In June this year I had the privilege of visiting Jerusalem, writes Crosslands Faculty member Tim Ward. I’d never been to Israel before. Whenever anyone asked if I’d like to visit ‘the holy land’ my stock reply was that I wasn’t bothered since I imagined it was full of depressing shrines and glow-in-the-dark madonnas for sale at road-side stalls. I can now confirm that both of these things can be found in Jerusalem.
But I was attending the recent GAFCON conference which happened to be in Jerusalem, so I found myself there.
There was one particular moment I found quite moving. I was standing on a staircase leading up to the temple mount, the hill on which the temple stood until the Romans destroyed it in AD70, and where now a mosque stands. In fact, some of the steps I was standing on have survived from the first century, forming part of what used to be the main route up to the old Jewish temple - although of course the old entry-way was blocked off long ago. To complete the scene, the strains of Islamic worship came floating down from the hill above us.
I’ve always known that a significant site of Islamic worship now sits where the temple used to be. But standing there looking up at it, and especially hearing it, forced the reality on me quite hard. Of course, I know that some Christians respond by longing deeply for the end of Islamic worship on that particular site. But my response was different. With a friend who was also there, I mused that it was remarkable that God had sovereignly done these seemingly strange things with the one place on earth that for so long had been so special in his purposes. It might seem such a defeat. My friend said, “God could not be saying more purposefully and graphically, ‘I want you to go and build a different temple now.’”
Quite right. It felt most natural and right not to stare wonderingly up at the temple mount with its Islamic worship but to turn my back to the old temple site with its broken stairway and bricked-up entrance and to look out, down the hill across the Kidron Valley, gazing out of the city and, as it were, to the ends of the earth where Christ sends his people. For me at least, one positive thing that visiting Jerusalem can powerfully do for a Christian is to make them want to leave it.
Words by Tim Ward