Open Our Eyes

(I was recently asked by my church to give a message to our local congregation. This is what I shared, a message for the current times.)

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A man was walking in the woods. It was very foggy and it was getting dark so visibility was poor. Because he cannot see, he walked straight off into a cliff. Luckily as he was falling he was able to grab a bush that was growing at the side of the cliff. He then looked up and he cannot see where he fell off. He looked down, and he cannot see the bottom of the cliff for it was dark and foggy. So there he was clinging on a bush, hanging for dear life.

He then started shouting for help. “Help! Is there anybody out there, help!”

Unbeknownst to him, the bottom of the cliff was less than 6 feet from where he was hanging and it was a sandy floor. But he cannot see that. So he continued hanging and shouting for help.

Then a voice came to him, “I can help you.” He was startled but relieved. He asked, “Who are you?” The voice answered back, “I am God.” Then he pleads, “Please God help me!” The voice told him, “Let go of the bush.” The man heard it, but he again pleads, “Lord help me!” Then the voice came again, this time more firmly, “Let go of the bush.”

The man thought intently for a few seconds, then shouted back, “Is there anybody else out there?”

Many times we only listen to what we wanted to hear. I pray that as we receive God’s message to us this morning, that we listen, even if it’s not what we wanted to hear.

Troubled Times

We are living in an alarming and troubled times. So we will study for today a story that happened during an alarming and troubled times as well.

The story we have for this morning is found in 2 Kings 6: 8-23

Now the king of Syria was making war against Israel; and he consulted with his servants, saying, “My camp will be in such and such a place.” And the man of God sent to the king of Israel, saying, “Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Syrians are coming down there.” 10 Then the king of Israel sent someone to the place of which the man of God had told him. Thus he warned him, and he was watchful there, not just once or twice.

The king of Syria, Ben-Hadad II, was at war with the king of Israel, Jehoram, son of Ahab and Jezebel. It was not an all out war, but more of guerrilla tactics. He wanted to ambush the King of Israel. But every time he would make a plan or move his army to one place, the king of Israel would learn about it and would avoid to go to that place and the plan of the king of Syria was foiled. This happened several times. How did Israel get their intel? Israel had a secret weapon. Elisha the prophet, who was like a radar, would give warning to the king of Israel.

11 Therefore the heart of the king of Syria was greatly troubled by this thing; and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you not show me which of us is for the king of Israel?” 12 And one of his servants said, “None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.”

So the king of Syria was frustrated. He thought there was a mole in his court. Then somebody told him that there was a prophet in Israel that can know whatever he says or plans even in his bedroom. The walls have ears! It’s like having the phone wire-tapped or the rooms having secret surveillance video cameras.

You now what? That’s the same way for us. God knows what’s going on in our day to day living. Whatever actions and thoughts we have, whether good or bad, God knows.

13 So he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and get him.” And it was told him, saying, “Surely he is in Dothan.”

So the king of Syria wanted to capture the prophet. Was that a foolish move? If Elisha knows what he’s planning against the king of Israel, surely he would also know what is being planned against him?

So he sent spies to know where Elisha was, and he got a report that Elisha was in a small town, named Dothan.

Dothan is a small shepherd town. It is not a fortified city. One other time this place was mentioned in the Bible was when Joseph, son of Jacob, was looking for his brothers who were tending the sheep, and he found them in Dothan, meaning “two wells,” which is a famous pasture land. This is the place where Joseph was thrown into a well, and his colorful coat was torn, and where he was sold to merchants going to Egypt. So this is the place where Joseph’s misery began. But what was meant to do him evil, after several years turned into a blessing, as we all know his story. For that’s the God we serve, He can turn curses into blessings.

14 Therefore he sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city.

The the king of Syria sent an army of horses and chariots (tanks and Black Hawk helicopters), and under the cloak of darkness, in stealth mode, they surrounded the town of Dothan, and blocked every gates and passageways. For the residents inside the town there was no way out.

15 And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”

Picture this, the young servant of Elisha was just waking up. Perhaps he wanted to start the day early. He probably went to the well to get water, then he noticed that there was a different glimmer around the town. As the rays of the rising sun was hitting the pasture land he saw something shining around the town. He squinted and he saw that it was the shiny metal armors of a big army. There were soldiers, war horses, and chariots. He squinted some more and he noticed that that was not the army of Israel, but that was the army of Syria! He looked not just in one direction, but all around him, and realized that the whole town was fully surrounded. This is bad!

So he woke up Elisha and blurted, “Alas my master! What shall we do?”

Let’s pause for a moment here. We know the end of the story but let’s dwell for minute in this particular stage of the story of “Alas my master, what shall we do?”

Have we experienced something similar? Maybe not as dire as this, or maybe it was more dire than this. Maybe you were a soldier and you were in a foxhole and bullets were flying all around you. Maybe it was not that dramatic, you were sitting in a doctor’s office, and the doctor told you, “Sorry, it is cancer and it is advanced.” Or you were at work, and your employer told you, “Sorry, but we are letting you go.” Or you were in an attorney’s office signing the final paper work of your divorce. Or other more situations that the problem was overwhelming you, and you blurted out, “Alas my master, what shall we do?”

Chariots of Fire

But Elisha was not afraid. Why? Let’s read.

16 So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 

With God on our side we always have the advantage. Even if it’s just you against the world if God is with you, you are already the majority.

1 John 4:4The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

Yet perhaps the young servant was not convinced with Elisha’s words of reassurance. Perhaps he was still shaking in his sandals. He cannot come to grips of the sight of the large Syrian army surrounding them. So Elisha prayed to God, a prayer not for himself, for he already knew of his deliverance, but he offered a prayer for this young servant.

17 And Elisha prayed, and said, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 

God lifted the veil between the earthly realm and the spiritual realm and allowed this young man to see that the mountains around Dothan was full of army of angels riding fiery chariots. Suddenly the Syrian army became insignificant. Suddenly the enemy’s army looked so puny compared to the heavenly army.

Are we like the servant of Elisha? Do we lack the eyes of faith? I pray that God will open our eyes that we may see that there is a host of angels around us, even right now as I speak. May God open our eyes to realize that He never leaves us. May God open our eyes to remember that He is always in control no matter what the circumstances may be. Yes, there’s social and political unrest. Yes, there’s financial crunch. Yes, there’s a raging pandemic. But God is still in control.

Procession of the Blind

Then when the Syrian army tried to advance, Elisha prayed once more, he asked to release the horses and chariots of fire and scorch the Syrian army! No? That’s not what your Bible version says?

18 So when the Syrians came down to him, Elisha prayed to the Lord, and said, “Strike this people, I pray, with blindness.” And He struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha.

Elisha did not pray to kill the Syrian army, for God has a better plan. He prayed that the Syrians be blinded. In one prayer he asked for his young servant to have his eyes open, and in one prayer he asked for the soldiers to have their eyes be blinded. God can open eyes and He can shut the eyes.

In the Bible, there were other people that were blinded by God. Remember Saul who became Paul? When he became blind, he was able to listen more to what God was calling him to do. He was blinded so he can see. What a contradiction. Do we need to be blinded so we could be free of the world’s distractions? Do we need to be blinded so we can listen more intently to what God was calling us for? Do we need to be blinded for us to realize that we are really helpless so that we rely solely in God?

The term used in this verse that was translated as blindness is not the same term used for the illness of being blind that is the lack of sight, but rather the term used meant to dazzle or confuse. Maybe like a deer in the headlights.

19 Now Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, nor is this the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” But he led them to Samaria.

Elisha then told the army that they are in the wrong place and their GPS was set wrong and they are looking for the wrong person. So he led them to Samaria, the capital of Northern Israel, which is a fortified city.

Dothan is 12 miles away from Samaria. That’s almost a half-marathon away. I have run several half-marathons before, and it took me more than 2 hours to finish that course. I am sure this Syrian army was not running and was traveling more slowly as they were blind and being led. So I surmise that most likely it took them 4 hours or more to cover that distance. If you’re blind and you are being led to cross an unfamiliar street, that maybe hard. But being led and walking for more than 4 hours not knowing where you are going, must be like an eternity.

Imagine this, Elisha was guiding the lead horse and the rest of the horses, chariots and the army were following – like a parade. When they approached Samaria the watchmen at the wall probably saw them from afar. They gave the signal “Enemy approaching!” And they prepared for battle. But as they came closer, Israel’s army noted – wait a minute, this Syrian army was not ready for combat, they were just having a procession, and they were being led by Elisha of all people!

Elisha called out to open the gates. Then he led the army of Syria inside the city walls and then the gates were closed. Elisha prayed again.

20 So it was, when they had come to Samaria, that Elisha said, “Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” And the Lord opened their eyes, and they saw; and there they were, inside Samaria!

Again a prayer to open the eyes. And what did the Syrian soldiers see when they came into their senses? They were in the middle of Israel’s territory. They looked around and saw that Israelites soldiers up on the the walls have their arrows and spears aimed at them. The Israelite army was surrounding them with their swords drawn out ready to strike them. What a surprising sight for the Syrian army.

The circumstance had changed! Before they were the hunter surrounding the prey. Or so they thought. But now they were the prey and they were cornered. God can turn around our circumstances. He will fight our battle. We only need to trust in Him.

If Your Enemy Is Hungry

21 Now when the king of Israel saw them, he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?22 But he answered, “You shall not kill them. Would you kill those whom you have taken captive with your sword and your bow? Set food and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” 

The king of Israel was excited like a child inside a candy store. Shall I kill them all? Shall I give the command “open fire!” But Elisha said, no! These are really not captives, these are my guests. Don’t kill them, give them food and drink. After all they were tired from walking 12 long miles.

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat;
And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
For so you will heap coals of fire on his head,
And the Lord will reward you.
(Proverbs 25:21-22)

There is something more of this giving food and drink. In the Eastern cultures there is a custom that if you eat together or share a meal together, that is like a covenant that you are at peace with each other and are now united as one.

23 Then he prepared a great feast for them; and after they ate and drank, he sent them away and they went to their master. So the bands of Syrian raiders came no more into the land of Israel.

This story gave us a lesson of how to deal with our enemies – Kill them with kindness. It should not always be an “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” kind-of-justice. Mahatma Gandhi said “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

I believe that there are more eyes being opened here that was not directly mentioned in the story. Yes there was the young servant’s eyes opened to see the chariots of fire, and the eyes of the Syrian army that were blinded and then opened to see that they were inside the walls of Samaria. I believe that Elisha was also trying to open the eyes of the king of Israel and the Israelites to the truth that we should repay good for evil. Just like what Jesus says:

Matthew 5:43- 48 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

For us today, I pray that our eyes be opened to see that this world is already full of hate. That people don’t like each other. People don’t trust each other. Not just in the opposite sides of the political fence, or opposite sides of any social movement, or whatever race, creed, religion or beliefs we belong to – there is already so much hate and anger in this world. May God open our eyes that what this world needs is that we love those who hates us, pray for those who curse us, and that we do good to those who do us evil. That the world may know that we are His children and He is our God.

Amazing Grace

I would like to end with a story from the post-apartheid era in South Africa. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was meeting and was gathered to reach a verdict on a particularly brutal case involving an elderly woman. A group of white police officers, led by a Mr. van de Broek, admitted their personal responsibility in the death of the woman’s eighteen-year old son. They acknowledged shooting him, setting his body on fire, and partying around the fire until the body was reduced to ashes. Eight years later, the same officers took the woman’s husband into captivity. The woman was forced to watch while the officers doused her husband with gasoline and then ignited him in fire. The last words her husband spoke to her, in the midst of the blaze were ‘Forgive them.’

Now the time had come for justice to be served. Those involved had confessed their guilt, and the Commission turned to the woman for a final statement regarding her desire for an appropriate punishment.

“I want three things”, the woman said calmly. “I want Mr. van de Broek to take me to the place where they burned my husband’s body. I would like to gather up the dust and give him a decent burial.

“Second, Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can be a mother to him.

“Third, I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him, too. And, I would like someone to come and lead me by the hand to where Mr. van de Broek is, so that I can embrace him and he can know my forgiveness is real.”

As the elderly woman made her way across the silent courtroom, van de Broek reportedly fainted, overcome by emotion. And then the silence was broken when someone began singing, ‘Amazing Grace.’ Soon others joined in singing the familiar hymn, that the entire courtroom was filled with singing.

Lord, open our eyes that we may do good rather than evil, that we may sow love instead of hate, that we might sought forgiveness rather than revenge. This is my prayer.

(*photo from israelmyglory.org)

Rolling Stone

(The following is an excerpt of a discourse I gave in a local congregation last month.)

We’ll be discussing rock and roll, and rolling stone, but in a way different subject matter the popular world knows today.

Mark 16: 1-3: When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

It was Sunday morning, and the women, the two Marys and Salome, were on their way to Jesus’ tomb. Their hearts were broken, yet they would like to show their devotion to their fallen leader by anointing his dead body with fragrances.

It was the custom of the Jews to anoint the dead. We may ask, was Jesus’ body not given proper burial rights before being buried? Let’s read:

John 19: 38-40: After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.

One hundred pounds of spices. That’s a lot of spices! Twenty pounds of spices was the usual burial custom in those days. Forty pounds was for the rich. So 100 pounds was really extravagant. I read that it is estimated that the cost of 100 pounds of this mixture of myrrh and aloes would cost about $150,000 in today’s market. Those men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, gave Jesus a burial fit for a king.

Then why did the women have to go? Do they think that Jesus’ body was not anointed properly that they have to do it again? Who can relate here, that what you have done is not enough? The dishes were not done right. The kitchen was not sparkling enough when you cleaned it.

I am not taking a swipe on the women. For I don’t think these women thought that the anointing of Jesus’ body was not done right or not enough, but rather they only wanted to show honor and respect to their fallen Savior, in their own little way. They wanted to show their love too.

The anointing of perfume was not to do mummification, but to put spice and fragrances to cancel the bad smell of decomposition. One of Jesus’ gifts when He was born was myrrh, a spice to anoint a dead body. Do you see the theme here? Jesus was a baby destined to die.

Back to our story. While the women were on their way, they asked: Who will roll away the stone? This implies that they alone cannot roll away this stone.

Archeologist have found many tombs around Palestine that they believe were first century tombs. Most of the time the opening of the tomb was blocked by a stone. It could be a large mill-like stone, though some experts say that it could also be a square rock that can slide. Though to me when the women said “roll” away, original Greek word apokylio, it must be circular that it can roll like a wheel.

The books of Mathew and Mark said that it was “very large.” If we say it should cover 4 to 5 feet of tomb entrance, then a disc stone would have a diameter of at least 6 feet. That rock could weigh 1.5 to 2 tons. That weight alone even though it can roll like a wheel, would be hard to move.

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me and a large stone in the Holy Land

But there’s another factor that was found by archeological diggings: usually the groove where the stone rolls is in an incline or has a deep ditch where it will drop. Meaning, it may be much easier to close it, but a lot harder to open it, as you have to roll it against an incline or lift it out of a deep rut, and put a wedge to keep it open. In a conservative estimate, you need more than 10 strong men at the least, to roll away the stone.

One more factor, according to Matt 27:66, it was closed with a Roman seal and thus cannot be opened without the permission of the Roman authority. Besides, there were Roman soldiers guarding the tomb. A usual Roman guard unit is 4-16 men, most of the time 4 men stay on guard while the rest sleeps, and they change shifts every few hours, to keep them fresh.

Despite all these factors, these women came to the tomb, and expect that they can somehow open the tomb. Do we have the determination and dedication of these women? Their faith may be imperfect as they did not expect that Jesus will be alive as He told them He will. But they were determined to go. They know that there would be barriers to do their mission, but they still continue.

Sometimes we feel unsure with our plans or mission. Should we carry it out anyway and hope that everything will work out fine? Just like those women did.

So they asked, “Who will roll away the stone?”

But when they came to the site, what did they see? The stone was already rolled away! How? Let’s read:

Matthew 28: 2-4: There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

No need for ten strong men, one angel is enough. No need to put a wedge on the stone, for the angel sat on it. No need to contend with the Roman guards for they became like dead men. Only one angel, can be such a powerful force to contend with, how much more if God would send ten thousand of them!

The women seeing that the stone was rolled away, came in to the tomb, and the angel told them that the Jesus they were looking for was not inside the tomb, for He is alive!

Yes my friends, we serve a risen Savior. Our God is alive! The tomb is empty. That stone blocking the entrance of a tomb was rolled away!

I believe that the rock at the entrance of the tomb was not rolled away so Jesus can come out. What? Before you accuse me of teaching heresy, just hear me out first.

Remember when He appeared to the disciples when they were inside a house with closed-door? Let’s read:

John 20:19: On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

Doors were locked, yet suddenly Jesus stood among them. He came through the walls! I believe Jesus when He was resurrected, can verily come out of the tomb even with the stone locked in!

But why was the stone rolled away? It was not that Jesus can come out. It was for the women and His disciples to come in inside the grave, and see that the tomb was empty. The stone was not rolled away for Jesus. It was rolled away for us, so we can believe.

Are we still asking the same question right now? Who will roll away the stone? The stone of our failing health and illnesses. The stone of our broken relationships. The stone of our financial difficulties. The stone of our addiction. The stone of our day-to-day struggles in life. The stone of our unbelief.

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If we are asking the question “Who will roll away the stone?” we are asking the wrong question. The answer is already clear.

The question for us, is: “Are we going to allow God to roll away our stone?” A large two-ton stone is nothing to God. It should be nothing for us as well.

For God have told us in Matthew 17:20, Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.

God equipped us to move mountains. We should not be asking anymore, “Who will roll away the stone.”

(*photos taken in the Holy Land)

 

Bethlehem Hills and Herod’s Mountain: A Christmas Reflection

It is mid-December, and in a few days it will be Christmas. It’s a season for celebration, yet it is well-known that the holiday season can be a cause of stress and depression for some people. Perhaps we should let go of that long Christmas shopping list of ours.

Even if the whole world celebrate Christmas in December, it is likely that Jesus was not born in the winter. Based on Biblical narrative, shepherds were watching their flocks in the fields at night during that time, and December nights in Judaea can be too cold for the shepherds to sleep outside in the fields.

Many scholars believe that it was probably spring time when Jesus was born, so December 25th is unlikely to be the exact date of Jesus’ birth. What I am saying is that the date may be off, yet I am not saying that we should not remember or celebrate Jesus’ birth. That’s another subject of discussion and debate.

Earlier this year, we were blessed with a visit to the Holy Land, including a trip to the city of Bethlehem.

IMG_4282.jpgBethlehem is about 10 kilometers away from Jerusalem. Today it is a Palestinian territory. So our guide who was an Israeli national and who was touring us in Jerusalem, boarded off our charted bus just before we entered Bethlehem, and another tour guide whom I assumed was a Palestinian, hopped in our bus after we entered the city and cleared the checkpoint. They must have some specific rules and arrangement.

We went to visit the Church of Nativity, the site believed where Jesus was born. This Byzantine basilica was built on top of a cave. So at the cellar of this church was a grotto (photo below), marked as the traditional site of Jesus’ birth.

img_4306Though the exact location is hard to prove accurately with archeological support, for me, it is enough that the city of Bethlehem exists to believe that Jesus was born. It does not matter where the exact spot is, as long as it was recorded that it was in Bethlehem, the city of David.

“For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord”(Luke 2:11). What a reassuring thought, that our Lord and Savior came to this earth, and that should not be a cause of stress and depression, but instead of joy and hope.

While on the bus, I observed that the terrain around Bethlehem was hilly. In fact, Bethlehem sits on top of a hill rising about 3,500 feet above the desert valley. It must have been difficult for Mary who was fully pregnant and about to give birth to climb those hills.

IMG_4290We passed through some hills that were full of houses and buildings today (photo above). It was probably in one of those hills, two thousand years ago, where shepherds were watching their sheep when suddenly they saw a bright light and then the angels appeared to them announcing the birth of the Messiah. It must have been a marvelous experience to be on those hills that glorious night.

The tour guide asked us to look beyond Bethlehem hills and direct our sight to a strange-looking mountain in the distance. It was truncated and cone-shaped. I enlarged the section of the photo above to feature the mountain. (Sorry I was not able to get a better picture.)

IMG_4290It was a strange-looking mountain because it was man-made. The mountain was named Herodium, a fortress that Herod the Great constructed, about 5 kilometers southeast of Bethlehem. This was the same King Herod that tried to kill Jesus by slaughtering all the male infants in the region.

As history recorded it, when Herod the Great, was searching for a place to build his home and fortress, there was not a mountain high enough for him to build this structure. Instead there were two hills near each other at the site where he wanted it.

So what did Herod do? He cut down one hill and with an army of laborers he placed the pared hill on top of the other hill to make it higher, one bucket of dirt and rocks at a time. He literally moved a mountain.

When Jesus and his disciples were having discussion about faith, they were probably looking at this Herod’s mountain, which was hard to miss in the Judaean desert. Its dominating presence was a constant reminder of an oppressive regime. It was a common knowledge of that time how Herod moved a mountain.

However, what Jesus was telling his disciples is that faith, is much more powerful than what Herod can do. With faith they can be mightier than the mightiest ruler of their time.

“Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

Yes, we can move mountains. Though not by our own power but by the mighty power of God.

What mountains are we facing? What giant challenges are gripping our hearts with fear? Let’s put our faith in the King of Bethlehem hills, and He will move our mountains.

May we all have a meaningful Christmas.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Walking Where Jesus Walked

Life is a journey they say. As I commemorate my fifth decade here on earth, I decided not just to go for a trip, but for a pilgrimage. I wanted to walk where Jesus walked.

In tracing the steps of our Saviour, we ventured to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. But unlike the familiar Christmas hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” Bethlehem today is not a little town but a thriving busy city.


We were led to an old church, the Church of Nativity, where it was believed, based on tradition, to be the site of Jesus’ birth.

At the basement of this church was the marked site where He was born. But there was no shepherds. No angels singing. Just a crowd of eager people trying to make a bee line to see this site.

Then as we traveled through Israel, I saw signs that points to Nazareth, the place that Jesus spent most of His years – from His childhood until He started His ministry. But the Bible was silent about those years He spent in Nazareth.

We followed Jesus’ footsteps into the river Jordan. This is where He was baptized, signaling the start of His ministry.

Some in our group even decided to be baptized in the Jordan River.


Jordan River is not as a large and mighty as I imagined. Though it appears “muddy” as it was described in the scriptures. No wonder Captain Naaman of the Syrian army as recorded in 2 Kings, refused to dip in this water.

Yet, muddy or not, I must at least dip my hand, and my belief.

Then we followed Jesus’ footsteps into the mountains near Jericho. This is the mountain where it was believed He was tempted.

What could it be like to spend 40 days and 40 nights in this barren place? Though interestingly today, there is a stone quarry at the foot of the mountain. Definitely lots of stones that can be turned into bread.

Then we looked for Jesus’ traces in the town of Cana. This is where He performed His first miracle, where in a wedding feast, He turned water into wine.

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Our trip then led us to a town that He spent some time during His ministry, a town called Capernaum or Capharnaum.

The only remains of this town today are ruins. Though the site is still beautiful as it is beside the lake, known as the Sea of Galilee. We even saw the remains of an old synagogue (photo below).


Even though we only see ruins of that Capernaum town, it showed us a glimpse, a window if you will, of where Jesus walked.

We climbed a mountain beside the Sea of Galilee. This they say is where He gave His teachings or His sermon on the mount, that became known as the Beatitudes.

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As I looked at the beautiful scenery, I tried to listen through the blowing wind, to His voice and His teachings, in that Beatitude mountain.

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We even had the chance to sail across the Sea of Galilee, where on this very waters, He shouted “Peace, be still,” amidst the roaring waves and howling winds. Good thing there’s no violent storm when we sailed across it.

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 I could even imagine the footsteps that He left on the waters, when he walked on it. But no one among us tried to walk on the water, for that will be preposterous.

We followed Him through Jerusalem. We climbed the Mount of Olives, where He spent some time teaching and praying.

From the Mount of Olives we viewed the City of Jerusalem (photo below). This is where Jesus wept when He looked into the city and the temple, knowing of its coming destruction.

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Then we trace Jesus’ footsteps into the walled city of Jerusalem and walked in its streets and alleys.

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We followed Him into the Garden of Gethsemane where He fervently prayed, the night before He was arrested.

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Then we walked the path known as Via Dolorosa or the Way of Suffering. This is the path that he chose to walk on his way to Calvary in behalf of you and me. (Photo below is Station V of the Stations of the Cross in the Via Dolorosa)

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We then went to the place known as the Skull Hill (calvarium is Latin for skull) or also known as Golgotha. This is the place believed where Jesus was crucified and died, so we can have life.

Below is the Skull Hill today. Old photos of this hill showed it is really shaped as a skull, though recent earthquakes have changed its distinct features.


Then we went to see the tomb where they laid His body after He died. (The Garden Tomb is one site, though there’s another possible site, the Holy Sepulchre Church, which we also visited.)

We even went inside the tomb. But that tomb was empty. For He is risen! And that is the very foundation of my faith.

As we celebrate this Lent season, may we contemplate on His life and what He has done for all of us.

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at the Sea of Galilee

And as a pilgrim, I realize that walking where Jesus walked would be pointless, unless we also follow His will and walked spiritually as well, where He walked.

May we have a meaningful and glorious Easter.

Not Bound for the Promised Land

During our trip to the Holy Land, we visited  a place known as Mount Nebo, which is located near Madaba, Jordan, or the land of the Moabites in Biblical times. It’s pretty high that it provides a panoramic view of the surrounding areas around it, including the land known as the Biblical Canaan.


On Mount Nebo’s highest point, the remains of a church and a monastery was discovered in 1933. Today a Christian chapel stands on its site.


As we were enjoying the view beneath an iron cross, the tour guide was giving insights and explaining the significance of this place to our group.


While another group near us was having a devotional and they were singing the hymn “I am bound for the Promised Land.”

You probably know or heard that song:

I am bound for the promised land,
I am bound for the promised land
O who will come and go with me
I am bound for the promised land.

But the irony of this is, historically, here in Mount Nebo was where Moses stood and God showed him Canaan, the Promised Land from afar. But here also in Mount Nebo was where Moses died and was buried, without reaching the Promised Land. Moses was not bound for the Promised Land.

Moses, even though he was chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and to go to the Promised Land, was not allowed to enter it. All his life work – including 40 years of top-notch Egyptian education, including military tactics and operation, and another 40 years as a lowly shepherd just to learn patience in preparation for his mission, and finally 40 mighty years of leading God’s people out of Egypt, and into the wilderness, on their way to the Promised Land – yet he never set foot to that land.

Was Moses a failure then? Not at all!

Sometimes we are assigned something to do, but we may not see the conclusion of that work. We may have started something that we are not able to finish, not because we are a failure, but because it is not planned for us to fully fulfill that. For God has some other plan for us, or He had appointed another one to finish the work we have started.

More importantly, when Moses stood there in Mount Nebo, while looking at the Promised Land from afar, he did not complain to God why he was not allowed to enter the land that is “flowing with milk and honey.” A land that was promised to his ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. A land he probably dreamed of claiming all his life. He humbly submitted to God’s plan for him.

He may have not entered the Promised Land here on earth, yet God had a better plan for him. For he was taken up to the Promised Land in heaven.

So we may not be able to achieve the dreams or goals we set for our lives here on earth. We may never live a life so rich that it is “flowing with milk and honey.” We may not be able to claim the “promised life” we hoped for here on this world. We may not be bound for the earthly promised land.

But may we set a higher goal, the one God had promised for us. To live in heavenly Canaan with Him.

(The sign under the cross reads: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” John 3:14-15)