by John Mayer |  Union University

“And in the fourth watch of the night [Jesus] came to them, walking on the sea.” (Matt. 14.25)

Ever since I was a child, I have read this story in the Bible or heard sermons which used this verse as the topic. I thought I understood this passage. I grasped the miracle of Jesus walking on water. I learned the spiritual lessons of Peter stepping out of the boat and walking to Jesus. I even taught this passage to children and teens during Sunday-school lessons. However, there are a few details about this passage—and for that matter the entire Bible—that I did not know until traveling to Israel.

A crisp, mellow saltiness with a hint of something not unlike seaweed or driftwood. That is one of those details I did not know until traveling through Israel; The smell of the Sea of Galilee. I could read Matthew 14:22-33 and never once consider what the disciples smelled as they saw their teacher walk on water. Having now cruised on the Galilee, however, I can not only recall this smell but also the sensation of the sea spray striking my skin. This gives a whole new dimension to my reading this passage in Matthew. I no longer read the scriptures, I feel them.

This level of understanding is not exclusively for Matthew 14:22-33. Consider 2 Kings 20:20 which says,

“The rest of the deeds of Hezekiah and all his might and how he made the pool and the conduit and brought water into the city…”

While in Israel, our tour group was given the opportunity to walk through this conduit. It was cramped and wet but full of rich history and strife. The feelings I experienced while walking through the tunnel were feelings that simply cannot be had while reading the scriptures. I felt the scriptures come to life.

I would like to also share my experience in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke writes in Luke 22:41-42;44:

“And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done’…And being in agony he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”

This scene is gruesome and sobering when read. Jesus was nervously yet obediently awaiting his death. We then go on to read in verses 47-48,

“…there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?’”

I knew this story well and had read it many times. However, I never felt it, truly, until I walked in the Garden myself. I stood in the Garden smelling the hyssop and hearing the rustling of olive leaves while looking upon the gate through which Judas and the crowd came. I could see the sites Jesus saw and feel the physical things he felt in those moments before he was betrayed. This was something I was not ready to experience. Knowing the pain Jesus went through while standing at the place where it began was emotionally difficult. I knew this story, but I had never felt it as I did during my time in the Garden.

Traveling through Israel allowed me to feel the Bible in a way I never had before. The trip completely changed the way I read and understand the Bible. As I described, I feel the Bible much more intimately than I had before. Since returning to the states, I have felt a greater connection to my daily readings of scripture. I not only enjoy my time reading scripture but also I look forward to the next chance I will have to read my Bible. I believe this is because of the sensational memories I now have with the settings of scripture. Many passages come to life in my mind’s eye because I have a physical place to put the characters in. I realize now the gift that I was given to travel to Israel. My perception of the Bible has been entirely changed for the better.

Another perception I had before traveling to Israel was that of the person of Christ. In my mind, Jesus was a deity that, although we read he was a man, never felt human. I am partly ashamed to admit I could never entirely separate the person and divinity of Jesus. I would read passages of his miracles such as Mark 2:10-12 which states,

“‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic— ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home’. And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’ and think only of Jesus’ great power. Then read passages like Matthew 4:2, “And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”

I would simply glance over the last three words. Jesus was and is equal parts human and God. It was not until I walked through the places Jesus walked that this notion finally settled in my mind. Jesus was a person, perhaps similar in appearance to Israelis I met, who walked the streets I walked and saw the things I saw. In thinking this way, I am now able to better grasp Jesus’ humanity as well as his deity.

Israel changed me. I started the trip expecting to see God’s work in my life, but I did not know the extent to which he would. I found a new depth to the Bible; one of feeling as well as understanding. I began the realize Israel was not just a far-off land or a place in which prophets performed miracles and Jesus walked. Israel is a place full of real people doing real things, but it is also a place distinctly touched by God. I am now able to connect with the scriptures in a way I could have never imagined; I feel them. I feel the scriptures, I feel a connection to the country, and most importantly I feel a stronger connection to Christ.