Pastor Joel continues his thoughts while on his trip to Israel.
One of the things that have surprised me the most during this trip is how many of the historical sites we visit, from ancient buildings to the churches that were built later on to commemorate certain events, are second and third iterations. First time I noticed this was when we visited the site of the village of Capernaum. This village is famous in the Gospels because it became a sort of center out of which Jesus conducted his ministry in the Galilee area. There are a number of miracles that Jesus performed in Capernaum, including healing Peter’s Mother-In-Law, and one of the sites there, happens to be what is believed to be her house.
When you get to Capernaum, the first thing you see is the ruins of a synagogue. Now, if you are familiar with the Gospel accounts, they reference a synagogue in Capernaum that had been built by a pious Roman Centurion at the time of Jesus. So, the natural thought I had is that that was the synagogue that the Gospels reference. However, as our guide started explaining to us the site, I found out that the synagogue ruins I was looking at were from a much later building, probably from the 4th or 5th century.
What’s speculated is that the synagogue from the Gospels was destroyed at some point and eventually this new Synagogue was built. This is not an isolated phenomenon by the way. The house of Peter’s Mother-In-Law is even crazier. The way it was explained to me, one of the houses they found in the ruins had been transformed into a house church at some point in the first century, leading archeologists to believe it was considered by people that early on to be a place of some significance, this is how the Church speculates that was the house of Peter’s Mother-In-Law, which is entirely possible. However, on the 4th Century, a new church was built on top of that one, and then on the 5th Century, a new church was built on top of that one, and then on 1990 a memorial was built on top of that church. So when you visit the site it is this weird mish-mash of ruins upon ruins upon ruins.
The same is true of tons of other places. Probably the most famous example of that is the site of the Temple itself. There was Solomon’s Temple, that temple was destroyed and then Zerubbabel rebuilt it when Israel came back from exile, and then Herod refurbished that Temple. This was the Temple at the time of Jesus. Eventually the Romans took down that Temple, then the Muslims conquered that area and ended up turning into the Dome of the Rock. We visited that site today and I loved this image where you can see a Muslim structure right behind the ruins of one of the walls that were part of the structure Herod built.
Another example, and something I didn’t realize until today, is that the Jerusalem that we read about in the Old Testament during David and Solomon’s time is on a different site nearby, not in what is called the Old City. Basically that city was destroyed by the Babylonians and when the exiles came back they started rebuilding closer to the Temple. The ruins from that first Jerusalem are called now “The City of David” and it is really close to the Old City, within walking distance, so we got to visit that site as well.
And today as I have been reflecting on this, there are two thoughts that I feel God impressing upon my mind.
The first thought is this. Everything ends. All of these buildings at some point were imposing and beautiful and ornate. And I bet that for the people that built them and used them, or lived in them, it might seem that they were going to last forever. But they didn’t. Whether war, or natural disaster, or just the passage of time, all of these buildings ended up falling apart, until all we have is ruins. And this makes me think a lot about our own lives. How many things do we worry and stress about that are ultimately temporary? Jobs, relationships, even ministries. There are so many things in our lives that seem like it would be the end of the world if they don’t go our way. And let me tell you, there is nothing like staring at the ruins of houses, synagogues, temples, churches and cities that were built hundreds or thousands of years ago and that eventually fell down to give you some perspective on the inevitable passage of time. Everything ends, our jobs, our relationships, our ministries. We get old, we die. And honestly I don’t mean to come across as nihilistic. If anything, I find this fact oddly comforting. Because the reality of it is that, most of the things I worry about, are not going to be that important in a few months or a few years. Jesus actually talks about this in the Sermon on the Mount.
Recently I had a conversation with a mentor about a current situation I’m dealing with. He has been a pastor for more than 30 years and he asked me, how old are you? I answered 33, and then he said, You are 33, you are not 63. What you are going through right now, whatever the resolution is, is preparing you for the rest of your ministry, and will help you deal with the things that will come when you are 53, and 63. And it was so encouraging and comforting to hear that. Because a lot of times, I get into my own head and become anxious and worried because I only take a short term view of my current situation. It becomes impossible to imagine that whatever it is I’m going through, that too shall pass, because I cannot see past the next few months, or the next year. But I believe that if we did that, if we took the long view approach to life. If we realize both how utterly temporary everything is, not only the good, but also the bad, then we would probably experience more peace and less anxiety in our day to day life. Losing a job might seem like the end of the world, and it might mean some temporary financial struggle. But it is not really the end of the world, and even if you had not lost your job when you did, at some point you were going to, whether because of a new opportunity, or retirement. So why worry about it so much right now?
One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 23. The very famous “The Lord is my shepherd” Psalm. And I have a theory, that the Psalm is actually describing’s somebody’s whole life. It is the only way that the Psalm can go from “quiet waters” and “green pastures” to “ the valley of the shadow of death” and “the House of the Lord forever.” The idea of the Psalm is that, when the writer finally goes down to the grave, he will be able to look back upon his life, and realize that through it all, through the good and the bad, through the joy and the sorrow, God was shepherding him. But he is writing this in the present, this is a statement of faith. So for me the takeaway is that everything is temporary, so I should not become overtly anxious about anything because one way or another it is all going to pass. But this realization must be paired with the realization that through it all, God is with me and He will take care of me. Even if I fall, even if my life falls apart, even if my life comes down to ruins, God will be my shepherd.
Which takes me to my second thought. That so many of these ruins were rebuilt. The synagogue in Capernaum was destroyed, and a few hundred years later a new one was built. The City of David was destroyed, and the exiles came back and eventually rebuilt a new city. Solomon’s Temple was destroyed, and eventually Zerubabbel built a new one.
Last year a friend of mine bought a house that needed to be renovated. She is a single woman and took on the job by herself, dealing with different contractors and working really hard to renovate her home. All this in the middle of a challenging year on different aspects of her life. And a year after the demo started she posted a picture on Facebook showing he original blueprints of the renovation, remembering it had been a year since that process had started, and she used the hashtag #wecanrebuild She was talking about her home, but in a way she was also talking about her life. That year had been a year of rebuilding for her in more ways than one.
I loved her hashtag, because of how hopeful it was. And today, when I looked at all the different ruins, and how they had been rebuilt over and over I couldn’t help but think about my friend and that hashtag. And I think it’s true you know? We can rebuild. Maybe you are sitting today in the midst of the rubble of what once was your life, and all you can see around you is ruins. Maybe it was your own fault, or maybe it wasn’t and you carry the pain of the damage that somebody else caused. Regardless of whose fault it was, the reality is that, when our lives are in ruins, we can rebuild. For thousands of years humans have been rebuilding upon the ruins of what once was so that it could be yet again. And why can’t that be true of our own lives? Maybe we are in the aftermath of death, or a divorce, or the loss of a job, or a medical condition that has dramatically changed our lifestyle. We can rebuild.
The Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD when Rome came to Jerusalem and destroyed it as a punishment for their rebellion. The interesting fact is that Jesus actually predicted the destruction of the Temple. But He also made a very weird prophecy, that He would rebuild it in three days. The Church interprets this prophecy as Jesus talking about Himself, that He was/is the ultimate Temple, the embodiment of God’s presence. And that after His death, He would rise again three days later. And I say this because this is God’s promise of rebuilding for all of us. That no matter the state of the ruins of our lives. No matter the amount of damage that has been done, through Christ’s death and resurrection, the possibility now exists for our lives to be rebuilt. That somehow, in His death Jesus has taken upon Himself the ruins of all of our lives, the rubble and the damage, and the destruction. The mess that we make and the mess that is made to us, all of it, into the ultimate sacrifice of love. And because of that, He is able to defeat death, and how He offers us a new life. Not only in the spiritual sense of “one day we’ll get to Heaven.” But in the here and now sense. This life, our emotions, our relationships, our dreams, our hopes, they can all be rebuilt. So if you are looking at ruins right now, lift up your head, we can rebuild.