June 9 – Trip to the Holy Land – The Southern Steps

DAY 28 – THE SOUTHERN STEPS

Theme: The Holy Spirit

Read Acts 2:1-41

I love walking in authentic places in Israel. So much of the history of the land lies hidden beneath church buildings and shrines built through the ages. Therefore, it’s refreshing to walk along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and imagine Jesus preparing breakfast for his disciples. It’s fascinating to climb the slopes of the Herodian and look down toward the same fields where angels appeared to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth.

I have that same feeling when I visit the southern steps of the Temple Mount. Nobody has built a shrine or a church there. Repairs have been done to some of the steps, but many stones remain undisturbed for the last 2000 years since Jesus walked, taught, and performed miracles there.

It’s not difficult to imagine throngs of people ascending those steps each year at one of the three major Jewish festivals to offer their animals in sacrifice. Thousands of people would flock to Jerusalem from all over the world to celebrate the work of God on behalf of his people during Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.

One year at Pentecost, the Spirit of God did something miraculous on those steps. The Book of Acts tells us the disciples had gathered a few hundred yards away in the Upper Room following the resurrection of Jesus to “wait for the gift” he promised. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit came on them, a violent wind came from heaven, and tongues of fire appeared to rest on each of them.

They made their way toward the Temple and were supernaturally empowered to preach in foreign languages they had never previously known. People who had come from all over the world to offer sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem heard the disciples “declaring the wonders of God” in their own languages (Acts 2:11).

Finally, Peter raised his voice above the clamoring throng and proclaimed the truth about Jesus. 3000 people became followers of Christ that day, and the Church was born!  The Bible even says that “those who accepted his message were baptized…” (Acts 2:41a).

But wait… where did they get all the water for baptism?  Archaeological excavations near the southern steps have revealed mikvahs or ritual baths that were used to prepare the people as they brought their animals to the temple. Apparently those same ritual baths were used for baptizing new converts to Jesus Christ on the Day of Pentecost.

And here is better news… The same Spirit of God who empowered believers in those early days of the Church is available to you and me. Today, the Holy Spirit baptizes us into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13), seals us forever with the guarantee of our redemption (Ephesians 1:13–14) and convicts us of sin (John 16:8).

Whatever you need today for life and godliness has been already provided by the Presence of God in your life as He reveals the Truth of God to you (2 Peter 1:3).

Prayer of reflection:  Thank you, Holy Spirit, for your presence in my life.  I surrender to your control today and ask you to guide my thoughts, attitudes and actions.

Bob Fetterhoff

Posted in Acts, Trip to the Holy Land | Leave a comment

June 8 – Trip to the Holy Land – Mount of Ascension

DAY 27 – MT OF ASCENSION

Theme: Anticipation

Read Acts 1:1-11

(click here for original photo)

A while ago, I met my wife, Roxanne, at an airport following almost a month of traveling separately. Between our family needs and ministry responsibilities, we were eager to see each other again.

I still remember what it felt like to stand at the airport waiting to see her. Each time passengers would step off the tram from the secure area of the terminal, I got out of my chair to see if she was in that group. I checked the face of every passenger, longing to see my sweetheart.  Even though we were about to celebrate our 42nd wedding anniversary, I must have looked like a teenager waiting for his girlfriend as I jumped up-and-down whenever a new tram arrived.

That experience reminds me of what occurred on the Mount of Olives following the resurrection of the Lord 2000 years ago. Just before Jesus returned to heaven, He gave his followers these instructions: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 – NLT).

The great historian, Dr. Luke, details for us what happened next: “After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “Why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” (Acts 1:9—11 – NLT).

Talk about an exit strategy! The Bible emphasizes that we should eagerly anticipate the return of Christ for us as His Bride. I love these words: “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20 NIV).

You don’t have to jump out of your chair every few minutes to “eagerly await” the return of Christ. But God does call us to live expectantly in light of His soon return.

Prayer of reflection:  Thank you, Jesus, that you will return for your Bride someday.  Please help me to live in light of how that return could happen today.

Bob Fetterhoff

Posted in Acts, Trip to the Holy Land | Leave a comment

June 7 – Trip to the Holy Land – The Garden Tomb

DAY 26 – THE GARDEN TOMB

Theme: The Resurrection of Christ

Read Matthew 28:1-10

A favorite spot for many Christians who visit the Holy Land is the Garden Tomb. Dozens of groups enjoy communion each day in this peaceful setting in the middle of the noisy streets of Jerusalem and next to a bus station.

This beautiful garden provides a wonderful reminder of the resurrection of our Lord.  The location includes a very old tomb, even though it may not be the original tomb of Jesus.

In fact, there are many empty tombs around Jerusalem because grave robbers have stolen the contents of those tombs over the centuries.  Therefore, the greatest argument for the resurrection of Jesus is not an empty tomb, because there are many in this vicinity. The greatest argument for the resurrection of Jesus is that a dead man came out of one of those tombs and appeared to His followers who had seen him die.

Those followers feared Jewish and Roman authorities who might accuse them of being insurrectionists. Nearly all the followers of Jesus deserted Him when He died.  Thomas even said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:24 – NIV).

It didn’t take long for the Resurrected Christ to meet that challenge. “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:26-28 -NIV).

It’s almost as if Jesus said to Thomas, “OK, big guy, let me prove that I’m alive. Go ahead and touch my hands and my side.”

But that wasn’t the only appearance of the Lord following his resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15 summarizes those appearances: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born” 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 NIV.

It’s one thing to die as a martyr for something you believe to be true. It’s an entirely different thing to die for a lie. Those whimpering cowards were transformed into bold proclaimers of the Gospel all because of one thing: They saw a dead man walking! They were accused of “turning the world upside down” with their message because they had seen their crucified Lord alive.

The late Chuck Colson often told about his role in the Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration. As the secrets of Watergate unraveled, the president’s closest advisers tried to deceive the American public about the truth. Even though they were charged with protecting the most powerful man in the world, they couldn’t endure “living a lie” – even for a few weeks.

If the disciples of Jesus had only devised a plan to deceive others about Christ’s apparent resurrection, how long do you think their little scheme would have lasted? How could they have faced martyrdom unless they had been radically changed by the post-resurrection appearance of a Man they saw die? For 2,000 years, their transformed lives have stood as a powerful testimony for the greatest miracle the world has ever witnessed!

Prayer of reflection:  Thank you, Lord Jesus, that you conquered death through your resurrection.  Help me to live in light of the “power of your resurrection.”

Bob Fetterhoff

Posted in Matthew, Trip to the Holy Land | Leave a comment

June 6 – Trip to the Holy Land – The Church of the Holy Sepuchler

DAY 25 – THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHER

Theme: Hope

Read 1 Corinthians 15:12-28

In his book, The Power to Change Your Life, Rick Warren tells about researchers at Cornell University who studied 25,000 prisoners from World War II.  They concluded that a person can handle almost anything if he has hope.  No wonder Samuel Johnson wrote, “The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope.”

It was hopelessness that characterized the disciples of the Lord following his crucifixion.  Yet on that first Easter, Jesus conquered life’s greatest enemy, and they were filled with hope.

A visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher depicts that hope.  Pilgrims often stand in line for hours to get a glimpse of Calvary or the tomb which may have contained the body of the Risen Lord.   Those locations are separated by only a few paces, but they reveal the gulf between hopelessness and hope.

I’ve often seen visitors lying on the ground weeping in those rooms.  At first, that seemed like an odd reaction.  Then I realized those are not tears of sorrow.  They are tears of joy and gratitude for all that Jesus has accomplished for us.

At the southern tip of Africa, there is a cape.  When it was first discovered, it was called the Cape of Storms.  Sailors feared to cross it because of the severity of the storms.

Vasco de Gama eventually ventured across.  For a few knots, he encountered turbulent storms, but not for long.  Beyond the storms was a great calm.  From then on, the name was changed to the Cape of Good Hope.

That is what Jesus did to the grave.  In fact, Paul argues that, if Christ is not alive, we have no hope. “And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:17,20 –NLT).

If Jesus is not alive, we have no hope for this world. The trajectory for this world continues down a steep decline without any hope for the future.  But Jesus is alive! And “Because he lives, we can face tomorrow.” We can overcome heartache, difficulties, adversity, and even death because the living Christ provides confidence that the grave is not final. He has conquered life‘s greatest enemy. There is hope for this life and the life to come because Jesus lives!

Peter summarizes all this: “Praise be to the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you“ (1 Peter 1:3-5 – NIV).

Prayer of reflection:  Thank you, Lord, that I can face whatever comes in this world because you have conquered Life’s Greatest Enemy.

Bob Fetterhoff

Posted in 1 Corinthians, Trip to the Holy Land | Leave a comment

June 5 – Trip to the Holy Land – Beneath Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

DAY 24 – BENEATH CALVARY IN THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHER

Theme: Mercy & Grace

Read Ephesians 2:1-10

(click here for original picture/licensing)

Of all the places we visit on a trip to the Holy Land, this is my favorite. It lies deep within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in a cave at bedrock and beneath the traditional location for Calvary.

Most tour groups don’t go anywhere near the spot.  But I like to bring groups here, or come here alone.  There’s nothing glamorous about it.

Many stand in long lines for small chapels within the Church just to see the traditional locations of the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. Some people kiss the stones which mark those spots. Others fall on their faces & lie on the ground in an act of reverence.  These places evoke such deep emotions for those who visit.

I prefer to walk down a few dozen steps to what feels like the basement of the church. Instead of frightful memories about dark church basements I experienced as a boy, great words of an old song always flood my mind in that ancient cave.  “Mercy there was great and grace was free. Pardon there was multiplied to me. There my burdened soul found liberty – at Calvary.”  This place always brings me to tears.  All that is true because of the cross!

“Mercy is great!” God does not give us what we deserve. That’s mercy. We deserve His justice and condemnation. Instead – He gives us repeated opportunities to respond to His offer of forgiveness. Titus 3:5 declares: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to His mercy, He saved us ….” (Titus 3:5 – NIV).

“And grace was free!” As someone said, “It might be free, but it’s not cheap.” It cost Jesus His life! Because of the death of Jesus, God gives us what we don’t deserve – eternity in heaven with Him. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “It is by grace through faith we have been saved” (Ephesians 2:8).

A different song comes to mind: “Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, freely bestowed on all who believe.  You who are longing to see his face, will you this moment his grace receive?”

Prayer of reflection:  Thank you, Lord, for your marvelous mercy and grace revealed in Christ Jesus.  Help me today to live in light of those great gifts you have provided through Him.

Bob Fetterhoff

Posted in Ephesians, Trip to the Holy Land | Leave a comment

June 4 – Trip to the Holy Land – Gethsemane

DAY 23 – GETHSEMANE

Theme: Agony

Read Matthew 26:36-47

Descend the Mount of Olives, and you discover a peaceful garden called Gethsemane amidst crowded streets filled with tourist buses, vendors, and pedestrians. Next to the Garden of Eden, it may be the most famous garden in the Bible. Even today, groups with a reservation can get alone in a private section for reflection and prayer about what happened here the night before Jesus died.

The word Gethsemane means, “oil press.” It’s not surprising that a grove of olive trees still stands nearby today. It’s even possible to walk about 100 yards to visit a cave where Jesus likely spent His last hours with His disciples.

Matthew describes those hours with these words: “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter. ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’” (Matthew 26:36-41 NIV). This scenario is repeated twice more in Gethsemane before Judas comes to betray the Lord.

No one can fully understand the agony of the Lord during those hours. It’s ironic that Jesus wrestled with the Father’s will in that location since Gethsemane implies the idea of “pressing.” The Bible even says He “sweat great drops of blood” as He contemplated the horrors of the cross.

What caused this great anguish for the Lord? Was it just the thought of crucifixion on a Roman cross? No. As horrific as that would be, it was the idea that, for the only time in eternity past, present or future, God the Father and God the Son would be separated. Jesus boldly proclaimed the eternal unity of the Godhead with statements like these: “I and the Father are one.”

(John 10:30 – NIV).   “…That they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity” (John 17:22b- NIV).

In Gethsemane, Jesus wrestled with the fracture of that relationship because he would bear the penalty for our sins in His body. The Apostle Paul summarizes the Lord’s motivation in Gethsemane: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”  (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).   What Jesus accomplished for us on the cross enables us to experience the perfect righteousness of God credited to our spiritual bank account!  That’s an offer too good to refuse.

Prayer of reflection:  Thank you, Jesus, that you were willing to face the agony of the cross so that I could be made right with a holy God for all eternity.

Bob Fetterhoff

Posted in Matthew, Trip to the Holy Land | Leave a comment

June 3 – Trip to the Holy Land – The Mount of Olives

DAY 22 – THE MOUNT OF OLIVES

Theme: Passion & Prophecy

Read Zechariah 14: 2-11

The view from the Mount of Olives provides a magnificent panorama of the Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem. From the western slopes of this beautiful hillside, it’s easy to imagine the trail Jesus followed on that first Palm Sunday as He rode into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey to the cries of “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  (Luke 19:38 NIV).  This event introduced the last week before our Lord was crucified, often called, “Passion Week.”

As you walk down the mountain, you can also gaze across the Kidron Valley and see the only gate in the walls of the Old City that is closed today – the Eastern or Golden Gate. It has been sealed because it’s located just above a Muslim cemetery.

In AD 1540, the Eastern Gate was shut by order of Suleiman the Magnificent, who also rebuilt many of the current walls around the Old City. Many suggest that the Gate was closed to prevent the Messiah from entering since Jewish tradition suggests that the Messiah will pass through the Eastern Gate when He comes to rule. The Eastern Gate has remained sealed for almost 500 years.

This prominent mountain, therefore, also serves as a focal point for Bible prophecy. The Bible says that Jerusalem will become a target for all the nations of the world in the future. Yet God protects His people. “On that day the Lord will shield those who live in Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord going before them. On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem” (Zechariah 12:8-9 NIV).

Zechariah continues his commentary on how the Messiah settles the score on Jerusalem:. “On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter. The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name” (Zechariah 14:8-9 NIV).

This graphic scene unfolds right on the Mount of Olives! Imagine the cosmic upheaval that occurs because the Son of God comes in justice to rule and reign on this earth. The world has never experienced anything like it! Yet it will happen one day when Jesus returns to earth in power and glory.

Prayer of reflection:  Despite the global uncertainties today, thank you, Lord Jesus, that You will someday reign and create a time of great peace for this world.

Bob Fetterhoff

Posted in Trip to the Holy Land, Zechariah | Leave a comment