At this very moment, as I write these words, I have just returned from the Insight for Living tour of Israel. By every measure it was a great expedition. But you probably know what it’s like coming down from a great expedition – there’s a round-shouldered slump and a sigh as you gather up the post and sort the bills out from the junk. There’s a slight sense of disorientation as you work your mind back into the home routines; back into the joys and the trials of the day-to-day.
A great expedition can leave you vulnerable in some ways. You start to wonder to yourself: “That was great! Why can’t it always be like that?” I call it the Elijah syndrome. Elijah’s great expedition was to the high ridge of Mount Carmel, where he delivered a spectacular lesson about the supremacy of God. Before long he was exhausted and despondent, afraid of retribution at the hands of a vindictive pagan queen. In the seclusion of a distant refuge he wanted nothing more than to give up and fade away. I remember joking to my colleague Wayne Stiles as we gazed over the Dead Sea: “Well, we’re at the lowest place on the earth’s surface – it’s all uphill from here!” But that’s just how Elijah felt in his low place way down in the Negev desert. No joke. He saw it all as an uphill slog, and he felt alone, and he was afraid.
Nine centuries later Jesus, as He approached Jerusalem on the day we now call Palm Sunday, was already on His own great expedition. Cresting the Mount of Olives He was just a few hundred yards from Bethany, where he had recently brought His dear friend Lazarus back from the grave. The crowds were excited – they knew that the signs all pointed to Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah. Everything was going to change now, their King had come to break the yoke of the Romans. This was going to be the greatest of expeditions.
But within a few short days their King – our King – would be alone, betrayed, beaten, falsely accused and condemned to death.
There’s a deep pit, cut into the stone under what is thought to be the house of Caiaphas the High Priest. We gathered in the gloom of that place for a few minutes of quiet contemplation. Probably Jesus was kept there, or somewhere like it, until dawn broke on Good Friday morning.
We thought about our own pains there, down in the pit. The frustrations, the harsh betrayals, the cynical insults, the lies and the old bruises; we each secretly brought them to mind in the silence. No-one there could complain that God had no idea what they had been through. Jesus knew it all, He felt it all, He had experienced it all. He is fully acquainted with our sorrows.
Now, as that thought begins to seep into our understanding, there’s a profound sense of peace and comfort that follows. He does know. We’re not all alone in this. We have a friend who truly knows what we are going through. Physical pain, emotional distress, injustice, abandonment, betrayal and even death.
I find great encouragement knowing that our King understands. He isn’t off living the high life somewhere while we slog it out alone down here. Through His Spirit in us, He’s right with us, matching our steps, sensing our fears, remembering our hurts, understanding our frailty. Bringing comfort, bringing courage, bringing peace in the chaos.
I don’t know what your particular low place is like, but I do know there’s hope there, I do know there’s victory there. Because I know that Jesus is with you, and He knows His way around down there.