How does The Way relate to other recent books of yours?
Over the years I’ve been to the Holy Land numerous times. The Holy Land is often called “the fifth gospel” because being there changes how you read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It acts, in many ways, as a living commentary on the gospels. After numerous trips over I began to outline a trilogy of books that would take readers through the life of Jesus in the light of biblical archaeology, geography, and the latest in biblical scholarship. My hope was to help readers grow in their understanding of, and love for, Jesus Christ. As a pastor, I also wanted them to know how the gospel stories teach us not only about Jesus, but about his will for our lives.
The first in the trilogy of books was The Journey which unpacked the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus. The second in the trilogy is 24 Hours That Changed the World, which focused on Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Way completes the trilogy by exploring the three-year public ministry of Jesus, beginning with his baptism in the Jordan. It explores the places Jesus traveled, the main themes of his ministry, and the people he ministered with.
In preparing to write these books I returned to the Holy Land three times, meeting with archaeologists, Galilean fishermen, a Samaritan priest, as well as scholars and guides who have spent their lives in the land. I sought to retrace the stories in the gospels in a way a typical tour group does not. I walked portions of the journey that Mary and Joseph walked from Nazareth to Bethlehem. I spent days backpacking alone across the Galilee, exploring the places Jesus ministered. I retraced the steps Jesus took during the final day of his life. The insights gained from these experiences are all included in the books.
Knowing that many Christians would like to go to the Holy Land, but only a few will make the journey, we took a film crew to video the things I describe in the books. Each chapter has a ten minute video opening for use in small groups or for personal use. I take readers to all of the places I describe in the book. The book and video work together to deepen the faith, and faithfulness, of readers.
The Way draws you into the Gospels. Is there a particular Gospel that’s a favorite of yours, and if so, why?
The Gospel of Luke is my favorite. I love the way Luke paints such vivid pictures of the people Jesus ministered to. He also makes clear Jesus’ concern for people who were broken, sinners and second class.
I tend, in the books, to draw most often from Mark’s gospel in that Mark was the most succinct. I often follow him and then supplement with material from the other gospels. When it comes to the teaching of Jesus I’m drawn to Matthew, who has the most complete body of Jesus’ teachings. John’s gospel was considered the “spiritual gospel” by the early church. He focused on making sure readers understood the theological and spiritual significance of Jesus. Some of the most moving insights into the meaning of the life of Jesus, for me, come from John. So, I love Luke, but I’m grateful for Matthew, Mark and John as well.
Themes like the kingdom of God and life as a disciple of Christ come through in the Gospels and in this book. Did these concepts have a new impact on you as you wrote about them?
You can’t talk the life and ministry of Jesus without speaking of the Kingdom of God. This is the central theme of his teaching and preaching. Jesus’ primary call upon those who heard him was to “follow me.” My hope in The Way is to help readers understand more clearly what it means to be a part of the Kingdom of God and what it looks like to faithfully follow Jesus. In the book I devote much of one chapter to walking through the Sermon on the Mount for here Jesus gives the clearest picture of what our lives are meant to look like if God is our King. While none of us completely live up to his teachings there – in fact some would say it is impossible to do so – his words there are represent my highest aspirations for how I would live. And my inability to fully live up to them point to my need for Christ’s saving work in my life.
No doubt folks will find some of your insights on the life of Christ intriguing. For instance, on “Palm Sunday,” you state that there were two other processions—designed to show force—going on the same day. Where are those cited in history?
We know that Pontius Pilate’s primary residence was in Caeserea Maritima on the coast. Yet we know from the gospels that he was in Jerusalem for the Passover. It is likely that he came over to keep peace in the city (the Passover was a particularly troublesome time for the Romans as the feast was a celebration of how God had delivered his people from slavery in Egypt – the hope of many Jews was that God would do this again, delivering them from Roman rule – hence the need to have Rome’s governor present along with this troops to prevent an uprising).
We also know from the gospels that Herod Antipas was in Jerusalem for the Passover. His primary residence was in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. He would have come in a royal procession with his own military to Jerusalem for the Passover. We cannot know exactly which day each of the other two processions would have arrived in the Jerusalem, but I suggest in the book that the three may have occurred on the same day. Jesus’ processional, riding on a donkey, calling people to love their enemies, and surrounded by a ragamuffin band of followers would have stood in stark contrast to the other processionals.
The Way can be read year-round, of course, but you mention Lent. Did you write it particularly with that special season in mind?
As you note, the book can be read any time, but I was imagining that many would read it during Lent. There are six weeks of Lent and there are six chapters in the book. The first chapter deals with Jesus’ baptism and temptations, and the season of Lent begins in this same place with the baptism and temptation of Jesus. Lent ends with Holy Week and the final chapter in the book takes readers through the events of Holy Week climaxing in Christ’s crucifixion. The epilogue to the book corresponds with Easter – its focus is on the meaning of the resurrection. My hope is that those who read it during Lent will find their experience of Holy Week and Easter deeper and more meaningful for having read the book.
There are a number of companion products to the hardcover book. How can church leaders best encourage their congregations to use these?
The Way is designed to be a church-wide focus with curriculum for children and youth, a video and leader’s guide for Bible studies, small group and Sunday school classes to use with the hardbound book, and a 40 day devotional with daily readings from the gospels and meaningful reflections upon these texts. There is a 60 second video we’ve prepared that shows where the book will take people and another that is meant to be a promo for churches to show in worship the week before the emphasis begins. Over 15,000 churches have used The Journey and 24 Hours That Changed the World so far. Doing The Way as a church-wide emphasis has the power to unify a church and to deepen the faith and passion of the congregation. As the congregation reads and studies, the pastor has the opportunity to preach from the same themes and amazing things happen.