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Rockets Over Jerusalem

A few minutes ago our evening was again interrupted by the sound of sirens warning of incoming missiles from Gaza. Two nights ago, our anniversary date was cut short as we sat in the stairwell of a hotel in Tel Aviv, along with several Israeli’s, amidst the same glaring noise. Shortly after we decided to return home to be with our 3 kids in Jerusalem.

peace

Living in Conflict

Our family is often asked how or why we choose to live in a place of seemingly continual unrest. What we have found is that you can experience joy in the midst of conflict. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 5:9,

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

People naturally want to live peacefully. However, Jesus is not saying blessed are those living in peace, but blessed are peacemakers. Peacemakers actually live in the midst of conflict. In other words, blessed are those living in conflict and bringing peace. Godly joy is readily found in the worst conflicts.

C.T. Studd grew up the son of a wealthy Englishman. He felt compelled to fulfill Matthew 19:21, sold what he had and gave to the poor. He spent his life in China, India, and Africa. In a poem he wrote is the line,

Some wish to live within the sound of chapel bells; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell.”

Studd discovered joy in the midst of conflict.

Taking Sides

America loves sports and Americans love to root for their favorite sports team. The World Cup displays people around the globe doing the same for national soccer (football) teams. The problem is that same mentality affects our view of people in the world. It’s easy to watch the news of middle east strife and put on display our competitive athletic nature rooting for blue and white or black, red, and green. To put on a kippa or Palestinian scarf and take sides in a conflict that takes lives on both sides of the line. But that’s not the Jesus way.

Defining Peace

Jesus lived at a time described as the “Pax Romana,” or Roman peace. Rome established and maintained peace through military might. Jesus, however, is referring to a peace (shalom) that makes a person whole, not the absence of war.

Peace is described as a state of mind, inward soundness, and well-being. When people tell me they are praying for the peace of Jerusalem I like to remind them to be praying for the well-being of all Jerusalem’s inhabitants – Jews, Palestinians, Armenians, Secular Israelis, Druze, Samaritans, Russians, Europeans…all who walk its streets and call it home.

The Peacemaker

Jesus was a peace-making Jew who cared for Jew and Gentile alike. He understood that the sun rises and rain falls on all mankind (Matthew 5:45). Paul describes Jesus as our peace, restoring relationships and bringing unity. “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…and he came and preached peace to you who were far off (Gentile) and peace to those who were near (Jew)” (Ephesians 2).

The coming of Jesus brings the possibility of peace.”

Mourning for this Land

Several weeks ago three young Israelis, Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel, and Gilad Shaar, were kidnapped and murdered near Hebron. A few days after their bodies were discovered, a young Palestinian, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, was kidnapped not far from where we live and burned alive in the Jerusalem forest. Our family mourned for these sons of Israel and this son of Palestine. We prayed for the families and asked God to bring shalom to this land.

Jesus also shared, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). This mourning is both personal and global. A mourning over the state of the whole world as you see the moral mess and unhappiness and suffering of mankind. Mourning with an understanding that the wrongdoer is sick, in need of healing.

We mourn when rockets are fired from Gaza because the wrongdoer is in need of healing. He terrorizes residents of Tel Aviv and others throughout the land, who are forced to hide out in bomb shelters and stairwells. We met some of them. We mourn when bombs are dropped on Gaza and lives are lost. I watched a video of a toddler being dug out of rubble. A child, barely able to walk, growing up in a profoundly hostile world. This land needs peace.

The World’s Great Need

The great need of the world today is for a number of peacemakers. If only we were all peacemakers there would be no problems, there would be no troubles. So what does a peacemaker look like? What do they do?

  • The peacemaker has only one concern, and it is the glory of God amongst men and women.
  • Peacemakers are ready to humble themselves and ready to do anything and everything in order that the glory of God may be promoted.
  • Peacemakers are prepared to suffer in order to bring it to pass. They are even prepared to suffer wrong and injustice in order that peace may be produced and God’s glory magnified.
  • Peacemakers do not simply sit in a study and theoretically work out this principle. It is in practice that a person proves whether they are a peacemaker or not. {1}

Godliness

God has made peace. He has humbled Himself in His Son to produce it. That is why the peacemakers are ‘children of God.’ What they do is to repeat what God has done. Peacemakers have an element of godliness about them, lovingly restoring right relationships. God considers peacemakers as one of His own, like a proud dad making the claim, “That’s my boy!” or “That’s my girl!”

Loving God and Neighbor

As people with Israeli and Palestinian friends, we are occasionally asked, “So whose side are you on?” As a family who serves Jesus with a heart to follow in His footsteps and fulfill His command to love God and people – all people, we are on neither side.

Joshua 5:13-14 gives guidance, “While Joshua was there near Jericho: He looked up and saw right in front of him a man standing, holding his drawn sword. Joshua stepped up to him and said, ‘Whose side are you on-ours or our enemies?’ He said, ‘Neither. I’m commander of God’s army.’”

We are for all peoples and nations, to the glory of God!”

The Challenge & Prayer

May you have a heart to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and all its inhabitants, may you mourn over the state of the world, may you forge a growing desire to be a peacemaker in this world, and may shalom be experienced in this land and beyond its shores.

{1} Copyright 1959-60 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Grand Rapids. 1976.

Holy Land

God Dwelling with His people

What is the significance of the place called the Holy Land, the parcel of land located on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean? What makes a land holy? The answers are found in the narrative of Scripture.

Holy Land

The Bible as Narrative:

The Bible is written as a dramatic narrative, containing four parts:

  1. Exposition – Genesis 1, 2
  2. Complication – Genesis 3
  3. Climax – Revelation 20
  4. Denouement – Revelation 21-22

Genesis 1 and 2 (creation) covers the exposition, the part of the story describing the original state of affairs. Genesis 3 (the rebellion of man) lays out the complication, the part of the story disrupting the status quo. The main portion of the Bible develops the story, stemming from the complication (disobedience to God). Revelation 20 presents the climax, the defeat of evil. Finally, in Revelation 21 and 22 is the denouement, the New Heavens and New Earth. The denouement becomes the new status quo, after the complication is resolved.

Man and woman start in the Garden of Eden in full communion with God with both the tree of life and tree of knowledge of good and evil. Mankind finishes in the New Heavens and New Earth in full communion with God with the tree of life, having experienced the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and evil being defeated. Revelation 22:2 states, “The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River…The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations.”

What does this have to do with the Holy Land?

The Holy Land and older Covenant

The Holy Land is part of the creation story, with the Garden of Eden being the original location. The garden is the first place “flowing with milk and honey,” where Adam rules as a kingly priest and serves God in a garden-temple. According to Sam Brelo in his book God Dwelling with His Children in Paradise, “Adam, as God’s son, lived in Eden and therefore enjoyed the rest of God, symbolizing God’s sovereign rule.”[1] Adam is given the command to multiply and subdue the earth. The whole earth was to enjoy the glorious presence of God.

Adam failed to obey and was removed from the sanctity of the garden-temple. The first Holy Land became lost to mankind. As history unfolds the human race continues to rebel and attempts to become unified in a manmade sanctuary on the plains of Babel. God separates the nations.

Finally, the Lord sees promise in a man called Abraham and extends to him two promises: a kingly people and a kingdom land. A Holy Land is promised to Abraham as, “To the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

God gave the Garden of Eden as an inheritance to Adam and gave Canaan, a type of the Garden of Eden, as an inheritance to Israel. Adam’s enjoyment of God’s presence and the first Holy Land were based upon obedience.  Obedience is the same condition upon which Israel may enjoy God’s presence and live in the second Holy Land. Leviticus 18:25 declares,

Because the entire land has become defiled, I am punishing the people who live there. I will cause the land to vomit them out.”

Similar passages are located in Deuteronomy 28:63, Joshua 23:16, and throughout the Old Testament. In Ezekiel 37-48 Israel’s redemption is described as a return to the Holy Land, as well as the reestablishment of the Davidic kingship and Levitical priesthood. Israel’s salvation meant dwelling with God around His Temple in a divine inheritance, the Holy Land.

Israel staying in the Holy Land with God was guaranteed through continued cleansing and holiness, as portrayed in the Law of Moses. Without atonement by various sacrifices and worship, Israel was subject to expulsion.

The Holy Land and new Covenant

The writer of Hebrews states Jesus fulfills the sacrificial practices of the Law by His supreme sacrifice. The Levitical priesthood also became fulfilled by His priesthood (Hebrews 7:18-19). Therefore, the Temple and Holy Land become better understood in Christ.

The writer of Hebrews also shares that although Joshua brought Israel into the Holy Land, he did not give them the rest of God (Heb 4:8). Sam Brelo gives insight, “the reason for this is that the Temple in the Holy Land is not the true dwelling place of God; it is only a ‘pattern’ of heavenly realities (Heb 8:1-5).”[2]

Jewish belief is based on the Torah, Temple, and Territory. Jesus on several occasions encountered people desiring an earthly kingdom. They hoped He was

the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).

They considered Israel’s redemption being the restoration of the nation and the cleansing of the Holy Land, more than mankind’s salvation.

Jesus brought fulfillment in a different way. Through the Incarnation the Lord would dwell among His people (John 1:14). Jesus would be the divine Temple, the place where God is experienced and worshiped.

Jesus also became the Holy Land. He states in John 15 of being the “true vine.” Connection with God would no longer be attached to a tract of land. Being part of the Holy Land would now require being grafted into Jesus. Jesus declared being in the Father’s presence was no longer territorial but spiritual. (John 14:1-11)

The Holy Land, where God dwells with His people, is the unquestioned inheritance of Abraham’s descendents. The Apostle Paul states the inheritance includes Jews and Gentiles:

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” (Galatians 3:7)

Being sons of Abraham is by faith and Jesus, God’s Son, is the centrality of faith. Those in Christ have become children with divine inheritance. The place of God’s dwelling is gained through faith. (Galatians 3:26, 29)

The quintessence of the book of Revelation is the New Heaven and New Earth, culminating in chapters 21 and 22. The vision of the New Heaven and New Earth is the climax, not only of the Bible but of the whole salvation story. The final vision is essentially a re-creation of the Garden of Eden, the garden-temple of God. The prophetic revelation brings believers to the hope of the final Holy Land, where the purpose of the Garden of Eden and the land of Canaan is fulfilled. With the creation of the New Heaven and New Earth, God establishes a new sanctuary where He and the children of inheritance dwell forever.

Defining the Holy Land

The Holy Land and its purpose is one of the important threads running through Scripture. God’s story begins and ends with Him living with His creation in a secure, peaceful and sanctified space. In the redemption story God calls Abraham out of Ur, giving Canaan to him and his descendants as an inheritance. The Holy Land belongs to God and He calls out the elect, providing a place where He can dwell with them. Occupying the Holy Land by Abraham’s descendants was conditional upon love and obedience to God.

In the fullness of time, God sends His Son to reveal His glory and to tabernacle among His creation. The Holy Land receives its fulfillment in Jesus. By abiding in Christ through love and obedience believers find peace and rest and are a sanctified temple of worship. This is experienced by the indwelling of His Spirit and is fully experienced in the New Heaven and New Earth, the place where the children of inheritance live unimpeded with God in the final and everlasting Holy Land.

God dwelling with His children in a holy dwelling place centers in Christ. The Good News to both Jews and Arabs in the Middle East is the same; God desires to live with His children eternally. Anyone can become His child and live with Him through Jesus. The Holy Land and its purpose are inseparably linked to having faith in Christ. Outside of Christ, there is no divine inheritance.

Whose side are you on?

Those who follow Jesus are to follow in His footsteps and fulfill His command to love God and people – all people. Those with faith in Christ are to be world-changers, showing equal value to all peoples and nations.

Joshua 5:13-14 gives guidance, “While Joshua was there near Jericho: He looked up and saw right in front of him a man standing, holding his drawn sword. Joshua stepped up to him and said, ‘Whose side are you on-ours or our enemies?’ He said, ‘Neither. I’m commander of God’s army.’”

When asked, “Whose side are you on, Arab or Jew?” respond,

Neither, I’m for all peoples and nations, to the glory of God!”

Revelation 7:9, “I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb.”

*To view the stop-motion film, Holy Land, click here.

**For a more in-depth study read, God Dwelling with His Children in Paradise: A Biblical Theology of the Holy Land by Sam Brelo. Available on Amazon.

1 – Sam Brelo. God Dwelling with His Children in Paradise: A Biblical Theology of the Holy Land. (CreateSpace, 2012). 6.

2 – Sam Brelo. God Dwelling with His Children in Paradise: A Biblical Theology of the Holy Land. (CreateSpace, 2012). 68.