Just over ten years ago my mother, a resident of the Chermside Garden Settlement, had a couple of strokes which left her bedridden and with major communication problems. Alison would drive from Buderim to Brisbane every Thursday to visit her and we would all go down on Sunday afternoon.
Singing the old hymns and reading the Scriptures became the major means of communication and comfort during those visits. One day she said to Alison, "It's true, Alison! It's all true!"
Across all the years I have believed and preached on the basis that the Bible is true and truly reveals to us the character and purposes of God. Yet I have heard a whole variety of other opinions – from the theologian who wanted to say that Christianity is "rooted and grounded in history" but thought much of the record is just "myth," to a charismatic friend who wasn't concerned whether it was true or not because she would still believe it anyway.
My recent trip to Israel from 12th to 21st February 2001 (on the ground in Israel from 13th to19th) was a wonderful confirming and refreshing experience. I want to say to you all, "It's true, folks! It's all true!"
It was amazing to see places we have read about, taught about, preached about… across the years.
Joppa – where Jonah caught a boat to Tarshish to try to escape the call of God, and where Peter raised Dorcas to life and had his vision that led him to preach the gospel to Cornelius, the Roman centurion in Caesarea.
Yes, Caesarea – that's where Paul landed after two of his missionary journeys and was held prisoner for two years.
Then on Carmel – a range, so we find out, where Elijah called the people together and challenged them to decide whether they would worship Baal or the Lord.
To Megiddo – a fortified city where Solomon stabled many of his horses and the valley (Har Megiddo or Armageddon) given as the place of the last great battle on earth.
A short visit through the showers to Nazareth – where the angel announced to Mary that she would bear Jesus, where Joseph had his carpentry shop, where Jesus grew up…
The Sea of Galilee and all its associations – with the call of the four fishermen, with the Sermon on the Mount, with feeding the five thousand, with the stilling of the storm, with the miraculous catch of fish, with resurrection appearances to the disciples…
And, not far from the Sea, the ruins of Capernaum – its synagogue and houses a reminder that Jesus taught and healed here.
The climax, of course, was Jerusalem itself – that holy and most fought-over city. To be at the Western Wall where Jews prayed for centuries, mourning the loss of the Temple and the land (hence the older term "Wailing Wall")…
To visit Gethsemane where Jesus committed himself to the Father's will, to stand in the dungeon underneath Caiaphas' house, to walk up the steps towards the place of judgment, to follow the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre…
"It's true, folks! It's all true!" It really happened! It is truly part of human history! The revelation was given and the events took place at real geographical locations in Israel. The archaeologists and scholars cannot confirm exactly where, but there is no doubt at all that it was in this land.
Our guide, a Jew, was born and bred in New Zealand and migrated to Israel about fifteen years ago with her husband and family. She had a deep appreciation for the life and teaching of Jesus. We know, she said, that the priesthood was corrupt at that time and that many wrong things were going on in the Temple. She stops short of calling Jesus the Messiah and Son of God.
There are "Messianic Jews" and Messianic synagogues. I had hoped we could visit one of those synagogues, but an Anglican plea to worship in St George's Cathedral, Jerusalem, prevailed.
Near a bus station is the rock formation which General Charles Gordon identified as Golgotha in 1883. It certainly suggests "the Place of the Skull", even though archaeologists do not date nearby tombs at this period. There is a great deal of limestone around Jerusalem, hollowed out by the weather. For many people this site is a stronger reminder than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – "When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals…" (Luke 23.33).
"It's true, folks! It's all true!" Jesus died on a cross – outside the city wall of Jerusalem – and he died for you and me – the sinless one died for sinners.
Right alongside Gordon's Calvary is the Garden Tomb. Again with little claim to be "the actual spot", the Garden Tomb has a stronger emotional appeal to many of us than the church laden with lamps.
"At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid" (John 20.41).
The tomb is a room with two sections – one a mourning room for relatives, the other with places for three bodies. The doorway had been enlarged at some time, and the round stone to cover it was long since gone.
A wooden door now fits the doorway and bears the inscription, "He is not here – for he is risen." After nearly two thousand years, there are no bodies or bones in this tomb. But the declaration of the angels told the truth three days after the body of Jesus was laid in the tomb.
"It's true, folks! It's all true!" It truly happened then and there. Because it truly happened then and there, we can be assured of the forgiveness of our own sinfulness and we can live in the certainty of his promised presence with us and for us in 2001.
It really happened… for you! God bless us all!
© Peter J. Blackburn, Link, April 2001