Ash Wednesday

Traveling to the New Jerusalem

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God,

the heavenly Jerusalem…” 

Hebrews 12:22

Psalm 87 begins with these words:  “On the holy mount stands the city he founded; the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob.”  This is a place which we should all be eager to visit.  It is a place in which all the faithful long to dwell.  But the Psalmist indicates that Zion is not only a destination for pilgrimage, it is also our birthplace.  In verse four, the Psalmist says, “Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon…Philistia and Tyre, with Ethiopia…this one and that one were born in her.”  These are all Gentile nations.  And all of these nations had at one time or another been sworn enemies of God’s people.  Many of them had ravaged or destroyed Jerusalem.  And yet the Psalmist says that the Most High Himself will establish Zion in order to allow all of these people to be treated as born in her.  Jerusalem is the city built upon the hill as a beacon of light for all mankind.  In the previous Psalm, the promise is given that “All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord…” (86:9).  We are all pilgrims, exiles, traveling to our home, for we were born in Zion.  And though, at times, we have lived as enemies of Christ (Eph. 2:11-13; Phil. 3:18), we are among “those who know” God.  We are answering the call to “come and worship the Lord”.

Scripture uses two terms, Zion and Jerusalem, to refer to the same place, but they indicate different aspects of the Holy City.  The word Zion literally means “marked” or “distinctive”.  It refers to the inner qualities that distinguish God’s people.  They are a “people who dwell apart” with their own unique relationship with God.  Jerusalem, on the other hand, indicates the holy city’s function as a spiritual center, reaching out to, and influencing the nations of the world.  Jerusalem is the means by which the Godly spirit found in Zion penetrates the inner life of distant peoples.  In short: “Zion” looks inward at the city’s significance for the Jewish people, while “Jerusalem” looks outward at the city’s external role as a spiritual focal point for the entire world.  Therefore, our pilgrimage to Jerusalem has a two-fold purpose: we are making a careful self-examination and allowing God to transform us, but we are also looking outward and seeking to reach the least, the lost, and the lonely with the light of the Gospel.  

We are citizens of the New Jerusalem, but we are dwelling in the midst of this world, the earthly city.  This city, our world, will pass away.  It is a fallen world.  The New Jerusalem, on the other hand, is stable, eternal, and the dwelling place of God.  It is the city under God’s rule, and hence the city in which we will ultimately come to triumph in Christ.  That is why we are making this Lenten Pilgrimage. 

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