated in many churches throughout the world.  If people want to remember all that Jesus did for them in those last few hours of His life, they can walk around the perimeter of the church and stop to meditate at any of these fourteen stations, just as they can on the real Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem.

Walking along the Via Dolorosa is a reminder not only of the suffering that Jesus endured for us, but also of the suffering that He sometimes calls us to endure for Him.  As Jesus told His disciples:

“If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

Although no one ever wants to suffer, Jesus’ words are a reminder that some things are worth suffering for, that there is a prize awaiting those who endure it to the end, and that God wants you to have it.

The best way to go through suffering is to make sure you set your eyes on the prize.  But it’s also important to make sure you’re setting your eyes on the right prize.  There’s nothing worse than enduring pain and suffering, only to find that what you’ve been waiting for all along has been lost in the process.

If your hope is set on having the perfect family, and then something happens to destroy that perfection, you’ll be disappointed.  If you’re working your hardest to get a promotion, then the promotion doesn’t come, you’ll be upset.  If you give up your dreams in order to help someone else fulfill theirs, but then they blow it and waste all that you’ve given up for them, you might wonder if it was worth it.

Sometimes these disappointments come because our eyes weren’t on the right prize in the first place.  Even Peter, who may have expected Jesus to ride into Jerusalem, overthrow the Romans and setup His new kingdom, was willing to die for Jesus as He ascended to His throne.  But when Peter found out that Jesus had been arrested, and was likely going to be sentenced to death, his disappointment was evident.  Instead of standing up for Jesus anymore, he denied that he even knew him.  Perhaps it was because his eyes were on the wrong prize for the moment.

But God honored Peter still, just like He honors all those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.  He eventually showed Peter that Jesus reigned in a kingdom whose authority went beyond Jerusalem, beyond the Romans, and extended over the entire earth.  It was better than Peter could have ever expected.  We’re told that Peter eventually did give up his life for Jesus, being crucified on a cross upside-down.  But this time he had his eyes on the right prize, and he was willing to walk down the path of suffering to get it.

As much as God wants to relieve you of much of the suffering you’ll face in life,  He also wants you to know that some things are achieved only by going through it.

God wants you to trust Him.  He wants you to trust that He is able to do “immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20a).  Keep your eyes on the prize, and if you can’t see the prize, then keep your eyes on Jesus.  In the end, it will all be worth it.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for Jesus’ example, that we can follow in His steps.  Help us to trust that the suffering in our life is worth it, when we entrust our lives completely to You.  Help us to take up our cross daily and be willing to die for you, so that we can find the life that You’ve wanted us to have all along.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Lesson 25: What Happened At The House Of Caiaphas?

Caiaphas was the high priest at the time when Jesus was betrayed, and it was to Caiaphas’ house that Jesus was brought and accused of blasphemy against God.  To see the dungeon of this house, and the adjoining pit where prisoners were lowered into by a rope to prevent them from escaping, take a look at this short video below.  Then read on to find out what else happened that night at Caiaphas’ house, and how God can restore, redeem, and forgive you, too, if you’ve ever felt that you’ve done something against Him.

So what happened at the House of Caiaphas?  That’s where Peter denied Jesus three times.

After Jesus was betrayed by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane, the guards brought Jesus to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest.  Jesus was taken inside and tried for blasphemy, while Peter waited in the courtyard outside to find out what was going to happen.

But while Peter was waiting, some people in the crowd recognized him as having been with Jesus.  Apparently overcome by fear, Peter denied that he even knew Jesus, not just once or twice, but three times.  The Bible says:

Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee” she said.

But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.

Then he went out to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”

After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.”

Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” (Matthew 26:69-74).

This was, perhaps, the worst night in Jesus’ life.  But it was also probably the worst night in Peter’s life as well.  When Peter realized what he had done, the Bible says, “he went outside and wept bitterly.”

Looking back on the situation, we can forgive Peter for what he did that night—for under the same circumstances, who knows what any of us might have done?  And yet I think it would have been harder for Peter to forgive himself.  For it was Peter who, just a few hours earlier, at the Passover dinner, said to Jesus:

“Even if all fall away on account of You, I never will…. Even if I have to die with You, I will never disown You” (Matthew 26: 33, 35).

But Jesus knew what Peter was going to do, and mercifully He told Peter ahead of time, speaking words of restoration to Peter even before he sinned.  What a gracious Friend and Lord.

Here’s what Jesus said to Peter, also known as Simon, earlier in the night:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31, 32).

Jesus knew that all the disciples would fall away from Him that night, including Peter.  But Jesus came to Peter specifically to let him know that He was praying for Him that his faith wouldn’t fail.  Then He encouraged Peter to strengthen his brothers when he did turn back.

A church has now been built over the House of Caiaphas.  It has been named in honor of Saint Peter and is called “The Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu”—although I’m not sure that Peter would prefer the honor, since “gallicantu” means “cock-crow” in Latin, a reminder of the words Jesus spoke to Peter earlier that night:

“I tell you the truth, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times” (Matthew 26:34).

But then again, Peter may truly appreciate the honor, for even though it showed his weakness, it also showed Christ’s strength:  to restore those who have fallen far, far from their faith.  Jesus’ restoration of Peter continued a short time later on the beach at the Sea of Galilee when, after Jesus died and rose again from the dead, He appeared yet again to the disciples.

Taking Peter aside for a very personal conversation, Jesus asked Peter three times if Peter loved Him.  The Bible says:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” 

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “You know that I love You.” 

Jesus said, “Feed My lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” 

He answered, “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You.” 

Jesus said, “Take care of My sheep.”

The third time He said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”

Jesus said, “Feed My sheep” (John 21:15-17).

It’s as if Jesus was giving Peter a chance to redeem himself, saying that He loved Jesus three times, perhaps to counteract the three times had Peter denied Him.  And the restoration took hold, for Peter went on to feed Jesus’ sheep in a powerful way, leading the church in Jerusalem for the rest of his life, proclaiming Jesus’ name everywhere he went, and facing threats of death without fear from those who opposed his message.

Perhaps you’ve felt like Peter before on the night that he denied Jesus.  Perhaps you’ve felt you’ve done something so horrible, at least in your mind, that you believe Jesus could never forgive you.  Maybe you’ve cheated or lied or stolen.  Maybe you’ve had an affair or betrayed your family or friends.  Maybe you’ve denied Christ in ways that only you and He could fully comprehend.

If so, you might wonder if Jesus could ever forgive you, restore you, and use you ever again.

If that’s the case, I want to remind you today that Jesus knew about Peter’s sins even before he committed them.  And He knows about yours and mine.  And still, He was willing to die for Peter and you and me, even while we were still involved in our sins.  That’s the way that the Bible says God demonstrates His love for us:

“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

If you’re wrestling with the idea of forgiveness, and whether or not God can or will forgive you of your sins, I pray today that God will show you His unsurpassing love.  I pray that these words from the Bible will wash over you.  And I pray that you’ll know that if you ask God for forgiveness, and put your faith in Christ, that He will indeed forgive you, removing your sins from you as far as the east is from the west, and remembering them no more.

As the Bible says:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

“…as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12).

While the House of Caiaphas may stand as a reminder of Peter’s worst possible sin in his life, it also stands as a beacon of hope for all those need a reminder that Christ can restore, redeem, and forgive them, too.

Let’s pray:

Father, thank You for making a way for us to come back to You when we’ve sinned.  Give us the boldness to come back to You again today, leaving our past behind, and walking ahead in the calling that You have on each one of our lives.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

You're reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ISRAEL: LESSONS FROM THE HOLY LAND, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the land where Jesus walked. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!