Episode 35: Jerusalem | 10 MGJ Devotional Podcast

Episode 35: Jerusalem


     Jerusalem represents more than merely a city on the Eastern Mediterranean; it is an idea, one that exists as an ingrained memory of an experience. Jerusalem is a place calling worshippers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to come and celebrate the provision of God with other worshippers. Jerusalem is a place planted in the hearts of those who worship there. Yet, when all is completed in the Gospel of John, Jerusalem is a place of power. The Romans rule there. The religious leaders rule there. Even the locals hold sway since they recognize outsiders to their city and often relegate them to outsider status.

In the Old Testament

     The city of Jerusalem is part and parcel with the story of the Old Testament. From the time of Joshua, the city is mentioned. From the time of David, the city serves as the capital for he and Solomon. From the time of Asa in Judah the Southern kingdom and of Ahab in the Northern Kingdom, Jerusalem and Samaria form a pair of contrasting cities often mentioned in the same phrase. Jerusalem is a place of refuge for those worshipping the LORD God, and a place where other gods are often worshipped. Yet, the future of Jerusalem as proclaimed by the prophets is bright.

So it shall be that all those who would call upon the
name of the LORD will be rescued; Because, just as the
LORD said, on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem are the
ones rescued, are those who have received the Good
News, are those whom the LORD has called to
himself.” (Joel 2:32 [3:5 LXX])

Elsewhere in John

     The most frequent references in this gospel to Jerusalem appear in connection with the festivals. Jesus celebrates multiple Jewish festivals in the Gospel of John, which leads many to talk about Jesus’ three-year ministry. Jesus goes to Jerusalem in the spring for the Passover (John 2:13, 11:55), in winter for the Feast of Dedication, what we know today as Hanukkah (John 10:22), and in the fall for the Feast of Booths (John 7:22). He also goes to Jerusalem for an unnamed feast (John 5:1), which many associate with the Feast of the 50 days, or Pentecost.

     Three other situations provide depth of meaning to this city beyond simply a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) location. In the first situation, as the gospel narrative moves beyond the Prologue opening, the spotlight is upon John the Baptizer. (See Episode 5) Situated as he was in the region near the river Jordan, people came from all around Judea and Galilee to hear his message and to be baptized. At some point the ruling religious leaders in Jerusalem sent a group of knowledgeable, educated, elite individuals to question John. These priests and Levites, whom others sought out for religious teaching, began to question John’s identity and rationale for practicing a religious activity, namely baptism. Jerusalem is recognized from the very start of this gospel as a place for the religious authorities to question any one else whose religious teaching and practice draws a large crowd.

     In the second situation, Jesus has entered the region of Samaria, a region identified with that “other city” in the history of Israel. His discussion with a woman from that region at a well associated with the patriarch Jacob moves from requesting water to discussing religion. The woman seeks to maintain her distinct identity throughout the discussion. At first, she reminds him of the social distinction between Jews and Samaritans, with some emphasis on the even greater distinction experienced between Jewish males and Samaritan women. After recognizing Jesus as knowledgeable concerning the patriarchs and possessing some prophetic insight, she seeks to maintain the distinction between them on the basis of where Jews and Samaritans claim worship should occur. Jesus then indicates that the monopoly Jerusalem holds over the worship of the God of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, will soon end. No longer will people argue about this place or that place as the correct place for worship.

     In the third situation, and the final time that Jerusalem is mentioned by name in this gospel, Jesus is being welcomed into the city by the crowd of religious pilgrims attending the Passover feast. As Jesus enters the city the crowd shouts aloud Psalm 118, one of the Hallel (hallel-ujah) psalms of praise to YHWH, the LORD. “Blessed is the one coming in the name of the LORD; We have blessed you from the house of the Lord.” (Ps 118:26, 117:26 LXX) To this psalm, the crowd adds the specific messianic hope carried by this psalm in their cry, “The King of Israel.” (John 12:13) John’s gospel then describes that Jesus sat upon a young donkey and entered the city in fulfillment of the prophet Zechariah, “Shout aloud, daughter of Zion, Proclaim it aloud, daughter of Jerusalem; Look, your King is coming to you, he is righteous and a savior, he is gentle and seated on a donkey, even a young colt.” (Zechariah 9:9) Jerusalem represents that place where God’s Messiah reigns.

Concluding Thought

      The name of this influential city, Jerusalem, carries a weightier meaning than merely a location where people live. Indeed, at that time some viewed this place in a positive light while others viewed it with less favor. The city itself is dominated by religion. The political ruler provides a visible presence as well, especially while in residence there. Yet ultimately, Jerusalem is the place where Jesus dies. The religious and political leaders have maintained their power and control. Another religious teacher is cast aside. The messianic hopes of the people are crushed once again. The status quo remains entrenched.

     Four decades later, Jerusalem is torn down by the Romans following a military uprising by the inhabitants of the region. It would appear that Jesus’ word to the woman by the well are true. Both Samaria and Jerusalem have been destroyed. Neither presents a place for worship. However, only in the death of Jesus can Jerusalem’s monopoly on exclusive worship of the LORD be broken, so that the LORD may be worshipped in spirit and truth.

     Only by entering this city of power and religious control as a peaceful ruler already holding complete power can Jesus serve as the ultimate King, one who is both righteous and a savior to its inhabitants. Jerusalem thus serves as the prototype for the activity of God; activity that redeems and renews things corrupted for those things incorruptible; activity that replaces power expecting to be served with power that serves. Jerusalem represents the beachhead for God’s invasion to renew and restore his kingdom for all nations of the world.

Take 5 Minutes More

     Before a person can grow and develop the spiritual dimension of his or her life, it is necessary for him or her to become aware of the spiritual dimension. This movement requires that we find meaning in things that we read beyond the factual, historical record. A city represents more than a location on a map. Developing the spiritual dimension requires we open our eyes to the connotations, associations and experiences tied to a place. We are aware of these in our own experiences, the phrase, “going to the lake,” carries more meaning than a mere change in location, but we often remain wary of this depth of meaning in those things we read in the Bible.

     Is there a place in your heart that carries a broad depth of meaning? It may be a house, a camp, a mountain. What meanings do you find there beside the geographical location? Is there any place of spiritual significance for you? How can you communicate that significance to someone else? Try to do so. Write out the meaning that goes beyond the map.