Up to Jerusalem
by Zach Kincaid
”And taking the twelve, he said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem…’” (vs. 31)
In Scripture, we're often journeying back and forth, to and from significant places. Holy places. They are holy because God sets them apart in the great story he is telling. For example, Jacob dreams about angels ascending and descending from Heaven (Gen. 28:10-22) in the same spot where God gives him the new name of Israel years later (Gen. 35:1-14). Jacob names the place “Bethel” which means “house of God,” a holy, consecrated place. The burning bush in the wilderness - where Moses becomes familiar with God's call on his life (Ex. 3) - is up the same mountainside where he communes with God after the Egyptian adventure, the mountain where he receives God’s law for His people (Ex. 34). It is Mt. Horeb, or by its more common name, Mt. Sinai – a dried, desolate, used-up desert location where God drops down to instruct His people. God even tracks us back to Egypt in the narrative of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus (Matt. 2), in a kind of reversed redemption. We can imagine Jesus wading in the Nile with his mom, free from Herod’s outrage, in the place where so many promises took root.
So we come to Jesus’ longing for Jerusalem in our text for today. Jerusalem is the city Saul never sets up as the capital but leaves it to David who makes her the center of a thriving kingdom, albeit short-lived. David brings the Ark of the Covenant inside her walls, the one fashioned for the Tabernacle at the foot of Mt. Sinai, the same one brought through the wilderness to Gilgal (Josh. 4), then to Shiloh where it rested inside the humble frame of God’s traveling house for about 350 years (Josh. 18). It’s here, 30 miles north of Jerusalem, where Samuel grows up under the discipleship of Eli. Jerusalem becomes more significant as the plans for the Temple are put in motion by David and fulfilled by Solomon in the early days of the tenth century BC. It will be God’s permanent dwelling place… until it’s looted by Egypt (I Kings 14:25-26) under the rule of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. The Temple is then completely destroyed in 586 by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon along with the whole idea of Jewish independence. The two southern tribes of Judah, the remnant, the holdouts, are hauled off to exile. It’s over.
Ahh, but Jerusalem is God’s new Sinai. God’s story circles back to her. With the return of Ezra and Nehemiah, the walls of the city are rebuilt. Under the protection of Cyrus, the benevolent king of Persia who sits on top of the world at the time, the Temple is also resurrected between 538-515. It is the Temple that Jesus is heading to in Luke 18, outlasting the Seleucid desecration that brings on the glory of the Maccabean revolt 150 years before his birth and under the long shadow of Herod the Great’s expansions, of which we have only one wall today. The Second Temple, often referred to as Herod’s Temple, is destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, but that’s getting ahead of our passage.
Caught between the rich guy who won’t be dependent on God’s providence (Luke 18:18-29) and the episodes in Jericho hinged on another rich guy who does repent (Luke 19:1-10), Jesus reiterates the ensuing drama in Jerusalem in our passage today. Maybe he notices a glimmer in the eyes of his disciples as the rich man catalogs all his wealth. We can assume something of the kind by the reference in John 12:4-5 when Judas comments about the frivolous use of expensive perfume. Jesus is crazy not to take this rich man up on whatever offer he is peddling. Right? The text almost suggests bargaining some pound of goods in exchange for eternal paradise. “This is an incredible opportunity,” one disciple might have said to another. “I know this rich man and he has extreme means. We can certainly use his position and his riches to further our cause.”
Of course, this commentary is only felt in the undertow of what we read leading up to Jesus pulling his disciples aside for another debrief about their exact mission. It’s a reminder to ignore the chatter, the fanfare, the pride of life, the waving palms, the positioning, the shouts of Hosanna… and come along for a journey into the mouth of death. In Luke 13, Jesus weeps for Jerusalem. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” he says, “you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you…” It’s this place where he’s taking his trusted followers.
And the valley of the shadow of death is also a place where we journey back and forth in God’s narrative. The whole cycle of seasons is a reminder that out of death springs forth life. Jesus is going to Jerusalem to abolish the curse of death by becoming death itself. The pageantry is a retracing of the Passover episode, but this time it is Jesus, God with us, who affords safe passage. He is our Passover Lamb (I Cor. 5:7). Hebrews says, “We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh…” (Heb. 10:19-20).
The Gospels only explicitly report two miracles in Jerusalem. You might think from a quick read that more occur in a city that overshadows the whole story. On one side of the Temple, by the Sheep Gate is a pool called Bethesda. Jesus heals the lame man who finally has the guts to believe in God’s provisions (John 5:1-14). On the other side of the Temple, by the Pool of Siloam, a few days later, Jesus heals the man born blind. Remember that this happens just after his narrow escape from the Temple grounds (John 8:58-59). After a frustrating debate with the Pharisees regarding his claims of authenticity, Jesus says something that causes them to violently throw stones. He says, “before Abraham was born, I am.”
And in a passion play only God can orchestrate, we reflect on Isaiah 35. We strengthen our feeble hands to pray and ready our wobbly legs to bow before our God who comes to Jerusalem. We know it’s him because “then will the eyes of the blind be opened… then will the lame leap like a deer” (Is. 35:5-6). The descriptions of the two miracles carried out in Jerusalem were on either side of the Temple, the place where God dwells, the place where the curtain is torn top to bottom as Jesus opens the high holy place by way of his blood.
Like every year, as we wait for Jesus to return, let us go to Jerusalem, where there is a highway called the Way of Holiness, where the redeemed walk and the ransomed of the Lord return (Is. 35:8-9).
Zach Kincaid serves as our communications director at the Falls Church Anglican. He manages workoutyourfaith.com and has written on C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and general Christian thought for more than 15 years. He is a husband, father, and collaborator on a variety of Christian outreach projects, including films and educational resources.