‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 18. The Uncertainty of Seclusion & Waiting
Jn 10:40 Then Jesus went back across the Jordan
Jn 11:54 Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness
Context: We are now going to observe Jesus stepping back from public acclaim and possible confrontation with the authorities in Jerusalem, and we’ll start in December: “ Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.” (Jn 10:22,23) This is our December, a festival that commemorated the purification and rededication of the temple by Judas the Maccabee in 165BC.
Prior to that Jesus, as recorded by John in his Gospel, had been in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles (see Jn 7:2,10) in our October, but now John jumps forward to December where John shows us the hostile Jews were seeking to provoke him to declare if he was the Messiah (Jn 10:24) but he’s not yet ready to do that; that has to wait until Passover, some months off. Yet his answers to them provoke them so, “Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.” (10:39) In order to stop this escalating, we must assume, we find, “Then Jesus went back across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days. There he stayed, and many people came to him. They said, “Though John never performed a sign, all that John said about this man was true.” And in that place many believed in Jesus.” (Jn 10:40-42) From Jerusalem to the Jordan is over twenty miles so he was putting a reasonable buffer between himself and the hostile Jews of Jerusalem.
It was from there that he gets the call to come to Bethany, only a few miles from Jerusalem, to help save Lazarus. Then follows the miracle we have observed in two previous studies. It was because of the hostility we have previously recorded that we then read, “Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.” (Jn 11:54) It is later that John records Jesus returning to Bethany (Jn 12:1) where, perhaps to up the publicity stakes (for the time is drawing near for confrontation in Jerusalem), he has a big meal at Mary and Martha’s home and the crowds start gathering as we saw in the previous study.
The Disciples? So again I ask us, can we see all this through the eyes of the disciples? Yes, we’ve seen them being warned by Jesus what is going to happen, and we’ll see at the Last Supper, as we’ve already noted, there were more indications that he was not going to be with them much longer. I’ve tried to suggest how it was almost impossible for them to get past what we might call a super-hero image that they have of him, completely in control and with all power, and it was that, I suggest, that blinded them to the realities of what was going on – a carefully orchestrated programme by Jesus to gradually up the ante, up the popularity stakes, to the point where the religious authorities will cast everything to the wind and, ignoring any ethical considerations, wrongly try him, wrongly condemn him, and wrongly have him put to death. It is going to be a case where politics trumps religion in order to preserve the ‘religion’.
So here are the disciples, not briefed by Jesus to the measure that they have it securely in their minds what is going to happen and why, who are traipsing backwards and forwards across the country with Jesus. Coming up from Galilee, settling in the east, coming to Bethany, returning to the east again, then returning to Bethany and eventually into a hostile Jerusalem. Fishermen are good at sitting in boats, tax-collectors are good at sitting in collection-booths, zealots are good at sitting behind closed doors plotting change, but now this group have become good at walking – Galilee to the Jordon in the south-east, quite possibly seventy miles. Back and forth to Bethany, twenty plus twenty plus twenty. Can we stop to buy a new pair of sandals please? What are we doing? Why do we keep doing this?
The Reasons: There are reasons behind everything. They’ve got to leave Galilee for the confrontation has got to be in Jerusalem. When they get south, they must not provoke the situation too early so we’ll stay in the east. The call for Lazarus is humanitarian but ultimately planned for the glory of God and to stoke the pot of popular acclaim. Back to the east to stay clear of the authorities. Then back to Bethany to let public acclaim build and build, all the while raising the ire of the various religious parties who are, and have always been, opposed to Jesus. The boiling-over point has got to come just before Passover for the Lamb of God to be sacrificed for the sin of the world, as the commemoration of those other lambs slain so the destroying angel would pass-over Israel and they would be saved.
Now it is easy for us to see this from where we stand in history, having the completed Gospel accounts right up to Jesus’ ascension, and having the explanations of the rest of the New Testament, but I guess that if you were a disciple, there on the ground trudging backwards and forwards with Jesus, seeing him continuing to preach and heal and continuing to see the crowds gather and acclaim him, it would be nigh on impossible to maintain perspective and see these things – largely because the end-game has not happened yet. All they are seeing is the prologue to it and that was pretty confusing, with glory at the front of the stage but not-so-little groups huddling at the back of the stage plotting his downfall. Which way do you look, to the front, the glory and public acclaim and the wonder of it all (and feel really good about all that), or to the back to the scheming and plotting and bad-mouthing Jesus (and feel annoyed, angry and a little disquieted)? It’s a topsy-turvy time, a time of great uncertainties and the only comfort we have is that we’ve seen the Master in complete control for three years, so, hey, what can they do?
Be Understanding: There are times in our lives as Christians when it seems all out of control, but there are plenty of other times when life seems good, we seem to be getting the guidance of God and even blessing with it. Now I don’t want to appear pessimistic but we do need to learn to understand spiritual warfare, that life is always a combination of moving in the blessing of God and opposing the kickback of the enemy. Whether it be in the extreme blessing of revival, where the sovereign power of God is moving in the church and in the community, or in times of outreach where blessing seems to be coming, history teaches us to be alert and wise in understanding and ready to counter enemy attacks.
Imaginary Peter: Let’s imagine Peter at that time and a modern day news reporter comes up to him to do an interview. Would it have gone like this?
Interviewer: So tell us Peter, what’s it like travelling with Jesus?
Peter: Awesome, man, awesome! If I told you some of the things I’ve witnessed – and been part of – you wouldn’t believe it. He’s incredible.
Interviewer: So how’s it going at the moment?
Peter: Amazing! I mean when we got here, down south, you must have heard about the miracle in Bethany when he brought Lazarus back from the dead. It was incredible. The guy had been dead and buried, four days! Four days! That is power!
Interviewer: And since then?
Peter: Well wherever we’ve been – over the other side of the Jordan, back over here – the crowds keep coming, he keeps preaching and healing, and the crowds get bigger and bigger. In fact it almost became a problem back here in Bethany because people have been pouring in to see Lazarus and ask him what it was like being dead and now being alive. It’s wild!
Interviewer: So everyone thinks Jesus is great?
Peter: Yes, sure. (Pause, looks away, look back not so confident). Well of course there’s always been the religious parties of Israel and the charlatans up at the temple, they’ve never liked him, but hey, they’re the minority, everyone else recognises that what he’s doing is amazing.
Interviewer: So the future is bright and rosy?
Peter: Yes…. I… I …I think so. I’ve got to go, I’m part of this, there’s stuff to do.
And Us? We delight in certainties in the Christian life but are not so good at facing the uncertainties, but if that is so, it is that we’re not too secure in the knowledge that Jesus IS Lord and IS in control, and if it goes pear-shaped sometimes, well…. Perhaps we need to ask Him to help us come into that place of complete confidence in him whatever comes. To conclude, if you don’t know the song, “Whatever Comes” by Brian Doerksen, may I recommend you look up the words on Google or listen to the song on YouTube. It’s a song for these times. A glimpse:
Whatever season paints this day
Whatever trial may come our way
We will rely upon Your grace
Always on Your throne
The Sovereign in control
Though the nations rage
You’re still the God who reigns.