April 1, 2014

As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it and said, “If you had only known on this day what would bring you peace! But now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within your walls, and they will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.  Luke 19:41-44

Don and Shelly Hafner are about to begin a big adventure.

Their quest to visit all 59 national parks in 59 weeks begins today (while the National Park Service has 401 units, only 59 are designated national parks—others are national monuments, historic sites, battlefields, rivers, etc.).

They’ll start at Hot Springs National Park, since it is considered the oldest national park. Yes, you read that right. On April 20, 1832, President Andrew Jackson signed legislation to set aside “…four sections of land including said (hot) springs, reserved for the future disposal of the United States (which) shall not be entered, located, or appropriated, for any other purpose whatsoever.” Hot Springs predates Yellowstone by forty years.

The Hafners will travel through nearly every state, as well as the territories of American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and will stop at other national park sites as well. They say they’ll be spending the most time in Alaska (a lot of ground to cover there, as it has eight national parks spread out over the huge state). Some of the parks they’ll visit twice, in order to photograph different seasons, because this is, among other things, a business venture, and they’ll be selling their matted and framed photos through their website. The trip will wrap up on July 4, 2015.

Sounds like a fun plan to me!

Visiting…the very word conjures up pleasurable thoughts of travel and seeing the sights, and also of sitting around with people you perhaps haven’t seen for a while, catching up on each other’s lives, or having a cozy chat over a cup of coffee with a nearby friend. In former times, calling on your neighbor was a formal ritual or a special time set aside just for that purpose. Sometimes during such a social call, the visitor brought a small present; today we often bring a gift to the host of a dinner or party we attend.

Jesus’ words in Luke 19 were spoken on the day He entered Jerusalem for the last time, on what is now referred to as Palm Sunday (April 13 this year), when the city’s residents greeted Him with shouts of praise, spreading leafy branches and their coats on the road before Him (Mark 11:1-10). But as the Wycliffe Bible Commentary notes, “Jesus was not excited by the applause of the crowd, because He saw prophetically the miseries that would overtake Jerusalem after His rejection…He foresaw the siege and final capture of Jerusalem by the Romans under Vespasian and Titus in A.D. 70.”

The key phrase is “after His rejection.” God had arrived in the flesh 33 years earlier: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people,” announced Zacharias, realizing his son John’s birth marked the beginning of the coming of the Messiah (Luke 1:67, 68). A large crowd who watched Jesus raise a man from the dead also recognized it—“God has visited His people!” they exclaimed (Luke 7:12-17). And yet in the end, they and the Roman authorities ultimately rejected Him, and had Him put to death.

Jesus brought God’s gift of salvation—reconciliation with God—to us, a priceless present we neither earned nor deserved (Ephesians 2:1-9). Today, He still seeks admittance into our lives (Revelation 3:20). But as happened 2,000 years ago, many shrug it off with indifference, refuse it outright, or reject it with hostility.

Just as He did the first time He arrived on earth, Jesus warns of future dire outcome to those who spurned His earlier visit, when He comes a second and final time: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost…But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur” (Revelation 21:6-8).

It’s great to visit 59 parks if you have the time and money to do so. Many of us can only dream of doing that during our lifetime. But history’s greatest visitation is no reverie—Jesus is accessible to everyone, free of charge, and to rebuff His call has eternal consequences.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

An invitation to ponder this Lenten season.

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