by: Braz Kennedy
I promise not to be one of “those guys” who spends the rest of his life talking about about “that one church trip” he went on… but the Israel Study Tour that was the focus of my last blog post did provide plenty of insight and lots of highly bloggable material that I’d like to share if you’ll bear with me for another post.
Over the course of the tour, we visited many different sites where significant Biblical events are said to have taken place. Our confidence in each site’s historical claim was dependent on the evidence available to support it (and also based on what our tour guide told us). Sites like the former location of the temple in Jerusalem, the Western Wall, some ancient synagogues, along with a few other locations, we can be certain about. Some sites, like the location of Jesus’ tomb, and Mt. Carmel (Elijah/Baal prophet showdown) we can be confident but not certain about. And other sites, like Caiaphas’ house (where Peter denies Jesus three times), Golgotha, and where Jesus is said to have performed certain acts and miracles are pretty iffy, or there are two or three legitimate options for each one.
It’s a very encouraging thing to know or be confident that a Biblical event actually happened in a specific place, and we know where that is. It allows you to read your Bible with more context and can serve as an opportunity to build your faith in God’s Word. While that may be the case for some, a real danger exists in ascribing religious value to a location… even though God has done miraculous things in many real places, we tend to act like that one place where God did a miracle 2500 years ago, that’s where He still is right now… What happens as a result of that thinking is that we start to worship places and things instead of the One who performed or empowered the miracles in the first place.
There were many examples of this in “The Holy Land,” especially around the Mt. of Olives and Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was probably the most blatant example. There, people would come in and be presented with a slab of limestone that Jesus is said to have been laid on in the tomb (not possible due to the Romans’ effort to stamp out Christianity by destroying the tomb and everything in it). The slab was on a cart that has incense hanging on it. People would come and instead of thinking “maybe Jesus was on this slab…but He’s not anymore, I should go tell people about that!” They would kiss it, and wash it with rose water, and dab at it with cloths to soak of a tiny amount of Jesus’ blood to take with them back home. It’s as though they forgot that Jesus is not there anymore…
Matthew’s account of the Great Commission (Matt 28:20) ends with the great comfort: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Notice He did not say “behold, I am always in my tomb, to the end of the age” or “I am always on the Mt. of Olives, to the end of the age” or “I am always in your church building…” or even “I am only with preachers…” Jesus gave us the great comfort that He is with US to the end of the age.
We call places that Biblical events occurred “holy” sites. The truth is that there actually were legitimately holy places at one point. God commanded the construction of the tabernacle which had both “The Holy Place” and “The Holy of Holies.” He also commanded the construction of the Temple, which was designed similarly to the tabernacle (but not made for mobility). These are places that God declared holy and set standards for entry and rules for what must go inside. All of that was fulfilled in Jesus. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that there is no patch of dirt or physical location that is holy ground anymore. There is still a temple though… 1 Corinthians 3:16 says “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
Christian, what the Apostle Paul is saying there is that YOU are the temple! You are the only holy ground that still exists on planet Earth. God is present inside you. Jesus is with you to the end of the age.
What this means is that we can enjoy historical sites, let them change the way we interact with the text of God’s Word, and even be emotionally impacted by them, but we do not worship them because God is not contained there, He lives inside you.
In your daily life, this means that your ultimate goal should not be to get unsaved friends in the doors of your church… You are free and empowered to go BE THE CHURCH TO THEM! The mission of islandCHURCH is to connect unchurched people to the presence of God through the people of God. Are you living on mission?