The distance, really.
Jerusalem is 6,829 miles from Charleston, South Carolina. Our seven trips there have usually taken us part of a day and most of a night---Charleston to New York, New York to Ben Gurion Airport in Lod, Israel. As my dear old grandmother used to say, it's really a "fur piece" from the lowcountry of South Carolina. Even so, the velocity and mobility of exponential times makes the journey plausible for the 3.6 million tourists who travel to Jerusalem every year. Many of them are Jewish pilgrims making aliyah, going up to Jerusalem (reference Psalm 147:2). Many others are Christians who desire to walk where Jesus walked.
In these times the geographical spread between America and Israel isn't really the distance that separates us. That's merely physical, a proximity expansion narrowed by transportation technology in a world on the move. The distance really is less about maps, continents, oceans, and longitudes/latitudes, and more about how that hill far away registers with modern people in our hemisphere. Yes, for many of us Israel and Jerusalem are political venues where clans and tribes have fought for the land rights since the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There's definitely a political angle in our consideration of those sacred places inhabited by the ancient Hebrews that were later the homeland of Jesus and the disciples. What is astounding today is the disturbing truth that many Christians view Calvary's hill and the empty tomb with question marks. I won't quote statistics because most researchers can quantify and qualify their numbers in ways to make their point. It is disturbing that culture has reshaped our traditional views of the Easter miracle so that we may have lost some of the wonder of it all. That's the distance from that hill far away, really.
That hill far away is, however, closer that we think. Study of the New Testament reminds us of the nearness to those sacred places when they are faithfully and consistently proclaimed. Of a truth, the preaching of the cross and the empty tomb were central to the spread of the church during the first century. Luke wrote a very orderly account of the day of Pentecost and Simon Peter's message about Jesus' death and resurrection.
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with
mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you
yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and
foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised
him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
Acts 2: 22-24, ESV
It is very true that the listeners that day were actually in Jerusalem and most likely had been stirred by the events described by Simon Peter's words. Surely many of them were expectant Hebrews who had envisioned their promised Messiah for generations. Peter's inspired message overrode any geographical concerns, however, and brought 3,000 of them to an intimate, personal nearness that eventually changed the world.
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of
the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “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. For the promise is for you and for your children
and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with
many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save
yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized,
and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Acts 2: 37-41, ESV
The Apostle Paul later emphasized power in the preaching of the cross and the empty tomb. To the Corinthians he wrote---
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of
eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the
cross is folly to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of
1 Corinthians 1: 17-18, ESV
The distance to that hill far away is that the preaching of the cross and the empty tomb have been minimized in the contemporary church, which, according to the Apostle Paul's understanding, were the power of God. The distance really is our permitting culture to move us away from the powerful message of the cross and the empty tomb to the more trendy topics that make us feel better about ourselves.
Hey, Easter is around the corner. It is true that the truth of the Gospel can touch our lives at many points. But, we must remain fixed on the cross and empty tomb of Jesus, because they are the power of God.
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