A Walk Through History

As you may know, I visited the Middle East earlier this month. Perhaps a more accurate description would be, I took a trip through history. The Middle East is where the oldest known civilizations developed and I got to see evidence to some of these civilizations. The evidence is left behind by empires that conquered peoples to spread their borders and boast of their greatness.

I saw the great pyramids of Giza in Egypt which speak of the great wealth and power of the ancient pharaohs, the kings of Egypt stretching back to the days of Joseph and earlier. Each pyramid was a tomb and monument to their god, which they believed their pharaoh to be. When a pharaoh died, many others would be sacrificed with him.

I walked the streets of old Jerusalem, sitting on the top of a mountain. It’s a place that seems to marry the spiritual and physical worlds as pilgrims from different faiths come to this spot to find a connection to their god. And yet, rather than promote humility and self-sacrifice, it prompted self-centeredness as people pressed forward in fear that they would get left out of seeing some holy sight or touching some holy place.

I sat in an amphitheater and toured an ancient Roman city at Jerash in Jordan. There stood the remains of temples to the old Roman gods, meeting halls and colonnades. It’s a marvel to see the engineering skill of such an ancient empire and to see such a massive city built so far from Rome, further boasting of Rome’s reach and strength.

I meandered through the canyon that makes up Petra, where elaborate temples and tombs are carved into sandstone canyon walls, and sophisticated water technologies are on display as they follow the curve of the canyon, somehow maintaining the 4 degree slope needed to carry the water to cisterns.

In some ways each of these represents a tower of Babel, an attempt to boast to the world and the gods of power in an effort to make a name for oneself. The tower of Babel was an ancient wonder that pointed to the great potential in man. Even God said, nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” (Ge 11:6) It also reminds us that we are spiritual as well as physical beings in search of significance and willing to attain it at the expense of others. It reminds us there is evil in the world; in the spiritual realm that once took the names of ancient gods, and also in the human heart. We shouldn’t be surprised by war, whether it takes place between nations or takes place in elementary classrooms. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9)

I also walked through the holocaust museum in Jerusalem. It was overwhelming as the atrocities that we know man is capable of committing are on display in personal accounts, real pictures and films, and left behind personal items of those who were killed. Yes, there is evil in the world.

So what does a walk through history teach? It shows us the great capacity of man who is made in the image of God, as well as the depravity of man who employs that great capacity for evil. We need a redeemer. We need the story of Jesus.

Before entering Old Jerusalem we stopped on the Mount of Olives and walked around the garden of Gethsemane where there are olive trees potentially 2-3000 years old, olive trees that stood when Jesus’s despair was so great that he sweat drops of blood and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.” (Lk 22:42) You can see the walls of the city from there and where the temple would have stood. As we entered the old city, we followed the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering. It starts at the place Jesus was sentenced and given the cross to carry and traverses (as close as possible) the path Jesus walked as he carried the cross. There are many stations along the way that reminds us of his agony. It ends at calvary, where Jesus was crucified and lifted high for all to see.

No matter where you start, history leads to Jesus on a cross. It points to our great need and lifts up our great savior. How fitting that all of the world counts its years backwards and forwards from the time of Jesus, whether recognized or not.