Sunday, March 21, 2010

Gunfire, Gethsemane, and the Grace of the Gospel

Last Tuesday, March 16, the Jews in Jerusalem dedicated the Hurva Synagogue. This famous synagogue was blown up by the Jordanians during Israel's 1948 War of Independence. For six decades the Jews refrained from rebuilding Hurva, but last Tuesday marked the reopening of Jewish worship in the synagogue which is located not far from the Arab controlled Temple Mount and the Arab eastern quarter of Jerusalem.

Rachelle and I were with several friends in the Garden of Gethsamene last Tuesday when a full scale gun battle broke out between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Most of the shooting occurred on the Temple Mount and East Jerusalem, right across the street from where we were standing. The Palestians were protesting Hurva's reopening, and leaders of Hamas were attempting to start another intifada, or "uprising,' and hundreds of Israeli soldiers and policemen spent about thirty minutes putting down the uprising by firing rubber bullets. At the time of the firefight, we didn't know that only Israeli soldiers were firing, nor did we know that rubber bullets were being used--all we knew was that it sounded like World War III had begun, and we were the closest Western tourists to the fighting. Fires were started, helicopters surrounded the scene, and between 200 to 300 shots were fired in fifteen minutes. In the midst of it all, our orthodox Jewish guide raised his hands and said to us "Ignore the helicopters and the gunfire and listen to me." Then he pointed to an olive tree and said, "This tree is over 2,000 years old ...." and continued talking. Our guide, Avi, is 72 years old and is an old pro when it comes to war. He was a child who hand carried messages to soldiers in the 48 War of Independence, a battalion commander in the 67 Six Day War, and a reservist in the 73 Yom Kippur War. He is used to fighting. Frankly, the rest of us were more interested in hiding behind the olive trees than learning about them from Avi.

We eventually made our way out of East Jerusalem, sitting in the inside aisles of the bus so that we could duck if necessary. We continued our journey through the Israel, making it as far as Lebanon and Syria in the north, Jordan to the east, and Egypt to the South. Two days after the gun battle we even made it to the top of the Temple Mount, the very place fighting had occurred 48 hours earlier. Unlike the 2000 - 2006 intifada, the Palestians last week weren't too enthused in revolting against the Israelis.

The people in the Middle East, both Jews and Arabs, need what organized and institutional religion cannot bring. They need a change of heart that comes only from the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, institutional Christianity does not reveal the power of Christ. Jerusalem, Israel, and the Middle East is filled with churches, synagogues, and mosques--all promoting their religion, but all missing the reality of Christ. Jesus taught that we are to "love our enemies," but it seems that the religious often hate their enemies. Standing in the very garden where the Prince of Peace prayed hours before His death, surrounded by the fundamentally religious fighting one another, I couldn't help but think about the fact that the real evidence of God's grace the religious person's heart is love for people, even one's enemies.

In His Grace,