After Easter I wasn’t sure I would get to show you any more pictures from the trip to Israel, but guess what… today I want to show you a few more. One of the most interesting and fun days we had was when we traveled through the Judean wilderness to the Dead Sea and Masada. It was a fun day because we got to float in the salty waters of the Dead Sea
and it was interesting because we toured the ruins of Masada.
Masada was a fortress that was used as a summer retreat and palace for Herod the Great and was built around 35 BC. To protect the fortress there was a wall around the top of the plateau that was close to a mile in length and 12 feet high.
|Model of Masada|
In many places these walls were doubled and the people lived in between them during the heat of the day since the temperatures during can get well over 100 degrees in the summer.
|Outer and inner walls of Masada|
On the top of the plateau there were also barracks, storehouses,
a royal palace,
|Inside the Bathhouse|
and several cisterns that collected all the water they would need.
|Cistern at Masada|
It really was a fascinating place and much of the original foundations and structures are still there, in fact, everything below the black line you see is original from the first century and all the stones you see on top of the black line were just picked up from the surrounding area and put back into place.
Today Masada is still an important place for the Jewish people, so much so that it is still protected by the Israeli jets
|Fighter Jets over Masada|
and the motto that each Israeli recruit takes when they join the Israeli Defense Force is “Masada shall not fall again.” The story of Masada goes back to 70 AD when the Romans attacked Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and killed many Jewish people. The survivors fled south into the desert and gathered at Masada to make one last stand against the Roman army. Because it was such a secure fortress, the Jews were able to stand against the Romans for 3 years, but during that time the Romans began to build ramparts up to the city walls.
The Romans were cunning and cruel because they used Jewish captives to build these ramps which meant that if the Jewish people on the top of the fortress tried to defend themselves, they would be killing their own people.
In time the Romans broke through the walls and as they prepared to mount an attack on the fortress, the Jewish people decided that instead of being taken captive or slaughtered they would rather die as free men and women by their own hands. When the Romans entered the city the next morning, all the Jewish people were dead, killed by their own hands. This was not only a tragic ending for the Jewish people but it marked the end of an identified Jewish presence in God’s Promised Land that went back over 1,000 years.
For the next 1,900 years the Jewish people would be displaced and wander through the world without a homeland. It wouldn’t be until 1948 when the modern state of Israel was formed that the Jewish people again had a defined presence in the Middle East. So Masada is remembered because it marks the end of an era in Jewish history and the reason that they say, Masada shall not fall again is because they fear is that if Israel should lose just one battle then they will once again become surrounded like they were at Masada and forced out of their land. They remember Masada because it is important.
We remember what is important. Isn’t that what this weekend is all about? We remember what is important. We remember the service, dedication and sacrifice of countless men and women who fought for our freedom and for freedom around the world. Unlike Israel, we don’t have one motto or one location that we remember; instead we look to hundreds of thousands of graves that mark the men and women who gave their lives fighting for freedom.
|Arlington National Cemetery|
We also remember their dedication in places like the WWII Memorial,
the Vietnam Memorial
and the Korean Memorial. We remember because it is important. I hope that you will take time today and tomorrow to remember what is important about this weekend. It is not just a time to celebrate the warmth of summer, the fun of picnics and the joy of family, it is also a time to remember those who gave all they had to fight for our freedom and to remember the families who have given their most precious gifts, their sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters to the cause of freedom. We remember because this is important.
The same is also true when it comes to our faith. We remember what is important. I have said often that the number one command in the Bible is not to love God or love others, it is to remember. Over and over and over again God tells us to remember and it’s not a suggestion it is given as a command. After God led the people of Israel out of slavery the people were often told to remember what God had done – Exodus 13:3
When David brought the ark into Jerusalem there was a call to remember God – 1 Chronicles 16:12
When the people turned away from God, he called them to turn back and remember Him and all He had said and done – Isaiah 46:8-9.
All through the Old Testament the people were called to remember the power of God, the presence of God who was with them and the they were called to remember and obey the covenant that God made with them. They were to remember these things because they were important. Their connection with God not only defined them but their worship, service and commitment to God brought them life. We still remember these things because they are important, they still bring us strength and power and life.
When it comes to Jesus, we also remember what is important. I asked people this week to share with me the first 5 words or stories that came to their mind when they thought about Jesus. I have to say that maybe the best response I got was this, Man, am I in trouble. I’m not exactly sure what he meant by that, but it’s true. When we are in trouble we can turn to Jesus and he will be there, but if we aren’t prepared and Jesus suddenly appears, we might think, man, am I in trouble. This is what Peter thought when he first saw the holiness of Jesus. He knew he was a sinner who could not stand in the presence of Jesus holiness and power so he said to Jesus, Get away from me for I am a sinful man, but what he was thinking was, man, am I in trouble.
The reason I asked for people to reflect on this is because what we remember first is what we find most important about our faith. If you haven’t done this yet, I want to invite you to take a moment and think about and maybe jot down on your next steps, the first few things that come to your mind when you think of Jesus. It could be a story of a word and don’t think too long, it’s the first response that is important. (pause)
As you look at your list, these are the things you may find most important about your faith. From the 50 responses I got from people online, here is what we remember first and most often about Jesus: love, forgiveness, patient, cross, birth.
This tells us a lot about our faith and sheds some insight into what is important to us. Now here is the challenging part, it is not enough to just think about these things, to remember isn’t just a function of our brain it starts there but then what we think needs to become the shaping principle of our lives. If what is important to us about our faith is… love, forgiveness, patience and sacrifice, then we need to make sure we are living out these principles and becoming people of love forgiveness, patience and sacrifice.
Throughout the Bible, the call to remember has always been a call for God’s people to remain connected to and living out a dynamic relationship with God where they were becoming more of the people God wanted them to be. The people were not just to remember the Sabbath but to live in such a way that they kept it holy. They were to take the memory of God resting as part of the creative process and make that time of rest and re-connection with God part of their weekly routine. They were called to remember that God led them out of slavery in Egypt in order to help them trust God to see them through the challenges that were to come. They were to remember God’s presence with them through their wandering in the wilderness in order to have confidence that God would be with them in every situation.
We are to remember Jesus as loving, forgiving, patient and as a sacrificial servant because God wants us to be loving, forgiving, patient and sacrificial, so how can we actually remember these things and how can we allow them to define our lives? The first step is to actually remember them – to recall these things in our minds every day. This is where reading God’s word on a regular basis can be helpful. With so many distractions in our world, we need to return what God has said often. We need this constant reminder of who God is and what God has done and what he has said because we become so easily distracted, but this is not a new phenomenon. People have always been easily distracted – which is why God has always had to command us to remember.
God has shown us that one way we can remember all these things is to use different kinds of visual reminders. In the Old Testament God told people to write the words of his law on the doorposts of their homes so that as they went out into the world they would remember who God was and how God calling them to live. Today many Jewish and Christian homes have what is called a Mezuzah next to their doors which contains a piece of paper which has written on it Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
|Mezuzah at the Olive Tree Hotel in Jerusalem|
This verse not only reminds people of God but it reminds the people who they desire to be and how they want to live their lives – as people who believe in and trust in God.
God also called his leaders to build altars to remember what He had done in specific times and places. They were to set up these stones as a reminder of where God met people in times of need and how God stepped in to rescue or help them. In 1 Samuel 7 there is the story of God coming to help the people of Israel win an important battle and after the battle Samuel set up a stone and called it Ebenezer, after the name of the place where the battle took place, and said, thus far has the Lord helped us. The stone was a reminder of how God had helped them in the past and it was there to encourage them to trust God in the future. This is what we sing about in the old hymn, come thou fount of every blessing when we say, here I raise mine Ebenezer…
Maybe this is where we got the idea of remembering people with stones and monuments, I don’t know, but I do know that visual symbols can help remember and since we are people who are prone to forget – we need all the help we can get. Think of all the rituals, tools and symbols God has given to help us remember. He told us to set aside an entire day to remember and honor him. When we share in communion it is to remember Jesus and all that has done for us. The cross is a visual and constant reminder to us of not only who Jesus is but how we are to live our lives – as servants of God willing to love and sacrifice ourselves for others.
These visual symbols not only help us remember who God is, but how God wants us to live and I hope how we want to live. What can we do this week to remember God and what is important to our faith? What can we do this week to remind ourselves how we want to live our lives in response to God’s mercy and love? We remember what is important, so let us do all we can to remember the fullness of God’s forgiveness and patience and sacrificial love.
We Remember What Is Important
1. What are the first words or stories you think of when you think of Jesus?
How are these things the most important part of your faith?
What might be missing from this list that is important to you?
2. What physical reminders of your faith can you put into your life and home? What specifically will they remind you of? How can you use these things to shape your life?
(For example, a stone on your bedside table might remind you to pray every morning for God’s strength.)
3. This is a weekend to Remember. Take time to remember those men and woman who have helped us experience the freedom we have today. Reach out to families and friends who have lost loved ones in our most recent wars.