This post on Reflections on Israel – The Humanity of Jesus was written by Kyle Chen, a student at Princeton University, who recently visited Israel with a group of college students.
Me standing on top of Mt. Precipice, overlooking the town of Iksal and the Jezreel Valley.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14
On Monday, I shared a bit about my experience at a Shabbat dinner in Israel. In this post, I want to focus more on how my trip to Israel affected me personally.
At Princeton, I am part of a Christian fellowship called Princeton Faith and Action (PFA for short). Last fall, PFA announced that it was working with a group called Passages to organize a 10-day trip to Israel during the summer. The trip was not only shockingly affordable ($600 all-inclusive) but also an incredible opportunity to visit the Holy Land where my Christian faith has its roots. So I signed up to go immediately, figuring that this might be the only chance in my life to see Israel.
Going into the trip, I had the expectation that going to Israel would be a mind-blowing, spiritual experience. I imagined that I would have some kind of earth-shattering epiphany or revelation while I was there, simply by virtue of being in the Holy Land. I also figured that seeing the actual sites I’ve read about so often in the Bible would automatically confirm that everything I believe must be real. To my surprise, none of these things happened. I can’t say I had any supercharged spiritual moments during the trip. I certainly didn’t feel any closer to God just because I was in Israel. And seeing the Biblical sites didn’t make me feel any more confident in the truth of the Bible.
But being in Israel did change the way I understood Jesus. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully human. I believe that God is not a distant Creator, but rather a relational God who broke through time and space, who lived among us as a Galilean Jew for 33 years. He was born into a family, raised in the small town of Nazareth, and traveled throughout Israel during his ministry. He shared meals with his followers, stayed at their homes, and did things that any other human would do. The almighty Creator of the universe became a human. That’s a really really weird thing to believe. But I do believe it.
So, as I walked throughout Israel, I tried to imagine Jesus walking there too, 2000ish years ago. When we visited Nazareth, I imagined Jesus growing up there as a toddler, a teenager, and a young adult. When I stood on top of the Mount of Beatitudes, I pictured Jesus standing in the same spot, preaching the Sermon on the Mount. As I prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, I imagined Jesus sitting nearby, sweating blood and praying to God: “Not my will, but yours, be done.” As we walked through the streets of Jerusalem, I envisioned Jesus walking through the same streets, carrying the cross on his back to his crucifixion.
The Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed the night before his crucifixion.
It’s one thing to say that Jesus was both fully God and fully human. It’s another thing to realize the astounding consequences of staking our lives on that claim. If the Creator of the cosmos really did take on flesh and became one of us, and, what’s more, died for us, then “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are.” (Heb. 4:15). Anything that we have experienced, God Himself has experienced – Jesus suffered and suffers alongside us. And even when we feel utterly abandoned by God, we do not suffer alone. For abandonment by God is exactly what Jesus faced on the cross.
The Aedicule in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed by some to contain the tomb of Jesus.
I know that, for me, summer can be a difficult time. Being away from PFA and strong Christian community makes me feel distant from God. But being in Israel, and seeing the places where Jesus walked, taught, died, and rose again reminded me of the incredible truth that the God of the universe loves us so deeply that he chose to humble himself and became one of us, all the while knowing that it would cost him his life. God is with us and for us, always, even when it feels otherwise.
A view of Jerusalem at dusk.