The journey that leads to life

2/20/2009

"From that time, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priest and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." —Matthew 16:21, RSV

 

By Bishop Robert Hayes

The season of Lent begins Feb. 25. Lent is the time of year when Christians everywhere become sharply aware of the sorrow and sacrifices of our great Lord and Savior. But Lent does not end in sorrow and sacrifice. The 40-day observance is actually a journey that leads to life. It leads to Easter!

We leave Lent devoid of one of its most noteworthy aspects if we fail to understand the significance of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.

In the text from Matthew, one word stands out about this trip. That is the word must. "From that time, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem …" He knew that suffering, hardship, and death awaited him there, yet he set his face in the direction of the city for which the prophets had always yearned. He kept the appointment made by God before the world began.

This passage is so important because, in one way or another, we all journey to Jerusalems in our own stories. No one is immune from suffering and difficulties. There are human experiences we all must face. Jesus’ destination, Jerusalem, symbolizes the many places where people struggle in their lives.

If we look to Jesus to see how he dealt with the challenges of Jerusalem, the wisdom we gain will help us make our way along the roads we are destined to travel and, ultimately, take us on to life!

A place of sorrow and of redemption

Make no mistake about it: Jesus had to go to Jerusalem. Long before Christ walked that road, the prophets sent by God knew it would be in Jerusalem that God would bring salvation to all people.

The prophets of the Old Testament experienced such suffering. They were sorely challenged on their journeys. And they always desired to return to Jerusalem, often called the City of God or the Holy City, because it was the site of God’s temple. It was where God resided, according to the people’s understanding in Old Testament times. To speak of Jerusalem was to indicate a place where God meets humankind.

This explains in part why Jesus was drawn to that city. Jesus also laments over it, saying: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stones them that are sent to you" (Matthew 16:34).

Yes, the Holy City was a place of hostility and even death for those who came in the name of God. Jesus knew it when he declared, "I must go...for it cannot be that prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem" (Luke 13:33).

Jerusalem was the place where a prophet would receive the greatest challenge, but also the greatest reward. Jerusalem provides a vivid example of the worst of mankind, and it also represents a place of holy redemption.

Where is your Jerusalem?

You may be experiencing Jerusalem because of illness in your life journey. I’m sure some experience Jerusalem while awaiting the results of medical tests or sitting with loved ones who are ill. There are many forms of loss. Some may face job challenges, financial struggles. Someone may be the caregiver for an aging parent or a child who has special needs.

Wherever your Jerusalem is, you need to know that God will meet you there and will bring you through whatever life throws at you.

Take God with you into the places of hardship and trial, and they will become places of deliverance and salvation—just as Jerusalem became for Jesus. Our journey must be made with the One who has given us life, for without God walking alongside, our trek will be filled with unnecessary dangers, toils, and snares.

In this life you will face many decisions. You will make choices among things you don’t have to do and those you must do. If you are looking for the road that leads to life, you must take God with you. Jesus knew that. If we put our hands in God’s, as Jesus did, God will go with us all the way.

A great hymn—I love to sing it—speaks this truth for me. Here are some of the words:

"Thou my everlasting portion, more than friend or life to me;

All along my pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with thee!

Close to thee, close to thee, close to thee, close to thee.

All along life’s pilgrim journey, Savior, let me walk with thee.

Not for ease or worldly pleasure, nor for fame my prayer shall be;

Gladly will I toil and suffer, only let me walk with thee.

Close to thee, close to thee, close to thee, close to thee.

Gladly will I toil and suffer, only let me walk with thee."

—"Close to Thee" (The United Methodist Hymnal, 407)


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