Journey into Context
by John Frey, DMin On a cold, dark, night, Jesus tried to coax his closest followers to stay awake after eating a four-hour Passover meal, including the requisite glasses of wine. The black of night enveloping the garden was soon disturbed by the light of torches and the shouting of soldiers. The poor light given by the torches made recognition of the stranger nearly impossible, so Judas identified the accused for the mob by way of a kiss. For his troubles, Judas was paid thirty silver Roman coins.
Almost 2 millennia later, I am standing in the Garden of Gethsemane at noon on a stifling summer day. Although much of the surroundings have changed, the olive trees within the garden are old enough to have witnessed Jesus’s final prayers and subsequent arrest. Hearing the story of that night, while standing in the garden where the events occurred, added a rich, new dimension to my understanding.
As we read the narrative mentioning the ransom, our guide pulled a small sack out of his pocket and poured thirty, silver, 1st-century Roman coins into the outstretched hands of one young pilgrim. The sound of the coins spilling into her hands, and the realization that a follower had betrayed his young Rabbi for such a simple ransom, brought many of the group to tears.
I find that followers of Jesus often read scripture with no understanding of the significance of the culture or geography in which the narrative is set. Therefore, our pilgrimage was designed to visit many biblical sites to understand their geographical and historical significance. In addition, we sought to walk where Jesus walked and, in the process, develop a deeper understanding of the first-century Jewish and Roman contexts in which he taught and worshipped.
As we stood on the site of the biblical town of Meggido, its role as the chokepoint along the major trade route between Egypt and Assyria became clear. We sailed on the Sea of Galilee on a calm morning, and then watched the afternoon winds turn the seas into a fury, providing a powerful visual for Matthew’s description of Jesus calming the storm. Baptizing pilgrims in the Jordan River, while reminding them of their belovedness, provided a deep connection to the ministries of both John and Jesus. Walking up the steps, past the mikvahs, and through the city gates into Jerusalem reminded us of the physical and spiritual effort required each time Jesus visited the Temple.
One unexpected blessing on our journey was the opportunity to interact with and befriend Jewish, Muslim, and Arab Christian residents. Each interaction enhanced our understanding of God’s kingdom and the peace that can come when people with different perspectives take the time to share a meal and truly listen to one another.
Our journey was a great success, both in helping us understand the context for Jesus’s kingdom pronouncements, and in helping us see how the kingdom is lived out in the fragile peace that envelops Israel today. My prayer is that our new perspectives allow others to glimpse the kingdom through our lives.
Dr. John Frey, HGST DMin graduate in May 2017, reflects on kingdom living from his recent trip to Israel. Dr. Frey is Teaching Pastor at Cypress Creek Christian Church in Cypress, Texas. His photo of "Ransom Coins" help readers connect with his trip and his story.