Reflections On Tracing The Steps Of Jesus

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“IN HIS STEPS” is a Christian novel which I read in the 1970s and, although I have totally forgotten the story, I remember I was impacted by it then.  The title was from 1 Peter 2:21.

21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps.

The book’s challenge was for the church and for Christians to walk in Christ’s steps.
The recent Holy Land Tour by some 40 Bukit Arang members was organised as aHoly Landpilgrimage and was a tracing of the steps which Jesus took.  In my mind, only Muslims and, perhaps, Roman Catholics make spiritual pilgrimages, much less Protestants and least of all Brethren.  No doubt, we are pilgrims (strangers, sojourners, aliens) and life is a daily journey, and hopefully, adventure and growth.  But a pilgrimage in terms of visiting the Holy Land and holy sites did not sit comfortably in my Brethren mind at first, as no land or site can be holy (although, admittedly, Moses was told he was standing on holy ground back then when God spoke to him out of the burning bush).  But, as I visited the various places, I sensed there was much to be gained in understanding better the biblical places and times.  More of this later.

But, firstly, why did I sign up for this journey?  I tried to recall why I had not visited Israel earlier, preferring rather to go fishing in the Maldives in December many times over the last 20 years.

A few years ago, I had actually signed up to join a group to be led by another well-known pastor.  The group comprised Christians from different churches.  Strangely, I withdrew a few months before the trip.

But why was I one of the first few to sign up for this trip?  It was more a visceral response than mental, but I think there are a few reasons.

  1. It was our own church group and certainly more comfortable and more meaningful, more like a small church camp on the move.  And it turned out exactly so.
  2. The years of heavy expenses for my children’s university education were over and I had saved some money to defray the not exactly small travel cost.
  3. Deep down, I felt it was time to see for myself what a difference it would make to my life if I understood better the geography and history of biblical places.  I had heard stories of how the Bible became more alive for many who had visited Israel.

We were asked to list our expectations and to ask the Lord to speak to us as we visited each place during the trip.  I think, like most others, I was hoping for a closer walk with our Lord, but I had a few other questions to which I sought answers.

  1. Praying for healing for one of my friends who had suffered a serious illness;
  2. Praying for God’s guidance on whether our church should have greater emphasis on healing and helping members in need and a ministry to help the poor;
  3. Praying for direction for our church and, in particular, God’s special blessings of revival for which we had prayed.

Like the others, I had a lot of time to pray and, strangely, I found myself not praying for myself often, but for others.  It is not that I do not need anything or am spiritually complacent, but others have more pressing needs.

What I found is that I am powerless to help much except to pray and, even then, my prayer had felt weak.  There had been periods and particular moments in my life when I felt my prayers were more “effective”.  WouldIsraelmake a difference?

There is one struggle that Christians who have responsibility over others face – how would God use their lives and their ministry and prayer to help others?

We all know God hears and answers prayer and, yet, we struggle when there is an apparent “NO” or “WAIT”.  As I knelt at the church built in theGardenofGethsemane, I remembered Jesus’ prayer and how he sweated blood as He faced the painful prospect of the cross.  It was a victorious “Thy Will Be Done”, but that involved His shedding His blood for us.  The Via Dolorosa reminded us powerfully of the extreme physical punishment and spiritual and emotional pain Jesus endured.  It was not easy, though, to enter into the spirit of Jesus’ suffering in the concrete buildings and amidst the bazaars and milling tourists.  But it reminded me that some of God’s answers in His Will are not what man would regard as blessings and circumstances to rejoice over, but we can still rejoice knowing there is a greater good or final blessing for suffering and death.

Many of the spiritual conflicts faced by Christians today are because of our thinking that every experience must be enjoyable from man’s point of view – no pain, no ill health, no poverty, no enemy, no fractured relationship, no persecution, no failures, no loss of jobs, etc.

And, since these do come our way, we think the best thing to do is to get out of it quickly.  And so, our prayers are limited to “God, get rid of this; get me out; remove him or remove her”.

I am not saying that we do not pray and work towards improving one’s lot spiritually, physically and emotionally.  But, I am concerned about what God wants and wishes for us and, if it involves anything which may be viewed as disadvantageous for us from man’s point of view, let us still welcome it.  After all, God knows what is best for us.

At one point, we were asked what we had to leave behind or give up for our Lord and this is a good question.  Jesus said the disciple must be prepared to give up everything for His sake.  What is most needful and right to do is from God’s viewpoint, not ours.  Mary’s example of worshipping at the feet of Jesus and anointing Jesus with the expensive alabaster box of perfume is a strong reminder that it will or may cost us much or all to serve Christ.

At Capernaum, we were powerfully reminded that all the disciples of Jesus left behind businesses, families, comforts and physical safety to follow Jesus and the geography tell us it meant arduous walking, extreme weather conditions and constant threats from bandits and enemies.

Christianity is not easy and following Christ is not a bed of roses this side of heaven.

For us in Singapore, who are used to the security, safety and comforts of life, we often have to choose to go out of our comfort zone to care and minister to others, whether in evangelism, missions or service of the saints.  We were reminded that King David fell into sin when he should have been at war, but chose the comforts of his palace and indulged his roving eyes and appetite from his high vantage position.  How many Christians have fallen into sin or became spiritually weak after looking into certain internet sites or indulged themselves with the good life and trivial pursuits, especially in their retirement years?

The City of David made an interesting visit as we not only saw how important Jerusalem’s security was, but also how vulnerable Jerusalem was to enemies.  Hezekiah’s tunnel to bring water into the walled city was a strong reminder of how we need to be watered constantly and it must be from within like the well or spring and the river of living water Jesus spoke of.

The pool of Solomon and also the pool of Bethesda, only ruins now, nevertheless, spoke of their past usefulness and brought the gospel stories to life.  It was these two sites which gave me the conviction that we should minister to those who are sick and we must look out for them as Jesus saw the predicament of the lame man at the fifth colonnade at the pool of Bethesda.  It is all too easy to avoid them or ensconce ourselves in a different world from them.  How fitting it would be if we in Bethesda could look out for the needy in Singapore and also wider afield.

For many years, I had a tug at my spirit and conscience to minister more to the poor, especially when I read the gospel.  Once poor myself, I remembered how a little help was greatly appreciated.  Jesus and the apostles remembered the poor.  Even when they were on support themselves, they still took collections for the poor.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit” in Matthew 5:3 was recorded simply by Luke as “Blessed are you who are poor” in Luke 6:20.

At Bethany, which means House of Sorrows, we were reminded that Jesus loved to stay at the house of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, even though it was likely a humble house, probably with a single room or, at most, two rooms.  An interesting note about Jesus’ statement, “Foxes have holes, birds in the air have their nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head”, was that Jesus often spent the nights in caves.  In his final weeks when Jesus was in Jerusalem, he preached at the temple but resorted to the Mount of Olives and likely stayed in a cave.  Contrast that with our modern air-conditioned and panelled homes and resorts.

George Barna’s book entiteld “Highly Effective Churches”, which was based on surveys done of highly effective churches, stated that there was an expectation of the church to minister to the community and this included caring for the needy poor, sick, orphans, widows and hurting.

Likewise, I am reminded that there is an expectation that our elders, pastors and other leaders also learn to sacrifice in their service of God.

2 Corinthians 8:9

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
The many places which we visited spoke of Jesus’ sacrifice and enduring hardship.  His waking up a great while before dawn to pray, and praying the whole night and agonising at the Garden of Gethsemane must have been in severely cold temperature.  His travels, whether on donkeys or by foot, must have been gruelling as he ascended and descended hilly, unpaved terrain.  I could not help reflecting my army training, though tough, must pale in comparison.  We have become soft and need to toughen up physically and spiritually, and this calls for giving up comforts and happy pleasures and past times which, though pleasurable, do not enrich us spiritually.

At the time for sharing, I really had not formed my thoughts but just wanted to thank all who had made the pilgrimage a blessing.  Unexpectedly, I let out what was really in my heart – my longing for God to revive Bukit Arang.  I was excited that the elders and many active members could experience firsthand the steps of Jesus.  Is this the tipping point for our members to enlarge their faith and deepen their love for God and strengthen their witness and walk?

The morning and evening devotions ministered to many.  I realised that we need to concentrate on digging deeper into God’s word and drink more deeply and chew more into the meat of scriptures.  The Old Testament is a vast treasure trove and holds rich veins of precious stones.  Pastors, elders and teachers of God’s word must study in detail and in depth in order to benefit themselves and be a blessing to others.  It is one thing to feed oneself and quite another to feed others.  Instead of pandering to the hawker fare of God’s word with fast meals, there is a need for slowly chewing on and savouring the rich flavours of God’s word and invite others to feast at God’s table as well.

It is not easy to keep to what we did on the days on pilgrimage when we get back into the daily hustle and bustle with multiple tasks demanding our attention.  For example, for 11 days I did not have to answer calls or emails and meet with staff and others who demand my time and attention.  We have to find a way and keep to it so that we can do what God wants us to do.  The way was laid down for us – to walk as Jesus walked.  The trail should be clearer for those who have traced it.  Others may be encouraged to do it.  And better if you start at a younger age but for the older ones, better late than never.

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