Supposed Footprint of Jesus

On the Mount of Ascension

Near the end of our recent visit to the Holy Land, we made our way to the Chapel of the Ascension, in the At-Tur district of Jerusalem. I anticipated the stop with considerable eagerness. Here Jesus issued marching orders that would inspire such daring as the world had seldom seen, such praying and obedience, such giving and sacrifice as to turn the world itself upside down. “You will be my witnesses,” he announced to his … [Continue Reading]

Chapel of the Ascension

Chapel of the Ascension

Near the end of our recent visit to the Holy Land, we made our way to the Chapel of the Ascension, in the At-Tur district of Jerusalem. I anticipated the stop with considerable eagerness.

Here Jesus issued marching orders that would inspire such daring as the world had seldom seen, such praying and obedience, such giving and sacrifice as to turn the world itself upside down. “You will be my witnesses,” he announced to his disciples, “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Here the specific task of Christian mission was put under way. The task that stands at the heart of the World Mission Prayer League. The task that has inspired my own life – and maybe yours as well.

Yet the little site was singularly unimpressive. More than any other place in the Holy Land, in fact, this one left me cold.

A larger church occupied the site once upon a time: visitors can still discern its outline. A mosque stood here once upon a time, as well: visitors can discern a few remaining stones. Today, however, the place is mostly empty: a smallish, non-descript chapel stands at the center of a gravel lot. It is accessed by a single, tight doorway – unless you duck, you are likely to bump year head. The chapel contains no altar, no pews, no images or plaques, and no eye-level windows. It is topped by a simple rounded dome. The floor is bare, save for a small area roped off – about a meter square – with a glimpse of bedrock cleared in a smaller corner. There is something like a footprint in the surface of that rock: tradition presents it as the last footprint of Jesus, as he pushed off into heaven. A pan for offerings is placed just beside it, with a few dollars showing on the day of our visit.

Supposed Footprint of Jesus

Supposed Footprint of Jesus

I do not doubt that our Savior was born in Bethlehem – perhaps in the very grotto that I myself have seen. I do not doubt that he was baptised in the very River of Jordan, maybe near the spot where I stepped into the water myself. I do not doubt that he was reared in Nazareth, made Capernaum his home, and sailed the same waters of Galilee that fill the lake today. I think it likely that he died on the very rock of Golgotha that I have touched with my own hand, and rose from the tomb that stands empty nearby.

But a footprint in rock, as he pushed off from the Mount of Olives into heaven? Here, I think, the tradition has it wrong. Jesus leaves his footprint in our lives.

Jesus has become our peace: he turns us into peacemakers, too (Matthew 5:9; Romans 14:19). Jesus has become our life: he calls us to share that life with others (John 5:24; Acts 5:20). We are called to share in his suffering (1 Peter 2:21). We are called to reflect his saving light (Matthew 5:14-16). Jesus gave himself, humbled himself, and became obedient to the Father’s will even unto death: we are called to “have this mind” ourselves (Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus makes us his disciples; then he calls us to make disciples for him (Matthew 28:18-20).

In a sermon for Ascension Day in 1523, Martin Luther explained the purpose of Christ’s Ascension: “And for this purpose did [Jesus Christ] ascend up thither, that he might be down here, that he might fill all things and be everywhere present; which thing he could not do had he remained on earth.” Now “he is present everywhere,” Luther explained. He is present through his gracious rule, in the Word of God and the Sacraments. And he is present in the lives of his disciples.

I am not so sure about the oblong impression one may see in the rock on the Mount of Ascension: I am not sure that Jesus left a footprint there. But he did leave this: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). He left this: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:18,19).

He left you and me. He makes us, in a sense, his hands and feet in the world.

Elston Old Chapel, Wall Paintings

Treasure in Heaven

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven … For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21) Rust, corrosion and decay are everywhere in this world. Bridges, highways and ports are all deteriorating faster than we are repairing them. A new car becomes used and “old” in just a few short … [Continue Reading]

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven … For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

Rust, corrosion and decay are everywhere in this world. Bridges, highways and ports are all deteriorating faster than we are repairing them. A new car becomes used and “old” in just a few short years; a computer or phone takes even less time, and inflation eats away at the money we hold on to. The fact that earthly possessions fade away quickly is plain to see. This should make Jesus’ advice to store up treasure in heaven an easy decision for us – but it is not an easy thing to do!

For example Jesus said: “… for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail” (Luke 12:32,33). This is difficult; the allure of earthly treasures is strong. They may be fading, corroding and subject to thieves, but they are also immediate and tangible. We do not know exactly what our heavenly treasure will look like; it is difficult to bypass immediate rewards for future, unseen rewards.

Jesus also said that no one can serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24). This is helpful, if we allow God to be the Lord of our life. If service to him is the standard and motivating factor for how we live our lives, then it is God who is our master and money will not be. Living a life trying to avoid “serving money” could still leave a void in our lives. On the other hand, living a life full of service to God will not allow room in one’s life to serve money. In the end you cannot serve both!

Ultimately, storing up treasure in heaven requires faith and patience. We are not able to set aside a portion of our paycheck for our “heavenly retirement.” Instead, we must set aside our entire lives in service to others and to God. We do not get a quarterly statement indicating how our heavenly treasure account is faring, but we don’t need one. We can be certain that our heavenly reward will not fade away or be stolen – and that it will far surpass any fading treasure this world has to offer!

In June we were able to pay all of our missionaries 100 percent of their target allowance. We used $40,654 from the General Fund to meet these needs, leaving a General Fund balance of $141,122 at the end of June.

Thank you for your ongoing support!

Contentment

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) Philippians 4:13 is a well-known and often quoted Bible verse, and with good reason. The verse is empowering and encouraging. I have heard it mentioned in association with many personal accomplishments related to professional goals, sports and physical fitness. Of course we hear the verse when talking about more spiritual matters, also, like overcoming addictions or sharing Christ with others in difficult situations. … [Continue Reading]

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

Philippians 4:13 is a well-known and often quoted Bible verse, and with good reason. The verse is empowering and encouraging. I have heard it mentioned in association with many personal accomplishments related to professional goals, sports and physical fitness. Of course we hear the verse when talking about more spiritual matters, also, like overcoming addictions or sharing Christ with others in difficult situations. We may also look to this verse in difficult times of hardship or persecution. It is good to thank and rely on God in these times, and to celebrate his love and mercy with thankfulness.

However, it seems that we rarely connect Philippians 4:13 with the very things that Paul mentioned right before writing this famous verse. It is one thing to cling to this verse when we are faced with hunger or need. But Paul seems to have taken this a step further. He says that he has learned in every situation to be content. Paul certainly looked to God to supply his needs when supplies were scarce; he was learning as well the secret of contentment in everything.

This is a great lesson for us in ministry. It is easy for us to pray together for God’s provision when supplies do not seem to meet our expectations, and then to rejoice with one another when God supplies what we believe we need. But maybe there is another appropriate response in times of need – contentment. I am not suggesting that financial shortfalls are always the will of God, but we should consider this as a possibility. It is possible that our own financial goals might not be in sync with God’s plans. This we have seen and accepted when financial provision is abundant – but it is more difficult when provision is lacking. If we fail to consider that God’s perfect provision is sometimes less than we anticipated, we can miss out on great ministry and learning opportunities. It is in times like these that we can more easily learn again to depend on the power of God rather than our own abilities. Any ministry we are involved in is ultimately God’s ministry and we can be sure that God knows the needs of his ministry. Neither abundance nor need should ultimately affect the ministry that God has called us to. Like Paul, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

In May we were able to pay all of our missionaries 100 percent of their target allowance. We used $39,712 from the General Fund to meet these needs, leaving a General Fund balance of $103,809 at the end of the month. Our Benefits Fund carried a balance of $29,341.

Thank you for your ongoing support!

Abu Ghosh Frescoe

Emmaus

Unlike many sites in the Holy Land, no one seems to know, precisely, where Emmaus might have been. This uncertainty surprised me, while visiting the Holy Land recently. Emmaus, I should have thought, is the sort of place you might want to keep track of: it figured rather famously, after all, once long ago. The Resurrected Lord of the Universe met a pair of dispirited disciples there, in the evening of the original Easter day. … [Continue Reading]

Abu Ghosh Cathedral

Abu Ghosh Cathedral

Unlike many sites in the Holy Land, no one seems to know, precisely, where Emmaus might have been. This uncertainty surprised me, while visiting the Holy Land recently. Emmaus, I should have thought, is the sort of place you might want to keep track of: it figured rather famously, after all, once long ago. The Resurrected Lord of the Universe met a pair of dispirited disciples there, in the evening of the original Easter day. He met them on the road, “going to a village called Emmaus” (Luke 24:13). Wherever it was.

Many put Emmaus in a place called Latrun, known as Nicopolis in ancient times. Others place it closer to Jerusalem – perhaps in Abu Ghosh, perhaps in a place called Qubeiba. New Testament manuscripts do not agree among themselves, as it turns out. Some manuscripts put the village at “sixty stadia” (about seven miles) distance from Jerusalem. Other ancient variations put it at “a hundred sixty stadia” (eighteen miles or so). None of the manuscripts give much sense of direction. Was the village 7 miles or 18 miles away from old Jerusalem? Did it lie to the north, south, east or west?

As for our little study group, we visited a lovely cathedral in the village of Abu Ghosh, built in Crusader times to honor the memory of Emmaus. The Crusaders, anyway, thought this may have been the original site, referenced in Luke 24. They measured a radius of sixty stadia around the old city of Jerusalem (cf. 24:13), found Abu Ghosh lying there, discovered a well in the middle of town (a likely meeting place for visitors passing through) and erected a church over the site. Why not?

This was a perfect way to identify Emmaus, I have since concluded. Of all the famous New Testament places, “Emmaus” could be anywhere. It should be anywhere, in fact. “Emmaus,” in a way, is an arbitrary waypoint along the pathway of our lives. It is not a distinctive destination – as you would say of Disneyland or the National Mall, for example. People pass through Emmaus, for the most part (Lk. 24:28). They stop, sometimes, only if “urged strongly” (Lk. 24:29).

No one seems to know who the two disciples were, either. One was named Cleopas, whoever that was. (Some think that he was the brother-in-law of Mary of Nazareth; some do not.) The other disciple isn’t identified at all. (Some think that she was the wife of Cleopas, whatever her name; some do not.) They are anonymous believers, more or less, on their way to an unidentified Emmaus.

Abu Ghosh Frescoe

Abu Ghosh Frescoe

The cathedral in Abu Ghosh continues the theme of anonymity. Its ceiling and walls must have taken your breath away, once upon a time: you can appreciate the vestiges of many colorful frescoes, depicting elaborate biblical scenes and mighty heroes of the faith. But their faces have been rubbed out, every one of them. The depictions offended Islamic sensibilities when Abu Ghosh was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. Its Ottoman stewards cleansed the images by rubbing out their faces. The heroes have become anonymous, every single one.

For Emmaus, in particular – this is perfect, I think.

Emmaus is anywhere. The disciples are any pair of believers. It is not latitude and longitude, or names and coordinates that put Emmaus on the map. It is Jesus. He meets his disciples – any one of us, anywhere we are – as we journey our way through life. Why, you still might expect to meet him along the road. Wherever you are. Maybe even today.

Two things happen in this encounter. The Lord reveals himself to the disciples: he creates in them the miracle of faith. And the disciples reveal the encounter to others: the Lord enlists them in his mission. This is the prototypical experience of our Christian faith: Jesus meets us; Jesus enlists us. And you don’t have to be “somebody” for this to be your own experience. You don’t have to be “somewhere” other than where you are, or in “some time” other than today.

You are on your own “road to Emmaus,” you see – and no scholar can prove to you otherwise. Jesus intends to meet you there. You may expect him to lead you into the Scriptures (Lk. 24:27). He may set your heart on fire (Lk. 24:32). And when you meet him, when he opens your heart in faith, you will find that he gives you something to share, as well – a Sure Truth to proclaim, a Gospel Story to tell, and a Mission to make disciples of all the peoples of the world.

Focus on the Unreached: “The Islands”

Imagine… hundreds of tiny islands with lush tropical vegetation; pristine white coral sand beaches lined by swaying coconut palms; turquoise lagoons with warm, crystal clear water; beautiful, hospitable people. Sound like paradise? Now imagine… 120,000 people and the institutions to run an entire nation packed onto an island smaller than threequarters of a square mile; so little cultivatable land that nearly all food must be imported; limited, uncertain fresh water sources; one of the highest … [Continue Reading]

Imagine… hundreds of tiny islands with lush tropical vegetation; pristine white coral sand beaches lined by swaying coconut palms; turquoise lagoons with warm, crystal clear water; beautiful, hospitable people. Sound like paradise?

Now imagine… 120,000 people and the institutions to run an entire nation packed onto an island smaller than threequarters of a square mile; so little cultivatable land that nearly all food must be imported; limited, uncertain fresh water sources; one of the highest divorce rates in the world; a society dominated by fear and distrust.

“The Islands” is an Islamic country – practice of no other religion is allowed, and any “materials contrary to Islam” are banned from entering the nation. Here, however, Islam mixes easily with traditional folk beliefs about the spirit world. Spirit beings from sea or land may interact with humans in helpful or harmful ways, but most Islanders live in fear of the power they are presumed to wield.

The current population is approximately 394,000 with about 30% of people living in the capital. An average household might include six or seven people – more in the capital. The country enjoys a high rate of literacy (93-96%) among both males and females in their national language. English is spoken by most government officials and is the medium of education in most schools. Islander economy is based largely on fishing and tourism. Unemployment among youth ages 15-24 is slightly higher than 22%.

  • Ask God to deliver those who are tormented by fear and restore those who have been broken by divorce.
  • Pray that Islanders will have a hunger to know God, and that they would have access to his Word and other resources in their language.
  • Pray for more intercessors who will faithfully stand in the gap for “The Islands,” and that more workers will be sent out.

[Jesus answered] “… whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.” (John 4:14, NIV)