Review: On the Road with Jesus

July 20th, 2011

In his latest small-group curriculum offering, Ben Witherington III invites participants to travel with Jesus through the early stages of his ministry.

Each of the four sessions in On the Road with Jesus: Birth and Ministry begins with a video of Witherington in the Holy Land, acting as a tour guide for participants. He combines archeological, historical, and textual data to visually depict the world in which Jesus lived. The lesson is then expanded on by Witherington's corresponding book chapter and explored further using the discussion guide (enclosed with the DVD), written by M. Kathryn Armistead.

Witherington begins with Luke’s announcement of Jesus’ coming to Mary. He emphasizes the virginal conception for its theological significance: one not doomed to sin is coming into the world to be the savior. But theology is only one piece of incarnation, and Witherington’s treatment of the Holy Land as home for Jesus emphasizes Christ’s humanity as well.

Session Two explores the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry, including his submission to John’s baptism and his temptation in the wilderness. Session Three details the calling of the first disciples, while Session Four examines the first of Jesus’ miracles (at the wedding in Cana) and his early public ministry.

Rather than focus on a single gospel’s storyline, On the Road with Jesus follows a path laid out by geography and time. Witherington synthesizes the gospels, so that Luke’s annunciation and Matthew’s visit of the magi are discussed side by side, helping participants see the gospel narrative from a more general perspective.

As he moves through the story, Witherington also takes care to debunk some popular myths. For example, he guides readers and viewers through a typical first-century home, much like the one Jesus was probably born in. He demonstrates that, contrary to nativity-set assumptions, Jesus was probably born in his ancestral home, although likely in a back room usually reserved for livestock. Witherington’s attention to such details helps his audience to find new ways to look at and experience a narrative sometimes dulled by years of cultural and even religious assumptions.

The key question for Witherington’s writing does not seem to be application: he places that task in the hands of the small groups. Rather, his focus is on an accurate depiction of the paths Jesus walked. By shining a light on those paths, he hopes to clear the way for followers to not only understand the story, but to give themselves over to it and become more like Jesus.              

Although sold separately, the book and video for On the Road with Jesus depend on one another a great deal. The printed material gives much needed information to fill in the gaps of the video, while the visual of Witherington in the Holy Land illustrates much of what he writes in the book.

Like any good small-group resource, On the Road with Jesus requires interpretation and discussion in a community setting. Witherington’s success is in providing a sound set of resources—both scholarly and spiritual—with which to get that conversation rolling.

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