From Bill Sutter’s Desk Jul/Aug 2008
Over the years, many people who have traveled “Up to Jerusalem” with us have told me about the sites and experiences on our tour that affected them the most. The list usually includes our boat trip, with devotions on the Sea of Galilee, and our visit to the Western Wall.
But at the top of the list is the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem. It’s a tranquil, garden-like setting at the location of what some consider to have been the garden and sepulcher of Joseph of Arimathea and, therefore, the place of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Mt. 27:57–60).
Adjacent to the garden and tomb rises a rocky, cliff-like formation bearing the appearance of a skull embedded in the rock. So striking is this resemblance to the biblical “Place of a Skull” (v. 33) that Gen. Charles Gordon of England—a devout, 19th-century Christian—believed it to be the site of our Lord’s crucifixion. Consequently, it is often referred to as Gordon’s Calvary.
The Garden is owned and administered by the Garden Tomb Association, an organization based in the United Kingdom. These Christians manage and care for the Garden and have set aside various areas for worship and prayer. We visit the Garden Tomb twice a year on our “Up to Jerusalem” tours. Here we conduct a communion service—remembering the life, death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We recount how this place of death becomes a place of life and victory for believers.
During our recent tour, as we gathered in the Garden to prepare for the Lord’s Supper, several thoughts rushed through my mind. I thought back to our service in October 2002, when ABC News filmed our visit for Nightline with Ted Koppel. A few weeks later, “Up to Jerusalem” was on nationwide television, with 4.5 million viewers watching us sing with conviction the words of Rev. George Bennard’s timeless hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross”:
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
I thought also of our November 2006 joint trip to Israel with our friends from the Jewish community in southern New Jersey and how they respectfully sat alongside as we Christians observed our usual Garden Tomb communion service. The significance of the gathering was not lost on any of us, Jewish or Christian. We were very much aware of how anti-Semites over the centuries have used commemorations of Christ’s death, such as passion plays and Good Friday and Easter celebrations, to enrage the masses in violence against the Jewish people.
There, in the peacefulness of the Garden, the Lord also brought to mind an important event that took place in Jerusalem some 2,000 years before Christ. The location of this dramatic, biblical account was Mount Moriah, known today as the Temple Mount—an easy walk from the Garden Tomb.
In Genesis 22 God called Abraham to offer Isaac as a test of Abraham’s faith and Isaac’s submission to the will of his father. When Isaac, the son of promise, asked where the lamb was for the burnt offering, Abraham replied with an answer whose eternal truth has become a biblical promise that impacts our lives to this very day:
My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb (v. 8).
And provide God did! A lamb caught in a thicket became Isaac’s substitute. And some 2,000 years later, God’s Son, Jesus, the second Person of the triune Godhead, became our substitute, in full payment for our sin. That’s the striking message related to events we commemorate at the Garden Tomb.
Abraham got it right, as the Bible records: “And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lᴏʀᴅ-Will-Provide” (v. 14).
When God makes a promise, He fulfills it. That’s what this issue of Israel My Glory is all about. The Bible is a book of promises. Despite mankind’s repeated attempts to deny those promises, God’s Word is dependable. And His promises are worthy of our absolute trust—past, present, and future.