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Apr4WedA trip to the Holy Land made Diane Stark see Jesus' Easter sacrifice in a new light. April 4, 2018 by Diane Stark
"Did you see the sign?” I asked my husband, Eric. “It’s called The Sanctuary of the Anguish of Jesus Christ.”
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Eric nodded. “I’m sure He was experiencing tremendous anguish, knowing that Judas was about to betray Him and turn Him over to be crucified.”
Between Past and Present
We were in Israel, on the trip of a lifetime. So far, the trip had been amazing. We’d taken a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus had calmed the storm and walked on the water. We’d visited a church built on the ground that many believed to be Jesus’ burial site. Even better, we’d been baptized in the Jordan River, the same river where John the Baptist had baptized Jesus when He’d first started His ministry on earth.
But now, we were at the site believed to be the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus had prayed the night before He was crucified. He asked His disciples to stay awake and pray, but they fell asleep. Jesus experienced such anguish that night that the Gospel of Luke says He actually sweated blood.
As I stood there, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I imagined Jesus sitting on the ground underneath one of the giant olive trees in the garden, knowing the great pain and suffering He was about to endure. I could almost picture Him praying, asking His Father if there was any other way, but in the end, Jesus accepted that God’s will would be done. I imagined Jesus that night thinking of each one of us with love, knowing that the great sacrifice He was about to make was the only way to save us from our sin.
I also imagined His disciples, sleeping when they’d been asked to pray. I put myself in their shoes. I wanted to believe I would have stayed awake as Jesus asked me to, but in my heart, I knew I wouldn’t have done any better than Peter and John had.
And in that moment, standing in the garden where Jesus had suffered, I felt the tremendous weight of my guilt in a way I never had before. I’m sorry You had to go through that on my behalf, I thought to myself. I’m so, so sorry.
The next day, our tour group went to the place in Jerusalem believed to be the Crucifixion site. In the Bible, it’s referred to as Golgatha, or “place of the skull.” There was a rocky cliff and in it, I could see the eyes and nose that formed the shape of a skull. It was easy to see why biblical scholars had determined that this was where Jesus had been crucified.
I imagined Him hanging there, with the crowd mocking Him, urging Him to save Himself. But if He saved Himself, He couldn’t save me, I thought. It was my sin that kept Him on that cross.
From Guilt to Gratitude
We moved on to view a nearby empty tomb. “We don’t claim that this tomb is Jesus’ actual tomb,” the guide was careful to say. “But based on the Bible’s descriptions, it could be.”
Despite the uncertainty of the tomb’s authenticity, I was incredibly moved to see it. I stood inside that empty tomb, imagining Jesus’ broken body inside. I’m so sorry, I thought.
After we’d looked inside the tomb, I sat down on a bench, emotionally drained. “This whole trip is like a tour of Jesus’ pain and suffering,” I told my husband.
But Eric shook his head. “Go back inside. The tomb’s empty. Jesus isn’t there because He rose from the dead and He is alive today. And that means this trip isn’t a tour of His pain. It’s a tour of His victory.”
Eric was right. I got up and went back inside the tomb. It looked the same, but it evoked different emotions in me, in light of my husband’s words. Now, instead of feeling guilt over my sin, I felt gratitude for His sacrifice.
“Thank You, Jesus, for loving me so much that You were willing to die for me,” I said. “Thank You for the gift of salvation that Your sacrifice affords each one of us. And thank You that Your victory over sin and death can become our victory, too.”
I dried my eyes and left that empty tomb, ready to visit our next location on Jesus’ victory tour.