We have spent 4 days in the Galilee (about 60 miles north of Jerusalem). In those 4 days we have seen the places Jesus would have spent his years growing up and learning his trade, the Roman theater in Sepphoris where he may have learned what an actor was (before he called the religious leaders actors / hypocrites), and the fields he would have walked by as they turned white for harvest before he would have issued that challenge to the disciples. But, what became very clear from the geography and walking in chronological order of Jesus’ ministry was just how focused on the gentile population he was.
The Galilean region is smattered with Jewish towns and influence. Yet, it is the gentiles who had the most land geographically and politically. 2/3’s of the sea of Galilee were primarily gentile. Only the towns of Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Korazin were major Jewish cities in the Galilee. In In Luke 8, when Jesus tells his disciples to get in a boat and go the the “other side” he wasn’t simply referring to the geographical location. He was referring to the people as well. They were gentiles. The very opposite / other side of the Jews. Their culture, religious expression, and values were all so very different. And going there meant that Jesus and the disciples would potentially become ceremonially unclean. This was a big barrier for the disciples. Who do they meet when they cross the lake? A naked and demon filled gentile who is living among the graves in the hillside. This is ALL WRONG and unclean. They should never have come here, never set foot in this place, and certainly not go up to this man. Yet, Jesus teaches the disciples the first part of a powerful lesson here. He heals the man, and then commissions him to go and tell the Decapolis (all gentile cities, 10-14 cites) about God’s mercy. In the end this man would become “John the Baptist”, to the gentiles. Immediately, in Luke 8 we see the towns people who came to see what was going on were afraid of Jesus and sent him away. But a couple months later we meet a crowd of 4000, where? On the “other side” of the lake, the eastern / gentile side.
Remember the demoniac who Jesus healed and then commissioned to go and tell of God’s mercy? Well where are Jesus and the disciples? In his backyard. Who is showing up? People from his region. What would we call them? Gentiles. What does Jesus do? Feed them. And just when he fed the Jewish crowds, there were leftovers. 7 baskets specifically. Remember how many gentile people groups were living in the land when the Israelites came with Joshua? Seven. What is Jesus teaching here? That the good news is not just for the lost sheep of Israel, but also for those on the “other side” too. The gentiles.
Finally, we travel north a little more, deeper into gentile territory to Caesarea Philippi. If the disciples didn’t like going to the “other side” of the lake, they hated having to travel up to Caesarea Philippi. This is where the tribe of Dan settled and were led into idol worship. It is where Jeroboam set up one of the two alters of the “golden calf” after the kingdom is split. And, it is where pagans believed that the god Pan was born (he was half goat / half man). No good Jewish boy should be up here. Yet, what happens? Jesus is transfigured. He reveals the reality of his divinity to Peter, James, and John. He also teaches the disciples that he is going to have to go to Jerusalem, suffer, and die. Simply, here in the heart of dead paganism Jesus teaches that he has come to make man alive to God again. The fact that Jesus didn’t do this at the Temple in Jerusalem is powerful and important. He was in a place where the disciples where sure of the spiritual deadness of it’s people. And the spiritual darkness of their environment only emphasized the spiritual illumination Jesus was bringing. Ultimately, Jesus didn’t just teach with words and stories, he taught the disciples and the world powerfully in the places he went.
Getting to see the land and understand the nature of the political situation and geography shows just how deep Jesus cared not only for the lost sheep of Israel, but for all lost sheep.