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Israel: The Fifth Gospel

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Matthew. Mark. Luke. John.

The four gospel writers. But did you know that there is a fifth gospel? Father Bargil Pixner (1921 – 2002), a Benedictine monk in Jerusalem’s Dormition Abbey and well-noted author and archeologist, is quoted in his book With Jesus Through Galilee: According to the Fifth Gospel (Corazin Publishing, 1992) as saying,

Five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books and one you will find in the land they call holy. Read the fifth gospel and the world of the four will open to you.

Pilgrims to Israel have no problem understanding this statement. Those who walk upon her sacred soil touch with their hands and behold with their eyes that which their minds have previously attempted to imagine. It rises and stretches before them unexpectedly; many of the things they thought about the geography are surprisingly not as they pictured.

Sites now “decorated” or “marked” by churches, and crumbling locations now worked by archeologists, both block and open the ability to “touch” and to “see” the Bible.

An Ancient Question

The book of Matthew (11: 7-8) records a question posed by Jesus. The disciples of John the Baptist were leaving when Jesus turned to the crowd and (referring to John) asked,

What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see?

The pilgrim to Israel – should he ask this question of himself – will not ask it for long. For once the fifth gospel is experienced, the pilgrim understands God’s Holy Word and His beautiful story in ways he could have never dreamed possible.

The Wilderness

If you are willing, I’d like to take you on a Land of the Bible tour. Using my words and your willingness to imagine, we begin our time in God’s Holy Land in the wilderness. Like the Hebrews who joyously – if not with a level of trepidation – journeyed out of the desert, and Christ who willingly wandered into it both to be baptized and to be tempted, we come into the midbar, or desert, for what we might “see” as Jesus put it.

Ein Avdat is our first stop. Rarely visited by Christian pilgrims and tour groups (or not visited enough, to be certain), Ein Avdat (The Spring of Avdat) is a magnificent fingerprint of God upon His earth, a “breath-taking by its beauty” canyon located in the Negev of Israel. There, ibex frolic along the canyon walls, ever steady on nimble hooves. Eagles soar and glide overhead. Song birds whistle their arias. Saltbushes grow sporadically; their leaves are edible and taste a little like potato chips.

But that which draws those who venture deep between the limestone walls is the trickle of water that leads to a pool below a 50-foot waterfall. Water that spills from the rocks, high above where sky meets earth.

Fifth Gospel Teaching

So what then can we learn between the high rocky crags and cliffs of Ein Avdat?

1. When we look at the word “midbar,” a Hebrew word from which we get one of our definitions easily wrapped up in the word “desert,” we find even deeper meanings. MIDBAR has the root DBR, which is the same root for the words “speak” and “word.”

In the biblical use of the word “desert,” we find three Hebrew words; 1) araba (the deepest and hottest areas of the world), 2) charbah (the most desolate), and 3) midbar. When we see the word “desert” in the Bible, it has most frequently been translated from “midbar.” But do not picture a stretch of desolate sand. It can best and more accurately be understood as "pasture ground." A place not entirely uninhabitable, but a place where a shepherd or shepherdess may take their flocks for water, food, and rest.

By this definition we can understand David’s often-penned words of being led by his Heavenly Shepherd into the desert … for food … for water … for rest. Psalm 23 is filled with word pictures of this very notion.

2. It is often in the “desert places” … these “midbars” of our lives that we are actually able – finally stripped of all outside noises and distractions – to hear what God is trying to say, to whisper even, to and into our hearts. Here we can rest. We can partake of God’s Word and drink from the source of Living Water.

3. When we find ourselves between the rocks and the hard places, we must seek that Living Water. When speaking to the “woman at the well” (John 4), Jesus refers to Himself by that term.

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:38).

But it is in Revelation 7:17 that we read a remarkable verse which ties all this together:

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (emphasis, mine).

In Ein (spring) Avdat, we are led by our Shepherd to a spring of living water (water that is moving). There, we are met by God.

A Fifth Gospel Word for You

We often imagine the ancient Hebrews as full-time groaners and moaners for their near-40 years of wilderness-walking. We think that the entire 40 days of Jesus’ time spent in the midbar was both agonizing and overwhelmed by temptation. But a journey into the desert of Israel –albeit brief – opens another possibility. There is beauty here. God’s fingerprints are everywhere.

There is silence enough to hear your own thoughts… and God’s whispers.

So then, what would you come into the desert to see … were you to come into the desert to see it?

Excerpt from Reflections of God's Holy Land  Printed by permission of Thomas Nelson. For additional information on Thomas Nelson, visit www.thomasnelson.com.

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