I had the amazing opportunity to go to the Holy Land recently, and I came home with more than what the fine print on the ticket promised.
I know about the Bible. I’ve read it, studied it and listened to it. I’ve heard countless sermons explaining the meaning and significance of chapter and verse. And, while I know that there is so much more yet to learn and understand, this experience taught me something entirely different.
The Bible feels different now.
My understanding of the Bible has moved from an intellectual concept and a heart impression to a physical feeling.
I felt a chilly wind biting my face as I walked through the narrow, crowded marketplace of the Via Delarosa.
I felt the hot sun on my face, the quiver in my thighs and the burn in my lungs as I walked up the Mountain of Temptation.
I felt the cold shock of the water on my feet as I stepped into the Jordan River.
I felt the fresh breeze gently rocking the boat on the Sea of Galilee, the sharp shells on the beach, the shelter of the trees on the bank. It smelt different to what I expected, but I had never really thought about it before, until I was there, physically present, touching and smelling and tasting the reality of a physical place. It all became very real.
The humanity of Jesus
Jesus was a real person, with a real body. This is a ridiculous statement; of course Jesus was real. But, somehow in all the years of reading and listening about Jesus and his divinity, I had not fully considered his humanity. Or, more honestly, had not felt his humanity. I will read the Gospels with a new insight, and won’t just read over ‘Then he went up on a mountainside’ (Matthew 15:29) without thinking about what that actually felt like.
The physicality of the biblical narrative
The familiar characters and stories of the Bible are of real people, in real places, facing real challenges, battling real emotions and witnessing real miracles. What would it be like to walk across the bed of the Jordan River? Well, you would need good shoes because the rocks are sharp, and a good hat because the sun is hot. It would be difficult for the young and the elderly; it would be hard to carry a load along the uneven ground.
Bringing the Bible into my present
The stories of the Bible happened a very long time ago, but their story is connected to mine. My life writes the next chapter, demonstrating the character of the same God to those who read my story. It’s the same story, God at work in our world to offer a relationship with Him, to bring freedom and forgiveness, to demonstrate His love.
I didn’t need to be in the Holy Land to imagine the physical sensations of the Bible, but for some reason, being there made the feelings real to me. I hope that the fresh understanding will stay with me, and I will be able to feel the Bible in the normal places I live my life. The burn in my legs when I climb a mountain, the warmth of the sun on my face, the coolness of fresh water on my feet, the sounds of the breeze in the trees; very normal experiences that felt just the same to the heroes of the biblical story as they do to me each day.
In the same way, I want to bring the reality of the power of God of the Bible into my present, not just as an intellectual concept, but as a felt experience. I want to stand at the shore of my Jordan and believe in a God that will part the waters. I want to walk around my Jericho, and have faith to know that the walls will crumble. I want to thank God for His provision, and prepare the baskets for leftover bread and fish.
I want to experience the God of the Bible up close and personal.
I know that God is the same. He still moves mountains, he still parts waters, the waves still know his name. He is close. I want to experience His physical presence every day.