What Are You Afraid Of?
I wasn’t afraid to make the journey to Jerusalem and the Holy Land — not for my safety anyway. I did have some hesitation though. I was afraid of how I would feel. While listening to a friend talk about her book on Facebook live, that feeling was identified. She said we, as believers in America, have a fear of big feelings.
I was afraid the trip would be too emotional, that I would spend the entire time crying. I was afraid that it would be only heavy and somber.
The main thing I felt on our trip to the Holy Land was a sense of awe. It’s hard to fathom the age of the land we visited. The United States is a mere toddler when compared with the ancient Middle-East. And late-nineteenth century is old for my neck of the woods.
I was surprised at how normal everything was. People drove to work, walked to school and went out to eat with their families. It just so happened that their surroundings were thousands of years old!
There were several places on our trip where my emotions bubbled up over the surface. You can read about a couple of these places up by the Sea of Galilee here and here. The places I want to share with you now by far elicited the strongest emotions of the trip.
As Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas arrived with anywhere from 500 to 1,000 Roman soldiers. Before he betrayed Jesus with a kiss, an interesting thing happened. Jesus called out to the soldiers, “Who is it you want?” They replied “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered “I am He” (actually, he said “I am”). According to the account in John 18, after Jesus said these words, they all drew back and fell to the ground. Interesting.
Isn’t it a bit strange that so many Roman soldiers were needed to arrest one man who was with a handful of his disciples? What were they so afraid of? Did they wonder themselves if Jesus really was who he said he was? Was their reaction to the words “I am He” just a taste of his power?
The Roman soldiers and Jewish officials arrested Jesus, bound him and led him through the blood-filled Kidron Valley. You see, the blood from thousands of sacrificed Passover lambs, flowed into the valley and mixed with the brook. They led him up some stone steps to the home of the High Priest on Mt. Zion. We saw those very steps!
We visited the ruins of the High Priest’s home, where Jesus was tried by the Jewish leaders. A church is built on top of the ruins — Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. There was a sculpture of Peter denying Christ in the courtyard. We went down under the church and saw the sacred dungeon under the home. Prisoners had to be lowered into it with ropes. There were openings chiseled into the rocky wall where leather straps were threaded through to confine the prisoners. It was sobering to think that Jesus may have spent his last night on earth in this dungeon.
After his so-called trial by the Sanhedrin, they took Jesus to the palace of Pilate, the Roman Governor. Basically, he caved to the Jewish leaders and ordered Christ to be crucified. You can read more of the details in the gospel accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The next place we went to is the place that emotionally wrecked me. We went down under a convent to a place called Lithostrotos which means Roman pavement. It was the place of Flagellation, the place where Jesus was beaten before he was crucified. During the time of Christ, it would have been an open courtyard area of the Antonia Fortress. You could even see evidence of a Roman game etched into the stone floor.
We gathered around our pastor as he read the scriptures telling of Jesus’s beating by the Roman soldiers. He explained to us what it would have been like. There would have been blood everywhere. It would have been loud with the noise of the soldiers and the noise of prisoners crying out in pain. The smell would have been overpowering—blood, torches burning, sweaty bodies.
As I sat on the bench listening to our pastor, tears began to flow. I couldn’t stop the steady stream. Perhaps, I didn’t want to stop. I sat in that dim room and wept as I contemplated the events of that day so long ago. I struggled to sing the words of the old hymn, Were You There When They Crucified My Lord. It didn’t matter if my eyes were open or shut, the same image was burned into my mind. I saw a man being struck by cruel, Roman soldiers. Bruised and bloodied, he would try to pull himself up but they would kick him until he collapsed. It was like seeing a scene of a movie playing out over and over again.
The capacity of cruelty of humans is mind-boggling. It is very difficult to hear in the news about someone being treated with cruelty, even if they are evil themselves. It is even more difficult to stomach cruelty directed toward someone who is innocent. But, to imagine the cruelty directed toward the Messiah, the Son of God is incomprehensible.
The Reason Why
The astonishing thing is that Jesus could have stopped this at any point. He could have said “this is enough, I’m not taking any more of this.” But he didn’t. He took all of the pain, agony and humiliation for us. He paid the debt of our sin so we don’t have to. That is why I wept.
Have you ever thought about, really contemplated all that Jesus went through that last week in Jerusalem? I encourage you, in these last few weeks before Easter, to read the gospel accounts of the Passion week. Don’t read it as some story that happened a long time ago, but, with the realization that all of these things happened for us. Jesus went through all of it for us because he loves us and wants us to experience eternity with him. Let the immensity of that sink in this week.